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Used Future
The Bebop has seen better days.

"After the Earth was used up, we found a new solar system and hundreds of new Earths were terraformed and colonized [...] Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies. A ship would bring you work. A gun would help you keep it."
Shepherd Book, Firefly

Some Speculative Fiction Series focus on a Cool Starship or two that's shiny and new and full of all the latest Applied Phlebotinum. The shows are all about idealistic and well-funded explorers or warriors, boldly going where angels fear to tread.

Shows on the other end of the Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty treat the future as a place where real people live, and where spaceships look dirty, dingy, and used, like heavy equipment that one might find at a lonely truck stop in the middle of the night right now. The ships are old junk heaps run on a shoestring by hard-bitten characters on the edge, seemingly held together with two pieces of string, chewing gum, and the will of God — the SF equivalent of the struggling Film Noir private eye, in other words. This is the Used Future, and it's home to Space Truckers, renegades, regular working stiffs, and anyone on the "cynical" end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. Think of it as Diesel Punk IN SPACE!!

Sometimes, there will be Shiny-Looking Spaceships alongside dingier ones; usually these new, ascetic and shiny ships will belong to the Galactic Military which has access to constantly churning shipyards and the newest heights of technology while the heroes must survive on surplus gear and homegrown repairs. These shiny looking spaceships, however, can denote that the crew piloting these über-ships is formed of completely green recruits with no real combat experience, often led by a pompous noble, while the battered ships are piloted by grizzled veterans who can fly circles around them.

The original Star Wars popularised the concept (although arguably Moon Zero Two (1969), Silent Running (1972), and Dark Star (1974) led the way.) For contrast, the prequels, set in a more civilized time, are correspondingly shinier. (Star Wars is a rare example on the "idealism" end of the above-mentioned scale.)

Interestingly, portraying this in CG effects is actually more difficult, but sometimes the audience won't accept things not looking dirty enough. Which can be ironic because many spaceship exteriors are actually perpetually shiny in real life (due to the scarcity of dirt, grime and oxidizing agents in space)—unless they have to endure high-velocity atmospheric reentry.

On the other hand ships using a layered-ablative-standoff-armor setup like the Whipple Shield which takes advantage of the tendency of small objects moving at comically-high speeds to shatter on impact, and lets the first armor layer shatter the junk (which makes a very tidy hole through the outer layer), and the second layer absorbs the (much less dangerous) spray of components without having any holes in it. This would have a scarred and pitted look after a while, and if the ship's owner didn't have money to replace sections of the shield as necessary, it could be this trope to a T.

Contrast Shiny-Looking Spaceships, Crystal Spires and Togas.

See Also: Scavenger World

Usually a Hard Science Fiction trope.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Vandread mostly has Shiny-Looking Spaceships, but a notable example of this trope occurs when the crew visits a space station filled with refugees from the Harvest.
  • While we are mostly given a worm's-eye-view of the Votoms universe, this does apply, when the fact that a century-long galaxy-wide conflict has just ended.
  • The only ships that appear pristine in the Cowboy Bebop world are, cynically, those belonging to the bad guys. The Bebop, as well as the characters' personal ships, are all rendered with realistic levels of rust, grime and plenty of wingdings from daily usage.
    • Which is a bit odd though, as in space there's no moisture, or air to make rust and grime.
      • Not really Fridge Logic, as the Bebop is shown flying through planetary atmospheres on several occasions, which is where the rust and dirt likely originate.
      • There was also at least one episode where the Bebop berthed on water, alongside some flat-bottomed boats and scows that would only be practical on rivers. The waters, and air, where deltas meet the sea tend to be especially corrosive to vessels, and that probably wasn't the first time they parked for awhile.
    • Not to mention Jet's Hammerhead is just a futuristic tow-truck and Spike's much-prided Swordfish is some sort of out-of-date (classic?) personalized space race car so neither of them are meant to be shot at. The Bebop itself is converted fishing trawler with an excusably large outer deck.
  • The vehicle in Outlaw Star deteriorates gradually from Shiny Looking Spaceship to Used Future, mainly because the characters do so much traveling in it.
  • Patlabor, with giant robots replacing spaceships.
  • Planetes focuses entirely on the blue collar workers whose job it is to clean up space junk that endangers flights.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team has a bunch of Gundam Ground Types that are basically a pile of spare-parts for the original Gundam that are put together and armed with a couple of large rifles. Maintenance is done quite frequently, to the extent that when a Gundam isn't being piloted, someone is doing maintenance on it, to make sure they work. In fact, the main character arrives at the EFF-base, while his Gundam is being tuned. Most repairs are done simply by taking functional parts from other Mobile Suits and stuffing them on the Gundams, which results in one of the 08th MS Team pilots being referred to as "GM-head" because her Gundam's head gets replaced by that of a mass-produced GM's head after the original head was punched off. On the Zeon side, we got to see a single Zaku Tank, which is basically a Zaku torso with arms and head, stuffed on top of a Magella-class attack tank. We never saw it in action, but one can only assume it was a make-shift repair to a Zaku II that had lost its legs in battle.
    • Expanded Universe sources indicate that Zaku Tanks are common ways to make use of wrecked Zakus, but the use of one for actual combat is quite rare. Normally they're converted for construction/combat engineer work.

