Harebrained Schemes Reveals BattleTech: Flashpoint Gameplay, Kills Dekker

Crab Flashpoint

courtesy of Harebrained Schemes

Harebrained Schemes and Paradox Interactive just finished their first livestream gameplay reveal of the upcoming Flashpoint expansion for BattleTech.

Last Thursday, Harebrained bigwig Mitch Gitelman and lead BattleTech designer Kiva Maginn sat down with Anders Carlsson of Paradox Interactive to do a live Twitch stream of an early development build of the upcoming BattleTech expansion, Flashpoint. And they barely made it out with a single ‘Mech.

Flashpoints are a new post-campaign mission type where the player will engage in a sort of BattleTech short story. Each contract is comprised of a series of missions varying between two to six. Since these all take place one after the other, there won’t be any chance for major refits or for pilots to recover from injuries. You’ll need to have an A-team and a B-team of both ‘Mechs and pilots to replace your losses throughout the Flashpoint.

Since these missions take place after the campaign, it assumes the player is an experienced veteran and is looking for an additional challenge. Thus, the missions are likely going to be harder than your average campaign mission. However, the rewards for completing a Flashpoint can include Lostech, rare equipment, and other such goodies that might make the sacrifice in man and machine worth it.

The initial teaser made it seem like Flashpoints weren’t available until after the main campaign, but Gitelman let it drop that there are some changes coming in patch 1.3 that might allow Flashpoints to occur concurrently with the campaign–so long as you’re at an “open sandbox” portion, that is.

Obviously things are still in development and subject to change, but this seems like it’ll greatly enhance the core BattleTech gameplay.

Kiva and Mitch showed off a single mission during the stream with a new mission type called “Target Acquisition”. This new mission type requires you to bring a lance of fast but tough machines since you’ll need to split your forces to grab several key locations in order to call in an artillery drop. Each ‘Mech needs to be fast enough to get to the location quickly, but tough enough to take a beating once they get there.

Our Harebrained heroes were up against two full Steiner lances, which meant they were up against a lot of heavy firepower. Also, since they were looking to show off the new ‘Mech designs, their composition wasn’t exactly ideal. Consequently, two pilots died and one ejected (and yes, Dekker was one of them).

We got our first good look at the new Crab, Hatchetman, and Cyclops designs before most of them bought it. The Crab is as expected: swift, low-slung, and filled to the brim with lasers. The Hatchetman can be a deadly combatant in melee but is vulnerable to long-range fire. The Cyclops comes with a Lostech Battle Computer that will greatly affect your lance’s resolve, but Harebrained is still tweaking by just how much.

From the looks of things, this Flashpoint would be hard even for a fully prepared mercenary commander. Mitch said that the team had actually nerfed the difficulty twice, so maybe this is a case where some more tweaks are still in store. At least the new tropical biome looked gorgeous throughout the video.

You can check out the whole stream on Paradox’s Twitch channel, or here where I’ve helpfully embedded it for you. I’m helpful.

Watch BattleTech from ParadoxInteractive on www.twitch.tv

We don’t know when in November Flashpoint will come out, but even if it’s a little later in the month that’s still just a few weeks away. If you’ve already gone through a few campaigns in BattleTech, be prepared to dust off your old save file to get ready to drop jokers with a hatchet to the face.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

The Art of War – An Interview with Matthew Plog, BattleTech Artist

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. That saying applies indescribably well to BattleTech. From the clean, sleek lines of scout ‘Mechs and vehicles to the thundering awesomeness of the largest assault machines, art brings the turmoil of the BattleTech universe to life. The images in our TRO’s and Source books lets us imagine these gargantuan machines storming across the battlefields of the Inner Sphere.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with one of this generation’s best BattleTech artists, Matthew Plog. Matthew was gracious enough to take some time out of his day to answer a few questions that gives us a glimpse into the mind of an artist and the workings of creating awesome BattleTech art.


Martin (Sarna): Let’s start from the very beginning, for all those budding artists out there who may read this. Where did you study art?

Matthew: First off I had a very creative mother and she was of course very encouraging to her young son.  Now that that’s out of the way :), I received my more formal art education in New Jersey at the Joe Kubert School for cartoon and Graphic design. 95-98′.

Martin (Sarna): It’s great on many levels to have that family connection to your passion. What got you interested in designing BattleTech equipment?

Matthew: I’d always loved machines, robots, tanks and the like.  Started with Saturday morning and weekday cartoons.  Ranging from G.I. Joe and all their gear to Voltron, Tranzor Z, even Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.  Anything along those lines fed what I liked, and thus made me like that kind of thing even more.

Martin (Sarna): There are some great blasts from the past there and lots to draw from for inspiration. So what was your first experience with BattleTech work?

Matthew: Well, after time things get fuzzy.  I know I started picking up work with FASA, who owned BattleTech at the time, directly from school.  I believe it may have been work in one of the Battleforce boxed sets, BF2 if I recall correctly.  That was mostly just introductory type work and shortly thereafter I got a big slice of the TRO3060 roster.  As far as the experience goes, working with the BattleTech guys was always good.  They knew what they were after, knew the right things to say to get it, and usually paid on time.;)

Martin (Sarna): As a writer I find it easy working with words. As an artist and with only words to work with, how do you go about transforming those words into drawings?

Matthew: Having everything I’m doing take place in a universe that has already been established helps.  It gives you the framework.  But the words do the same thing to non-artists that they do to artists, we hear something, we see it in our head.  We just have the ability to get it back out.  Plus almost nothing ever gets to its end state on the first go. There’s almost always something that gets missed or minimized when it should be far more evident.  That’s why we have art editors.

Martin (Sarna): Can you describe your design creation process? Do you typically start from the ground up (literally) or work from the head down?

Matthew: Such things often end up being on a case by case.  If there’s an important structure to whatever I’m drawing I’ll start there.  But if we’re just talking general ‘Mechs then I start from the inside out.  Since the universe has an established set of rules for its technology they tend to follow biological rules a bit.  What with artificial muscle and man-mind controls.  So typically an arm is an arm and a leg, other.  Having fun with the sliders in the BT universe between straight machine look and more manlike is usually one of the fun parts of design.  But usually the most important thing when designing is to remember what rules you’re supposed to be following.  That tends to make the difference.  Of course, also when to ignore them.

Martin (Sarna): You create a lot of excellent commissioned art, particularly via DeviantArt. What’s the thrill for you in doing this type of work as opposed to an entirely new creation?

Matthew: BattleTech fans have always been a fine bunch to do business with, so they make it fairly easy.  Drawing something different every time has its appeal.  I’m unlikely to be able to complain of stagnation, at least on a one to one basis.

Martin (Sarna): Between business and commissioned requests it sounds like you’re kept pretty busy. Do you have a lot of back-work waiting to see the light of day or do you create upon request?

Matthew: There are some personal projects still in sketchy stages, but generally I share everything that I’d consider “done”.  Usually a good idea to show off the latest commissions and such.  But when I’m not working on one of them, likely I’m doodling something else for sure.

Martin (Sarna): Do you play BattleTech? If so for how long and how often?

Matthew: I haven’t played the actual board game version in every part of 15 years but I still love the miniatures, buying and painting them.  In keeping with the tone set by the first time I ever heard “BattleTech” I’ve played it most recently in the computerized form.  I played MechWarrior Online for a bit and am looking forward to trying out the BattleTech turn based game as well.

Martin (Sarna): I can vouch that the latest BattleTech game by Harebrained Schemes is well worth the time and money. I hope you have a lot of fun playing it and we would love to hear about your experiences with it in the future.

Thanks very much for your time, Matt. It’s very interesting to get a little glimpse behind the curtain of a well-established BattleTech artist. We all look forward to seeing more of your work in the near future.


For those of you wanting to keep up to date with Matt’s work (and you absolutely should!) or contact him about commission work, you can follow his DeviantArt account here: MattPLOG on DeviantArt

Original BattleTech Pods In Grand Rapids Michigan Moving To New Dedicated Site

courtesy of Virtual World Entertainment

courtesy of Virtual World Entertainment

Some original BattleTech Center virtual reality pods are moving to a new dedicated “Pod Site” in Grand Rapids Michigan.

Those old enough to remember the Virtual World Entertainment pods will be happy to hear that they’re alive and well, and the set located in Michigan are migrating to a new location where they will continue to be tweaked, preserved, and even played in.

A few weeks ago, current Virtual World Entertainment owner Nickolas “PropWash” Smith posted to the BattleTech subreddit that he’ll be taking a contingent of the original BattleTech: Firestorm pods from their current storage location and bringing them to a dedicated pod site in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Previously, your best opportunity to get insides one of these delightful relics was to go to one of the many conventions where Nick and the gang bring their portable pods. However, with the new site, you’ll have a chance to get a real taste of what it’s like to be in a “real” ‘Mech cockpit–minus the oppressive heat and need for a neurohelmet of course.

courtesy of Virtual World Entertainment

For those not old enough to remember, Virtual World Entertainment was the FASA off-shoot that dealt with turning the games that FASA made into “location-based entertainment experiences,” more commonly referred to as arcade games. They had a pretty nice heyday throughout the ‘90s, but as the demand for arcades began to wane in the early 2000’s (combined with FASA’s decision to abruptly cease operations in 2001), Virtual World was put up for sale.

Microsoft first acquired Virtual World Entertainment along with FASA Interactive, but then they sold Virtual World again to an investment group.

At the time, these simulator pods were state of the art arcade games that an investment firm would have seen no value except to sell for scrap. Some pods almost certainly were scrapped, but a concerted effort from Virtual World owners and a dedicated player community managed to save most of these pods from the scrap yard.

And while there are multiple former Virtual World pods out there operated by several different groups, the original Virtual World Entertainment company continues to remain operational under the ownership of one Nickolas Smith. Nick purchased the company in 2005 and has dutifully safeguarded these priceless pieces of real-life Lostech for 20 years.

courtesy of VGLU on Facebook

And upgraded them. The pods themselves weren’t originally meant to be carried from convention to convention, and only with diligent work from many dedicated enthusiasts were they able to become portable. This allowed Nick (as well as others pod owners) to bring their hardware to various BattleTech conventions.

Between conventions, these Michigan based pods were initially kept in storage at Nick’s house–a far cry from the public arcades they used to be found in. I myself remember getting my first lick at a BattleTech pod from a Dave and Buster’s over a decade ago. I’m nowhere near a convention that BattleTech is featured at, so without an arcade, I’d have never been able to enjoy pulling levers and pushing pedals as though I were a real ‘Mech pilot.

Obviously, keeping a bunch of VWE pods at a random house in Michigan is less than ideal. Nick moved his cockpits to Grand Rapids in 2010 and put them under the care of Jeff Perry at the Big Kidz Games retail store. Now they’re being moved to a new site storage in Grand Rapids that will open during select special events for public play or by private reservation. The new location will be called the Virtual Geographic League Underground, or VGLU for short–a call back to the fictional Virtual World origins story.

I had a chance to speak to Nick recently, and he says that the new location will operate by word of mouth and social media–sort of like a modern speakeasy. If you follow the Virtual World Entertainment Facebook group (or the VGLU Facebook group) then you’ll be able to ask how and when you can get your hands behind the control sticks of a piece of BattleTech history.

Currently there are 18 pods, all running both BattleTech: Firestorm–that’s the one based on MechWarrior 4. But these pods are running far more than the original software. They’ve been tweaked, modded, and improved beyond what you might remember. All the original ‘Mechs are still there, but there are also the MekTek ‘Mech Packs that expanded the MechWarrior 4 arsenal to over 100 chassis, and even more custom designs added after that.

The new Grand Rapids site will open during Brocktoberfest on October 12th through 14th (Brocktoberfest being a reference to the game Red Planet that I didn’t understand beyond the fact that Red Planet was another game run on the Virtual World pods). The best way to get involved is via the Facebook groups I linked above.

And while you’re there, consider making a donation–these pods are kept alive and even improved thanks to the hard work of some dedicated individuals, but MacGyvering replacement parts in an ever-dwindling supply can get expensive.

For those not in the Michigan area, there are plenty of other locations to try out these incredible machines, including locations in Albuquerque, Houston, Minneapolis, and a site recently opened in Montreal, Canada. Check out the link here for specific locations.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

 

New BattleTech Box Sets Delayed

Box Sets

courtesy of Catalyst Game Labs

The upcoming BattleTech box sets have been delayed, according to a recent update from Catalyst Game Labs.

At Gen Con, our humble overlord Nic reported that the new box sets of BattleTech: A Game Of Armored Combat and the BattleTech Beginner Box would be available at the end of October. Now it seems that October date is going to be missed due to some unforeseen circumstances with the manufacturer.

“Despite being in near-constant contact with the overseas manufacturer throughout August, it is clear they have not shipped the production runs as expected,” wrote Catalyst on their website. We don’t have a lot of information as to what the problem is, but it’s clear from the post that Catalyst is freaking out. What’s worse, we don’t have a time frame for when the box sets will be available either online or in stores.

So that’s a dose of bad news. On the bright side, Catalyst doesn’t have to rely on manufacturers for their digital products. They’ve released a new digital download map pack and a triple-pack of sourcebooks for the BattleTech faithful. The Dig, Defend, or Die scenario book is a free download, as is the associated map pack from the Worldwide Event 2018. The new Touring the Stars: Stotzing is available for $2.99 on .pdf, and Spotlight On: First Marik Protectors is available for $3.99.

Or you can get the whole thing as a bundle for $5.99.

We’ll keep you informed if we get any updates from Catalyst.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

 

 

Community Outreach – Interview with Jennifer Brozek, Author Of “The Nellus Academy Incident”

Catalyst Announces New YA BattleTech Novels

courtesy of Amazon

Welcome to another episode of Community Outreach! The famous and handsome owner of Sarna.net recently went down to Gen Con and had a chance to speak with Jennifer Brozek, author of The Nellus Academy Incident as well as the upcoming Rogue Trilogy of YA BattleTech novels. Using his rugged good looks and amazing charm he somehow convinced her to agree to an interview, which must’ve made the fact the interview was done by me all the more disappointing. 

Disappointment aside, Jennifer brings a new voice to the BattleTech narrative. We chat about how she got roped into writing about giant stompy robots and how important it is to include death in a YA novel. Enjoy! Continue reading

BattleTech Releases Teaser Video For New Expansion: Flashpoint

BattleTech Releases Teaser Video For New Expansion: Flashpoint

courtesy of Gamestar

BattleTech is about to get its first expansion called Flashpoint.

We knew this day was coming. BattleTech has been a great success for Harebrained and new publisher Paradox Interactive, and various HBS personalities have been dropping hints for a while that an expansion was in the offing. Now it has a name: Flashpoint.

Rather than a whole new campaign to play alongside the original, Flashpoint will instead be a whole bunch of smaller stories that are book-ended by procedurally generated missions. Some of them have to be played back-to-back without any opportunity for rest and refit, adding to the sense that you’re a mercenary company on extended operations in the field.

New conversation options, no critical decisions, and new special events will all find their way into Flashpoint’s multi-story campaign.

There’s no word on whether you retain your company from the original campaign or start a brand new merc company with the new story. We’ll have to wait for more details on that one.

We here at Sarna know that fantastically written stories will only take you so far. Harebrained knows that too. That’s why they’re adding three new ‘Mechs to the game, and for the first time ever, one of them has a melee weapon: the Crab, the Cyclops, and the Hatchetman.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment. The Hatchetman. For the first time ever, you’ll be able to swing your big, stupid ax at some schmuck and watch them literally come apart at the seams.

Unfortunately, due to the momentous occasion of the Hatchetman arriving in a BattleTech video game, I won’t be able to extoll the virtues of the Crab or Cyclops–both fantastic ‘Mechs in their own right. The Hatchetman is just that big of a deal.

Alright, let’s take a few deep breaths before we move on.

There’s a new biome, which will be very beach-y, and there’s a new mission type called “Target Acquisition” which will give your light and medium ‘Mechs something to do while the assaults facetank. Judging by the press release, it’s probably something to do with “capture the flag” or whatever.

Did I mention the Hatchetman is coming? I might have gotten excited and forgotten to mention the Hatchetman.

We don’t have a release date other than the standard “coming soon” at the end of the teaser video. If Paradox follows the same pattern with expansions for their other games (and as a player of Stellaris, I’m intimately familiar with this pattern), then we can expect a price around 20 bucks (or $30 if you’re an unlucky Canuck like I am).

Hatchetman.

And as always MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games, “MechWarrior 3050”

MechWarrior 3050

Welcome back to Did You Know?, the Sarna series where we look at some of the obscure corners of BattleTech history. We’re continuing our series on retro BattleTech video games with a look at an old favorite from the days of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: MechWarrior 3050.

I go on a lot about how MechWarrior 2 was the first BattleTech game I’ve ever played, and while we’ll eventually get to the Activision classic where I will sing its praises to the high heavens, it is not actually the first BattleTech game I ever played.

That dubious honor goes to MechWarrior 3050. Or actually, the Sega Genesis version, which was named BattleTech for no particular reason other than to differentiate itself. It’s the same game, although the SNES version was developed by Tiburon Entertainment and the Sega game was made by Malibu Interactive. Tiburon eventually got sucked into the enormous games empire that became EA, while Malibu Interactive morphed into a “media management” company and no longer makes video games.

Malibu Interactive pioneered the sort of top-down isometric gameplay that became the hallmark of various games throughout the early ‘90s published through EA. Somehow, the boys over at Malibu managed to get their hands on a BattleTech license and made their own game, following the same format they used in the Strike series of helicopter games: Desert Strike and Jungle Strike. Tiburon eventually ported it to the SNES under the name MechWarrior 3050 to leech off the popularity of MechWarrior 2, which was a best-selling PC game at the time.

I played both Desert Strike and Jungle Strike and I loved every second of them. It was perhaps the very first “open sandbox”-style of game I’d ever played (having skipped The Legend of Zelda since elves were lame, but attack helicopters were cool). And while Desert Strike and Jungle Strike managed to create an engaging and fun experience, MechWarrior 3050 suffered from quite a few problems.

Pic 2

But first, a brief explanation for those unfamiliar with the game. In MechWarrior 3050 (or BattleTech for us Sega babies) you play as an unnamed Clan Wolf MechWarrior during the invasion of the Inner Sphere. Missions amount to little more than orders being barked at you by Galaxy Commander Conal Ward (although he’s called Colonel Ward in the game) and then you got dropped solo in your Timberwolf to carry out those orders behind enemy lines.

Before each mission, you’re able to customize your ‘Mech’s armament to suit the objective, choosing between ER PPCs, Gauss Rifles, Arrow VI Missiles (even though those should be Arrow IVs) and a selection of smaller armaments. Each weapon has different properties, such as extreme range on the Arrow VIs or an area-of-effect cluster bomb-like explosion on the Gauss Rifle.

For those of you who haven’t played the game, you’re probably already a little annoyed with all the weird departures from BattleTech canon this game has already taken. Trust me, those departures are hardly the worst aspects of MechWarrior 3050. If you want an exhaustive list of every way the game diverges from BattleTech lore, you can check out the Sarna wiki-page on the matter. Suffice to say, Malibu Interactive played VERY fast and loose with the lore, which is likely why it never really caught on with the BattleTech faithful.

I played this game back before I’d even known about the BattleTech universe, but even then I found some of the game’s choices pretty questionable. Why did lasers require ammunition? Why did my ‘Mech never take damage and instead required “coolant” to repair itself? Why did Gauss Rifles arc and explode like cluster bombs when the booklet said it was a magnetically accelerated slug?

It was weird, but if you’re willing to look past it, there were worse problems.

Easily the biggest issue the game has was the big-honkin’ 75-ton ‘Mech sitting in the middle of the screen. In order to give the impression of size, Malibu made the Timberwolf appropriately large in comparison to everything else. The only problem with that was that your ‘Mech took up most of your view and prevented you from seeing your opponents before they were already on top of you.

Mostly due to your own ‘Mech taking up most of the screen, the game was extremely challenging. You’d be getting shot from off-screen with no other warning besides your ‘Mech taking damage. Enemy ‘Mechs would charge in and get off multiple shots before you could even respond, causing the player to panic and miss vitally important retorts.

Pic 5

Besides that, there were various tunnels and bases that would endlessly spawn enemies until the player could destroy them. This endless spawn system would also tax your limited ammunition supplies, making empty ammo bins a common enough problem that the player would be forced to commit seppuku just to restock their weapons (you had three lives for each mission, and respawning meant a full ammo bin). 

In Malibu’s previous helicopter-based games, it was possible to take your time and carefully assess situations before committing to action. In MechWarrior 3050, that wasn’t an option. Endlessly spawning enemies combined with limited perspective made the only method of progression a depressing grind of trial and error, repeating each planet until you’d simply memorized the locations of all ammo drops and enemies.

To sum up, MechWarrior 3050 was really freakin’ hard. I beat it once, but after that, I traded it in for a copy of Jungle Strike where I had infinitely more fun.

In retrospect, I think that MechWarrior 3050 was an attempt by an EA-affiliated developer to cash in on an established audience. They took the same engine from their previous games, replaced the helicopter with a giant stompy robot, and then threw in a bunch of random bits of BattleTech lore without bothering to fact check or even ensure that anything made sense. There was a distinct lack of polish compared to previous offerings that really soured the whole thing.

The most hilarious aspect of the game was how Colonel Ward would just announce your promotion until eventually declaring you Kahn, but he’d still act like he was your boss.

Was there anything good about MechWarrior 3050? Well, your Timberwolf’s animation looked very smooth (especially in comparison to enemy ‘Mechs), and it was certainly a challenging game. But these minor pros don’t counterbalance the much larger list of cons.

I give MechWarrior 3050 1 star out of 5.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Blaine Lee Pardoe Posts Treasure Trove Of Original ‘Mech Design Docs

BattleMaster

courtesy of Catalyst Game Labs

Blaine Lee Pardoe just posted a treasure trove of BattleTech artifacts.

This is pretty incredible for anyone who’s super into the history of BattleTech. Blaine Lee Pardoe, the legendary author and writer of the most recently released BattleTech novel, The Anvil, has uploaded a bunch of scanned copies of original tech documents from the founding days of BattleTech.

I already knew that Pardoe played a key role in much BattleTech’s narrative, but I had no idea he also got to write up the back stories of some of the most iconic ‘Mechs the game has ever seen. ‘Mechs like the Locust, Warhammer, Shadow Hawk, and BattleMaster all had Pardoe’s mark in their gritty backstories.

Besides just identifying what ‘Mechs were his to write about, Mr. Pardoe also posted the original drafts of the BattleMaster, including the very first image of the 85-ton death machine.

The text portion was a little light over on Pardoe’s blog, but with the power of some photo editing software I’ve darkened them up to be a little more legible.

It’s pretty amazing to see an entire ‘Mech design was nothing more than numbers of graph paper in the beginning. The text portion (most of which eventually made it into the 3025 TRO) is equally as neat, especially the later portions that had to do with notable pilots and variants. We know from previous posts that Pardoe will occasionally take real-life people to include in his fluff, so some of these might actually be real people (he didn’t confirm that in his blog post, however).

courtesy of Blaine Lee Pardoe

courtesy of Blaine Lee Pardoe

courtesy of Blaine Lee Pardoe

Although the only two variants posted were the BLR-1G and the BLR-1D, there is mention of the BLR-1S without naming it specifically. This was actually added later in the 3039 TRO, but here we get to see how Pardoe created the “rumor” that eventually became another cannon variant of the BattleMaster.

Blaine wasn’t able to name the ‘Mechs himself (the pictures and names were given to him by the FASA bigwigs at the time), but he was able to name some of the support vehicles, such as the Stuka, the Seydlitz, and the Chippewa. The first two are named after a German WWII dive bomber and a WWI battlecruiser, but the Chippewa is actually named after the old mascot for Central Michigan University.

There was one ‘Mech that Pardoe mentioned that apparently had a big kerfuffle when it was introduced: the Grand Titan. This must’ve been before my time because from the description it seems there were some mathematical errors, which Pardoe explained as being due to him not having his design docs when he writing up the Titan and creating the ‘Mech entirely from memory.

Personally, I always liked the Grant Titan even though as a 100-ton assault ‘Mech it doesn’t make sense for a big, tanky ‘Mech to have an XL Engine. But all those flaws were part of the original design’s charm.

After the Grand Titan snafu, Pardoe stopped designing ‘Mechs, but he’ll be coming back to the drawing board in his upcoming novella all about Wolf’s Dragoons.

