Category Archives: Editorial

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.

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

 

Is MechWarrior 5 About To Go Epic Exclusive?

So MechWarrior 5 might become the next Epic Games Store exclusive title. Maybe.

Before anyone starts shouting, there has been no official confirmation from either Epic or PGI (the makers of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries and MechWarrior Online). What we have is some troubling changes to the MechWarrior 5 website and PGI President Russ Bullock saying they’re just due to a harmless website update.

First, a shout out to Reddit user Ironshards for making the original post, as well as user Vektorweg for making a comparison between the old MechWarrior 5 FAQ page and the new one

One thing that you’ll immediately notice is that the new MW5 FAQ is much smaller than the old one. You’ll also notice that there is no longer any mention of getting a Steam key from pre-orders that recently wrapped up and that any mention of Steam has in fact been totally removed. The pre-order beta has also been removed.

Getting rid of the pre-order info makes sense since you can’t pre-order MechWarrior 5 any longer (although they might have another pre-order closer to release). But removing all mention of Steam–ostensibly the platform that the game will release on–seems a little strange. Suspicious even.

In case you’re not up on the latest brawl to hit the digital gaming market, Epic Games is the maker of Fortnite (that battle royale game you see the kids playing these days), Unreal Engine 4 (which is the same game engine that MW5 uses–more on that later), and also a brand new digital storefront called the Epic Games Store.

The Epic Games Store works just like every other digital storefront, but with a big incentive for game developers. Rather than the customary 70/30 revenue split, Epic gives studios more of the gaming pie to the tune of 88/12 (that’s 88% revenue to the developer, in case that wasn’t clear). All of this is done under the guise of breaking the virtual monopoly that Steam holds on the PC gaming market.

However, the Epic Games Store doesn’t have anywhere near the same features as Steam, GOG, Discord, or other game stores have. They don’t have cloud save file storage, user reviews, wish lists, news feeds, or bundled prices that reflect already-installed DLC. They also don’t have multi-language support or support for payment in any currency other than US dollars.

To be fair to Epic, they plan to implement all these features within the next 6 months, but when it launched, the Epic Games Store was a barren wasteland compared to Steam. 

So to get people onto their store, Epic has adopted an aggressive strategy of gobbling up PC games as exclusive titles. They also don’t care if that game promised its Kickstarter backers or pre-order buyers a release on Steam. Just look at the debacles of Shenmue III and Metro Exodus for proof if this.

MW5 Screens

Here’s where I’m going to diverge from the facts for a second to insert some personal opinion, which I mention specifically because this is a very heated topic with a lot of misinformation floating around.

It seems clear to me that Epic’s plan is to replace Steam as the de-facto PC gaming platform. Steam makes TONS of money–enough that Valve hasn’t really released a real game in years (Artifact doesn’t count)–and Epic wants that bank all to themselves.

But to get it, Epic is spending a ludicrous amount of cash essentially guaranteeing the developer a reasonable amount of sales. This is based off a tweet from June whereby a Korean games community discussed how SNK was offered “hundreds of thousands” of pre-orders for Samurai Showdown to become an exclusive title.

The only games store looking for exclusive titles is Epic, so put two-and-two together and you get Epic’s gameplan.

Initially, there were some unsavory rumors that Epic was full of spyware and was actually a front for the Chinese government. So far, that’s all turned out to be bunk, but there was an element of truth to it. Epic is 40% owned by Tencent, a huge Chinese entertainment and media company, and I think it’s Tencent that is funding Epic with gobs of cash to throw at any and every game they can turn into an exclusive title all with the intention of eventually becoming the big kahuna of PC gaming. 

Anyway, opinion over, and now back to speculating on MechWarrior 5.

We already knew from last month that PGI was hurting for cash. New ‘Mech Packs being sold in MechWarrior Online had stopped being profitable, and Bullock basically admitted that the studio was going all-in on MechWarrior 5. If the game flopped, then PGI would be in serious trouble financially, to the point where the likeliest outcome would be the cessation of operations.

But if MechWarrior 5 went Epic Games Store exclusive and PGI got a cash infusion from Epic, they wouldn’t have to worry. Epic guarantees their sales to the point where they could at least continue as a business. On top of that, MechWarrior 5 already uses the Unreal 4 engine, making even more sense for an exclusive deal.

If this all turns out to be true, I can’t blame PGI for taking the money. Games development is a risky business and most studios are one bad game from going bankrupt. That said, they promised a Steam release with their pre-order, and judging by the MechWarrior subreddit, people would be mighty upset if MechWarrior 5 were to suddenly become an Epic exclusive.

Twitch Streamer Nuttyrat asked Bullock on Twitter about the changes in MechWarrior 5’s FAQ, with Bullock responding that they’re just the result of the community pre-order being over so there’s no need to have information about it on the site.

But again, it seems odd to remove all mention of Steam at the same time as removing the pre-order info.