    Comic Books 
  • Graphic novel example: anything drawn by Jean Girard, aka Moebius, will usually incorporate elements of both Used Future and Shiny-Looking Spaceships.
  • Ignition City by Warren Ellis. The titular city is a spaceport constructed from rusted spaceships that has a lot of expies of classic sci-fi heroes as its residents.
  • In Fear Agent it is hard to keep your ship and jetpack shiny when you are the last survivor of a monster-hunting group from Texas with alcohol problems.

    Films — Animated 
  • Titan A.E., focusing as it does on the refugee remnants of humanity After the End of an Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
  • WALL•E pretty much embodies this trope, especially when WALL-E is compared to the sleek, shiny, futuristic EVE. Note that this is literally due to use; they were actually designed and built at about the same time, but WALL-E has been in continuous use while EVE has spent most of the time in storage.
  • The Harry Canyon segment of the film Heavy Metal.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Of course Star Wars more or less defines this trope, where every ship is covered with dings and scratches and epitomized by the Millennium Falcon, which looks like it is almost ready to fall apart. This extends to the sound design as well, apparently George Lucas's instructions were that he wanted to hear every loose bolt in the engines. This said, the ships used by the Empire often look a bit more swish. It helps that the Rebel ships are held together with space duct tape and The Force, while the Galactic Empire has the full might of...a galactic empire behind its military. The Rebels are still able to gain access to real formidable ships that can rival the Empires Star Destroyers, thanks to the support of many worlds who are also against the Empire, such as the Mon Calamari Cruisers, but most of their smaller vessels and fighters are obsolete or cast-off craft that no other galactic navy wanted.
    • In the Prequels most of the early tech look aesthetic and functioned well, but when the Empire took over all of it was now redesigned to follow the Empires standards.
  • The Nostromo in Ridley Scott's Alien set the benchmark for all Used Future depictions to come. This extends to the occupation of the protagonists—they're truck drivers, hardly a glamorous job.
  • Apparently Dan O'Bannon had a thing for working on films involving this sort of thing. Prior to doing special effects work for Star Wars and writing the screenplay for Alien, he was involved with the production of a low-budget college short-turned-feature called Dark Star which centered around four guys who have been stuck for 20 years on a spaceship which is riddled with malfunctions since nobody wants to do any maintenance. This includes but is not limited to the sleeping quarters being blown away (forcing the men to sleep on improvised mattresses in a food storage room), storage areas self-destructing on their own, a faulty seat which has already killed the original commander, and an elevator that moves up and down at random (with an emergency hatch too small for a person to fit through and an emergency phone that is offline). Incidentally, Dan O'Bannon partially adapted his script for Alien from this film, making it Older Than They Think.
  • Blade Runner: Decorators just overdid their aversion of Shiny-Looking Spaceships with cloudy, polluted skies, graffiti everywhere and trash blowing in the wind. Ridley Scott actually said "The future is not new. It's old". And because of that it looks amazing.
  • The Terry Gilliam film Brazil takes place in a highly-stylized Used Future — and, while we're at it, more or less a Crapsack World that simultaneously resembles Twenty Minutes into the Future ("sometime in the 20th century") and Diesel Punk. Everything is so used in this future, in fact, that it rarely functions properly, including but not limited to the entire bureaucracy-based system of government.
  • The real world in The Matrix, where humans have astounding technology but (having lost the Robot War) must scrounge a living in a cramped, dirty underground city among Absurdly Spacious Sewers and caves.
  • Outland the underrated Recycled IN SPACE! 1981 version of High Noon replaces the old west mining town with a mining "colony" on Io that is as dirty, cramped, overcrowded and "used" as the crummiest oil-rig of today. The hero and the leading lady are middle-aged, unattractive (by movie standards) and cynical. The bad guys are not aliens or galactic emperors, but drug-dealers, corrupt cops and venal businessmen. The weapons are shotguns and rifles. It takes a year for spaceships to travel from Earth to Io.
  • In The American Astronaut, the space is pretty much dominated by roughnecks and manual laborers.
  • Given the genre it's parodying, it's probably not surprising that this trope gets a lampshade hung on it in Spaceballs.
    Dark Helmet: Fuck! Even in the future nothing works!
  • While the Discovery itself is bright and clean in 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the sequel 2010 it's decidedly less so, with dust having collected on it thanks to hanging in orbit around Io for 9 years without any humans to maintain it. The Alexi Leonov doesn't look particularly shiny, either.
    • It's interesting to note that the Leonov is brand new— it was build specifically to recover Discovery after contact was lost. Then again, it's also designed to survive aerobraking.
  • Every future sequence in the Terminator franchise, with Salvation being an entire movie of this. Of course, it helps that the future the movies feature is set after a major nuclear holocaust.
  • In a weird example of people expecting spaceships to look like this, the visual effects people who made Apollo 13 said they had to make the Saturn V rocket look dirtier than it actually was at liftoff, just because people wanted it that way.
  • Kin-Dza-Dza!, 1986 Soviet Cult Classic sci-fi dystopian comedy.
  • The City of Ember portrayed a city driven by a huge dilapidated generator that was well beyond its expected life and the impending failure of the generator drives the events of the plot.
  • Pacific Rim has shades of it. Computers are holographic but they need huge tapes/disks for information, Jaegers are often rusty and dented and society is on the verge of collapsing with ration for work programs.
  • All the alien technology in District 9 looks quite used and gritty. The spaceship is itself a wreck that barely managed to reach Earth rather than falling apart into oblivion. The whole point of the movie is to portrait an Apartheid-like regime.

