The Connor Wars Writer’s Room 40 – Tech Choices

I don’t remember if I talked about some of the choices I made when constructing the TCW world; so, if this is a repeat, my apologies.

Prepping for The Connor Wars was an interesting exercise. The big thing was deciding how much of the future world we had seen that I was going to use. Despite how I ended up going budget-less, at this stage I was thinking how expensive it would be to constantly be filming at night, constructing back-lot sets, props, etc.

But even more important than the budget considerations: it had to seem real. No laws-of-physics-defying transformer-like high tech stuff. Both sides are very much post-apocalypse. This meant limited resources all around. That colored a lot of the choices that got made.

Nuclear Destruction

What was the world going to look like? This was the key decision. It would have been very easy simply to pick the post-apocalypse devastation covered with rubble and devoid of life. It also would have been very costly. Lots of CG and green-screen, as well as set construction.

I opted, instead, to have a land that was being reclaimed by nature. This would enable using existing locales and simply dressing them up a bit. I also chose to largely do away with the rubble piles. Sure, I had to have them around Zeira and Serrano because they’d been set up that way and I didn’t want to totally destroy continuity with what had come before, but that didn’t mean that it had to be the same everywhere.

That’s where I came up with the idea that Skynet was using humans as a force to clean up the area. That’s what the people in the work camps did. Without that cheap labor, I couldn’t think of a good reason why Skynet would have work camps to begin with.

This choice also informed tactics. Skynet wanted cleared out areas because it made it easier for the machines to move about. By the same token, the area around Zeira was kept a trash heap largely because the machines would have a more difficult time going from place to place than the humans would.

So, the world wasn’t quite as dystopic as we’d come to expect. With the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we know that not everything dies. We’ve also learned that the plants are pretty persistent in reclaiming lands abandoned by humans. So, instead of a landscape of melted heaps of steel and concrete, we have wild fields that can be harvested. And this gave me another helpful bit: a reason why people haven’t starved out yet.

Transportation

Given the distances that need to be covered, transportation was going to be my biggest headache. With Skynet all mechanized, I couldn’t just have the humans tied to being on foot. At the same time, I had to keep in mind that energy resources (certainly at the start of the saga) were going to be tight and rationed as necessary.

At story start, there were a LOT of bicycles. Actually, there were always a lot of bicycles, it’s just that I stopped showing them so much because the characters I was using needed the “high priority” vehicles.

Mostly, this meant Chevy Volts. While this car is still to-be-released, assuming it is, it was my most logical choice. First, it is an electric car with (in a nutshell) an on-board, gasoline-powered generator for on-the-fly recharging. I augmented that with portable electric generators–usually solar panels–for those more likely times when you could wait to recharge.

If/when Volts come online, California is likely to be one of the biggest purchasers: partly population, partly pollution laws, partly income and “green” outlook, and so forth. This would give me the source for the surviving automobiles in a gasoline-starved world.

As this is still a war zone, I also allowed for other vehicles, notably the gas-guzzling Humvee. It’s the resistance’s version of a tank as it’s more armored than anything else they can get their hands on.

Toward the end of the project, I had the resistance starting to manufacture specialty vehicles. Taking a cue from delta forces, I had them be T0K-designed dune buggies. Their chassis are simple tubular construction, their power-plant is patterned after the Volts, although a few key vehicles might have a special, gas or nuclear kicker as a back-up.

For the camps, the nuclear-power option was the primary one. Felled terminators were stripped of anything useful: especially their nuclear batteries. This allowed for power to radios and lights, but most importantly for water purification. That’s why there was never a water shortage at Zeira.

This underscored the basis of survivability: scrounging. The humans wasted very little.

Weapons

Speaking of which… most of the advance tech the humans fought with: plasma rifles/canon, fuel-cell grenades, etc. were gotten from Skynet. As terminators and HKs would fall, the humans scrounged for everything. Once John was put in charge, this became an even bigger issue as he would use the tech to a degree that the resistance hadn’t before.

But not everything was high-tech. Good ol’ sniping rifles, thermite, and other resources remained a part of the arsenal. The key was a change in tactics. John got his forces to go for the CPU-shot instead of just firing in a general direction. It wasn’t about just surviving, it was about winning.

I wanted to show some human ingenuity as well. For example, the “Hawk busters”. Basically these are the robotic versions of bird-strikes. It’s tech that the humans could build with the materials they could find: small engine, wings, HK-engine-seeker, engine-destroying junk. It’s pretty simple, but very effective. My cue was the old SDI (aka “Star Wars”) projects which were effectively shut down once it was realized that it was much easier and cheaper to defeat the high-tech than it was to build and deploy the tech.

The Metal

The most difficult choice was what was the degree of advancement going to be in this future where it came to terminators and HKs? As I write this, I still haven’t watched T4, though I had seen the initial commercial. I thought the tech in the promo was ridiculous given the state of the world post-Judgment Day.

I kept it simple. No new types of robots beyond what we’d already seen. That meant for Skynet the terminators topped out at T-888 for most of the story. Catherine Weaver, being the only representative of T-1000 tech from an alternate far future, didn’t factor into this. Aerial HKs weren’t going to be too present (fuel, again). HKs would do much of the ground fighting as they were easier to build and more controllable for Skynet.

See…here’s the thing with the terminators: they aren’t very efficient. If you want efficient, you don’t build a robot with an anthropomorphic structure. You build that sort of robot for infiltration and for working in environments (i.e. rubble piles) more suitable for a biologic-analog. Because Skynet inherited a world built for humans, it had to construct a fair amount of terminators, but a lot of the dirty work would be done by the less specialized fighting machines.

The thing was, we were at a tipping point. Skynet was about to start large-scale manufacturing of its own T0Ks. They were agile, better at infiltration (i.e. not detectable by dogs), and more suitably-sized than previous models. If not for John reclaiming Depot 37, Skynet would have most definitely won because of this.

In many ways, the TCW 2027 is very much like the TSCC 2027. The seas are controlled by Skynet. The air is controlled by Skynet. The ground…well, you get the point.

The Tech Difference

Other than his special training for this sort of task, John’s key was his own brand of high-tech. Obviously, Cameron and Catherine provided skills and insight that John never had before. But there was more. He had the right allies in the right positions with the right tools.

The resistance doesn’t get into Excelsior Mountain without a lot of tech–Neu-goo being perhaps the most unexpected invention of the war. It allowed the resistance to “bug” Skynet and get intel it had never had before. And yet…this was also Skynet tech: Sarah Connor’s great train robbery from Kaliba provided the resistance with the key material necessary to not only make Neu-goo, but also to built the custom T0K CPUs that were so necessary for John to have the army he needed. John essentially used Skynet’s tech against it.

Thoughts

One of the things I kept in mind was that the resistance simply didn’t have the materials necessary on its own to defeat Skynet. It wasn’t about spools of exotic nano-wires and miraculous MEMs or NEMs. It was about improvising. That Sarah Connor gifted the resistance with some strategic materials helped a lot. The caches that Skynet was unable to uncover proved to be the difference.

Despite all the battles and cybernetic hand-wringing, the fact is that it took a geek to provide the tools for victory. In the past (based on TCW history), Danny Dyson is the one that gave Skynet the edge…and a TDE. In TCW, it was Toshiro who gave John the edge. Though things like Neu-goo, the foot-in-the-door device for the Excelsior entrance, and the Hawk-busters don’t seem like the sort of thing that would determine the outcome of a global struggle; the fact is that it’s also often the case.

While the geeks were responsible for starting this whole Skynet-cycle, in the end it was the creativity of one geek who provided the key devices to turn the tide.

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