The Gathering Storm: A BattleTech Animated Remake

A lot of us will look back at Saturday morning cartoons from our childhoods and wish they’d bring them back. Sometimes it even happens – just look at Samurai Jack and Power Puff Girls. For most of us it remains just a wistful dream.  

But not for everyone. Some of us decide to take action. And one of us decided to remake the BattleTech cartoon.

It may be just the first 5 minutes, but it’s something to build on, and in all the technical ways certainly an improvement over the original. Try comparing the two:

I managed to track down the man who spent the blood, sweat, and tears to bring this classic back to life and asked him a few questions on his work.  

“When I first saw the BattleTech cartoon some years back I was completely blown away,” Vux tells me in an email interview. “That epicly badass introduction scene for the clans sent a die-hard clanner like me completely over the moon.”

Vux had been a BattleTech fan for a long time. An avid MechWarrior Online player, he’s done quite a few tongue-in-cheek introductory videos for new players on his YouTube channel already. Then, years later, he had an idea to bring back some of that original Saturday morning BattleTech magic.

“The vision I had was a shot-for-shot remake of the cartoon, with adaptations and additions as appropriate,” he writes, thus beginning a labour of love. “I started planning it with my MWO pals October of last year. I wanted to keep the script and dialogue very faithful to the original, with the intent being to mirror the style/attitude of the show (and its cast) as well as we could.”

The first step would be to get actual footage to use. “Luckily all the ‘Mechs featured in the cartoon were available to pilot in MWO,” so getting that footage would be as simple as gathering a group of friends to do some robot inspired acting. “All the battles and ‘Mech-y scenes were recorded with a group of nice players I knew, who volunteered (after only the tiniest amount blackmail and threats of lasery death) to assist me in some private lobby games.”

“We went with a slower moving ‘massive steel beasts’ feel, like in the cartoon,” which presented a challenge as the ‘Mechs in MechWarrior Online are generally significantly faster, and most pilots just jam the W button to go full throttle. Training his volunteers was difficult, as it went against everything they’d ever learned. “This meant dozens of (painful) retakes for scenes like the Inner Sphere ‘Mech charge scene with spinning camera, and the scene where Redmond’s ‘Mech dramatically steps into frame.”

Things got even more difficult once the shooting started. Since they were using a game to record all the footage, they had to work within the game’s constraints, which meant, “If the scene didn’t go right, we had to restart the entire map since there’s too much battle damage on the ‘Mechs to suit continuity of the scene at that point.”

As Vux tells it, this resulted in “A lot of strained nerves from my ‘Mech pilots, but we got them done just before people got completely fed up with me saying ‘okay guys, back to positions and go again’ for the 20th time.”

From Strained Nerves to Building Worlds

Not all aspects of the cartoon could be recreated in MechWarrior Online. Certain models, like the Batu fighters and the Dropships, just don’t exist in game. What’s a budding director to do? “I scoured the interwebs trying to find 3D models for the Battletech fighters and Dropship featured in the cartoon,” Vux writes, however most of what he found “were either not compatible with my 3D program or restricted in usage rights.”

“Then I discovered MWO player Kilroy’s archive of Battletech models and he was cool with me using them in my project,” he adds, proving once again how close-knit the MechWarrior Online community can be.

Next came the added challenge of adding this models into the footage already taken from the game. “I had zero previous experience working with 3D models, but I learned to use a plugin for Adobe After Effects called ‘Element 3D’ for the actual 3D work.” Still, learning on the fly was slow going,  or as Vux tells it, “I spent many evenings experimenting with animating and compositing the models with the MWO footage, hoping to make it both look decent and match the original scenes as closely as possible.”

Other scenes, such as the conversation between Andrew Steiner (Adam Steiner’s older brother) and Star Colonel Nicolai Malthus and the establishing shots of the Somerset Military Academy, presented their own difficulties. Once again, video games come to the rescue.

“I used Star Wars: The Old Republic to record the indoor scenes as it had the perfect military-type environments and big computer consoles I needed. I was able to create a Steiner character in the game who looks very close to his cartoon self, down to the scar and 5 o’clock shadow. I used what emotes were available in-game to get the lip-sync as close as I could to his lines.”

Unfortunately, Star Wars didn’t have anything that even remotely looked like Colonel Malthus, which was a problem. “I discussed options with my creative assistant (chrx) and we concluded it would be way too difficult to reproduce those scenes in any decent manner.”

After weeks of intense deliberation, Vux came up with the solution: “[I’d] introduce the clanners in a more suspenseful way – only showing a brief initial flash of Malthus’ ‘Mech and his transmission readout, not showing their faces at all. This way I could keep the attacking force very mysterious until the very dramatic scene where the clanners are revealed and Malthus makes his entrance with that deliciously over-the-top, ‘Your insolence has provoked the fury of the clans!’ speech.”

