Perhaps no character in the Fallout universe is as beloved by players as Dogmeat, the canine companion to every Lone Wanderer to leave (or be thrown out of) his vault. He doesn’t care who you are or whether you’re good or evil. So long as you feed him, exercise him regularly and generally avoid shooting him in the head, Dogmeat will be your friend until the end. This makes him unique in the Wasteland.
Dogmeat first appeared in 1997’s Fallout, developed by Black Isle Studios and distributed by Interplay, where he can be found in Junktown terrorizing a man named Phil. If you feed him an iguana-on-a-stick or are wearing a leather jacket like his previous owner, Dogmeat will follow you and never again leave your side. If you want him gone, you either have to shoot him, Old Yeller-style, or wait until someone else does the job for you.
“Dogmeat ended up getting a terrific bonus to knock down and was actually rather useful,” says Chris Taylor, Lead Designer of Fallout (and Lead Systems Designer for Interplay’s “Project V13,” the working title of the widely speculated Fallout Online MMOG). “Far more useful, at least, than Ian. At least Dogmeat never shot me in the back!”
Fallout‘s Dogmeat has been described as a “killing machine” and a “tiny god.” He can chew up foes with four attacks per round, often knocking them prone, and his 50 hit points make him tougher than you in the early stages of the game.
“Dogmeat specifically had strong stats for two main reasons,” says Jesse Heinig, Fallout Scripter/Designer and current freelance game writer for White Wolf/CCP. “One, he was an iconic character to add to the game, so it would be rather undramatic for him to be weak and useless; and two, since he couldn’t use ranged weapons, he needed to be tough enough to contribute somehow in melee combat.”
If there is one person to thank for Dogmeat, it is likely Heinig. Tim Cain, Lead Programmer and Designer of Fallout and currently the Design Director of Carbine Studios’ unannounced MMOG, notes that Heinig was the one who figured out how to get followers working in the first place. (“We never planned for them in the design,” says Cain.) No followers, no Dogmeat.
Dogmeat’s limitations ultimately become clear, however: Without ranged combat abilities, armor or the ability to take commands, he’s often torn to bits by the end of the game – as was the plan all along.
“We never expected that Dogmeat would become such a popular character,” says Taylor. “I always intended that the various NPCs that joined up with the player would come to a violent end. I was shocked when I heard of all the work people went through to keep Dogmeat alive to the end – especially the hell that they went through with the force fields in the Military Base.”
Dogmeat returned in 1998’s Fallout 2 as an Easter egg for players who invest heavily in the Luck stat and explore the well-hidden “Café of Broken Dreams.” There are other dogs in the game – K-9 and Pariah Dog to name a couple – but none compares to Dogmeat, who boasts a new feature in the sequel: “Accidentally” shoot him and a man named Mel will try to kill you. Yes, that Mel.
“Dogmeat was definitely inspired by The Road Warrior,” says Cain. “Leonard Boyarsky, the art director … had that movie running continuously in his office, and I think he remarked on several occasions that having a dog in the game would be really cool. [It’s] why we wanted a dog in the first place.”
Many pieces of the Fallout games were inspired by The Road Warrior, from the opening “newsreel” monologues (narrated by Ron Perlman of The City of Lost Children, another inspiration according to Cain) to the games’ stylized leather armor and medical braces. One of the most vivid images from Bethesda Game Studios’ Fallout 3, the latest installment in the series, is that of the Lone Wanderer with Dogmeat by his side, a mirror image of a scene from Mad Max. Even the breed is the same: Both are Blue Heelers, known for their loyalty, trainability and heterochromia (one blue eye, one brown eye).
What isn’t derived from The Road Warrior is Dogmeat’s name; that likely comes from a scene in the 1975 film A Boy and His Dog where Vic (Don Johnson) refers to his mutt as “Dogmeat.”
