Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games – MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat

The time has finally come. We’re taking a look at MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat in this week’s retrospective look at the BattleTech video games that made the franchise. And for me at least, there was no more formative experience in BattleTech than MechWarrior 2.

But before we get into the game, let’s head back to our last retrospective on MechWarrior 2: The Clans. If you recall, the original MechWarrior PC game was made by Dynamix, but then they got purchased by Sierra On-Line and took MechWarrior’s engine with them. That meant Activision had to start over from scratch back in 1992.

As is often the case with Activision, development did not go smoothly.

You can read up on the details in our previous post. Suffice to say, the entire production staff either quit or left for other projects, and MechWarrior 2 would have died entirely were it not for Tim Morten. Credited as an associate producer, Tim took the engine being worked on for The Clans and refined it until there was something resembling a game. Morten was also instrumental in convincing Activision’s leadership to keep the project going with a team of about two dozen people.

Finally, two development teams and one scrapped game later, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat released on PC for MS-DOS in 1995.

MechWarrior 2 would go on to win dozens of awards from various game publications and sell 500,000 copies in the first three months of sales. For the mid-’90s, that’s basically a blockbuster. Overall sales were a lot more than that, but getting specific figures is a bit tricky. Let’s just say it’s well into the millions and leave it at that.

I came across MechWarrior 2 back when games were still being handed around via shareware discs. The internet was still in its infancy and my home still didn’t even have a dial-up modem. My gaming was done entirely solo, and MechWarrior 2 was easily the best DOS game I’d ever played.

Arch Rivals At War

MW2 Splash Screen

MechWarrior 2 takes place during the Refusal War between Clan Jade Falcon and Clan Wolf. The player can decide to fight for either the Wolves of the Falcons, with each side’s campaign consisting of 12 missions interspersed with Trials of Position as you make your way up the Touman‘s ranks.

Depending which team you play for, either the Jade Falcons crush the Wolves and go on to take Terra, or the Wolves defeat the Jade Falcons and defend the Inner Sphere against Clan incursions for the foreseeable future. Obviously, MechWarrior 2 doesn’t take place in traditional BattleTech canon, so these outcomes are entirely apocryphal.

Also, you wind up as Khan of either Clan after the final Trial, which is technically an elected position and not one you can achieve strictly through combat. But whatever–you’re also destroying dozens of ‘Mechs completely by yourself in some missions. ‘Mech games sell based on hero fantasies and not realistic depictions of a single person’s ability to sway history, after all. 

Choose Your Weapon

MW2 Mech Bay

Both sides feature the same arsenal of 14 ‘Mechs and both sides lacked some of the newer designs introduced in 3057 (some would be added later in the Ghost Bear’s Legacy expansion, but it’s still a notable slip). You do get several IIC variants, including the some unseen ‘Mechs such as the Rifleman, the Warhammer, and Marauder, but otherwise, you’re limited to Clan ‘Mechs that were present during the start of the Inner Sphere invasion.

Hellbringer

MechWarrior 2 also didn’t ship with certain technologies that were present in 3057. Anti-missile systems, ECM, active probes, and basically anything that wasn’t a standard Clan weapon was just too complex for the developers to handle and still actually ship a completed game. To that end, many of the ‘Mechs featured in MechWarrior 2 didn’t arrive with their historically correct loadouts. Basically all the Firemoth alternate configurations were modified in some way, as was the primary config Hellbringer, several Kitfox variants, the Warhawk, and the Gargoyle Alt Config C and D.

Another limitation in MechWarrior 2 was that each ‘Mech could only carry a maximum of 10 weapon systems, which meant several weapons-heavy ‘Mechs also needed to be changed. The primary configuration of the Nova, famously comprised of 6 ER Medium Lasers in either fist, was instead changed to just 7 ER Medium Lasers, 2 Medium Pulse Lasers, and 1 ER Small Laser.

Strangely, Activision didn’t stop at just altering the Nova’s weapon loadout. They also gave the ‘Mech an Endo Steel chassis and a 300 XL engine to give it a running speed on par with that of the Storm Crow. Nobody is quite sure why they did that, and we can only assume it was to ensure the Nova stayed roughly on par with the Storm Crow in terms of performance.

Nova

The Timber Wolf and Dire Wolf also had minor changes to their primary configurations due to possessing too many weapon systems.

Unlike modern BattleTech games that limit the types of weapons that can be taken on an OmniMech, MechWarrior 2 allowed anything and everything on any given chassis. If you wanted to rip out the missiles and lasers on a Mad Dog and replace them with autocannons, that’s just fine. This would do nothing to the overall appearance of your ‘Mech, mind you, but you could do it. It wouldn’t be until MechWarrior 3 that dynamic loadouts were considered in a Mech’s model.

Piloting your multi-ton beast was done entirely via keyboard unless you were one of the lucky few who purchased MechWarrior 2 packaged with Microsoft’s Sidewinder joystick. The Sidewinder allowed you to control your ‘Mech’s torso by twisting the stick, making it a lot easier to maneuver your machine while maintaining weapons on your opponents. Otherwise, one hand was on the arrow keys while the other was busily hitting the “<>” keys to keep your torso pointed in the right direction.

