Please support Game Informer. Print magazine subscriptions are less than $2 per issue


Steampunk Meets Lovecraft: Clockwork Empires May Have The Perfect Setting

by Adam Biessener on Nov 02, 2012 at 01:14 PM

Do you care that harnessing the unknown energies of a coffin buried for untold millennia might eat the very reason from your citizen’s minds even while it boosts your factories’ output tenfold? Then I submit to you, sir, that you are no bureaucrat fit to run a colony for this glorious empire.

The next indie project from the Dungeons of Dredmor creators at Gaslamp Games, a city simulator by the name of Clockwork Empires, is so early in development that gameplay specifics are practically nonexistent. The developers have released a few teases about the setting, though. The mix of a steampunk-style, decadent Industrial Revolution society, otherworldly menaces reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods, and a kind of stiff-upper-lip propriety in the face of teeming hellspawn straight out of a Terry Pratchett novel may as well be specifically designed to reach directly into my wallet and do horrible things to my check card.

From the developers’ Halloween update, which tells the story of an unfortunate colony called Shiveringhope:

The coffin was clearly the cause of the problem, and it was decided to take the thing away from the factory until such time as the Clockwork Empires needed to be saved, in their time of need, from inadequate plumbing at any cost. When the engineering crew approached the factory, they made a number of observations, which they carefully wrote down and delivered to the desk of Zechariah Cogswotter.

The coffin has bonded with the factory, and is impossible to detach.

In fact, the factory was now impossible to demolish.

The factory was now producing massive quantities of pipe, unaided, and apparently without input materials.

The engineer who went into the factory to see what was happening inside left again shortly thereafter, white as a sheet, and now refused to talk to anybody. Instead, he now spent his days hanging out at the colony tavern, drinking cheap gin and clearly in need of a dose of revitalization at the hands of the Glowing Rock-Powered Revigorator Mark VI (Prototype)

The workers who were supposed to be working at the factory were no longer showing up for work, and were instead taking large quantities of pipe somewhere out beyond the colony walls while chanting in tongues.

What could possibly go wrong?

The thing is, I desperately want to find out what is going to go wrong in my lonely outpost of the great Clockwork Empire. Call me heartless if you will, but I want to see just how far I can ride the otherworldly train of super-charged progress before my people go entirely mad and the whole thing collapses into the ocean and spawns an extradimensional horror that is as likely as not to go on to consume the souls of the living before opening a rift and sucking the entire planet into a dimension of migraine-inducing non-Euclidean horror.

I have no idea what Clockwork Empires is going to be, how it’s going to play, or when it’s coming out. The narrative linked above is amazing, but “cool piece of writing” is awfully far from “working gameplay scenario.” Still, I’ve rarely been so taken with a setting for a game in my life – and definitely never just from a brief vignette told entirely through text.

I am practically beside myself dreaming up scenarios of my own: 

Consider a virgin island overflowing with a veritable cornucopia of resources, and how badly you want to ignore the mysterious crates of toys that start appearing at the Central Parcel Dispensary, labeled as “frRee GIffts” and addressed to every child born in the settlement in the last three years. 

Think on how profitable the creation of grand baccarat tables for our airships will be when we start harvesting the rich, lustrous wood of the trees towering over the beach – provided the citizenry doesn't get too freaked out about workers receiving paychecks for hours they swear were spent at home with their families, and which the local firms’ Accountants General have no recollection or record of sending out.

Those two scenarios are complete fabrications on my part, blind speculation about a game that I haven’t so much as seen a screenshot of. And yet, I’ve had more fun thinking those oddball situations up than I’ve had with full retail $60 products. This is how powerful the concept of Clockwork Empires is to me, despite the lack of concrete information available.

The one thing I’m sure about is that Clockwork Empires couldn’t have a concept any more tailored to my specific tastes. I love city simulations, Lovecraft, steampunk, and the Industrial Revolution (yes, I am a huge nerd. Have you been paying no attention?). I put more than 60 hours into the studio’s last game, which is way more than anyone could ask of a $5 indie title. When this pans out – and I currently refuse to entertain the idea that it won’t – I can see dumping a lot more time than that into a quest to find out just how dangerous the things on the other side of the veil really are.