Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games, “The Crescent Hawks’ Inception”

 

Welcome back to Did You Know?, the Sarna feature where we take a look at some of the more obscure corners of BattleTech history. We’re kicking off a series on retro video games, and what could possibly be more retro than the very first BattleTech computer game than BattleTech: The Crescent Hawks’ Inception?

Originally released in 1988, this bad boy was made for the original Commodore 64. I’m not nearly old enough to remember these ancient personal computers, but if they’re anything like the Nintendo 64, it must’ve been revolutionary for its time.

To get this game to function on a modern computer would require running a virtual machine on Windows and possibly some light computer engineering knowledge that I simply don’t have the time or inclination to learn. Luckily, we live in the age of the internet, and no matter how old or obscure the game, someone has done a Let’s Play series about it on YouTube.

We have MrTatteredRags to thank for this lovely Let’s Play that goes from beginning to end of The Crescent Hawks’ Inception, which I will henceforth shorten to simply CHI. Produced by Westwood Associates (the developer that would eventually become the legendary Westwood Studios of Command & Conquer fame) CHI followed the standard format for most Infocom games at the time–that being a text-based adventure game with a few basic animations and the most god-awful sound effects possible.

Just take a few moments to experience the game’s opening. This is bad, even by 1988 standards.

Full disclosure: I’ve experienced text-based adventure games before, but they were usually only in the form of a brief joke scene in a more modern game. The only game I’ve ever played that took the genre seriously was Space Ranger, a Russian top-down space adventure game that mixes RTS and RPG elements as well as the aforementioned text adventure portion.

Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can endure an entire game that’s just wandering around Legend of Zelda-style until you have to do some light reading and option selection, but the late ‘80s were a vastly different time for gaming.

In CHI, you play as Jason Youngblood, a young military cadet on the Steiner planet of Pacifica (aka Chara III). You’re the son of war her Jeremiah Youngblood, the Lyran HQ’s security chief and someone who oddly has the ear of Archon Katrina Steiner.

Crescent Hawk 4

He’ll soon die and leave you in charge of a guerrilla campaign to overthrow invaders from the Draconis Combine, but before then you’re just a cadet in training. So you can wander around and do some training missions to learn how to use guns, rifles, and even a bow and arrow.

Learning how to use a bow and arrow seems oddly low-tech in the world of BattleTech, but again, it was the ‘80s. You weren’t a warrior until you learned how to kill a man with a bow and arrow.

You can also go on training missions in ‘Mechs–ostensibly the whole reason why you’re there. Your choice of machine is either a Locust, Wasp, or the rarely seen Chameleon. There’s little to say for the animation of any particular ‘Mech with the 8-bit designs basically getting the overall outline correct without providing much detail.

Crescent Hawk 3

Eventually on one of your training missions, the Draconis Combine invades, destroys the training academy, and leaves you alone to assemble a crack team of Drac-fighting commandos including a ‘Mech tech, a field nurse, and even a former Kell Hound. This is when the game really picks up and where your earlier training determines how easy you find the game’s remaining tasks.

It turns out that the Dracs are on Pacifica to raid an old Star League-era weapons depot that your father discovered while stationed here. You also find out that your father was actually the commander of an elite covert operations team called the Crescent Hawks, and as you wander around Pacifica gathering allies you adopt your father’s unit name and assume command.

I guess “cadet” makes you the ranking officer on planet?

There are a lot of holes like this in the general plot of the game. Apparently the Crescent Hawks are also somehow related to the Kell Hounds (because almost everything good and noble in the Lyran Commonwealth is related to that mercenary company) and the Crescent Hawks were given carte blanche from Katrina Steiner herself to operate as an independent military unit.

Crescent Hawk 5

Another thing I found somewhat odd was how everything in the game costs C-bills. That’s fine, Lyrans are merchants after all, but you’d think being a guerrilla group operating on a recently invaded planet that the locals might be a bit more eager to help out with donations.

Perhaps the greatest sin this game makes, however, is how it ends with such an obvious setup for the sequel (SPOILER ALERT!). You barely resolve anything: Jason locates the Star League-era cache, finds his dad’s ‘Mech (a PHX-HK2 Phoenix Hawk LAM of all things), and you escape the planet via dropship with a communique direct from Katrina offering you a commission in the Lyran Armed Forces.

Phoenix Hawk LAM

But no, you refuse her offer to go looking for your father, who must surely still be alive since you found his ‘Mech (I know there are other reasons too, but that was the big “payoff” near the end-game).

As much as the whole game reads as BattleTech fan-fiction rather than anything even remotely approaching canon, it seems that Crescent Hawks’ Inception was well received by the fan base. So well received that it became written into canon in subsequent official publications from FASA.