The Prettiest Death Machines

But what truly set MechWarrior 2 above most PC games of the era was its graphics. MechWarrior 2 used dynamic lighting and color shading to really add depth to every world you encountered. Textures were entirely basic–you would see some bitmaps on each machine, but otherwise, every surface was just a flat color interrupted by the occasional sprite of a bush or piece of rubble.

And yet, somehow, it still holds up. Take a look at the video below to see for yourself.

MechWarrior 2 remained on the cutting edge of graphics technology for quite a few years following its initial release. As Digital Foundry calls it, the mid-’90s was a Wild West-era for PC gaming where there were multiple video card manufacturers and each one required their own special game release in order to take full advantage of what that manufacturer’s card could do. Activision catered to pretty much all of them, which meant that MechWarrior 2 was released in no less than 38 different versions over three years.

And frankly, a lot of them sucked. Sure, it was neat to see ground that was something other than a flat-shaded polygon, but in order to make the textures work, Activision had to remove a lot of the dynamic lighting that made the original DOS version look so great. They often also removed textures from the ‘Mechs themselves making them look drab and utterly boring.

Accerlated Graphics MW2

I managed to avoid those special editions. By the time I got my first PC upgrade, MechWarrior 3 and MechCommander were out, and they did a much better job of making things look pretty. But these graphically enhanced editions and expansions like Ghost Bear’s Legacy and the stand-alone MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries–packaged together as the Titanium Trilogy–kept the MechWarrior series relevant for years and were widely considered the golden age in ‘Mech simulator games.

The Little Things

Another thing that set MechWarrior 2 apart from games of the era was the music. Even today, MechWarrior 2’s soundtrack holds up extremely well, combining orchestral and digital sounds in a way that was both unique and cutting-edge for that era of PC gaming. It was also one of the first PC games to burn the music directly to the CD rather than encode it as MIDI files, meaning you could take the CD, put it in a Walkman, and listen to the entire score whenever you wanted.

There were way more little gems that set MechWarrior 2 apart. The manual came with its own Technical Readout section that basically took part of the actual Technical Readout: 3050 for the relevant ‘Mechs. There were little notes added in the margins to make it look like a pilot had been scribbling notes to provide cadets hints on how to succeed. And between every mission, there was a short story that provided you with a bigger picture of all the battles that were happening at that time in the Refusal War.

MW2 Timberwolf

I could say without a doubt that it was these little things that gave MechWarrior 2 a certain magic that no other game of the era possessed. The music, the lore–they all made it seem like MechWarrior 2 was bigger than it actually was, which if we’re being honest, wasn’t all that big. You could crunch out both campaigns in a single afternoon if you were really rushing it. But then you’d miss out on reading the stories that came before and after each mission, or on tweaking your ‘Mech so it was armed and armored exactly the way you wanted it.

Warhawk

That’s not to say MechWarrior 2 was perfect. The Windows 95 versions were often bug-filled messes that crashed after a few minutes of play. Splash damage was so hopelessly broken that it doubled or even tripled the stated damage of ER PPCs and LRMs, making a pair of LRM-20s capable of destroying any ‘Mech in a single salvo. And those LRMs were actually Streak LRMs considering how they locked-on and homed in on targets.

Let’s not even get started on the Sega Saturn or PlayStation versions of the game.

But these faults were relatively minor. MechWarrior 2 was the first game that truly captured the magic of BattleTech in a single experience. You had all the lore of previous BattleTech video games combined with the feeling of really being inside a multi-story death machine, with truly enough firepower to level a city block. That’s an intoxicating combination that snapped up more than a few impressionable young minds.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

BattleTech: Urban Warfare Confirmed For June 4th Release

BattleTech’s second expansion, Urban Warfare, arrives on June 4th.

Development of BattleTech continues over at Harebrained Schemes with the recently announced Urban Warfare expansion. We knew this one was coming when the whole season pass thing was announced, but now we know when it’s coming and what we’re all in store for.

As the name suggests, the first thing we should get used to is the idea of fighting in an urban environment. That’s right: ‘Mechs are going to brawl in a city, and suddenly the UrbanMech isn’t looking half bad.

The important thing to note here is that every building–EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.–is fully destructible. This means that you can either go around a building or, as is my preference, through the building to get at the enemy. However, it should be noted that not every building will leave a convenient ‘Mech-sized hole to walk through. Some high rises will just flat-out collapse and leave a building-sized pile of rubble that you can’t just smash or shoot your way through.

On top of that, there’s going to be gas and transformer stations that can really change the face of combat. At the very least, there will be a lot more tactical options to consider in every engagement.

Along with the new urban biome comes a bunch of new tech. In this case, Lostech. ECM and Active Probes are coming to BattleTech, and they’ll arrive in the first new ‘Mech we get to discuss: the RVN-1X Raven.

Urban Warfare

The RVN-1X was the very first Liao prototype pushed into service in 3024 to beat back the invading Federated Suns armies. It was equipped with a prototype Electronic Warfare system that combined the ECM and Active Probe into a single 7.5-ton device, which really cut into the Raven’s available tonnage. This meant that either weapons or engine would have to be sacrificed in the name of this EW suite, and the 1X chose engine. It can wobble at 86 kph, which puts it on the slow side for a light ‘Mech, but not as slow as the UrbanMech.

We’re not 100% clear on how ECM is going to work, but we do know it will disrupt enemy targeting and provide immunity to indirect fire. This likely means that ‘Mechs covered in an ECM umbrella will simply be harder to hit in combat.

