This past Friday, July 13, Brandan Lee woke up to some troubling news. Lee is the lead designer behind the ambitious Fallout: New California, a mod of 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas that he has been working on for the past six years. It’s an intense labor of love for him, an epic commitment and attempt to contribute to his beloved game franchise. And now, he said, it’s in danger of all falling apart.
That Friday, Fantasy Flight Games announced an expansion to their newly released Fallout board game, titled—you guessed it— New California. Lee fears legal action from the publisher that owns the Fallout license, Bethesda. In a Facebook post last week, he explained how he was going to put the rest of his life aside and work on the mod nonstop to get it out before Bethesda sent him a cease and desist letter.
“Getting somebody naming something New California is quite a threat,” Lee told me over the phone. “They have every legal right to it.”
However, Bethesda today told Motherboard that Lee has nothing to fear. Bethesda senior vice president of global marketing and communications Pete Hines, when asked if they planned to issue any cease-and-desists against Lee and his passion project, wrote in an email: “People can do mods about whatever they want, whether we’re doing a boardgame or not. This is little ado about nothing. Best of luck to them on their mod.”
“Pete Hines is a cool dude, I’m glad that he said that,” Lee told me in response. “It puts me much more at ease.”
The news about the board game’s name sent Lee, his fellow designer Rick Hukkanen, and a devoted collection of community contributors, scrambling. That means coding sprints, wrapping up voice acting, and switching from a closed beta test to an open one in order to get as many eyes as possible on the project for fine-tuning. A release date is still planned for October, which Lee—a Fallout lore aficionado—says was chosen for story reasons.
“I HAD planned on all this being spread out between now and October, but I'm going to slam it all into the next couple weeks,” Lee wrote in a Facebook post last week. “Holy shit, this is going to be a rough month.”
Why put all this work into something that could have never seen the light of day? “There’s been a lot of people who’ve over the years told me I’m crazy,” said Lee. “Finishing this mod is basically like my video game thesis, and the difficulty and not quitting is part of that learning process.”
His creation has been a long time coming. He first dabbled in Fallout mods back in 2010, after getting laid off from visual-effects work in Los Angeles. He moved back to Tucson and dove into the worlds of Fallout 3 and its successor, New Vegas. “I loved it. I absolutely loved exploring that world. And I had a dream,” he said.
His dream was to make his own world, preferably set against the California backdrop he’d recently left.
The project started in earnest in 2012, again amidst a series of life crises that he referred to as a “party wipe on my personal side.”
“[Hukkanen and I] wanted to do something on our own, something on no budget that would be impactful enough to give us a name,” said Lee. “We went ahead and went back to our mod. The mod meant a lot to him, to me.”
In the years since, a community of volunteers and fans has sprung up around the game, keeping Lee and Hukkanen invested. “I get emails from people inspired by our work, and I’m inspired by them as well,” said Lee. “It’s going to mean a lot to different people. That’s why I don’t give up.”
In our conversation, Lee reiterated again and again how much he loves Bethesda— Fallout’s publisher—and the games it releases. But he wasn’t sure if it purposefully chose an identical name for their board-game spinoff, or if it just never noticed that his mod was out there.
“We have a Wikipedia page, we have the first 19 pages on Google search results, the top results are about us, there are news interviews and lets plays and single videos WITH MORE VIEWS THAN THEIR ENTIRE COMPANY YOUTUBE CHANNEL -- and they still named their board game Fallout: New California,” Lee wrote on Facebook.
For now, it doesn't seem like Bethesda has any plans to take legal action against Lee, but if he does get a cease-and-desist letter, Lee said, “then I fight tooth-and nail-like nothing else you’ve ever seen…I would not quit. I don’t quit for shit.
“Finishing New California has been my life goal for so long that it has defined my existence,” he said.