Sunday, February 9, 2020

Weird Revisited: Wild Wild West

Robert Conrad died yesterday at the age of 84. This post from 2015 is a tribute to what I think was his best role...

Wild Wild West was conceived as "James Bond on horseback." That was a just-about perfect genre combo for the 1965, and a damn good one for today. The actual show was even cooler, particularly when it went color; it was the Old West filtered through 60s spy-fi style with Jules Verne science fiction thrown in. It's practically begging for an rpg.

The show's James Bond of the 1870s was James West, Secret Service agent, who rode around in a private train with his partner, gadgeteer and master of disguise Artemus Gordon. Bruce Lansbury, producer of the show, described it thusly (as quoted in Susan Kesler's book):
"Jim's world was one of two-faced villainy, male and female, countless 'Mickey Finns,' and needle-tipped baroque pinkie rings that put him to sleep even as he embraced their dispensers. There were inevitable trap doors, hotel walls that ground their victims to dust or revolved into lush Aubrey Beardsley settings next door, lethal chairs that tossed occupants skyward or alternatively dumped them into dank sewers that subterraneously crisscrossed countless cow towns of the period. And then there was that old Dutch sea captain, leaning in the corner of the swill-hole of a bar, who inexplicably winked at Jim as he entered … Artemus, of course, in one of his thousand disguises."
Some highlights: a super-speed formula made from diamonds; an elaborate house full of traps made by a deranged puppeteer; a ground of assassins masquerading as a circus troupe; and of course, the genius dwarf, Miguelito Loveless.

(No doubt some of you remember the 1999 film of the same name. It's fine, in the way the 1998 Godzilla is fine.)

Anyway, in gaming Wild Wild West, a lot of folks would suggest Steampunk games first--but the Steampunk aesthetic is pretty much missing from the show, despite the superficial similarities in thumbnail description. Any Western rpg (or generic one) would work, I suppose--so long as it would support the Victorian super-science. The Western element is mostly cosmetic, though, Stripped of its trappings, it more resembles The Man from UNCLE at its core than say Wagon Train. I think a Western adaptation of the old James Bond game would be interesting with the spy-fi genre stuff it has built in. GUMSHOE might also be a good way to do it.


JB said...

Huh. Once again, you hit on an intriguing concept.

I watched this (in syndication) “back in the day” (I.e. as a small child) and remember enjoying it while completely forgetting anything about it...characters, plots, scenes. Probably I should take the time to find/watch some of these old episodes.

The idea of using a spy-style RPG to represent it is is...well fairly elegant as a design concept. You can shorten the equipment list to something the size of Boot Hill and after that “anything goes” regarding gizmos and fictional tech. GUMSHOE may be a little too investigative (and a little short on action) for an emulation of the show

[he says, realizing he just admitted to not remembering any specific episodes...]

But I prefer the 007 RPG for games involving only a couple (or, preferably, ONE) really is excellent at emulating JB films (with a single stalwart protagonist) and fairly tough at doing group my experience.

Not that WWW is necessarily “group play;” but if you want more than a West-Artemis duo...hmmm. And Top Secret seems more like a Mission Impossible style game (and is more “jet-setting” than WWW...). Maybe a heavily cut-down Ninjas & Superspies? I said, intriguing concept. Don’t know if you’d actually pursue this sort of thing, but I’d be interested in reading more.
: )

John M. said...


I love your blog, it is truly inspirational, as well as informative.

However, white text on black background is difficult on the eyes and has proven to actually be harmful. I have to use an app to read you without the black background or my eyes will start going buggy. I don't mind doing that, but I thought you should be aware of this phenomenon.

Nonetheless, keep on and stay weird!

Trey said...

Sorry it's a problem for you? Do you have a link to a study on actual harms? A cursory Google search didn't turn up anything.

JB said...

Hey, man...did my comment get eaten, or have you just (*ahem*) decided not to post it?

Regardless: my kids have managed to find (and record) several episodes of WWW off daytime TV and plan on giving 'em a watch.
; )

Trey said...

It must have disappeared into the ether! I publish everything but spam. Glad you guys are gonna check out WWW.

John M. said...

I suspect that a lot of bloggers don't actually read their own posts on the page itself and as they compose with dark text on a white background they are unaware of the effects. Try reading the entire front page of your blog and see what happens. It's possible that it wouldn't affect you, but it does for about 50% of the population. Until I found an app to drop dark backgrounds I would just avoids such blogs.

Empirical evidence proves to me that reading white text on a black background causes after-images, blurry vision and ultimately headaches. The most common effects are known as halation and contrast sensitivity. It's hard on the eyes and can be painful. That's harmful enough for me.

Here are what others say. It seems that half of the people are okay with it, others can't deal with it. Some have trouble with black text on white. It seems that avoiding pure black either way is a good move.

Trey said...

No, I read my posts on the blog itself.

I was a bit aware of the controversy, but it was damage part that raised my eyebrow, but it seems its more difficulty, primarily for people with astigmatism. I do have a slight astigmatism myself, but I guess I'm luck enough not to be bothered by it.

Sorry for the difficulty!