Lamplight City Narrative Commentary, Part 10: The uses of steampunk

Jess Haskins
Jul 2, 2020


This is a series of spoiler-free (or -lite) transcripts from my portion of the Lamplight City developer commentary, which includes behind-the-scenes insights and anecdotes about the story writing and editing process. Start with Part 1.

Airships, check. Top hats and goggles, when appropriate. Decorative gears…no.

Steampunk played an important role in the worldbuilding and tone of our alternate Vespuccia. But not too important a role.

We took to referring to it as “steampunkish,” not quite committing to the genre fully. We were and remain skeptical of the top hat and goggles, brass everything, just stick gears on it approach to steampunk. So we used it tactically, in small doses.

I generally don’t like to employ worldbuilding elements for simple novelty or superficial aesthetic effect. If something’s going into the world, it should have a reason for being there, and it should have well worked-out consequences. So the steampunk elements that we let into the world had to contribute organically to the story and the theme.

On the heels of the Industrial Revolution, this world is in the current throes of a steam-tech revolution, and on the cusp of yet another revolution, with the promise of aetheric energy.

Airships do not merely decorate the skies of our world with a touch of whimsy and adventure, but serve as flash points for struggles over wealth, privilege, labor, and inequality. Steam tech contraptions allow us to draw parallels to contemporary anxieties about rising automation, employment disruption, and economic uncertainty. And the mysterious, untapped power of aetheric energy stands in for the frontiers of scientific progress and upheavals yet to come.

Next: Bohemian attitudes
Back to
Part 1