Category Archives: Editorial

Bad ‘Mechs – Quickdraw

Courtesy of Eldonious

“This thing is supposed to replace my Rifleman?” Sgt. Browning asked with incredulity. Although not intended for fire support, Browning had grown attached to his Rifleman’s imposing profile and powerful long-range armament. 

The tech never even looked up from her clipboard. “Yup.” 

“Doesn’t look like much,” Browning offered. “Does it have more guns?”

“Nope.” 

Browning’s look of incredulity turned into an outright frown. “Okay, how’s it for heat?” 

“Toasty if you use those jets.” 

“Armor?” 

The tech sighed and flipped a page on her clipboard. “A little more, but not by much.” 

“Range?” 

“You got a ten-pack of LRMs,” the tech scanned another page quickly, then shrugged. “The rest is medium lasers and a few SRMs.” 

Browning balked at the loss of so much firepower. “What the hell is this thing good for then?!”

“You can jump.” Another shrug. “And you can keep up with a Trebuchet. That’s about it.” 

The sergeant nearly gripped his neurohelmet hard enough to crack its casing. “Fuck that, I’ll keep the Rifleman.” 

“It’s already been reassigned,” the tech replied, already ducking to avoid the neurohelmet that had just been thrown at her. 

Courtesy of Alex Iglesias

A heavy ‘Mech that tries to do everything and thus does nothing particularly well, the Quickdraw began life as a replacement for the Rifleman, a ‘Mech that saw itself being used in roles it was never intended. The Rifleman was designed as an anti-aircraft ‘Mech, but Star League regiments fell in love with the design and started using them for everything from fire support to front-line assaults. It’s a testament to the Rifleman’s design that it was able to be employed in such a diverse array of roles, but its shortcomings also became clearer and clearer as the decades wore on.

Hoping to build on the massive success of the Awesome, Technicron Manufacturing submitted a proposal for a 60-ton ‘Mech with greater armor (although just barely) and better maneuverability than the Rifleman in order to replace it in front-line roles. Although the Quickdraw‘s armament was considered light for a heavy ‘Mech and much lighter than the beloved Rifleman, its array of medium lasers and missiles allowed it to engage at multiple ranges but maintained the bulk of its firepower at medium to close range where the ‘Mech was intended to operate.

The Quickdraw‘s speed and jump jets allowed it to keep up with many light designs and offered a range of tactical flexibility than the Rifleman did not. That said, the Quickdraw was not an especially fast machine and with its comparatively light armor and weapons complement, unwary pilots could find themselves in situations where their machine was grossly outmatched.

Perhaps most telling of the Quickdraw’s flaws was that it would often find itself crippled or stripped of armor after the first salvo from a Rifleman, while the Quickdraw’s return fire routinely failed to penetrate the frontal glacis of the Rifleman (not so its back armor, which was notoriously paper-thin). 

Quickdraw MechWarriors learned to lean into their machine’s strengths during combat. The Quickdraw was extremely fast for a 60-ton ‘Mech of the era, and pilots learned to appreciate not only the Quickdraw‘s jump jets but also its highly-articulated ankle actuators, which allowed the ‘Mech to stand firmly on slopes that would have sent other ‘Mechs toppling to the ground. 

Unfortunately, those same ankle actuators would prove to be just as much a weakness as a strength. The actuators themselves were fragile to the point where stray weapons fire could damage the ankle and leave the Quickdraw immobile. Once this information got out, MechWarriors learned to shoot for the ankles on a Quickdraw to earn a quick kill.

Another big issue with the Quickdraw was heat. The Quickdraw‘s 13 heatsinks were insufficient to dissipate heat from a prolonged firefight, often requiring the pilot to stagger their medium lasers and jumps or risk a catastrophic ammunition explosion. This flaw was largely solved by the introduction of the QKD-5M model with its double heatsinks in the 3050s, but Technicron never quite figured out a solution for the Quickdraw’s delicate ankles.

Ultimately, the Quickdraw never actually replaced the Rifleman. Units were to begin phasing out Riflemans for Quickdraws in 2779, but very few had been assigned to regiments before the outbreak of the First Succession War. House militaries were desperate for hardware and the Quickdraw soon found itself fighting alongside Riflemans along with many other designs. 

Unlike many manufacturers, Technicron was able to escape the Succession Wars largely intact and maintained Quickdraw production throughout centuries of conflict. As a result, Quickdraws can be found in all House militaries, as well as lesser houses, mercenary units, periphery bandits, and everything in between. A workhorse design that failed to live up to its expectations, the Quickdraw nevertheless managed to thrive in a turbulent galaxy where many other ‘Mechs didn’t.

On a personal note, the Quickdraw is one of my favorite bad ‘Mechs. It’s not one of the worst ‘Mechs out there by any measure, but it falls victim to the problem of jump jets on a heavy ‘Mech. That’s five tons that could have been better spent on more guns and armor, and indeed, the first thing I do with my Quickdraws in MechWarrior 5, BATTLETECH, or any other game is to remove those jets for exactly that. 

Keep on telling me which bad ‘Mechs you want covered, but I think next month’s Bad ‘Mech will be the baddest of them all.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Bad ‘Mechs – Assassin

courtesy of Eldonious Rex

Welcome to a new series here on Sarna I’m cleverly calling “Bad ‘Mechs.” It’s a deep dive into some of BattleTech’s least appreciated, least effective, but most awesome designs. You might think some of the ‘Mechs are completely undeserving of the Bad ‘Mechs title but don’t worry–even bad ‘Mechs have a story to tell.

We’re going to kick things off with one of my favorite Bad ‘Mechs, the Assassin: a light ‘Mech hunter that was often no better than the light ‘Mechs it was ostensibly designed to hunt. Despite being born of corporate fraud to having the tightest cockpit of any ‘Mech in the Inner Sphere, It took over four centuries for the Assassin to finally meet its end, and man, what a wild ride that was. Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane and remember the Assassin.

Waiting in an underground parking garage, Jenson couldn’t help but feel the clandestine nature of his business was entirely appropriate for a ‘Mech called “Assassin.” Maltex Corporation would never officially condone his actions, but Jenson knew the project was in trouble. Maltex could try to woo SLDF procurement officers with performance reports that stank so bad that even he could tell they were bullshit, but none of that would matter.

Money talks. Money gets you noticed by the right people. Not the official kind, or the kind that cared about budget estimates and cost projections; anyone who could put two and two together knew there was no way Maltex could produce the Assassin at the same price per unit as a Stinger. The unofficial kind. The illicit kind. The kind that gets exchanged underground in the middle of the night.

Which is exactly where Jenson was, and exactly where his contact would be in the next 45 seconds.

Sure enough, a black hovercar approached the parking spot where Jenson was standing. No words were exchanged. The black tinted window rolled down, an arm wearing a pinstripe sleeve poked out, and Jenson handed it the briefcase. Then it sped off back up the ramp and into the cool, damp night.

Jenson let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. The project would be saved, the Assassin would get made, and he’d make his Maltex overseer a very happy lady.

To understand the Assassin, one has to understand the heady days of the Star League. With one central, major military power, the military-industrial complex had just one place to turn to for funding, and it was often easier to bribe one’s way to a new ‘Mech contract than to create a quality product. Star League procurement was sensationally corrupt at its height, with corporations greasing palms more often than a thirteen-year-old after midnight.

Hence, we get the Assassin, a ‘Mech that fulfilled a niche that never really existed to begin with. Maltex Corporation marketed the Assassin as a replacement for the Stinger and Wasp, proposing it as a cheaper and more cost-effective alternative. They managed to convince Star League procurement of this through false budget reports and overly optimistic service life projections–the actual price of the Assassin was over twice that of the Stinger or Wasp it was meant to replace.

Costs aside, much of the Assassin‘s marketing centered around how the ‘Mech would out-perform its intended replacements, and in this regard, the marketing wasn’t too far off. With greater speed, jump capacity, armor, and weapons, the Assassin could dictate the terms of engagement with either the Stinger or Wasp, assuring victory in the hands of any competent pilot. This led to the Assassin‘s undeserved reputation as a light ‘Mech hunter.

Even when the Assassin was introduced, several Star League-era light ‘Mechs could outrun, out-shoot, or outlast the Assassin. The Commando offered nearly as much armor and speed but far surpassed the Assassin in firepower. Both the Mongoose and Hussar could outrun the Assassin, and even the humble UrbanMech had immense firepower and armor in comparison, albeit at the cost of near-immobility.

A century later the Assassin was falling behind in most areas. The Draconis Combine’s new Jenner equaled the Assassin in speed but far surpassed it in firepower. The Valkyrie could out-trade LRM fire with the Assassin until both their ammunition bins ran dry, at which point the Valkyrie‘s tougher armor would carry the day in a direct engagement. The Panther‘s PPC could blow holes in the Assassin‘s armor while enduring what little return fire it could muster.

