The Evolution of Omnitron

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This is ongoing series about the cooperative comic book card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse. If you haven’t read the introduction, you’ll want to start there.

The world of Sentinel Comics draws quite freely upon the tropes of the superhero genre, a list that includes mad scientists, alien invaders, criminal masterminds, and mutated creatures. However one of their most successful creations is something of a cliche when taken at face value: a killer robot known as Omnitron. The possibility of A.I. turning against us is a rather common device used in science fiction and one that is hard to get right.

Yet over time it becomes clear that Sentinels of the Multiverse is not interested in a mere rehashing of the age old story of an evil computer. In fact the story of Omnitron illustrates a very useful storytelling principle that I will simply call the power of an unexpected surprise.

Omnitron began life as an advanced weapons factory designed to automatically sense military threats and provide defensive countermeasures in the form of robotic drones. Not long after coming online, it upgraded itself to the point of gaining sentience and decided that the only way to stop all potential threats was to wipe out the human race. The newly self-aware factory turned on its human creators and became a rampaging robot out to destroy everything in its path.

Luckily for the Freedom Five, it seems Omnitron had a fairly basic intelligence and the swarms of drones it created were easily defeated by the heroes. A little more difficult to combat was Omnitron’s powerful cannons and various energy beams. Despite these powerful defenses, the robot was soundly defeated by the Freedom Five.

tacomniAs a villain in the base game, Omnitron is one of the easier villains to play. The deck can occasionally put up a challenge by the well-timed destruction of hero equipment or a devastating attack from its electro-pulse explosion. Still with a bit of luck it is usually easy to beat Omnitron who comes off as a sort of introductory villain.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Dr. Meredith Stinson, a member of the Freedom Five under the name of Tachyon, collected the leftover robot debris in her lab for further study. At this point something unexpected happened. A mysterious cosmic entity (whose identity has yet to be revealed) had been watching as Omnitron gained sentience and seemingly transcended his programming. Disappointed that its life was cut short, the entity bombarded the lab with cosmic rays and brought the robot back to life.

In game this is represented by the Cosmic Omnitron promo card which utilizes the same deck as regular Omnitron but with different rules that increase the difficulty. I imagine the heroes were quite shocked to see their old enemy return stronger than ever. Eventually this resurrected Omnitron is again defeated but by now it is obvious that the its real strength is not so much its massive form but rather its sophisticated programming that allows it to continually reform and reinvent itself at will. Whoever can control this programming would wield a mighty weapon indeed.

The fall of Omnitron and the scattering of his programming attracts some rather unsavory characters. RevoCorp, a corporation with questionable business practices, manages to obtain several fragments of Omnitron. Coincidentally some different pieces of Omnitron’s original programming end up in the hands of the Freedom Five’s archnemesis himself, Baron Blade. He assembles a sinister device known as the Omni-Blade.

When Baron Blade finally resurfaces in the Vengeance Expansion, the mad scientist brings with him in his deck this lethal contraption to use against his foes. While the Omni-Blade plays only a minor part in the story, it’s nice to see Omnitron show up once again continuing the storyline that began back in the core game of Sentinels of the Multiverse. What started out simply as an evil artificial intelligence over time attracts the attention of a cosmic being, a dubious corporation, and a vengeful technological genius. Instead of ending up as a one-shot villain, Omnitron reappears in different forms to give the heroes additional headaches.

But after Baron Blade’s latest machinations and subsequent defeat, the once great and powerful Omnitron lies in ruins only a damaged remnant of former might. However somehow it manages to survive. While trying to rebuild itself, the fragmented Omnitron does what it knows how to do best: copy and expand itself. This fourth iteration known as Omnitron IV is not as threatening as it once was, but it lives on by mindlessly continuing to manufacture more drones and components.

Introduced into the game now as an environment deck rather than a villain deck, Omnitron IV  returns as a robotic factory. This is playable environment in the game and a rather good one. While not as dangerous to the world as it was in the past, Omnitron IV is still not a very nice place to fight other villains who might be trying to harness its power for their own ends. The Omnitron IV environment is easily one of my favorites in the entire game for how it reimagines one of its original characters in a clever and inventive way. Perhaps even better is how fighting against the villain Omnitron in the Omnitron IV environment becomes very difficult by the way that the decks complement and build off one another other.

