Van Buren was the original Fallout 3. Note that its name would have been "Fallout 3", and "Van Buren" was merely its development codename. It was in full 3D, but utilized a top-down perspective much like the old games. It was canceled shortly before Interplay went under in 2003 and closed Black Isle. Backlash ensued, and while some fans were placated when Bethesda released Fallout 3 five years later, others view Van Buren as the real and superior version of Fallout 3 and are still venomously bitter about its cancellation. Despite the game being cancelled, some elements of its story have been adapted or directly incorporated into the Fallout canon.
Prison may not be an okay place to live, but Tibbets Facility, cell number thirteen, is home. The technology dates back to before the Great War, and plenty of robots are there to look after you. You've been there so long you can hardly remember why; perhaps you were guilty of whatever crime they've convicted you of, or perhaps not, but it doesn't matter either way. At least you're alive, and outside, things aren't safe.
Then, one day, you wake up to find things have changed. Not only are you in a completely different prison, but there's a rather large hole in the wall, which you proceed to walk out of. Back in Post-Apocalyptic Arizona, you find yourself besieged by robots wanting to take you back to your cell, strange diseases infecting select towns, a war between the New California Republic and the Brotherhood of Steel, a strange slaver army called "Caesar's Legion" that seems obsessed with ancient Rome and led by a maniac who calls himself Caesar, and a menacing figure named Doctor Victor Presper who wishes to instigate another nuclear holocaust on the world.
Alone, with empty pockets and an army of problems at your back, you head out into the wasteland.
A mostly working tech demo for the game was completed, and was eventually leaked to the Internet, and can still be found on various fan sites. It has its own story set during the Great War itself, and was meant to be the game's tutorial. Nearly all of the details you see here and elsewhere around the net are gleaned from the enormous mountain of design notes leaked to the internet by the development staff, containing nearly everything from the game including many parts that had already been cut during development long before the cancellation.
Fallout: New Vegas, which takes place in one of the areas this game would have covered, has a completely original story, but draws on the enormous amount of design done for Van Buren and select elements (such as Caesar's Legion and The Hanged Man, now The Burned Man) do appear in the game. It helps that Obsidian Entertainment, the developer of New Vegas, was founded by many former Black Isle staff, including Chris Avellone.
And in case you were wondering: "Van Buren" was a Working Title. The game had absolutely nothing to do with USA's 8th president, Martin Van Buren. Interplay just code named projects in development after American presidents out of ease. Nor does this have anything to do with the obscure Van Beuren Cartoon Studio.
A group of fans have pooled together to recreate Van Buren. The project is still in its early stages and/or dead, but some screenshots are available. Their forum can be found here.
Tropes found in this game include:
- The Atoner: The player would have been offered the option to choose whether to be an actual criminal or not, and in this world that's saying something. If the player then leaned towards making good oriented choices, they would most likely would have been this.
- Bittersweet Ending: Depending on your character build and choices, the game would have ended in either your character sacrificing themselves to save what's left of Earth or surviving and seeing the world being ravaged by nukes from space.
- Broad Strokes: According to Chris Avellone, Fallout: New Vegas uses major events and world developments from Van Buren as backstory. However, it omits the Plague storyline and Dr. Presper's plot to nuke the Earth (although the Lonesome Road DLC has parts that are loosely based on the later).
- Cardboard Prison: Sure, the automated prison sends out robots to capture the Player Character back, but thanks to an in-universe case of Artificial Stupidity they would always throw them back into their old cell. You know, the one that continues to have a man-sized hole in the wall.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Sulik's sister shows up in this, after escaping some slavers and becoming the leader of a Tribal Vault.
- The Empire: The Brotherhood of Steel has transformed from an isolationist but peaceful faction into a group of fascists that attack anyone they consider to be 'unworthy' of having advanced technology.
- Evilutionary Biologist: Victor.
- The Federation: The New California Republic.
- Foil: Caesar's Legion has an minor enemy faction called Daughters of Hecate, which, opposite to the Legion, has "female supremacist" values.
- Fun with Acronyms: The Ballistic Orbital Missile Base, a.k.a. B.O.M.B.
- Inspector Javert: The robots trying to take the player back to prison. For all they know, the Player Character is a criminal. And there's a 50% chance they are for sure.
- Kill Sat: B.O.M.B.-001, a pre-war orbital Nuclear weapons cache. Victor Presper, the big bad, planned to use it.
- Lost Colony: The town at Hoover Dam is this to NCR.
- The Man They Couldn't Hang: The Hanged Man, who is still very much alive, and a recruitable companion.
- The Plague: The New Plague of which the player were an unwitting carrier, as a part of Victor's plan to activate B.O.M.B.-001. This would be first discovered late in the story, as people in the settlements the player had visited start dying left and right. With a high enough intelligence and science skill, the player would have been able to synthesize a cure too.
- Vestigial Empire: The NCR became this sometime before the game takes place. The eastern part of the republic has completely lost contact with the core region and Hoover Dam is the only known surviving city under their control.
- Token Evil Teammate: The Hanged Man, a Chaotic Evil Implacable Man who you'd find hanging on the end of a rope, but still alive. He turns out to be an infamous criminal whom people have tried to kill numerous times. As a party member he would be appropriately Made of Iron, but his company would cause people to despise the player almost universally.
- Talking the Monster to Death: It would have been possible to convince Victor to abandon his plan. But since he was the most brilliant mind to ever come out of the NCR, the player would need at least 10 in intelligence and a high science skill to do so. Talking his partners in crime into betraying him, however, would not be quite as hard.
- Wild Child: The Prisoner could be one with the Feral Kid trait, which increases throwing range and movement speed but reduces the number of companions you can take by one.
- You Are Too Late: After causing Victor's defeat, the player would move on to deactivate B.O.M.B.-001, only to make a grim discovery. While the player would have been able to call off the majority of the nuclear bombardment, depending on their repair skill, some nukes could not be recalled, and they would have been left with the options to blow up B.O.M.B.-001, performing a Heroic Sacrifice in the process, or choose which settlements that should be struck by the attack. In choosing the latter, the player would have left B.O.M.B.-001 in an escape pod, and "I Don't Want To Set The World on Fire" would started playing while nuclear blasts dotted the earth's surface.