Personally, I don’t have nearly as much hate for Epic as a lot of rabid Steam fans do, and if Epic is able to eventually provide the same sort of services that Steam does I’d have no problem with switching sides. However, the use of exclusives to get users is pretty anti-competitive and puts a sour taste on things, especially when those games already promised to release on Steam and other platforms.

We won’t know for sure one way or another until Russ or PGI make an announcement. Which will probably come at the upcoming MechWarrior 5 Developer Update and AMA scheduled for this Friday at 6 PM PST (UPDATE: Looks like the AMA was delayed to next week, according to MW5’s most recent tweet).

And as always MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

 

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games – MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat

The time has finally come. We’re taking a look at MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat in this week’s retrospective look at the BattleTech video games that made the franchise. And for me at least, there was no more formative experience in BattleTech than MechWarrior 2.

But before we get into the game, let’s head back to our last retrospective on MechWarrior 2: The Clans. If you recall, the original MechWarrior PC game was made by Dynamix, but then they got purchased by Sierra On-Line and took MechWarrior’s engine with them. That meant Activision had to start over from scratch back in 1992.

As is often the case with Activision, development did not go smoothly.

You can read up on the details in our previous post. Suffice to say, the entire production staff either quit or left for other projects, and MechWarrior 2 would have died entirely were it not for Tim Morten. Credited as an associate producer, Tim took the engine being worked on for The Clans and refined it until there was something resembling a game. Morten was also instrumental in convincing Activision’s leadership to keep the project going with a team of about two dozen people.

Finally, two development teams and one scrapped game later, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat released on PC for MS-DOS in 1995.

MechWarrior 2 would go on to win dozens of awards from various game publications and sell 500,000 copies in the first three months of sales. For the mid-’90s, that’s basically a blockbuster. Overall sales were a lot more than that, but getting specific figures is a bit tricky. Let’s just say it’s well into the millions and leave it at that.

I came across MechWarrior 2 back when games were still being handed around via shareware discs. The internet was still in its infancy and my home still didn’t even have a dial-up modem. My gaming was done entirely solo, and MechWarrior 2 was easily the best DOS game I’d ever played.

Arch Rivals At War

MW2 Splash Screen

MechWarrior 2 takes place during the Refusal War between Clan Jade Falcon and Clan Wolf. The player can decide to fight for either the Wolves of the Falcons, with each side’s campaign consisting of 12 missions interspersed with Trials of Position as you make your way up the Touman‘s ranks.

Depending which team you play for, either the Jade Falcons crush the Wolves and go on to take Terra, or the Wolves defeat the Jade Falcons and defend the Inner Sphere against Clan incursions for the foreseeable future. Obviously, MechWarrior 2 doesn’t take place in traditional BattleTech canon, so these outcomes are entirely apocryphal.

Also, you wind up as Khan of either Clan after the final Trial, which is technically an elected position and not one you can achieve strictly through combat. But whatever–you’re also destroying dozens of ‘Mechs completely by yourself in some missions. ‘Mech games sell based on hero fantasies and not realistic depictions of a single person’s ability to sway history, after all. 

Choose Your Weapon

MW2 Mech Bay

Both sides feature the same arsenal of 14 ‘Mechs and both sides lacked some of the newer designs introduced in 3057 (some would be added later in the Ghost Bear’s Legacy expansion, but it’s still a notable slip). You do get several IIC variants, including the some unseen ‘Mechs such as the Rifleman, the Warhammer, and Marauder, but otherwise, you’re limited to Clan ‘Mechs that were present during the start of the Inner Sphere invasion.

Hellbringer

MechWarrior 2 also didn’t ship with certain technologies that were present in 3057. Anti-missile systems, ECM, active probes, and basically anything that wasn’t a standard Clan weapon was just too complex for the developers to handle and still actually ship a completed game. To that end, many of the ‘Mechs featured in MechWarrior 2 didn’t arrive with their historically correct loadouts. Basically all the Firemoth alternate configurations were modified in some way, as was the primary config Hellbringer, several Kitfox variants, the Warhawk, and the Gargoyle Alt Config C and D.

Another limitation in MechWarrior 2 was that each ‘Mech could only carry a maximum of 10 weapon systems, which meant several weapons-heavy ‘Mechs also needed to be changed. The primary configuration of the Nova, famously comprised of 6 ER Medium Lasers in either fist, was instead changed to just 7 ER Medium Lasers, 2 Medium Pulse Lasers, and 1 ER Small Laser.

Strangely, Activision didn’t stop at just altering the Nova’s weapon loadout. They also gave the ‘Mech an Endo Steel chassis and a 300 XL engine to give it a running speed on par with that of the Storm Crow. Nobody is quite sure why they did that, and we can only assume it was to ensure the Nova stayed roughly on par with the Storm Crow in terms of performance.

Nova

The Timber Wolf and Dire Wolf also had minor changes to their primary configurations due to possessing too many weapon systems.

Unlike modern BattleTech games that limit the types of weapons that can be taken on an OmniMech, MechWarrior 2 allowed anything and everything on any given chassis. If you wanted to rip out the missiles and lasers on a Mad Dog and replace them with autocannons, that’s just fine. This would do nothing to the overall appearance of your ‘Mech, mind you, but you could do it. It wouldn’t be until MechWarrior 3 that dynamic loadouts were considered in a Mech’s model.

