Category Archives: Historical

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!

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!

The Art of BattleTech – A Retrospective

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.

Locust

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 Crusher Joe 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.

Wolfhound

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.

Crab

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.

Marauder

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.

Atlas

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!

Did You Know? BattleTech Was Originally Called BattleDroids

In an alternate reality where Star Wars doesn’t exist and BattleTech reigns as the penultimate science fiction franchise, it wouldn’t be called BattleTech – it would be called Battledroids.

For the tale of how Battledroids would eventually become BattleTech we must head back to the hazy days of 1984. FASA had just released their first successful table top RPG in Star Trek, and were eager to expand their product line. Then, at a hobby and trade show, Jordan and company came across a vendor importing miniature model kits of giant robots from out of production anime such as Macross and Crusher Joe. Having overestimated their appeal in Japan, the model kits were being dumped on the North American market, allowing FASA to pick them up for a steal. Thus, BattleTech can trace its artistic origins to old anime (which would eventually result in the “Unseen” ‘Mechs). FASA reached out to those Japanese companies for licensing of the imagery, and the original Battledroids boardgame was born.

The combination of striking and exotic art, war machine romanticism, and epic history would prove to be a winning formula

While the art was licensed from anime, the game’s design and story were all American. Jordan had the idea of removing the mystical element of the anime robots and replacing it with a more classic affection that a World War Two pilot would have for their fighter plane or tank. Patrick Larkin and Steve Peterson would come up with the back story of a Star League, Great Houses, Succession Wars and centuries of warfare. The combination of striking and exotic art, war machine romanticism, and epic history would prove to be a winning formula, eventually producing a much larger universe than the original board game intended.

But it wouldn’t be BattleTech without legal issues. After 5000 units in sales, Lucas Arts sent a letter to FASA explaining that the term “droid” was trademarked to the huge Star Wars franchise, and demanded that FASA stop using it in their games. Explaining in an interview, Weissman contended the word “droid” predates Star Wars, however would eventually back down and change Battledroids as not only could FASA simply not afford a legal battle with a much larger company, but FASA was also in negotiation with Lucas Arts to produce a line of Star Wars board games. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour in the face of a double financial whammy, Battledroids became BattleTech in its 2nd edition printing.

The contents of a Battledroids box would look mostly similar to earlier BattleTech printings, but have a few key differences. First, only 10 ‘Mechs were present (the Stinger, Shadow Hawk, Archer, Griffin, Warhammer, Phoenix Hawk, Marauder, Crusader, Wasp, and Rifleman). Next, there were actually three sets of rules depending on how into the game mechanics you wanted to get. Basic rules would greatly simplify the game, not even taking into account differing ‘Mech loadouts and armor, or even torso twisting. Advanced rules would add much of the board game’s rules back in, but leave out a few complications like critical hits and pilot skill rolls. Expert rules largely resemble the rules of today, with some differences in ‘Mech construction (Jump Jets only weighed a half a ton at any ‘Mech size, for example).

And of course, you got 2 little plastic models of a Griffin and Shadow Hawk – the very models that Weissman picked up from that anime vendor and inspired it all.

We really should thank Lucas Arts for forcing the game to become BattleTech. The term would eventually produce BattleMech, giving us the word ‘Mech we all know and love.

And by the way; ‘Mech is trademarked. Just incase Star Wars wanted to use it.

Where Are The Bouncers?

Green Birds and Ham

In my copy of the Jade Falcon Sourcebook, it talks about the various battles of the Falcon Corridor of the Clan Invasion.  Many of these vignettes are just quick little paragraphs about the fall of an entire world.

On Page 36 it discusses the fall of Alkalurops to the ongoing Clan Assault.  And the results are very simple.  The planet is going to fall.  In addition to the local militia, there is the Bouncers, a combined arms regiment there defending.  The major cities and trade of the area is taken very quickly, but much of the outer-lying areas, as well as the Dravinna Vale will remain in the hands of the defenders, including most of the Bouncers.

And then, that’s it.  The Sourcebook says:

Just days after the planet’s surrender, these forces formed organized and effective resistance, attacking the invaders near the ore-processing factories of Dravinna Vale, using the valley’s perpetual fog to cover their activities.

That’s it. We know the planet falls.  We know it’s under the command of Falcon, but I’ve always wondered what happened to The Bouncers.  Did they evacuate?  How successful was the campaign on the planet?  I don’t know.

We know that numerous mercenary units were destroyed in the Clan Invasion, such as the 12th Star Guard.  So The Bouncers could have been destroyed.  In my campaign I have them cut down to less than half their force, get off-world, and then begin to rebuild with other contracts out in the Chaos March.

But I’ve always been obsessed with The Bouncers. What happened to them?  Where are they now?  Who were they?  What’s their history?  A regiment, even a mixed one, is not a small force, so how did they become The Bouncers?

And that’s one of the great things about the BattleTech universe.  There’s always something out there to grab a hold of and make it yours.  The huge sprawling universe is such a large, extreme place.  And while there is a lot of definition here and there, there’s a lot more to consider and run with.  A lot more decisions.  And little passing phrases here and there to tantalize them.

So what is your little obsession out there?  Is there a unit, a planet, a group, or something else to tantalize you?  Something that’s always been out there, with just a hint of information to intrigue you?

Who are your Bouncers?