But the Assassin would lead a charmed life. The chassis wouldn’t see large-scale engagement until 2980, when the Free Worlds League repelled a Fed Suns assault on Rochelle during the Third Succession War. Taking less damage than their slower comrades (which was probably better explained by selection bias than any true durability on the Assassin‘s part), the Assassin‘s reputation remained intact even as spare parts meant that House militaries fielded fewer and fewer Assassins as the Succession Wars dragged on. By the time the Clans invaded, there were very few Assassins left.

Maltex would later attempt to revive the chassis during the FedCom Civil War. The ASN-30 variant replaced the missile weapons with an LB-X AC/5 while the medium laser was upgraded with an extended range model. However, during those combat-heavy years, Maltex found that performance was the only metric that truly mattered to Lyran military procurement in the middle of a war, and the lightly armed Assassin simply couldn’t compete on the modern battlefield.

Hellespont Mech Works would attempt to field a further upgraded ASN-99 with Stealth Armor and a sword, but by then the Assassin‘s luck had run out and no new variants have been produced since the Jihad.

The Assassin leaves a complicated legacy, proving that with the right connections even a bad idea can become a highly profitable reality. But time has a way of ending lies, and so time eventually caught up with the Assassin and ended it.

Don’t think the Assassin deserved to be a Bad ‘Mech? Let me know in the comments, and also let me know what next Bad ‘Mech deserves a showcase.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Why You Should Actually Trust BattleTech’s Mysteriously Short-Ranged Autocannons

Courtesy of EldoniousRex

So it’s been a few years since I wrote an article that compared BattleTech’s autocannon rounds to high explosive pancakes, and while it was a fun piece to write, something has always bothered me about it. There were a lot of responses, all of them from folks much more knowledgeable than myself about military ballistics I’m sure, and they all seemed to make valid points on why a gun’s bore size doesn’t necessarily mean anything when it comes to effective range.

Notably, none of the comments really went over my math to disprove that BattleTech’s cannon munitions are not actually flat discs, so I’m pretty confident that I can convince CGL to one day accept my article as irrefutable truth.

But the range thing--that’s stuck with me. Of course, writing for Sarna is a busy job what with all the BattleTech news that never seems to end (go read Sarna’s recent March news blast to find out what’s going on with MechWarrior 5 and MechWarrior Online, by the way), so I never got the chance to actually go through all those comments to see just what the heck they were talking about.

Until now. Yes, four years later, I’m taking a dive into the deep end of artillery to see just how a larger gun can shoot a bigger bullet not as far as a smaller gun firing a tinier shell.

And my journey starts with, of all people, Tex of the Black Pants Legion.

From my previous interview and listening to the Black Pants Legion podcast, I knew that Tex was a gun nut and also a military historian, so I figured if anybody knew a thing or two about guns, it’d be him. Sadly, Tex is a busy guy and I wasn’t able to get a full interview, but he was able to point me in the right direction while desperately defending his homestead from COVID zombies.

“Sean, you fuckwit,” I can clearly recall him telling me over a brief Discord call. “Barrel size doesn’t mean jack shit. There’s way more that goes into making a shell go zoom, like stabilization, recoil reduction, heat dissipation, and propellant. Look, you’re a smart guy, just check out this Italian naval cannon and you’ll figure it out.”

Then he hung up after several loud gunshots. I assume he’s fine.

That Italian naval cannon, by the by, was the Oto Melara 76mm autocannon, perhaps one of the best examples you can find today of what an autocannon from the year 3025 might look like. And as I researched the Oto Melara, I was surprised to find that it possessed qualities that seemed to belie its diminutive bore size.

76mm SR
Watch this video on YouTube.

For those unaware, bore size refers to the diameter of the barrel and is often used as a rough measurement to describe a gun’s overall size. However, it is but one measurement of many, and it can often obscure a cannon’s true power.

If you’ll remember from my previous article, the general rule with guns is that the bigger they are the farther they’ll shoot; an M1911 semi-automatic pistol will never be able to shoot as far as an M119 howitzer no matter how much you rearrange the numbers one and nine. But once you get into the artillery range of cannon sizes, things get a lot more… complicated.

The problem with ballistics is that there are way too many factors that’ll determine a gun’s maximum range. That said, we can narrow things down to a few topics and then discuss how those factors could contribute to BattleTech‘s inverse relationship when it comes to bigger guns firing over shorter distances.

The Bigger The Boom, The Bigger The Boomstick

The factors leading to a projectile traveling as far as it can are numerous, but they always start with the same thing: a really big explosion. That explosion then needs to be contained and directed down a barrel that won’t also explode along with the shell that the explosion is pushing. Then there needs to be recoil dampening, exhaust evacuation, and a loading mechanism, all of which need to be appropriately balanced in order to maximize performance.

And that’s what I think Tex was alluding to when he pointed me at that Italian naval cannon. In order for BattleTech’s autocannons to be mounted on a ‘Mech at all, they need to sacrifice some of the factors that allow a cannon to fire with longer range.

Let’s take the Oto Melara 76 mm as a starting point and compare it to the M119 105 mm howitzer. The Oto Melara has a maximum firing range of 20 km, while the howitzer has a maximum range of 17.5 km. The Howitzer fires a larger shell (105 mm), but the smaller shell of the Oto Melara not only flies further, but it also has a lot of friends with a fire rate of about 80 rounds per minute. The M119, on the other hand, struggles to fire 3 rounds per minute with a well-trained crew.

One is a manned field artillery piece designed to be carried on the back of a truck. The other is installed in a naval turret with an automated loader mechanism and radar-assisted fire control. There’s a lot more going on with the Oto Melara to allow its shells to exceed that of the field howitzer, but the point is that a big shell doesn’t always mean one that’ll go far when the cannon goes boom.

Are you my daddy?

We can see an even better example of this by heading back to the final days of World War 2. The Sturmtiger has a gaping 380 mm barrel that’s barely a few feet long--sort of like how you see on certain ‘Mechs such as the Cauldron Born-B, Thunder, and Emperor. Because the German designers tried to shoehorn an enormous gun onto what was essentially a mobile bunker, enormous sacrifices were made to range and fire rate, such that the rounds fired from the Sturmtiger were more like mortar shots with a range of roughly 5 km.

Compare that to something like the 16-inch (406 mm) naval guns on most US battleships of the same era, which had a range of over 40 km, and you see just how meaningless a gun’s bore size can be.

You Need Space To Shine

So what does a cannon need to lob a round as far as it can? Well, as the guns of the Mighty Mo prove, you need a big-ass barrel, a ton of propellant, and something for that propellant to explode against that won’t shatter into a million pieces (and also probably sink the ship that’s firing the round).

Let’s maintain our comparison between the 16-inch guns of the USS Missouri and the Sturmtiger to further prove this point. To get that 43km range, Mighty Mo used six propellant bags that weighed roughly 100 lbs each. The barrel was about 67 feet long, and the whole gun including the breach weighed roughly 134 tons.

Now the Sturmtiger. To ensure that it didn’t blow up every time it fired, the Sturmtiger’s rounds were technically rockets that were integrated into the 830 lb projectile. The barrel was only about 8-feet long, which wasn’t even that much more than the 5-foot long shell itself. And in order to be mobile at all, the gun itself had to be relatively light in order to fit onto the Sturmtiger’s chassis, which topped out at 75 tons.

The Sturmtiger is just like an AC/20 in BattleTech. It had to sacrifice so much in terms of barrel length and gun mass just to fit onto a mobile chassis like a ‘Mech that it lost all the important bits that let a cannon fire like it was Iwo Jima in 1945.

Expand this concept to the rest of BattleTech‘s autocannon line and it doesn’t sound all that unbelievable that the smaller a gun gets the longer its range. To help drive this concept home, I’ve made a series of charts that compare historical weapons and autocannons. Note that the axes are not to any particular scale.

Here we have historical cannons. Note the trend that as a cannon gets larger its attendant vehicle needs to also get larger to maintain that gun’s performance.

Now check out the same chart I made for ‘Mechs and autocannons. Note that ‘Mechs don’t vary nearly as widely as historical military vehicles, so bigger autocannons sacrifice range to stay viable on the platform.

And there you have it. Big guns need big vehicles, and if you don’t get bigger, then those guns have to lose explosive power resulting in less range. BattleTech’s autocannons are not stupid at all and are in fact a clever recreation of what would actually happen if you tried to stick giant cannons onto a giant robot.

Of course, this completely ignores the fact that not all autocannons have the same caliber, even amongst the same class. An AC/20 could be a rapid-firing 120mm cannon or a giant mortar-style 300mm cannon (or anywhere in between) with damage values merely representing their destructive capacity and nothing else.

But that’s a topic for another time.

And as always MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

 

Does BattleTech Have A Pokémon Problem?

Pokemon-BattleTech

So there’s a question out there that I’m sure has been bandied around the upper echelons of Catalyst Game Labs more than once: does BattleTech have a Pokémon problem?

