GearHead Caramel is a giant robot RPG set in a world recovering from the apocalypse. It features procedural narration, which means that the computer is partially responsible for creating the story. As a result, no two playthroughs are ever the same. Caramel is the third game in the GearHead series, which has a long and illustrious history. 2022 is the 20th anniversary of the original game, GearHead Arena. Arena is often cited as the first game to successfully incorporate procedural narration and it was one of the games that helped spark the Roguelike Renaissance of the 2000s. This previously obscure genre became one of the biggest buzz words in indie games.
A century and a half ago the Earth was devastated by nuclear war. GearHead players take on the role of cavaliers, wandering mecha pilots who right wrongs and protect the innocent- or at least try to earn a living and survive until tomorrow. The setting is strongly influenced by the giant robot cartoons of the 70s and 80s. Many different types of vehicle are included, from giant robots and zoanoids to tanks and fighter jets. GearHead is a turn based tactics style RPG, similar to the Super Robot Wars or Fire Emblem games. It is also a Roguelike game, meaning that there is extensive use of random generation and the consequences of the player’s actions are permanent. Other notable features of the game include a highly detailed vehicle engineering system, both mecha and personal scale combat, and lifepath based character creation.
Of course the biggest feature of GearHead Caramel is its procedural narration. Not only does the story change every time you play, it also changes in response to your character’s actions. Non player characters will remember their previous interactions with you and treat you accordingly. It’s my training in English Literature, rather than my knowledge of computer programming, that allowed me to create this system. Most of the procedural narration techniques used by GearHead rely upon closure- the ability of a reader (or in this case, a player) to mentally combine disparate elements into a coherent story. You could say that every GearHead story really has three authors- me, the computer program, and the player.
Despite the fact that the series has been ongoing for twenty years, Caramel is the first game in the series to appear on Steam. These games are a labor of love. I’ve done almost all of the programming and artwork for GearHead Caramel by myself. Many other game developers have told me that the GearHead series is an inspiration to them. I was active in the roguelike development community on Usenet from the mid 90s to the early 2000s. The horror survival game DeadCold was my first experiment combining Roguelike mechanics with more traditional RPG storytelling. My game Dungeon Monkey was finished in one week and became the inspiration for the annual 7 Day Roguelike Challenge, which continues to this day. GearHead Arena demonstrated the viability of procedural narration, and out of all these projects the GearHead series remains closest to my heart.
Here is a link to the GearHead Caramel Steam page
Here is a link to the GearHead homepage