Category Archives: News

24 Hour Mechathon in support of Covenant House – May 20

image courtesy of No Guts No Galaxy

It’s not often that videogames cross paths with noble humanitarian causes, but when they do it’s a Very Good Thingtm

Just announced on the No Guts No Galaxy Forums, the 24 Hour Mechathon is, as the name might suggest, a marathon game of MechWarrior Online with all proceeds going to charity. This year’s recipient will be Covenant House, an organization dedicated to the assistance of abused, runaway, and homeless youth.

The announcement comes with a touching story from the event organizer RJBass3, who at age 18 “was living homeless on the streets of South Florida”. Covenant House rescued RJBass3 from a life on the streets and made sure he and many other disadvantaged youth received food, shelter, and healthcare while they grew into independent members of society. He would eventually go on to join the 228th Independent Battlemech Regiment, a unit in MechWarrior Online, where he would rise through the ranks to become executive officer of the 318th Heavy Assault “Swamp Foxes”.

Now, 25 years later, RJBass3 will give back to Covenant House in the best way possible: a 24 hour charity stream of MechWarrior Online. Both he and many other MechWarriors will begin streaming on Saturday, May 20th to raise money and awareness for Covenant House. The fine folks at No Guts No Galaxy will be hosting the stream on their twitch channel, and there will be many prizes and giveaways from both PGI (the developers of MechWarrior Online) as well as No Guts No Galaxy.

If you can’t make the stream on May 20th then don’t worry – you can make an advance donation to the 24 Hour Mechathon on the Covenant House event page here.

So tune in on May 20th to watch a some giant stompy robot action until their pilots fall asleep in their neurohelmets. And while you’re there, consider a donation to Covenant House. It is, after all, for the kids. 

Latest Q&A With HBS + New Beta Date

It was good news and bad news at the latest Q&A session with Harebrained schemes.

The bad news is there’s still no new date set for the backer beta, which has now been delayed two months since the Kickstarter estimated test date. As reported in the latest session hosted by our good friends at No Guts No Galaxy, the developers are still hard at work ironing out the kinks in BattleTech’s armor before they feel comfortable releasing it to outside testing.

The good news is that HBS is back to firing on all cylinders from their disastrous build upgrade in March, and HBS co-founder Mitch Gitelman says they are “narrowing in” on a beta test date announcement in the near future.

Mitch also announced a live test of BattleTech’s multiplayer game mode between himself and game director Mike McCain which has now been posted to the Harebrained Schemes YouTube channel. This is our first real look at BattleTech‘s gameplay, and I’m sure you’re all eager to see a preview of what is sure to be the hottest ‘Mech game in recent memory. 

The hour-long Q&A took place with Mitch as well as audio director Rob Piersol and game composer John Everest.  As befit their professions, they answered mostly sound related questions concerning BattleTech’s development. One thing mentioned during the sound testing was the inclusion of a rotary Autocannon into the game and how that sound developed with respect to modern day weaponry.

The mention of the Rotary Autocannon is a tad surprising as the game is ostensibly dated in the year 3025, many decades before the introduction of the Rotary A/C into BattleTech lore. Mitch also commented that there will be different manufacturers in the game, some of which selling the single-shot Autocannons and others selling the Rotary type. Could this be an indication of a departure from the classic BattleTech rules in the name of added gameplay depth?

Also confirmed during the stream will be an action dependent musical score and pilot death-screams similar to those found in the MechCommander series of games.  

While it’s a bit of a disappointment not to have an updated backer beta date announced, it’s good to hear that development is once again proceeding apace. We here at Sarna will be sure you bring your more BattleTech related news as it’s announced.

Update 2017-05-12: According to the latest KickStarter update, the Backer Beta will start June 1st! Fantastic!

Real Life ‘Mechs

method v2

image courtesy of Weekly.fr

BattleMechs, the giant, hulking kings of the battlefield, have been a cornerstone of the BattleTech universe since its inception. Powered by fusion engines and controlled by neurotransmitters, these enormous walking tanks have always been more science fiction than science fact. But what if I told you that’s no longer the case?

In the BattleTech universe ‘Mechs aren’t supposed to be invented until the year 2351, however many of you may be surprised to know that we’re making astounding advances in the field of giant robots even today. Here are just a few examples of how close we are to one day having a real ‘Mech of our very own.