Personally, I think that CHI got a lot of goodwill simply because it was the first of its kind. Looking at it with the critical eye of someone who came of age during the days of MechWarrior 2, the plot was flimsy and at times nonsensical, the sound effects were either hilarious or nonexistent, and the game’s visuals were what I’d imagine a coked-out pixel artist’s rendition of Robotech would look like.

On the plus side, CHI needed to happen in order for every other BattleTech game to come after it. Plus, the Phoenix Hawk LAM is always pretty cool.

I give it two stars out of five.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

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About Sean

Hooked on BattleTech at an early age, Sean honestly can't remember whether it was the cartoon, the serial novels or the short-lived TCG that did him in. Whatever it was, his passion for giant shooty robots never died, so now he writes about the latest and greatest in 'Mech related news.

11 thoughts on “Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games, “The Crescent Hawks’ Inception”

  1. CF

    1) We have in our house a fully-operational Commodore Amiga, so The SO can play her collection of Old Video Games (not including _CHI_, tho’). If one has a Retro Gaming Expo in one’s bailiwick, one could probably acquire a C64 for a reasonable price, and a copy of _CHI_ as well.

    2) For what was possible with computer graphics at the time, this was cutting-edge. Thanks to Moore’s Law, among other factors, this only seems archaic and awful.

    3) Yes, we actually did play games which involved lots of wandering around, and occasional reading; there was in fact a time in Video Game History where one *didn’t* have to have the reflexes of a ferret on an eightball and four cans of Rip-Its to be able to play.

    4) The bow-and-arrow appears in the paper _BT_ RPGs — and can be quite useful for Sentry Removal, Climbing Rope Deployment, and other tasks.

    5) In Guerilla Ops, rank doesn’t count for much; it’s whether or not one can get people to follow one. That said: If everyone else in the friendly military is fertilizing daffodils, it’s entirely possible a Cadet may well be the ranking officer.

    6) During Enemy Occupations, the locals are usually fairly loathe to assist guerillas, esp. if the invading force has a habit of massacring locals who do so. The invader is the Draconis Combine — Do The Math.

    “Is the rest of your history *that* faulty, Ensign?”

    Reply
  2. Netzbummler

    Also, it needs to be noted that both games (CHI and CHR) are available for MS DOS, too. You need DOS Box to run them, though.

    Reply
  3. HammerMaster

    Having played when game was new this was NASA tech. Cutting edge for the time. I feel your 2 star review is skewed in having been introduced to MW2. I’d give a strong 3.5 to 4. I grew up with mudpies and then the original Pong box. This was AMAZING! I also still love the intro music. This was done with the little motherboard speaker. Not real speakers. Thanks for reviewing.

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  4. Frabby

    I too played the original back in the day. I can understand both the review and the comments – the game was awesome in its time, but naturally hasn’t aged well. I’ll note though that it is surprisingly true to the boardgame rules, with some 1st Ed. MechWarrior RPG elements. That’s more than the HBS game can claim, technically.

    As for the story, yes you need some suspension of disbelief for the setup and Jason’s heroics… but have you ever read a Stackpole novel? Larger-than-life superheroes in shining (power) armor were a staple of early BattleTech, before it took a darker turn starting in the Civil War era.
    Back then I’d rate the game 4 out of 5 stars. By today’s standards, it’s not even competing. But if HBS or Piranha would make a remake, I bet the fanbase would go crazy.

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  5. DW75

    I have to say i pity the reviewer for being unable to appreciate a game just because he’s spoiled with modern graphic and sound. And his lack of age is very obvious in a way that is not flattering. Dismissing something because its old or you don’t understand it is a bad bad idea. Personally, the C64 was the 3rd generation of computers i played with, the previous being the C20 and before that Acorn Atom. The C64 being called ancient just makes me laugh at the ignorance.

    Having played the CHI on my 286 back in the 80s, at the time it was easily one of my best PC games, even if it had little chance of competing with many of my C=128(C64+) and later on, Amiga games.
    CHI also bears the distinction of being the first game i did .exe file modding on.
    Want a mech with 10 PPC or LRM20 and 200 heatsinks? No problem!
    Oh yes, despite no mech in the game using any LRMs or PPCs, and only the Urbanmech using an AC, all those weapons is in the gamefile.

    The game also had a bunch of hidden little “wow”, like how you could escape the first real fight with the DC WITH a mech(only way of playing the rest of the game with a Chameleon), either by defeating the 3 or 4 Jenners(really hard, but not impossible, took me about a dozen attempts though), or by running away the right direction. Or if dispossessed, you could get yourself a new mech by fighting in the mech arena, blow up the outer wall and run off with the hired mech, or for extra fun, draw your opponent with you and defeat them outside the wall and with lots of luck, salvage it and suddenly have two new mechs.

    Apologies for not being nice, but the ignorant and arrogant dismissiveness of the “review” really hurt it BADLY. Made it look very poor.

