This is a bit weird, but I regularly check out people's plumbing. Don't worry, that's not a euphemism. In a previous life, I was a plumber and gas fitter, you see, and despite hanging up my tools over a decade ago, I still subconsciously analyse pipework runs, water heater placements, and bathroom suite configurations on the fly whenever I go somewhere new – in both real life and, believe it or not, in video games.
Strange as that may be, it's something Fallout devotee Jessica Esper (opens in new tab), who goes by the pseudonym NukaViolet, understands all too well. As a real life graphic designer, artist and painter, NukaViolet applies her real world expertise to Fallout 76, and is one of the most distinguished in-game settlement architects roaming the online wasteland. Within exhaustive but accessible tutorials, her style is methodical but endearing; her delivery informative yet serene. She's basically Bob Ross of the post-apocalypse.
"I'm constantly evaluating the game world around me, planning things in my head and imagining how things might look if laid out in a certain way," says NukaViolet. "I'll lay something out and then think: 'oh, I should have a room over here, because then I could hide my power in the ceiling.' It's a little obsessive, but it's the process and I love it."
Despite her calming, almost ASMR-like diction, NukaViolet says her least favourite part of making videos is listening to her voice back. She prefers construction, showing off how some subtle but sweeping tweaks to base-building can transform settlements – from choosing the right lighting, merging items to create entirely new ones, and building bespoke headquarters that adhere to wider Fallout lore, to name but a few areas she's focused on recently.
As such, her YouTube channel (opens in new tab) is comprised of short, hands-on themed builds, as well as longer, more involved tutorials (opens in new tab) that meticulously break down how you might turn an innocuous house plant into a feature wall centre-piece; or transform your oversaturated interrogation room-like bedroom into an accent-lit chillout space. Here's a striking before and after look at the latter:
"You can see how different those rooms look, and all I did was change the lighting," explains NukaViolet. "The room on the left is overexposed and all of the objects carry the same amount of weight visually, meaning everything is screaming for your attention. Your brain is telling your eyes to look away because it's too much information to process all at once."
"Basically, I make videos like the ones I'd like to see myself. There are so many settlement building videos out there, for Fallout 4 and Fallout 76, but they're mostly looking at specific things – a little bit here and a little bit there. But I don't want to have to go to 50 different videos to figure out what I'm trying to do. I'd rather just learn it in one video, watch longer content, and just learn way more. Like a one-stop shop, you know? I want people to learn, to grow in confidence, and, ultimately, to have fun."
NukaViolet's eye for detail helps keep her work streamlined, of course, which is the result of years of practical experience in art and design. Having graduated from high school in Virginia in 2003, she earned a scholarship at the Art Institute of Washington, and has worked in graphic design since, turning her hand to interior design, video editing, painting, and just about anything else that keeps her creative juices flowing along the way.
Settlement-building in Fallout 76 scratches that artistic itch for NukaViolet currently, and marks a steady evolution playing through The Sims, Age of Empires, and modern Fallout games – her brother put her onto the Washington DC-set Fallout 3 while she was still studying in the US capital.
"For the longest time, I only ever played whatever my family was playing. Because I lived in a different state, I would play online with them which was a nice way of keeping in contact," NukaViolet continues. "My brother has always loved Fallout, and eventually bought me an Xbox as a wedding gift. I then got into Fallout myself and really liked it, and then when Fallout 76 came out, that's when I really got into building."
"I think Fallout 76 struck such a chord with me because I could share my builds with other people. It made me want to build bigger and better things because people can actually see it. And that's when I started pushing myself to get better and better with every build. I've now built, easily, over 100 camps."
NukaViolet hails the Fallout 76 settlement building scene as a whole, but singles out the likes of Logan RTX, Bad Notions, Rad Rux, Aqua Nova, Vapid Valentine, Uranium Fever, and Khalil Smooth as creators pushing the bounds of the game's creation suite with stunning results. NukaViolet has even teamed up with the latter to create a machinima-style Western themed cinematic (opens in new tab), which adds yet another layer of invention to settlement design. To this end, whether base-building in Fallout 76 interests you or not, the idea that an innovative, performance subculture exists within a game otherwise rooted in survival and killing rival factions is neat – so too is the fact that its most prolific contributors are so keen to show outsiders how it's done.
With this in mind, NukaViolet admits other games such as Minecraft and Ark: Survival Evolved may enjoy bigger, more vocal communities (and thus, are potentially more lucrative from a content creator's perspective), but it's a passion for building in a game she loves that drives her back to the wasteland workshop time and time again. And when she needs a break? She simply puts down her tools, goes for a stroll, and pumps a few Slug Buster rounds into an unsuspecting Deathclaw or two.
"That's one thing I love about Fallout 76 compared to other games," says NukaViolet, "if you get bored with, like, you know, spending a few hours on a build, if you need a break, you can just go and kill some stuff. That's always fun."
Out of the vault
After a tonne of positive feedback on recent projects, NukaViolet is now hard at work on her next extensive tutorial, this one focused on merging items. With this, two young children to care for – one of who was born during the last 18 months of lockdown – and a real world kitchen renovation on the horizon, the tireless creator has her work cut out for her.
If my own, admittedly random ex-plumber tendencies are anything to go by, I suspect NukaViolet's great work in the Fallout world will serve her well in the real one, as she determines the ideal formation of her refrigerator, sink, stove and whatever other kitchen appliances she opts for. In any event, she's an expert in maximising space – you only need to check out her super-soothing, Bob Ross-esque Fallout settlement tutorials (opens in new tab) to see that.
"The kitchen company has this free programme where you can lay out your space," adds NukaViolet. "It's kind of like Fallout where they have pre-made things, where you can pick your countertop and other stuff, and it looks so cool. I've already picked out all the appliances, I have a layout of, like, everything, and it's all pretty much set and done. It's no coincidence that the process is similar to how I build in Fallout, the crossover between the game and the real world is definitely there!"
If you'd like to keep up with Jessica Esper, aka NukaViolet's work, you can do so via her website (opens in new tab), Twitter (opens in new tab) and YouTube (opens in new tab) – this Fallout 76 lighting tutorial (opens in new tab) is especially great.