I heard that TempleCon has a theme. Is that true?
Yes, TempleCon has an overall theme of Science Fiction and Retro-Futurism. Each year we also choose a sub-genre of Retro-Futurism as a focus theme. In 2016, we're revisiting our most popular theme choice of post-apocalypse, last seen in 2012. This time we're going heavy on adding in the Raygun Gothic and 1950's elements made popular in games like "Fallout", but all things shiny and chrome are also fair game.
So, what is Retro-Futurism?
Retro-Futurism is a genre of art and literature that expresses enthusiasm for visions of the future produced in the past. These visions bear the trappings of whatever age they were produced in, from the Victorian on up through the mid- to late-20th century, so they sometimes seem dated or naively idealistic, yet they can also be slyly witty and even darkly dystopian. We consider Retro-Futurism to encompass several artistic and literary genres, including Steampunk, Neo-Victorianism, Weird West, Dieselpunk, Decopunk, Raygun Gothic, and Cyberpunk, amongst others. Biopunk is an emerging genre that overlaps all of the others.
Okay, so what is Steampunk?
Steampunk is a genre of art and literature set in a world where steam power is still commonly used, a world frequently shaped by other alternate history elements, such as highly-functional dirigibles being used in place of airplanes, or analog computers being developed as early as the 19th century, or different outcomes to actual historical events. Steampunk tends to bear the cultural trappings of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and is often characterized by the desire to make fashion and the objects that surround us more unique, more artfully designed, which results in a Do-It-Yourself attitude and creations like this famous Steampunk Laptop by the artisan Datamancer. The -punk suffix in Steampunk tends to lead its enthusiasts to a greater deviation from traditional Victorian and Edwardian social mores than the Neo-Victorians (although they are frequently mistaken for each other).
And Neo-Victorianism? What's that?
Neo-Victorianism is an aesthetic movement that combines the visual and social aspects of the Victorian and Edwardian eras with modern technology and information. Its practitioners are generally more socially conservative than those of the steampunk mileau, and strive to imitate not only the dress and mannerisms of Victorian and Edwardian society, but also adopt habits of those eras such as the exchange of calling cards, observing the ritual of high tea, and so forth. As with steampunk, there is a strong cosplay element, but it is often inclined toward greater historical accuracy, with some notable exceptions. The Neo-Victorian RPG Unhallowed Metropolis is a great example of this - it incorporates gas masks and Tesla technology because of its future setting, but displays Victorian social mores and aesthetics, in keeping with its characters' desire to rebuild what they consider the "Golden Age" of Victorian England.
How about Weird West?
Weird West is a genre of gaming and literature/movies devoted to an alternate history of the American West with science fiction and/or horror elements, or futuristic offshoots thereof (Joss Whedon's Firefly series and Serenity film being notable examples of the Weird West genre in a future setting). A good example of the Weird West genre in gaming is Deadlands by Pinnacle Entertainment Group.
A concise way to look at Weird West is that much how Steampunk is a 19th Century imagination of the future from a European perspective, Weird West is simply approaching it from an American one.
Okay, so what's Dieselpunk?
"If Steampunk is polished brass, Dieselpunk is rusted iron."
Dieselpunk harkens to early and mid-20th century aesthetics, with a strong emphasis on petroleum power rather than steam, and some pulp and noir elements, as well as revolutionary propaganda and early- to mid-20th century military technology. A lot of "Weird War" alternate history games and fiction fall under the dieselpunk category, including the Tannhäuser board game by Fantasy Flight Games and the Godlike RPG by Arc Dream Publishing. Skewed takes on World War I and II are often the center of Dieselpunk fiction.
Dieselpunk, by default, is an excessively military-influenced setting, and most if not all costuming and fiction drawn from this genre bears the grim marks of a world at war of indefinite length. As other forms of retro-futurism commonly reflect the dreams and aspirations of humanity, Dieselpunk highlights our darkest fears.
What some consider to be an offshoot of Dieselpunk, we consider to be its own separate category. Decopunk is more streamlined than Dieselpunk, more noir-influenced, less gritty, and less militaristic, using industrial design elements from Art Deco and the strange blend of idealism and melancholy seen in the classic science fiction short stories of the early 20th century, the pinnacle example of which is the famous silent film Metropolis. The best example of this genre in gaming is the gorgeous video game Bioshock by Irrational Games. A stylish offshoot of decopunk is the German cabaret-influenced Weimarpunk, blending Art Deco design with science fiction and performance art, which we have a feeling you'll be getting a taste of during some of the shows at TempleCon. A lot of Eldritch Horror (Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, as embodied in Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror board game) has aspects of Decopunk as well.
How about Raygun Gothic?
Also known as "The Tomorrow That Never Was," Raygun Gothic is science fiction with the visual stamp of the mid-20th century, featuring streamlined architecture and kitsch, chrome and day-glo, and impossibly optimistic expectations of the future combined with propagandistic and dystopian rumblings beneath the surface. While there are definite areas of overlap between Decopunk and Raygun Gothic, the later has a greater affinity with the post-apocalyptic genre, but without the noir overtones of decopunk, and more importantly, Raygun Gothic is indelibly stamped with the real-life science-fiction style weirdness of the 1950s Atomic Craze, a la patented nuclear-powered lawnmowers, fallout shelters as the chic new accessory for every home, and nuclear bomb tests as tourist attractions. In fact, Raygun Gothic has more contemporaneous examples of its genre than any other Retro-Futurist genre. The Fallout video game series (initially by Interplay and now continued by Bethesda) is the most well-known example of Raygun Gothic in gaming.
By way of this connection, the Post Apocalyptic genre often finds itself at home in this category. Perhaps this is because it echoes an era during which we were closer to nuclear annihilation that ever before or since.
Cyberpunk is a genre of literature, film, and gaming popularized during the 1980s and focusing on science fiction in the near future, with an emphasis on hacking, cybernetics, and corporate espionage in a world dominated by megacorporations. Cyberpunk is arguably the parent genre of all other Retro-Futurist genres. It is also almost inevitably dystopian, with elements of noir and detective fiction, and rich street culture juxtaposed against sterile corporate culture. Cyberpunk also frequently blurs divisions between virtual reality and actual reality. Examples of Cyberpunk in gaming include (of course!) Cyberpunk by R. Talsorian Games and Shadowrun (originally by FASA Corporation and now by Catalyst Games).
Cyberpunk also commonly examines the ethical and philosophical issues of artificial intelligences, trans-humanism, and genetic manipulation. As these pursuits remain genuine concerns in our own reality, it could be easily argued that Cyberpunk is indeed contemporary Retro-Futurism.
The "punk" suffix in use in this genre is perhaps the most important usage of the word in the whole of retro-futurism, as the congested and faceless urban sprawls in Cyberpunk make excellent backdrops for rebellious protagonists who intend to challenge the seemingly infallible social machinery of the well-entrenched status-quo.
What was that last one... Biopunk?
This theme may seem to have more in common with the present day and the near future than our more recognizably retro-futurist themes of TempleCons past, but Biopunk has actually stretched forth its tentacles to touch every single one of the classic retro-futurist genres. From the classic tale of gothic horror, Frankenstein (artfully re-imagined in Steampunk form here) to the Dieselpunk horror of the Mutant Chronicles a variety of Retro-Futurist books and movies incorporate Biopunk themes.