The way Steampunk ought to be: or, a ‘Clockwork Empires’ preview

Steampunk as a form of literature is contrived and stupid. Steampunk as an aesthetic, as a style, is fantastic and attractive. Although the gnarly mechanisms, clankity gizmos and outlandish outfits have origins in the literature, it has not been until recently that visual artists have taken the concept of Steampunk to the next level.The new millennium finds Steampunk just beyond the border of what is familiar. Now that our world operates silently in the aether, the sensations associated with late 19th century technology, in all its industrial grandeur, is compelling because it is recognizable, and yet, just antiquated enough to warrant a sort of mythological wonder. This is a heady visual world that operates more soundly in personal sketchpads, comic books, movies, and video games…

INDEED! To be released in 2013 for the PC and Mac

Clockwork Empires is being developed by Gaslamp Games. The game is being defined as an imperialistic city-building RTS. There is no set release date, not even an estimated quarter. So, I’m left to use some good old fashioned imagination. I’m picturing something akin to SimCity, Majesty, and perhaps Sid Meier’s Civ games – minus the turn-taking.  All of these with Steampunk characteristics in artwork and gameplay. Being that I have zero (0) artistic ability in all things visual I will relish the opportunity to build and fine-tune, however garishly, my own Steampunk-esqe city, to utilize gears and copper tubing. I will expand the empire for the glory of the Queen! Indeed, developers have mentioned that the game map will place itself outside the comfort of established cities into a fantastical, wild world inhabited by monstrous unknowns – true to the mentality of the days of yore. But in Clockwork Empires the monsters are real, and more often than not will assume the hideous form of human ambition.

The player must plan, build and micromanage: Yes, yes and yes. Each citizen in your burgeoning outpost has plans and ambitions of his own. Therefore, you cannot directly command. Instead, you must influence; thus, making this imperialistic arrangement all the more cutthroat. One must be resourceful, industrious – both being primary attributes that I visualize in a Steampunk universe. And let us not overlook the artistic intent. Steampunk is more effective when it is seen and not read about. I am made giddy by the promise that I will have a palate abundant with styles and artistic control over many elements of the game. I imagine playing dress up while mustachioed engineers in overalls outfit my zeppelins with hand-cranked railguns. rata-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat Jolly good, Guvna!

As a literature, Steampunk is nothing more than a crappy off-shoot of what cyberpunk meant to represent, and represented well. Where cyberpunk was reactionary to the emerging ubiquity of the hyper-reality of the ’80s, Steampunk attained mainstream attention simply as a reaction to cyberpunk just because it, well, could – as if it had nothing better to do. Relative to its techno-noir contemporary, Steampunk offers nothing more in content than a shoddy attempt to rebuild our virtual world using late 19th century technology; A place where optical cables are copper tubes, and prosthetic limbs are constructed of old pocket-watch parts. This is not literature. It is misplaced imagination. With an opportunity like Clockwork Empires I can don the gown of Steampunk and realize my own strange and fascinating world far more effectively than any assembly of words and punctuation marks. So SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!


  1. Nick, have you played Bioshock? It’s not in the RTS/Sim vein, but it nails the Steampunk aesthetic to a T (and the story is great, too). You should check it out if you haven’t.

    That being said, I am 100% on board with Clockwork Empires.


    • Those links were the same. Did you mean to include a second link?

      I am very excited about Bioshock Infinite, but to truly appreciate what that game will be, I still think there’s value in playing the original. I know it’s a five year old game at this point, but I am pretty sure it will hold up very well.

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