    Literature 
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Arthur is taken aback by the squalor of the Vogon ship, and notes that the much shinier Heart of Gold is more in line with what he expects of a space ship — of course, the Heart of Gold is only clean because it's so new that it still has the protective film on.
  • Before anything listed, Robert Heinlein had already led the way with Used Futures in many books. Here are several books and stories.
  • E. M. Forster wrote a science fiction short story called "The Machine Stops" (1909) about a future civilization that has grown dependent upon automation. (When the titular machine deteriorates and dies, so does the civilization.)
  • Older Than Radio: H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. When the Time Traveller visits the distant future, everything is older than the dust that covers it and the inhabitants make use of the technology only out of habit or instinct.
  • The Revelation Space universe from Alastair Reynolds. The first ship described is about 3-4 kilometers long and has 5 people running it. Vast swathes of it are described as "flooded with coolant...others were infested with rogue janitor-rats...patrolled by defense drogues which had gone berserk...filled with toxic gas, or vacuum, or too much high-rad." Amazingly, it gets worse.
    • A few stories take place during the earlier "Belle Epoque" age when everything was shiny, back when the Rust Belt around Yellowstone was known as the Glitter Band. Then a nanotech virus called The Melding Plague arrived and ruined everything.
  • Everything Peter Watts ever wrote. Everything. Well, no, that's not strictly true; some of his stories are set in futures so used they've fallen apart; but the rest of them are just severely used. The prime example of this trope is, of course, the Rifters Trilogy, particularly Lenie Clarke's cross-country tour-o-death in Maelstrom.
  • Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" has "kipple" - the accumulation of society's junk and litter, which seems to grow spontaneously whenever you're not looking. The Earth of the story had been largely abandoned in favor of space colonies, leaving many empty and unmaintained sections of the city to rot and accumulate random garbage. Appropriate, as it's the book that Bladerunner is based on.
  • Asimov's Foundation series. After the fall of the Galactic Empire, various factions use the remnants of the technology to live as best they can. This ranges from wealthy technicians maintaining machines they can no longer understand to agrarian societies who mine the vast abandoned cities for ready-made steel.
  • Book of the New Sun describes the future where humanity just sits at home and waits for the money to run out. The central character grows up in the hulk of a former starship which still has a couple of operating devices, if you can round up enough apprentices to hand-crank them. Miners dig up old machines rather than raw materials, which were exhausted a long time ago (indeed one of their measures of time, the "age," starts when one resource is exhausted and ends when the next runs out.) The very rich have access to advanced technology, which they appear to get by trading slaves to aliens.
  • Tales of Pirx the Pilot by Stanislaw Lem.
  • This trope is pretty much a requirement for any Cyberpunk story.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, the New Angeles finds the artifact because it broke down and they had to mine on an uninhabited planet just to repair it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Almost all the ships in Andromeda, except the Andromeda Ascendant herself, which was a time-shifted relic of a bygone era of cleanliness. The series is really about injecting old-fashioned heroics into the Used Future.
  • Babylon 5 went so far as to prominently feature a station that had acquired Used Future levels of grime before it opened.
    • Not to mention homeless people and illegal drugs.
    • The relatively advanced Minbari and Vorlon stuff, on the other hand, is plenty shiny. When it comes to ships and space stations, it seems that human manufacturers have had a decades-long preference for dingy-looking, mostly unpainted metal paneling with no easily discernible regular pattern. Ultimately, this aesthetic is not reflected in the Victory class produced a few years after the series proper ended, but since only one prototype is left and its spacedock is busted, Earthforce is gonna stay looking that way for a while longer.
  • Battlestar Galactica, both versions. The Galactica is even called "The Old Bucket" by its crew.
    • The Battlestar Pegasus is included in the series pretty much just to show how a Battlestar actually fit for battle is supposed to look.
    • Just to rub in how much more advanced the Cylons are, once we get episodes set inside a Basestar in the second season we find out they're tastefully and futuristically decorated with curved, minimalist passageways with lights set in square sconces, flowing streams of water serving as user interfaces, bands of cyclopic red, Matrix Raining Code holograms in the bridge, and Victorian furniture.note 