“A Boy and His Dog inspired Fallout on many levels, from underground communities of survivors to glowing mutants,” says Heinig. “My understanding is that (Fallout designer) Scott Bennie settled on the name ‘Dogmeat’ for the character, and it’s likely that he did pick that from the story in question.” Good thing, because according to Bennie, Dogmeat’s original name was “Dogs**t.”
In the original Fallout 3 (aka Van Buren), designed to near-completion by Black Isle, there were no plans to bring Dogmeat back, but fortunately for dog lovers he made it into Bethesda’s version as a presumed descendant of the original dog who – according to the developers – perished in a “force field accident.” Fallout 3‘s Dogmeat not only follows and defends you, but will fetch food, ammo and weapons (even boasting the curious but helpful ability to pilfer things from locked containers). When he goes missing, he can often be found waiting patiently outside Vault 101, perhaps inspired by the final scene from A Boy and His Dog where “Dogmeat” waits outside a vault for his owner.
Dogmeat’s primary purpose in Fallout 3 is to serve as a guard dog: He’s the most perceptive, agile and enduring of all followers and fast enough to run down most foes. However, he’s not very smart, inheriting the “oblivious to danger” gene from his predecessors. Left to his own devices, he’ll happily attack even the strongest foes in the game, including the dreaded Deathclaws who will shred through his 500 hit points in a matter of seconds. Fortunately, a perk called “Puppies!” included in the Broken Steel add-on will reincarnate Dogmeat as a puppy with twice the hit points no matter how frequently he gets himself killed.
Dogmeat has also made appearances outside of the Fallout universe, albeit in disguise. In Troika Games’ 2001 Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (by Fallout Designer Tim Cain), he appears in the town of Ashbury as a “Worthless Mutt” being kicked to death by a gnome. If quickly rescued, “Dog” will join your party as an able and eternally loyal melee fighter who loves to chew through doors. (Perhaps this is why he is not allowed to ride the train.)
In 2004’s The Bard’s Tale by inXile Entertainment (headed by Fallout vet Brian Fargo), players can befriend a small, seemingly invulnerable dog at the start of the game, at which point the story arc changes: Although the hero must now eventually face the dog’s death, he is ultimately reunited with its eternal spirit. In a game that features Jungian archetypes like the Knight, the Brute and the Crone, the Dog in The Bard’s Tale‘s represents many archetypal canine qualities: courage, friendship and, above all, loyalty, a feature intentionally coded into the very first Dogmeat.
“Dogmeat did not have any dialogue, so you could not tell him to do anything,” says Cain. “What could he offer the player who could choose to take Ian or Tycho instead? Unconditional love. Dogmeat’s loyalty to the player was set to 100 percent, and he would never leave you for any reason.”
Dogmeat’s unwavering devotion lets players “Pet the Dog,” a fiction trope wherein a potentially despised character appears kinder by demonstrating a love for dogs: In Equilibrium, Cleric John Preston slaughters a dozen policemen to save a puppy; Discworld’s Lord Vetinari (veterinary?) is an ex-assassin with dogs named Wuffles and Mr. Fusspot; even Richard Nixon had Checkers. In an uncaring wasteland where you can play a total psychopath if you so choose, Dogmeat is a moral compass: Though your needle might swing towards good or evil, his center always holds strong provided you protect him. If you don’t, his death becomes a sad reminder of the consequences of reckless slaughter.
For many reasons, Dogmeat is arguably the most successful NPC companion ever, according to Chris Avellone, Level Designer for Fallout 2, creator of the Fallout Bible and Chief Creative Officer of Obsidian Entertainment, developer of Fallout: New Vegas.
“One, he doesn’t talk, so the players can project a personality on to him,” says Avellone. “Two, he’s effective in combat … and three, he’s a dog that stays with you through thick-and-thin. I don’t think there’s a deeper ‘awww’ sentiment than people have in their hearts for their pets.”
Michael Fiegel is a freelance writer and game designer, and the creator of Ninja Burger and HELLAS: Worlds of Sun and Stone. He leaves Dogmeat in Megaton to guard his Bobblehead collection, because it’s safer beside the nuclear bomb.