The voice acting is intentionally a bit cheesy and somewhat over-the-top, just like in the cartoon.

The last ingredient to bring his project to life would be to give it a voice. As Vux tells it, “The cast is basically just a bunch of BattleTech fans I managed to  sweet-talk into doing the lines.” Just like shooting the ‘Mech scenes, the voice acting had it’s own set of issues as not everyone in the cast had access to a professional microphone forcing “a few people to record their lines with their phones as that was all they had available.”

Nailing the dialog was also tricky as the cast couldn’t use their normal register when speaking to get the true 90’s cartoon camp. “This meant that the voice acting is intentionally a bit cheesy and somewhat over-the-top, just like in the cartoon.”

All that was left was months of editing and then it was released upon a wider world.

Wrapping up, Vux left me with a few words for his adoring fans. “I’d just like to thank all the fluffy people who have left nice feedback and supported my channel, you guys (and gals) rock!”

No sir, you rock, Vux. You rock.

MRBC Season 9 Has Begun!

The MRBC, the largest MechWarrior Online league, has officially begun. This latest season has a record breaking 79 teams signing up to take part in the carnage, and after action reports are already coming in. While that’s way too many teams for us to cover on a regular basis, we’ll hope to give a regular roundup of the top level teams duking it out in Division A, as well as notable highlights from the lower divisions.

First, let’s take a look at the teams from Division A of each region. Starting with Asia Pacific, we have the 228th Wild Ones, one of the finalists for last years MechWarrior Online championships and a very strong team having been in Division A since their arrival in season 5. Next up, a newcomer to Division A, team Spud Shed. Having taken first place in Division B for season 8, they’ve moved up to Division A and are ready to take on all comers. Then there’s the Oceanic Merc Corp, aka “The Cheapskates”, another longtime Division A team who can’t afford to lose (not for fear of relegation – they’re just cheap). Finally we have team VETO, another new Division A team that is comprised of Division A veterans looking to make a name for themselves under a new banner.

9th Sanguine Tigers

In Europe we have 6 teams vying for the title of Division Champion. The 9th Sanguine Tigers return to Division A having taken the Division B title in Season 8. The Black Spikes Team 2 (Yellow Submarine) have been bouncing between Division B and A as well, but are looking to solidify their top division standing. Eon Synergy hopes to continue their domination in Europe for a third straight season. Russian Jade Falcon are ready to sink their talons into unsuspecting teams, and Tikonov Commonality Armed Forces prepare to defend the Capellan border (or I guess it’s the FedCom border in the current MWO timeline). Rounding out Europe is the White Death Mercenary Company, one of the longest running teams in Division A.

North America has a grand total of 8 teams, making it the largest of the three regions in MRBC’s Division A. First we have the 228th again fielding the “Black Watch”, season six champs seeking to repeat their prior performance. Standing in their way is the 42nd Scorned, newcomers to the MRBC made of division A veterans. Dropship 5 returns for their second season, and newbies Osiriz are anything but new as the seasoned MechWarriors burst on to the scene. SiG comes from Division B for their first Division A season, and finally we have Steel Jaguar looking for an unprecedented fifth Division A title.

White Death Mercenary Company

All these teams are chomping at the bit, and there have already been a few matches. So far in Europe the 9th Sanguine Tigers edged out the White Death Mercenaries in a nail-biting victory of 3 to 2, with many games coming down to one or two ‘Mechs for either side. 9th Sanguine leads the leaderboard with a reputation score of 1325, but the Black Spikes Team 2 are hot on their heels with reputation score of 1250 (for more on reputation rewards check out the MRBC’s rules under “rep rewards”).

North America has already had a number of games, and so far Dropship 5 has pulled into a comfortable lead with 3500 points and not a single round lost, however being a full game ahead of the pack means it’s still very much anybody’s race.

In Asia Pacific The Cheapskates defeated team Spud Shed 4 to 1 to take the early lead with 1475 reputation points, with team VETO close behind with 1225.

The league is well under way in it’s 9th season with matches occurring almost every day. For up to the minute scores and live webcasting, check out the MRBC website as well as their twitch channels. We’ll come back to the MRBC later in the season to check on the scores, and from all of us here at Sarna: good luck, Mechwarriors!

All images courtesy of their respective teams and the MRBC.

Community Outreach – BanditB17, Competitive MWO, and the MechWarrior World Championships

Welcome to Community Outreach! This week we speak with BanditB17, a MechWarrior Online Shoutcaster, MRBC league admin, and all around hyper-connected individual in the MechWarrior Online community. We ask him what it’s like to cast some of the biggest games in MechWarrior as well as help out with one of MWO’s biggest leagues. Enjoy!

Sean (Sarna): To start, who are you? Briefly introduce yourself.

