I really enjoy stuff set in this period, and the prospect of fighting the Currents War was certainly very appealing. Held off a bit in commenting to compose my thoughts:
Firstly, I very much enjoy the setting. The Gilded Age in all its progress, while not shying from its very ugly shadows – whether it be discrimination, the robber barons or the inevitable run into WWI – the political mess which is almost more appealing to me than the experiments and innovation which are in the forefront of the story. The descriptions, especially in the earlier chapters, sold it quite well, whether it be the Orthodox church being dwarfed by new construction, or the mess of Tesla’s lab, which doesn’t seem to be so present in the later chapters.
I also liked how it turned out that basically everyone you meet was a real person, which certainly helps in illuminating the lesser-known personalities. However, at a certain point (I think at the New Year’s Ball) it seemed to verge on there almost being too many, and it was a bit stretching to put these individuals in. After savescumming it’s clear that Roosevelt, Pulitzer and Viereck are involved in the Letter Plot and I assume Debs with the Strike, but the first time around it seemed almost a bit like they were put in for the sake of it, rather than because they’ll contribute to the plot.
The frantic nature of “progress” I felt came across rather well through how the PC moves from one challenge to another with seemingly more hurdles along the way despite establishing themselves. Chapter 2 was a bit slow – I’m still not sure just why the PC is so loyal to Tesla – but Chapter 3 is where I think the game really picks up with the AC/DC war in earnest. To me the main drive wasn’t so much beating Edison, but in how PC can be forced to balance business and their principles.
The Prussian/Valknut? letters plotline also piqued my interest. Given everything I assume the Zimmerman Telegram is somehow going to come into play here, and while the weird German nationalist occult stuff seemed odd to include at first, as the demo developed I found that subplot the more appealing. Later in the demo the PC already seems pretty established; threats on their life through this weird secret society (which’ll probably be some predecessor) to the Ahnenerbe definitely lifted the stakes. It’s not something I expected, but it is somewhat of a more appealing endgame “antagonist” than J.P. Morgan.
One thing which left me feeling a bit off is that the PC, to me, sort of seems like a small fish in a big pond. As (I think) everyone you meet is a historical character, the PC still feels a bit inadequate to me? Granted they are younger, but the game sort-of feels like you’re boxed in to being Tesla’s assistant. Both in how there’s generally a lack of opportunities to want to do anything else, and how when it does come up, it’s framed negatively.
Sure, taking the GE directorship in Chapter 8 would be considered a betrayal, and to modern Western sensibilities working conditions back then were horrific. But I would have liked to have my character at least entertain the ambition to step out of Tesla’s shadow, and ideally not simply for money alone. It’s an era of big personalities, and while it may be better for the PC to stay with Tesla, it is also the era of bull-headed inventors. For the PC to have a reputation of their own perhaps, not just Tesla, potentially even having their own things on the side.
I know that Tesla’s the main focus really, and the fully-loyalist route is great in its own way, but it feels somewhat that the PC’s personality is quite restricted. I get that a starting loyalty to Tesla is required for the first chapters to make sense, but there doesn’t seem to be so much room for more ambitious, exasperated or duplicitous PCs. The PC seemed like they were driven to assist Tesla, rather than for their own sake or for anything else. That despite their efforts they were largely a nonentity. I think this is especially glaring when Tesla returns home during the prep for the World’s Fair.
I actually felt that Westinghouse, Latimer and Bertha were somewhat more interesting than Tesla himself. Tesla was a bit of an… institution. Somewhat predictable in how he’d act towards the PC, and the PC to them in return. Westinghouse, Latimer and Bertha clearly had their own goals and were willing to do achieve them to the point of double-crossing the PC. I wanted to be on good terms with them, yet I also had to cover my PC’s own back. Your actions towards them affected how they reacted to you in turn. Perhaps that’s the case with Tesla too with different choices, but in my run the other three stood out a bit more.
That being said, I appreciate how both Tesla and Edison both aren’t entirely one-sided. Tesla’s idiosyncracies and quirks are substantially shown, but Edison’s tendencies are also not ignored. Edison is the antagonist for the start, but the two aren’t that different. The PC may be biased towards Tesla, but both he and Tesla are both undeniably capable and flawed individuals. It’s not such a binary fight as it can be often portrayed as in pop culture.
Marion Edison I also wanted to see a bit more of, because there’s that conflict between the PC and Edison. It’s also nice to have a character who isn’t either fully involved in all the engineering or business to interact with. Sometimes it feels like the PC has no friends outside of work and is just a loner as Tesla; sure, when you talk to Marion her father inevitably comes up, but it felt like something different, especially if the PC and her were old friends. Twain isn’t really the same, since he’s been involved with the PC and Tesla’s op from the start and to me seemed more linked to Tesla than the PC.
Regarding the C8 Strike, if the PC is anti-union, it seems a little odd for them to use “scab” so frequently (e.g. in the scene descriptions), since they’d be positively-inclined towards the strikebreakers for whatever reason. I know it might be a large amount of work, but perhaps there could be slightly-differently phrased variants of the strike scene based on the PC’s union attitudes/whether they took the sabotage offer or not (perhaps even going back to the PC’s response to Debs and Twain in C7 on unions)? The same event through different eyes.
How the rest of Progressive era is portrayed – an era monopoly busting and reforms alongside increased foreign interventionism – is something I look forward to, and WWI hopefully after that. I wonder whether the “weapon to end all wars” will end up like Maxim’s so called “great peace-preserver”. And of course in Germany there’s a brilliant chemist (among other great scientists) who’ll have a leading hand in developing poison gas. Hope for more moral quandaries and when the quest for progress runs into human nature again.
A bit rambly even for my rambling nature, but I definitely enjoyed reading through it. Best of luck in the development!