“This thing is the coolest ‘Mech you’ll ever drop feet-first into a firefight.”
The claim sounded dubious even as the ‘Mech salesman attempted to accentuate the point with several slaps to the Hoplite‘s shin armor. Lieutenant Brooke Casia, executive officer of the Crimson Tigers mercenary company, was in the market after having her Centurion shot out from under her during her last contract. The squat ‘Mech certainly didn’t appear “cool” by her standards, looking more like a cleaning drone that had grown legs and an autocannon.
“Alright,” Casia offered with a sigh, “what’s so ‘cool’ about it?”
“The air-conditioning!” Another set of slaps once rang off the Hoplite‘s hull while the salesman laughed at his own pun. “Plus, this ‘Mech has sixteen whole heat sinks. You could fire everything this bad boy has while running full-tilt through a desert and you’ll be cool as a cucumber inside the cockpit.”
This was enough for Casia to raise an eyebrow at least. She’d never enjoyed the sauna-like temperatures that ‘Mech combat frequently produced. A ‘Mech that couldn’t overheat would be an asset.
But there’s always a catch, Casia thought. “I can see an autocannon port here,” she pointed at the Hoplite‘s right arm, “and five missile ports here,” she pointed again at the launcher jutting from beneath the ‘Mechs cockpit. “This thing got anything else in terms of firepower?”
The question seemed to finally reign in the ‘Mech salesman’s enthusiasm. “What you see is what you get,” he said. Casia noted this statement was made without a single slap.
“So that’d be, what, a 10-class autocannon and an LRM-5 launcher? Not exactly standing up to my old Centurion. Does it go faster at least?”
Now the salesman seemed utterly crestfallen. “Same running speed as the Centurion. And before you ask, no, it doesn’t have any jump jets either.”
Casia blinked. “Alright, so what does it have over a Centurion?”
“About three tons of armor. That’s it.”
“So you’re saying I lose half my firepower, a battle fist, and the ability to shoot upward without tilting the whole damned ‘Mech for just three tons of armor?” Casia ended the question with a slap to the Hoplite‘s other shin. It seemed far more intimidating than encouraging coming from her.
The ‘Mech salesman winced as though physically struck. He could already tell that this sale was as good as gone. “Ah, well, we do have other ‘Mechs’ in our garage…”
While later Star League ‘Mechs often pushed boundaries in search of a technological edge, the Hoplite was born in the League’s early years, well before the rise of the massive industrial complex that would produce such unnecessary machines as the Charger and the Assassin. The Hoplite was designed and built to fulfill a specific military requirement for the least possible expense. As such, the Hoplite is a simple, rugged, and dependable ‘Mech that achieves its objective and little else.
Introduced by Martinson Armaments in the year 2758, the Hoplite is an infantry support ‘Mech. The HOP-4D comes armed with a dual-purpose LB 10-X Autocannon and a five-rack LRM launcher. The autocannon is effective against almost all targets, able to fire single slug rounds at armored targets and scatter-shot against infantry and light-armored vehicles. The LRM-5 launcher offers infantry with long-range suppressive fire and counter-battery fire on a mobile chassis. The Hoplite is durable, with an impressive eleven and a half tons of armor that allow it to withstand withering fire in order to protect Star League infantry, but its ability to combat enemy ‘Mechs is somewhat lacking.
Although the LB 10-X is a reliable weapon, its limited ammunition and lack of secondary weapons make it vulnerable should the autocannon become disabled. The LRM-5 launcher is sufficient to support infantry, but most ‘Mechs will find it a minor nuisance at worst. The Hoplite can take serious punishment, but its inability to return that punishment ultimately makes it vulnerable in the modern battlefield.
Back in its heyday, however, the Hoplite was a popular machine. Part of that was due to the simplicity of the design: without arms, pilots didn’t have to learn how to control upper limbs, and with a curiously high number of heatsinks–16, in fact–pilots also didn’t have to worry about heat build-up. The Hoplite could fire all of its weapons until its ammo bins ran dry while running over a volcanically active mudflat and never have to worry about spiking its heat gauge. Combined with its massive armor and simple weapons loadout, Star League MechWarriors often considered Hoplite pilots just a step above tankers.
Star League generals, however, loved the Hoplite. It was a cheap, no-nonsense machine that was ideal for bolstering forces and filling out billet slots. The SLDF eventually came to possess thousands of the dependable machines, and many examples could be found in Alexander Kerensky‘s forces prior to their flight from the Inner Sphere. In fact, the design was so common during the Star League era that Wolf’s Dragoons thought it would be an innocuous design that wouldn’t arouse suspicion during its mission to spy on the Great Houses. Little did they know that the Hoplite had actually died out during the Succession Wars precisely because of its popularity with military leaders.
The only notable variant was the HOP-4B, which replaced the AC/10 with a PPC and upgraded the LRM-5 to an LRM-15. This gave the ‘Mech better long-range engagement and improved firepower. A Star League “Royal” variant of the HOP-4B was also produced, adding Artemis IV tracing to the LRM launcher, Guardian ECM, CASE, double heat sinks, and an anti-missile system.
The Hoplite would once again become a dying breed after Wolf’s Dragoons cut ties with the Clan Homeworlds in 3020. By the Jihad era, the Hoplite was again facing extinction, both due to a lack of factories creating replacement parts and due to the fact the Hoplite had long been outclassed by more contemporary designs. Even during the Star League era, ‘Mechs like the Griffin, Shadow Hawk, and Wolverine offered similar firepower with far greater mobility, and most skilled generals knew that mobility was the key to winning conflicts.
“Alright, here’s the deal,” Major Sheffield began. He then pointed at Sergeant Donaldson. “You get in the front seat, and you,” Sheffield pointed to the SLDF navy pilot he knew as Lieutenant Barber, “get in the back seat.”
The two SLDF service members looked first at each other and then at the monstrosity before them. It looked like an aerospace fighter had crashed into a ‘Mech and somehow fused the two together. It was a grotesque abomination of all things both pilot and MechWarrior considered holy, and it didn’t exactly motivate either to comply with the Major’s orders.
“With respect sir, just who exactly is going to be in control of that… thing?”
“Great question, Donaldson,” Sheffield replied with a smirk. “You both are. On the ground, Donaldson is in charge. In the air, Barber takes the yoke. Or stick–I’m not sure what you spacers call the thing.”
“Yoke is technically correct, sir,” Barber replied, stone-faced.
“The idea here is to cut down on the training required for Land-Air ‘Mech pilots by simply having both MechWarrior and pilot in a dual cockpit arrangement. If these tests go well, it could usher in a new age of cooperation between SLDF services.”
Sheffield’s pitch sounded like it had come straight from the bureaucratic number crunchers at SLDF procurement, and it did nothing to instill confidence in either of them.
“Communication will be key,” Sheffield added. “You’ll both have the authority to convert your Stinger LAM to either Air or ‘Mech mode, but you should engage targets in the mode best suited for the engagement. Now, get suited up and start blasting targets.”
The two pilots again looked at each other, looked at the Stinger, and then sighed in unison. It was the last time either Donaldson or Barber performed any task in sync. The dual cockpit test would go down as a colossal failure for the dual-cockpit LAM concept, and SLDF training footage would later include recordings of Barber and Donaldson engaged in fisticuffs over who would take control of the LAM during various stages of the test.
First Lord Michael Cameron II ruled the Star League during a time of unprecedented technological innovation. During his reign, the Star League Defense Force would produce impressive and terrifying military machines such as the Awesome BattleMech, the Cameron-class Battlecruiser, and the Gotha Aerospace Fighter. However, it was also a time of completely unmitigated spending for the Terran Hegemony‘s military industrial complex, and as such, it resulted in just as many hits as it did misses. Some of the more spectacular failures have already been discussed in this article series, but none were more costly than the unfortunate Land-Air ‘Mech.
Commissioned in 2680 by Admiral David Peterson, the intent of the Land-Air ‘Mech was to produce a unit that combined the deployment speed of an Aerospace Fighter with the versatility of a ‘Mech. An Aerospace Fighter could rapidly strike targets but its ability to support ground forces was limited. Meanwhile, the BattleMech required DropShips to deploy but once fielded were the undisputed kings of the battlefield. The Land-Air ‘Mech, or LAM, would theoretically combine the advantages of both to create a weapon that ensures the SLDF and Terran Hegemony’s military dominance for centuries to come.
At least, that’s what Admiral Peterson envisioned on paper. The reality of the Land-Air ‘Mech was far from the ideal superweapon that SLDF generals and engineers wanted.
The first company to win an SLDF contract was Allied Aerospace, which created the SHD-X1 in 2680. Based on the already proven Shadow Hawk, the SHD-X1 was a bi-modal Land-Air ‘Mech, meaning it would convert directly from BattleMech to Aerospace Fighter without any intermediate steps.
The brand-new conversion technology proved problematic in multiple ways. First, the bulky tech added five additional tons to the SHD-X1 compared to the all-‘Mech SHD-2H, but also limited the space available for the fusion engine and internal fuel tanks. Thus, the SHD-X1 was slower than the SHD-2H on land by nearly 20kph and had a greatly limited combat radius in fighter mode. Additionally, the AC/5 was replaced by an ER Large Laser and the SRM-2 was removed in favor of an internal bomb bay. Newer technologies of the era such as extra light engines, an Endo Steel chassis, and Ferro Fibrous armor all couldn’t be employed due to the LAM conversion technology’s bulk.
SLDF procurement officers were already skeptical of the new design’s limitations, but things got worse for the SHD-X1 after several test platforms were lost during public reviews in 2681 and 2682. The engineering flaws that led to these lost machines were largely solved by the time the SHD-X2 arrived in 2684, but by then the platform had already gained a reputation as a dangerously flawed design. The SLDF canceled its order, and although Allied Aerospace built 20 SHD-X2 demonstrators, the company failed to attract a single buyer.
The first viable LAM came from LexaTech Industries in 2688 with the introduction of the Stinger LAM. Ten tons heavier than the original Stinger and armed with three medium lasers, LexaTech’s design introduced the first tri-modal Land-Air ‘Mech. A third mode allowed the Stinger LAM to deploy its wings and legs simultaneously, allowing it to rapidly travel at low altitudes thanks to the ground effect. Although lacking an internal bomb bay, the Stinger LAM retained the speed of the land-based chassis and impressive Aerospace performance as well.
However, the Stinger LAM revealed several flaws shared by all Land-Air ‘Mechs. While the Stinger LAM proved that the additional bulk of the conversion technology could be accounted for, it still reduced overall payload capacity for either a pure ‘Mech or Aerospace Fighter of similar size. Being completely unable to mount weight-saving technologies such as XL engines or Endo-Steel chassis meant LAMs were often outclassed in their engagements. Land-Air ‘Mechs also proved to be quite fragile. Damage taken to the conversion technology would effectively “lock” the LAM in whichever mode it was currently deployed.
Cost was another issue. Not only did pilots require twice as much training due to the twin mandates, but LAMs themselves cost many times the price of either a single ‘Mech or Aerospace Fighter. With no lack of manpower, the armed forces of the Inner Sphere had more than enough financial incentive to simply invest in proven technologies to bolster their war machines.
Still, the Stinger LAM did at least find niche applications where it was better suited than either an Aerospace Fighter or BattleMech. The SLDF navy often deployed Stinger LAMs in operations on minor planetoids such as asteroids or comets, or against forces that were unlikely to deploy fighters or ‘Mechs of their own.
Immediately following the Stinger LAM came the Wasp LAM from Harvard Company in 2690, which found success in similar niche roles and often served alongside its predecessor. Allied Aersospace’s second attempt at a Land-Air ‘Mech, the Phoenix Hawk LAM, finally vindicated the company in 2701. With harsh lessons learned from its earlier failure with the Shadow Hawk LAM, the Pheonix Hawk LAM proved a far more capable design, retaining the original Phoenix Hawk‘s performance while adding a bomb bay and other capabilities from the conversion technology.
Although there were a few smaller success stories, the crucible of the Succession Wars proved Land-Air ‘Mechs were too costly for all-out warfare between galaxy-spanning armies. Most commanders were loathed to commit the expensive designs for fear of losing them, and with limited stores of spare parts, the destruction of most LAM factories proved to be a death knell for the innovative technology. Only LexaTech’s factory on Irece was still producing Stinger LAM components by 3025, but the Nova Cats put a stop to that after their successful invasion in 3050.
Surprisingly, Land-Air ‘Mechs had a brief renaissance courtesy of the Word of Blake. During the Jihad, Blakist forces unveiled the Yurei, Pwwka, and Waneta LAMs based on its Spectral Series of OmniFighters. By this era, Clan-spec weapons and double heatsinks weren’t quite enough for the three Wobbie LAMs to stand against more traditional ‘Mechs and Aerospace Fighters, once again limiting their use to surprise attacks against inferior foes. The conclusion of the Jihad saw all Blakist factories destroyed, ending the saga of the Land-Air ‘Mech for good.
Ultimately, Land-Air ‘Mechs proved that not every new technology has a place in war. I’m sure given more time, research, and investment, Land-Air ‘Mechs could have revolutionized combat as we know it. However, time is often the resource in the shortest supply during wartime. We may yet see the LAM return once again as technological advancement returns to the Inner Sphere, but for now, Land-Air ‘Mechs are dead. May they rest in peace.
“It looks like an egg,” griped corporal Sumners sullenly.
Lieutenant Garcia sighed. Losses had been heavy on Misery, and Sumners busted up Stinger had been replaced by an HNT-151 Hornet. She knew it wasn’t exactly an upgrade, but she hadn’t expected Sumners to be quite so morose about the assignment.
“It looks like an escape pod that grew legs,” Sumners said when Garcia failed to respond.
Garcia sighed again. “Your complaint has been noted, corporal.”
“It looks like an angry peanut that’s trying to steal barrels of other peanuts so nobody can eat any peanuts.”
“Sumners, I understand you had a rich and storied history with that Stinger, but you’re a soldier in Wolf’s Dragoons and you’ll pilot whatever the quartermaster damned well provides. Are we clear?”