Method v2


Height: 4.15 m
Weight: 1.6 t
Power Source: Electronic Battery Pack
Price: $8,300,000.00

The first of our robots to look like a real ‘Mech, the Method v2 is made by South Korean Hankook Mirae Technology. It was designed by Hollywood effects designer Vitaly Bulgarov (whose previous works include Transformers, Robocop and The Terminator) and then handed over to a team of 30 engineers which brought this giant robot to life.

The Method v2 is piloted by a single passenger who has paired joysticks to move the Method’s giant arms. Each joystick includes a set of small buttons aligned with the pilot’s fingers to open and close the Method’s fists. Forward and backward movement is controlled via foot pedals and powerful electric motors rather than myoelectric musculature.

“Our robot is the world’s first manned bipedal robot and is built to work in extreme hazardous areas where humans cannot go (unprotected),” said company chairman Yang Jin-Ho in an interview with the Telegraph, who has invested over $200 million in the project since 2014. That said, it’s still very much considered a technology testbed, and it has only ever been seen with a heavy duty suspension system keeping it upright. The Method v2 still has a long way to go before its first untethered steps.

MegaBot Mk. II


Height: 4.57 m
Weight: 5.4 t
Power: Gasoline Internal Combustion
Price: Unknown

Our next robot hails from the good ‘ol US of A, and it really shows. It’s a massive, 12,000 lb gasoline engine-powered robot that looks like an AgroMech with delusions of grandeur.

Less of a testbed for technology and more a vehicle for entertainment, MegaBots Inc. created the MegaBot Mk. II to compete in Solaris VII-style combat with the Japanese Kuratas (more on that robot later). So far it has only been seen armed with massive paintball guns, however the plan is to upgrade the Mk. II to become the Mk. III, which will have a chainsaw, massive crusher claws, and BB miniguns. All of it is more for show than real destruction as the intent of the Mk. II is for spectacle over slaughter.

As befits a ‘Mech that’s bound for destruction, everything about the Mk. II is low tech. Power is from a 430-horsepower gasoline burning engine powering a caterpillar system, along with powerful hydraulics for the limbs and torso. A gyroscope isn’t required as the Mk. II’s “legs” act more like a crane to extend the torso from its tank-like feet.

MegaBots so far hasn’t released the development costs of the project, but with powerful investors and $500,000.00 from a kickstarter campaign, the final price tag is well into the millions.  

Kuratas


Height: 4.1 m
Weight: 4.5 t
Power: Diesel Internal Combustion
Price: $1,353,500.00

When Kogoro Kurata was a child he always dreamed the future would have giant fighting robots just like in anime. After he grew up and became a blacksmith (a job that apparently still exists in Japan) he grew impatient with a future totally devoid of giant robots, so he set about building his own. Then, in 2012, he unveiled the Kuratas to screaming crowds, and the era of giant robots for the masses was born.

The Kuratas is controlled by 30 hydraulic actuators and powered by a diesel fueled engine. Its armament includes a 6000 round per minute rotary BB gun and a power fist controlled by a glove the pilot wears. The controls of the Kuratas are perhaps the most advanced of all: the Kuratas uses a combination of control stick and facial recognition to pilot (the Gatling gun is actually fired with a smile by the pilot). It can also be controlled via remote from a handy downloadable app. Movement is done by 4 wheels on the ends of the quad ‘Mech’s legs, but the designers hope to make the Kuratas fully ambulatory without wheels in the future.

So far the Japanese Kuratas is the cheapest of our ‘Mechs with a downright affordable price tag of a mere $1.35 million. Not only that, you can actually buy one yourself if you have that much money burning a hole in your pocket – the Kuratas is for sale direct from Suidobashi Heavy Industry and can be shipped direct to your door. You can even ask for a custom paint job.

The Kuratas is set to duel the Megabot Mk. III in August of 2017.

Big Dog


Height: 0.76 m
Weight: 101 kg
Power: Gasoline Internal Combustion
Price: $120,000.00

Our next quad ‘Mech is more like a quad Elemental (which I guess would just be a Sloth), but instead of having a human pilot Big Dog is completely autonomous. The plucky little robot is controlled by a human operator who tells the Dog where to go and what to do. It can be ordered to sit, lay down, run and climb over all sorts of terrain just like a real dog.

