In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
Long time readers of my Gamer Obscura series and numerous inane comments already know that I loveSteambot Chronicles a.k.a. the inappropriately named Bumpy Trot. They’re probably sick of it, but for the uninitiated, I love that game to the point of tears. In a nutshell, it’s like one of the best films Studio Ghibli never made. It has a delightful ‘what if?’ scenario involving the Industrial Revolution, a travelling band that gets involved in all sorts of crazy adventures and a protagonist who learns something about himself as the plot ponders on the theory of Nature vs. Technology.
Still, none of this would be particularly interesting if it wasn’t for the fact that amongst the musical numbers and suspenseful escapades, the game gives us something so bizarrely amazing, yet charmingly realistic, that you end up getting depression because there isn’t anything like it parked outside your house.
Yes, I’m talking about the Contrabulous Fabtrapation that is the Trotmobile.
Is it a Mech?
Is it a car?
Is it just a bit of both?!
Well, considering those are the only three relatable questions I can think of right now, then yes, it’s a bit of both.
Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of giant fighting robots from Japan. Anime like Gundam Wing and Neon Linda Evangelista Angel Monsters: Pretentious Subtitle just doesn’t appeal to me with their fantastical elements and overwrought personal dilemmas. The only one that I became a real fan of is the Patlabor franchise because, despite the appearance of oversized robots, they’re actually used for real-world purposes (in this case, a police deterrent).
That’s also where the appeal of Steambot Chronicles lies. In this world, Trotmobiles are used for large-scale manual labour like logging, construction and excavation. They’re versatile, fully customised, walking tools of the trade that are more likely to be used for mundane tasks rather than help take down a despot dictatorship on a distant planet.
It’s no coincidence that the game is set during an Industrial Revolution, where the possibilities seem naively endless and one design decision can change the course of history. It sort of reminds me of a time when videogame designers thought Full Motion Video really was the future and a plethora of 90’s sci-fi novels discussed the idea of virtual cyberspaces, using the technology at the time as a base of evolution. Looking back, movies and games like The Lawnmower Man and Ripper seem laughably misinformed, but back then, that was supposedly the future if we believed in the forgotten alternatives of technological breakthroughs.
So what if we were to run with an idea like the Trotmobile in real life?
I mean, when you look past the absurdity of their designs, you actually come to believe vehicles like The Earl Grey Mk. II are entirely plausible. Even if you ignore those smirk-inducing YouTube videos of expensive Japanese robots trying to walk up three steps, only to crash and burn after one, you’ll see that even serious-minded scientists harbour a desire to create fantastical walking contraptions for life’s efficiencies.
Alright, it might still seem impractical in theory, but nobody has ever said that Ripley using Power Loader in Aliens was stupid. Last I checked everybody loves that bit; unless you think it’s still fashionable to hate James Cameron. Even so, at least this ‘realistic’ depiction of a walking labour machine gets you thinking about it in a positive light.
Well, as long as you block out those Japanese robots falling down the stairs. All that money could have gone to sick children, you madcap idiots!
That aside, Steambot Chronicles does actually put forward a convincing case not only through the dialogue and a thorough history lessons, but through the mise-en-scčne too. You’re made to adore these alternate modes of transportation when you see them placed next to trams, railways and assorted 1920’s car designs. Many of the quieter moments have you striding around town, looking down from your cockpit at the peons in their redundant automobiles with contempt. It’s clear that in this world, the car is the equivalent of the MiniDisc to your sleeker iPod.
Of course, the irony of it all is that (like many Japanese videogames with a message of modernism) Trotmobiles are part of the environmental problem. They’re huge, noisy and ruining the landscape despite the advancements they achieve. Still, that doesn’t stop the developers let you have fun or even make a PSP sequel that concentrates on the best bits...
Unadulterated Trotmobile Fighting!
Call me crazy, but that would be pretty cool to watch in real life. A bit of road rage can be solved by attaching a trident or an extendable spiked ball on a chain on your Trotmobile’s menacingly clawed arm and going to town on the person who cut you off.
I can already imagine this would be an awesome ratings winner on Top Gear, where Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond go head-to-head in a ‘Battle of The Trots’ show, while James May sits around looking dismayed in a Morris Minor. He’d soon betray a look of sheer terror however, as the other two turn on him with their cute monstrosities. I don’t even like Top Gear, but I’d watch it for this episode alone.
Still, it’ll never happen. Much like my dream of inviting Rosario Dawson over for tea, only for her to arrive in nothing but a bikini made of whipped cream.
I’m going to let you in a little secret though. Come closer...Closer...No, not that close.
I can’t drive. I’ve never even had the chance to learn and over the years, my desire to do so diminished to the point where only trips to see long-distance friends has managed to flicker an interest. Though I swear, if they ever really were invented, I’d be first in line to get my Trotmobile license.
Then maybe I’d give Rosario Dawson a call in my new ‘wheels’.