Adventures in a Retrotech Bubble

Sy: “All you need is magnetic coating from a floppy disk…The photodiodes of a VHS tape…And an 8-track recording of The Monkees' D-D-D-Daydream Believer.”
Harley Quinn S2E12
If you watch modern movies, you may notice the frequent tendency for some character to remark something along the lines of “my phone cannot get a signal”. Peril and convenient, instant communication are not that compatible for exciting story telling, it seems. If communications in a modern setting pose a problem for the storyteller, one can imagine the increased problems for a futuristic setting such as Transhuman Space. An alternate approach to “I got not bars!” is to set the story in a pre-mobile phone era. A number of recently produced movies have placed the action in the 1970s, 80s or 90s.
The remake of Battlestar Galactica created an interesting visual style by using a number of “old fashion” technologies. Tape cassettes are seen in some episodes. Running an interstellar space vessel apparently requires yards of perforated, fanfold computer printouts.
Players can be presented with a novel environment if the GM removes some familiar technologies and replaces them with older or alternate forms. One possible way to do this is to set the adventure in a pocket universe or “bubble world” where some inventions have not arrived. The characters may be in dieselpunk/retrotech-themed computer simulation. A highly isolated society is another possibility if you prefer a less fantastic setting. Or the GM may send the party looking for something unusual like an aperture card or microfiche reader.
Suggested technologies include:
Landlines. Calling for help gets less easy when you must find a working payphone. Hope the number is in your filofax! You will need a dime. No, it does not take credit cards. What are credit cards?
Audio Compact Cassettes. Need to record a conversation? Forget your bulky reel-to-reel system. Tape cassettes can amazingly hold up to 45 minutes each side. There are C120 tapes, but everyone knows they are more likely to break and stretch.
Quadrophonic 8-track tapes. This is how real music lovers listen to music! 90 to 120 minutes of continuous play.
Vinyl Phonograph Records. Seven, ten or twelve inch diameter. Typically 3313 or 45 rpm. Older 78s may be encountered, and 1623 rpm long-players are used for talking-books and background “muzak”. Just like CDs, but bulkier, less sound quality and even easier to damage.
Video Cassettes. Forget your VHS, Betamax is preferred. Top quality and up to 200 minutes recording time.
Laserdisc. Twelve inch diameter mirrored discs that will replace pre-recorded video cassettes.
Instant Cameras. No more waiting for hours or days for your prints to return from the chemist. Photos develop in just a few minutes!
Cheques. Don’t have cash? No problem, if you still have some cheques left, and they will take them.
Kimbal tags. Clever solution to retail stock-keeping.
514-inch Floppy Discs. Sick of stacks of punched card? Computer tape and Laserdiscs too bulky to move around? Floppy discs are the ideal solution, each holding a massive 1.2 Mb of data. The future is here!
Automat. You should not adventure on an empty stomach. Visit the automat for modern, hygienic eating. Pick your windows, insert your coins.
Fax. Cyberpunk 2020 (p.182) confidently told us that fax “…is the letterwriting mode of the future… The faxed copy is then transmitted by wire to a local post office in your destination area, where it is automatically typed off, inserted into an envelope, and delivered by letter carrier to the mailbox.” Newspapers were also delivered by fax to the reader, printing only the pages the customer wanted.