Piloting your multi-ton beast was done entirely via keyboard unless you were one of the lucky few who purchased MechWarrior 2 packaged with Microsoft’s Sidewinder joystick. The Sidewinder allowed you to control your ‘Mech’s torso by twisting the stick, making it a lot easier to maneuver your machine while maintaining weapons on your opponents. Otherwise, one hand was on the arrow keys while the other was busily hitting the “<>” keys to keep your torso pointed in the right direction.

The Prettiest Death Machines

But what truly set MechWarrior 2 above most PC games of the era was its graphics. MechWarrior 2 used dynamic lighting and color shading to really add depth to every world you encountered. Textures were entirely basic–you would see some bitmaps on each machine, but otherwise, every surface was just a flat color interrupted by the occasional sprite of a bush or piece of rubble.

And yet, somehow, it still holds up. Take a look at the video below to see for yourself.

MechWarrior 2 remained on the cutting edge of graphics technology for quite a few years following its initial release. As Digital Foundry calls it, the mid-’90s was a Wild West-era for PC gaming where there were multiple video card manufacturers and each one required their own special game release in order to take full advantage of what that manufacturer’s card could do. Activision catered to pretty much all of them, which meant that MechWarrior 2 was released in no less than 38 different versions over three years.

And frankly, a lot of them sucked. Sure, it was neat to see ground that was something other than a flat-shaded polygon, but in order to make the textures work, Activision had to remove a lot of the dynamic lighting that made the original DOS version look so great. They often also removed textures from the ‘Mechs themselves making them look drab and utterly boring.

Accerlated Graphics MW2

I managed to avoid those special editions. By the time I got my first PC upgrade, MechWarrior 3 and MechCommander were out, and they did a much better job of making things look pretty. But these graphically enhanced editions and expansions like Ghost Bear’s Legacy and the stand-alone MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries–packaged together as the Titanium Trilogy–kept the MechWarrior series relevant for years and were widely considered the golden age in ‘Mech simulator games.

The Little Things

Another thing that set MechWarrior 2 apart from games of the era was the music. Even today, MechWarrior 2’s soundtrack holds up extremely well, combining orchestral and digital sounds in a way that was both unique and cutting-edge for that era of PC gaming. It was also one of the first PC games to burn the music directly to the CD rather than encode it as MIDI files, meaning you could take the CD, put it in a Walkman, and listen to the entire score whenever you wanted.

There were way more little gems that set MechWarrior 2 apart. The manual came with its own Technical Readout section that basically took part of the actual Technical Readout: 3050 for the relevant ‘Mechs. There were little notes added in the margins to make it look like a pilot had been scribbling notes to provide cadets hints on how to succeed. And between every mission, there was a short story that provided you with a bigger picture of all the battles that were happening at that time in the Refusal War.

MW2 Timberwolf

I could say without a doubt that it was these little things that gave MechWarrior 2 a certain magic that no other game of the era possessed. The music, the lore–they all made it seem like MechWarrior 2 was bigger than it actually was, which if we’re being honest, wasn’t all that big. You could crunch out both campaigns in a single afternoon if you were really rushing it. But then you’d miss out on reading the stories that came before and after each mission, or on tweaking your ‘Mech so it was armed and armored exactly the way you wanted it.

Warhawk

That’s not to say MechWarrior 2 was perfect. The Windows 95 versions were often bug-filled messes that crashed after a few minutes of play. Splash damage was so hopelessly broken that it doubled or even tripled the stated damage of ER PPCs and LRMs, making a pair of LRM-20s capable of destroying any ‘Mech in a single salvo. And those LRMs were actually Streak LRMs considering how they locked-on and homed in on targets.

Let’s not even get started on the Sega Saturn or PlayStation versions of the game.

But these faults were relatively minor. MechWarrior 2 was the first game that truly captured the magic of BattleTech in a single experience. You had all the lore of previous BattleTech video games combined with the feeling of really being inside a multi-story death machine, with truly enough firepower to level a city block. That’s an intoxicating combination that snapped up more than a few impressionable young minds.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Let’s Talk About MechWarrior: Dark Age

 

Hi everyone. Pull up a chair, take a sit, grab a cup of hot cocoa. I want us to have a frank, honest discussion about MechWarrior: Dark Age.

Now, I know that Dark Age wasn’t particularly well received by the BattleTech faithful. There are plenty of good reasons for that–the complete sidelining of all the major houses, the inability for anybody to communicate due to the HPG blackout, and ‘Mech stats that didn’t even bother to follow the classic ‘Mech construction rules are all valid complaints. Even for me, as someone who arrived at BattleTech a little later on, thought that Dark Age represented a franchise reboot that pissed all over the original game’s charms.

I mean, who wants to field an army of modified AgroMechs and unarmored infantry? Nobody, that’s who. A glorified farmer in a chainsaw-wielding tractor with legs is nobody’s idea of a sound military strategy.