It’s an honest question, and one I’m probably going to have to explain before I dive into the weeds. BattleTech is obviously not competing with Pokémon in any way–I can’t imagine there’s much overlap between Pokémon and BattleTech fans (although feel free to prove me wrong). I refer to the “Pokémon problem” to point out how BattleTech and Pokémon are two game universes with a very similar issue and one that gets to the core of what each franchise is even about.

Late last year, Pokémon fans were in an uproar when they found out that the latest video game installment wouldn’t feature the full list of nearly 900 Pokémon. Instead, Nintendo decided to pare back the list to 400 individual monsters, citing issues with maintaining game balance when there’s close to 900 separate Pokémon to keep track of.

Simply put, there are just too many Pokémon for a franchise to keep adding more and more with every new game. Eventually, you’d have a game with thousands or even tens of thousands of Pokémon, making it impossible for anyone–even the game’s designers–to properly keep track of them.

While there’s certainly an argument to be made on the player’s side that having thousands of options would keep every game fresh thanks to the abundant variety of Pokémon to choose from, the logistical challenges of an ever-expanding roster are undeniable. A game just can’t keep getting bigger and bigger forever without something, somewhere, breaking.

Urbanmech Evolution

The number of Pokémon weighing down the franchise had become a problem. The solution was to cull some, relegating them to past games where they would stay until future games decided to bring them out of retirement for another romp.

Now let’s talk about BattleTech. There are currently just over 650 ‘Mechs, according to my quick addition on Sarna’s BattleMech portal, although that number might be a bit low as I’m basically eyeballing each tonnage category. When you add in Aerospace fighters, DropShip classes, types of Battle Armor, tanks, VTOLs, WarShips, and everything else that makes up BattleTech, you get a number so high I’m not even going to bother to try and calculating it because I don’t get paid by the hour.

But we’re going to keep our discussion limited to ‘Mechs. So, just like Pokémon had too many Pokémon, does BattleTech have too many BattleMechs?

Too Many ‘Mechs. Maybe.

I’m going to say right off the bat that I don’t have the answer to this question. I think it’ll be a different answer for different people, but it’s definitely something worth considering as BattleTech continues into the future.

One of the problems that has always existed in BattleTech is the desire for new content, and for the tabletop game, that means new maps, new stories, and new TROs filled with new ‘Mechs. If a TRO came out and it didn’t have a new ‘Mech or a new variant, it just wouldn’t be a TRO, and crucially, it probably wouldn’t sell. So from Catalyst’s perspective, you can probably never have too many ‘Mechs since you can never sell too many TROs.

MWO banner

Or can you? Just like with Pokémon, each new ‘Mech has to be tracked. Luckily, we have Sarna here to continue expanding the BattleMech portal, so keeping track of all these new machines isn’t a problem. Likewise, tracking for the sake of balance isn’t a problem in BattleTech because the game isn’t designed to be balanced, it’s designed to simulate warfare, and warfare is rarely fair.

Now, if all those 650+ ‘Mechs were to ever arrive in a video game, it would be a different story. The rules of a tabletop game keep things from getting out of hand, but the multitude of factors that go into creating a ‘Mech in a game like MechWarrior must be balanced for the sake of multiplayer. If one ‘Mech can simply have more weapons, armor, and speed than any other, everyone would just use that ‘Mech.

Here, the tabletop rules again largely save MechWarrior the trouble of balance, but that doesn’t mean everything is fair. Just look at MechWarrior Online to see the trouble that an ever-expanding roster of ‘Mechs can cause in a multiplayer game. In MWO’s case, there are definite tiers that have emerged as certain ‘Mechs prove to be superior to others due to quirks, movement profiles, and just overall shape and size.

Even MechWarrior Online doesn’t have 650+ ‘Mechs in it though. In fact, most MechWarrior games throughout history have handled the Pokémon problem by limiting the era in which the game takes place. MechWarrior games that take place before the 3050s, such as MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries and MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, have largely overlapping rosters where certain ‘Mechs reappear again and again (I’m looking at you, Centurion). Whenever the Clans appear, ‘Mechs like the Timber Wolf, Summoner, and Mad Dog are never forgotten by the developers.

These fan favorites tend to ensure that even as the tabletop game keeps adding ‘Mechs by the truckload, BattleTech video games tend to stick with the machines that MechWarrior fans most recognize. It’s as much about good marketing as it is about good game design.

But even still, BattleTech keeps getting new ‘Mechs from fiction, TROs, and video games (such as the Bull Shark and Corsair). I know that when I read a BattleTech book I always have Sarna open on my browser to quickly lookup a name I don’t recognize. That’s not really a problem, per se, as I always love refreshing my memory or even learning about a ‘Mech I’d never heard of until that point. I can’t help but wonder, though, if that’s the same for everyone.

So, can there be too many ‘Mechs? Does BattleTech have a Pokémon problem? And if so, what’s the solution? Let me know in the comments below.

PS: And if you find any more Pokémon X BattleTech memes, send ’em my way!

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Let’s Talk About Mods For MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

Centurion

Alright kiddies. Let’s talk about MechWarrior 5. I know some of you hate this iteration of MechWarrior with a fiery passion that has inflamed the comments section from time to rime, and those comments are for the most part valid. MechWarrior 5 is, admittedly, a flawed game, but mods fix many of those flaws, and I’ve been having a blast on my most recent playthrough. We’re going to talk about some of those mods today.

However, SOME of the comments that I’ve culled from posting have been a little bit… let’s call them “heated.” We’re all entitled to our opinions, but we’re not entitled to declare a holy war on anyone. So, keep the personal attacks to a minimum as we explore the wonderful world of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries mods!

I’ve recently picked up MechWarrior 5 again after putting the game down relatively soon after it launched late last year. I admit, the initial shine of the first new MechWarrior game in years was enough to get me to overlook some of the game’s flaws. Yes, the actual core combat portion of the game felt better than any other MechWarrior to come before (at least to me), but the more you play, the more you find things that really should be fixed. 

Knowing that mod support was a core feature for MechWarrior 5, I decided to sit down and wait for mods to take care of all those rough edges. While there’s still plenty of roughness yet to smooth out in MechWarrior 5 (and a pending update will hopefully do just that), I wanted to share with you the package of mods that I’ve personally installed, and what mods that I hope the community will make in the future. Who knows? Maybe we’ll change a few minds today. 

The Mods I Use

Rifleman

First off, shout-out to Byte_Knight117 for making a giant list of mods every MechWarrior should consider for MechWarrior 5. I’m not using all of them, but I am using some, and there are many others on this list that folks should consider such as MercTech and MW5 Mercs Reloaded

In general, my philosophy when it comes to mods is to try and keep the core experience as much as possible but fix everything that annoyed me. And before any of you naysayers start your naysaying, yes, even I found a lot to dislike in MechWarrior 5. But hey, mods fix it. Feel free to discuss the role mods should play in a game’s development in the comments below.

I also tried to use mods that were officially supported through the Epic Games Store as much as possible. Since Epic now makes downloading and installing mods easy for MechWarrior 5 while also keeping those mods updated, this drastically cuts down on the amount of work needed to get MechWarrior 5 up and running. The mods I’ve downloaded from Nexus Mods are relatively small and therefore easy to install, so they weren’t too much effort even for the non-technically inclined.

As I said before, both MercTech and Mercs Reloaded are not on this list. I certainly recommend them both for ‘Mech fans looking for a new experience and to expand MechWarrior 5’s extremely limited ‘Mech customization, but I wanted to go without that. While ‘Mech customization is and always has been a core feature of BattleTech, I’ve always felt that sort of thing wouldn’t necessarily be available to a poor mercenary unit. Simple swaps like removing a small laser for more armor could be done in a Leopard’s ‘Mechbay, but an engine swap or tossing out an AC/5 for a PPC would require specialized equipment only found planet-side–at least, in my personal view of this fictional universe.  

That’s not to say that MercTech and Mercs Reloaded don’t have lots more to offer than ‘Mech customization and equipment, though. Both are feature-packed and vastly expand upon MechWarrior 5 in more ways than I can go into here. 

But anyway, without further adieu, here’s what mods got going on for my personal MechWarrior 5 experience.

Better Spawns Mod

Better Spawns Mod

This mod is easily the most important one. Much of MechWarrior 5‘s randomly generated missions will turn into a battle of attrition as more and more enemy units just keep spawning from thin air. This mod fixes that, toning down the number of enemies spawned and making them show up from DropShips rather than nowhere. It changes the tone of MechWarrior 5 to be less like a frantic rogue-lite and more like previous MechWarrior games, and I consider it an essential addition.

Better Performance – FPS Drop Fix Mod

There’s a well-known bug in vanilla MechWarrior 5 that has to do with the way the game fails to clear memory used for weapons fire and other sound effects. On longer missions, this will cause increasing performance loss and possibly even a full lockup on older machines. This will be fixed in the next patch, according to PGI, but in the meantime, this is another essential mod. 