BanditB17: I am BanditB17. I am a community shoutcaster and Official Shoutcaster for the Mechwarrior Online World Championship 2016 and, hopefully, 2017.

Sean: Hopefully.

BanditB17: Hopefully, yeah. I am one of the administrators for the MRBC under Doyle. We are, of course, entering into our ninth season of competitive play. I started playing around season four and then became an admin around season six. I also do shoutcasting for MRBC, which actually got me started, and then I was able to move into more awesome things, of course. And I am drop-caller and leader, one of the leaders, of MarineMechs Divison B competitive-casual team.

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Did you know? BattleTech Comics

Back in its early days, BattleTech was way more than just a board game. It was a Saturday morning cartoon, a tradable card game, paintable model kits, and for a brief moment, a comic book series.

Published by the now defunct Blackthorne Publishing Inc., the comics had quite a limited production run. The first comic books ran for a total of 6 regular issues, plus one “annual” issue and a single “BattleTech in 3D” issue. The series never really had an overarching plot and really told several smaller stories in the 3025 era, with the first/second and fifth/sixth issues being the only ones with any relation to the other.

I won’t go into the details and spoil it for you, but I will say the canonicity of these comics is questionable as the authors get quite a few things wrong. On the other hand, this was way back in the early days of BattleTech, so we can cut the authors some slack as they didn’t have a handy resource like Sarna to do all the fact checking with.

That said, the quality of these comics was also not high. There were many inconsistencies between the art in the comics and the art depicted in the wider range of BattleTech products. Worse still was the fact there were many misspellings across issues for named characters or even within the same issue. For example, Lieutenant Max from the first issue could have his full name spelled “Maximillan” or “Maximillian” depending on which page you’re on.

In conjunction with the larger run of BattleTech comics were the BattleForce comics. Intended as a three issue mini-series, Blackthorne Publishing managed to get out two issues but never finished the third. Blackthorne ran into financial problems in 1988, forcing them to discontinue their line of color comic books, of which BattleTech and BattleForce were a part of.

Blackthorne struggled to hold on long enough to print the black and white BattleTech Annual, which combined the first 2 issues into a single story and made a continuation on the third issue. They also made BattleTech 3D, a standalone story where the reader would put on those cliche red and blue glasses to have the images pop out in simulated 3D. But in 1990, Blackthorne closed their doors for good, ending the BattleTech comic strip.

This wouldn’t be the end of BattleTech and comic books though. With the release of the BattleTech animated series in the mid 90’s also came the rebirth of the BattleTech comics. Called BattleTech: Fallout, the 4 issue comic series chronicled a ragtag team of fugitives as they became an effective fighting force to defeat the Clans on the periphery planet of Star’s End.

Published by Malibu Comics Entertainment, the comics used the same computer generated art that was featured in the animated series. The rest of the comic is of notably higher quality than those published by Blackthorne, but there were again some canonicity issues. The series takes place in 3050, however the protagonist lance features a Rakshasa, Raven and Wolf Trap, ‘Mechs that would never be seen in the deep periphery, and the Rakshasa wouldn’t even be built until the year 3055.

Still, the Fallout comics are an entertaining read, and well worth looking for the next time you find yourself in an old comic book store with tons of 80’s and 90’s stuff.

It seems unlikely for there to ever be another print run of BattleTech comics, but that doesn’t stop BattleTech comics from being created. No Guts No Galaxy lovingly maintains an archive of two BattleTech webcomics – Critical Hits and Dustbowl Shindig – over on their forums. If you’ve ever wondered what talking ‘Mechs would be like, go check Critical Hits. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

image courtesy of No Guts No Galaxy

Do you know some weird or obscure BattleTech trivia? We’d love to hear it!  Leave a message in the comments, or email me!

Blaine Lee Pardoe wrote an April Fools’ day BattleTech Fan Fic, and it’s Awesome!

image courtesy of blainepardoe.wordpress.com

As perhaps the second longest running author in the BattleTech universe, Blaine Lee Pardoe knows more about BattleTech than I ever will. And as a celebrated author (at least certainly celebrated around here, and according to his blog celebrated in a bunch of other places too) he’s also come across some of the seedier aspects of the BattleTech universe – fan fiction.

He’ll be the first to admit that some fanfic is good, and the good stuff will find its way to BattleCorps, and maybe even one day become a published novel. But the vast majority of fanfic that crosses his inbox brings Pardoe, in his own words, “one step closer to that aneurysm that I know is coming.”

As a tribute to the many years of awful fanfic, Pardoe has created the ultimate BattleTech fan fiction

As a tribute to the many years of awful fanfic, Pardoe has created the ultimate, the alpha and omega, the supreme example of BattleTech fan fiction, titled Operation Total Freakin’ Awesomeness. It is his greatest literary work to date, and quite possibly the greatest literary work of all time.