  • In the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode about Star Trek fans — all right, Astro Quest fans — the sample clip of the proposed Darker and Edgier revival of the old sci-fi program has a definite Used Future look to the set, costumes, and characters.
  • The new Doctor Who, although it's extremely soft sci-fi. In "The Long Game", the worn look is actually the point. Averted by the shiny Mars base in "The Waters of Mars", though that makes sense, since it's a fairly recent outpost with a tiny population.
    • The TARDIS is practically the embodiment of this trope. It's a clapped out old relic locked into one appearance, the last of a model which was junked by its creators centuries ago, and which is in places held together with paper clips and hope. Nevertheless, it still manages to be the most powerful ship in the universe.
      • On the outside it remains as pristine as the shiniest of Shiny-Looking Spaceships, except for the time it got graffitied. And that was really done by Rose Tyler using the time vortex anyway. Travelling anywhere in it does seem to clean the outside, as seen in Vincent And The Doctor, where a layer of posters the TARDIS has acquired is burnt away after a short journey.
      • The TARDIS seems to be a kind of Empathic Shapeshifter with regards to this - it's almost always quite shiny, but when we're shown the TARDIS belonging to the War Doctor, it's absolutely battered and covered in stains and flaking paint, both outside and in. This reflects the War Doctor's been-through-it-all, weary personality.
  • Firefly, though there is a deliberate contrast between the Shiny-Looking Spaceships of the Alliance and the used, battered craft on the border regions, as well as the Space Western design of the outer planets compared with the Crystal Spires and Togas look of the central planets.
    • Even Lampshaded in the episode "Heart of Gold", where the rich guy who runs the world is deliberately keeping the world rustic so he can "play cowboy."
    • In "Ariel" the crew salvages an old air ambulance (that's still a pretty well-advanced piece of technology itself) from a junkyard as part of their scheme to rob the pharmacy of an Alliance hospital.
    • In "Out of Gas" it's revealed that Mal bought Serenity from a literal used spaceship lot.
  • Used in the shortlived Homeboys In Outer Space.
  • Red Dwarf. It got much softer as time went on, due to the remaining crew members moving into the more luxurious officer's sleeping quarters (At least while still on Red Dwarf).
    • The titular Red Dwarf itself was a mining ship, and other than the command deck, really looked the part. (An early plot point revolves around changing the interior color from ocean grey to military grey.) The exterior as well, until the ship was re-built in the later seasons, looks correspondingly used. Plus the "nothing ever works" aspect applies, many episodes revolve around various malfunctions. (Service robot screwing with the wiring, docking bay doors that don't open, etc.)
    • The series also includes characters who are products of the Used Future, in the form of a defective hologram, a senile computer, a neurotic service droid and several sassy Scutters.
  • The Traveler ships from Stargate Atlantis are jury-rigged to hell, the result of having to keep them going for decades on anything that comes to hand. They're still pretty badass though, given that just one of these manages to beat 3 rogue Asgard ships and then save the Daedalus.
  • Somehow preventing the Destiny (over 50 million years old) from breaking apart is one of the constant main concerns of the characters in Stargate Universe.
  • In Star Trek it shows that minor races that lack the Federation's technology and resources are filthy. The interiors of Romulan, Cardassian, Dominion, Ferengi, Hirogen, Vulcans, etc are all quite clean, and neither the Borg nor the Klingons care.
    • In an interesting reversal, the further they go into the future it depicts even more streamlined Federation ships. The further into the past shows the Federation ships as being fairly rough looking. The 2009 Star Trek movie redesigns the Enterprise and even shows the rougher USS Kelvin, making it interesting to look at the aesthetics of Star Trek: Enterprise, the movie, and Star Trek: The Next Generation eras.
  • What we see of the mid 22nd century in Terra Nova seems to be this.
  • The Tulip in Starhunter is extremely old and beat-up, with huge sections of the exterior hull missing and suffering frequent mechanical problems. Doesn't help that she's been through at least two retrofits, starting out as a luxury passenger liner, then converted to a troopship, then surplussed out and turned into a bounty hunting vessel. Most of the locations visited are similarly dark and dingy.
  • The Ark in The 100 has an air of this having been cobbled together from a dozen disparate space stations nearly a hundred years previous to the series opening. The ship they send down to Earth literally starts falling apart during entry.

