1879: Fiction Within The Fiction
In designing the game world of 1879, we had to make some choices about the level of remove from our own world. We wanted an alternate history, one that was close enough to our own to be recognizable, yet different enough to be a foreign land, attractive to the idea of exploration. At the same time, we wanted to differentiate our product line from others, and to avoid some of the tropes of Steampunk that are perilously close to becoming cliché. This led us to decisions about the nature of Victorian fiction, and whether to include public-domain characters or to maintain a closer alignment with our own world.
In the end, we decided to keep the fiction as fiction. This allows us to make a reference to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s book Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, in character. In discussing the Prometheans, a group of Weird Science biologists who got rather far out of hand, it’s remarked that Mrs. Shelley’s book was not intended as an instruction manual, but rather a warning as to where the boundaries were.
Everyone makes pop culture references, regardless of when and where they live. People in London in the late 1800s made references to Ivanhoe, and to the Vril of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and to Ally Sloper. We’ve left these as cultural references, rather than integrating them into the game world as something the characters would see as real, in order to maintain the milieu as something close to our world.
In many cases, we couldn’t have included the fictional characters if we had wanted to. Permission from the Doyle estate and the expense of it aside, Sherlock Holmes didn’t appear in print until 1887, a good seven years after the date in the 1879 London sourcebook. In 1880, Arthur Conan Doyle was serving as ship’s doctor on a whaler out of Greenland. While he’d been published both in the fiction market and academically, he’d yet to even graduate from university, much less introduce his most well known creation.
While it could be amusing to include Captain Nemo, or Arne Saknassum, or any of the other creations of Jules Verne, we realised we had a much greater opportunity with the author himself. By 1880, Verne had become wealthy and famous as a result of his literary works, and had become active in French politics. Putting him in Paris at the time of the Fall was an easy choice. Who better to help lead the City of Light out of the darkness and back into the day, than a man who had made his career imagining the future?
History itself is strange enough; all we’ve really had to do is make a few minor tweaks here and there, and then pop open the Rabbit Hole in the midst of it all. Adding period fiction characters as in-game “real people” would have been gilding the lily. And really, how could we top bringing in Heinrich Hertz, Wilhelm Wundt, and Max Planck as the founders of a school of scientific magic?