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  6. Mork D

    Next time, can we get a review from someone who’s actually familiar with the era in which the game came out? We’re talking 30 years ago, when hard drives in personal PC’s were uncommon and we were still booting off floppies. Can you imagine this kid playing a 1986 4-color CGA palette game? Someone send this kid a copy of 1984’s all-ASCII Drugwars.

    Conflating the N64 and the C64 because they share the ’64?’ Lazy. That’s a 64 bit processor in the Nintendo vs the whopping 64 kilobytes of RAM the Commodore came with. (Yes, computers used to come with less than 100 KB of RAM and still cost over a thousand bucks.) You literally can’t compare the two, it’s like comparing the gas tank capacity of one car vs the number of cylinders in another. I’d venture to say the C64 did a lot better in its era than the N64 did, but neither has anything to do with the other.

    This game was awesome when it came out, no matter how goofy the plot. ‘Mechs moving around the screen blasting things and stepping on enemy humans. I remember being bummed that the game featured almost exclusively Light ‘mechs, but meh. The end puzzle was excruciating to work through, but I liked investing in the high-risk stock through Comstar (yeah, can you tell the game was from 1988, in the middle of the Reagan-Bush rah-rah Wall Street era, they felt it necessary to include a stock market, of all things, in the game.) (Which this reviewer didn’t mention and probably didn’t realize was in the game.)

    Reply
  7. Cartwright

    I may have logged more hours playing this video game than any other. Starting out on the Tandy 1000EX and even now loading it up in DOSBox to connect with my inner child.

    Like DW75, I spent some time with a hex editor to modify either the save game files or the exe to add in Mechs that were not intended and created a few of my own. The game as designed primarily involves light Mechs but at one point I modified all the Mechs in the exe to be medium to heavy Mechs (mostly going up by 20-30 tons on each Mech). As mentioned by DW75 there are weapons that can be used that don’t appear in the regular game. Because of the mech designs used in the game, LRMs and Autocannons do not appear in playable Mechs, but the programmers did include them in the game. If you add Autocannons to a mech you have to set the ammo to infinite, because the Mech-It Lube won’t sell you reloads. But you can get reloads for the LRMs, go figure. You can increase the armor, internal structure and number of heat sinks on a Mech. Making changes to the Mechs in the exe can be dicey because not all the values that you would edit in the save game file can be edited in the exe. But when you do it that way, you don’t have an Atlas in your save game going up against a Locust. Swapping the Jenners for Dragons made escaping the Citadel with a Warhammer a lot more challenging than the Chameleon.

    When looking at the game box as a kid it drove me nuts that the screenshots on the box showed a full lance of Mechs, but I could only get 3 at most. This is because you can only get 3 pilots (Jason, Rex and pilot rescued from prison). But if you edit the same game you can make everyone a pilot. The game will only allow you to have 4 Mechs and 8 party members in total by editing the same game but that’s better than the regular limit of 3 mechs and 5 party members (Jason, Rex, pilot, tech, med). The same picture shows 8 party members unmounted. This is possible, but only if you have 8 party members, save the game outside the Starport and then edit the save game to have everyone unmounted. The game doesn’t actually care if no one is in the Mech. But for the sake of safety, you’re further ahead to keep everyone inside your Mechs.

    My favorite elements in the game were the bits they made sound risky but weren’t at all. The prison break, the weapons shop (where you get free laser rifles/pistols) and sneaking into the Mayor’s house to play the disc from your father.

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  8. MJK (btg) poster

    This was the first battle tech game I ever had, even before getting my table top kit. It’ll always hold a special place in my heart. I can still replay it any time and enjoy it, sure as it ages flaws stick out. Reading the comments brought out so many feels, like the box art… wow I remember that driving me bonkers as a kid. Hearing about there’s a hidden spider and hunting for it for days as a kid.

    I didn’t know about the mod work was doable, now I have to replay it again and see what crazy antics I can start.

    Perhaps a lot of how I feel about it was due to the time it was rather new when it came out and so was I (a poor pun for me being young) was so much I wanted expanded on.

    To the author I could ramble a lot longer but I feel it was fleshed out well and I don’t want to go hard on you for writing about it. I’m glad you reminded many of us about it and opened the door for younger fans of BT. Do yourself a serious treat and play Revenge. I still play it and never tire of that either. Hope you can give it a more fair review as it’s old as well.

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  9. Will

    I had the DOS version of this came that came as 3-set on CD with CHR and Mechwarrior 1! Loved this game, will need to hunt down a working copy to relieve it. One thing I distinctly remember is how you could invest in the stock market. On one of my first play through the one I picked (Defiance Industries?) had it’s value go through the roof; I was awash in C-bills the rest of the game. To this day CHI remains the only proper Battletech CRPG, and definitely deserves a place in Battletech history.

    Reply

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