I won’t go into too many details and spoil it for you, however as a teaser, Operation Total Freakin’ Awesomeness follows Lieutenant Cody Whiplash Brightstar – callsign Tight-Testicles – as he battles Star Commander Shamalamadingdong – a warrior of Clan Tin Sloth – for control of the Lyran planet Urban. Classic Inner Sphere versus Clan hijinx ensue.

I should also note that Mr. Pardoe has gone to great lengths to ensure that his greatest story doesn’t land him in legal troubles (as is so often the case with BattleTech) – the story is littered with trademark and copyright symbols, just in case people got any smart ideas on lifting his stuff.

With this latest short fiction sure to become canon, I eagerly await the creation of the Clan Tin Sloth emblem, for which I will pay real c-bills to put on a t-shirt and wear with pride. To those artists reading this post, I implore you to post your links in the comments section below.

Did You Know? Tabletop Simulator has BattleTech in VR

Nothing quite beats the feeling of sitting down around a big table with your friends and spending an evening playing tabletop BattleTech. The sound of rattling dice, the camaraderie, the drinking (at least when I do it), and the inevitable hollering that follows when someone bumps into the table and knocks over everyone’s ‘Mechs. Priceless.

Sadly this option isn’t available to everyone. Sometimes there’s just not enough people around to get a good playgroup going. For those ‘Mech heads there’s always been MegaMek to get there giant stompy robot fix, but the virtual world has never really lived up to the meat world in terms of delivering the authentic games night experience.

That remained the case until 2015, when a hitherto PC game got some much needed giant robot love.


Tabletop Simulator is a game available for download on Steam (or Humble Store or- y’know what? Just go to their website for the full list) that’s really not much of a game at all. It’s more like a physics sandbox designed to mimic real life as much as possible. The game comes with a few classic board games (like checkers, pachisi, and go), but in a terrible oversight from the designers, it did not ship with BattleTech as an available game to play.

Lucky for us, Tabletop Simulator is easily modified by enterprising individuals with a little modeling experience and a love of the game.

“When I heard of Tabletop Simulator I found out that there was nothing on the Workshop for BattleTech.”

“I’ve been playing BattleTech since… well, yeah I started playing MechWarrior since I was, like, you know, three,” says Steam user Turduckens, who was the first to see the potential for Tabletop Simulator and its glaring omission of BattleTech. “When I heard of Tabletop Simulator I found out that there was nothing on the Workshop for BattleTech. And I think the game had only come out for, like, a year or so, so then I decided I’d get to work on that.”

Bringing BattleTech to Tabletop Simulator wasn’t entirely a walk in the park. Because the game has almost no scripting outside of rolling dice, everything that exists in real life has to be made to work in game. That means hex maps, ‘Mech models, even the Record Sheets had to be recreated by hand to work in Tabletop.

“The hardest thing was originally trying to find good sources for models. Like, there was always the paper models, which a lot of the times were MechWarrior 4 and 3 models, which I don’t know what magic they used to rip those from the game because I could not figure it out.”

And of course there were some mishaps along the way. When developing the original hex boards for use in Tabletop, he ran into a few minor issues. “I didn’t know how to use the hexagonal snap at the time so all of my hexes were slightly uneven and disjointed, haha!”

Fortunately for Turduckens, after the initial release of the hex boards he didn’t have to work alone. “As the word got out it kind of blossomed. Like, a lot of people started making stuff for Tabletop Simulator,” says Turduckens after his initial release of the BattleTech game boards.

Soon a community of user created content would develop around the project, culminating in the BattleTech Collection page under the Tabletop Simulator Workshop. Turduckens curates the page where he compiles and collates all the latest and greatest in BattleTech mods for Tabletop Simulator.

And there is quite a lot available. From hundreds of Record Sheets from Steam user Insaniac99, to a full fledged campaign from Steam user WuSu. There’s even other BattleTech games like the TCG and Alpha Strike.

Getting started in BattleTech Tabletop Simulator is easier than ever, with many user created quick-start scenarios. Turduckens has his hosted on Nexus called Davion vs. Mercenaries, a well balanced 4v4 scenario that pits a Federated Suns lance against a mercenary lance of classic 3025 era Battlemechs. For more experienced users, there’s more comprehensive collections such as Steam user ItchyDani3l’s Skirmish, which gives players dozens of ‘Mechs to choose from, both Clan and Inner Sphere.

Best of all, Tabletop Simulator has recently gotten VR support, adding a level of immersion never before seen to simulated BattleTech. Turduckens sadly didn’t have a working VR headset to test out his designs, but he did have a friend do it for him.

“One of my favorite moments when I was making this stuff was my friend joined and he had his VR headset on, and it shows you in-game exactly where his head is and where his arms are and he was, like, picking stuff up and he was looking at these ‘Mech models I imported and it was just so cool.”

It may be soon that the virtual world will be the space of choice for tabletop BattleTech fans.

For those looking to find Tabletop Simulator players, Turduckens recommends Clan Ghoul as a place to start. “They were so fun to play with, oh my god. Our gamemaster was running, like, eight ‘Mechs at a time versus us, and he was such a good host.”

Of course, we couldn’t leave Turduckens without asking him his favorite ‘Mech. “Oh, I’d have to say the Awesome. Yeah, I love ‘Mechs that can peek out and do a crap-ton of damage and then just go back into cover and cool off.”

Until next time, ‘Mech fans. Stay syrupy.

Solving the Range Problem with Armor Piercing Pancakes

There’s two types of sci-fi universes: there’s the universe that provides no explanation and uses science as a substitute for magic (like Star Wars), or there’s the universe that tries to justify its awesomeness with plausible explanations. BattleTech has always erred on the latter side but for a few exceptions (the largest of course being the Kearny-Fuchida Jump Drives). However one logical inconsistency in BattleTech has bugged me more than any other.

The guns.

I can understand from a game balancing perspective why the range of your cannons will decrease as the bore size increases, but from a pure physics perspective, this makes absolutely no sense.

image courtesy of Taurus Manufacturing Inc.

Allow me to illustrate. Here, we have a standard 9mm pistol, available anywhere in the United States (depending on the state), and available nowhere in Canada. Effective range: ‘bout a 100 meters, if you’re a reasonably good shot.

image courtesy of warfaretech.blogspot.ca

Moving on up, here we have a much larger round, the 30mm M230 cannon (of Apache attack helicopter fame). Effective range: 2000 meters.

image courtesy of turbosquid.com

Next up, the 155mm howitzer. Effective range: well, it’ll depend on which round you use, but the standard M107 HE is 24,000 meters, or 24 kilometers.

Anyway, you see the pattern here, right? As a general rule, the bigger the gun, the further your projectile goes.

Now let’s go to BattleTech. The actual bore size of autocannons vary by manufacturer, and can range from 25mm to 203mm. Curiously, however, the range on these autocannons decreases as you go higher, with the 25mm AC/2 having an effective range of 720 meters, while the massive AC/20 has an effective range of a mere 270 meters.

Thus, the question for the BattleTech universe becomes what happened to cannons to make them lose range instead of gain it as the bore size gets larger?

The answer, my friends, is in the math.

Curiously, however, the range on these autocannons decreases as you go higher, with the AC/2 having an effective range of 720 meters, while the massive AC/20 has an effective range of a mere 270 meters.

We all know that 1 ton of ammunition gets a standard amount of ammo completely dependant on the size of the autocannon; AC/2 gets 40 shots per ton, AC/5 gets 20, and so on and so forth. On the surface, this seems to make sense, as the bore size also decreases at a similar “divide by 2” rate – 203mm for an AC/20, 101mm for an AC/10, etc. But ammunition doesn’t just take up a linear length – it takes up volume. Simply making the diameter of each round smaller by half doesn’t allow you to keep jamming in half as many rounds in the same amount of space.

I’ll show you what I mean. We’re going to compare the volume of ammunition taken up by an AC/20 versus an AC/2. We’re also going to simplify the shape of each bullet into a rectangle to make the math easier (also to avoid the whole “stacking” problem), and also assume that the length of each round will grow proportionately to the “divide by 2” rate we saw in the bore sizes. Also, since the bore size is in metric, and BattleTech is a metric universe, we’re going to stay metric.

We begin with the AC/2. We know the diameter of the round is the same as the bore size (25 mm), so let’s assume the length of the round is about twice that, so 50mm. A rectangle is length by width by height, and through the power of math we get 31,250 mm3 (or 31.25 cm3)

I’m not going to bore you with the math for the AC/20 – because the numbers are vastly larger, it comes out to 16,730,854 mm3 (or 16,730 cm3, or 0.01673 m3).

Now we do a little more math. An AC/2 is 31.25cm3, times 40 rounds, means we need  1250 cm3 of space to hold those 40 rounds.

For an AC/20 with 5 rounds, we’d need 83,605 cm3. That’s actually 66 times larger than the space needed to house 40 AC/2 rounds.

But if a ton of ammunition holds a proportionate, “divide by two”  number of rounds, how can they not also take up the same space?! The only possible answer is one of our assumptions is wrong; the volume of each round does not remain proportional as you go up from AC/2 to AC/20.

In fact, we can work out what the proportion should be based on our above math. In order for the five AC/20 rounds to take up the same volume as forty AC/2 rounds, and keeping the known variable of bore size fixed (203 mm), then the length of each round would have to be a ridiculously short 0.76 mm.

Thus, through the power of math, we have determined that the reason an AC/20 range is so vastly reduced compared to an AC/2 is simply because instead of shooting bullets, the AC/20 fires armor piercing pankcakes.