This minor dressing down did nothing to improve Sumners’ mood. “Yes ma’am.”
“Good. We need everyone out there to meet the Third Ryuken regiment, and that includes you in your shiny new peanut-klepto metal egg.”
This managed to get a wry smirk from Sumners, who finally picked his head out of his hands, saluted, and trotted away from Garcia and off to the small ladder that would lead him to the Hornet’s cockpit. Now that she was looking at it, Garcia thought the Hornet really did look like an angry egg.
Following the success of the Crusader, which had gone on to become a workhorse of the SLDF, Kallon Industries started eyeing more niche defense manufacturing contracts. One of those was for an urban scout ‘Mech, a role that was becoming increasingly important in the fighting on Periphery worlds. However, Kallon’s proposal was a design that even on paper seemed ill-suited for the role. At 20 tons, with a top speed of 86 kph and armed with a single LRM-5 launcher and a medium laser, the Hornet was at best a light support unit masquerading as an urban scout. With little interest from SLDF procurement for a ‘Mech that didn’t even meet the most basic of requirements for urban combat, the initial HNT-171 Hornet variant was shelved for over two centuries.
As the Succession Wars finally began to ebb, Kallon Industries rediscovered the Hornet blueprints in the ruins of an ancient factory and decided to put the design back into production. Unfortunately, much of the advanced technologies used in the HNT-171 were no longer available, such as the Endo Steel chassis, Ferro-Fibrous armor, and anti-missile system. The downgraded HNT-151 Hornet was introduced in 2990 and sold on the open export market where it was advertised to mercenary units as a light support ‘Mech.
One of the initial buyers was Wolf’s Dragoons, which purchased a significant portion of all Hornets ever produced. There the Hornet served with distinction during the Battle of Misery, although the Hornet‘s success is perhaps best attributed to the battle acumen of Wolf’s Dragoons officers and MechWarriors than the ‘Mech itself. That said, the Hornet briefly became a favorite with the Federated Suns where it replaced ancient Stingers, Locusts, and Wasps with March Militia units. The Ceti Hussars and the Deneb Light Cavalry also equipped themselves with Hornets, but by the time of the second Star League and the FedCom Civil War, the Hornet had long been surpassed by superior designs in every role.
Besides an almost ludicrous design that provides very little protection for the pilot, the MechWarrior suffers from the typical flaws of a light ‘Mech that sacrifices speed for a meager increase in armor and firepower. Although the extra armor allows it to withstand strikes from similarly light ‘Mechs such as the Locust or Stinger, and its LRM-5 launcher allows it to engage at distances typically reserved for much larger units, the Hornet lacks the speed to disengage when it’s confronted with a superior force. Jump jets only partially solve this issue, and commanders fielding Hornets were encouraged to use terrain wisely in order to provide a secure line of retreat for Hornet pilots. Note that this tactic didn’t save those Hornet pilots if the enemy force also had jump-capable ‘Mechs.
In an urban environment, the Hornet was at a strict disadvantage as it loses the benefit of the LRM-5’s longer range. An anti-missile system provides some additional protection from shoulder-fired missile launchers, but the closed-off spaces sometimes didn’t provide enough time for the anti-missile system to react to new threats.
The Hornet was better employed as light support to heavier fire support ‘Mechs where it could add its long-range fire to whatever target the primary units were engaging while simultaneously defending them from return fire using their anti-missile systems. Jump jets and a medium laser provided some defense against armored infantry, but the Hornet‘s lack of arms made defending against Elementals difficult.
The Hornet did make a comeback in the later years of The Republic with the HNT-181 variant produced by Coalition Armory Inc. under license. Upgraded with an XL engine, Compact Heat Sinks, an MML-5, and a Small Re-Engineered Laser, the HNT-181 Hornet provided additional versatility without sacrificing performance, although the performance of the Hornet already left much to be desired. This cheap but modernized design was perfect for periphery militias to protect against bandits and pirates but failed to stand up against more threatening designs.
And finally, there’s the issue of the Hornet’s looks which were comical even for ancient Star League designs. I mean, just look at the thing. It looks like a soybean cosplaying as The Rocketeer.
As always, leave a comment with your opinion of the Hornet below along with your suggestion for the next Bad ‘Mech.
Gunjin Hataka gently wrapped the headband around his head as he knelt before a single candle and a burning stick of incense. He knew that this could very well be his last day alive, so he savored the sensations as he meditated on the nature of bushido. Of being a warrior.
And also why he was cursed with the regiment’s only remaining Charger.
Technically, it was a promotion of sorts. He was now piloting the heaviest ‘Mech in his lance, almost double the weight of his Chu-i’s Phoenix Hawk. A proud Combine design that had served with distinction throughout the Succession Wars and bore the visage of a true samurai.
But Hataka knew the truth. Although his Charger massed 80 tons, it had the same armament as a lowly Locust. Five small lasers meant he must close to perilously short-range combat in order to be even remotely effective, and at that distance, he might as well start punching with his reinforced left arm. And with so little armor protecting him, the odds of closing to that distance was vanishingly small. His new ‘Mech made almost every assignment a suicide mission.
Hataka felt like a warrior of the divine wind about to attack in a war fought many centuries before he was born. Thus, it was only appropriate he honored their memories in a similar tradition.
After several moments, Hataka bowed low enough so the rising sun on his headband touched the floorboards. Then he stood and walked away confident he would never return.
courtesy of PGI
Of all the ‘Mechs SLDF procurement somehow approved, the Charger CGR-1A1 is perhaps its biggest mistake. By the end of the Star League, corruption was so rampant that procurement officers rubber-stamped an assault ‘Mech that had so few weapons it wouldn’t concern most light ‘Mechs if one were to encounter one on the battlefield. The ‘Mech’s massive LTV 400 engine was also so expensive that you could purchase multiple traditional scout ‘Mechs for the price of a single Charger.
And yet, through grift, graft, or grit, Wells Technologies managed to secure funding to produce an assault scout ‘Mech–a battlefield role that never existed until Wells Technologies dreamt it up. Their proposal, the Charger, was an 80-ton ‘Mech equipped with the largest engine available, so large that it actually comprised more than 60% of the ‘Mech’s total weight. Ten tons of armor meant that the Charger was more than adequately protected in its role as a scout, but this left a mere 2.5 tons left for weapons.
Wells did the best they could, but the end result was still so pathetic that the finished machine was almost immediately ejected from the SLDF after its introduction in the year 2665. A top speed of 86 kph was only barely acceptable for a scout, and five small lasers meant that the Charger was outgunned by nearly every ‘Mech in existence.
Nobody saw the benefit of an 80-ton scout ‘Mech that couldn’t fight, so every Charger was returned to Wells Technologies en-masse. This resulted in Wells warehousing over a thousand Chargers as the company desperately tried to find a buyer. Lucky for them, the fall of the Star League and the start of the First Succession War brought forth an eager buyer happy to take every Charger Wells had in stock and more.
