BattleTech ("BT" for short) is a science fiction universe and media franchise. Originally conceived in 1984 as a fictional background setting for a futuristic wargame, it was since expanded into an intricate fictional universe by various authors through a multitude of media.
The BattleTech universe
- (See also: History)
Inception and evolution
- See also: BattleTech eras
In its earliest descriptions in the Battledroids rulebook the game was set around the year 3025 in the Succession Wars era, a dystopic future where centuries of warfare following the demise of the once-mighty Star League had all but destroyed mankind's previous achievements. Advanced technology was not understood anymore. Vehicles and machinery could hardly be maintained, and ritualized wars were fought over ancient spare parts or even water.
This state of affairs obviously left little room for evolution. Add-on publications for the game soon downplayed the technological decline more and more. Functional factories were mentioned that could even produce new 'Mechs. The early novel, The Price of Glory, culminated in the recovery of an intact Star League era memory core to explain how lost technology was subsequently recovered. This and the Fourth Succession War concluded the earliest storylines.
The entire setting was then moved forward one generation, to the Clan Invasion era that began in 3050. The invasion by an unknown enemy from beyond known space started an all-new story arc with numerous new factions, and a technological renaissance allowed the game to be expanded with additional rules and units. Over the next decade the universe quickly achieved, even surpassed the Star League-era level of technology. Weapon systems of all forms and sizes, right up to WarShips, became available in increasing numbers. Similarly, the small-scale raids of the early setup gradually increased in size until multi-regiment battles became normal again.
This military buildup culminated in a Civil War era draining resources, and then the Jihad era engulfed the BattleTech universe in yet another highly destructive war that essentially reset the technological advances and led to a new Dark Age.
The BattleTech universe in its early stages was heavily influenced by easily recognizable (and intimately familiar) staple concepts from the fantasy genre including
- feudalism (the Successor States with their established hereditary nobility),
- knights errant (MechWarriors) and mercenaries,
- "magic" (LosTech gadgets that are not understood anymore) and
- a mysterious and powerful church (the ComStar order).
As the setting evolved and the storyline progressed, these concepts were gradually diluted and played down, in part because of changing ownership and production and writing staff. By the time of the Jihad era, the overall style had changed to more of a typical hard and "gritty" science fiction setting with well-understood technology, shady mega-corporations and large-scale warfare with all its technical and social implications instead of the previous ritualized warfare. The previous black-and-white setting gradually evolved into a 'shades of gray' setting where no single faction could be described as either good or bad.
While a plethora of alien flora and fauna are used to give an exotic feel, sentient Aliens are notably absent from the BattleTech universe (except for an isolated case) and play no significant role. The fiction works on the premise that man is his own worst enemy.
Although by nature a violent universe, graphic violence in BattleTech is largely restricted to objects and typically depicts war machines in combat, with ruins and wreckages in the background. Human suffering is rarely shown directly. However, recent stories from the Civil War era onwards tend to shift the focus on the price of perpetual battle to some degree.
BattleTech has been described as "the future of the 80's" for its aesthetics and technological ficion. Real-world technology developed quite differently from what the authors believed at the time of the inception of the game, leading to occasionally odd concepts of what is supposedly possible and what is not. The most glaring mismatches are weapon ranges in BattleTech, which are mere fractions of the ranges easily achieved with similar weapons in the real world, and the percieved size and performance of computers. The internet was not part of the early fiction either, but comparable communication networks were later written in.
The BattleTech universe is largely rooted in real-world physics, but some key premises of the universe are science fiction in that they seem to defy the laws of physics as they are currently known. These include super-efficient fusion engines that supply vast amounts of power from relatively small and compact devices, starship thrust drives that outperform any currently known thrusters technology, and Kearny-Fuchida Drive technology that allows for faster-than-light travel and communication.
Iconic fictional technologies from the BattleTech universe include:
- BattleMechs: A basic premise of BattleTech is the evolution of the BattleMech as a superior war machine. Driven by human pilots with the help of neurohelmets, 'Mechs are gigantic humanoid walking tanks that imitate human movement patterns which makes them easier to control (as they can be used like super-large battlesuits) and supposedly gives them a significant advantage in mobility and versatility over other vehicles.
- DropShips: Most space traffic is handled with DropShips. Powered by fusion engines and highly efficient thrust drives, these are extremely rugged and versatile shuttlecraft ranging from anywhere between 200 to 100,000 tons in mass. They are generally easily capable of landing on planets and taking off into space again under their own power. In space, they can maintain acceleration of 1g or more for several days or weeks.