    Tabletop Games 
  • As with the Literature example above, any game with a cyberpunk setting will have this trope in effect by default.
  • Battletech plays this trope straight, especially in the beginning. With the technology for most high tech weaponry lost, the best weapons are also the oldest. And in most cases, they have been used all the time. Of course, this was only a plot device to rediscover better technology later on, and to introduce stronger units into the game.
  • Transhuman Space: A lot of the tech is new and shiny, but where it's used and shabby, the fact is acknowledged. The Broken Dreams supplement discusses the topic in detail.
  • Traveller has both. There are Cool Ships — for instance private yachts or large ships of the Imperial Navy or a Megacorporation. And then there are used ships which do meat and potatoes jobs like Free Traders, the IISS, or the Sworld Worlder's Confederation Patrol. Though in a potential subversion, even Free Traders are major investments; it's worth a guess that even on a small ship, the bridge (if not the hold) will look like a library or an office, rather than like a Firefly or Millenium Falcon.
  • Warhammer 40,000 plays with this trope, depending on the factions involved.
    • The Tech-Priests of the Imperium are quite suspicious of any technology that hasn't proved its worth for several millennia, while some specific vehicles or pieces of equipment have been lovingly-maintained for ten thousand years, and are often quite battered underneath the gold leaf and religious iconography.
    • All the Orks' technology looks like scrapyard metal haphazardly bolted and welded together, but that's what it looked like new.
    • Other alien races avert this, though. The Eldar's equipment and armour is always sleek and immaculate, despite being older than mankind's, while the Tau were specifically designed to avert the trope in contrast to its near-ubiquity among humans.
    • The Necrons' artifacts have a frightening timeless quality despite belonging to the oldest faction in the setting, and the metal skeletons residing in some Tomb Worlds are exactly as shiny now as they were eons ago. Only rarely are most Necrons portrayed as shiny, though; it takes a lucky tomb world to have survived the long sleep hardly touched by time and their living natives or neighbors ... and even then their base color-scheme might not even be "shiny". It is far more common for them to look as ancient as they are. However, Necron technology is so much more advanced despite the age (and with a large part of said technology applied to repairs of the inorganic race), they'll never appear "used" as it relates to this trope. Dirty yes, ancient definitely, but not used.