Dark Age Panther

courtesy of Troll and Toad

But I don’t want us to just spend an hour bashing Dark Age and blaming them for BattleTech’s relative obscurity in this era of increasing tabletop gaming interest (I think that has more to do with the complicated web of licenses and ownership of the original IP). There were real, genuine merits to MechWarrior: Dark Age.

First, there were the models themselves. I know plenty of people love painstakingly painting their own figures and even customizing them into miniature pieces of art, but man, I don’t have that kind of time! Being able to get a fully-painted and even slightly opposable figure straight out of the box was actually pretty cool, if I do say so myself, and they weren’t half bad! Sure, sometimes the arms fell off at the slightest provocation, but they were intricate, fully-painted models that look good for zero effort. I call that a win.

And the Clix system wasn’t half bad either. Let’s be real: BattleTech’s rules are a wee bit on the complicated side, as my 300-plus page tome of Total Warfare can attest (I had university textbooks that were smaller–just sayin’). Simplifying everything down to “damage equals clicks”, and having your ‘Mech’s or tank’s (or whatever) stats modified to represent battle damage with every click was actually a really clever way of making combat easier to keep track of.

Admittedly, using a tape-measure for movement a la Warhammer 40K made the rules slightly more complicated, but it also meant that Dark Age could be played anywhere and even household objects could be repurposed as ad hoc terrain. Empty bottle cans became buildings, moldy pizza boxes became swamps, and that bit of carpet where your dog threw-up became a toxic waste zone.

For some reason, my miniature battles were usually fought in some pretty rank areas.

Dark Age Swordsworn

via Twitter

I even appreciate the random “loot box” nature of buying most MechWarrior: Dark Age boxes. It was a lot like buying Magic: The Gathering cards, which was another pastime that I genuinely enjoyed. And even if you don’t like that aspect, the age of the internet has made purchasing specific figures in Dark Age or any other collectible game easier than ever–just go on eBay and you’ll probably find what you’re after.

Tundrawolf

via eBay

Anyways, my point is that Dark Age gets a lot of flack, and while a lot of is deserved, it’s important to understand that it wasn’t all bad. There were some truly innovative of fun aspects of Dark Age, and I kinda wish that some of those aspects could be incorporated into the original tabletop game. But no AgroMechs, please. Those were stupid.

Also, I’m selling my old Dark Age collection. It’s spring, I haven’t touched the things in years, and I suspect wherever I wind up next won’t have the storage space for me to keep these plastic bins as monuments to my childhood. So they gotta go.

Details are on the eBay listing. Yes, this is a shameless use of a pulpit for my personal benefit, but someone else should be able to get some joy from these toys so they don’t just languish in my basement. That and it’s tax season and Canadian taxes are no freakin’ joke!

And if that ultimately means my old collection gets chopped up to be used as props in someone else’s custom miniature scene because Dark Age is stupid and everybody hates it, that’s fine with me.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

The ‘Mechs That Time Forgot: Quad ‘Mechs

art by Shimmering Sword

art by Shimmering Sword

Well, they were never really forgotten–you can find Quad ‘Mechs as late as the 3140s with the introduction of Hell’s Horses QuadVees (and man, are those ‘Mechs ever a trip!). But Quad ‘Mechs, even though they certainly exist and a few of them are even fairly notable, are pretty easily forgotten. Why is that?

Maybe it’s because Quad ‘Mechs sort of ruin the whole image of a MechWarrior. ‘Mechs are often seen as these avatars of their pilots but made of metal and myomer, armed with more weapons than a battalion in today’s army and capable of leveling a city block with a single press of the trigger. It’s kinda hard to personify the person within if the thing on the outside is this four-legged beast.

For that reason, Quad ‘Mechs remain fairly rare in comparison to their two-legged counterparts, but there are also in-universe reasons why Quad ‘Mechs aren’t seen more often. Being rare and strange meant that technicians often didn’t know how to work on them, and it also meant spare parts were harder to come by. It’s easy to get a spare arm for a Centurion, but a spare leg for a Jaguar is a little harder to come by. You’d need a direct connection to the factory where the ‘Mech is built, which meant that Quad ‘Mechs often saw service only in the highest echelons of any military.

There were also unpopular with pilots for being… y’know, weird. You didn’t have a torso to twist, and not all Quads had turrets to make up for it. Having no arms or hands meant you couldn’t really interact with your environment in any way other than stomping the heck out of it, and on top of that, no arms meant no arm-mounted weapons, which seriously hampered a Quad ‘Mech’s firepower.

On top of that, everything on a Quad is essential. Sure, if you lose a leg you’re not nearly as useless as a two-legged ‘Mech, but losing an arm still allowed most ‘Mechs to run away to safety. Losing a leg seriously hampered a Quad ‘Mech’s mobility, making them unable to escape should a firefight turn bad for the home team.

