Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gotta Get Back In Time

Great Scott! By my calculations, we've arrived in the future!

Thanks to the time-traveling capabilities of the Flux Capacitor I've installed in this DeLorean, we've managed to safely appear on October 21st, 2015.

It's fantastic, isn't it Marty? Video conferencing, 3D movies, holograms, hoverboards, flying cars, everyone using clean, and efficient fusion energy...


Our recent activities seem to have created an alternate timeline. Many things have appeared, many things haven't, and some elements are very different. It's the Mets in the World Series, and not the Cubs for example. Well, at least it's still a team that rarely makes it that far. The timelines can't be too divergent.

Back to the Future, and it's trilogy forming sequels, are among my all time favorite movies. Today is a special day for fans of the franchise. It's 'Back to The Future Day'; for it is on this date that Marty McFly, his girlfriend Jennifer, and Doctor Emmett Brown, travel from Hill Valley, California in 1985 to Hill Valley, California, 2015.

While Back to The Future II is arguably the weakest of the three films, the design esthetic of the 'futuristic' landscape of 2015 had a huge impact on me. To this day, this is the near future I most often depict in my games. This future is what I want the future to be.

I can safely say that I was inspired by many different aspects of the trilogy, but for this particular post, I want to focus on the future that isn't, the second film's depiction of our present year, 2015.

In a nutshell, I've always preferred the idea that the future won't suck as much as the present.

Sure, I'm a huge fan of Blade Runner, Alien/Aliens, and other franchises that show us a dark, rainy, and corrupted vision of where we might go from here, but my interest in those settings pales in comparison to the future of Star Trek, the original incarnation of DC's 30th Century Legion of Superheroes, and of course, the year 2015 as given to us in Back to The Future II.

I love the idea that advancements in technology, science, and our innate curiosity, will make us strive for a better tomorrow. I don't know that I believe it that future as much as I once did, but it remains the dream.

Philosophy aside, the look, the overall aesthetic of Back to The Future's version of suburban California in the year 2015 is what I see when imagining the near future in many of the games I've run that end up in the not-so-distant soon.

The hovering billboards, road signs, and similar 'background' elements are forever present in any future I depict that has commercial flying vehicles. Mine are usually a little more streamlined than this one above, but they all owe their existence to this ancestor right here.

I love the look of the futuristic Hill Valley as it shows the high tech small town, something few if any other films, comics, or even books have ever depicted. This isn't the future of a cosmopolitan, over-populated metropolis like Blade Runner's Los Angeles, or Washington in Minority Report. These are the burbs folks. This is the kind of town most Americans actually live in. When you live in a major city like New York, Chicago, Houston, or San Francisco it can be easy to forget that where you dwell is the exception, not the norm.

Look at the picture above, and squeal over all the details it has that you can describe to your players whose PCs might be visiting such a setting. Flying cars have Landing, and No Landing Zones.

You can see what looks like a mailbox, but is actually a Fax terminal. Obviously the Fax is an essentially dead technology, but imagine email, online access terminals are everywhere. You could send a 3D scan of an important document to another PC, or to an NPC, anywhere on Earth, in orbit, or on the moon, while still chatting on your personal cell-phone/communicator. Harder to trace the call too if you are using a public terminal (maybe).

Oh course there are 3D, holographic advertisements, and what you can do with those.

This time, it's really, REALLY personal!

Now let's take a look at the people.

Thank your lucky stars the predications of Back to The Future II
 weren't all accurate. We could be dressing like these shmoes.
Although come to think of it...
that doesn't look all that different from what I've seen in
NYC's Greenwich Village on a weekday evening. Hmmm.

Putting aside the more well known fashion components such as self-adjusting jackets, and sneaker laces, the Google Glass like visors, and things such as the 'Future Punk' look of Griff and his gang, one of my favorite designs from the movie gets far too little attention.

The Hill Valley, California Police in 2015.

I just love everything about this. Strong, and attractive female law enforcement officers. Crisp, easy to identify uniforms. A good array of gear on their persons, but both uniform, and equipment are cut as to allow ease of movement, and speed.

And they're attractive. Did I mention that?
The filmmakers wanted to give the female officers
an authoritative air, but also look like two people a crook
would WANT to be arrested by (male or female).

The addition of digital displays above the brim of their caps is an awesome feature in my opinion. It adds a simple, visual, humor element while at the same time possibly delivering important information such as, "To Report a Crime Anonymously Contact...", or "Fly, and Drive Safely - Traffic Laws Protect Everyone - On the Ground, or in The Air".

My biggest gripe about the Back to The Future series, and the second film in particular, is we didn't spend more time in this future, and the weight of the story set there wasn't particularly strong. The story's trip to the future world of 2015 was merely a vehicle to create the alternate timeline shenanigans that became the film's primary focus.

I have adapted the setting, and/or parts of it, into dozens, upon dozens of RPG campaigns, and adventure sessions over the years. Many of the components have shown up in Superhero RPGs, Traveller, Star Frontiers, Teenagers from Outer Space, and so many more.

I intend to do a Thorough Thursday entry one of these days that deals with the numerous factors that make the entire Back to The Future trilogy a favorite of mine. Keep an eye out for it.

I leave you with this...

So long Future Boy!
Barking Alien
I wrote this post on the 21st, but due to my inability to generate the required 1.21 Gigawatts of energy needed to activate the time machine, the post hasn't shown up until the 22nd.
No matter. The extra day gives me the chance to wish a very Happy Birthday to Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, one of my favorite actors, and probably the voice I can imitate the best. :)


  1. Keeping the dream of a better future is a big part of making it true ;) . Believing in the possibility of a Star Trek-like future may do for me what religion makes for other people.

    Yet, for gaming, I do like the "future punk" and "used future" aesthetics many movies from the 80s and early 90s had. I can only smile seeing the open-war-against-crime streets Robocop and Predator 2 (to name two examples) presented. Luckily, we aren't there, either.

    1. Don't get me wrong Miguel, as I noted above, I too am a big fan of the type of much-less-than-perfect, near dystopian futures of many 80's, and 90's films.

      However, I love the idea of myself, or my players, living in a generally positive future. Why? Well, if you're going to play a hero, wouldn't you want to live in a future setting worth protecting? When the diabolical villain threatens the safety of your world, are you going to give it your all if your world largely sucks to begin with?

    2. Well, you are right about that. My Dark Heresy campaign wasn't very succesful in part because the players thought the setting was too bleak. But there is a lesson to be learned: you know those players who like to intimidate commoners, break into peoples' houses without reason and torture prisoners to extract information? When those activities are sanctioned and even encouraged by their government, you suck the fun out of them XD.