Enemy Mech Availability Date Fix

Another noted bug is that enemy ‘Mechs never update to use newer-model ‘Mechs over time. This will also be fixed in the upcoming patch, but why wait? This mod fixes that bug right now.

TTRulez Enemy and Lancemate AI mods

Lance-AI-Mod-via-Epic-Games

The AI in MechWarrior 5 can be truly atrocious at times. This mod makes your lancemates stop running through buildings you’re required to protect while also giving enemy ‘Mechs behaviors beyond suicide-charging straight at the player.

Remove JumpShip Animations mod

Frankly, the JumpShip animations weren’t all that great to begin with and they can really slow down MechWarrior 5‘s overall pacing. Best to be rid of them. This mod leaves you with the much shorter animation of your Leopard in flight but gets rid of the parts with the Invader-class JumpShip.

MechWarrior 2 Music Reimagined

I like crunchy guitars as much as the next guy, but it seems like MechWarrior 5 has maybe six songs total and they all kinda sound the same. It gets old fast. This mod replaces the soundtrack with remixed and remastered versions of songs from MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, and I gotta say, it’s a huge improvement. The mod even changes songs depending on the in-game action. 

3D HUD

I really liked seeing this mod in action, so I grabbed it for myself. Not that I have anything against the traditional MechWarrior Online layout, but the 3D Hud mod makes MechWarrior 5 seem like a brand new game. Plus it looks cool and has an advanced zoom for sniping.

Prime8’s Distinct Weapon FX

Prime8 Distinct Weapons FX

Vastly improved weapon effects. Missiles have better smoke trails, lasers look better, and autocannon rounds are more explosive. Pew pew is very important in a game like MechWarrior 5, and this makes the pew pew more woo woo!

Weather Improvement Mod

Rain looks more like rain, snow looks more like snow, and fog occasionally gets so dense that you’re forced to fly by instruments. I like this mod, and I think you will too.

Limp Galore

Limp

For whatever reason, PGI thought that if a ‘Mech’s leg gets destroyed, this should cause them to limp for a few seconds and then get up and run away as though nothing happened. This was probably a gameplay decision based on how being legged would make a co-op teammate take forever to reach the objective. I understand that logic, and I disagree with it 100%. This mod keeps a legged ‘Mech limping forever, just as the BattleTech gods intended.

Portrait Distortion Effect

The in-game portraits are fine, but I always felt like they needed a little something extra so they weren’t just pictures popping up on-screen. This makes pilot portraits feel more like they’re actual broadcasts thanks to a bit of distortion animation and brings MechWarrior 5 in line with contemporary games that make use of the same feature.

The Mods I Wish Existed But Don’t… Yet

Rifleman

Now let’s get to the mods I wish existed. These are fixes that I feel MechWarrior 5 desperately needs. We might see some of these fixed in the upcoming patch, but I haven’t specifically heard them being mentioned, so I’m begging you modders to get on these quick! 

Fix Jump Jets

I gotta be honest, when I think of jump jets in MechWarrior games, I think of Death from Above and jumping from mesas into gorges to duel a Masakari to the death. Jump jets in MechWarrior 5 do virtually nothing–they just let you hover in place for a little while and maybe prevent some leg damage if you accidentally fall into the previously-mentioned gorge. I think this might be a bug because I occasionally find myself leaping into the air as one would expect, but most often it’s just a useless hover 3 feet off the ground. The game desperately needs a mod to give jump jets some actual functionality.

New Voice Actors

Ryana is okay, as are some of the random NPCs, but I cringe openly whenever Fahad or Commander Mason opens their big dumb mouths. Someone, please, save me from their nattering!

On a related note…

Manticore Tank

Character Creator Options

This will likely make more sense with the new campaign options that are coming in the next patch, but it’d be great if we could play as ourselves rather than this Commander Mason guy. He’s not really all that important as a character if we’re being honest, and something like Harebrained’s BATTLETECH would be a vast improvement. I’m even fine with the protagonist going back to being completely silent just so long as we can play as something other than a huge dudebro.

Animate NPCs on DropShip

Pretty much all the NPCs in MechWarrior 5 stand around like mute mannequins until you go up and talk to them. It’s embarrassing that a game in 2020 still takes the same approach to NPCs that Half-Life did back in 2001. Ryana and Fahad should be doing stuff. How hard can it be to have Ryana tapping on a keyboard of Fahad to be using a laser torch on some ‘Mech armor? Get these NPCs moving!

Make Running The Default Movement on DropShips

This is another personal peeve of mine. Why would I slowly crawl to wherever it is I’m going on the Leopard when I could actually get there sometime this century? I shouldn’t have to hold down the damn Shift key all the time! Just make running the default movement in first-person mode!

Design Quirks Mod

Phoenix Hawk

I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person to think of this, and if I’m stealing your idea, I apologize and give you full credit. 

So you know how BattleMechs have little design quirks that give them a whole bunch of flavor? Like how the Phoenix Hawk is supposed to have great sensors, and the Centurion is supposed to have ammunition feed problems for that AC/10? It’d be great to add these quirks to the game to give each ‘Mech their own unique flavor. Maybe it’d be tough to program ammo-jams for specific ‘Mechs, but it can’t be that hard to make an “Easy to Repair” ‘Mech cheaper to repair after a mission. 

Still no word on when PGI plans to release the next big update along with Heroes of the Inner Sphere, but I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as I do!

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

The Evolution Of Long-Range Missiles In BattleTech, or Why You Should Shut Up And Love The LRM-5

LRM-5 Thinker

thanks to Bradigus for this gem

I’ve got a question for you, my fellow BattleTech aficionados. Why doesn’t everyone just scrap their LRM-20s and use a bunch of LRM-5s in their place? This is a question that has dogged me ever since I got into BattleTech and one that I’ve decided to answer once and for all.

For me, this all started way back with MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries when I discovered than an LRM-5 weighs just 2 tons, meaning I could boat-up four of those suckers and get the equivalent firepower of an LRM-20 but at just 80% of the tonnage requirement. Then I got into the tabletop game and saw that the LRM-5 was still just 2 tons, and it made me wonder why didn’t everybody scrap all their LRM-20s and duct-tape together a bunch of LRM-5s? Is every ‘Mech jock in the entire universe stupid or what?!

It turns out there’s a reason for that, and that reason has changed with every new generation of BattleTech games. But for much of BattleTech video game history, there was little reason to keep those big LRM launchers instead of swapping them for an equivalent number of LRM-5s,  and that made me wonder just how the heck this innocuous weapon system can be so weird across so much of BattleTech’s games.

So today, we’re going to take a deep dive into the many intricacies of perhaps one of BattleTech’s most boring weapon system: the LRM-5.

LRM-5, According To The Table

LRM

Starting where it all began, of course. My introduction to the LRM-5 might have come in the form of a video game, but to understand the LRM-5 we have to go back to the beginning, and that means tabletop rules. Even here the LRM-5 can seem like a questionable choice, so let’s break this weapon down.

The LRM-5 weighs 2 tons, takes 1 crit, and can fire a packet of five measly long-range missiles at a target up to 21 hexes away (Inner Sphere stats, of course). One look at Sarna’s vast repository of BattleTech knowledge reveals that this is a significant weight savings when compared to larger missile launchers such as the LRM-10 (5 tons, 2 crits), LRM-15 (7 tons, 3 crits), and LRM-20 (10 tons, 5 crits), so why would you ever want to use any of those larger launchers?

The answer is hiding in the damage tables. To determine damage, you roll 2D6 and then consult the table. For most of the possible rolls, the damage between four LRM-5s and a single LRM-20 is equivalent, except for two results: a 2 and a 4. If you roll a 2 on an LRM-5 shot, then you’re only dealing 1 damage, whereas an LRM-20 is dealing 6 damage. That’s a 50% bonus over four LRM-5s firing simultaneously.

A similar story happens if you roll a 4, which causes an LRM-5 to deal 2 damage and an LRM-20 to deal 9. A single extra point of damage isn’t quite as pronounced as the snake-eyes situation, but it’s still more damage on low rolls.

There’s also heat to consider. An LRM-20 produces just 6 points of heat, but four LRM-5s firing together produce 8 points. On the other hand, you can manage your heat better by just firing a few of those LRM-5s at a time rather than all four at once, but in terms of average damage per round, the LRM-20 is clearly beating our cludged 4xLRM-5.

Whether you think a little less heat and a little more consistent damage is worth the extra two tons and one critical slot is a matter of personal opinion, but the math checks out--at least, for the tabletop. That story changes dramatically once we get into the video games.

Off The Table And Into The Silicon Wafer

While things were just fine and dandy for the LRM-5 in the tabletop version of BattleTech, as soon as things went digital, shit got weird. Really weird.

A little while back, I briefly touched on a YouTube video from Pixelmusement that revealed the actual damage values of all weapons used in MechWarrior 2, and the LRM-5 is on that list. Now, this is Clan tech instead of Inner Sphere, but we can still highlight some major differences in the LRM-5 thanks to this exhaustive analysis.