    Video Games 
  • One would be hard-pressed to call the USG Ishimura of Dead Space a "nice workplace", even if one ignores the ravenous, nightmarish Necromorphs.
    • It doesn't look like it looked much better even before the infection. It's all rugged-edged metal and screeching doors, hence the developers calling it "an oil rig in space".
    • Depending on the section, the Sprawl of Dead Space 2 averts and plays this straight. Sections like the residence halls, Church of Unitology, shopping center, and school are well maintained, while sections like the mining decks are quite reminiscent of the Ishimura.
    • Dead Space 3 continues the theme, being set on a series of spaceships as well as a colony on an alien planet that are all over 200 years old. One wonders how much of the Dead Space universe isn't covered in rust.
  • The Doom games makes use of this. This is especially noticeable in Doom 3's 'mars city' The well maintained sections look pretty rough, the seldom used sections are dilapidated, then the forces of hell turn up...
  • EVE Online the MMORPG features the Minmatar Republic, a race of former slaves whose ships are often mocked for being "Flying Junkyards", and the Minmatar pilots often iterate their sacred adage "In Rust We Trust". The trope is avoided in the game by ships belonging to the other factions, most notably and appropriately those of the Amarr Empire, the Minmatar's former enslavers, whose ships are covered in pristine gold plating.
  • Freelancer has this in spades. The lawful factions mostly have Shiny-Looking Spaceships (with the exception of Bretonia, whose ships are dingy brown and ugly as sin), while the pirates have to get around in filthy junk heaps. The starter ship, the Starflier, is a heap of rubbish whose one advantage is its manoeuvrability, bases are often simply carved out of asteroids, most of the bars on space stations look like dingy, seedy dives, and the Leeds system is so filthy and polluted that it has smog clouds. Smog clouds in space.
    • Ironically the best ship the player can have is a powerful custom pirate ship.
  • Gears of War pretty much runs rampant with this, especially the "used" part. Anywhere outside of Jacinto, and even a lot of places inside of it, are battered, damaged, run-down, and barely functional.
    • Although it should be noted that most of their earth was KillSated by their own government, to attempt to slow down their enemies and rob them of any spoils. Those places also tend not to be inhabited by the only remaining formal government's citizens.
    • From the bits seen in Jacinto that were actually in somewhat decent if disheveled shape and the backstory provided in bonus materials it's learned that these locations were at one time exceptionally pretty and opulant but after ninety seven years of total war on a planetary scale first between various human nations and then against the locust has pretty much ruined them all. Scrubbing away the grime or mowing the grass just isn't as high a priority as fending off the hulking xenocidal alien monsters.
    • It gets worse by the time of Gears of War 3 where humanity has lost all of its cities and all humans now exist as self-defending tribes. Everything has predictably become dirtier and more desperate. Less Used Future and more Scavenger World.
  • Infinity: The Quest for Earth has the Star Fold Confederacy, who are essentially a breakaway faction of industrialists and super-capitalists who don't care about the aesthetics of their ships.
  • The Jak and Daxter series as of the second game takes place in a Crapsack World Twenty Minutes into the Future.
  • Mass Effect both averts and plays the trope straight. The Council (including humanity) invariably have shiny looking spaceships and space stations. However, as you begin to explore the galaxy, visit remote colonies and the lawless Terminus Systems, this trope comes further and further into play. The difference between the Citadel (the capital of the Citadel Council) and Omega (the "capital" of the Terminus) is quite striking.
    • The quarian fleet is a good example of an entire fleet of ships that have been constantly patched up for the last 300 years. Makes sense considering the entirety of the quarian race (after they were driven off their homeworld by the geth) lives aboard the Migrant Fleet. Centuries of maintenance have turned most quarians into engineering geniuses. Young quarians on their Pilgrimage try to find a ship, any ship, even one that every other race would write off as a wreck, fix it up and get it flying again.
    • The Normandy SR-2 has some of this in Mass Effect 3 thanks to being on the tail end of a refit when all Hell broke loose on Earth. Several rooms have access panels missing, cables draped across the floor, et cetera. It's still perfectly spaceworthy, just not as pretty inside as it used to be.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future Pokémon Colosseum features Pyrite Town, a dirty, patchwork city full of thugs that uses banged up versions of the technology found in the game.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire makes some use of this trope for many of the TEC's craft, understandable given that the bulk of them are repurposed civilian vessels. They by and large go for the utilitarian look, but aren't all wrecked up. They do feel a lot like this trope compared to the Vasari, or especially the Advent, where everything is shiny, ironic because they're the rebel-like faction.
    • The pirates ARE this trope. There are spikes on their spaceships. Why? Because most of them are refitted TEC ships and heck yea!
  • The Terrans from Starcraft, sometimes portrayed as a futuristic version of the Deep South. The art book for Starcraft II describes them as the "junkyard dogs" of the setting.
  • Wing Commander, especially Privateer. Not quite so much with Prophecy, and the TCS Concordia from Wing Commander II. Given that the former is "fresh from spacedock" on its shakedown cruise, and Tolwyn is using the Concordia as his flagship, though, this isn't surprising.
    • The sleeping chamber from Wing Commander I even has water dripping from the ceiling into a metal bucket standing in the metal-plated floor.