Tasty, tasty Hunchback pancakes. Servin’ ‘em up, hot’n’fresh!

Alright, I know at 0.76 mm the thickness of these pancakes are a shave wider than a human hair, but you cannot deny the amazing image they produced.

Till next time, MechWarriors. Stay syrupy.

Community Outreach – Alex “Flyingdebris” Iglesias

This week on Community Outreach, we talk to one of the talented artists bringing BattleTech into the modern era: Alex Iglesias. Most notably the artist to create the designs featured in MechWarrior Online, we ask him what brought him to BattleTech, his inspirations, and how he goes about reinventing these classic images. Enjoy!

Sean (Sarna): Hi Alex! First off, thanks so much for agreeing to do an interview. To start, who are you? Briefly introduce yourself.

Alex: My name is Alex Iglesias, I’m 32 years old, and have been a ‘Mech fan for a significant portion of that length of time.  

Sean: When did you get into BattleTech?

Alex: Sometime between ’93-96.  Depending on whether you’d consider the cartoon, the Sega game, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, or the novels as officially “in.”

Sean: What BattleTech games have you played?

Alex: Sega Battletech Game, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, the Battletech CCG, MechWarrior 3, MechCommander, Virtual World Pods, Firestorm Pods, MechWarrior 4: Vengeance/Black Knight/Mercenaries, MechWarrior: Living Legends, MechWarrior Online, and Tabletop.

Sean: Your work in MechWarrior Online is pretty well known, but is there any other BattleTech products your art is featured in?

Alex: Creating art for the Tabletop books, doing some HUD design for MechWarrior: Living Legends, and I suppose the MWO designs carrying over to HBS’s Battletech game.

Sean: What’s your favourite ‘Mech?

Alex:  Don’t have an all-around favorite, more like situational favorites.  Urbies and Atlases (Atlii?) for humor, Crab and King Crab for looks, JagerMechs for dakka, and TSM equipped Berserkers because briefcases of doom are fun.

Sean: Was/is there any BattleTech artist you find particularly inspirational?

Alex: All of them to varying degrees, but especially Loose. He was probably my first exposure to BT art. The first fan art I started making back in the day was based off of his art.

Sean: What’re you doing right now?  I mean, in terms of your work.

Alex:  Working on MWO and MechWarrior 5 stuff.

Sean: I’m thinking I probably already know the answer to this, but could you tell us what stuff?

Alex: Sorry, can’t announce the specifics of what I’m currently working on. Suffice to say that it primarily involves ‘Mechs.

Sean: What’s your design philosophy when you recreate these iconic ‘Mechs?

Image courtesy of MechWarrior Online

Alex:  Depends on a few factors. In general, I do like to try to incorporate design elements of modern military vehicle systems, and mix it with a little bit of ‘rule of cool’. In the case of designs for MechWarrior Online, I try to factor in gameplay aspects of ‘Mech bodyplans and balance that against preserving the aesthetics that make it recognizable as a particular ‘Mech.

Sean: Let’s talk MechWarrior Online specifics. What was your favorite ‘Mech to design?

Alex: Probably still the King Crab.

Sean: Why was the King Crab your favorite?

Alex: King Crab just has a very unique body layout that was a lot of fun to draw, I am a fan of ballistic weapons like AC/20s, and I also like the claws.

Sean: Which ‘Mech was the hardest to redesign?

Alex: Hard to say, but probably the Mauler. Trying to figure out how to get those LRM shoulders to not be bullet magnets, but still look like a proper mauler was a real pain.

Sean: Which one was the easiest?

Alex: Not sure, none seemed so easy that it stands out in my memory.

Sean: What ‘Mech do you really want to redesign for MechWarrior Online?

Alex:  I would love to do some of the crazy loadout outlier mechs, like the Kraken or Piranha, or some of the really crazy looking ‘Mechs aesthetics-wise like the Blood Kite or Hoplite.

Sean: I would love to see you do up a Kraken. Alright, let’s take an example to see what your redesign process looks like. I’m currently a huge fan of the Wolfhound. How’d you go about redesigning that ‘Mech?

Alex: Typically, I grab as much existing art of the Wolfhound as I can, and sort of start trying to identify the design elements that make it visually distinct. In the case of the Wolfhound, you have the obviously canine inspired cockpit, a very polygonal laser encrusted torso, and a few other small elements in terms of armor panels and certain shapes throughout the body. I then start sketching a sort of blobby black-and-white silhouette that I try to get into a rough approximation of the body plan in order to start experimenting. I’ll then proceed to mess with and tweak the design for a long while, then proceed to start cleaning it up and increasing level of detail, though I’ll likely still keep experimenting well into this stage.  Once everything is nice and clean in gray scale, I’ll start working on the lighting, color, weathering, paint-jobs, and such.

