Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturday Bonus Post: Welcome back to the continuing saga of Robotech!

A few months ago, I was asked to do a guest column about Robotech for my buddy Zach at RPGBlog II. He's been nice enough to let me repost it here, so here it is.

Imagine, if you will, an event so profound that it changes not only your fundamental views of yourself and your place in the universe, but also alters the course of human history forever. Imagine living in a world much like ours, a world full of too many people and not enough resources. A world that has seen a bloody decade of global armed conflict with no end in sight. Now imagine that one day, it could be any day, you're at work or school or a recruiting center or wherever your day may take you, and it happens.

Something huge tears a hole in the sky and comes screaming out of the firmament trailing fire and wreckage. Military satellites turn their cameras eagerly toward it, air forces and navies are scrambled, 24-hour news channels cut into the usual stories of war, starvation and economic collapse with a breaking story, Something that can only be described as an alien spacecraft has entered Earth's atmosphere and crashed in the South Pacific. Please stay tuned to this network for further details”.

There is panic. Police and national paramilitary forces are deployed to keep the peace. Martial law is declared and curfews are enforced. Everyone, you included, is glued to their televisions as the first pictures come in from satellites and reconnaissance aircraft. There it is, just like they said, an alien spacecraft nearly a mile long, steaming, cooling in the ocean air on a tiny island at the bottom of the world. Cease-fires are immediately declared, ambassadors are deployed for the first time in years, and the world takes a collective breath as every man woman and child comes to the same realization

"We are not alone.”

And then,

"Whoever lost this is going to come looking for it.”

Can you even imagine? Can you imagine your reaction as you sit there in your living room or at the corner bar or wherever, staring at the incontrovertible proof that we are not alone in the universe, and that the neighbors may not be particularly friendly? What would you do? Where would you turn? Would you heed the call to action sent out by a fledgling United Earth Government? Would you gather weapons and food and loved ones and disappear into the hills? Would you turn to science or the bottle or the Lord for some comfort? This is the world of Robotech, a world fundamentally changed by a navigation error, a cosmic scale wrong turn that would raise the Earth out of her bloody conflict and bring her people together as never before, only to plunge them neck deep and screaming into someone else's intergalactic war.

Robotech is an American cartoon developed in the mid 80s by producer and anime pioneer Carl Macek for Harmony Gold U.S. It's a story stitched together from three radically different early 80s anime; The wildly popular Super Dimensional Fortress: Macross (the anime that launched a thousand sequels), the much (and in this author's opinion, unfairly) maligned Super Dimensional Cavalry: Southern Cross and the beautiful and brooding Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. It tells a sweeping and compelling epic story about heroism, war, love, revenge, loss and survivor's guilt. The finished story, which follows the life and times of three generations of warriors from Earth to the stars and back again over 85 episodes, is full of stunning set pieces, pulse-pounding action, amazing acts of heroism and sacrifice, gut-wrenching loss and even the occasional moment of grace. It is credited with bringing anime into the American mainstream, even more so than shows like Speed Racer and Astro-Boy, and stoked the fires of millions of young imaginations, including that of yours truly, with its compelling story and hard hitting action.

As a Role-Playing Game, Robotech offers a deep, deep pool of inspiration from which to draw. With three distinct time frames to work in, four counting the new Shadow Chronicles, there's something in the setting for everybody. Want to be a flash fighter pilot flying the iconic Valkyrie variable fighter off a space-carrier? Looking to go toe to toe with the implacable Zentraedi and win the hearts of bridge officers and J-pop stars the world over? If that sounds appealing, you should give the Macross Saga a try. Or would you prefer to be a swaggering, two-fisted armored cavalry sergeant, trying to keep the peace during the reconstruction and desperately holding off the decadent and depraved Robotech Masters? That's where Southern Cross comes in. Perhaps you prefer a hardscrabble post-apocalyptic setting, constantly on the run and using second-hand military surplus to fight against an enemy so fundamentally alien that we are to them as ants are to us. If that's the case, then the Invid Invasion is for you. Finally, if the idea of returning from deep space like some intergalactic Prodigal Son, a conquering hero here to release the Homeworld from its alien occupiers only to be betrayed at the eleventh hour by a trusted ally appeals to you, then the Shadow Chronicles is your setting.

Robotech is, at its core, a multi-generational space opera. Within the course of the game players get to pilot transforming robots, fight aliens, chase girls and generally live the life of a professional military, or paramilitary in the case of Invid Invasion, bad-ass. Players and GMs of every persuasion can find a lot to love in Robotech. There's plenty of giant robots and transformable mecha and spaceships and guns for the action oriented guns and gear crowd. For a perhaps more subtle and nuanced game there is plenty of opportunity for intrigue and suspense, especially in the Macross and Shadow Chronicles setting. It can be the basis of a one night beer and pretzels shoot-em-up killfest just as easily as it can be the base for an epic campaign run over years with a whole cast of characters. There's so much rich history and potential for drama and action and pathos in Robotech, that a gamer could get lost for days within its complex story. As a Robotech fan, I heartily support this, and encourage anyone who enjoys science fiction and good storytelling to grab a copy and give it a try.

No comments: