First, a big thanks to Reddit user a_false_vacuum who posted over on r/OutreachHPG that this thing exists. Kudos to you! For the rest of us, gaze in wonder at what is probably the easiest way to play older MechWarrior games.
Well, sort of. We’ll get to the big caveats in a sec. First, how does this whole thing work? Basically, the Internet Archive has an image of the CDs and an applet that runs a DOS emulator through your browser. You download the emulator and the CD, which means a 740 MB download. That might take a few minutes, depending on your internet speed.
After that, the whole freakin’ think loads in your PC’s RAM and runs from there. This has a few problems, most notably that you can’t save your game; as soon as the browser closes, everything gets wiped and you have to re-download the game all over again. You CAN save your game in a far less meaningful way by simply returning to the title screen, but once you close the window it’s game over for good.
Another problem is that since everything is done through the browser it’s a bit of a resource hog. And by hog I mean a voracious CPU-eating apocalypse. The menus and intro videos play just fine, but when you actually get into a ‘Mech the whole thing slows to a crawl.
I got about 1 frame every 2 seconds on my laptop. Things didn’t improve much when I moved to my desktop, and my desktop PC is a fairly beefy machine running most games on high graphical settings. But then again, I was using Google Chrome. Perhaps a slimmer, more streamlined browser will actually be able to get this game to run a bit better.
It’s a real shame too since I’d love to have an easier way to play some of these older games. Browser-based ‘Mech-bashing just sounds super cool and perfect for the 21st century. If someone could get this to work and tell me how you did it, I’d be awfully grateful.
I’m told thanks to the Reddit comments that the MechWarrior 2 version of the game actually allows you to download the ROM, so in theory, you can just download your own DOS emulator to play it that way instead. That’s one step more than being a browser-based game and is thus inferior, but would likely provide a far superior gameplay experience in being able to actually save your progress.
For those unfamiliar with MechWarrior 2, I did a pretty big write-up on it a little while ago. We’ll get to MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries in due time.
As much I loved stomping around in polygonal representations of giant robots armed to the teeth with lasers and PPCs, MechWarrior 2 wouldn’t be half the game it was without that bitchin’ set of tunes guiding me every inch of the way. This was the first game I played that actually had a soundtrack worth mentioning. Sure, there were other games with some great music at the time, but none of them had the polish, the fidelity, or the sheer quality as MechWarrior 2’s soundtrack.
A lot of that quality can be traced back directly to the game’s composer, Jeehun Hwang (with the help of Gregory Alper and Kelly Walker Rogers, but we’re going to focus on Hwang for this article). This guy has done a ton of work in video games, contributing music to Quake, Heavy Gear, and Battlezone. Amazingly, Hwang’s first ever video game soundtrack was MechWarrior 2, and he hit it out of the park on the first try.
Here’s a refresher in case you might need it:
In an interview with Indie Game Reviewer.com, Hwang recounts how he landed the gig. He first started out as a production assistant at Activision just to make some cash. After moving to Los Angeles, he sold his car and purchased his first synthesizer–a Korg X2 sequencer–and worked on his music career in his spare time.
“At first, I was asked to help with the composer selection process, but then I brought in a few tracks that I’d written for the game on my Korg X2 internal sequencer, and shortly after, I was asked to stay home and write music full time,” Hwang recalls. “I got a lucky break since the game was such a big success, and my music reached a big audience and got a lot of recognition. The rest is history.”
Another interview with SoundOnSound (courtesy of a NeoGAF thread) went into a bit more detail on how that initial interview went. “After I’d written a few songs I took them in and there was this big meeting with everyone, including the head of the company, where first they played all the music the other guy had done and then they played my music. To my surprise, I got a standing ovation!
“I was literally learning as they were paying me,” he continued. “It was the very first time I’d used a computer sequencer: prior to that, I didn’t even know they existed! They also wanted me to score the movies–the intro and outro–so I got an old VCR with timecode and pretty much scored everything in real time and then went back over them. It wasn’t really the conventional way of doing things and it took a long time, but I worked very hard on it.”
All that hard work paid off. MechWarrior 2 won a slew of awards from gaming publications, and many of them were specifically for Hwang’s incredible music.
