James/Dad: The Character That Defines Phil from Later Levels


We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.


Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!

We’re so happy to have Phil from the great Later Levels with us, rounding out a duo of posts from this great site! Kim recently shared her piece on Murray, so we know you’re excited to see what the great Phil has to say. We encourage you to check out Phil’s reply to one of our Daily Inklings over on Later Levels.

Phil, thank you for submitting this most excellent piece!


War. War never changes – and neither does the number of bugs in a Bethesda game, and that number is greater than zero. But, kudos is due for creating the character who defined my love of the Fallout series, and setting my high expectations from thereon. If it wasn’t for James, also known as Dad in Fallout 3, I might have taken the Fallout ’76 critics seriously, missing out on hundreds of hours of enjoyment.

I knew nothing about the Fallout series when Bethesda released their reboot with Fallout 3 back in 2008. Even with a wealth of positive coverage in the press, I didn’t get my hands on the game for quite some time. This was the early days of YouTube becoming popular video games and let’s plays, and one particular video from 4PlayerPodcast caught my attention. The video contained footage of the slow-mo combat in action with commentary that I found hilarious at the time. It was time to get my hands on a copy and try this out myself.

Going from a gory YouTube video to the opening sequences of Fallout 3 was quite a transition. The game begins equally messy with your birth into the clean and pristine life of Vault 101, safe from the post-apocalyptic world outside. Sadly, mother dies during childbirth, and it’s then up to Dad to raise you. This is a fantastic sequence through the early years of life, including one scene where you escape from your playpen and crawl around the room, making goo-goo gaa-gaa noises with the action buttons.

I can’t explain why this intro gripped me so much, but it did. Maybe it was the expectation for a violent post-apocalyptic game being dashed aside by a moment of weakness, having lost your mother and experiencing the vulnerability of the baby years. Similar to Gordon Freeman in Half-Life, you play as a silent protagonist which I feel helps with connecting emotionality to the story. Dad really did feel like a father to my character and the sheltered life of the vault was disarming. Sadly, this doesn’t last, and mother’s favourite Bible passage gives some clues as to why, referring to the waters of life.

Now into the teenage years, you receive your own Pip-Boy 3000 and the last sense of normal life in a safe environment before Dad goes missing. He has left the vault suddenly and against the will of the Overseer, the highest authority placed in charge by the Vault-Tec Corporation. This is where the main story kicks in, and you too escape the vault, hot on the trail of Dad, and never allowed to return. Stepping outside the vault into the real world is a key moment any Fallout player will likely never forget, particularly for Fallout 3 in 2008, the first to use Bethesda’s open-world technology and grand scale.

In open-world games, I typically end up ignoring the main story quests and work methodically through all available side missions. Not in Fallout 3, I was intent on finding Dad with the eagerness to find out why he abandoned me in the vault. It’s not as though he was a neglectful father, he was there all throughout childhood, there must be something serious going on. The story follows a cat and mouse chase through the main questline, finding clues to Dad’s whereabouts and arriving only to find he has already moved on. Slowly the picture becomes clear that his mission wasn’t my fault, and he’d been called to a higher purpose. But, the trail continues, and you learn more about the wasteland, and it’s various factions.

We meet Dr Madison Li, a scientist who has worked with Dad, and it becomes clear that he was never originally from the vault. Instead, Dad and a group of scientists attempted to create a machine capable of purifying the irradiated water in the wasteland. Unfortunately, the work was never completed, and it was your birth and the death of mother that forced Dad to abandon the project and seek safety in Vault 101 to raise you. In his escape from the vault, Dad not only aims to complete the project but also obtain a Garden of Eden Creation Kit (G.E.C.K.), and important tool that is able to assist with rebuilding civilisation. After a brief setback with the Enclave, the remnants of the pre-war government, we finally catch up with Dad’s legacy and are left with a tough choice that impacts everyone.

Fallout 3 was a unique experience for me, not just for the new Bethesda open-world tech we know and love, or hate, today. There was an attachment to the story that I’ve not experienced before aided by the gritty atmosphere and dark post-apocalyptic world. It wasn’t the same with Fallout: New Vegas, even with significantly better game mechanics, there was an emotional connection with Dad and the story that hasn’t been matched. Fallout 4 was close as the story centered on family once again before saving what’s left of the world at the cost of losing someone important. It’s possible that living the character from birth and the carefully curated glimpses of moments through childhood that brought it home for me. Maybe the silent protagonist also played a significant part as Fallout 4 features a fully voiced character. If there’s one thing for sure, having Dad voiced by Liam “I have a special set of skills” Neeson was significant. Who wouldn’t want him for a dad?


Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*


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