That’s not to say that Quad ‘Mechs weren’t without advantages. Unlike other ‘Mechs, Quads could dance side to side in a sort of crab walk (even if the design was more canine than crabby) and they were very stable firing platforms (noted by their -2 piloting skill bonus when all legs are fully-functional). Quads are also shorter than most ‘Mechs, allowing them to gain concealment from terrain that would leave other ‘Mechs partially exposed.

Still, Quad ‘Mechs are rare in fiction and in real life. Just two Quad ‘Mechs have ever appeared in any BattleTech video games–the Scorpion in MechWarrior, and the Tarantula in MechWarrior 2–while the rest are rarely mentioned in novels.

Which is why I felt it was necessary to give these big four-legged brutes the proper tribute that they deserve. Let’s hit a few of the more well-known Quads and then you can inundate me with your favorite–and weirdest–Quad ‘Mech designs.

SCP-1N Scorpion

I admit, I have a soft spot for this ‘Mech. Not because I ever got to use it or anything (as I mentioned, Quads are notoriously absent from any BattleTech video games)–I just like the look of the thing. Kind of like if a modern APC sprouted dainty legs and tried to walk away from its problems.

I also like the design. A PPC and an SRM-6 is nothing to sneeze at (at least in the 3020s), and the Scorpion’s speed and sufficient armor meant that it could serve in a variety of combat roles. Things got even better after the Reseen designs emerged in 3067, although the SCP-12S version gets rid of the PPC for an LBX-10 in a move that makes it entirely ammo dependent.

Give me the SCP-10M with its Heavy PPC and vertically-firing LRM-10. Yes, it looks like it belongs more in anime than BattleTech, but dammit, it looks good.

GOL-1H Goliath

Now, if you wanna talk about ‘Mechs as walking tanks, it doesn’t get any closer than the Goliath. This thing is, quite literally, a tank that has sprouted legs. On the plus side, that turret means that you can shoot in any direction. On the downside, you look like a militarized giraffe that was recently decapitated.

The Goliath isn’t bad, as far as Succession Wars-era 80-ton assault ‘Mechs go. A running speed of 64 kph and an armament of two LRM-10s and a PPC puts it in line with most other 80-ton ‘Mecsh of the era. It even saw some prominence in fiction thanks to a brief appearance in Warrior: Riposte.

But man, does this thing look just freakin’ goofy.

The Reseen design improved things somewhat, giving it a more “beast of burden” look than a tank with delusions of quadrupedia (which is technically an Italian word I’m repurposing because it sounds cool). I do like the GOL-5D variant, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for a Rotary Autocannon.

ZPH-1 Tarantula

When I saw the Tarantula for the first time in MechWarrior 2, I thought, “Cool, a four-legged ‘Mech!” Then it died to a random PPC blast and I thought this thing was a fragile piece of !@$%.

And indeed, it is.

The Tarantula is a scout ‘Mech. It gives the Spider a run for its money with 8 Jump Jets, a running speed of nearly 130 kph, and an armament of 2 Medium Lasers and a Streak SRM-2. It also has ton more armor than the Spider as well. So why is the Spider so much more popular than the Tarantula when this thing actually looks like an arachnid?

Probably because the Tarantula looks freakin’ creepy. I wouldn’t want to pilot one, even if it is an extremely good scout ‘Mech.

BGS-1T Barghest

Now we’re heading into the Quad ‘Mechs that can really sow some discord. The Barghest might have four legs and all of its weapons in the torso, but those weapons are fierce. A pair of ER Large Lasers backed up by an LBX-20 is enough to give any ‘Mech a rough day.

Besides that, the Barghest was also one of the first Quad ‘Mech designs to look truly mean. It has the posture of an angry canine: hunched and ready to pounce. Plus, the design evolved in the absolute best direction, mounting Heavy Gauss Rifles, Ultra AC/20s, ER PPCs, and eventually Light PPCs and MMLs.

It’s just a shame the Lyrans didn’t make more of them.

TFT-A9 Thunder Fox

I have a confession to make: I actually really liked MechWarrior: Dark Age. Not the fiction, mind you–the whole HPG blackout and all these random factions made it weird. No, I liked the ‘Mechs, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Okay, I’m a little ashamed.

But the Thunder Fox is super cool. It’s a warhorse ‘Mech aimed straight for my heart. It’s cheap, it’s well armed, and it’s well armored. You can make an army of these bad boys and take down anyone in the Inner Sphere and still have C-Bills to spare.

Admittedly, the art and overall design make the Thunder Fox look a lot swifter than it actually is. Top speed is 64 clicks (which is not exactly stellar for a 55 ton ‘Mech) with a trio of Jump Jets to turn it around if it finds itself pointed in the wrong direction. It only has a ton of ammo for its Light Gauss Rifle and Streak SRM-4, so it’s not exactly equipped for prolonged engagements.

But you gotta admit, the Thunder Fox looks freakin’ cool. If I had to pilot a Quad, this would be the Quad for me.

So what’s your favorite Quad ‘Mech? Let us knew in the comments!

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games – MechWarrior 2: The Clans

Welcome to another part in Sarna’s retrospective series of old BattleTech video games.