The Draconis Combine contracted Wells for an exclusive production contract in addition to every ‘Mech they had. Chargers were then distributed throughout the DCMS to fulfill whatever role was required of them, but because of their poor armament, the Charger was most often relegated to anti-insurgency work or garrison duty in low-conflict zones. Oddly enough, this led to numerous Chargers surviving the Succession Wars where many other designs didn’t.
Still, the DCMS wasn’t entirely filled with fools, and this meant that Wells Technologies would frequently receive requests for alternate variants that emphasized firepower over mobility. Most often this meant dropping the 400-rated engine down a few steps and improving the armament by adding a large autocannon. Several variants sold to the Capellan Confederation through the Kapteyn Accords did exactly that, and the Charger gained a reputation as a fearsome assault ‘Mech on the other side of the Inner Sphere.
Back in the Combine, the Charger would eventually serve as the base chassis for the vastly-superior Hatamoto-Chi, a ‘Mech that took the Charger‘s samurai aesthetic and dialed it to an extreme that wouldn’t be matched until well after the Jihad. While developing the Hatamoto-Chi, Luthien Armor Works also used newer technologies to retool the elderly Charger, coming up with the CGR-3K model. This replaced the standard engine with an XL version which added enough room to replace the Charger‘s armament with four medium pulse lasers and an LRM-20 with Artemis IV fire control. It also gained additional mobility thanks to five jump jets.
As for Wells Technologies, they were less successful than their machine. Although the Charger was ostensibly a Combine ‘Mech and Wells Technologies was under an export restriction, the company sold Chargers on the black market illegally to recoup its costs on several other failed ventures. Combine officials eventually found out and punished Wells with enough lawsuits to push the company into insolvency. Luthien Armor Works then purchased Wells for a steal, ending the centuries-old company in 3027.
There’s absolutely an argument to be made for the Charger as an ideal melee fighter. Its mass and barrel fist could be employed to devastating effect if a foe were foolish enough to close the distance with a Charger. But few pilots would be foolish enough to close with a Charger after recognizing its distinctive silhouette even after multiple upgrades gave the ‘Mech vastly improved firepower.
The Charger remained in production by Luthien Armor Works until the factory’s destruction during the Jihad. After that, Charger numbers finally dwindled until they eventually disappeared for good.
Consider this Sarna’s Christmas gift to you, dear readers. We’ll have one more news update before the end of the year and then it’s off to 2022.
“This thing is supposed to replace my Rifleman?” Sgt. Browning asked with incredulity. Although not intended for fire support, Browning had grown attached to his Rifleman’s imposing profile and powerful long-range armament.
The tech never even looked up from her clipboard. “Yup.”
“Doesn’t look like much,” Browning offered. “Does it have more guns?”
Browning’s look of incredulity turned into an outright frown. “Okay, how’s it for heat?”
“Toasty if you use those jets.”
The tech sighed and flipped a page on her clipboard. “A little more, but not by much.”
“You got a ten-pack of LRMs,” the tech scanned another page quickly, then shrugged. “The rest is medium lasers and a few SRMs.”
Browning balked at the loss of so much firepower. “What the hell is this thing good for then?!”
“You can jump.” Another shrug. “And you can keep up with a Trebuchet. That’s about it.”
The sergeant nearly gripped his neurohelmet hard enough to crack its casing. “Fuck that, I’ll keep the Rifleman.”
“It’s already been reassigned,” the tech replied, already ducking to avoid the neurohelmet that had just been thrown at her.
Courtesy of Alex Iglesias
A heavy ‘Mech that tries to do everything and thus does nothing particularly well, the Quickdraw began life as a replacement for the Rifleman, a ‘Mech that saw itself being used in roles it was never intended. The Rifleman was designed as an anti-aircraft ‘Mech, but Star League regiments fell in love with the design and started using them for everything from fire support to front-line assaults. It’s a testament to the Rifleman’s design that it was able to be employed in such a diverse array of roles, but its shortcomings also became clearer and clearer as the decades wore on.
Hoping to build on the massive success of the Awesome, Technicron Manufacturing submitted a proposal for a 60-ton ‘Mech with greater armor (although just barely) and better maneuverability than the Rifleman in order to replace it in front-line roles. Although the Quickdraw‘s armament was considered light for a heavy ‘Mech and much lighter than the beloved Rifleman, its array of medium lasers and missiles allowed it to engage at multiple ranges but maintained the bulk of its firepower at medium to close range where the ‘Mech was intended to operate.
The Quickdraw‘s speed and jump jets allowed it to keep up with many light designs and offered a range of tactical flexibility than the Rifleman did not. That said, the Quickdraw was not an especially fast machine and with its comparatively light armor and weapons complement, unwary pilots could find themselves in situations where their machine was grossly outmatched.
Perhaps most telling of the Quickdraw’s flaws was that it would often find itself crippled or stripped of armor after the first salvo from a Rifleman, while the Quickdraw’s return fire routinely failed to penetrate the frontal glacis of the Rifleman (not so its back armor, which was notoriously paper-thin).
Quickdraw MechWarriors learned to lean into their machine’s strengths during combat. The Quickdraw was extremely fast for a 60-ton ‘Mech of the era, and pilots learned to appreciate not only the Quickdraw‘s jump jets but also its highly-articulated ankle actuators, which allowed the ‘Mech to stand firmly on slopes that would have sent other ‘Mechs toppling to the ground.
Unfortunately, those same ankle actuators would prove to be just as much a weakness as a strength. The actuators themselves were fragile to the point where stray weapons fire could damage the ankle and leave the Quickdraw immobile. Once this information got out, MechWarriors learned to shoot for the ankles on a Quickdraw to earn a quick kill.
Another big issue with the Quickdraw was heat. The Quickdraw‘s 13 heatsinks were insufficient to dissipate heat from a prolonged firefight, often requiring the pilot to stagger their medium lasers and jumps or risk a catastrophic ammunition explosion. This flaw was largely solved by the introduction of the QKD-5M model with its double heatsinks in the 3050s, but Technicron never quite figured out a solution for the Quickdraw’s delicate ankles.
Ultimately, the Quickdraw never actually replaced the Rifleman. Units were to begin phasing out Riflemans for Quickdraws in 2779, but very few had been assigned to regiments before the outbreak of the First Succession War. House militaries were desperate for hardware and the Quickdraw soon found itself fighting alongside Riflemans along with many other designs.
Unlike many manufacturers, Technicron was able to escape the Succession Wars largely intact and maintained Quickdraw production throughout centuries of conflict. As a result, Quickdraws can be found in all House militaries, as well as lesser houses, mercenary units, periphery bandits, and everything in between. A workhorse design that failed to live up to its expectations, the Quickdraw nevertheless managed to thrive in a turbulent galaxy where many other ‘Mechs didn’t.
On a personal note, the Quickdraw is one of my favorite bad ‘Mechs. It’s not one of the worst ‘Mechs out there by any measure, but it falls victim to the problem of jump jets on a heavy ‘Mech. That’s five tons that could have been better spent on more guns and armor, and indeed, the first thing I do with my Quickdraws in MechWarrior 5, BATTLETECH, or any other game is to remove those jets for exactly that.
Keep on telling me which bad ‘Mechs you want covered, but I think next month’s Bad ‘Mech will be the baddest of them all.
Something pretty remarkable is happening in MechWarrior Online. After years of falling player counts and being basically put on life support as developer PGI diverted funds and resources into developing MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, MechWarrior Online players are returning to this once nearly-dead game.
There are a number of reasons for this unexpected renaissance. To start, PGI began providing MechWarrior Online with updates at the end of last year. PGI also hired a new community manager--a well-known figure in the MechWarrior and BattleTech community--to help reach out to players and convince them that MechWarrior Online was worth another shot.
But I’d argue that the biggest reason why players are returning to MechWarrior Online is that PGI has done the unthinkable: they’ve put the players in charge of MechWarrior Online.
Not all of them, of course. Even an almost dead game still has thousands of players and most of them couldn’t be bothered to dive into the spreadsheets of data necessary for a game as large and complex as MechWarrior Online. But a small group of players plucked from all levels of play have coalesced into a governing body that has largely been given the authority to determine MechWarrior Online’s future.
Those players call themselves the Cauldron--a name chosen to represent their melting pot of opinions. Like many online PvP games, MechWarrior Online has a diverse group of players of differing skill levels, and like BattleTech itself, they all love different aspects of the game. However, this group of players has been able to do something that PGI has struggled with over its many years of MechWarrior Online development.
The Cauldron is bringing fun back to MechWarrior Online.
MechWarrior Online’s Many Missteps
MechWarrior Online is a textbook example of what happens to an online service game when it expands faster than its developers can keep up. You can hardly blame PGI for wanting to monetize MWO as best they could, but the way they decided to do that was to keep throwing more and more ‘Mechs and weapons into the game until it became too overwhelming for their dev team to keep up with both balancing the game and also creating the next big thing.
Those big things often became sweeping changes to MechWarrior Online‘s mechanics that nobody really asked for. Perhaps the best example of this is MechWarrior Online‘s absolutely byzantine skill tree--resoundingly panned for being both overly complicated and ludicrously expensive at launch, and that opinion hasn’t changed much in the years since.
Throw on engine desync, overly quirked Hero ‘Mechs, pay-to-win airstrikes and artillery strikes, and the still-infamous golden ‘Mech cash grab, and at times it seemed almost like PGI was deliberately trying to alienate MechWarrior Online‘s audience.
It certainly alienated me. Until recently, I hadn’t even touched the game since sometime back in 2017. And although we don’t have a complete report on MechWarrior Online’s total player count, we can assume based on the game’s Steamcharts performance that it also alienated plenty of other players over the years.
By early 2020, MechWarrior Online had reached its lowest point. With few players still left actually playing the game, it made far more financial sense for PGI to focus on creating MechWarrior 5 than it did to waste resources in a game that nobody was playing. Although the servers remained online, few players meant extra-long wait times for MechWarrior Online’s matches to start, and so PGI declared official updates for the game would end in January of 2020.
At that point, the writing was on the wall. MechWarrior Online was on life support, and it seemed only a matter of time before it became more profitable to turn the MWO servers off rather than keep them online.
Then 2020 happened, and the whole fucking world changed.
A Pandemic Makes Fools Of Us All
In February 2020, there were as few as 577 players on MechWarrior Online via Steam. Then the pandemic hit, and despite the fact nothing in the game had changed, government-imposed lockdowns meant that lots of people were stuck at home with nothing to do. A free-to-play game like MechWarrior Online was a worthy diversion for BattleTech fans worried about an apocalyptic new virus, so by March, MechWarrior Online‘s population had jumped by nearly 25%.
By July, MechWarrior Online‘s player count was nearly double what it was a few months before without the game receiving a single update. I don’t really know what was going through the minds of PGI’s upper management during this time, but from their actions, you get a sense that they weren’t entirely ready to give up on MechWarrior Online.
First, PGI hired a brand new community manager in October. Daeron “Bombadil” Katz is a well-known figure amongst the entire BattleTech community for his time as co-host for No Guts No Galaxy, and especially well-known in the MechWarrior Online community. There was basically no better person to reach out to MWO players and ask them just what could be done to revive the game.
But it was a very small team, and both Bombadil and PGI marketing head Matt Newman made it clear in the early months of 2021 that they just couldn’t make the sweeping changes to MechWarrior Online that some players had hoped for (chief among those was porting the game from CryEngine to Unreal Engine 5, a heroic task even for a much larger developer).
Matt and Daeron promised small fixes, some new events, and perhaps a new ‘Mech pack or two. Game balance--which by this point was hopelessly out of control thanks to high-tech-era weapons and over 1,300 different ‘Mechs--was mentioned, but never really highlighted. The effort required to rebalance MechWarrior Online simply cost more than PGI would get in return. Or so they thought.
Welcome To The Gulag
Before we can talk about the Cauldron, we have to talk about the Gulag, a name chosen for several reasons but chief among them was the idea that they were providing PGI with free labor. The group first formed in early 2018 after several updates took MechWarrior Online‘s balance in a decidedly un-fun direction, nerfing certain weapons and ‘Mechs to the point where they became basically unusable for no particular reason.
The Gulag was by all accounts a reactive movement, but one with the best intentions. The group created spreadsheets of game data and made reasonable arguments to revert the changes or institute entirely new ones for the overall health of the game. MechWarrior Online‘s developers, however, weren’t a receptive audience.
“The attitude that PGI had at the time [was] sort of the ‘we don’t want your help, we can do it ourselves’ type,” Bear_cl4w tells me in an interview. The group operates mostly as a collective, but Bear_cl4w serves as the de-facto leader.
“When we had finished our work and showed it to the community the feedback was generally positive. But again, the response from PGI… They saw it and told us, ‘yeah we’ve discussed it internally,’ and then nothing,” Bear_cl4w recounts. “Little did we know that at the time they were working on MechWarrior 5, which led to maintenance mode for MWO.”
Things changed over the course of 2020. Maintenance mode reverted back to active--if somewhat tentative--development. With PGI’s resources mostly diverted to MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, the free labor offered by the Gulag suddenly seemed like a far more attractive proposition.
But once spurned, twice shy. PGI needed to make amends, and that job fell to MWO‘s brand new community manager.
“Daeron I would say is a big part in why it has happened,” fellow Cauldron member Krasnopesky tells me. “I agree,” adds Bear_cl4w. “Daeron is a familiar face in the community due to his ties with No Guts No Galaxy and his recent hiring with PGI, but it was less about the individual and more about the message: they were asking us for help.”
This first step to mending fences meant that the Gulag was back on board. Only, they couldn’t be called the Gulag anymore. To avoid all the negative historical connotations, and to represent their new partnership with PGI, the Gulag “had to lose the edgy name.”
The Cauldron, as the group calls themselves now, got straight to work fixing all of MechWarrior Online‘s many ailments. “The Cauldron has been sort of set to high gear,” Bear_cl4w says. “Rather than tackling one part of the game, we intend to re-balance as much as we are able to. Or as much as PGI currently can do.”
Certain aspects of MWO are just beyond the Cauldron’s abilities to change. Fundamental aspects of the game--such as the team deathmatch format, the 12v12 matches, and user interface--require engineers on PGI’s end to alter, which are in terribly short supply given the company’s focus on MechWarrior 5. But anything that can basically be boiled down to a number on a spreadsheet is fair game, and the Cauldron loves its numbers.
They’ve also got a plan. “The Cauldron is going about it as strategically as possible,” adds Bear_cl4w. “For example, our April patch was the big weapons pass and some light quirk changes, and for May, there is a map rework coming from the recently added map guy PGI hired, Francois. But after every big step, there will be an iteration on the previous step. So for May, it’s a big mobility step, small weapon iteration, and some more light quirk work.”
May’s recent patch notes make Bear_cl4w a man of his words. April’s weapon changes get slight adjustments, but there are also some big developments when it comes to ‘Mech mobility. Old, outdated designs like the Centurion, Hunchback, and Firestarter have all received massive agility enhancements, while designs like the Jagermech, Jenner, and Cicada have all received armor and structure buffs.
It’s no exaggeration that these changes make all these old ‘Mechs feel like new again. I’m actually excited to take these old gals out for a spin, and I’m not the only one. Feedback on both Reddit and the MechWarrior Online forums has been universally positive, not just for the ‘Mech reworks but for the reworked Canyon map as well.
What’s next for the Cauldron and MechWarrior Online? Once again, Bear_cl4w lays out the near-term plan. “We are getting some significant stuff this year and we’ll push for as much as we ourselves and PGI can do. Our intended path is weapons, agility, quirks, rescale, skill tree.”
Not everything will come at once, but rescaling certain ‘Mechs to be smaller or larger than others (the Shadow Hawk has been annoyingly tall in MechWarrior Online for some time now), as well as a simplified skill tree will only help to bring more players back to the game and maybe even get new players to give MechWarrior Online a try.
Courtesy of PGI
Before I heap all the credit for MechWarrior Online‘s revival entirely on the Cauldron, it should be noted that PGI has been uncharacteristically generous with its events recently. Last month, they gave away the Mad Cat Mk II-B, a powerhouse of the old meta with its twin UAC/5 and twin UAC/10s. For May, PGI is giving away the Timber Wolf-C, a laser-vomit specialist and one of the ‘Mechs that benefited greatly from the recent mobility pass. And even if you don’t play enough to get the free ‘Mechs (which honestly doesn’t take too many matches even if you’re of average skill), there’s still tons of free C-bills, skill points, MC, and Premium Time up for grabs.
But just by the very nature of the game, players wouldn’t come back to acquire these new ‘Mechs if they didn’t think there’d be anyone to use them against. The Cauldron has changed the perception of MechWarrior Online as a dead game without a future into something much brighter.
For the past seven months, MechWarrior Online’s player count has only gone up. In my own experience, the time spent waiting for the matchmaker to find players for a game has gone down. And when those games actually start, I’m far more likely to see new and interesting custom loadouts that nobody has ever seen before. it honestly feels like a whole new game.
MechWarrior 5’s release on Steam in the coming days is sure to bring renewed interest to MechWarrior Online. When those players come, they’ll be met with a game being made better by the very same MechWarriors they’re facing online. Just as it should be.
So it’s been a few years since I wrote an article that compared BattleTech’s autocannon rounds to high explosive pancakes, and while it was a fun piece to write, something has always bothered me about it. There were a lot of responses, all of them from folks much more knowledgeable than myself about military ballistics I’m sure, and they all seemed to make valid points on why a gun’s bore size doesn’t necessarily mean anything when it comes to effective range.
Notably, none of the comments really went over my math to disprove that BattleTech’s cannon munitions are not actually flat discs, so I’m pretty confident that I can convince CGL to one day accept my article as irrefutable truth.
But the range thing--that’s stuck with me. Of course, writing for Sarna is a busy job what with all the BattleTech news that never seems to end (go read Sarna’s recent March news blast to find out what’s going on with MechWarrior 5 and MechWarrior Online, by the way), so I never got the chance to actually go through all those comments to see just what the heck they were talking about.
Until now. Yes, four years later, I’m taking a dive into the deep end of artillery to see just how a larger gun can shoot a bigger bullet not as far as a smaller gun firing a tinier shell.
And my journey starts with, of all people, Tex of the Black Pants Legion.
From my previous interview and listening to the Black Pants Legion podcast, I knew that Tex was a gun nut and also a military historian, so I figured if anybody knew a thing or two about guns, it’d be him. Sadly, Tex is a busy guy and I wasn’t able to get a full interview, but he was able to point me in the right direction while desperately defending his homestead from COVID zombies.
“Sean, you fuckwit,” I can clearly recall him telling me over a brief Discord call. “Barrel size doesn’t mean jack shit. There’s way more that goes into making a shell go zoom, like stabilization, recoil reduction, heat dissipation, and propellant. Look, you’re a smart guy, just check out this Italian naval cannon and you’ll figure it out.”
Then he hung up after several loud gunshots. I assume he’s fine.
That Italian naval cannon, by the by, was the Oto Melara 76mm autocannon, perhaps one of the best examples you can find today of what an autocannon from the year 3025 might look like. And as I researched the Oto Melara, I was surprised to find that it possessed qualities that seemed to belie its diminutive bore size.
For those unaware, bore size refers to the diameter of the barrel and is often used as a rough measurement to describe a gun’s overall size. However, it is but one measurement of many, and it can often obscure a cannon’s true power.
If you’ll remember from my previous article, the general rule with guns is that the bigger they are the farther they’ll shoot; an M1911 semi-automatic pistol will never be able to shoot as far as an M119 howitzer no matter how much you rearrange the numbers one and nine. But once you get into the artillery range of cannon sizes, things get a lot more… complicated.
The problem with ballistics is that there are way too many factors that’ll determine a gun’s maximum range. That said, we can narrow things down to a few topics and then discuss how those factors could contribute to BattleTech‘s inverse relationship when it comes to bigger guns firing over shorter distances.
The Bigger The Boom, The Bigger The Boomstick
The factors leading to a projectile traveling as far as it can are numerous, but they always start with the same thing: a really big explosion. That explosion then needs to be contained and directed down a barrel that won’t also explode along with the shell that the explosion is pushing. Then there needs to be recoil dampening, exhaust evacuation, and a loading mechanism, all of which need to be appropriately balanced in order to maximize performance.
And that’s what I think Tex was alluding to when he pointed me at that Italian naval cannon. In order for BattleTech’s autocannons to be mounted on a ‘Mech at all, they need to sacrifice some of the factors that allow a cannon to fire with longer range.
Let’s take the Oto Melara 76 mm as a starting point and compare it to the M119 105 mm howitzer. The Oto Melara has a maximum firing range of 20 km, while the howitzer has a maximum range of 17.5 km. The Howitzer fires a larger shell (105 mm), but the smaller shell of the Oto Melara not only flies further, but it also has a lot of friends with a fire rate of about 80 rounds per minute. The M119, on the other hand, struggles to fire 3 rounds per minute with a well-trained crew.
