Monday, October 31, 2005

Steampunk!

Well, since the engine architecture is so well established, it's time to talk a little about the game's setting: steampunk.

I'm sure everyone knows the term. Mid to late 1800s, in a world where science proved more effective. Steampunk worlds often involve steam-era space travel! Mine doesn't, this game, but will in later games.

The key element in steampunk isn't the technology. The technology is there merely as an enabler. Classic "steam-era science fiction" is all about the colonial era. It's about going new places, founding new colonies, finding new wealth, discovering new truths - and the trials and tribulations thereof, reflected in the eyes of a Victorian culture. For a darker tint, you can show the people back home - the attenuating noblemen, the rising middle class, the falling lower class.

Steampunk drops the importance of the Victorian culture in favor of a more modern "punk"-like culture. It doesn't dismiss the surface trappings of a Victorian culture: people probably still dress Victorian, they probably still talk Victorian, but they don't act Victorian. This is most easily noted in team structure: Victorian culture is big on large, carefully organized teams, whereas "punk" culture uses very small teams governed primarily by force of personality and anarchy.

My "steampunk" universe is driven by the fact that it's easy to fly. The difficulties of manned flight are solved by steam turbines which spin props.

This means that people can build their own planes pretty easily. One culture in particular is heavily affected by this phenominon of manned flight - the main culture in the game. I'm calling it "The Empire" at the moment, but that could change.

What this has led to is a level of connectivity and exclusiveness roughly the same as the early internet/BBoard cultures. Inventors and pilots can travel long distances with fair ease and make a good chunk of money flying light loads (a passenger or some mail). These inventors and pilots accept each other as part of the same "inventor's culture", a meritocracy based on either skill at building aeroships or skill at flying them. A continuous kind of one-upsmanship and "insider culture" results - very much like the early internet/BBoard cultures.

Of course, this rise in the power of inventors results in huge numbers of innovations, mechanical computers being the biggest. However, electricity is not possible in the same way flight is easy. "Telegraph" is not even dreamed of. The fastest way to get a message someplace is to hire an aeroship, unless it's within sight range and you have an optical relay.

The core enablings are still the same. Although most inventors and pilots stay within the civilized world making mail runs, many of them scout out the further reaches of the world, making discoveries, finding things out. The need for coal or oil to drive their engines means they are tethered to an expedition of some kind (usually land-born but occasionally blimp-based), resulting in a detailed exploration rather than a simple "mapping from the air" expedition. Plus, saying "I saw an ancient temple and put it on the map" is far less bragworthy than saying "I saw an ancient temple. We explored it despite the natives trying to stop us and found a jiggywhatzit whirlibag!"

The end result is a rise in small teams and individualism rather than large teams and Victorian conformity. "Steampunk". Closer to "steamhack", I suppose, but "steampunk" is close enough for me.

2 comments:

Patrick Dugan said...

Sounds interesting, like Arcanum but with ships instead of pistols and spells. As far as mechanical computers, we're talking analytic engine sort of stuff right?

Craig Perko said...

Pretty much, although I have no magic, as such. The core concept is very similar. :)