There’s even more on Pardoe’s website, so check it out when you’ve got a chance.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games, “The Crescent Hawks’ Inception”

 

Welcome back to Did You Know?, the Sarna feature where we take a look at some of the more obscure corners of BattleTech history. We’re kicking off a series on retro video games, and what could possibly be more retro than the very first BattleTech computer game than BattleTech: The Crescent Hawks’ Inception?

Originally released in 1988, this bad boy was made for the original Commodore 64. I’m not nearly old enough to remember these ancient personal computers, but if they’re anything like the Nintendo 64, it must’ve been revolutionary for its time.

To get this game to function on a modern computer would require running a virtual machine on Windows and possibly some light computer engineering knowledge that I simply don’t have the time or inclination to learn. Luckily, we live in the age of the internet, and no matter how old or obscure the game, someone has done a Let’s Play series about it on YouTube.

We have MrTatteredRags to thank for this lovely Let’s Play that goes from beginning to end of The Crescent Hawks’ Inception, which I will henceforth shorten to simply CHI. Produced by Westwood Associates (the developer that would eventually become the legendary Westwood Studios of Command & Conquer fame) CHI followed the standard format for most Infocom games at the time–that being a text-based adventure game with a few basic animations and the most god-awful sound effects possible.

Just take a few moments to experience the game’s opening. This is bad, even by 1988 standards.

Full disclosure: I’ve experienced text-based adventure games before, but they were usually only in the form of a brief joke scene in a more modern game. The only game I’ve ever played that took the genre seriously was Space Ranger, a Russian top-down space adventure game that mixes RTS and RPG elements as well as the aforementioned text adventure portion.

Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can endure an entire game that’s just wandering around Legend of Zelda-style until you have to do some light reading and option selection, but the late ‘80s were a vastly different time for gaming.

In CHI, you play as Jason Youngblood, a young military cadet on the Steiner planet of Pacifica (aka Chara III). You’re the son of war her Jeremiah Youngblood, the Lyran HQ’s security chief and someone who oddly has the ear of Archon Katrina Steiner.

Crescent Hawk 4

He’ll soon die and leave you in charge of a guerrilla campaign to overthrow invaders from the Draconis Combine, but before then you’re just a cadet in training. So you can wander around and do some training missions to learn how to use guns, rifles, and even a bow and arrow.

Learning how to use a bow and arrow seems oddly low-tech in the world of BattleTech, but again, it was the ‘80s. You weren’t a warrior until you learned how to kill a man with a bow and arrow.

You can also go on training missions in ‘Mechs–ostensibly the whole reason why you’re there. Your choice of machine is either a Locust, Wasp, or the rarely seen Chameleon. There’s little to say for the animation of any particular ‘Mech with the 8-bit designs basically getting the overall outline correct without providing much detail.

Crescent Hawk 3

Eventually on one of your training missions, the Draconis Combine invades, destroys the training academy, and leaves you alone to assemble a crack team of Drac-fighting commandos including a ‘Mech tech, a field nurse, and even a former Kell Hound. This is when the game really picks up and where your earlier training determines how easy you find the game’s remaining tasks.

It turns out that the Dracs are on Pacifica to raid an old Star League-era weapons depot that your father discovered while stationed here. You also find out that your father was actually the commander of an elite covert operations team called the Crescent Hawks, and as you wander around Pacifica gathering allies you adopt your father’s unit name and assume command.

I guess “cadet” makes you the ranking officer on planet?

There are a lot of holes like this in the general plot of the game. Apparently the Crescent Hawks are also somehow related to the Kell Hounds (because almost everything good and noble in the Lyran Commonwealth is related to that mercenary company) and the Crescent Hawks were given carte blanche from Katrina Steiner herself to operate as an independent military unit.

Crescent Hawk 5

Another thing I found somewhat odd was how everything in the game costs C-bills. That’s fine, Lyrans are merchants after all, but you’d think being a guerrilla group operating on a recently invaded planet that the locals might be a bit more eager to help out with donations.

Perhaps the greatest sin this game makes, however, is how it ends with such an obvious setup for the sequel (SPOILER ALERT!). You barely resolve anything: Jason locates the Star League-era cache, finds his dad’s ‘Mech (a PHX-HK2 Phoenix Hawk LAM of all things), and you escape the planet via dropship with a communique direct from Katrina offering you a commission in the Lyran Armed Forces.