  • The Teladi ships in X3: Terran Conflict are basically flying rust buckets, assembled in sweatshop shipyards. They sure can take a beating, though. The Pirate and Yaki factions have old, repainted and modified versions of the Commonwealth ships, and capital ships assembled from the rusting (in space) remains of old cargo ships, welded together. The Argon ships also have some shades of this, at least on their fighters - the ships shown visible signs of wear, rust, and bad welds.
    • The Albion Skunk of X Rebirth is kinda like the Millennium Falcon or Serenity in that it is extremely old and beat-up.
  • Metroid loves this. Most of the games consists of tracking through partially ruined technology of all kinds of aesthetics, with rusty crashed spaceships and half-ruined bases mixed with wilderness. Then again, the technology levels range from Organic Technology to Magitek.
  • Vega Strike firmly stands here. Humans use both cheap fairly good fighters and Shiny-Looking Spaceships at 10-20 times their cost made by an elitist faction, cargo is hauled by Space Truckers on ships looking like a box with thrusters and cabin welded on or a bundle of cans. note  The same applies to some aliens — one of NPC random phrases is a joking advice to keep the distance because "They say paint job is a structural component". Most space stations has pretty rough-and-tumble design style too.
  • Tachyon: The Fringe, both played straight and averted: the Bora rebels use large, heavy fighters that look like they've been put together with pieces of several ships and haphazardly patched up many times, while the GalSpan corporation has nimble, sleek fighters that look like they've just come out of the factory. The former is a mining guild which saw no need for dedicated warships (save for occasional pirate raids) until the GalSpan incursion, while the latter is the largest and most powerful Mega Corp. in known space likely the only one able to field a Standard Sci-Fi Fleet. For game balance, Bora ships are slow, bulky things with thick hulls and powerful weapons (repurposed mining equipment). GalSpan ships are fast, maneuverable, but fairly weak in terms of hull strength and firepower.
  • Deus Ex has this in spades, but the sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War and the prequel, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, have more equal measures of shine and grit.
    • Timeline-wise, Human Revolution takes place during a Golden Age of technology and Bio-Augmentation but also with significant portions of society being left behind and clear urban decay wherever augmentation hasn't helped. The original Deus Ex takes place after a major backlash against augmentation, several high-profile terrorist attacks, and a plague that is threatening to wipe out a large number of people. Invisible War takes place after the Collapse, but with society slowly recovering.
  • Naturally, the Fallout series' future is used, broken, jury-rigged back together, and then used some more. Particularly notable examples are the Highwayman of Fallout 2, with its lack of hood or trunk cover (and don't even think about paint), the tragically damaged AI M.A.R.Go.T. (who states herself to be operating at 14% capacity), and the duct-tape-heavy skins of the Hunting Rifle in every last game.
  • Marathon, especially in the first game.
  • Both Portal games bring this trope into effect. The second half of the first game and the first half of the second game.
  • The Half-Life games showed a bit of this in the old, abandoned segments of Black Mesa but really cranked this trope up in Half-Life 2 which simply screams cyberpunk and dystopia. Every lab belonging to the Resistance is full of visibly old mainframes and CRT monitors, despite the fact that the second game is supposed to take place somewhere in the 2020s. Justified in that there's a Vichy Earth situation going on so there's no way to get your hands on shiny, brand-new technology without stealing it from the Combine.
    • One of the best in-game examples for this trope is the Gravity Gun: it's the wet dream of every physicist, yet it looks rusted and ready to fall apart at a moment's notice.
  • The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey have this with Stark, the world of science. While the wealthy live in shiny high-rises and travel in Flying Cars, the majority of humanity lives in lower levels with slums, ghettos, and art schools. It's no wonder that, when April first ravels to Arcadia, the magical world stuck in Medieval Stasis, she's awed by its beauty and simplicity (being an art student helps). Naturally, she decides to stay in Arcadia after the events of the game. Things get only worse in Stark after that. The Collapse results in society going back to older technology, and interstellar space flight is no longer a possibility (not that life in the colonies was a picnic). Notably, things in Arcadia have also taken a turn for the worse but for a different reason.
    • Life in the colonies may have been worse before the Collapse, but after the Collapse they may be dying out. It's heavily implied that the colonies were deliberately kept from being self-sufficient, so they'd always be reliant on Earth for supplies.
  • Both played straight and averted in Star Wars: The Old Republic in regards to personal starships. The Sith and Jedi have sleek-looking craft, the Imperial Agent has an elaborate cruiser and the Republic Trooper has a military drop ship, while the Smuggler has a well worn-in freighter and the Bounty Hunter's (stolen) assault craft is a rust-bucket.
  • The futuristic, steam-punk world of Video Game/Machinarium looks extremely rusty and worn out.
  • Low wealth and possibly mid wealth sims living in the cities of tomorrow in SimCity have their choice of either retro-fitting their ranch homes and brownstones with clunky machinery and laser lights or shacking it up in a massive, bulky, and bleak mega-tower. OmegaCo is considerably much grungier than its Academy counterpart, to the point that even the corporate headquarters is just a black tower with neon lights.

