Thursday, May 20, 2010

Erol Otus' Gamma World

I’m immersing myself in Gamma World in preparation for the con session I’m running during Memorial Day weekend. I played this game back in the early/mid-80s using the second edition set in the burgundy box. I have fond memories of grid crawling through a trashed post-apocalyptic world, munching on Cheez-Its, listening to Iron Maiden cassettes late into the night. Playing Gamma World was pretty weird and cool - mutated humanoids digging through piles of rubbish to find goodies, cults of talking animals hiding in the hills, and secret bunkers hosting fundamentalist pure strain humans.

In reading about other folks’ Gamma World (and Mutant Future) games on blogs and forums these days it’s interesting to note the divergent aesthetic approaches to the game. The aesthetic represented in the official published material is pretty dark, gritty, and Mad Max-like. This approach seemed to become stronger over time through the various editions (at least the ones I have seen, I lost track around edition 4 or 5). More evident in the earlier editions, and in the current retro gaming world, is gonzo zaniness reminiscent of Thundaar the Barbarian and Dave Trampier’s first edition illustrations. I love Thundaar, so of course I'm biased towards this latter vision.

My personal favorite approach to Gamma World, however, is best illustrated by Erol Otus’ illustrations in the first edition supplements. Beautiful technicolor weirdness more along the lines of early Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated magazines than Saturday Morning cartoons.

In particular, look closely at Otus’ colorful ref screen illustration. The sky is clear and blue – not a dark and gritty scene at all. Green tress, mountains, dragons, mushrooms. I like the punked out warrior babe with the Dead Kennedys amulet and the crazy techno-wand - I want to be her friend. The mutants are really weird and fantastic. Soooooooo awesome! I’ll take Otustown over Bartertown any day!