The Active Probe is described as being able to “reveal, locate, and target enemy units that would otherwise be hidden.” That’s a little vague, but we’re hoping it also increases overall sensor range, and might even add something to indirect fire targeting (ie. LRMs).

Our next ‘Mech is the beautiful Javelin. We’re not given the exact designation of which Javelin, but I’m thinking it’s at least going to be the classic JVN-10N with its twin SRM-6 packs. There are a lot of other Javelin variants that could be added here as well, but we’ll have to wait and see what Harebrained says about it.

Three new enemy tanks join the fray, including the Gallant, the Packrat, and the Rotunda. The Gallant is particularly noteworthy for being an incredibly old design! Circa 2551, to be precise, but it’s still equipped with a potent arsenal that MechWarriors cannot take for granted.

The Packrat is described in our beautiful Wiki as having an SRM-6 and a Flamer, but Harebrained seems to have made a bit of an alteration to give the Packrat ECM. The Rotunda scout car has also been switched up by having an Active Probe added to its arsenal. It seems doubtful with an Active Probe on board that the Rotunda would still have room for a Large Laser and an SRM-2.

Urban Warfare will also expand BattleTech’s Flashpoint system with more possible encounters, special events, critical choices, and Lostech loot. There will also be a new mission type called Attack and Defend where the objective is to “destroy an enemy’s base to stop a steady stream of attackers before they can overcome your forces and knock out your employer’s base.” Which sounds hard.

Urban Warfare drops June 4th. After that comes Heavy Metal, and Harebrained has already said that some Unseen ‘Mechs will come along with it. Judging by the name, I’m gonna guess that we’re going to see the Warhammer, Rifleman, and Marauder. We’ll see how accurate that prediction is later.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Let’s Talk About MechWarrior: Dark Age

 

Hi everyone. Pull up a chair, take a sit, grab a cup of hot cocoa. I want us to have a frank, honest discussion about MechWarrior: Dark Age.

Now, I know that Dark Age wasn’t particularly well received by the BattleTech faithful. There are plenty of good reasons for that–the complete sidelining of all the major houses, the inability for anybody to communicate due to the HPG blackout, and ‘Mech stats that didn’t even bother to follow the classic ‘Mech construction rules are all valid complaints. Even for me, as someone who arrived at BattleTech a little later on, thought that Dark Age represented a franchise reboot that pissed all over the original game’s charms.

I mean, who wants to field an army of modified AgroMechs and unarmored infantry? Nobody, that’s who. A glorified farmer in a chainsaw-wielding tractor with legs is nobody’s idea of a sound military strategy.

Dark Age Panther

courtesy of Troll and Toad

But I don’t want us to just spend an hour bashing Dark Age and blaming them for BattleTech’s relative obscurity in this era of increasing tabletop gaming interest (I think that has more to do with the complicated web of licenses and ownership of the original IP). There were real, genuine merits to MechWarrior: Dark Age.

First, there were the models themselves. I know plenty of people love painstakingly painting their own figures and even customizing them into miniature pieces of art, but man, I don’t have that kind of time! Being able to get a fully-painted and even slightly opposable figure straight out of the box was actually pretty cool, if I do say so myself, and they weren’t half bad! Sure, sometimes the arms fell off at the slightest provocation, but they were intricate, fully-painted models that look good for zero effort. I call that a win.

And the Clix system wasn’t half bad either. Let’s be real: BattleTech’s rules are a wee bit on the complicated side, as my 300-plus page tome of Total Warfare can attest (I had university textbooks that were smaller–just sayin’). Simplifying everything down to “damage equals clicks”, and having your ‘Mech’s or tank’s (or whatever) stats modified to represent battle damage with every click was actually a really clever way of making combat easier to keep track of.

Admittedly, using a tape-measure for movement a la Warhammer 40K made the rules slightly more complicated, but it also meant that Dark Age could be played anywhere and even household objects could be repurposed as ad hoc terrain. Empty bottle cans became buildings, moldy pizza boxes became swamps, and that bit of carpet where your dog threw-up became a toxic waste zone.

For some reason, my miniature battles were usually fought in some pretty rank areas.

Dark Age Swordsworn

via Twitter

I even appreciate the random “loot box” nature of buying most MechWarrior: Dark Age boxes. It was a lot like buying Magic: The Gathering cards, which was another pastime that I genuinely enjoyed. And even if you don’t like that aspect, the age of the internet has made purchasing specific figures in Dark Age or any other collectible game easier than ever–just go on eBay and you’ll probably find what you’re after.

Tundrawolf

via eBay

Anyways, my point is that Dark Age gets a lot of flack, and while a lot of is deserved, it’s important to understand that it wasn’t all bad. There were some truly innovative of fun aspects of Dark Age, and I kinda wish that some of those aspects could be incorporated into the original tabletop game. But no AgroMechs, please. Those were stupid.

Also, I’m selling my old Dark Age collection. It’s spring, I haven’t touched the things in years, and I suspect wherever I wind up next won’t have the storage space for me to keep these plastic bins as monuments to my childhood. So they gotta go.

Details are on the eBay listing. Yes, this is a shameless use of a pulpit for my personal benefit, but someone else should be able to get some joy from these toys so they don’t just languish in my basement. That and it’s tax season and Canadian taxes are no freakin’ joke!