It’s hard to pin down a single genre to describe MechWarrior 2’s soundtrack. Parts of it are filled with orchestral grandeur, others with a sort of jungle bongo rhythm, and still others with an electronic futurism that holds up even today.
Besides the music itself, there were a few other things that really made the MechWarrior 2 soundtrack stand out, and the first was the disk it was recorded on. For most games of the era, music was encoded into MIDI files and installed on the computer’s hard drive. Now, I’m not knocking MIDI music, but a lot of early PC game soundtracks were just plain bad and it had a lot to do with the fact that MIDI music files were designed to be as small as possible. There just wasn’t a lot of physical memory available for more complex sounds, and it showed.
MechWarrior 2 did things differently. The game’s soundtrack was actually encoded directly onto the game disc itself using a relatively new technology called Compact Disc Digital Audio (CDDA or CD-DA), also known simply as Red Book Audio CD. The technology was essentially just a set of standards used to encode music onto the digital compact disc format. It had been used for years in the music industry so that Sony Walkmans could navigate from one track to the next, but it was still relatively new to PC gaming in 1995.
MechWarrior 2 was one of the first games in the world to use this format to encode its soundtrack. This meant that the PC’s sound card would read the disk and play the disc’s music while the rest of the computer concerned itself with running the game. It also meant you could take MechWarrior 2’s disc, put it in a regular old CD player, and listen to the soundtrack wherever and whenever you wanted.
It was also one of the few ways to listen to MechWarrior 2’s entire soundtrack. A bug in earlier versions of the game caused certain songs to never play for the mission they were intended and instead repeated the tracks from other missions.
I can’t tell you how many walks home from school were spent listening to the MechWarrior 2 soundtrack. And from the looks of things, I wasn’t the only one. In fact, some very talented people have taken the MechWarrior 2 soundtrack and used it as the inspiration for their own musical endeavors.
The one person I’d like to mention is Timothy Seals, an Australian artist who took eight songs from MechWarrior 2 and remixed them into something that’s both very modern and very awesome. His album is called New Dawn, which you can listen to and download for free on his Bandcamp site (although as a “pay what you want” download, he’d certainly appreciate it if you’d toss him a few bucks).
These are some very faithful recreations of MechWarrior 2 music using modern software and not some ancient Korg sequencer. I think the kids these days would call it a “cover”, but I’m not a music writer, so I have no idea.
And before I leave you, I just wanted to note how the song Pyre Light has a very special place in my heart. Way back in the day when I was first being introduced to the world of the internet and was suddenly confronted with the necessity of an online handle, I chose “Pyre Light” in honor of MechWarrior 2.
I’ve long since abandoned that name, but the song still hits me in the feels every time I hear it.
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.
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
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.
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 Firemothalternate configurations were modified in some way, as was the primary config Hellbringer, several Kitfoxvariants, the Warhawk, and the GargoyleAlt 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.
The Timber Wolfand Dire Wolfalso 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.
I managed to avoid those special editions. By the time I got my first PC upgrade, MechWarrior 3 and MechCommanderwere 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Fox, and 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 BattleTechand 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 Jennerjust 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 Griffinare also mentioned but aren’t pilotable. Since the tonnage tops out at the BattleMaster and Marauder, this is the main reason why these two ‘Mechsstill 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.
Blaine Lee Pardoe just posted a treasure trove of BattleTech artifacts.
This is pretty incredible for anyone who’s super into the history of BattleTech. Blaine Lee Pardoe, the legendary author and writer of the most recently released BattleTech novel, The Anvil, has uploaded a bunch of scanned copies of original tech documents from the founding days of BattleTech.
I already knew that Pardoe played a key role in much BattleTech’s narrative, but I had no idea he also got to write up the back stories of some of the most iconic ‘Mechs the game has ever seen. ‘Mechs like the Locust, Warhammer, Shadow Hawk, and BattleMaster all had Pardoe’s mark in their gritty backstories.
Besides just identifying what ‘Mechs were his to write about, Mr. Pardoe also posted the original drafts of the BattleMaster, including the very first image of the 85-ton death machine.
The text portion was a little light over on Pardoe’s blog, but with the power of some photo editing software I’ve darkened them up to be a little more legible.
