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At the End of a Cyberpunk Week

For no particular reason, I’ve spent this last week working over various cyberpunk themes and source material.  All of it started out with a chance rewatching of the mid-90’s cyberpunk classic, Strange Days, with Ralph Fiennes.  I remember watching the movie originally and not being terribly impressed with it at the time, something that this recent rewatching has disabused me of.  I seem to recall that I’d been hoping for something with a little more neon and assumed futurism, rather than a portrait of Los Angeles as it slowly disintegrated.

This time through, I found myself drawing various parallels to Neuromancer, fascinated by the different elements of story and nods to the larger cyberpunk genre.  Having gone into it expecting the whole affair to be dated and trite, I was charmed by the intelligence of the plot and grittiness of the world they were navigating.

In the mean time, I’ve noticed the run-up hype advertising Watch Dogs, the hip and new video game soon to hit for Windows and the various consoles.  I seem to be alone in my casual interest for the game, as everyone else seems to think that it’s going to be the second coming of entertainment.  It comes out in two weeks, and even though it’s one of my favorite gameplay types for console games (open world action), I’ll wait to see if the relentless advertising push is going to worth the final product.

Overall, Watch Dogs ranks slightly lower on the cyberpunk scale than Strange Days, as the world is less grimy and dystopic in nature, even though it has near future technology and street level activism.  I’m interested to see just how well the tech is integrated into the world, as it might be informative for a game at some point, but my tastes in this sort of genre tend more toward games like Deus Ex.

Finally, I’ve been receiving updates for the Bubblegum Crisis OVA Blu-Ray set that I put in money for the Kickstarter some months back.  I’ve been impressed at how the project creator, Robert Woodhead, has managed the whole affair, posting timely updates and including the backers on every crucial design decision.  BGC is one of my favorite anime series, not coincidentally because it was introduced to me through a role-playing game.

Interestingly enough, the text of the R. Talsorian RPG is included in the Blu-Ray boxed set, as an extra on the discs themselves.  I’m fascinated by the cross-pollination this implies, but the reality is that there’s not much that has been licensed here in the States for BGC, so they naturally included everything they could.  Also included is the Grand Mal comic by Adam Warren, which remains a favorite of mine.

The anime OVA’s of Bubblegum Crisis tell the story of a post-earthquake cyberpunk (in the Japanese sense, rather than the Gibsonian sense) version of Tokyo, where the reconstruction of the city was financed by Genom, the corporation that now rules the land.  The main characters are a mercenary group using highly advanced powered armor to wage a shadow war against Genom, believing them to be responsible for much of the current social ills that plague Japan, and by extension, the world.  The nature of machine intelligence is explored through the Boomers, a series of artificial humanoids that serve all levels of society from domestic help to military applications.  The series owes heavily to the movie Blade Runner, to the point that two of the main characters are named Priss and Leon and the theme that opens the first video pulls directly from Vangelis.  (It also doesn’t hurt that the soundtrack pulls from both Meat Loaf and Queen.)

As for the RPG, it was put out by R. Talsorian at the height of their brand, meaning that it’s a slickly presented and thoroughly researched product that can also double as an episode guide and artbook, depending.  The game line was part of their Fuzion System, one of the original generic systems offered to the gaming public for adaptation.  Other games in the line included Dragonball Z and Armored Troopers Votoms, as well as a version of Champions, the fundamentally odd Sengoku, and Victoriana.

The BGC RPG consisted of three books, separately covering the eight OVA’s in the main book, the two companion series of AD Police Files and Bubblegum Crash, and the concept art that never made it into the animation.

Let me back up and talk about that last one for a second.

The third book, Bubblegum Crisis EX, was an odd book, even by the standards of R. Talsorian.  It was based entirely on art published in the various Japanese artbooks for the different series, and the designers picked through the unused designs to build stat blocks for.  On one level, it’s fantastic book that expands out the campaign possibilities for anyone running a BGC campaign, as it also includes expanded suggestions for framing international versions of the original team and a guide on how to play Boomer characters.  At the same time, the Character section of the book has ten pages devoted to the anime characters, with minimal stat blocks and two pages of artwork for each person.

Being a Fuzion game, it can be made to run in a normal Cyberpunk 2020 world, if needed, but it’s also fine on its own, as there’s plenty to draw from.  The Fuzion rules are light and pretty simple, distilled as they are from Hero System and Interlock, the underlying system that was used in Cyberpunk and Mekton.  I’ve run plenty of games using this system, and it’s really quite fast to teach and pick up.

As a game company, R. Talsorian’s been shuttered for a while now, meaning that these books are steadily going up in price, but recent developments might have them re-entering the current game market.  Whether this means that games like this one will be coming back into print is up for speculation, but if nothing else, we’re likely to see a return of the core products like Mekton and Cyberpunk to the marketplace at some point soon.  If nothing else, hopefully we’ll see Mekton Zero sometime this year.