And if that ultimately means my old collection gets chopped up to be used as props in someone else’s custom miniature scene because Dark Age is stupid and everybody hates it, that’s fine with me.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

The ‘Mechs That Time Forgot: Quad ‘Mechs

art by Shimmering Sword

art by Shimmering Sword

Well, they were never really forgotten–you can find Quad ‘Mechs as late as the 3140s with the introduction of Hell’s Horses QuadVees (and man, are those ‘Mechs ever a trip!). But Quad ‘Mechs, even though they certainly exist and a few of them are even fairly notable, are pretty easily forgotten. Why is that?

Maybe it’s because Quad ‘Mechs sort of ruin the whole image of a MechWarrior. ‘Mechs are often seen as these avatars of their pilots but made of metal and myomer, armed with more weapons than a battalion in today’s army and capable of leveling a city block with a single press of the trigger. It’s kinda hard to personify the person within if the thing on the outside is this four-legged beast.

For that reason, Quad ‘Mechs remain fairly rare in comparison to their two-legged counterparts, but there are also in-universe reasons why Quad ‘Mechs aren’t seen more often. Being rare and strange meant that technicians often didn’t know how to work on them, and it also meant spare parts were harder to come by. It’s easy to get a spare arm for a Centurion, but a spare leg for a Jaguar is a little harder to come by. You’d need a direct connection to the factory where the ‘Mech is built, which meant that Quad ‘Mechs often saw service only in the highest echelons of any military.

There were also unpopular with pilots for being… y’know, weird. You didn’t have a torso to twist, and not all Quads had turrets to make up for it. Having no arms or hands meant you couldn’t really interact with your environment in any way other than stomping the heck out of it, and on top of that, no arms meant no arm-mounted weapons, which seriously hampered a Quad ‘Mech’s firepower.

On top of that, everything on a Quad is essential. Sure, if you lose a leg you’re not nearly as useless as a two-legged ‘Mech, but losing an arm still allowed most ‘Mechs to run away to safety. Losing a leg seriously hampered a Quad ‘Mech’s mobility, making them unable to escape should a firefight turn bad for the home team.

That’s not to say that Quad ‘Mechs weren’t without advantages. Unlike other ‘Mechs, Quads could dance side to side in a sort of crab walk (even if the design was more canine than crabby) and they were very stable firing platforms (noted by their -2 piloting skill bonus when all legs are fully-functional). Quads are also shorter than most ‘Mechs, allowing them to gain concealment from terrain that would leave other ‘Mechs partially exposed.

Still, Quad ‘Mechs are rare in fiction and in real life. Just two Quad ‘Mechs have ever appeared in any BattleTech video games–the Scorpion in MechWarrior, and the Tarantula in MechWarrior 2–while the rest are rarely mentioned in novels.

Which is why I felt it was necessary to give these big four-legged brutes the proper tribute that they deserve. Let’s hit a few of the more well-known Quads and then you can inundate me with your favorite–and weirdest–Quad ‘Mech designs.

SCP-1N Scorpion

I admit, I have a soft spot for this ‘Mech. Not because I ever got to use it or anything (as I mentioned, Quads are notoriously absent from any BattleTech video games)–I just like the look of the thing. Kind of like if a modern APC sprouted dainty legs and tried to walk away from its problems.

I also like the design. A PPC and an SRM-6 is nothing to sneeze at (at least in the 3020s), and the Scorpion’s speed and sufficient armor meant that it could serve in a variety of combat roles. Things got even better after the Reseen designs emerged in 3067, although the SCP-12S version gets rid of the PPC for an LBX-10 in a move that makes it entirely ammo dependent.

Give me the SCP-10M with its Heavy PPC and vertically-firing LRM-10. Yes, it looks like it belongs more in anime than BattleTech, but dammit, it looks good.

GOL-1H Goliath

Now, if you wanna talk about ‘Mechs as walking tanks, it doesn’t get any closer than the Goliath. This thing is, quite literally, a tank that has sprouted legs. On the plus side, that turret means that you can shoot in any direction. On the downside, you look like a militarized giraffe that was recently decapitated.

The Goliath isn’t bad, as far as Succession Wars-era 80-ton assault ‘Mechs go. A running speed of 64 kph and an armament of two LRM-10s and a PPC puts it in line with most other 80-ton ‘Mecsh of the era. It even saw some prominence in fiction thanks to a brief appearance in Warrior: Riposte.

But man, does this thing look just freakin’ goofy.

The Reseen design improved things somewhat, giving it a more “beast of burden” look than a tank with delusions of quadrupedia (which is technically an Italian word I’m repurposing because it sounds cool). I do like the GOL-5D variant, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for a Rotary Autocannon.

ZPH-1 Tarantula

When I saw the Tarantula for the first time in MechWarrior 2, I thought, “Cool, a four-legged ‘Mech!” Then it died to a random PPC blast and I thought this thing was a fragile piece of !@$%.

And indeed, it is.

The Tarantula is a scout ‘Mech. It gives the Spider a run for its money with 8 Jump Jets, a running speed of nearly 130 kph, and an armament of 2 Medium Lasers and a Streak SRM-2. It also has ton more armor than the Spider as well. So why is the Spider so much more popular than the Tarantula when this thing actually looks like an arachnid?