It’s pretty amazing to see an entire ‘Mech design was nothing more than numbers of graph paper in the beginning. The text portion (most of which eventually made it into the 3025 TRO) is equally as neat, especially the later portions that had to do with notable pilots and variants. We know from previous posts that Pardoe will occasionally take real-life people to include in his fluff, so some of these might actually be real people (he didn’t confirm that in his blog post, however).
courtesy of Blaine Lee Pardoe
courtesy of Blaine Lee Pardoe
Although the only two variants posted were the BLR-1G and the BLR-1D, there is mention of the BLR-1S without naming it specifically. This was actually added later in the 3039 TRO, but here we get to see how Pardoe created the “rumor” that eventually became another cannon variant of the BattleMaster.
Blaine wasn’t able to name the ‘Mechs himself (the pictures and names were given to him by the FASA bigwigs at the time), but he was able to name some of the support vehicles, such as the Stuka, the Seydlitz, and the Chippewa. The first two are named after a German WWII dive bomber and a WWI battlecruiser, but the Chippewa is actually named after the old mascot for Central Michigan University.
There was one ‘Mech that Pardoe mentioned that apparently had a big kerfuffle when it was introduced: the Grand Titan. This must’ve been before my time because from the description it seems there were some mathematical errors, which Pardoe explained as being due to him not having his design docs when he writing up the Titan and creating the ‘Mech entirely from memory.
Personally, I always liked the Grant Titan even though as a 100-ton assault ‘Mech it doesn’t make sense for a big, tanky ‘Mech to have an XL Engine. But all those flaws were part of the original design’s charm.
After the Grand Titan snafu, Pardoe stopped designing ‘Mechs, but he’ll be coming back to the drawing board in his upcoming novella all about Wolf’s Dragoons.
There’s even more on Pardoe’s website, so check it out when you’ve got a chance.
There’s a lot of mysteries in the BattleTech universe. Who was the Bounty Hunter? What caused the HPG Blackout of 3132? What did Victor Steiner Davion like to have with his coffee? These are questions we may never have the answers to.
But every so often a mystery gets solved when a BattleTech line developer descends from on high into the depths of a forum and drops a bombshell.
One of those mysteries is the origins of Devlin Stone. You might recall Devlin from the least-liked era of BattleTech history, the Dark Age. After leading a rebellion on the conquered world of Kittery against the Word of Blake, he eventually became the general of an army that defeated the entire Wobbie army and retook Terra. Then he got installed as Exarch of the newly formed Republic of the Sphere and he lived was happily ever after.
That is until he announced his retirement. Then he sort of disappeared as mysteriously as he appeared and never came back.
As weird as it is for this monumental hero to just show up out of nowhere, it’s almost just as weird for him to step back from the limelight with little fanfare. I mean, it would’ve made more sense for him to just die of a heart attack like Hanse did.
But narrative criticisms aside (which we could lob at the Dark Age all day long), Devlin did play an important role in BattleTech history, so we should have some idea of his origins. For the longest time, there were only rumors perpetuated by sourcebooks and novels. The biggest one was that Devlin Stone was actually Arthur Steiner Davion returned from the grave.
There’s little hard evidence to support this, but what little there is can seem compelling. First, Patriots and Tyrants strongly implies that Arthur did not, in fact, die in the bomb explosion that supposedly took his life. Second, the sourcebook Jihad Secrets: The Blake Documents reveals that Arthur was in fact captured by Word of Blake and sent to Kittery, where Stone would eventually rise to prominence. Finally, the pair seem to share political views as revealed by Arthur’s speech just before he was assassinated and Devlin Stone’s actions in creating the Republic of the Sphere.
And that’s where Devlin’s story rested for many years until assistant BattleTech line developer Ray Arrastia dropped this news in the BattleTech forums a few weeks ago:
“Here’s the thing. Stone was a Rabid Foxes operative, and one of those four was Stone’s cover identity. While Stone was intended to be a ‘nobody,’ he wasn’t supposed to be ‘no one special.’
“But all that’s unofficial unless it ever gets published somehow, and any window for delving into Stone’s past likely closed years ago, IMO.”