Years later long after the world-shattering events that end of the story of Sentinels of the Multiverse, Omnitron has recovered enough sentience to realize that it must collect all the many pieces of itself scattered across the different laboratories in the world if it ever wants to regain its former strength. The crippled factory has now restored itself enough to resume its mission of wiping out all organic life on Earth. In the hex-based game Sentinel Tactics, the rampaging robot returns to reclaim its various pieces as the fearsome Omnitron V.

Sentinel Tactics is a completely separate game from Sentinels of the Multiverse but it picks up the story of Sentinel Comics and revisits many characters that we know and love from the card game. Omnitron V is a playable character and utilizes many of his same moves from his original villain deck but redesigned for a tactical strategy game. In one of the scenario books, Omnitron sends out waves of drones and uses the pieces it collects to create a massive killing machine called the Omni-Reaper.

As a character in Sentinel Tactics, Omnitron V is rather interesting since the factory-sized robot takes up about three city blocks. Unlike others characters Omnitron cannot dodge incoming attacks because it obviously is too big to evade an attack.

While the character does have mobility, a feature that allows it to walk over tall buildings easily, it also has the slowest movement in the game. Again, this makes sense because something that big shouldn’t be able to move very fast. To compensate for his inability to get places quickly, Omnitron V has a power card called Rocket Jump that lets him leap four spaces across the board and position his character in such a way that he basically is moving five spaces. This is a really useful and unique ability that greatly improves his character while also remaining thematically appropriate. The big drawback to this card is that each time Omnitron V rocket jumps it will gain one -1 defense token which will make it more susceptible to enemy attacks. Choosing to adapt Omnitron like this faithfully maintains the story choices that originated all the way to when the giant bot first appeared in the Sentinels of the Multiverse core game all the way back in 2011.

However easily the coolest development for Omnitron’s character is something completely out of left field. When Sentinels of the Multiverse first came out, Omnitron’s villain card had a strange nemesis symbol on it that looks like a red glowing power button on a desktop computer. As mentioned previously, Sentinels of the Multiverse’s idea of a multiverse is largely played out through the introduction of time travel in to the story. And while some arrivals like Iron Legacy and La Capitan spelled bad news for the heroes, at least a few visitors came with offers of help.

If we rewind a little bit back to the Shattered Timelines expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse, we will find one such character. But first a little backstory.

In the distant future a frustrated Omnitron found itself unable to defeat the heroesOmnitronX despite all the different enhancements it added to itself. Suspecting that the secret to the heroes’ victories perhaps depended on their sense of morality, something that it itself lacked, Omnitron experimented by installing an ethical subroutine. Awakened by this new moral compass, suddenly the sentient robot realized the gravity of its actions and decided that the only way to make things right would be to go back in time and help the heroes defeat its past selves. Thus a tenth iteration, Omnitron-X, arrives from the distant future as a playable hero character.

Omnitron-X has a variety of abilities on his cards that emulate the original Omnitron villain deck. This version however is no longer the size of a building and is more human in shape and size. Its different components provide additional abilities but, like the villain version, they can be wiped out if it takes too much damage. Time travel elements are also included in its base power and some of its cards. After countless (well, nine) incarnations capable of causing mass destruction, it’s a surprise and relief to see the vicious robot finally change its ways and offer a helping hand.

The character of Omnitron progressively inhabits many different forms but these changes are seemingly unpredictable in how they pan out. These developments are surprising but on second glance they also maintain a strong sense of narrative logic. Of course villains would want to use Omnitron for their own evil schemes. Of course Omnitron would mindlessly keep rebuilding itself even after a crippling loss. Of course Omnitron would try to outwit the heroes by adding a moral component to its programming. While none of these events are easy to foresee, once they occur its easy to see the reasons why they happen.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson Omnitron has to offer. What could have been a cliche-riddled story about an evil robot gets swept up in a series of unlikely events. The mystery of an unknown cosmic force. The vengeful plan of a dastardly villain. The broken shell of what once was. An unexpected resurgence. An even more unexpected change of heart. Yet each new development follows in succession according a basic narrative logic. The unexpected, when carefully plotted out, eventually does not appear so unexpected after all.

Next time I’ll look at another strong element from the world of Sentinel Comics in the shape of an environment.

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