Probably because the Tarantula looks freakin’ creepy. I wouldn’t want to pilot one, even if it is an extremely good scout ‘Mech.

BGS-1T Barghest

Now we’re heading into the Quad ‘Mechs that can really sow some discord. The Barghest might have four legs and all of its weapons in the torso, but those weapons are fierce. A pair of ER Large Lasers backed up by an LBX-20 is enough to give any ‘Mech a rough day.

Besides that, the Barghest was also one of the first Quad ‘Mech designs to look truly mean. It has the posture of an angry canine: hunched and ready to pounce. Plus, the design evolved in the absolute best direction, mounting Heavy Gauss Rifles, Ultra AC/20s, ER PPCs, and eventually Light PPCs and MMLs.

It’s just a shame the Lyrans didn’t make more of them.

TFT-A9 Thunder Fox

I have a confession to make: I actually really liked MechWarrior: Dark Age. Not the fiction, mind you–the whole HPG blackout and all these random factions made it weird. No, I liked the ‘Mechs, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Okay, I’m a little ashamed.

But the Thunder Fox is super cool. It’s a warhorse ‘Mech aimed straight for my heart. It’s cheap, it’s well armed, and it’s well armored. You can make an army of these bad boys and take down anyone in the Inner Sphere and still have C-Bills to spare.

Admittedly, the art and overall design make the Thunder Fox look a lot swifter than it actually is. Top speed is 64 clicks (which is not exactly stellar for a 55 ton ‘Mech) with a trio of Jump Jets to turn it around if it finds itself pointed in the wrong direction. It only has a ton of ammo for its Light Gauss Rifle and Streak SRM-4, so it’s not exactly equipped for prolonged engagements.

But you gotta admit, the Thunder Fox looks freakin’ cool. If I had to pilot a Quad, this would be the Quad for me.

So what’s your favorite Quad ‘Mech? Let us knew in the comments!

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Catalyst Releases New Map Pack, New Fiction From Michael Stackpole In March Update

Catalyst Releases New Map Pack, New Fiction From Michael Stackpole In March Update

Catalyst has announced more new products to continue BattleTech’s 35th-anniversary celebrations.

Hello again, ‘Mech fans! We’re back with another update from Catalyst Games as they’ve announced new products to add to the successful release of the latest box sets, starting with the previously mentioned new map packs.

The first new map pack is simple called “Grasslands”, and as the name implies, it’s all about fighting on generally flat, grassy plains. Not a whole lot of difficult terrain, forests, or water to get in the way of a good slugfest here. Just a good, old fashioned, stand-up shootout.

Grasslands comes on 6, double-sided, 17″ x 22″ paper sheets, which means there’s actually 12 maps total. Each map can be flipped and swapped to either side and then lined up to make whatever grassy battlefield you desire. All maps feature the new art aesthetic that’s showcased in the new box sets, and 10 of those maps are brand new, never-before-seen designs.

You can pick up Grasslands for $29.99 on the Catalyst store, or wait until April 17th for them to arrive at your local games retailer.

Next up is an even more exciting map pack called BattleMaps. These are 4, larger, neoprene maps that come in 4 different flavors: Desert, Lunar, Alpine, and Savannah. But wait, that’s not all! On the other side of these maps are the Grasslands maps, so you get to double your battlefield possibilities.

Each BattleMap is 36″ x 22″ and is only available on the Catalyst web store. Each one sells for $29.99, but you pay for durability on these bad boys.

Along with new maps comes new fiction. Everyone’s favorite Michael Stackpole is back with a trilogy of new short stories that describe the Kell Hounds’ founding an early years as Morgan and Patrick Kell fought tooth and nail to create their own mercenary company.

The first book is entitled Way the Smart Money Bets and is available now, while A Tiny Spot of Rebellion arrives March 22nd. A Clever Bit of Fiction concludes the trilogy on March 27th. Each is available for $3.99 wherever good e-books are sold. Sorry, no paper release is yet planned for this trilogy.

We’ll conclude this bit of BattleTech consumerism with a bit of an update on the Beginner Box Set, which is back in stock online and in store. The reprinted Total Warfare manual is now out of stock, but a reprint is underway, while the reprinted TechManual is currently available online but not quite yet available in print–but Catalyst expects to have it available soon.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games – MechWarrior 2: The Clans

Welcome to another part in Sarna’s retrospective series of old BattleTech video games.

Last time we took a look at the original MechWarrior and saw how it would set the stage for the breakout ‘Mech classic, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat. But there was a lot of work to go from the pixelated and basic graphics of MechWarrior to the fully 3D environments of MechWarrior 2. So much work that it actually took two tries to get it right.

I speak of the long-forgotten first attempt at a MechWarrior sequel known as MechWarrior 2: The Clans.

That’s right: before we had MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat, Activision tried their hands at a MechWarrior sequel that had way more than just Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon going at it for bragging rights.

We’ll get to that in a bit, but first, let’s recap what happened after the original MechWarrior hit store shelves in 1989. To summarize, the original developer Dynamix got bought by Sierra On-Line and used their tech to create Earthsiege, and then later Tribes, and then later still go bankrupt. That meant that the original game engine left with Dynamix, leaving Activision to start from square one.