One is a manned field artillery piece designed to be carried on the back of a truck. The other is installed in a naval turret with an automated loader mechanism and radar-assisted fire control. There’s a lot more going on with the Oto Melara to allow its shells to exceed that of the field howitzer, but the point is that a big shell doesn’t always mean one that’ll go far when the cannon goes boom.
Are you my daddy?
We can see an even better example of this by heading back to the final days of World War 2. The Sturmtiger has a gaping 380 mm barrel that’s barely a few feet long--sort of like how you see on certain ‘Mechs such as the Cauldron Born-B, Thunder, and Emperor. Because the German designers tried to shoehorn an enormous gun onto what was essentially a mobile bunker, enormous sacrifices were made to range and fire rate, such that the rounds fired from the Sturmtiger were more like mortar shots with a range of roughly 5 km.
Compare that to something like the 16-inch (406 mm) naval guns on most US battleships of the same era, which had a range of over 40 km, and you see just how meaningless a gun’s bore size can be.
You Need Space To Shine
So what does a cannon need to lob a round as far as it can? Well, as the guns of the Mighty Mo prove, you need a big-ass barrel, a ton of propellant, and something for that propellant to explode against that won’t shatter into a million pieces (and also probably sink the ship that’s firing the round).
Let’s maintain our comparison between the 16-inch guns of the USS Missouri and the Sturmtiger to further prove this point. To get that 43km range, Mighty Mo used six propellant bags that weighed roughly 100 lbs each. The barrel was about 67 feet long, and the whole gun including the breach weighed roughly 134 tons.
Now the Sturmtiger. To ensure that it didn’t blow up every time it fired, the Sturmtiger’s rounds were technically rockets that were integrated into the 830 lb projectile. The barrel was only about 8-feet long, which wasn’t even that much more than the 5-foot long shell itself. And in order to be mobile at all, the gun itself had to be relatively light in order to fit onto the Sturmtiger’s chassis, which topped out at 75 tons.
The Sturmtiger is just like an AC/20 in BattleTech. It had to sacrifice so much in terms of barrel length and gun mass just to fit onto a mobile chassis like a ‘Mech that it lost all the important bits that let a cannon fire like it was Iwo Jima in 1945.
Expand this concept to the rest of BattleTech‘s autocannon line and it doesn’t sound all that unbelievable that the smaller a gun gets the longer its range. To help drive this concept home, I’ve made a series of charts that compare historical weapons and autocannons. Note that the axes are not to any particular scale.
Here we have historical cannons. Note the trend that as a cannon gets larger its attendant vehicle needs to also get larger to maintain that gun’s performance.
Now check out the same chart I made for ‘Mechs and autocannons. Note that ‘Mechs don’t vary nearly as widely as historical military vehicles, so bigger autocannons sacrifice range to stay viable on the platform.
And there you have it. Big guns need big vehicles, and if you don’t get bigger, then those guns have to lose explosive power resulting in less range. BattleTech’s autocannons are not stupid at all and are in fact a clever recreation of what would actually happen if you tried to stick giant cannons onto a giant robot.
Of course, this completely ignores the fact that not all autocannons have the same caliber, even amongst the same class. An AC/20 could be a rapid-firing 120mm cannon or a giant mortar-style 300mm cannon (or anywhere in between) with damage values merely representing their destructive capacity and nothing else.
Way back in the ‘90s, collectible card games (or CCGs) were a big deal. Wizards Of The Coast had hit it big with Magic: The Gathering and they were hoping they could get lightning to strike twice with a brand new game. Or several new games, like Xena: Warrior Princess, Netrunner, C-23, and many, many more.
But It turns out it’s really hard to get lightning to strike on command. While Wizards was frantically creating as many CCGs as possible, they eventually reached out to FASA to make a BattleTech card game. And so, in 1996, the BattleTech CCG was born.
I’d like to say that it was just as big as Magic was; that it was just as creative, just as colorful, and just as successful, but it wasn’t. The game lasted through about 5 years of official support from the manufacturer, and then like so many unsuccessful card games from the era, it sort of just disappeared.
But not entirely. The BattleTech CCG is still around, and people still play it in their socially distant way. There are even people making unofficial expansions and suggesting that BattleTech (the CCG) could become a living game just from fan support alone.
I guess I should say right off the bat that I really hope this happens. I loved the BattleTech CCG when I was a kid perhaps even more than I loved the tabletop and Clix-based games combined. There’s just a certain magic to trading cards that’s hard to describe--it’s like holding something that’s part playing figure and part tiny TRO. I sometimes still find myself going through my old collection just to see the art one more time.
So today on Did You Know, I bring you my ode to the BattleTech CCG. A retrospective look at where it came from, where it went, and where it might go from here.
Making The BattleTech CCG
There’s really no way to discuss BattleTech without first touching on Magic: The Gathering. Magic, as it’s often shortened, was a phenomenon that put Wizards Of The Coast on the map. It became so massive that almost 30 years later, Magic is still being played both online and on tables all over the world.
Rather than pour all their resources into making Magic: The Gathering as good as it could be, Wizards set their sites even larger. They wanted collectible card games targeting genres beyond just the high fantasy tropes that Magic relied upon, and science fiction was one of those genres that Wizards definitely wanted to branch into.
Wizards reached out to two companies to make their sci-fi card game a reality. The first was Talsorian Games, makers of Cyberpunk 2020 (which will soon be adapted into the massive video game, Cyberpunk 2077), while the other was FASA. Noting the wild success of Magic and always up for another game product, FASA was quick to agree and a partnership was formed. Cyberpunk 2020 was adapted into Netrunner, while FASA got a collectible card version of BattleTech.
This is where things got handed over to Richard Garfield, prodigious card game maker and original creator of Magic, BattleTech, and many other tradeable/collectible card games. Garfield was certainly proud of Magic and its monumental success, but he never thought it was perfect. Deciding to do things entirely differently with his next game, Netrunner had virtually nothing in common with Magic and was, therefore, a complete flop upon release in 1996. This is mostly attributed to people coming from Magic who were expecting some similarities in the rules but were surprised to find none.
Having learned his lesson, Garfield decided to make BattleTech in a Magic-like mold but with some key differences. “With BattleTech,” Garfield said in an interview with the BattleTech CCG Facebook Group’s Michael Cohen, “we were starting to get pretty good with choosing what standards to break in order to generate the most play interest and flavor accommodation.”
Magic players found a lot in common with BattleTech. The tap mechanic reappeared to designate when a card had been used for that turn; resources subbed in for Magic’s lands while “assets” replaced Magic’s color wheel; the turn order followed a familiar sequence of events like untap, upkeep, draw, and attack; and of course, ‘Mechs were used in place of summoned creatures to attack your opponent.
However, BattleTech differed from Magic in a number of ways. Rather than attacking an opponent’s “life total,” players could send ‘Mechs to attack anything on the board from opposing ‘Mechs to resources (or “sites,” as they were referred to in-game). The ultimate goal was to run your opponent out of cards by attacking their “stockpile” (ie. their deck), meaning that every game had a built-in timer as each player draws two cards per turn--double the number of Magic.
There was one other major factor that set BattleTech apart from Magic. As a licensed property, Garfield and his developers had to work with FASA to create the game, and this caused quite a bit of tension during the development process.