    Webcomics 
  • Freefall takes place on a colony still undergoing terraforming. The Savage Chicken in particular is still rather less than pristine even after Florence starts to work on fixing it.
  • Schlock Mercenary plays this now and then

    Web Originals 
  • AH.com: The Series, thanks to the ship being a battered old ex-battleship kept running by a fraction of its proper crew.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama if taken as its own universe rather than pure parody presents a very lived-in future where things do go wrong and break down.
    • Particularly notable is the part of the opening sequence where two Zeerust rocket ships get into a fender-bender.
      • Not to mention the third one which smashes into a billboard at the end of the intro.
  • The Venture Bros. is very fond of juxtaposing the dreams of the 50's and 60's (especially the projects of Jonas Venture Sr.) with the ruins that they became in the present.

    Real Life 
  • While technically not the future, the Space Shuttle is still a very high tech and futuristic looking vehicle even by 2011 standards. Despite this however the Space Shuttles have apparently gotten quite dirty and banged up over the past few years.
    • And a credit to NASA's engineers as well. Most equipment built now wouldn't survive half of what those babies can.
      • Two of them didn't. Reportedly some expert warned NASA that the chances of a shuttle being destroyed in flight were 1 in 50. There were 135 flights, and 2 shuttles destroyed with all crew lost.
  • The International Space Station (and other modern space stations) tend towards a bleached version of this rather than the I-pod like designs one'd expect, with exposed wires all over the place, and it's for the large part, cramped and many fixes are standard "Duct tape and Hope", as getting spare parts involves putting them into orbit.
  • Compare what people in the 1950's thought today would look like to what actually exists... It's a lot dirtier and less planned than they thought, not to mention the lack of flying cars and the like.
  • Factory Robots like mechanical arms look advanced by today's standards. That said, most of them have been through some serious use and look scuffed and greased stained.
  • Anyone who has been to CERN in Switzerland can attest that it feels like this trope - instead of being a shiny place for high-tech physics research, it is better described as 'urban decay and sprawl', 'general disorganized clutter', and 'mostly abandoned offices'. It's been around since the 50s, after all.
    • That said, some of the newer buildings are shinier.
    • Any actually working laboratory (not the unused showpieces) looks like this. It might be spotless clean (where it's required by the needs of the experiment), but it will look like "general disorganized clutter", because the main reason for a lab's existence is for people to tinker with stuff, not organize it neatly.
  • One imagines that your typical Roman of Augustus's time would not have believed that 500 years into the future, Rome would have a tenth of the population...


Throw-Away CountryYou Would Not Want to Live in DexA World Half Full
Unsound EffectSpectacleVisible Invisibility
Tron LinesCyberpunk Tropes    
Crystal Spires and TogasHollywood HistoryCyber Punk
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Smoking Is CoolImageSource/Anime & MangaCyborg 009

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