Game Theory: Buy a Whisker


There are a lot of things we could say about Fallout 3. Sure, it’s Elder Scrolls: The Mutant Years, but damn, it’s still a brilliant piece of role-playing design: a wide-open world with amazing sights and challenges at every turn.

Rather than descanting at length upon stats and perks, I want to talk about the single most mind-blowing part of the entire character creation system: facial hair. Fallout 3 opens a new era in beard and mustache design. You have never, ever seen such an assortment of whiskers in any game, ranging from the pathetic wisps of a teenager’s first attempt to huge Burnside sprouts and styles not seen outside of movies like Gettysburg or Tombstone. And these aren’t just the paste-ons from Oblivion: These are complete, textured moving models.

It is conceivable that, at some point in my life, I may find myself fighting for life in the postnuclear wasteland of the greater DC metro area (and after some time on the Beltway, I’d actually embrace the experience), but the likelihood that I’d ever be able to create Paul Teutul, Sr.’s wicked ’stache or General Longstreet’s massive face shrubbery with my scraggly whiskers is nil.

The mad genius behind this manly excess is a woman: Bethesda character artist Hiu Lai Chong. As lead artist Istvan Pely told me, “We decided to do facial hair as a way to add some additional variety and individualized character for Fallout’s NPCs. It also seemed appropriate that in such a severe postapocalyptic setting that people wouldn’t have the time to shave every day if they’re constantly preoccupied with the basics of survival.

“However, once Hiu Lai made the first few basic beard examples, and we noticed just how cool they looked, she got really into it and developed a modular facial hair system that allowed us to have a lot of variety with minimal impact in terms of texture memory and development time.”

I went for the lavish muttonstache, based on the awesome face fungus of Civil War General Ambrose Burnside. He may have blown it at Antietam, but anyone who can grow something like that is a man among men.

Thomas L. McDonald has been covering games for 17 years. He is an editor at large for Games magazine.

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