First, LRMs in the old MechWarrior 2 days didn’t use damage tables to randomly calculate the amount of mayhem a flight of LRMs will produce. In MechWarrior 2, every missile was its own object with its own specific trajectory. However, LRMs had such good homing in those days that a missile lock often meant that every single one of those missiles would hit its target--many of them in the same location. Worse, the splash damage of the explosion essentially doubled the firepower of LRMs, meaning you were dealing 2 damage per missile instead of one.

MW2 Mercs

So in MechWarrior 2, it absolutely made sense to replace all your LRM-20s with LRM-5s, but only if you had space for them. MechWarrior 2 limited players to just 10 total weapons systems, so this would work on some ‘Mechs like the Vulture, but not on more heavily-laden machines like the Mad Cat.

The only downside to this strategy was heat. LRM-5s still produced more heat than the equivalent LRM-20, so that extra ton is likely to be used up with a heat sink to offset the extra heat produced.

MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries still had inexplicable Streak LRMs, but at least the splash damage bug had been fixed so that each individual missile only did 1 damage. However, the same situation remained: all missiles fired hit their mark, and that meant random damage tables couldn’t account for the extra 2 tons and 1 crit that an LRM-20 has over four LRM-5s. Once again, it absolutely made more sense to toss your heavier LRM units for group-fired LRM-5s.

This situation continued into MechWarrior 3, but finally changed in MechWarrior 4 when LRMs got a complete overhaul. Rather than fire streak-style homing missiles directly at whatever you had a lock on, LRMs in MechWarrior 4 would take an arcing path over obstacles if fired at great distances. Missiles were also grouped into “packets” of 5, just like in the tabletop game, and it was certainyl possible for those packets to miss a fast-moving target.

However, this isn’t quite the same as the tabletop’s damage. Those packets of 5 missiles either struck home for 5 damage (actually 4--MechWarrior 4 used weird damage values) or they missed and did nothing. There’s no in-between. So, boating LRM-5’s once again appears to make sense.

MW4 via the Pirate Bay

Only MechWarrior 4 did something different that finally gave players a good reason to use a larger missile system over a smaller one. MechWarrior 4 added fixed hardpoints to the MechWarrior series that prevented a player from simply swapping out whatever weapon systems they wanted. Although the tonnage of each weapon remained the same, critical slots had been replaced by weapon hardpoints that would allow only a certain amount of energy, missile, or ballistic weaponry.

An Inner Sphere LRM-20 still weighed 10 tons, but now it took up two “missile” slots in a hardpoint. This meant that a single LRM-20 could only ever be replaced by two LRM-5s, albeit with significant weight savings and with only 8 possible damage (again, MechWarrior 4 used different damage values than pretty much every other MechWarrior game).

For me, MechWarrior 4 was where LRMs started to make sense again. Yes, larger LRM packs were less efficient in terms of weight, but they were more efficient in terms of damage per missile hardpoint slot. The key here is that MechWarrior 4 changed the relationship between damage, tonnage, and space. Instead of tonnage being the key limiter to damage, hardpoint slots were often the limiting factor. This meant that it made sense for larger ‘Mechs to have larger LRM packs, while smaller ‘Mechs made do with LRM-5s.

The Modern Solution To The LRM Problem

In modern games like MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries and BATTLETECH, the solution to the LRM problem has become a hybrid of MechWarrior 4’s hardpoints and more classic tabletop ‘Mech construction. In both titles, ‘Mechs are limited in the number of specific energy, ballistic, and missile-based weapons they can mount in any given section of the chassis, but the more traditional critical slot layout is also retained from the tabletop game.

MechWarrior 5 goes one step further. Instead of just having missile, ballistic, and energy hardpoints, it also subdivides those weapons into small, medium, and large categories. A small weapon can fit into any sized hardpoint, but it occupies the entire hardpoint and prevents any additional weapons from slotting in. A large weapon can only occupy a large weapon hardpoint, so an LRM-5 can replace a single LRM-20, but an LRM-20 can’t replace an LRM-5. And, crucially, four LRM-5s cannot replace an LRM-20 unless the chassis has four total available missile hardpoints.

You’d think that would be enough for MechWarrior 5, but no. PGI REALLY wanted to differentiate between small and large launchers, so they added a very interesting quirk to LRMs.

Lock-on Weapons (LRMs) in Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries | Full Mission Gameplay
Watch this video on YouTube.

In MechWarrior 5 there are actually two styles of LRM launcher: stream launchers and regular launchers. Stream launchers fire their missiles one after the other so that each missile’s launch doesn’t affect the one behind it. This causes stream launchers to be somewhat more accurate and have a tighter grouping than regular launchers.

Regular LRM launchers fire all their missiles at once, creating a sort of “cloud” of missiles that home in on their target. The orientation of that cloud is random every time it’s fired, and that randomizes how damage is applied when missiles strike their target.

If they strike their target. In MechWarrior 5, the larger the launcher, the larger the cloud of missiles. Unlike in previous MechWarrior games, missiles don’t converge when they approach their victim, so if the target is significantly smaller than the cloud of LRMs fired--like in the case of an LRM-20 fired at a Locust--then the vast majority of those missiles will just hit the ground and deal no damage.

Suddenly the LRM-5 is more than just a smaller version of larger launchers. Since the cloud fired from an LRM-5 is small, it can be used against smaller targets like light ‘Mechs and armored vehicles. LRM-20s, on the other hand, are only really useful against larger targets that will get struck by the majority of the missile cloud--otherwise you’re just wasting most of your ammo.

MechWarrior 5 is smart too. If you manage to group together four LRM-5s, firing them all at once essentially creates the same cloud as firing a single LRM-20. You do have the option of firing them one at a time, however, which will keep the cloud to a smaller size that’s more appropriate to dealing with smaller targets and adds a measure of flexibility.

Enforcer

I gotta give PGI credit, this is probably the most innovative and effective iteration of LRMs in any MechWarrior game. Boating is discouraged, but having an LRM-5 or two is still an effective way of dealing with pesky light ‘Mechs at extreme ranges. LRM-20s are better for heavy and assault ‘Mechs or heavily armored structures. The difference in weight efficiency is overshadowed by the importance of using the right weapon for the right job.

Now let’s take a look at Hairbrained’s BATTLETECH, the game that perhaps mirrors the tabletop experience more than any other BATTLETECH game ever produced. On the surface, BATTLETECH appears to handle things very similar to the tabletop, which means we’re back to maximizing damage per ton with our cludged 4xLRM-5 launchers again, but it’s not immediately obvious what’s going on when the computer is the one rolling digital dice. To find out, I actually reached out to Harebrained Studios to get the inside scoop on what’s happening when you light off a flight of missiles at some schmuck in a Thunderbolt.

“LRMs roll a separate to-hit for each missile in the rack,” BATTLETECH engineer Connor Monahan told me via email. “The first to-hit is rolled on a normal hit table (respective of facing) and that first hit determines the ‘center’ of the LRMs clustering, then all subsequent location rolls for successful hits from that missile rack roll on that influenced/clustered table.”

So, does that mean there’s really no real damage advantage between four LRM-5s and a single LRM-20? Monohan explained essentially “yes,” but that’s not the whole story in BATTLETECH.

LRM raining on Panther

First, there’s still heat to consider. Four LRM-5s are a lot hotter than an LRM-20, and that will seriously reduce a ‘Mech’s average damage per round. Second, since every missile rolls separately, missile weapons are some of the best weapons in the game to take against smaller, more evasive targets. A medium laser with 40% to-hit is most likely going to miss and deal no damage at all, whereas an LRM-20 with a 40% hit chance is likely to still deal 8 total damage with 8 missile hits. This is in stark contrast with MechWarrior 5 where larger launchers are actually no better than smaller ones against small targets.

And third, you can split your fire with four LRM-5s. This is especially useful when a pilot has Multi-Target, which enhances your accuracy when firing at multiple opponents.

The Evolution Of A Tiny Missile Launcher

So, are we done? Is MechWarrior 5 the pinnacle of long-range missile technology? Or is BATTLETECH and its faithful adherence to the original tabletop rules the best that an LRM can be?

Honestly, I think MechWarrior 5 has gotten the formula right. You can still boat those LRM-5s to replace heavier LRM-20s and wind up with weight savings, but there are appropriate tradeoffs. You lose the option of mounting other missile launchers (most likely, as few ‘Mechs have more than four missile hardpoints), but you gain extra tons to devote to other weapon systems. Each LRM launcher is best suited to increasingly larger enemies, and if you do decide to mount multiple LRM-5s, you’re given maximum flexibility in being able to engage both large and small targets without wasting ammunition.

But I don’t think the evolution of the LRM is over. We started out with ludicrously broken and overpowered missiles in MechWarrior 2, and each iteration of BattleTech brought them first towards balance, and then to something better: justification.

Kintaro

Is MechWarrior 5 where the evolution of the LRM launcher ends? Or will long-range missile launchers of the future take a more retro-inspired approach like BATTLETECH?