Created by Boston Dynamics after being awarded a contract from DARPA (to the tune of $33 million), the intent of Big Dog was to assist soldiers in the field as a sort of pack-mule. Soldiers have to carry a lot of stuff, and having a robot help out would sound appealing to any grunt. Big Dog is able to carry up to 400 lbs and is less likely than even the most trained soldier to fall over.

Powered by an internal combustion engine that feeds to an enormously complex system of sensors, gyroscopes, and hydraulic actuators, Big Dog took decades of development and partnership with MIT to make it the most stable autonomous robot the world has ever seen. Sadly, the military didn’t bite, and Big Dog was put back in the doghouse in 2015.

ANDROS Mark V-A1


Height: 2.43 m (with arm fully extended)
Weight: 0.36 tons
Power: Electronic Battery Pack
Price: $180,000.00

The last of our robots and the first to see actual military use is the Mark V-A1 bomb disposal robot. This little guy was designed by Northrop Grumman in 2004 for the express purpose of handling explosive or potentially hazardous material without risking any human lives.

To accomplish its job, the Mark V comes equipped with a hydraulically actuated extender arm that allows it to manipulate objects in its surroundings. It also has a 72x zoom, 360 degree camera that feeds to an operator equipped with a 15 inch LCD screen. It can be operated via wireless radio or by tethered cable if there’s concern that a technologically capable foe is in the area and might try to hijack the signal.

The Mark V sees use not only in the US army, but also in police forces around the world. Most notable in the Mark V service history was its use by the Dallas Police Department to kill a gunman that murdered 5 officers in 2016. The robot was armed with a pound of C4 explosive, and although the gunman tried to shoot the Mark V and disable it the little robot proved to be too tough to stop.

MechWarrior Online Skill Tree Round 2

Skill Tree

images courtesy of MechWarrior Online

After a brief hiatus as PGI reviewed player feedback and concerns, MechWarrior Online has begun another round of public testing on the proposed Skill Tree changes in an announcement on their website.

The previous Skill Tree was planned to be implemented in the April patch, however vocal opposition to the proposed changes to player progression caused the game’s developers to place a pause on its implementation. Players complained of lost progression, wasted c-bills tied to piloting modules set to disappear from the game altogether, and the potential for disaster as ‘Mechs with performance enhancing quirks were rendered useless when said quirks were similarly removed.

The developers have returned with a second offering of the Skill Tree which they hope addresses these concerns, however players remain cautious of this contentious change.

MechWarrior Online is no stranger to controversy. The history of the game is filled with poor communication and developer decisions that ran at times contrary to the will of MechWarrior fans. The introduction of “ghost heat” and pay-to-win consumables were rightly factious additions, however those did not engender nearly as much backlash as the addition of a third-person camera during the game’s release in 2013. At the time the MechWarrior Online forums were nothing but an endless stream of vitriol directed at the developers, only made worse by a lack of response with the broader community.

This lack of communication angered the founding player base, causing many die-hard MechWarrior fans to give up on the game altogether. Those that stayed would see the player base slowly dwindle as players either moved on to different games (a natural occurrence with all online games), or soured to the idea of paying hundreds of dollars for a few additional ‘Mechs. Those financial missteps can be well summarized by the gold-plated ‘Mechs offered during the Clan Invasion sale, a cash grab so blatant as to make headlines around the world.

Much to the relief of fans, the game saw a revival in 2015 with its release on Steam, where thousands of potential gamers would be drawn to the irresistible allure of big stompy robots. For their part, PGI has vastly improved in player communication and community support, with frequent weekly events that give loyal players a much needed boost to their in-game coffers.

The current opinion of the Skill Tree could be best described as skeptical. While there was certainly no opposition to the implementation of a skill tree, per-se, the player base was quite content to retain the current method of skill progression.

Once again there are vocal MechWarriors expressing deep concerns on the Skill Tree, such as the removal of ‘Mech enhancing quirks that may leave certain chassis helpless on the battlefield without ‘Mech specific skill nodes to save them. Others are concerned that a skill tree with hundreds of possible branches adds yet another layer of obfuscation to an already dense game, making the barrier to entry for new players insurmountable.

