Although Gamma World was (I think) the first RPG I played after Dungeons & Dragons, it was with its predecessor game, Metamorphosis Alpha, that I was obsessed for much of the early 1980s. Written by James Ward and first published in 1976, making it, depending on one's definitions, the first science fiction roleplaying game ever published, Metamorphosis Alpha is set aboard a vast generation ship (called the Warden in a typical example of early hobby self-referential hubris/humor). En route to another solar system far from Earth, the Warden passes through a radiation cloud that damages its systems, kills its crew, and mutates most of its surviving passengers, as well as the Terran flora and fauna traveling with them, into monstrous forms.
Over several generations, the descendants of the original passengers forget they're aboard a starship (which still functions, more or less, under the control of automated systems) and new societies arise on its various decks, which are kilometers-long in size and include many areas designed to mimic terrestrial environments for the benefit of the passengers who were supposed to live and work aboard the Warden while traveling for decades to another world. Player characters assume the role of un-mutated humans, humanoid mutants, and mutant animals, as they explore the Warden, ignorant that it's actually a starship. It's a very compelling premise, one that it shares with Robert Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky and Brian Aldiss's Non-Stop (sometimes titled Starship in certain editions). In many ways, it's a much more interesting, if somewhat more limited, premise than that of Gamma World.
My own obsession with the game stemmed from the fact, sometimes after I acquired Gamma World, I also the first Best of Dragon compilation, which included articles about Metamorphosis Alpha in it. These articles were strangely inspirational to me, all the moreso because they were for a game that I'd never heard of, let alone seen, but that clearly bore a lot of resemblance in basic premise and rules to my beloved Gamma World. Thus began my quest to find a copy of the game, a quest that ended in vain. I asked the guys down at my favorite game store about Metamorphosis Alpha, but they told me it was long out of print and my best bet was to go to a convention and win it at an auction. The old grognards who hung out there added that MA "wasn't very good anyway" and that I was better off just using Gamma World and making up the rest.
And so I did. I pulled out my huge graph paper sheets and set to work to mapping out my version of the starship Warden. It was a long and tedious undertaking, filled with lots of missteps and heartache, because I never felt I could get it "right." This vessel was supposed to be 80 kilometers long or so, which meant that even a big map would have to use a very large scale. Moreover, what would a vast generation ship even look like? The only starships I'd ever seen were from movies and TV shows and none of them were generation ships designed to house a huge number of colonists, animals, plants, and machinery for decades of travel across many light years. Eventually, all these worries and concerns got the better of me and I abandoned my maps, something I regret now, even as I fully understand why my younger self admitted defeat.
Over the years, I retained a high degree of interest in Metamorphosis Alpha and kept hoping that, one day, a new edition would be released that'd give me everything I'd hoped for back in the days before I could even take a look at this mythical game. As it turns out, new editions have been published over the years, but each one has been a terrible disappointment to me, utterly lacking in the aura of mystery and possibility that surrounded the original. To be fair, some of that isn't the fault of the new editions -- though some of it is, as nearly all the new editions have been conceptually flawed in significant ways -- as much of the mystique about this game for me is that I could never find a copy.
I've since been able to read it and I'd say that, while it's definitely a very early game in terms of its mechanics and production values, it's nevertheless excellently inspirational. At 32 pages, it contains just enough information to get the referee going but not so much as to prevent him from putting his own stamp on it. I still don't own a copy myself; I keep an eye out for them but they're generally ludicrously expensive and I can't justify spending that kind of money nowadays. In truth, I should probably pick up where my younger self left off and just create my own starship maps and use Mutant Future for the rules. Heck, I have this crazy idea of a supplement for MF called Generation Ship, which would basically be Metamorphosis Alpha with the serial numbers filed off and better production values. Maybe that's something worth considering ...