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What is Steampunk?

Our game SteamCity is set in a steampunk world, a setting that is integral to the game’s characters and story. But what exactly is steampunk?

Sky pirates, zeppelins, mechanical walkers. These are just some of the images that first come to mind. Stirring tales of derring-do with brave adventurers, quirky geniuses, suave detectives, and honorable soldiers. Steampunk has all this and more. It’s a word that has come to encompass literature, film, games, comics, and even fashion!

Steampunk as a genre can trace its existence back to the speculative fiction works of authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells during the 19th century. It’s characterised by a setting where the primary source of power is steam and various outlandish technologies and creations have emerged from this. Airships, submarines, and locomotives all feature heavily along with other inventions generally associated with mad scientists. Although it initially belonged to the field of science and speculative fiction, steampunk has joined the realms of fantasy and alternate history as time has marched on.

A cousin to the better known cyberpunk, steampunk differs in that it generally explores an alternate past as opposed to speculative futures. Steampunk stories also tend to have an underlying note of optimism to them as opposed to the darker tales that cyberpunk usually features. Even the most dystopian of steampunk adventures will often have an underlying note of hope.

The most well known examples of steampunk take inspiration from Victorian aesthetics as the British Empire was the dominant power during that era. But these are just some of the broader conventions of the genre. Steampunk is continually evolving with each author putting their own unique spin on it. For example, Dishonored took a traditional Victorian look for its story whereas Iron Grip modelled itself on eastern Slavic dress and culture. Other works take inspiration from South America or anti-colonial movements, putting more emphasis on the punk than steam.

Steampunk can also vary from featuring technology front and center to having it merely in the background amidst personal or political struggles. Other stories bring in elements from fantasy stories and popular Victorian horror, one notable example being Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Familiar faces such as Dr Jekyll, Captain Nemo, and Allan Quartermain, are just some of the notable individuals to feature in his work. The genre encourages homages and experimentation.

The influence of the genre can be seen everywhere in SteamCity. The game mixes traditional tropes with Asian influences, putting a unique spin on the usual features of steampunk. The garishly lit cityscapes show influence from cyberpunk, melding with classical Victorian architecture. Fascist influences can be seen in the garb of enemy troops, contrasting with the more historical wear of the civil population. SteamCity is a delightful mixture of historical and science fiction aesthetics, presenting it in an accessible and enjoyable package.

This was just meant to be a brief introduction to the genre and to explain some aspects of SteamCity that might seem outlandish to some. We encourage you to explore more of the various representations of steampunk in fiction. We also hope you’ve learnt a little more about the genre SteamCity will proudly join.

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