There is one thing for sure: PGI is right to be extremely cautious as they roll out the enhanced Skill Tree. The consequences of a misstep here could result in a mass exodus of players angry at the ruination of their beloved ‘Mechs.

And this time there’s no other Steam-like platform left for the developers to release the game to.

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.

MechWarrior Online Skill Tree Implementation Indefinitely Delayed

In an announcement on twitter as well as the MechWarrior Online forums yesterday, Piranha Games Inc. President Russ Bullock announced that the implementation of the planned Skill Tree Enhancement will be delayed as the game’s designers continue to develop and refine the Skill Tree.  

The overhauled skill system has been a contentious issue for the MechWarrior Online Community. The stated goal of PGI was to enhance the player experience by allowing the player to customize their mech’s performance to fit their goals, while also promoting a ‘Mech build diversity in the game. Additionally, the skill system had the long term goal of phasing out the “quirk” system, often criticized for adding a layer of obfuscation to ‘Mech performance that is difficult for new players to understand.

However, many players felt the Skill Tree enhancement were an attempt by PGI to roll back pilot progress and introduce a pay-wall for veteran players in order to regain their standing. This was considered especially galling, as some players have spent thousands of dollars on MechWarrior Online already. The player backlash was mounting, resulting in some pretty intense YouTube and twitter rants.

With yesterday’s posting, PGI has told players that they recognize the deficiencies of the proposed Skill Tree build, and will be taking into account player concerns regarding lost progress and pay-walling. With no updated release date provided, the intent is clear that PGI will go back to the drawing board in order to correct these shortcomings. Hopefully this marks a turn in the conversation, one which MechWarrior Online players will be quite happy to hear.

Are You Heading to Mech_Con?

On December 3rd, over in the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, Canada, Piranha Games is hosting a day long BattleTech and Mechwarrior themed convention.

A variety of events and fun stuff is planned.  Many guests from various community members and companies are planning on attending, such as Jordan Weisman and Randall Bills or online media personalities from Twitch and such.

Mech_Con

In the best traditions of the Solaris VII Games, one of the headline events is the first World Championship of MechWarrior Online.  Don’t you want to establish dominance and win that trophy?

Hey look, everybody knows that we don’t always get a chance to flip some dice and push around metal the way it was meant to be in real life.  I’m playing online with stuff like MegaMek.  So, getting the chance to play live with real enthusiasts, purchase stuff from live vendors, get some autographs, and rub noses and talk shop with with all of you folks is a great opportunity.

So what about you?  Are you heading over?  Why not check out all of the information they have to see if you are interested in getting your ‘Mech on, Vancouver style!

Interview with Jordan Weisman about the BATTLETECH game at GenCon 2016

At GenCon 2016 last weekend, we were treated to an awesome surprise: a playable Super-Pre-Alpha demo of BATTLETECH.

This game is going to be awesome.

The Super-Pre-Alpha demo was playable by anyone attending the convention, and featured a single mission where your lance attempts to capture a salvage base.  I had the opportunity to play it for a while and left feeling giddy and wanting more.  It’s exciting to see the game in such a playable state just 9 months after the Kickstarter wrapped up.

Afterward I stopped drooling over the game, I had a chance to chat with Jordan Weisman, creator of BattleTech (the table top game) and co-founder of Harebrained Schemes to talk about BATTLETECH.

BATTLETECH game

Nic Jansma (sarna.net): I spoke with Mitch Gitelman and Mike McCain of HBS last year here at GenCon 2015.  Since then, Harebrained Studios raised $2.7m in an extremely successful Kickstarter.  And only 9 months later, and you brought a playable demo to GenCon.  That’s awesome!  Your team has accomplished a lot.

Jordan Weisman: We have!  It’s exciting the way this development process has gone.

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Kickstarter Awards Arrive for BattleTech Video Game

Well, it arrived today!  I was one of many Kickstarter backers of the various levels for Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech Video game, slated for release next year.

Like many folks I backed at a high enough pledge to get both some nice BattleTech swag, as well as some strong comfort in helping to bring back a major video game opportunity for the franchise.  We need an infusion of marketing and interest.  Hopefully the latest video game will prove just the ticket!

It’s hard for me to find swag anywhere but online these days, so it was nice for me to open up my sweet bag of Draconis Combine swag.  Here it is!

Swag = Mag

Swag = Mag

I’m pretty stoked! I’m wearing my Draconis Combine pin to work tomorrow!

Did you order anything?  Has it arrived?  What did you get?  And who’s ready for some BattleTech?

Campaign Operations: First Look

Campaigning in Style since 2016

Campaigning in Style since 2016

Well that was fast!

After Interstellar Operations was being written for years before release, the next Operations books came quickly after.  Welcome, to Campaign Operations.

I’ve always wondered if other players play Campaigns as much as I tend to.  My playgroups, interests, games, and more are invariably part of an ongoing campaign.  It’s important for me because when I see the actual results of campaigns, folks play more realistically.  If you have a company of BattleMechs for a campaign, you might be more inclined to jettison one that’s critical in four spots, missing its right arm where the main weapon was, and just had a blasted hip actuator and is reeling.  You can save the unit by ejecting now, and then grabbing it post-battle, and just fix some internal stuff, rearm and re-armor it, and then grab a spare arm to weld back.  You might have to make some changes with weapon payload or something, but the unit is saved for later battles if you can salvage it.  A unit with both an XL Engine and CASE will just shut down when an ammo explosion destroys your left torso, not be destroyed.  Sure, it may not matter on the battlefield right then and there, but it’ll matter later for sure when you salvage it.  Folks are playing smart, long-game warfare, and worried about things like infrastructure, materiel, and support.  Campaign BattleTech supports a realistic form of warfare.

It’s rare that I don’t play some form of campaign.  They make me.  They invest me.

So it’s odd to me that we haven’t had a lot of Campaign stuff in a lot of more Core works, even heading back to earlier editions of the game.  We often have to wait for Campaign rules.  Now, we had some good ones sprinkled around in Tactical Operations and a few more rocking Strategic Operations with linked scenarios and such.  But it’s nice to have a new book that’s really focused on my zone of interest.  So hopefully there’ll be a lot of stuff here that sells me.  Now, there are still some things that are missing that I’d like help with as a GM of campaigns.

Take the industrial side of the Inner Sphere.  We know that there is a cozy relationship between the Military and Industrial complexes out there.  So how much would it cost to retool a Mechline to a new one with new technology?  What does that require?  So in a campaign, if I have a mercenary group with a good relationship with a particular company, how much would be needed to get your own ‘Mech design made?  Or how much to simply reconfigure a current line?  How about tanks?  And similarly, lots of missions will have units head out for stuff of an industrial nature.  “Hit that convoy!”  “Take out that construction group before they can finish building their defenses!”  Stuff like that.  How much money is salvaged from ferrocrete?  How about a few tons of industrial equipment?  If my mercenary unit is being charged for damages to local infrastructure, how much does it cost for various repairs?  TacOps has some of that, sure, but there’s a lot more out there I wonder about.

So I kept hoping that a Campaign-based rulesbook will talk about things like costs of military units to make, tooling factories, industrial finances, stuff like that.  But that still hasn’t really made it to the level I like.  Ah well.

Meanwhile we have a full-on Campaign Operations!

So what’s next?

Well you have the latest edition of rules like force creation and contracts.   Everyone has to get their Objective Raid on, right?  Buy some land.  Build a base.  And pretty much set up some shop.

And then skip past that for some formation building, and even some special pilot abilities.  Now I have to be honest.  I don’t have perfect recall by stretch of the imagination at all.  But there are abilities here I don’t remember in other products, like the Fist Fire ability that lets you fire weapons in the hand of a melee weapon (or punch) at the same time and hitting the same location the physical weapon hits.  And then we have stuff on conversions and campaigns for Chaos Campaign and Inner Sphere at War stuff.  And don’t forget solar system generation either.  I remember Beta Testing that for Interstellar Operations a while ago, but that was never included in it, and this is a lot more robust than other systems we had before.

So there’s a lot under the hood here to mention. Good stuff on my first read through, and I’m excited to try the new versions of some old rules, and new stuff as well.  Fist Fire away!

So the main question then is what are you looking for?  What excites you?  What’ll be the first thing your playgroup tries out?