Right now it’s hard to say since we’re sort of in-between generations at the moment. All I can say is that I will always hot-swap my LRM-20s for LRM-5s until I’m convinced to do otherwise. And even then, I’ll probably still swap for those two extra tons. It’s just how I’ve been taught.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

(Edit: Yes, I know I’m omitting quite a few games, including the first MechWarrior, MechCommander, and MechWarrior Online. But I think this article is long enough.)

What ‘Mech Would You Survive The Coronavirus Outbreak In?


Gas Attack

I dunno about you, but this ongoing coronavirus pandemic is starting to get to me. Not only have I been cooped up inside without being able to see friends or family for a month (a situation unlikely to change in the near future), but I’m also terrified that each time I go to the grocery store it might be my last. There’s also that whole specter of a global economic collapse the likes of which we haven’t seen since The Great Depression, which sounds like a gay old time.

I’m sure some of you are feeling the same way. What we need to do is redirect that coronavirus anxiety into something that’s more productive. And what could be more productive than mindlessly speculating about which fictional giant robot could best survive a very real pandemic?

Time for us to go on a journey, my friends.

Coronavirus Criteria

For this intellectual exercise, we’re going to pick a ‘Mech from each class that is A) has a cockpit that is atmospherically sealed, B) is non-ammo dependant so as to avoid having to re-arm itself and risk breaking social distancing with ‘Mech techs, and C) has a relatively spacious cockpit with decent air recycling.

A) should be pretty much every ‘Mech in existence that has been properly maintained, so we’re really focusing on B) and C). There are plenty of energy-only designs, so criteria C) is the real sticking point. Luckily, I know of a few that had some decent space for spending months at a time trapped in a ‘Mech’s cockpit. Note that these are all Inner Sphere designs as Clan cockpits were universally cramped and spartan as they were designed for quick fights and not extended battles against an unseen enemy.

Light ‘Mech – Wolfhound

There are actually a few benefits to the Wolfhound for surviving a pandemic. First, it’s all energy all the time in all its various forms, so you never have to worry about bringing people into close contact in order to reload (except for the mutant Free Worlds League model, the WLF-3M, which features a Light Gauss Rifle).

Second, it’s got a rumble seat, so we know that it’s got a spacious enough cockpit to have a passenger. You might even be able to stretch your legs out and have a horizontal nap. I haven’t seen the inside of a Wolfhound (besides the view offered in MechWarrior 4 and MechWarrior Online, of course), but Sarna’s cockpit page points out that most IS ‘Mechs also had enough space for a small toilet and a meal-prep area.

Third, and most importantly, it’s got a Full-Head Ejection System, so even if you do get taken out and are forced to eject you still don’t have to inhale possibly virus-tainted air. Everything is always enclosed.

Medium ‘Mech – Blackjack

This one’s tough since most medium ‘Mechs aren’t designed for creature comforts. They’re designed for maximum combat efficacy for the minimum of cost, and where these two concepts intersect doesn’t leave a lot of room for something as inefficient as headspace.

That said, we can still take consideration for Inner Sphere designs that were created for extended operations. One of those ‘Mechs just so happens to be the BJ-3 Blackjack. I’ve always liked the look of the Blackjack, and the BJ-3 takes out those piddly AC/2’s for a pair of PPCs and enough Double Heat Sinks to actually use ‘em on occasion.

Being a St. Ives Compact design, you just know their engineers will pay special attention to atmospheric sealing, given how the Capellans are wont to experiment with bio and chemical weapons (and occasionally on their own citizens). It doesn’t have a Full-Head Ejection System like the Wolfhound, but that bulging head looks like it’ll have some extra space to kick your feet up.

Heavy ‘Mech – Thunderbolt

Of all the ‘Mechs ever designed, the Thunderbolt holds a special place in BattleTech canon. According to the BattleTech story A Guy Walks Into A Bar On Solaris VII, published in BattleCorps in 2006 by Jeff Kautz, the Thunderbolt has “an exceptionally roomy cockpit,” even when compared to an Atlas or a BattleMaster. And considering that a BattleMaster is often retrofitted to have a Command Console and two seats, that makes the Thunderbolt a bachelor apartment on legs.

Why the Thunderbolt was given such a roomy cockpit we may never know. But if I had to live out my days in isolation, I want the most space I can get, and that means the Thunderbolt.

Unfortunately, all variants of the Thunderbolt have some ammunition dependency, but even the TDR-5S has a fair number of energy weapons that will keep it in the fight long after it’s missile and machine gun bins are exhausted.

Assault ‘Mech – Grand Titan

Inner Sphere assault ‘Mechs tend to have spacious cockpits. Is this because Inner Sphere assaults are often piloted by nobles, generals, and high-ranking officials? Or is it simply because they’re larger and have more space to leave to creature comforts like a storage bin and an espresso machine?

These are questions left unanswered in BattleTech lore. But the Grand Titan has enough space for a goddamn back room and that’s good enough for me. You could play poker with your MechWarrior pals in this thing if it weren’t for social distancing.

According to the 3rd Edition MechWarrior RPG, this is what lays behind the command seat of the Grand Titan:

Is that a big enough to place a bed and breakfast? You damn right it is. I can’t tell if whatever is labeled “2” or “5” is where you go to the bathroom or where you recharge your cell phone, but either way it looks spacious and comfy.

Besides that, the Grand Titan is delightfully fast for an assault ‘Mech, has plenty of pulse lasers for when the ammo bins run dry, and the T-IT-N14R has an Improved Life Support system, an armored cockpit, and a Full-Head Ejection System.

As great as my suggestions are, I must admit to not having quite the encyclopedic knowledge of BattleMech amenities as perhaps some of Sarna’s illustrious readers. To that end, I ask you all to discuss which BattleMechs have the most luxurious amenities for their lucky pilots in the comment section below.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy

stay syrupy

Retro BattleTech Games – MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries

Welcome to another retrospective on the video games that made the BattleTech universe come alive in ways that dozens of novels, hundreds of sourcebooks, and even a short-lived ’90s cartoon just couldn’t. I’m your host, Sean at Sarna, and I’m here to teach you a thing or two about MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries--perhaps the greatest BattleTech-sourced video game ever made.

I know I say that about most of this particular generation of video games, but this time I really mean it!

But first, we gotta go back to MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat. That game was a huge freakin’ success for Activision, and like all major game developers/publishers, they want to keep making money. So after MechWarrior 2 came MechWarrior 2: Ghost Bear’s Legacy, an expansion pack that added a brand new Ghost Bear-focused campaign, several new ‘Mechs, and a bunch of different weapons systems that should have been in MechWarrior 2 but were cut for time.

Ghost Bear’s Legacy was great and really added a lot to MechWarrior 2, but it was really just an appetizer. The main course was MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries.

MechWarrior 2 Mercenaries intro
Watch this video on YouTube.

A Labor Of Love

At this point in Activision’s history, and specifically for the MechWarrior 2 team, it was a time of near-constant crunch. MechWarrior 2 first came out for MS-DOS in July of 1995, then for Windows in December of 1995. Ghost Bear’s Legacy was developed concurrently with the Windows 95 version of the game and came out in November.

Which leads us to MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries. For this latest iteration of MechWarrior 2, Activision decided to take everything they’d learned from Ghost Bear’s Legacy and the Win95 version of Mechwarrior 2 and make a “stand-alone expansion,” which is really just a fancy way of saying they’re making a brand new game using the same engine. 

CD Case

Mercenaries had several enormous technical improvements over its predecessors. It was one of the first games to feature texture-mapped surfaces rather than mere colored polygons, making terrain and ‘Mechs actually stand out from their surroundings. Multiple light sources were finally possible, meaning laser blasts and PPCs generated their own glow that shined off surfaces. Smoke contrails were added to missiles that obscured your screen when they leaped off their launch rails. And for the first time ever, taking out an opponent’s leg didn’t cause them to stand there like a stunned flamingo--they actually fell over and were unable to right themselves without the use of jump jets.

All of this was pretty ground-breaking, but this wasn’t just some tacked-on improvements to the source. Mercenaries was its own game, with its own incredibly unique campaign that puts pilots right in the thick of the Clan Invasion. There were added vehicles, tons of all-new ‘Mechs (at least, new to the MechWarrior series of games), voice acting, music, and more. 

And all of it was done in just 9. Freakin’. Months. Think about how long it takes to make a modern game with cutting-edge everything, and imagine doing all that in just 9 months. It wasn’t easy, as the dev team revealed in hidden thank you messages buried inside MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries‘ code. 

“Most of these people haven’t left their cubicles in months, so if they sound a little crazy, forgive them,” wrote Game Director Jack Mamais in his passage. His tone might sound jocular, but everyone on this page (courtesy of The Cutting Room Floor) said something about working “a ton of long hours.” 

