The game was going to use an engine that Black Isle had made for Baldur's Gate 3, commonly referred to as the Jefferson Engine. It was fully 3D.
Black Isle Studios planned to include a dual combat system in the game that allowed for the player to choose real time or turn-based combat, due to Interplay's demands, though Josh Sawyer had stated that the emphasis would be on the turn-based version. Co-operative multiplayer was also going to be included in the game, again because of publisher requirements.
In 2003, the game was canceled and the Black Isle employees were laid off. At that time the engine was about 95% done. You could create characters, use skills, perform both ranged and melee combat, save/load games, and travel across maps. A tutorial level was done that would let the designers do all of the above. All areas but one had been designed. About 75% of the dialogues were done and at least 50% of the maps. BIS already had many of the character models and monster models.
Van Buren took place in the American southwest (Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Utah). The westernmost sites on the game map are the easternmost borders of New California Republic, and problems with NCR have a lot to do with what's going on in the game. According to Sean K. Reynolds it was set "almost 250 years in the future", which places it in the 2250s, only 10 years after the end of Fallout 2. According to the van Buren design documents it was set in the year 2253.
Some places that appeared in Van Buren:
- The Tibbets Facility (the Prison)
- Denver (Dog Town)
- Boulder Dome
- Hoover Dam (the NCR)
- The Grand Canyon
- Twin Mothers (Vault 29)
- The Nursery
- The Reservation
- Maxson's Bunker
- Fort Abandon
- Mesa Verde
- Blackfoot village
- Burham Springs
- Bloomfield Airbase
- Ballistic Orbital Missile Base 001
Places cut from the final version of the game:
- New Canaan and Jericho desalination plant (merged into town of Jericho)
- Hangdog Village (design documents for Hangdog and Blackfoot tribes were merged)
- Circle Junction ("Iron Lines" place)
- The Crater
- Caesar's Legion location
The game would begin with the player in a prison cell. Because of this the player was given a choice. He could be an innocent that was imprisoned because of some misunderstanding, or he could choose to be a criminal and take bonus traits that would bolster some of his skills.
The player would awaken in a prison cell, but not the one he remembered falling asleep in. Suddenly the floor rocks violently from an explosion and the player is knocked unconscious. When he awakens he finds his cell door open and a hole in the wall leading outside. Leaving the prison, he is under attack by some unknown assailant. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, the player flees into the night to explore his new world.
Unfortunately, his new found freedom may be short lived. The player is relentlessly pursued by robots who want to return him to the prison. As he explores the world and tries to outwit his pursuers, he begins to uncover an underlying plot. Why was he in a different prison than the one he fell asleep in? Why can't he remember being transferred? What was the attack on the prison about in the first place? Then he finds out about NCR's problems, and a few things don't add up....
Eventually, the player would discover the true reason behind the prison and the attack on it. It turns out that through extensive research, the mad scientist called Presper, disgusted with what the world turned into after the War, discovered the history of New Plague, the virus that FEV was initially created to cure, and its genocidal potency, and also discovered a viable means to cleanse the world. Using ULYSSES, the quarantine prison, and a ballistic satellite known as B.O.M.B.-001, the way to human planetary domination and order became clear. He needed to get to B.O.M.B.-001 and use the nuclear weapons to clean the filth and wretch that currently occupied the surface.
Presper and his followers released the New Plague virus in the remote areas near Boulder and Denver. It was close enough to the quarantine prison to spur ULYSSES into action, but not near enough to cause huge populations to start a general panic. Once enough people were infected and ULYSSES “arrested” enough people to just about fill up the prison, Presper’s men would stage an attack on the prison which would allow everyone to escape. This event would start a countdown of sorts for missile launch on B.O.M.B.-001. ULYSSES would assess the viral spread, try to gather up the escaped prisoners, and once 90% of the prisoners had been retrieved, launch nuclear missiles to “clean & prevent” any further infection. By the time this happened Presper had planned to be on, and in full control, of B.O.M.B.-001 and reprogramming targeting solutions to clean the areas he wanted. Humans of his choosing would wait out the second nuclear holocaust in the Boulder Dome, until the day came where he declared the Earth safe for pure blood humans once more.
A tech demo of Van Buren exists. When asked about it, Bethesda Softworks's Pete Hines replied: "(...) releasing someone else's unfinished product, or assets from it, is not something we intend to do." Several screenshots and one video of the tech demo have been released at No Mutants Allowed on April 30, 2007, followed by the tech demo itself on May 2.
The plot of the tech demo is not connected to the main storyline and was going to be included in the finished game as a tutorial. It takes place in the United States during the Great War, somewhere in the Great Midwest Commonwealth. The Player Character in the demo is referred to only as Citizen. His parents were reduced to ash, as they didn't believe the government's bombing raid sirens. He made his way to the relocation center and is escorted to a Vault by Corporal Armstrong of the 4th Armored Infantry Division. To reach the Vault, they must fight Communist Insurgents. After he enters the Vault, the Citizen must help turn on the life support system.
There are several things of note in the tech demo. The first is that the female PC appears naked from the waist up, without the prisoner suit with the "13" legend. The second and most curious is that the male PC's character portrait appears to be Eric Wu from Eric Conveys an Emotion (or simply Emotion Eric). The female PC has no character portrait whatsoever.
This game used a highly modified version of SPECIAL, the character system used in previous Fallout games. The changes were introduced mostly by J.E. Sawyer. Some of his changes were accepted well in the Fallout community, while some, such as merging combat skills and dividing Speech into Deception and Persuasion, were quite controversial.
- The name Van Buren derives from Martin Van Buren, who was the 8th president of the United States of America. Interplay projects were given Presidential code names prior to announcement.
- Van Buren design documents at No Mutants Allowed
- Van Buren tech demo at No Mutants Allowed
- Van Buren tech demo video at No Mutants Allowed
- Duck and Cover interview with Sean K. Reynolds
- GameBanshee interview with John Deiley
- No Mutants Allowed interview with Ferret Baudoin
- Leaks from the No Mutants Allowed forum