- JumpShips: JumpShips can perform jumps of up to 30 lightyears between Jump Points within mere seconds (typically from one star system to another). They are essentially Kearny-Fuchida Drive cores to which DropShips can attach themselves for faster-than-light transportation.
- Hyperpulse Generators: Known as HPGs for short, these employ the same fictional Kearny-Fuchida principles as jump drives, but instead of moving starships they transmit data at faster-than-light speed. Their range is up to around 50 lightyears, and messages are usually bundled and sent out in certain intervals (as opposed to continual transmission, which is also possible but rarely used). A communications network of HPGs was established that survived the downfall of the Star League and now marks the boundary of the Inner Sphere. The HPG network is generally associated with ComStar who exclusively operated it and evolved into a religious body over this.
The sundering of the Star League, followed by centuries of Succession Wars, brought about five large nations known as the Successor States. These are feudal realms, modeled after stereotypical cultural templates. They collectively comprise the Inner Sphere. Numerous other factions came and went over the course of the perpetual conflicts. The most notable and long-standing BT factions are:
- Federated Suns
The Federated Suns — House Davion
North American/West European cultural template. Though outwardly espousing the virtues of freedom and democracy, the Federated Suns is often shown to possess a strongly militaristic bent. They are frequently the protagonists in BT fiction.
- Draconis Combine
The Draconis Combine — House Kurita
Feudal/medieval Japanese cultural template. Earlier sources typically depicted the Combine’s honor-based samurai culture as single-minded, cruel, merciless and often irrational; the realm remains somewhat xenophobic and aggressive.
- Lyran Commonwealth
The Lyran Commonwealth — House Steiner
German/West European cultural template. Economic powerhouse with a strong but sluggish military. Bureaucracy, inflexibility and a lack of military skill prevents them from successfully campaigning abroad, but their defenses are strong and their traders are active everywhere.
- Free Worlds League
The Free Worlds League — House Marik
East European cultural template. More a loose coalition of highly distinct minor states than a unified realm. The limited powers of the state leader versus the parliament render the League largely incapacitated and suffering from frequent infighting. A political minefield of treachery, deceit, violent uprisings, and outright revolt.
- Capellan Confederation
The Capellan Confederation — House Liao
Communist Chinese/Soviet Union cultural template. A vain state of relatively few worlds but with a large population, weakened from a long string of military defeats and territory losses. Relies on nefarious scheming and notoriously ineffective secret operations. Hamstrung by communism and rampant paranoia. Described as cunning and dangerous in the initial setup, but depicted as irrational villains in subsequent publications. Almost destroyed in the Fourth Succession War, the Confederation saw a fantastic rebirth and went on to become one of the most powerful factions in the Dark Age era.
This quasi-religious sect evolved out of the Star League's Communications Ministry under Jerome Blake. Controlling all interstellar communication and acting as a supranational arbitrator, mediator and banking house, they regard themselves as the saviors of humanity and keepers of lost technology. Later revealed as devious schemers who ruthlessly misused their trusted position to manipulate others, they have secretly maintained a strong army with cutting edge technology.
The radical splinter group Word of Blake eventually separates from the order to form an independent sect. Word of Blake later instigates the Jihad, a cataclysmic total war against all of humanity and secular ComStar.
- Federated Commonwealth
The Federated Commonwealth — House Steiner-Davion
A short-lived unified realm of Houses Davion and Steiner. Conceived through the marriage of Hanse Davion and Melissa Steiner, the Federated Commonwealth technically came into being only when Victor Steiner-Davion inherited both realms from his parents. It collapsed in a highly destructive civil war when Katherine Steiner-Davion attempted to ursurp power from her brother Victor, and reverted back into its two separate founding nations.
- Free Rasalhague Republic
The Free Rasalhague Republic — House Magnusson
Scandinavian cultural template. Created from wayward provinces on both sides of the Kurita/Steiner border after the Fourth Succession War. At the time of its inception it was the sixth major Inner Sphere power, just after the five Successor States, but it was overrun by the Clans save for six worlds shortly after its creation. Eventually rejoined with its occupied territories in the formation of the Rasalhague Dominion.
- Lyran Alliance
The Lyran Alliance — House Steiner
Created when the former Lyran Commonwealth part broke away from the Federated Commonwealth. Eventually renamed back to the Lyran Commonwealth.
- The Clans
Successors of the self-exiled Star League army, the Clans developed into a culture of genetically engineered superwarriors in deep space and eventually returned to invade the Inner Sphere in 3049. Although they share the same culture, they are heavily factionalized and essentially independent from each other. From the original 20 Clans, only 7 are known to still exist by the Dark Age.