Which is exactly what they did starting in 1992. Activision gave the game an ambitious release date of sometime in 1993, which meant that the development team had just over a year to go from nothing to a full 3D ‘Mech simulator.

As any game developer can tell you, that’s not enough time. Especially for a team of roughly a dozen over-worked and underpaid people.

Adder

courtesy of Local Ditch

So anyway, 1993 came and went without much of a game, but Activision did put out a playable demo that showed just exactly where MechWarrior 2 was headed. What we get is a strange amalgamation of ‘Mech models that would become familiar in the real MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat and the old bitmap-style cockpit that was the mainstay of the original MechWarrior.

You can see where the demo was going with a lot of the cockpit stuff: the altimeter, bearing indicator, and torso-twist indicator look and feel exactly as they do in the final MechWarrior 2. The radar now sat dead center in the screen, while the exterior portion of the cockpit would bounce around with the ‘Mechs movement.

That exterior skeletal portion, as well as the green letters of the HUD, would be the only things that survive into the finished MW2. That and the overall look of the models, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the ‘Mechs we know and love.

However, there were a lot of limitations to the demo. First, you couldn’t get critical hits so you never had to worry about losing any of your components. Second, you couldn’t lose limbs which meant that losing an arm didn’t mean a whole lot. Instead, you just kept shooting until your armor and internal structure depleted, at which point you exploded.

Besides the whole fully 3D game thing, Activision had some big plans for MechWarrior 2: The Clans. Originally there were going to be 6 clans total, including Can Wolf, Jade Falcon, Smoke Jaguar, Nova Cat, Ghost Bear, and Steel Viper. There would also be 8-player multiplayer free-for-alls where everyone could enjoy a good ‘ol Grand Melee whenever they wanted. For its time, the game was really forward thinking.

So what happened to MechWarrior 2: The Clans? Perhaps in a sign of things to come, Activision’s marketing team and executives kept pushing for a finished game that was nowhere near ready to be published. According to an ancient article from Local Ditch, there were internal disputes over when to release as well as some legally questionable arguments between the game’s producer Kelly Zmak and Activision higher-ups. And even though the team had 3 programmers officially, most of the work on the game’s engine was being done by one guy: Eric Peterson.

Mech Bay

courtesy of Local Ditch

Eric would describe in his personal blog working 14-16 hour days on MechWarrior 2, although he admitted that had as much to do with loving the work as it did with any pressure from Activision. Eric would also be the only person on the original MW2 team to be credited on the final version of MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat, with the second team’s producer explaining that much of the final game’s engine could be chalked up to Eric’s work.

By 1994, the original team working on MechWarrior 2: The Clans had all left Activision for greener pastures. At the time, it looked like Activision would kill the game entirely, but a guy named Tim Morten proved instrumental in convincing the bigwigs in charge to continue development. Tim would build on Eric’s original designs and eventually finish the game and release it as MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat in 1995.

The biggest differences between what would have been The Clans and MW2: 31st Century Combat mostly boiled down the story. The Clans was more of a random mission generator attached to a multiplayer game, while the MW2 that got released offered a single player campaign set during the Refusal War between Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon. It also meant that the other Clans would have to take a bit of a backseat (at least until the first expansion came along).

Technologically, MW2: 31st Century Combat had two big improvements over The Clans: dynamic lighting and a fully 3D environment. Lighting effects from explosions and even a moving sun would change the shadows and colors that the player sees to be far more realistic, while the 3D environment got rid of all the old bitmaps that made the game seem a lot more like the original MechWarrior than a true sequel.

We’ll take a bigger look at the real MechWarrior 2 next time, so stay tuned.

Once again, a big shout out to Chris Chapman who can be considered an official BattleTech games historian at this point. He also sent me an entire scan of the original The Clans promo box, which Activision sent out a little prematurely but Chris somehow still got his hands on one.

And as always MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Catalyst Games Releases Succession Wars Record Sheets And Reprinted BattleTech Manual To Get Everyone Up To Date

UPDATE: Whoops! Looks like I screwed up: it’s the Record Sheets portion that’s new, not the Technical Readout itself. Either way, go get it!

Catalyst Game Labs have announced a new compilation technical readout volume as well as a new version of the all-important BattleTech Manual.

With the new box sets finally having made it to stores, it’s time for us to look towards expanding the new players’ repertoire. While the latest full version of the game, ‘BattleTech: A Game Of Armored Combat, came with the new BattleTech Manual, it didn’t come with an exhaustive list of every ‘Mech featured during the Succession Wars Era of BattleTech.

So Catalyst made a new tech readout with all of them in it. Simple problem, simple solution.

Succession Wars is a compilation volume combining ‘Mechs seen in Record Sheets: 3039 Unabridged, Record Sheets: 3050 Upgrade Unabridged-Clan & Star League, Record Sheets: 3058 Unabridged, and Record Sheets: 3075 Unabridged. I’m assuming only the ‘Mechs seen before the Clan Invasion are featured, otherwise it would be odd to call the new TR “Succession Wars”.

Catalyst describes Succession Wars as “the perfect ‘first Technical Readout’ companion to the BattleMech Manual. Combining the ’Mechs previously found in Technical Readout: 3039, Technical Readout: 3050 Upgrade, Technical Readout: 3058 Upgrade, and Technical Readout: 3075, this volume features some of the most common ’Mechs from the Age of War to the Succession Wars.”

