Growing up during the Cold War, it was difficult not to be obsessed with nukes and the apocalypse of nuclear holocaust. Luckily, the human race did not destroy itself but the idea of a post-apocalyptic wasteland was still fascinating, seemily brimming with story and gaming possibilities. Sadly, there were very few movies, books or games dedicated to this genre. Mostly they were pretty cool but I still felt I needed to throw my hat into the ring and come up with my own version of what a devastated future would look like.
More than any other game, I think Gamma World set the standard for this kind of rpg, as it was not until much later that the Fallout series was released. Amazingly, Gamma World is still around today in its 7th incarnation, I believe (unless you count Metamorphosis Alpha). Almost every single version of this rpg was different and to me, each rule set left a lot to be desired in the way of completion and consistency. But we had a lot of fun tromping around the ruins of civilization, where every piece of garbage could be a treasure unto itself. The crazy mutants were awesome and weird, the tech was insane and life was cheap, as every encounter could be potentially lethal.
However, a lot of this sort of campaign lent itself to random aimless wandering or simple survival. I didnt see a lot of cohesive storylines come out of these scenarios. In short, while the game was extremely enjoyable, it kinda lacked a point. With Countdown Earth, I decided to give it one, and even if no one wanted to use it, it was there for story and background purposes. Adding the countdown to the title, and to the milieu itself, gave the game a sense of urgency that would drive plots and characters forward at a faster pace.
Additionally, while I liked the idea of thousands of nukes all going off at once, the cause behind the apocalypse needed a fresh take, since most other games had used this backstory already. In general, that left meteors/comets crashing to Earth, supervolcanoes or some sort of bio-plague that became a scourge upon our world. While these inanimate objects are all very viable and believable possibilities, they lacked that extra element that made for a good story: purpose. Enter the aliens. As an enemy, and the cause of our destruction, they had sentience, purpose and an agenda that they were determined to carry out in a finite amount of time. Fantastic! Plus, I could easily add in, as part of their scheme, the plagues and robotic killing machines that would add to the devastation. But I didnt want it to turn into an "us vs. them" sort of fight, at least not directly. Humans fighting aliens on planet Earth became more akin to an outer space kind of science fiction and just a plain old war for territory. So the aliens left, with a threat to return soon and claim their prize which would be won for them through biological warfare and technological terrors.
Obviously, combat had to be brutal in this game, with the potential for massive damage. As usual, I really wanted to use all my dice too, instead of just one type. And I thought an economy based more on barter would be cool and fit the setting even moreso. Too many games see the characters stockpiling thousands of gold pieces, so I made chrome bits (shiny!) fairly rare. This forces players to rely more on bargaining (and finding and holding onto good junk) rather than their bank account. Lastly, I had to add the lingo. In this sort of future, our languages would become so mixed, garbled and butchered that it would probably be unrecognizable, especially when you add in alien tongues! Plus it gave the game an added flavor that tastes like creamy gamer goodness...