Last time we took a look at the original MechWarrior and saw how it would set the stage for the breakout ‘Mech classic, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat. But there was a lot of work to go from the pixelated and basic graphics of MechWarrior to the fully 3D environments of MechWarrior 2. So much work that it actually took two tries to get it right.

I speak of the long-forgotten first attempt at a MechWarrior sequel known as MechWarrior 2: The Clans.

That’s right: before we had MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat, Activision tried their hands at a MechWarrior sequel that had way more than just Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon going at it for bragging rights.

We’ll get to that in a bit, but first, let’s recap what happened after the original MechWarrior hit store shelves in 1989. To summarize, the original developer Dynamix got bought by Sierra On-Line and used their tech to create Earthsiege, and then later Tribes, and then later still go bankrupt. That meant that the original game engine left with Dynamix, leaving Activision to start from square one.

Which is exactly what they did starting in 1992. Activision gave the game an ambitious release date of sometime in 1993, which meant that the development team had just over a year to go from nothing to a full 3D ‘Mech simulator.

As any game developer can tell you, that’s not enough time. Especially for a team of roughly a dozen over-worked and underpaid people.

Adder

courtesy of Local Ditch

So anyway, 1993 came and went without much of a game, but Activision did put out a playable demo that showed just exactly where MechWarrior 2 was headed. What we get is a strange amalgamation of ‘Mech models that would become familiar in the real MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat and the old bitmap-style cockpit that was the mainstay of the original MechWarrior.

You can see where the demo was going with a lot of the cockpit stuff: the altimeter, bearing indicator, and torso-twist indicator look and feel exactly as they do in the final MechWarrior 2. The radar now sat dead center in the screen, while the exterior portion of the cockpit would bounce around with the ‘Mechs movement.

That exterior skeletal portion, as well as the green letters of the HUD, would be the only things that survive into the finished MW2. That and the overall look of the models, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the ‘Mechs we know and love.

However, there were a lot of limitations to the demo. First, you couldn’t get critical hits so you never had to worry about losing any of your components. Second, you couldn’t lose limbs which meant that losing an arm didn’t mean a whole lot. Instead, you just kept shooting until your armor and internal structure depleted, at which point you exploded.

Besides the whole fully 3D game thing, Activision had some big plans for MechWarrior 2: The Clans. Originally there were going to be 6 clans total, including Can Wolf, Jade Falcon, Smoke Jaguar, Nova Cat, Ghost Bear, and Steel Viper. There would also be 8-player multiplayer free-for-alls where everyone could enjoy a good ‘ol Grand Melee whenever they wanted. For its time, the game was really forward thinking.

So what happened to MechWarrior 2: The Clans? Perhaps in a sign of things to come, Activision’s marketing team and executives kept pushing for a finished game that was nowhere near ready to be published. According to an ancient article from Local Ditch, there were internal disputes over when to release as well as some legally questionable arguments between the game’s producer Kelly Zmak and Activision higher-ups. And even though the team had 3 programmers officially, most of the work on the game’s engine was being done by one guy: Eric Peterson.

Mech Bay

courtesy of Local Ditch

Eric would describe in his personal blog working 14-16 hour days on MechWarrior 2, although he admitted that had as much to do with loving the work as it did with any pressure from Activision. Eric would also be the only person on the original MW2 team to be credited on the final version of MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat, with the second team’s producer explaining that much of the final game’s engine could be chalked up to Eric’s work.

By 1994, the original team working on MechWarrior 2: The Clans had all left Activision for greener pastures. At the time, it looked like Activision would kill the game entirely, but a guy named Tim Morten proved instrumental in convincing the bigwigs in charge to continue development. Tim would build on Eric’s original designs and eventually finish the game and release it as MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat in 1995.

The biggest differences between what would have been The Clans and MW2: 31st Century Combat mostly boiled down the story. The Clans was more of a random mission generator attached to a multiplayer game, while the MW2 that got released offered a single player campaign set during the Refusal War between Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon. It also meant that the other Clans would have to take a bit of a backseat (at least until the first expansion came along).

Technologically, MW2: 31st Century Combat had two big improvements over The Clans: dynamic lighting and a fully 3D environment. Lighting effects from explosions and even a moving sun would change the shadows and colors that the player sees to be far more realistic, while the 3D environment got rid of all the old bitmaps that made the game seem a lot more like the original MechWarrior than a true sequel.

We’ll take a bigger look at the real MechWarrior 2 next time, so stay tuned.

Once again, a big shout out to Chris Chapman who can be considered an official BattleTech games historian at this point. He also sent me an entire scan of the original The Clans promo box, which Activision sent out a little prematurely but Chris somehow still got his hands on one.

And as always MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games – MechWarrior

Welcome back to Sarna’s retrospective on classic BattleTech video games! I’ll be your host as we look back on some of the games that made BattleTech and MechWarrior the storied franchises they are today.

We’re going to switch things up a bit due to some… we’ll call it “negative feedback” that was given during my last foray into the Crescent Hawks Inception. I understand that some of these classic games might not quite be the shining jewel of digital accomplishment when compared to more modern ‘Mech games, but at the time they were real accomplishments that should be respected for the stepping stones they were.