What If? – The Clans Won the Great Refusal

We’ve all done it. At some point in our lives as BattleTech fans, each one of us has taken a look at how something played out and asked, “What if….?” This series of articles will attempt to take a look at both pivotal and seemingly unimportant events in the BattleTech timeline and ask this very question. My take on how events might have happened may be different from yours. Please, feel free to share in the comments how you think an event might have played out.  See the previous What If? The War of 3039.

One of the most pivotal and, perhaps undervalued, plot points in BattleTech history is the Victor Steiner-Davion led Star League’s victory in the Great Refusal on Strana Mechty in 3060.

But what if the Clans had claimed victory in the Great Refusal, validating their legitimacy claims for the invasion of the Inner Sphere and calling into question the Truce of Tukayyid?

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What If? – The War of 3039

We’ve all done it. At some point in our lives as BattleTech fans, each one of us has taken a look at how something played out and asked, “What if….?” This series of articles will attempt to take a look at both pivotal and seemingly unimportant events in the BattleTech timeline and ask this very question. My take on how events might have happened might be different from yours. Please, feel free to share in the comments how you think an event might have played out.

The War of 3039. It is sometimes forgotten as a pivotal war in the Inner Sphere. Post Fourth Succession War and pre Clan Invasion, this little war manages to fill a pocket niche in the BattleTech timeline that, while on the surface may seem unimportant, ended up as potentially the most critical event in the Inner Sphere leading up to the Return of Kerensky.

Imagine with me, if you will, what the Inner Sphere might have been like should the War of 3039 had never happened. If Hanse Davion had not decided to pursue his bitter rivalry with Takashi Kurita and launch a full scale invasion of the Draconis Combine, perhaps the Clans would have found a very different Inner Sphere when they arrived at the Periphery ten years later.

So what might have changed?

Well, the obvious change would be the stark lack of Free Rasalhague Republic conveniently located in the center of Clan Wolf’s invasion corridor. But let’s get back to that in a moment.

I want to focus first on the two main players of the War of 3039, House Davion and House Kurita.

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Your Favorite Scenario Packs

Scenario Packs and their ilk have been with us for almost as long as we’ve had the game. From the first campaigns to the latest Turning Point, we have seen a ton of scenario packs released down through the ages.

Sure, a handful of scenarios like UnboundLiving Legends and Necromo Nightmare might strike some fans as problematic from a variety of angles. Sales of modules, adventures, and scenarios are almost always going to be among your worst sellers.  And it’s no surprise that we’ve seen a variety of different takes of the Scenario pack, whether it’s replaying a major battle or campaign (Luthien, Tukkayid, Twycross) or whether it’s running the battles of a famous unit (Northwind Highlanders, Tales of the Black Widow Company), many scenario packs are repeats of famous aspects of the universe.  But when they don’t sell well, you get different flavors, such as generic ones like Operation: Flashpoint, Operation: Stiletto or those that push the limits of the universe (of which Living Legends is clearly the blatant example).

With that stated, what are my three favorite scenarios?

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The Clans of Kerensky, Part Three: Call to Revival

This article is Part 3 in a series on the Clans. The ongoing series attempts to cover the impact that the Clans, both as a society and as individual entities, have had on the Inner Sphere, since their arrival in 3050 to the present year of 3145.

The series began with Part One: Rise of the Clans and continued with Part Two: Crucible of Gold.

The Symbol of the Clans

The Great Debate

At the close of the Golden Century, the Clans found themselves increasingly divided along the ideological lines that separated the Crusader philosophy from the Warden mindset. As all of the Clans eventually declared for one philosophy or the other, a growing call in the Grand Council from the Crusader Clans necessitated constant delaying actions from the Wardens.

Crusader Clans insisted that a return to the Inner Sphere was imminent and unavoidable. They wanted to bring the rule of the Star League back to the Inner Sphere, once again uniting all of mankind under a single banner. While the idealism that existed within the Crusader Clans might have once come from a good place, which is known as Aleksandr Kerensky’s Hidden Hope Doctrine, the Crusaders had taken the vision of their Founder and crafted from it a call to arms to conquer and subjugate the “barbarians” of the Inner Sphere who has turned their backs on the Star League as the shining hope for mankind.

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BattleTech: First Somerset Strikers and Sourcebook Retrospective

I think the BattleTech cartoon was probably as close the franchise came to making the mainstream of popular culture. I could include the videogames (which I have discussed before) but the cartoon took place during a time where big fighting robots were generally in the mainstream anyway. MechWarrior 2, Robot Jox, and of course blockbusters like Terminator 2. Even Japanese distributors were beginning to test the US market with titles like Patlabor and different flavors of Gundam. Big robots were beginning to become as much a staple of science fiction as the space opera. (Some media, like Gundam and BattleTech combined the two).

So how does one market a mech-centric space opera towards children? As seen with other US franchises like Exosquad, don’t sugar coat it. In space operas, there are big wars going on, and people die. 1st Somerset Strikers doesn’t show death like Exosquad does, but one of the plot developments banks on one of the major characters failing to eject from his devastated BattleMech before it explodes and being thought dead by his compatriots for most of the season. Likewise, though it specifically mentions in the official BattleTech canon that the Jade Falcons evacuated the city of Romulus before glassing it with orbital bombardment, it was never brought up on the show.  So the viewer thinks they just watched an entire city of people get vaporized. Heady stuff. I really wish they had made more of a deal of the destruction of Edo on Turtle Bay later in the season, considering that most of the inhabitants in fact WERE massacred by the Smoke Jaguars (one of the reasons that clan was targeted for termination during Operations Serpent and Bulldog)

 

promotional artwork for the animated series

Promotional artwork for the animated series

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