And it’s got some sweet cover art. Love me a Dragon, Jenner, and Panther Kurita lance.

Succession Wars is $9.99 in PDF format, $39.99 in print, and $44.99 together. Meanwhile, the Record Sheets only is $9.99 with 290 sheets total.

Catalyst has also made the latest version of the official BattleTech Manual available for purchase as well at the same prices as Succession Wars. It has all the latest updates and errata already included, and another spiffy new cover art that would look sweet on anyone’s bookshelf.

I mean, who can say no to that Marauder? Anyone? I didn’t think so.

Get ‘em both today at Catalyst’s store.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games – MechWarrior

Welcome back to Sarna’s retrospective on classic BattleTech video games! I’ll be your host as we look back on some of the games that made BattleTech and MechWarrior the storied franchises they are today.

We’re going to switch things up a bit due to some… we’ll call it “negative feedback” that was given during my last foray into the Crescent Hawks Inception. I understand that some of these classic games might not quite be the shining jewel of digital accomplishment when compared to more modern ‘Mech games, but at the time they were real accomplishments that should be respected for the stepping stones they were.

That and nobody likes having their childhoods shit on, no matter how awful the sound effects were.

So instead of a pseudo-review where I start tossing out crazy things like numbered scales, we’re going to just look at the game’s history and see what it contributed towards modern MechWarrior titles. Starting with the original first-person ‘Mech combat simulator, MechWarrior.

MechWarrior was originally published in 1989 by a little company called Activision–you might know them as the massive game corporation that’s slowly eating Blizzard Entertainment alive right before our very eyes. Back in the day, the evils of microtransactions and rushed development cycles weren’t nearly as prevalent, so Activision was just another little fish in the nascent pond of PC gaming.

While Activision published the game, it was created by a humble team of 17 dudes working at Dynamix Inc. Dynamix would eventually be bought-out by Sierra On-Line, creating both Tribes and Earthsiege as their subsidiary, but back in 1989, they were known for creating flight simulators like A-10 Tank Killer, F-14 Tomcat, Arctic Foxand Red Baron.

They also made Abrams Battle Tank, a tank simulator game that shares much of its engine with MechWarrior. I never played the original MechWarrior, but I did play Abrams Battle Tank, and the similarities in the first-person combat sequences are uncanny.

However, MechWarrior is only half about the giant stompy robot combat. Much of the game still harkens back to the text adventure style of gameplay exemplified in the prior Crescent Hawks PC games, with the player going from planet to planet seeking fortune and machinery as they build up the Blazing Aces mercenary company.

Almost all of the modern BattleTech games, including BattleTech and the upcoming MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, can thank the original MechWarrior for the whole “mercenary commander” gameplay loop.

In MechWarrior, you play as Gideon Braver, a disgraced Davion noble who’s forced to flee his home planet due to some inter-familial intrigue (ie. a bunch of ‘Mechs showed up and killed everyone). Since Braver has some cash and an old Jenner just lying around, he decides to take up the mercenary mantle and start making some green (C-Bills, that is). Braver will then journey all over the Inner Sphere, building up his company’s strength and meeting such notable BattleTech personalities as Natasha Kerensky and her Black Widow Company.

But Braver never really forgets his heritage and continues to pursue his family’s killers even as he chases after the almighty C-Bill and a better set of robot legs. It’s during these text-heavy portions of the game where the player can branch into several different endings, depending on what the player decides to do.

For the text portions of the game, you can see some very significant improvements in MechWarrior over Crescent Hawks Inception–most notably in the art. Full-screen, vibrantly colored pixel images add a lot more atmosphere, and additional music plays during certain areas of exploration (usually in the bar).

Sound effects are also improved, although still a far cry from what would be heard in the sequel, MechWarrior 2.

There are eight ‘Mechs the player can purchase (salvage is represented only in C-Bills and not in the burnt-out wrecks of your foes) including the Locust, Jenner, Phoenix Hawk, Shadow Hawk, Rifleman, Warhammer, Marauder, and BattleMaster. The Scorpion, Atlas, and Griffin are also mentioned but aren’t pilotable. Since the tonnage tops out at the BattleMaster and Marauder, this is the main reason why these two ‘Mechs still have reputations amongst the BattleTech faithful as being scary as all get out. 

As I mentioned before, much of MechWarrior’s combat will appear the same as Abrams Battle Tank as they use very similar engines. Terrain appears as large polygons while the ‘Mechs themselves appear as smaller, more colorful objects. The player can zoom-in to get a better view of their foes and engage with long-range weapons or wait for them to close to use things like lasers and SRMs.

There’s no denying that the combat is pretty basic, but you can see how MechWarrior created the template for all other games to follow. A giant radar dominates the center screen with heat and jump jet gauges to either side. Weapons status are all listed in the lower right corner, while enemy target data appears in the lower right. That’s all still essentially the same in MechWarrior Online, with the minor tweak of enemy combat data appearing in the upper right corner and the player’s own ‘Mech’s status appearing in the lower left.

(Things would get completely swapped around in MechWarrior 2, but we’ll dig into that later.)

