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Retro Futurists Blog

Retro-futurism in Video Games – Part 1

Video games are an unquestionably huge form of media. Since they’re birth they’ve gone from strength to strength in a remarkably short amount of time and are now the most interactive form of storytelling available. As a result they have big franchises, just like blockbuster movies, that people love and look forward to. These come in all shapes and sizes from first person shooters to farming simulators, from mysteries to horror stories. Due to the versatility of the medium the possibilities are endless. In fact it’s an excellent place to find examples of Retro-futurism in all its forms.

Arguably the most popular of the ‘punk’ genres is Steampunk. This is theme in which steam power remained the primary source of energy, advancing far beyond its capabilities and creating all sorts of marvellous contraptions like weapons, submarines and airships. There are a whole host of video games that use Steampunk to create an atmospheric setting for their world, some are bleak and some are shiny but most importantly each has its own feel to it.

The Fable games are a series of action role-play games produced for the Xbox consoles by Lionhead Studios until the company folded in 2016. These Fantasy games were set in the fictional world of ‘Albion’ in a time where extraordinary people named ‘Heroes’ dictated the course of history through both good and bad deeds. You can choose to be either good or evil and the decisions you make throughout the game determine the outcome of the overall story.

There are three games in the series and the first is set firmly within the fantasy genre. As we reach the second game we start to see the motifs veering towards a more retro-futuristic approach with the presence of a Clockpunk motif. This is a very similar theme to Steampunk only with the presence of advanced clockwork mechanics instead of steam power. This can be seen throughout the city of ‘Bowerstone’ but mostly in the clockwork weapons, most notably guns. It is however in the third game ‘Fable 3’ that we can see a variety of Steampunk elements used; a steam powered monorail, large industrial factories, steam powered hats, goggle clad tycoons and even a full suit of steam powered armour. Unfortunately with Lionhead’s closure we did not get to see another sequel, who knows how much further they’d have taken it.

A series that is well known for its heavily influenced retro-futuristic games is the Bioshock franchise by 2K Games. There have been three games in the Bioshock series in which the third game Bioshock Infinite serves as a sort of prequel to the first two. This game is set in an alternate reality, as do all the games in the series. It takes place in the state of Columbia in the year 1912, though this version of Columbia is one that has been suspended in the air using the power of ‘quantum levitation’ along with a series of balloons and blimps. The entire State is built up with Steampunk elements, from its vending machines and advertisements to the robots that attack you; it’s possibly one of the finest examples of the genre in gaming to date.