I’m not really a huge fan of the whole steampunk thing. I loved the old Space:1889 pen and paper RPG – or rather, I loved the setting, since Space:1889 is widely regarded as one of the best game settings ever linked to one of the worst game systems. Since then, however, the whole thing has taken off and become cliche. The couple of SF conventions I’ve been to over the last few years have been split between a bunch of wankers wearing pith helmets and goggles on the one hand, versus the disenfranchised hard SF types threatening a backlash against all the crappily written steampunk stories in which everybody is a gallant airship privateer captain and nobody seems to have to shovel the coal.
Steampunk has relentlessly invaded the fantasy genre, too. Most computer fantasy RPGs have steampunk elements. Sometimes they’re restricted to dwarves or tinker gnomes as they are in WoW. Other worlds, like Guild Wars 2’s Tyria, are on the cusp of a full-blown industrial revolution. There aren’t many games without a steam engine in sight somewhere. LotRO is probably the great exception, as Tolkien was too busy inventing the modern fantasy genre in the first place to think of mashing it up with Victoriana (plus there’s the whole middle Earth ethos of industry = orcs = evil)
Surprisingly given all of the above, I’m currently reading a steampunk novel that I’m really enjoying. The novel is The Forever Engine by Frank Chadwick, and it might help that the author is also the man who was behind the Space:1889 RPG and so is an original voice rather than one of the legion of slavish imitators. It also helps that his view of Victorian society is less rosy-tinted than some. I’m inspired enough to imagine what a Space:1889 Based MMO could be like – it could be made for a three faction set-up with the technologically advanced humans in conflict with the ancient and mystical Martians on one hand and the savage lizard men of Venus on the other. Put that one up on Kickstarter and I’ll chuck a few dollars in the pot. But only if you’ve got Frank Chadwick on board.