With Dynamix doing such a great job of mixing the classic text adventure elements with a more modern 3D simulator, it’s almost sad that Activision had to go it alone for the sequel, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat. But as I said before, Dynamix (and all their proprietary 3D engines) got picked up by Sierra On-Line, and that was it for them. 

If you want a great example of what a MechWarrior 2 made by Dynamix would have looked like, check out Earthsiege. It’s an interesting alternative view of what MechWarrior could have been rather than what it turned out to be.

With incredible thanks to Chris Chapman who provided a lot of invaluable information on Dynamix and MechWarrior’s development.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Forever Faithful, Blaine Lee Pardoe’s Latest BattleTech Novel, Now Available For Pre-Order

Forever Faithful

Blaine Lee Pardoe has announced his latest BattleTech novel is officially available for pre-order.

Has it been a hot minute since the latest BattleTech novel? It sure feels that way. The last full BattleTech book I read was The Nelus Academy Incident and before that another Pardoe masterpiece in Betrayal of Ideals.

Now Monsieur Pardoe has returned, but instead of telling the tale of the late, great Clan Wolverine, we get to hear the story of another dead Clan, the Smoke Jaguars.

As we all know by now (and if you don’t know, SPOILER ALERT), the Smoky Kitties bought the big one at the end of Operation Serpent, which you can read all about in the Twilight of the Clans series and is probably the best stretch of BattleTech fiction you’ll ever read.

But while the Smoke Jaguars were erased as a Clan, that doesn’t mean everyone that used to comprise the once great Clan completely disappeared. Scientist, technician, merchant, and laborer castes all were taken in by various Inner Sphere states and rival Clans, and the fallen Smoke Jaguar warriors who survived escaped to form various bandit groups.

But not all them. One, a Smoke Jaguar MechWarrior instrumental in the fall of his own Clan, survived the battle of Huntress. We never did find out what happened to Trent at the end of Twilight of the Clans, and now we’ll have Pardoe tell the rest of his story as well as the tales of several others.

Forever Faithful

From his personal blog, we get the first draft of the back cover for Forever Faithful:

“One is the traitor that brought the enemy to their doorstep: one is the Smoke Jaguar who was tasked with rallying them and failed; one is a Nova Cat Warrior with a vision of their true role in history; and the other is from Clan Goliath Scorpion who wants to harvest their remnants as museum exhibits.”

This was apparently edited and will not be exactly what we see on the back of Forever Faithful (if you see a back at all since I’ve certainly gone digital for my reading these days), but it gives us an idea of what we’re in for.

Apparently, this novel is a sort of successor to Surrender Your Dreams, a Dark Age novel that delves into the Fidelis, a special forces warrior sect within The Republic of the Sphere. Pardoe describes in his blog post that there was apparently a lot of debate following that novel as to just who the Fidelis were, and he pretty much just up and confirms that they are indeed Some Jaguar survivors.

There’s more behind-the-scenes stuff over on his blog post, which you should definitely read. And pre-order his book on Amazon or wherever you prefer to get your reading material.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Catalyst Announces 35th Anniversary BattleTech With New Available Products

35th Anniversary

courtesy of Catalyst Game Labs

Catalyst Game Labs is celebrating 35 years of BattleTech with a huge release of new products.

Way back in 1984, FASA corporation created a game universe that would inspire countless novels, sourcebooks, and video games. Well, actually, not all that countless, but I’ve never bothered counting them all, and I’m sure it’s a very high number.

To celebrate BattleTech’s 35th birthday, Catalyst Game Labs–the lovable rapscallions that serve as arbitrators of BattleTech lore and it’s tabletop roots–are giving in fully to their capitalist urges and holding a massive release of some exciting new products.

On Wednesday, January 23rd, a bunch of items went up for grabs on Catalyst’s website and in your local games retailer, starting with the box sets. Both the Beginner Box Set and BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat will be available in-store and online starting on Wednesday.

That’s not all: Shattered Fortress will also be available in major retailers on January 23rd, and is already available on Catalysts’ website (and has been for a few weeks now). On top of that, a 35th Anniversary Edition of the BattleTech Manual will hit Catalyst’s online store which features all previous errata and the coveted 35th-anniversary logo.

Look at that Warhammer. Doesn’t she look pretty? Wouldn’t you like one on a t-shirt or something?

Well, good news! Catalyst has developed a mind-reading machine that can also see into the future and has prepared a bunch of 35th-anniversary merch with that same Warhammer logo! That includes a t-shirt, hoodie, and a pin for when you’re forced to be fancy but still want to show your love of BattleTech to the world.

And the Warrior Trilogy is back in stores for an anniversary edition PDF or Print on Demand. I’ve read all those stories twice now, so it’s a little less interesting to me, but if you haven’t read them before, you really should.

Now, normally we stick with BattleTech related items on Sarna, what with it being a BattleTech wiki and all, but Catalyst also watches over Shadowrun which is another FASA-born universe that I have much love for. If only the rules weren’t a complicated mess in desperate need of some D&D 5th edition simplification, I’d be playing it as my tabletop RPG every week.

It’s also Shadowrun’s 30th anniversary, so Catalyst has a bunch of new PDF sourcebooks and merch on sale too. A unique 30th-anniversary logo adorns a t-shirt, hoodie, and pin just as with the BattleTech merch, allowing you to show your love of the Sixth World in style.

Full details can be found over on Catalyst’s website.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy

stay syrupy