- The Republic of the Sphere
- The Periphery
Beyond the Inner Sphere, on the fringes of the HPG network, lies the Periphery, a lawless region that has descended into barbarism. Numerous minor realms and pirate bands exist here.
In addition to the aforementioned factions, mercenary units play an important role. Some prominent units have achieved considerable fame and power, to the point of ruling entire planets. They are effectively autonomous political entities.
The BattleTech franchise
BattleTech was created by FASA, who held the IP rights to the universe up until they withdrew from the market in 2001. They licensed limited rights to a number of third parties (such as Ral Partha to produce miniatures, publishing houses for comics, and later Roc Books for the novels, among others). The rights to produce computer games were with FASA Interactive, which was eventually sold - including the IP rights to computer games - to Microsoft.
In 2001, FASA ceased its active operations and the BattleTech IP (minus the computer games license now held by Microsoft) was transferred to WizKids, a new firm owned by FASA co-founder Jordan Weisman. WizKids split the IP, creating Classic BattleTech and MechWarrior: Dark Age as separate brands.
The Classic BattleTech IP was licensed to FanPro, a German games publisher who had previously produced the German edition of BattleTech, in the summer of 2001. FanPro had created FanPro LLC, a US-based sister company, to continue the original, English-language BattleTech line.
Meanwhile, WizKids produced a new Clix-based game in the MechWarrior: Dark Age setting, set almost a century after the current BattleTech timeline.
In 2003, WizKids was bought by the Topps company. In the same year, they granted a license to InMediaRes to publish new, canon BattleTech material on the internet, which led to the creation of the BattleCorps site.
In 2007, FanPro's BattleTech license ran out and was not renewed. In their stead, InMediaRes acquired the full license from Topps/WizKids, and created their Catalyst Game Labs subsidiary to continue the classic game line.
Topps terminated WizKids as a brand in 2008 and discontinued the Clix game lines, including MechWarrior: Dark Age. Ever since, Classic BattleTech is marketed simply as BattleTech again. The license remained with InMediaRes.
- (see also: List of BattleTech products)
The enormous instant success of the boardgame gave rise to a plethora of products that shaped, and still shape, the BattleTech universe. However, like with most fictional settings, not all products pertaining to the franchise are actually considered to contribute Canon for the BattleTech universe.
First published as BattleDroids in 1985 and changed to BattleTech in the second edition a year later, this game provided the original scale and setting for the BattleTech universe. Featuring combat between individual 'Mechs, it was soon supplemented by CityTech to include infantry, vehicles and VTOLs. The BattleTech game board (or mapsheet) is based on a hexagonal grid with each hex representing 30m of ground space. Each turn represents 10 seconds of time. This scale of play still forms the core BattleTech setting, being the primary focus of the Total Warfare, TechManual and Tactical Operations rulebooks.
Published in 1989, BattleForce is the game of Small Unit Actions in the 31st Century, featuring mapsheets that, while printed to the same physical size as BattleTech hexes, represented 180 m of ground space (later changed to 90 m). Turns are similarly scaled up, representing 60 seconds of time. BattleForce was the first BattleTech game to introduce a game wide level of abstraction, grouping 'Mechs, vehicles and air support into single units at the Lance level. Doing away with record sheets and instead aggregating unit damage to a simple set of steps recorded on the counter itself, BattleForce is intended for the convenient staging of battles between regiment sized forces. The BattleForce scale of play has carried through into the current Strategic Operations rulebook.
Role Playing Game
Set in various eras of BattleTech, more than a hundred BattleTech and MechWarrrior novels have been written, advancing the storyline and fictional history of the universe.
Magazines and comics
- (See also: Category:Comics)
Several publishers obtained the rights to publish comics set in the BattleTech universe. These, and at least two magazines (BattleTechnology and StarDate/StarDrive) were considered official products in their time just like the novels.
In addition to the multitude of print media, BattleCorps was launched in 2004 as a subscription-based online source of original BattleTech fiction. Besides short stories and game scenarios, BattleCorps has also released novels in electronic format, sometimes before they were available in printed form and including novels that had previously only been published in another language.
The Battletech Cartoon, a syndicated television series made and first aired between 1994-1995, follows the exploits of Adam Steiner, a cousin to Melissa Steiner, as he attempts to free his home planet Somerset from the Jade Falcon Clan occupation. His Jade Falcon root nemesis is Nikolai Malthus, who was the leading officer during the Somerset offensive.