Wither Spychanger City?

One of my most frequently-revisited by never completed campaign ideas for Mekton is “Spychanger City”. Spychanger City is, basically, a reworking of the Transformers universe into something more consistent and suitable for gaming. The basic premise is the same as Transformers, with two groups of robots (the Autobots and Decepticons, originally) crash-landing on Earth and finding themselves needing to adapt to the modern world.

The heroic robots would adapt to various forms of civilian-vehicles, primarily cars, trucks, and the like, just like the Autobots did in 1984. Likewise, the villainous robots would adapt to primarily military vehicles, like jets, tanks, and the like, just like the Decepticons did in 1984.  The villains would tend to be more powerful in combat than the heroes, but be far fewer in number. So to beat your basic “Blitzwing”, your party had to work together to bring him down.

If you’re read this far and thought “Aren’t you just ripping off Transformers”, then you’ve already identified part of the problem. Of course this campaign, as it was, was ripping off Transformers, and not just because it started as a “Let’s make a Transformers campaign for Mekton II” concept back when I was in high school.

The real problem is taking the very basic conceits of Transformers and making an original campaign out of rather than just making Transformers with the serial numbers filed off.  It’s an enormous effort to rewrite the Transformers universe into something new that remains compelling, and it’s repeatedly met with failure each time it’s tried – all the way back to Hanna Barberra’s half-assed “Gobots” cartoon.  Sometimes, in the hands of good writers, you can get something as good as “Beast Wars”, but this is sadly a rarity.

So, where did this leave Spychanger City? Despite my confidence in my own writing, I never could divorce the campaign concept enough from the Transformers universe to make it stand on its own. When doing so, I gutted too much of what I wanted out of the setting in the first place. Yet it obviously can’t be a Transformers setting as owned by Hasbro, Inc. Having two different, and conflicting, directives has stalled this project for some time.

For Spychanger City’s future, I’ll probably revisit it at least once more to at least do something with all the work invested in the project. Yet this is really a lesson to myself and to other writers and designers out there. Following coattails, no matter how big and nice the coattails are, isn’t likely to result in a quality product. Every writer and designer needs to make their project truly their own, and without that, they’re just not going to get anywhere with anything good.

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