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Retro-futurism in Video Games – Part 2

The first two Bioshock games, though similar, move us forward in time from the setting of Bioshock Infinite toward a Dieselpunk approach. Dieselpunk is again quite similar to Steampunk but instead, as the name suggests, it relies more on diesel powered technology moving forward. This tends to be set around the same era as World War II.

Bioshock 1 and 2 are both set in the fictional dystopian underwater city name ‘Rapture’. It was built in the 1940’s with the intention of being a government free utopia for the elite, a place to live, work and prosper away from the constraints of authority. Naturally war broke out in the city and the majority of it was abandoned. The place is filled with retro-futuristic decorations, gadgets, puzzles and characters. Most notably the ‘Big Daddy’ characters in their humungous high concept diving suits that have become almost iconic. That being said the entire city is essentially one huge Dieselpunk design, once again 2K Games lean completely into the genre, creating an entire world out of it.

In stark contrast to these games are the Professor Layton Games. This is a franchise developed by a company called Level-5 for Nintendo; there are seven games in the series along with an animated feature length film and a television series that have all spun out of it. The games revolve around the adventures of the great ‘Professor Layton’ and his young protégée ‘Luke Triton’ who solve a number of crimes and mysteries in a world obsessed with puzzles.

The Professor Layton world hosts a rather different approach to the genre, its Steampunk but through the lens of a Japanese manga-esque style. Make no mistake though; there are plenty of classic tropes in the games. Steam powered clocks, countless gear centred puzzles, an abundance of copper coloured metals and grand top hats all help to build the aesthetics up.

Nowhere are retro-futuristic themes more present in the series than in the third entry named ‘Professor Layton and the Unwound Future’. In this story the Professor and Luke travel forward to a future version of London, a place where every building is adorned with gears, clocks and steam valves. Blimps are constant and natural fixture in the sky and the street lamps and traffic lights are all steam powered. A mixture of Steampunk and Clockpunk design heavily influenced by London during the industrial revolution can be seen everywhere in this game, really setting it apart from the others. It’s one of the best received games in the franchise scoring 86% on Metacritic.

These are but a few examples of the Steampunk inspired video games available and I have no doubt time will only allow more to enter the market. Here we have talked about three very different examples over a range of consoles and have only scratched the surface, not to mention the countless games that use other themes like Cyberpunk, Decopunk and Atompunk. Retro-futurism is present in so many video games and I’m sure we will cover more in the future, hopefully written with a nifty steam powered keyboard!