That and nobody likes having their childhoods shit on, no matter how awful the sound effects were.

So instead of a pseudo-review where I start tossing out crazy things like numbered scales, we’re going to just look at the game’s history and see what it contributed towards modern MechWarrior titles. Starting with the original first-person ‘Mech combat simulator, MechWarrior.

MechWarrior was originally published in 1989 by a little company called Activision–you might know them as the massive game corporation that’s slowly eating Blizzard Entertainment alive right before our very eyes. Back in the day, the evils of microtransactions and rushed development cycles weren’t nearly as prevalent, so Activision was just another little fish in the nascent pond of PC gaming.

While Activision published the game, it was created by a humble team of 17 dudes working at Dynamix Inc. Dynamix would eventually be bought-out by Sierra On-Line, creating both Tribes and Earthsiege as their subsidiary, but back in 1989, they were known for creating flight simulators like A-10 Tank Killer, F-14 Tomcat, Arctic Foxand Red Baron.

They also made Abrams Battle Tank, a tank simulator game that shares much of its engine with MechWarrior. I never played the original MechWarrior, but I did play Abrams Battle Tank, and the similarities in the first-person combat sequences are uncanny.

However, MechWarrior is only half about the giant stompy robot combat. Much of the game still harkens back to the text adventure style of gameplay exemplified in the prior Crescent Hawks PC games, with the player going from planet to planet seeking fortune and machinery as they build up the Blazing Aces mercenary company.

Almost all of the modern BattleTech games, including BattleTech and the upcoming MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, can thank the original MechWarrior for the whole “mercenary commander” gameplay loop.

In MechWarrior, you play as Gideon Braver, a disgraced Davion noble who’s forced to flee his home planet due to some inter-familial intrigue (ie. a bunch of ‘Mechs showed up and killed everyone). Since Braver has some cash and an old Jenner just lying around, he decides to take up the mercenary mantle and start making some green (C-Bills, that is). Braver will then journey all over the Inner Sphere, building up his company’s strength and meeting such notable BattleTech personalities as Natasha Kerensky and her Black Widow Company.

But Braver never really forgets his heritage and continues to pursue his family’s killers even as he chases after the almighty C-Bill and a better set of robot legs. It’s during these text-heavy portions of the game where the player can branch into several different endings, depending on what the player decides to do.

For the text portions of the game, you can see some very significant improvements in MechWarrior over Crescent Hawks Inception–most notably in the art. Full-screen, vibrantly colored pixel images add a lot more atmosphere, and additional music plays during certain areas of exploration (usually in the bar).

Sound effects are also improved, although still a far cry from what would be heard in the sequel, MechWarrior 2.

There are eight ‘Mechs the player can purchase (salvage is represented only in C-Bills and not in the burnt-out wrecks of your foes) including the Locust, Jenner, Phoenix Hawk, Shadow Hawk, Rifleman, Warhammer, Marauder, and BattleMaster. The Scorpion, Atlas, and Griffin are also mentioned but aren’t pilotable. Since the tonnage tops out at the BattleMaster and Marauder, this is the main reason why these two ‘Mechs still have reputations amongst the BattleTech faithful as being scary as all get out. 

As I mentioned before, much of MechWarrior’s combat will appear the same as Abrams Battle Tank as they use very similar engines. Terrain appears as large polygons while the ‘Mechs themselves appear as smaller, more colorful objects. The player can zoom-in to get a better view of their foes and engage with long-range weapons or wait for them to close to use things like lasers and SRMs.

There’s no denying that the combat is pretty basic, but you can see how MechWarrior created the template for all other games to follow. A giant radar dominates the center screen with heat and jump jet gauges to either side. Weapons status are all listed in the lower right corner, while enemy target data appears in the lower right. That’s all still essentially the same in MechWarrior Online, with the minor tweak of enemy combat data appearing in the upper right corner and the player’s own ‘Mech’s status appearing in the lower left.

(Things would get completely swapped around in MechWarrior 2, but we’ll dig into that later.)

With Dynamix doing such a great job of mixing the classic text adventure elements with a more modern 3D simulator, it’s almost sad that Activision had to go it alone for the sequel, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat. But as I said before, Dynamix (and all their proprietary 3D engines) got picked up by Sierra On-Line, and that was it for them. 

If you want a great example of what a MechWarrior 2 made by Dynamix would have looked like, check out Earthsiege. It’s an interesting alternative view of what MechWarrior could have been rather than what it turned out to be.

With incredible thanks to Chris Chapman who provided a lot of invaluable information on Dynamix and MechWarrior’s development.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games, “MechWarrior 3050”

MechWarrior 3050

Welcome back to Did You Know?, the Sarna series where we look at some of the obscure corners of BattleTech history. We’re continuing our series on retro BattleTech video games with a look at an old favorite from the days of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: MechWarrior 3050.

I go on a lot about how MechWarrior 2 was the first BattleTech game I’ve ever played, and while we’ll eventually get to the Activision classic where I will sing its praises to the high heavens, it is not actually the first BattleTech game I ever played.

