Category Archives: Editorial

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.

Pic 2

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.

Pic 5

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crescent Hawk 4

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

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

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

Crescent Hawk 3

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

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

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

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

Crescent Hawk 5

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

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

Phoenix Hawk LAM

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

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

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

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

I give it two stars out of five.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Harmony Gold vs. BattleTech – An Actual Lawyer Weighs In

courtesy of marcomazzoni.dunked.com

courtesy of marcomazzoni.dunked.com

There’s been a lot of speculation on the Harmony Gold v. BattleTech lawsuit, and I’m sorry to say some of that speculation may have come from this very publication. Previous articles from yours truly may have made it seem like the ongoing lawsuit is on its last legs and that we were all moments away from our triumphant victory.

That may have been more wishful thinking on my part, as it turns out. But, rather than me preface every article with the now-standard “I’m not a lawyer, but”, we’ve reached out to an ACTUAL lawyer to get his professional two cents.

Let me introduce you all to Robert Spendlove, an intellectual property lawyer and partner at the law firm of Laubscher, Spendlove & Laubscher. In his own words, Robert “has worked extensively in the gaming and toy industry, for and against such companies as Nintendo, Zuru, Disney, Turbine, and Sony.”

But more importantly, Robert is also a huge BattleTech nerd with over thirty years of losing countless hours to various iterations of the franchise on either tabletop or personal computer. This guy knows two things: BattleTech and IP law, and he’s also pretty damned good at explaining the two.

So good, in fact, that he wrote a big long essay on the current state of the lawsuit that I just couldn’t bear to slice and condense. Thus, to correct my own mistakes and give us all a unique insight into what’s going on, I present to you Robert’s take. Enjoy! Continue reading

An Ode To The Flea, Finally Coming To MechWarrior Online

flea

courtesy of MechWarrior Online

My friends, I bring tidings of great joy. MechWarrior Online is finally getting a ‘Mech that has been ignored for far too long given it’s illustrious and storied history. Finally, loyal ‘Mech fans will be able to pilot perhaps the greatest ‘Mech to ever grace the pages of BattleTech.

I of course speak of the noble Flea.

TP-1R Trooper

A rare sight in the Inner Sphere for centuries, the Flea had a troubled childhood. Initially known as the Trooper, it was developed by the Free Worlds League in 2475. The initial prototypes were so heavily flawed, however, that it took twenty-five years of additional development before the prototype could even be considered by the League’s Ministry of Defence, and even then it’s rumored to have required some hefty bribes before they agreed to take on the Trooper as their dedicated reconnaissance ‘Mech.

The design was rechristened the Flea in order to distance it from its troubled development. The Flea proved high maneuverable and effective against infantry and lightly armored targets, but utterly incapable of engaging ‘Mechs more heavily armed than itself. Excessive losses deterred the League from ordering replacements, and it wasn’t until Wolf’s Dragoons arrived did the Inner Sphere see the Flea in action again.

With the Dragoons using the Flea to great effect, the little ‘Mech gained a notoriety that eventually climbed to fame. It eventually became such a desired design that the Capellan Confederation’s Maskirovka raided a League factory for the ‘Mech’s schematics. Fleas began popping up in Capellan militias and then in planetary armies across the Inner Sphere.

Despite its obvious capabilities, the Flea suffered from several flaws. The FLE-17, by far the most common variant, was considered too slow after the arrival of the clans and technology allowed for XL engines to become the new standard in light ‘Mechs. Its armor was, likewise, insufficient for all but the lightest of combat duty.

Flea

courtesy of confracto.com

But largest of all was how most variants of the Flea lacked jump jets, preventing a ‘Mech named after a famously jumping creature from actually jumping at all.

The Flea was originally intended to be included in the first batch of ‘Mechs released with MechWarrior Online but was sidelined for reasons that were never explained. In all likelihood, the game’s developers were concerned with what such a small and maneuverable chassis would do for the overall competitiveness of light ‘Mechs.

That doesn’t explain why the Locust was eventually introduced before the Flea, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is, the Flea is finally set to arrive, and I for one am very glad for it. It’s been a very long time coming.

Pre-orders bonus rewards end on March 31st, with the Flea itself arriving in game June 19th.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy