Trudy and her Mechanicals
The setting for Trudy’s Mechanicals borrows heavily from various Steampunk tropes, but focuses on two aspects that are not widely used in the genre: the effects of “Steampunk-tech” pollution, and mechanization as a punishment rather than an empowerment.
The first point was born of pragmatism. When we were initially kicking around ideas for a new project, we wanted to limit its scope to make sure we could actually execute on it. The preference was to set the game in a single city, preferably a floating one to clearly define its borders while creating a cool aesthetic. Since I’ve always loved world-creation, I quickly butted-in and ran with the concept.
Steampunk seemed like a natural fit as its works are filled with giant, floating airships, but I wanted a concrete reason as to why our dirigible was stuck in the skies. The answer came fairly naturally: the plethora of side-effects that come with coal-burning technology.
Lots of early steam-powered inventions were fueled by coal, so I imagined a world where the practice became common place for the entire populace. Not only did electricity come from coal-burning power plants, but every horseless carriage and household servebot relied on coal as well. Over time, the practice led to a critical mass of pollution, and any attempts to reverse the process only make it worse. The few who were quick enough to spot the irrevocable hazards of the acrid fog and rain embarked on a skybound exodus, settling on a immense airship nicknamed Trudy.
As we settled on the Steampunk setting, our thoughts were filled with images of flintlock rifles and chimnied mechs. This was where our second point of focus materialized.
I had a bit of an aversion to typical empowerment associated with any type of “mech fiction,” including Steampunk. I mulled over how we could change this formula without sacrificing the iconic imagery, and one fateful night I hit on a suitable solution.
I was leaving work rather late, and seeing a streetcar pulling into its stop, I made a mad dash for it. As I ran up to its doors, the driver looked at me and closed them. He definitely saw me, but slowly pulled away from the platform as I was ready to get on. There was no reason not to let me board, and missing the streetcar meant I’d have to wait another 30 minutes or so before the next one came (hopefully before the subways stopped running).
As I seethed in my rage, I fancied that the perfect punishment for the driver’s smug power-trip would be to make him perform this menial job for the rest of his life. I pictured him fused to his chair, forever pulling the rusty vehicle while envying its passengers that could get off at any time.
And so the Mechanicals were born; industrial workers sutured with heavy machinery rather than soldiers or adventurers so prevalent in the genre.
These Steampunk cyborgs are still physically imposing, but their abilities can be neutralized by the armaments of “normal” law enforcers. What’s worse, they represent the proletariat, the poor working-class, and are stigmatized for their decision to sell and mutilate their own bodies. The Mechanicals are indigent and kept segregated in their own underground district, but their plight is also a large driving force behind the game’s storyline.
I guess if that streetcar driver ever got assimilated by his vehicle, I’d have some sympathy for him after all.