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Tim Cain, producer and broad-strokes co-creator of the original Fallout RPG, has weighed in on the timeless debate on the start of the universe's nuclear apocalypse, confirming who dropped the first nuke once and for all. A lot of people had it right: it was China.
"The reason we got nuked is: bio-weapons were illegal and somehow China found out we were doing FEV [Forced Evolutionary Virus]," Cain explained in a recent interview with Fallout enthusiast channel TKs-Mantis (around 1:26:40). "And they were like, 'you have to stop it.' And we went, 'OK.' And all we did is move it. All we did was move it over."
Speaking for many Fallout lore scholars, the interviewer says that it's "earth-shattering, what you just said."
"Really?" Cain replies. "People don't know?"
"People actually debate over who shot first."
"Oh, they do?"
"Sort of like a Greedo, Han Solo thing."
"Oh, well then I don't know," Cain says, seemingly reluctant to spoil the mystery. "Who knows? It was probably some rogue nation."
FEV, for the unfamiliar or those who've simply forgotten some Fallout details (like me), is the DNA-altering virus developed by US military contractor West Tek. The Nukapedia Fallout Fandom wiki notes that it first appeared in Fallout 2, and it became the McGuffin behind all the mutations seen in creatures like radscorpions and deathclaws, irradiated beings like ghouls and super mutants, as well as embellished details like that trademark neon-green radioactive glow.
Cain's answer, which lines up with some long-standing theories largely rooted in in-game exposition dumps focusing on Fallout 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, comes about as part of a discussion on the relationship between the US and Canada in the Fallout universe. Canada is annexed by the US as an escalation of a defense agreement purportedly struck to safeguard the country's resources from Chinese forces, and eventually assimilated into the soon-to-be-bombed US.
Human FEV experimentation, a thinly veiled push to create enhanced super-soldiers, began in earnest around the 2070s, right around the time Canada's independence was fully stamped out. I'm assuming that it was this sort of research, rather than FEV's roots as an offshoot to the Pan-Immunity Virion Project – originally an effort to cure the New Plague that caused the US to enter national quarantine in the 2050s – is what brought about the Chinese nuclear attack that Cain's referring to here.
Fallout lore is very dense, but Cain's explanation is pretty straightforward: America hid bio-weapons, China found out amid existing geopolitical tensions, and bam. Fallout. This will likely come as no surprise to some fans, while others will no-doubt hold it over the heads of folks who subscribe to other theories about the start of the war.
Meanwhile, Skyrim's former design lead expects Fallout 4 to become the template for the inevitable, actual The Elder Scrolls 6 reveal: "You won't hear much in the way of details until 6 months before."