C:\> If Wasteland 2 is set nearly a century after the War, then it should represent a plausible evolution of society in that
C:\> timeframe, rather than have overt references and elements of the 80s/90s just for the sake of retrofuturism.
Hah-- you're forgetting one of the basic tenets of post-apocalyptic fiction: the apocalypse itself is not the only disaster!
Sure, the bombs blow everything to hell, but think about what that implies: food shortages become famines-- MOST of the time. Flu outbreaks become pandemics-- FREQUENTLY. Start cramming people into denser spaces, and both of these things will be serious problems (along with many other things).
In other words, it's easy enough to make this work!
Consider a setting where people have a tendency to presume that the precursor artifacts are better than anything else they can yet produce. About the time they might be catching up, BLAM, some minor plague, bandit group, or famine knocks them on their collective ass again.
What would be the trappings of status, safety, and power?
The artifacts of the old civilization-- the one that didn't fall over every time somebody sneezed. And the more modern (prior to the war, of course) the better-- so that gives you the '80s stuff.
Add rumors, if you like! "You can't catch a cold if you're wearing all Old Time clothes." "Dude, of course I play glam. Those people played for millions of people at once, and look how long their hair is! I have to play glam, mine keeps falling out otherwise!"
"Man... can you believe all this technology?"
"Mad bitchin'... these computers must hold MEGABYTES of memory."
"I know, it's hard to believe. Help me lift this 4K cache module..."
But seriously, that's about what it was. We had NO concept of the scale of computational complexity required to do cybernetics and AI, and enthusiastically assumed our Timex Sinclairs might very well be upgradable to drive our cars perfectly fine in Just Five Years.
The important thing was this:
Technology was CLEARLY ramping up at an insane rate, was OBVIOUSLY going to change everything, but nobody knew how. Because so little of it had really hit yet, we didn't realize just how much of it was going to be overhead. Your PC, running a web browser, does a thousand inane things to ensure you can render your page just perfectly, but in the 80s, every ounce of power went directly to a task. If you presumed that the increase in computer power would simply allow us to increase the complexity of that task one-to-one, without realizing the sheer scale of overhead we were going to add on a thousand different fronts, then yeah, the sky sure as hell looked like the limit!
And, of course, the sky is the limit-- but we can see how we get there a little more clearly now. There's a lot of intermediate steps. Many of them are tedious. They're clearer becaue we can now see the patterns of applying technology to complex problems much more clearly.
In the 1980s, that was obvious to very few people-- sure, things might take a few years, but the number of steps between what we had in hand, and the crazy shit coming of OMNI Magazine and Alvin Toeffler, was felt to be very small.
It was the era where you might feel totally reasonable assuming that you could move ten Apple ][s into a metal shop and have killer robots walking out a few months later-- partly because it was the era of the nerd genius, not the Agile scrum team, etc. We now know the lone gunman only scales so far, even in technology, but that was a lot less clear in those days-- for better and for worse.
So, to summarize:
- The future would be full of lots of lesser disasters that would still have huge impacts.
- Progress would be five steps forward, four steps back, in all but the most isolated and well-equipped communities.
- The most completely recorded era in history would be the 1980s-- you would trip over it everywhere; books, records, magazines, etc.
- It would be remembered as an era of unbelievable potential and awesome power, but nobody would quite know why.
- It would be emulated, because without any other mass media having filled in the gap, and culture being inconsistent from place to place, nothing would really compare with it.
- It would be revered because it was both real and unreachable, in the same way that people fantasize about Hollywood culture, etc.
- Its artifacts would still be in use because many of them would have actually survived, having been mass-produced in great numbers, and would be cheaper due to this high availability than current manufactured goods, and possibly also superior in quality.
- If so, the demand for current manufactured goods would not necessarily be high in any given category, which would slow the replacement of the legacy products.
Just some brainstorming.
Center for Applied Terminal Ballistics, DRHQ