3D Artist J.J. Franzen called it “4 months of non-stop hectic craziness.” That’s a long time to be working 12-hour days. It’s several years late (or more like several decades), but let me at least express my appreciation for all the blood, sweat, and tears put into Mercenaries. It might not have had the crazy employee turnover that MechWarrior 2 did, but there was certainly a lot of suffering to go around because of corporate deadlines.

Back To The Inner Sphere

How to start your career as a mercenary ‘Mech jock.

One of the interesting aspects of Mercenaries‘ development was not just when the game takes place in the BattleTech universe, but also when the game was developed in FASA‘s history. At the time, FASA hadn’t even written the sourcebooks to the FedCom Civil War and all the things that would happen following the Clan Invasion, and they forbid Activision from using any parts of BattleTech that hadn’t yet been officially published.

Without any path forward in time following Ghost Bear’s Legacy, they instead went back to perhaps the most exciting period in BattleTech’s history. 

“The problem with FASA’s BattleTech universe is that it ends roughly where Ghost Bear ends, and FASA won’t let us go beyond that,” said Mamais in an interview with NextGen Magazine way back in 1996. “Just covering another Clan wasn’t the way to go, since that wouldn’t add much that was new. So we looked at the entire BattleTech universe and decided that the most interesting time really was in the Inner Sphere when the Clans were just coming back.”

Mercenaries starts with you, a lowly ‘Mech jock in an old Commando COM-7X fighting for Team Venom, a mercenary unit of unknown size and headed by Colonel Holly Harris. When Harris’ Zeus gets left behind on a recon raid mission in the Draconis Combine, she bequeaths the unit and Commando to you in a rare display of generosity, posthumously saying you need to figure things out on your own from now on.

MRBC Board

Gotta pay those bills, mercenary.

You’ve got two options: go solo as your very own merc outfit, or you can sign on with Hansen’s Roughriders. Signing on with the Roughriders turns Mercenaries into a very linear game much like MechWarrior 2 without any of the business management aspects that come with owning your own mercenary command. This was suitable for new players and ensured that even the worst MechWarrior always had a working ‘Mech to fight with.

But the real game is found by selecting “Mercenary Commander” on the menu screen. This puts you in command; you buy and sell ‘Mechs, MechWarriors, components, and everything else. It’s much like the original MechWarrior game, only you don’t have to worry about travel time or travel costs like you do in more modern titles like BATTLETECH or MechWarrior 5.

You do, however, need to worry about armor, ammo, weapons, and everything else that a mercenary lance needs to stay afloat. 

From MechWarrior To Mercenary Commander

Although you start out in a Commando, you likely won’t stay there for long. Mercenaries adds a whopping 37 Inner Sphere ‘Mechs that weren’t already present in previous iterations of MechWarrior 2 (Ghost Bear’s Legacy already had the Atlas, Annihilator, Victor, Hatamoto-Chi, and Raven) along with the 19 Clan ‘Mechs ported from other games for a total of 61 ‘Mechs--more than any other MechWarrior game at the time (although some of those ‘Mechs aren’t available in the main campaign, and a few can only be obtained as salvage from later versions of Mercenaries that added dynamic salvage rules). 

That’s a lot of ‘Mechs. For the first time, you’ve got your choice at every weight class on whether you want speed or armor, weapons or defensibility. It was this unparalleled choice that made Mercenaries the best in the series, at least to my eyes.

You also had an unparalleled level of customization. Mercenaries allowed up to 16 different weapon systems, meaning you didn’t have to stifle your Medium Laser boat Atlas just for the sake of mounting a heavy autocannon. You could do both

Although I loved the Commando you started the game with, the Jenner or Panther were quick upgrades, depending on which archetype you preferred. From there it could lead to a Sentinel, Crab, Centurion, Vindicator, or Hunchback, and then to whatever heavier designs you wished. Notably absent were any of the Unseen designs, which were the subject of ongoing litigation at the time.

Training Mission

“Shoot me even once, and I’ll tear that beer can you call a ‘Mech into scrap.”

You don’t get launched right into the Clan Invasion, of course. You start with an optional training contract with Hansen’s Roughriders, where the gloriously rugged voice of Sgt. “Deadeye” Unther threatens you through a series of simple missions designed to get you in touch with your ‘Mech. After that come a series of progressively more difficult campaigns that take you all around the Inner Sphere, from hotspots in the Draconis Combine to the great halls of Solaris VII. While you smash rebels for the DCMS or put down pirates for the Free Worlds League, Comstar provides detailed news about what’s going on in the wider BattleTech universe that really made it seem like you were in the middle of the Inner Sphere.

Unlike in MechWarrior 2, mission outcomes aren’t set in stone. You could fail a mission and get a dock in pay but have it lead to a different mission that would otherwise never have been available. These differing outcomes added an element of replayability to Mercenaries the previous MechWarrior 2 titles never had. Failure wasn’t just the end but a new path to explore.

While I enjoyed MechWarrior 2‘s short stories before and after every mission, Mercenaries‘ added news reports were just a much better fit for a game that’s trying to draw the player into the universe. But if you still preferred the stories, your personal journal likely provided more than enough backstory.

I won’t go into the ‘Mech piloting too much as it’s mostly the same as previous games. The added management components of Mercenaries were far more interesting, although somewhat cumbersome compared to more modern titles. Still, no other ‘Mech game provided a more tabletop BattleTech-accurate ‘Mech customization bay than MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, for better or for worse. 

Mongoose

How did the rebels get access to a Star League ‘Mech?!

One thing I will go into is the weapons. After MechWarrior 2, BattleTech fans wrote in to petition the next game to have weapons that were more accurate to the tabletop game. This meant that LRMs and PPCs were far less effective (Activision had managed to fix the splash damage bug that was causing both weapons to hit far harder than they should in MechWarrior 2), but also meant that autocannons were just generally bad. If an AC/5 did as much damage as a Medium Laser and had only 20 shots per ton of ammo, you’re far better off with a few Medium Lasters and accompanying heat sinks than even a single AC/5.

For this reason, the most effective loadouts in Mercenaries often involved mounting multiple Medium Lasers as your main armament and then having some support weapons to take out Elementals or other small targets.

The Invasion Begins

I’ll never forget the first time playing through and getting to the mission that required you to hunt down the Oberon Confederation in the Free Rasalhague Republic. Things start off as you’d expect, but then “unidentified” ‘Mechs barge in and start wrecking both you and the pirates alike. The second mission where you have to escape in a stolen Pegasus hovertank was one of the most frustrating experiences in a MechWarrior game, but that feeling of helplessness against even light Clan ‘Mechs really pressed home how ‘Mechs were the kings of the battlefield.

Afterward, you read how the KungsArmé murders the escaped pirates so nobody can confirm your story that the Clans have invaded. It was a nice touch.

It was also rendered almost immediately irrelevant as your next mission takes you to Wolcott to fight off the Smoke Jaguars and hand the clans their first-ever defeat. You’ll later take on the Ghost Bears to capture a fully intact Kodiak so that the DCMS can examine it, or you could decide to just blow away the Dracs and keep the 100-ton ‘Mech for yourself. 

The campaign eventually leads to Luthien, where you and other mercenary commands heroically fend off the Jaguars and prevent the capture of the Draconis Combines’ home planet. The last mission where you hold the line against wave after wave of Jaguar ‘Mechs is chilling both for how desperate the player tries to keep their ‘Mech from crumbling around them and the epic music that plays in the background.

Perfect, But Imperfect

Night Atlas

Who needs enhanced imaging when you’ve got thermal sensors?

As great as Mercenaries was, it’s still far from perfect. The rushed development cycle meant that the DOS version of the game didn’t launch with dynamic salvage and instead had scripted salvage at the end of each mission. Only the Windows 95 version of Mercenaries got dynamic salvage after a patch (which also made it one of the first games to use “patching” in order to add intended features). 

There were also a ton of bugs. One was a “phantom weight” bug that kept adding extra un-specified weight to a ‘Mech every time it was repaired until it eventually became so overburdened that you couldn’t even equip a Small Laser. The only solution was to sell the ‘Mech and buy a new one--something I did a few times when my Atlas suddenly became unable to equip its full complement of AC/20 rounds. 

While Aerospace fighters were a fun addition to your mercenary command, the pilot AI was so useless that you might as well not bother. Fighters would often get lost, stuck on buildings, or take so long to arrive at the battlefield that the fight was already over by the time they got there. They were occasionally useful to delay enemy forces in defensive actions, but that was about it. 

And of course, there was the usual collection of freezes and crashes that were typical of games from the era. The Windows 95 version of Mercenaries was especially prone to crashes, as was the 3DFX-enhanced and Titanium Editions.

This one is coming home with me.

But did the bugs really matter? Not really. Not when there were so many ‘Mechs to play with, and not when there was so much replayability in Mercenaries. Taking different contracts, using different ‘Mechs, and making different decisions meant that I got way more out of Mercenaries than I ever did out of MechWarrior 2, and I suspect I’m not alone in that opinion.