That dubious honor goes to MechWarrior 3050. Or actually, the Sega Genesis version, which was named BattleTech for no particular reason other than to differentiate itself. It’s the same game, although the SNES version was developed by Tiburon Entertainment and the Sega game was made by Malibu Interactive. Tiburon eventually got sucked into the enormous games empire that became EA, while Malibu Interactive morphed into a “media management” company and no longer makes video games.

Malibu Interactive pioneered the sort of top-down isometric gameplay that became the hallmark of various games throughout the early ‘90s published through EA. Somehow, the boys over at Malibu managed to get their hands on a BattleTech license and made their own game, following the same format they used in the Strike series of helicopter games: Desert Strike and Jungle Strike. Tiburon eventually ported it to the SNES under the name MechWarrior 3050 to leech off the popularity of MechWarrior 2, which was a best-selling PC game at the time.

I played both Desert Strike and Jungle Strike and I loved every second of them. It was perhaps the very first “open sandbox”-style of game I’d ever played (having skipped The Legend of Zelda since elves were lame, but attack helicopters were cool). And while Desert Strike and Jungle Strike managed to create an engaging and fun experience, MechWarrior 3050 suffered from quite a few problems.

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But first, a brief explanation for those unfamiliar with the game. In MechWarrior 3050 (or BattleTech for us Sega babies) you play as an unnamed Clan Wolf MechWarrior during the invasion of the Inner Sphere. Missions amount to little more than orders being barked at you by Galaxy Commander Conal Ward (although he’s called Colonel Ward in the game) and then you got dropped solo in your Timberwolf to carry out those orders behind enemy lines.

Before each mission, you’re able to customize your ‘Mech’s armament to suit the objective, choosing between ER PPCs, Gauss Rifles, Arrow VI Missiles (even though those should be Arrow IVs) and a selection of smaller armaments. Each weapon has different properties, such as extreme range on the Arrow VIs or an area-of-effect cluster bomb-like explosion on the Gauss Rifle.

For those of you who haven’t played the game, you’re probably already a little annoyed with all the weird departures from BattleTech canon this game has already taken. Trust me, those departures are hardly the worst aspects of MechWarrior 3050. If you want an exhaustive list of every way the game diverges from BattleTech lore, you can check out the Sarna wiki-page on the matter. Suffice to say, Malibu Interactive played VERY fast and loose with the lore, which is likely why it never really caught on with the BattleTech faithful.

I played this game back before I’d even known about the BattleTech universe, but even then I found some of the game’s choices pretty questionable. Why did lasers require ammunition? Why did my ‘Mech never take damage and instead required “coolant” to repair itself? Why did Gauss Rifles arc and explode like cluster bombs when the booklet said it was a magnetically accelerated slug?

It was weird, but if you’re willing to look past it, there were worse problems.

Easily the biggest issue the game has was the big-honkin’ 75-ton ‘Mech sitting in the middle of the screen. In order to give the impression of size, Malibu made the Timberwolf appropriately large in comparison to everything else. The only problem with that was that your ‘Mech took up most of your view and prevented you from seeing your opponents before they were already on top of you.

Mostly due to your own ‘Mech taking up most of the screen, the game was extremely challenging. You’d be getting shot from off-screen with no other warning besides your ‘Mech taking damage. Enemy ‘Mechs would charge in and get off multiple shots before you could even respond, causing the player to panic and miss vitally important retorts.

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Besides that, there were various tunnels and bases that would endlessly spawn enemies until the player could destroy them. This endless spawn system would also tax your limited ammunition supplies, making empty ammo bins a common enough problem that the player would be forced to commit seppuku just to restock their weapons (you had three lives for each mission, and respawning meant a full ammo bin). 

In Malibu’s previous helicopter-based games, it was possible to take your time and carefully assess situations before committing to action. In MechWarrior 3050, that wasn’t an option. Endlessly spawning enemies combined with limited perspective made the only method of progression a depressing grind of trial and error, repeating each planet until you’d simply memorized the locations of all ammo drops and enemies.

To sum up, MechWarrior 3050 was really freakin’ hard. I beat it once, but after that, I traded it in for a copy of Jungle Strike where I had infinitely more fun.

In retrospect, I think that MechWarrior 3050 was an attempt by an EA-affiliated developer to cash in on an established audience. They took the same engine from their previous games, replaced the helicopter with a giant stompy robot, and then threw in a bunch of random bits of BattleTech lore without bothering to fact check or even ensure that anything made sense. There was a distinct lack of polish compared to previous offerings that really soured the whole thing.

The most hilarious aspect of the game was how Colonel Ward would just announce your promotion until eventually declaring you Kahn, but he’d still act like he was your boss.

Was there anything good about MechWarrior 3050? Well, your Timberwolf’s animation looked very smooth (especially in comparison to enemy ‘Mechs), and it was certainly a challenging game. But these minor pros don’t counterbalance the much larger list of cons.

I give MechWarrior 3050 1 star out of 5.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy