Category Archives: Videos

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.

TALON Precision-Guided Rocket- Turning Dumbfire Hydra Rocket Pods into Streak SRM Launchers

Historically, rocket munitions have always been more effective when fired in swarms. From the 15th century Korean Hwatcha rocket propelled arrow launcher to the MLRS or Grad rockets of today to the Itano Circus prevalent in ’80s Sci-Fi anime- and by extension, BattleTech. Rocket swarms can be brutally effective- if a not very efficient means of hitting your target. But those are artillery type weapons. Equipment covered in BattleTech by Arrow IV Missiles. What about something closer in?

The mainstay of western rocket direct-fire weapons for the past 60 years has been the Hydra 70 2.75″ (70mm) rocket pod. The Hydra rocket series weighs in at a hair over 6 kg, has an effective range of 8,000 meters and has an absolutely ridiculous selection of warheads to choose from (19 from the Wikipedia list). White Phosphorus, Flechette, cluster munition, HE, smoke, you name it.

M261 Hydra 70 launch pod with two different munition payloads.

M261 Hydra 70 launch pod with two different munition payloads.

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Real World Lasers are getting Smaller, and MEANER

Ever since Jules Verne and H.G. Wells enticed citizens and warmongers alike with talk of energy-based beam weapons, mankind has been struggling to catch up to its own imagination. And naturally, BattleTech is chock full of it – mainly in the form of lasers, and mainly seen from the view of a 1980s-era war game designer as a futuristic weapon.

Which it is… considering that compared to projectile, missile, and even flame weapons, lasers (especially weaponized ones) are to quote Val Kilmer in Real Genius “a young science.”

If only Jordan Weisman and team FASA could have seen the advance of real laser weapons in the past ten years from the ’80s. Israel is probably the most advanced so far, with several types in operation, mainly for air defense. Didn’t think the laser AMS got its start in the 21st century did you? The Iron Beam, as it’s called, is the close-in part of a multi-tiered air defense system called the Iron Dome. Iron Beam is reported to have an 80-90% success rate, and can engage even artillery and mortar shells in mid-flight with “into the hundreds” of kilowatts of energy. It’s essentially a land based version of a laser/projectile defense system like those used on the USS Ponce – which can also engage surface targets. But these are massive units the size of inter-modal shipping trailers. Next up, laser weapons that can be mounted on a light vehicle.

ATHENA: Looks like something you'd fight in MechWarrior IV.

ATHENA: Looks like something you’d fight in MechWarrior IV.

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Russia’s Inferno LRM Carrier

I follow world geopolitics pretty intensely. I credit epic, political space opera settings like Dune and, of course, BattleTech for my many years of interest. I was browsing some of the latest Russian shenanigans in Ukraine and Syria when I saw a Russian armored vehicle that made me wonder if they’ve been buying from Quickscell.

The TOS-1 Buratino really is a mobile warcrime waiting to happen, as it uses only incendiary and thermobaric 220mm munitions in the 30-tube launch system. The rockets have a minimum range of 400 meters and a maximum effective range of 3.5km. Short enough of a range that the system and crew are quite protected by the armored chassis of a T-72 MBT. Well armored by artillery standards anyway. This video shows that they can expend their loadout very quickly:

Be afraid, mechwarrior. Be VERY afraid.

Be afraid, mechwarrior. Be VERY afraid.

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Man Fitted with Cybernetic Hand Wired Directly into his Brain can ‘Feel’ Again

BattleTech has a lot of amputee characters. Morgan Kell, Justin Allard, Kael Pershaw, Anastasius Focht/ Frederick Steiner, and Grayson Carlyle for instance; driving ‘Mechs is a dangerous business. But in the novels, most of the prosthetics were fairly advanced from a modern viewpoint. The characters could typically receive biofeedback and simulated nerve induction similar to the original limb. Some even had weapons built into them in a manner similar to cyberpunk settings like Neuromancer or Shadowrun.

By contrast, in real life, most prosthetic limbs seem more ornamental than functional. The can be cheaper and useful in the age of 3D printing, but they are still mainly wire and pulley affairs. The few electronic prosthetic limbs out there are usually specially-made affairs so expensive only the super-rich could afford — and are still clumsy and slow.

Hands are more than simple bone and meat clamps to hold things with. The motor cortex of the brain dedicates a full quarter of itself just to hand control- most of which is for fine motor control. The skin of the hands; particularly the fingertips and palms have some of the highest concentrations of nerve endings in the body. Simulating that in a prosthesis has been pretty much impossible. Until now.

Perhaps more refreshing than the water is the sense of accomplishment.

Perhaps more refreshing than the water is the sense of accomplishment in regaining control and a sense of touch.

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Chameleon LPS for Modern Combat Vehicles?

Did you know that powered active camouflage has been around since World War 2? Perhaps inspiring such things as the Star trek cloaking device, shift suit from Predator, and of course the Chameleon Light Polarization field from BattleTech, clever military planners used what was later called Diffused Lighting Camouflage to reduce the visual signature of naval vessels and aircraft at range.

The system consisted of a series of installed light fixtures with carefully calibrated light bulbs that mimicked the ambient brightness of a sunlit sky. The ship or aircraft didn’t need to be completely covered. In the case of the Yehudi lighting used in U boat hunting aircraft, just the leading edges of the aircraft were rigged, to make it less likely to be spotted by German crewmen during an attack run.

PL-01, Poland's new mini stealth tank looks the part of a science fiction battlefield.

PL-01, Poland’s new mini stealth tank looks the part of a science fiction battlefield.

 

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MegaBots vs. Kuratas Fight Kickstarter

MetaBotsWith both the challenge and acceptance videos from the MegaBots crew and team Suidobashi numbering nearly ten million views in little more than a month, it looks like this good-natured rivalry is turning more heads than just those belonging to us big stompy bot fans. Especially with BattleBots back on the air… which, of course, brings me to some of the heavy-hitters getting involved. It’s no longer just a team of spirited ‘mecha-nauts’ anymore.

I mentioned in my first article about the challenge that the co-founders of MegaBots were no strangers to the media. But the crew they’ve managed to put together for this undertaking honestly reminds me of a 21st century Team Bonzai. And going by the new concept artwork for the redesign, the new Mk.II looks like a mashup between Robot Jox and Rocky IV- just dripping with ostentatious patriotism.

All this concept art needs is Captain America's shield and Hasbro would be all over this.

All this concept art needs is Captain America’s shield and Hasbro would be all over this.

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MK2 Megabot vs Kuratas in Upcoming Solaris-Style Battle

ONE SHALL STAND, ONE SHALL FALL...

ONE SHALL STAND, ONE SHALL FALL…

After their unsuccessful Kickstarter in October of last year, the Oakland California-based MegaBots Inc. seems to have done the best thing they could do to stay active in the public arena. They picked a fight.

In late June via video, Andrew Stroup and Gui Cavalcanti challenged Suidobiashi Heavy Industries to a duel- A batchall, if you will, to fight against Suidobiashi’s current combat mecha- Kuratas. Neither Stoup nor Cavalcanti are unfamiliar with either engineering competitions nor high media exposure. Both appeared in the 2012 Discovery Channel reality show: The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius.

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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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Robot Jox: A Double Take

I recently watched reviews of this film by internet personalities That Sci Fi Guy and Cinema Snob, which prompted me to find and watch this ’90s sci-fi cheesefest. I’d probably rented Robot Jox a hundred times in the early nineties, but a few things stuck out at me that prompted a fresh look after a few decades.

Robot Jox is a 1990 film co-written by science fiction author Joe Haldeman and directed by Stuart Gordon. In a future after a nuclear holocaust, the international community has pulled together enough to form at least two socioeconomic factions. Somehow, war has been left behind, replaced by a kind of Circle of Equals involving giant robots sponsored and built by the factions and piloted by who amounts to a combination sports star and national hero. If you noticed my reference to the Clan Circle of Equals, believe me, I have a few reasons.

I can see this appearing in a TRO.

I can see the Matsumoto 14 appearing in a TRO as a resized heavy or assault ‘mech.

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