I think most of us can agree that Blaine is one of BattleTech’s greatest authors. For me, he’s right behind Mike Stackpole (sorry Blaine, I just like the political intrigue too much!), but Blaine’s ‘Mech battles were always the best of the best. And in a recent post on his blog, Blaine told the tale of what is perhaps the highest point of BattleTech lore, and that’s the lead up to Task Force Serpent and the Inner Sphere invasion of Huntress, the home planet of Clan Smoke Jaguar.
Back in that era of BattleTech’s history, novels drove the universe forward and products were released in time with the novels so people could play out the battles they’d just recently read about. Lately it’s been sourcebooks that have been driving things, but hopefully that’ll change with the release of more fiction this year.
But I digress. As Mr. Pardoe tells it, the origins of the Smoke Jaguar’s demise came over meals at Gen Con with many of BattleTech’s greatest authors and creators sitting around a table and weirding out all the normies. Sam Lewis pitched the idea of the Inner Sphere turning things around and having the Inner Sphere invade the Clans, and Pardoe was given the task of setting that stage. Or as Blaine puts it, “kind of the sacrificial lamb role.”
But how could the Inner Sphere get the route back to the Clan Homeworlds? Rather than have a Smoke Jaguar work with a ComStar agent to betray the clans, things were originally going to be a lot different.
“The original plan I came up with was to hijack a Clan warship and take the information of the route to the homeworlds from their navcomputer,” writes Pardoe. “That was what I drafted at least. It was no more than three paragraphs at this stage. There was a ground battle at a spaceport (you had to have some ‘Mech combat after all) then the team would make their way to the ship in orbit, seize her in a furious shipboard battle against Elementals – and the route to the Clan homeworlds would belong to the Inner Sphere. I called it Exodus Road, the route back along Kerensky’s exodus route. More importantly, I got to play with a warship which was something I always wanted for Christmas but never got.”
While Blaine would eventually get to play with warships, the plot for the first book would change dramatically before the final draft got in. Instead of invading Strana Mechty and holding the main Clan genetic repository hostage, the attack was focused on the Jaguars and invading Huntress. The source of the exodus road was also changed to Trent, a disenfranchised Jaguar warrior, rather than the hijack of a Clan warship.
Eventually, things arrived at Exodus Road, the first book of the Twilight of the Clans saga.
There’s way more interesting behind the scenes stuff on Blaine’s blog post, so go check it out. He even drops a bombshell about the fate of Trent!
A couple weeks back the fine folks over at Polygon decided to run a huge spread on all things BattleTech, covering the latest from Harebrained Schemes and PGI (along with their latest teaser video for Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries), but also going way further than most mainstream publications ever go and actually interviewing the creators of BattleTech itself: Jordan Weisman, Randall Bills, and L. Ross Babcock.
For BattleTech history buffs (of which I know there’s quite a few of you around) there’s not a whole lot new being told in the interview, but there are a few nice tidbits to be had in the interview such as how Babcock and Weisman decided to demo their first edition of the BattleTech box set. Apparently, rather than merely mark down the battle damage their ‘Mechs were taking, the two of them would take it a step further and actually take a power drill to the figurines after they took a PPC hit.
“Those were the demo games we ran. They’d get good crowds going because everyone was saying, ‘Those maniacs are pulling apart these beautiful figures with a pair of pliers!’ So that was our first marketing campaign, just going around, doing those demo games and burning up our products for fun.”
On top of that, there was one pretty awesome story about a marketing stunt FASA pulled in 1988 at GenCon 21. Back then, the marriage between House Steiner and House Davion in the year 3028 was big news, and to commemorate the occasion Weisman and company invited everyone to a fake wedding held at the convention.
The whole thing was done as a radio event, with the announcer describing how the fictional wedding went down millennia in the future. They also served cake, and just as everyone was finishing, the announce dropped the big twist: that the Federated Commonwealth was invading House Liao, and on everyone’s plates were planets that were being invaded.
Those people then took part in a massive tabletop game, the results of which were used to create the next series of sourcebooks and novels.
Polygon also put out a very nice timeline of events, which of course Sarna has had for eons, but you can’t fault them for trying. Their timeline only goes up to 3049, which stops a bit short of the known boundaries of BattleTech lore. Again, can’t fault them for trying.