Phoenix Hawk LAM

But no, you refuse her offer to go looking for your father, who must surely still be alive since you found his ‘Mech (I know there are other reasons too, but that was the big “payoff” near the end-game).

As much as the whole game reads as BattleTech fan-fiction rather than anything even remotely approaching canon, it seems that Crescent Hawks’ Inception was well received by the fan base. So well received that it became written into canon in subsequent official publications from FASA.

Personally, I think that CHI got a lot of goodwill simply because it was the first of its kind. Looking at it with the critical eye of someone who came of age during the days of MechWarrior 2, the plot was flimsy and at times nonsensical, the sound effects were either hilarious or nonexistent, and the game’s visuals were what I’d imagine a coked-out pixel artist’s rendition of Robotech would look like.

On the plus side, CHI needed to happen in order for every other BattleTech game to come after it. Plus, the Phoenix Hawk LAM is always pretty cool.

I give it two stars out of five.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

What’s up with Catalyst? at GenCon 2018

GenCon 2018 is almost a wrap, and Catalyst Game Labs had a What’s up with Catalyst? session where the-powers-that-be shared insights into the BattleTech product line and the future of CGL.  Present were Loren L. Coleman (owner), Randall N. Bills (managing director), Brent Evans (BattleTech line developer), John Helfers (fiction director) and others.

GenCon panel

The group covered a lot of topics, and here are the highlights!

  • BattleTech: Legacy, an anthology, is now back in print and was supposed to be at the GenCon booth, but was not available in time.  It should be available in the next 30 days or so.
    BattleTech: Legacy cover
  • BattleTech: A Splinter of Hope/The Anvil (a novella omnibus) by Philip A. Lee and Blaine Lee Pardoe was available but sold out in short order.
  • The Nellus Academy Incident, a young-adult BattleTech novel by Jennifer Brozek is also available (on Amazon).
    Nellus Academy
  • Audiobooks are being released for BattleTech fiction!  First up is Embers of War, narrated by Tren Sparks.  Catalyst is working towards releasing more BattleTech and Shadowrun audiobooks, and will be alternating releases between the universes. Today you can purchase the Embers of War audiobook on Amazon.
  • Reprints of BattleTech: Total Warfare are in, and were available GenCon, with the nice retro 1987 BattleTech Manual cover:
    Total Warfare cover
  • Reprints of the other BattleTech core rulebook are on the way, including TechManual, Tactical Operations, Strategic Operations, and A Time of War.
  • The new boxed sets were available for purchase!  BattleTech Beginner Boxed Set and BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat both sold out by noon on Thursday.  They should be available in stores around October:
    BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat
  • Shattered Fortress was released at GenCon, and is essentially part 1 of 2 of the IlClan storyline.  We can hope for part 2 at next year’s GenCon:
    Shattered Fortress To Debut At GenCon
  • New Map Packs are coming soon, and were available for preview at the GenCon booth.  Six all-new maps, “designed to be easier to use and clearer to understand than ever before“.
  • There were some cool 12-inch tall 3D-printed mechs in the booth that were being played on a 10×10′ scaled-up map:
    Booth 1
    Booth 2
  • This menacing, torso twisting (remote-controlled) ‘Mech greeted you at the booth:
    Booth 3
  • Some fun energy-drinks were also available for purchase (Loren claims they taste just fine…):
    Energy Drinks
  • Between now and next year, we can expect a lot of new novels (e.g. Forever Faithful by Mr. Pardoe), and more.  Check out the Upcoming Releases page for more details.
  • Loren made no additional comment on the Harmony Gold Lawsuit, and redirected everyone to read the public statement (though he said he is pretty happy with how it turned out).
  • Catalyst has been diversifying into board games (and has some neat little gems like The Duke).  Dragonfire has also been very successful, and they’re hoping they can continue the trend.  They’re working on a few new ideas!
  • Next year will be BattleTech’s 35th anniversary!  There might just be a few special things to celebrate it.
  • Catalyst will also be at PAX West, PAX Unplugged and Mech_Con later this year.

Additional booth pics:

Booth 4 Booth 5 Booth 6