Image courtesy of MechWarrior Online

Sean: Were their any ‘Mechs you were asked to redesign, but had so little imagery it was hard to get a feel for? Any ‘Mech that made you initially say, “Well, what do I do here?”

Alex: Not really, as there would almost invariably be a mini of it, and potentially some old CCG art of it.

Sean: Did it ever feel a little sacrilegious to add hips to ‘Mechs that never had them? Like the Nova, Viper, or Locust?

Alex: At first it kind of did, as there is some difficulty in preserving recognition of a certain chassis when giving a ‘Mech with no hips a pelvis, and for these ‘Mechs, no hips were very much a part of what made them standout. However, I never much thought that lack of hips made much sense.  Seems like it would make for a very bumpy and clumsy ride.

Sean: Yeah, I never understood how they could move at all. So, when you finally got the green light to redesign the Unseen ‘Mechs, how’d that feel?

Alex: Like Christmas.

Sean: For the Unseen ‘Mechs, there were usually 2 very different sets of images to choose from when redesigning. On some, like the Shadowhawk, it seems very true to the original. For others, like the Marauder, it seems more heavily influenced by the Unseen version. What made you go one way or the other with these ‘Mechs?

Alex: Mix of reasons. In the case of the Marauder, it’s factors like the original’s dorsal AC/5 actually being mounted in the side torso according to the stats, needing a more animation friendly pelvis and leg structure, some elements of personal taste, and other stuff along those lines.

 Sean: Anything else you’d like to share? Feel free to get shamelessly self-promoty.

Alex: I can be reached pretty easily on twitter @Flyingdebrisguy, I try to respond if I can and love to talk about ‘Mech stuff with people. Sometimes I post doodles. Also check out White Dragon Miniatures, they’ve got a 3D printed mini version of my old Fiddler ‘Mech design in their game.

Sean: Well, that’s all I had. Thanks again for doing this interview, I really appreciate it.

Alex: No problem! I look forward to seeing it.

Did You Know? Tale of the Unseen ‘Mechs

From the very beginning, BattleTech has been a game with a lot of controversy. Even the first edition name landed BattleTech in hot water. But another fateful decision would cast a long shadow over the fledgling universe, one that only recently has been put to rest. What I refer to is known colloquially as the Unseen ‘Mechs.

Cue spooky music.

Many of you older MechWarriors recall (or remember from our previous article) that the original ‘Mechs featured in BattleTech were actually all taken from Japanese anime, namely Macross, Fang of the Sun Dougram, and Crusher Joe. While these cartoons were middling at best, the mechas they featured were something the West had never seen before, and this novelty drew the owners of FASA to license the imagery from Twentieth Century Imports for use in their robot-inspired tabletop game.

That was 1984, the year the first edition of BattleTech (then called Battledroids) would be made. All seemed well at first; sales of the game were solid, and plans were already being made to expand the universe and release a second edition. Then, FASA got a letter in the mail from another company called Harmony Gold. The letter said they owned the rights to the mechas that FASA thought they licensed from Twentieth Century Imports, and they had to cease all use immediately.

Then, in 1985, a new show started appearing on TV called Robotech, which had robots that looked strikingly similar to the ones featured in BattleTech.

But it was the 1980’s, nobody had really ever heard of Macross, and FASA crumpled up that letter and threw it in the garbage. OK, we don’t know if they literally threw it in the garbage, but they essentially ignored it – at least, at first. Then, in 1985, a new show started appearing on TV called Robotech, which was essentially Macross recut and rebranded for the more refined American pallet, and wouldn’t you know, it had robots that looked strikingly similar to the ones featured in BattleTech.

Then, FASA got another letter from Harmony Gold, again saying they owned the rights to those ‘Mechs, and they had to pull them from their games. Now FASA was paying attention, and according to court documents, this “sparked an exchange of correspondence between the parties, including numerous cease and desist letters from Harmony Gold.” That exchange can be boiled down to a he-said, she-said where Harmony Gold argued they bought the rights to the Macross images, to which FASA countered by saying they owned them since they bought them a year earlier from Twentieth Century Imports. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In fact this went on for nearly a decade, and while there was a lot of animosity between the two companies, nobody was willing to sue. That is until 1994, when another company, Playmates, came out with a line of toys that looked suspiciously familiar.

Exosquad was a short-lived cartoon for which Playmates made little robot action figures. FASA had previously pitched the idea of a line of similar BattleTech-themed toys to Playmates, along with supporting sketches, but Playmates turned them down. Then, Playmates decided to throw a Timberwolf-esque design into their Exosquad line of toys.

That was enough for FASA, and they sued Playmates for copyright infringement, arguing the new toy line infringed on exclusive imagery owned and produced in-house. From the hindsight of 2017, it’s pretty easy to see that toy rather strongly resembles a Timberwolf. However, to a circa 1994 judge’s eyes, deciding a case between two long-feuding companies, the similarities weren’t enough, and the case was dismissed.