A Mercenary Legacy

What Mercenaries did for MechWarrior was truly remarkable in that it showed us what a MechWarrior game could be--a non-linear campaign where decisions mattered, from choosing what parts of your opponent to destroy in the hopes of salvaging components later to choosing whether or not it’s worth holding the line for that sweet bonus at the end of your contract. These choices have since become standard features for both BATTLETECH and MechWarrior 5, and they both owe Mercenaries for their creation.

It also proved that the time before and leading up to the Clan Invasion was just a better era to play in. The rules were simpler, the factions were clearer, there were more ‘Mechs, and you could slowly add technology to the game as it was discovered (or rediscovered). Fighting before 3049 made it so that Clan or Star League technology was something truly special and equipping it meant you were on the cutting edge of technology.

And there was a sense of freedom to Mercenaries. You weren’t railroaded to anything. You could take missions you wanted or ignore them (outside of the mandatory story missions, of course). You could use whatever ‘Mech using whatever weapons you wanted. You could customize your lancemates and their machines to perfectly match your fighting style. 

There’s a reason why today’s BattleTech games use MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries as their template. While the graphics might not hold up quite as well as MechWarrior 2 due to the very basic texture maps, I recommend any BattleTech fan pick up MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries and give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did.

 And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy. 

stay syrupy

 

All I Want For Christmas Is My Whitworth In MechWarrior 5

The more I play MechWarrior 5, the more I realize it’s missing something. Something that made my MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries playthroughs so magical. And I’ve had time to masticate on what that thing is since I had to restart my campaign as the preview-version of MW5 I’d been playing ceased getting updates and became incompatible with the regular version. 

Anyway, I’ve figured out what the thing is that I’m missing. It’s the Whitworth

Let me back up a second–the Whitworth was a ‘Mech I became introduced to way back in the heady days of MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries. It was basically the largest, most heavily-armed ‘Mech you could purchase fresh out of the game’s training sequences. You’d trade-in your old Commando for something with a little more oomph, and that oomph for me was always a 40-ton missile ‘Mech.

On the surface, the Whitworth wasn’t really all that impressive: it was slow, kinda generic, and had a goofy name that made absolutely no sense (who or WHAT is a Whitworth?!). But what it did have was 3 Medium Lasers, 2 LRM-10s, and armor enough to take a hell of a beating for its size. 

That armament meant that the Whitworth was ideal for taking out enemy light ‘Mechs (albeit due to MechWarrior 2 LRMs being more like Streak LRMs than regular ones), and the armor meant that you could wade through some intense fire without fear of losing your arms. It was also long-range, so engagements could be started and sometimes finished at a distance where your opponents couldn’t return fire.

For much of the early missions in MW2:Mercs, the Whitworth was my jam. And then, when it finally came time to upgrade to a beefier machine, my lancemate would often inherit my beat-up Whitworth. The same things that made it great for the player also made it great for friendly AI: lock-on missiles so it could never miss, lasers so it could never run out of ammo, and armor enough to take a beating without losing components.

There’s nothing like the Whitworth in MechWarrior 5. I know you get the Centurion pretty early on and it’s a strictly better machine, but it just doesn’t feel the same. There’s nothing in the same weight class that lets you boat up on lasers and missiles in the same way as the Whitworth (barring the Trebuchet, but I haven’t seen any of those yet), and while I love the Assassin conceptually, it’s really only suitable for raid attacks on soft targets. 

So here’s what I want for Christmas: the Whitworth in MechWarrior 5

What are the odds of this happening? Not good. As anyone who’s played MechWarrior Online knows, all the ‘Mechs in MW5 use the same models as MWO, and since the Whitworth was never in MWO, it would have to be made from scratch. That’s a tall order when there are plenty of other MWO designs that could be ported over to MW5, including the Vulcan, Dervish, and the Champion

That leaves modders to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, MechWarrior 5 did not ship with modding tools, and while PGI says that will be coming in early 2020, that’s still too late for anyone to give me a Christmas Whitworth.

And I also must admit, there are far more important mods for those with the skills to make first, such as replacing the ‘Mech voice with the original Bitching Betty voice lines from MW2, as well as mods to replace the music with bitching tunes of Timothy Seals (seriously, go listen, and then imagine those songs in MW5chef’s kiss).

You might think the Whitworth to be beneath the notice of an actual company trying to make a buck off of BattleTech. You might agree that the Whitworth is boring and silly, one of the many Inner Sphere ‘Mech designs that seemed to be cobbled together and then given a random name without much thought and done to just to flesh out the overall BattleTech universe.

To you, I say: humbug! No Santa Whitworth for you!

And as always MechWarriors: Merry Christmas.

Courtesy of Alex Iglesias

 

 

The ‘Mech That Looks Most Like A Turkey

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the fleshy bit hanging from a turkey is called a “wattle,” not a “waddle,” thus identifying a clear lack of poultry knowledge on my part. This has been corrected. The original story follows.

It’s Thanksgiving. In America, anyway. In Canada, we celebrated Thanksgiving several weeks ago due to our short harvest season and our reservation for the month of November to be one-half solemn remembrance for our fallen soldiers, and then one-half insane consumerism in the lead-up to Christmas.

However, Canada celebrating early means that I am reminded of American Thanksgiving with plenty of time to prepare an article on the subject.

How can Thanksgiving possibly relate to BattleTech, you ask? Simple: some of these ‘Mechs look a helluva lot like turkeys.

As is often the case, I found myself browsing the vast databanks of Sarna’s stored ‘Mech designs thinking, “Man, some of these giant death machines look a lot like a bird I’d like to eat.” So then I figured I should point out some of my favorites and turn it into a fun way to celebrate Thanksgiving in a very BattleTech way.

So without further ado, these are the ‘Mechs I think resemble turkeys the most.

Huron Warrior

Huron Turkey

Right away, I centered in on the Huron Warrior. Yes, that frilly bit around the ‘Mechs head is most certainly designed after the ceremonial headdresses of Native Americans, but I hasten to point out that some of the feathers on those headdresses were from wild turkeys. Thus, the similarity between the Huron Warrior and a turkey’s tail feathers shouldn’t be too much of a shock.

Stalker

Stalker Turkey

I have a friend who I used to play MechWarrior Online with. He always called his Stalker the “Murder Turkey” for the way it single-handedly dismantled opponents. I think it also had to do with the way the ‘Mech moved, which was sort of like a man drunk on wine and tryptophan, the sleep-inducing chemical that is found in roast turkey. Regardless, the squat and ugly Stalker is very much a turkey in ‘Mech form.

Mad Cat

I mean, how could we not discuss the Mad Cat (or Timberwolf, if you’re a Clanner)? It’s got the backward-canted legs, the bulbous body, and the missile racks sort of do a good stand-in for the big frilly tail of a turkey. Replace those racks with a bunch of lasers as on the Alt. Config A and it sort of has the roundedness of a turkey too.

Turkina

Turkina Turkey

This might be a little on the nose given the name, but what the hell. It’s a giant turkey of a ‘Mech if there ever was one. Perhaps more so than any other design on this list. It’s just huge, and menacing, and rounded, and weird in all the same ways as a real turkey. Just about the only thing separating the two is the Turkina’s lack of a wattlle.

Black Lanner

Sticking with Jade Falcon bird ‘Mechs, we arrive at the Black Lanner. This design is a little more predatory than a turkey really could ever be, but overall the similarities are there. Especially if we ignore the farm-raised turkeys and stick with wild turkeys, which are far sleeker.

Marauder II

Why not the regular Marauder? Because the Marauder II is thicc in all the same ways as a turkey. Plus it has a giant autocannon sticking out of its head in much the same way a turkey has a wattlle. Only it’s on the top instead of the bottom. Then there’s the legs, the body, and the capability for short bursts of flight. It’s a turkey, no question.

Maelstrom

Turkey Maelstrom

I’ve never really seen great pictures of the Maelstrom, but from what I’ve seen in the classic BattleTech art, it looks an awful lot like a turkey. Plus it spits charged particles and concentrated light beams while possessing enough double heat sinks to keep it cool, just like a real turkey.

Falconer

Falconer Turkey

Another Davion chassis designed to take on the Clans, the Falconer possesses the same bird-like qualities as the very ‘Mechs it was tasked with defeating. This also makes it look a bit like a turkey. You can see the rounded nature of the torso and the long, slender legs, although they’re not quite the same as the bird-like limbs of other designs on this list. Still, it’s got that turkey air to it, so the Falconer is on the list.

Rakshasa

Rakshasa Turkey

Arguably more turkey-like than an actual Mad Cat, the Mad Cat look-alike has all the same qualities of turkey-ness as the real deal. Perhaps more due to the somewhat smaller missile racks being more easily confused with a turkey’s tail feathers. Especially if you’ve had a few too many to drink after consuming an unhealthy amount of turkey and stuffing.

Did I miss one? Is there another turkey-’Mech that rightfully deserves to be on this list? Drop a comment and let me know of my horrible mistake.

And as always, MechWarriors: Happy Thanksgiving.

stay syrupy