From its earliest days, the art of BattleTech has evoked a strong emotional connection from its audience.
Awe, fear, joy – the sight of these giant death machines has struck a chord with many a fan.
With such emotion, and with many companies paying for the privilege, the original board game has fueled the imagination of countless artists, each bringing a slightly different vision of our most cherished ‘Mechs.
Today we put in our fancy monocle, start sticking out our pinkie finger whilst holding a saucer of tea, and take a critical look at the art of BattleTech and how it has evolved over the years.
We begin our analysis with a classic design first seen in BattleTech’s second edition. I can think of no other ‘Mech that better exemplifies the evolution of design that has been a hallmark BattleTech.
First, on the left, we see the original work penned by Duane Loose, whose Macross inspiration can be clearly seen in this image from the 3025 TRO. Next we see a logical refinement, nearly identical but cleaner, more streamlined. Third we see the Phoenix design, a complete reimagining of the chassis due to a legal dispute preventing the ‘Mech’s original artwork from being published. Fourth we see the modern iteration of the Locust for the Alpha Strike miniatures game. Note the return of Unseen design elements, such as the chin turret, while retaining the somewhat bulkier legs and hips assembly of the “phoenix” design. Finally, the most modern incarnation by Alex “Flyingdebris” Iglesais, which takes consideration of MechWarrior Online’s mechanics for his version, removing the turret but retaining the squat legs and fuselage.
A ‘Mech that has seen perhaps less change but no less refinement is the Wolfhound. The earliest illustrations seem almost quaint when compared to the later works.
The first image is almost like a babe taking its first tentative steps, the artist’s perspective lines still showing around the shoulder cowls and large laser. The second has more bold movement, but still seems unsure and hesitant. Next we find the Wolfhound has finally found its stride, confidently surging forward while firing. The artist has clearly taken into account the design’s full-head ejection system by giving the cockpit the boxy appearance of a spacecraft. Finally we see the Wolfhound as a mature adult, striding with purpose and without the need for flashy fireworks. Game design considerations take the fore once again, as the rear-firing medium laser is moved to the front. The boxy cockpit also found a few additional angles while retaining its essential form. The Wolfhound’s evolution is subtle, and yet profound.
I have always found the Crab to be a delectably mysterious ‘Mech.
The earliest iteration’s right claw enclosed laser made perfect sense, but the closed fist of the left hand would always fly in the face of the technical readout’s insistence that the left arm actually possessed another large laser. Then we see what would appear to be a laser atop the left hand, but find the small laser mounted on the head to be absent. Our third refinement would not only find that small laser, but add a measure of symmetry to the design by giving it claws in both arms. And finally in our last work we find the elusive cockpit, conspicuously lacking from all previous imaginings of the chassis.
The Marauder is a delightful case study of law, game mechanics, and lore battling for supremacy in art.
The first presents the ‘Mech in all its imposing glory, 80’s stylized background providing a sense of scale. The second image gives us some insight as to the ‘Mech’s true personality, all carefree and whimsical. Dark days are ahead for our jolly death machine, as legal issues would force a drastic design change.
In our third picture we find the Marauder to be all business, having donned the serious attire of a BattleMech beset by lawyers. But as soon as the litigious atmosphere recedes we see our friendly Marauder has returned, perhaps somewhat chastened by his time as an Unseen ‘Mech. Finally, the MechWarrior Online version combines the earnestness of the Phoenix era design with the eccentric flare of the original; most notably one sees the autocannon slightly offset to the right, more in keeping with the technical design specifications of the chassis than an artist’s imaginings of the classic machine.
Few ‘Mechs are as timeless as the Atlas. Despite its years, we see that the overall look has hardly changed at all. If anything it has only gotten more brutal and monstrous – the eyes becoming sunken slits, the cockpit descending beneath and betwixt two shoulders more massive than its skull-like head. A truly fearsome sight.
Most interesting about the design is how long it took for the art to actually catch up with the armament. In the beginning we see clearly the arm-mounted laser, SRM-6 and Autocannon, but the LRM-20 is nary to be seen. In the next two works we see what appears to be two LRM-10s rather than the single LRM-20 the ‘Mech actually carries, and one of the rear-mounted medium lasers seems to have found it’s way to the fore. The most modern depiction of the Atlas retains the double LRM-10 as a nod to the artist’s which came before, while also bringing the other rear-mounted medium laser to the front so it can once again be with its sibling. Unfortunately, modern Atlas pilots will no longer have satellite television, as the dish antenna on the cockpit has been removed due to budget cuts.
All of these are fine examples of where BattleTech art has come from, as well as where it is going. We here at Sarna can’t wait to see what artists will imagine next.
We leave you with a question: what ‘Mech do you think has evolved the most drastically? Leave your reply in the comments!