I’ve been a fan of the region designs by Hera (zee9) ever since I visited 2019XS before it morphed into what has been perhaps her most poplar series of region builds, the Drune series. I’ve not written about every single iteration, but they have been something of a theme in this blog down the years for their marvellous cyberpunk vibes edged with a touch of bohemian dystopia.
However, with Drune Diesel, I think Hera has created one of the most engaging, intriguing and layered region designs it has been my pleasure to visit – and one I really do urge folk to hop over and witness for themselves, particularly if, like me, you are a film and cultural buff. Rather than keeping to the broadly cyberpunk theme of previous design, with this iteration, Hera has turned towards the oft-overlooked dieselpunk genre.
I was sent the LM for the region by my ever-vigilant region sleuth, Shawn Shakespeare, and it arrived somewhat serendipitously. Earlier in March I had visited Isabel Hermano’s art exhibition at the Janus II Gallery entitled Living in a Steampunk World (see here for more). Whilst steampunk oriented, two pieces within it – Radio City Music Hall, and The Sisters – incorporated very distinct deco and dieselpunk vibes and seeing these pictures set me to wondering if anyone in SL had actually stepped away from the more common steampunk and cyberpunk themes to present something more rooted in dieselpunk – and then just a few days later, Shawn drops Hera’s LM on me!
For other unfamiliar with the genre, dieselpunk (and it’s sub-genre of decopunk) is based on the aesthetics popular in the interwar period of the 1920s/30s and extending through to the end of World War II, with some exponents also including the early 1950s. It is broadly defined as the era in which the diesel engine replaced the steam engine as the focus of technology. Within it, decopunk centres the aesthetic of art deco and streamline moderne art styles particularly prevalent to design and architecture in the same overall period.
Within Drune’s familiar city setting, compete with its tall buildings, canyon-like streets and split-level roadways, Hera has created a setting that encapsulates the heart of dieselpunk/decopunk to present something that will be instantly recognisable to those who have visited Drune’s earlier iterations – but which is also utterly unique. It’s a place where the richness of detail, large and small, is truly staggering and the cultural and film references sublime in their placement and presentation.
The initial sense of familiarity comes not only from the lie of the city and its streets, but also in the display of lighting and signage that adorns the sides of building and lines the railings of overpasses. But whereas past iterations this lighting and signage has been a mix of bright neons, flickering LED screens and brash images, now we have a richer mix: spotlights illuminating billboards, softer-toned neons, traditional banners, and fluorescent lighting that follows the lines and curves of building façades or sits within parking metres and so on.
Another change is with the cars on the roads. While many of these (again in keeping with past iterations of Drune) may well hover, they are not the seek Blade Runner-esque designs visitors may recall. Instead, they are entirely of the era, encompassing bulky Cadillac-like beasts to smaller open-topped Mercedes and pencil-like single seaters. They are held aloft over tracks that line each side of the road by great round conduction coils that replace their wheels and which are presumably powered by the diesel engines sitting under their hoods. They share the roads with cars that retain their wheels, perhaps because their owners cannot afford the hover update or perhaps simply because they want to be fashionably different.
A number of the buildings include interiors that have been made over to match the theme. The Black Pussy nightclub goes full-on deco in its interior styling that could have you out on the dance floor like the most carefree flapper, whilst the Cortez Hotel’s lobby has more grandiose deco setting, complete with stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling (as a set of four themed bedrooms). Those seeking a meal can always drop into the Shanghai Dragon, a restaurant that is truly delightful in its own suggestions oriental decadence.
The cultural and film references I mentioned are to be found everywhere. Some are mentioned in the note card offered at the airship landing point, others are awaiting discovery as you explore. Some are large and obvious, some either small and/or not quite so direct. Many reference the era represented by the the setting, others draw on references that may not at first appear to be connected, but on examination are not so anachronistic as they might first appear.
Take the P51D fighter sitting on the airstrip below the city, for example. Loaded for a ground attack role and bearing D-Day markings, it hardly looks dieselpunk in nature. However, it immediately brings to mind Kerry Conran’s 2004 box-office-flop-turned-cult-classic, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie), one of the first attempts to encapsulate diselpunk in modern film after game designer Lewis Pollak coined the term in 2001.
Similarly, the city’s movie theatre boasts showings Blood and Sand, starring Rudolph Valentino and released at the start of the dieselpunk era, together with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), arguably the first film to depict dieselpunk long before the term was ever coined. Indeed, Drune Diesel reflects something of Metropolis: whilst the workers are all down on the lower levels of the city, living in basic conditions and with the muck and sweat and fumes of the city, the elite live up in the towers, where halls are lined with marble and grand statues hold aloft light fittings or strike heroic poses.
Other references are more subtle but are bound to bring a smile to the lips when recognised, from the SS Venture alongside the wharf and being prepared for the voyage that will see her bring home King Kong (1933), to the U-boat sitting in its pen and carrying something of an Indiana Jones vibe. One of my favourites is the billboard reference to Karel Čapek’s 1921 film Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots). Not only does it fit the period, it is the film that first brought us the term “robot” (although those in the film were closer androids than robots); it has also been cleverly paired with an indirect reference to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy through its tag-line – even if the Sirius Cybernetics Corp might want to have a few words about it!
As indicated in the introductory notes, the city also contains references to the BBC Television series Peaky Blinders, the fictionalised tale of one of England’s most notorious crime gangs that was based in the city of Birmingham. These range the The Garrison pub, inspired by the pub seen in the series and rumoured to have been used by the real Peaky Blinders, to the wharfside chalk advert featuring a racing horse and the words “Shelby, est. 1920”, a reference to both the family leading the fictional Peaky Blinders and to the illegal bookmaking both the fictional and real gangs ran. There’s even billboard advertising Cadbury’s products providing further references to the Midlands origins of the gang.
Drune is also a setting that encompasses so much more as well. There is a very Gotham-esque vibe in places that goes far beyond the Batmobile awaiting discovery, whilst the streets and atmosphere lend themselves to thoughts of a dieselpunk Philip Marlowe trudging the glistening footpaths (It was raining in the City — a hard rain — almost hard enough to wash the slime from the streets. But it never does.), and more besides.
This is a place that deserves time to appreciate all of the detail that has gone into it, from the way the building rise from worn brickwork to fine, faced stone with carved motifs and proud banners to the crafted rotary engines that pump clean air into their refined interiors from their tops and cough it used and dirty, onto the streets below. Much of this detailing, all created by Hera, both adds depth to the setting and offers up more in the way of cultural references, particularly for central Europe in the inter-war period.
Magnificent, engaging and deserving to be witnessed, Drune Diesel is simply superb – when visiting, do make sure you are running with Advanced Lighting Model active (Shadows not required).
- Drune Diesel (Blissful Summer, rated Adult)