One good lawsuit deserves another though, and in a legal bait-and-switch, Playmates brought in Harmony Gold, who were all too eager to counter-sue FASA for copyright violations of their Macross-sourced imagery. “How’d they manage that?”, you ask. Well, Playmates also made a line of toys for Robotech, and they got their Macross image license from – you guessed it – Harmony Gold.

This case looked like it could go badly for FASA – having purchased the rights from Twentieth Century Imports meant that they were once removed from the original art production company, while Harmony Gold had gone straight to the Tatsunoko art studio to secure the rights for themselves.

However, part of that settlement meant that FASA could no longer use the ‘Mechs that were sourced from Macross.

Things were looking grim for our heroes, but lady luck was on FASA’s side. In a series of legal slip-ups, Harmony Gold provided FASA’s lawyers with quite a few letters during discovery that brought into question Harmony Gold’s sole ownership of the rights to Macross. The legal waters having been sufficiently muddied, Harmony Gold decided to settle rather than go to trial.

However, part of that settlement meant that FASA could no longer use the ‘Mechs that were sourced from Macross. This meant the end for the Wasp, Stinger, Phoenix Hawk, Crusader, Warhammer, Longbow, Rifleman, Marauder, and Archer.

The whole ordeal had left a foul taste in their mouths, so FASA didn’t stop at just Macross. They decided to end use of any art produced out-of-house for their ‘Mechs, which meant even the non-Marcoss ‘Mechs had to go. Thus, in 1996, the era of the Unseen ‘Mechs began.

For long-time BattleTech fans, it was a hard blow. Many had grown up with these ‘Mechs, and to have them yanked away was devastating.

Things stayed in that sad state for a long time. In 2001, FASA closed their doors and sold all their intellectual property, making the rebirth of these classics even more unlikely. But in 2003, a light shown from above on the poor Unseen. FanPro had purchased the license to the BattleTech tabletop game, and decided to bring back the Unseen ‘Mechs in a Technical Readout called Project: Phoenix.

Catalyst Game Labs would take up the mantle of BattleTech’s champions in 2007 and continue the fight for the Unseen.

Just because FASA wasn’t around didn’t mean that FanPro could start using the original Macross images though. To abide by the court settlement, they made brand new art based loosely on the original designs, but updated to match the technology used in 3067. While they weren’t quite the classics everybody remembered, the old boys were back, and better than ever.

Still, the pull of nostalgia is a strong one, and die-hard fans really wanted their old designs back. Catalyst Game Labs would take up the mantle of BattleTech’s champions in 2007 and continue the fight for the Unseen. In June 2009, for a brief, shining moment, it seemed like they’d secured the Unseen’s release, but those hopes were quickly dashed in August when they released a similar statement saying they may have spoken too soon.

For 6 more years the saga of the Unseen lingered on, until finally in 2015, Catalyst Games announced they would re-release the Unseen, this time with new art as true to the originals as they legally could make them. Considering the original art often seemed like it was drawn in pen on the back of a napkin (I kid, they have a delightful 80’s aesthetic), while the new art was clean, crisp, and often more closely corresponded with technical specifications, fans were pretty pleased with the new art, and the BattleTech community rejoiced. The Unseen had finally come home.

Now in 2017, it seems the tale of the Unseen ‘Mechs has finally come to a close. The Unseen have returned to the fold, and can be found in everything from the Alpha Strike table top game to MechWarrior Online, to yet to be released BattleTech and MechWarrior 5. We here at Sarna are certainly glad to have them back.

I should have the broad strokes right, but court documents from the 90’s can be hard to dig up. Got any juicy tidbits I missed?  Leave a reply in the comments!

Community Outreach – MRBC’s Doyle

Welcome to Community Outreach, where we here at Sarna reach out to learn more about other BattleTech communities and the people that shape them. This week we interview Doyle, the founder of the Mercenary Review and Bonding Commission (MRBC) league for MechWarrior Online. Enjoy!

Sean (Sarna): So, to start off, how about we begin with “who are you?” Briefly introduce yourself.

Doyle: I’m Matt Doyle. I’ve been playing MechWarrior pretty much since the start, competitively since the start. I’ve been involved in top-level European competitive teams since very, very early on. Ex-SJR [ed. Steel Jaguar], we broke away to form our own unit, which its current iteration is 9th Sanguine Tigers, and of course, I’m the founder of MRBC League.

Sean: What is the MRBC?

Doyle: Well, I would say it’s the most accessible and biggest, player-run competition these days in MechWarrior Online. We’ve been around a long time, so I guess we’re now the longest running as well. And yeah, it works as a league, hence the name MRBC League. It’s accessible to teams of all levels from the very bottom right to the very top. You can always enter at the bottom division and have fun, just as you can be a top-level team fighting it out for the title of Division A as well.

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