Thursday, November 11, 2004

Steam-driven gaming

[It's a shame Blogger doesn't do categories. Pretend this entry is in a "Gaming" category, and that you're not seeing it if you're just interested in the Python side of the 'Pipes. In any event, this is reposted from a backup I had from before I move Apipes to blogspot.]

I have a habit of coming up with an idea, writing it down, forgetting about it, and then reading that someone else has had the same idea and developed it into something really cool. It's happened again.

Early this year, I was inspired (by reading The Victorian Internet, The Guns of the South, and The CSS Hunley in quick succession, while at the same time re-playing MechCommander 2), to create a game or story setting for a "steampunk", Victorian- or slightly post-Victorian alternate history.

I started with steam-driven, clockwork tanks (called "armored coaches" or "steamcoaches") and U-boats, but it grew into steam-driven mechs, with Tesla and Edison as scientific advisors on opposite sides of a just-post-Victorian war.

Two possible scenarios for that war developed: a corporate war or a second US Civil war. The corp war (aka "The Steam Wars", or TSW) occured around 1915 between a united Westinghouse/Union Pacific conglomerate (with Edison as the technical advisor) and a TELM/Southern Railway/Central Pacific conglomerate jointly headed by Tesla himself and the head of the Southern Pacific railroad. The dates had to be fudged a bit, as I had a hard time nailing down which of the SP's executives would have had enough guts to pull it off--maybe Stanford.

The other option was to have the South win succession (via British and/or French assistance), then make a "land grab" for the Western states with the help of Tesla and the Western Railroads around 1918-ish (again, I cheated by making TELM a successful Colorado
company, and making the post-civil war railroad situation in the South less dismal that it was historically), thus causing The Second US Civil War, aka T2CW or, in the words of one rabid Northern journalist of the time, "The War of Southern Aggression".

In both cases, I had to remove the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary from the record books. I wanted the European situation to be simmering but not erupting, so as to free up US energies for internal conflict. I toyed with the idea of making the corporate war occur before 1914, and having its results feed into World War I, but I don't really know enough about European-American politics of that time to stitch it together, and the dates had to be pushed around enough as it was.

The historical (i.e., real) webs of international politics were really interesting but somewhat hard to get a handle on (particularly in the second case), outdone only by the web of inter-corporate controls, holdings, rivalries, etc. between the railroads during the same time. It made for some fun research, including a surprisingly large amount of data and bibliographic pointers from Wikipedia.

Anyway, I got pretty far with it in notes, even writing some vignettes, but it Mr. Blamire has gone much further. He's gone a completely different route, though:
  • In my milieu, Canada was a tangential player in the T2CW setting and unmentioned in the TSW setting; it looks like a Prussian invasion of Canada (?!) is his inciting incident.
  • Blamire's "mechs" are anthropomorphic. Interesting, but I haven't seen much to make me think that a late 19th-century inventor would take that direction, other than a rather fanciful web page I ran across while researching. Mine were of a more antlike design.
  • Blamire's "mechs" are the dominant force during his time period. Mine are just being designed and prototyped during the story arc (and thus form a major part of the story). The real combat is happening between "steamcoaches", horse cavalry (losing badly to the former), and infantry, with a few brave souls experimenting with airships.
  • Airplanes aren't a real factor in either of my settings, because Curtiss is involved in mech design for Edison. The Wrights were technically successful but haven't garnered the amount of attention they did in the Real World--from my research, it appears that much of their fame grew out of the Curtiss rivalry.
Aren't alternate histories fun?