“I worked with some folk at FASA and had dicey relationships with them,” Garfield recalls in that same interview. “In my opinion, they were not respectful of the needs of CCGs and wanted to make decisions which would make the game worse but fit their idea of the flavor. I am sure from their perspective I was not as thoughtful about the world and was willing to sacrifice the story to make what I thought was the best game.
“An illustration of that was the Clans: they wanted all the decks to be one Clan, and that simply doesn’t make sense for a CCG and it was like pulling teeth to get compromises made to make the game playable. Our eventual compromise was a larger number of neutral cards than they otherwise would have liked and framing of the Clan rules as an alternative way to play.”
Wizards and FASA eventually settled on the five Great Houses and the invading Clans as the initial factions available, along with keywords for certain mercenary groups such as Wolf’s Dragoons and the Kell Hounds, and another for ComStar. The initial rules didn’t even require decks to stick with a single faction other than House or Clan, and it wasn’t until much later in BattleTech‘s development did enough cards even exist to allow players to make competitive decks with only a single faction represented.
Richard never got to see that eventuality. As Wizard’s chief game designer, he and his primary development team had already moved on to the next project after the first core set of 283 BattleTech cards was released in 1996. In Garfield’s view, it became clear that “our development team after the first set didn’t have nearly the support they needed” to keep up with the problems that soon appeared as BattleTech hit store shelves.
BattleTech: The Early Years
Problems with BattleTech started appearing almost immediately. It became clear that the game was designed only with casual collectors in mind and as soon as enthusiasts started organizing tournaments and battling it out with 60-card decks, BattleTech had serious flaws that could be exploited for a competitive advantage.
In the initial rules, there was no limit to the number of any particular card that could be placed in a player’s deck. This likely would have been a minor issue had the Counterstrike expansion not arrived with a completely free ‘Mech (the Sentinel STL-3L) that required absolutely no resources to play. This meant any player could have had an entire deck made up of 60 Sentinels, played two per turn, and simply overwhelmed their opponent.
By the time Wizards Of The Coast held BattleTech‘s first official tournaments in 1997, the rules had been updated to limit decks to only six of any given card, but the strategy of swarming opponents with low-cost units remains popular in BattleTech even to this day.
However, we don’t even need to get to BattleTech‘s first World Championship tournament to see another flaw in the game, and that’s the inherent advantage that fast ‘Mechs have over moderate and slow ‘Mechs.
Because fast ‘Mechs can attack anything slower than they are (ie. moderate and slow ‘Mechs), a pack of cheap, fast ‘Mechs can pick off moderate and slow ‘Mechs, denuding an opponent of defenses should they lack their own fast ‘Mechs to counter. This wouldn’t be a problem if each faction had an equal distribution of ‘Mech speeds, but because BattleTech is set essentially during the Clan Invasion, the vast majority of efficient fast ‘Mechs were Clan, while Inner Sphere ‘Mechs were moderate or slow.
Fast Clan quickly formed as a winning strategy that allowed decks full of fast clan ‘Mechs to pick apart Inner Sphere opponents who were virtually defenseless. Cards like Effective Groundwork and Elite MechWarrior supercharged this strategy to the point where no other deck was even competitive, resulting in those cards being banned along with the infamous Dasher D.
Even still, Peter Sundholm’s Fast Wolf deck, filled with Dasher and Fenris Primes, was BattleTech‘s first-ever World Championship-winning deck, and it would go on to define the Fast Clan deck archetype from that point onward.
If 1997 was the year of Fast Clan, 1998 was the year of Inner Sphere Swarm. While swarm decks had always been a popular option in BattleTech, the arrival of the Arsenal expansion brought ultra-cheap, fast VTOL and hovertanks. Cards like the Cavalry, Cyrano, and Saladin finally gave Inner Sphere factions a fast unit that could be deployed before Fast Clan could send in their own fast ‘Mechs like the Dasher and Fenris, giving the Inner Sphere a distinct edge.
However, the BattleTech designers made the mistake of pricing these units too cheaply. Many of them could be deployed for free without even taking up one of the player’s precious two deployments, making the Vehicle Swarm Deck an insurmountable force. Wizards Of The Coast quickly changed the rules again to limit decks to just 10 non-‘Mech units to keep competitive play even remotely fair.
Ten non-‘Mech cards were more than enough to crush Fast Clan when they were combined with the ludicrously cost-efficient Nightsky NGS-4S and the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. Davion Sandhurst Royal Military Academy Swarm, as the deck would come to be known, swept the 1998 BattleTech World Championships taking both first and second place. In fact, the championship game was a mirror match-up with both Terry Border and Shiu-Yik Au playing the exact same deck.
BattleTech: Those Troubled Middle Years
It’s around 1998 that we can’t really talk about the evolution of card games without discussing the Internet. Suddenly, strategies, tactics, and above all, decklists could be publicly shared for everyone to learn, iterate, and in many cases, outright copy. Alpha Strike became the number one website for net-decking in BattleTech, with articles and tournament-winning decklists posted there for every BattleTech fan to see.
That’s not to say that all unique ideas immediately disappeared from BattleTech starting in 1998. Zvi Mowshowitz’s famous ‘Mechless deck made headlines by relying on subterfuge and BattleTech‘s few direct damage cards to eliminate opponents in a single, massive airstrike. Wizards Of The Coast also continuously pushed BattleTech fans on their own website to discover new strategies, such as the Quasimodo Deck that featured the mildly insane Hunchback IIC and its enormous Alpha Strikes.
But the internet meant that ideas traveled fast. Winning strategies were copied, tested, and then perfected soon after the release of each new set. And one of the things that became increasingly clear was that there wasn’t a lot of variation when it came to BattleTech’s best ideas.
Once again, we start 1998 off with several bans and errata. After the phenomenal performance of Sandhurst Royal Military Academy at Worlds, ComStar became its own faction so that it couldn’t be combined with efficient Davion medium ‘Mechs and overwhelm all opposition. Later errata would further clip Sandhurst’s power down to a level where an outright ban was deemed unnecessary, although it was still considered a powerful card.
And Sandhurst was hardly alone. Disguised Coordinates was a card so oppressively un-fun to play against that Wizards decided to outright ban it instead of issuing errata. Ditto the original NGS-4S Nightsky which was deemed so under-costed that it was banned in favor of a revised version with twice the resource price.
However, the original Nightsky wasn’t banned at first. This brings us to the mass confusion of Commander’s Edition, released in the summer of 1998. A sweeping revision of the game, not only did Commander’s Edition change BattleTech‘s card design to be more distinctive amongst Wizards’ other products, but it also attempted to correct some of the mistakes made in the initial printing. This resulted in a number of “revised” cards with adjusted resource costs, modified attack values, added keywords, or in some cases, entirely different rules text.
Not wanting to completely invalidate a player’s collection up to that point, Wizards ruled that both revised and un-revised cards were legal to play. This somewhat got around the six-card maximum rule in that it allowed players to play both versions of the card in the same deck. It also resulted in the somewhat hilarious possibility of playing a deck of 24 Owens despite the fact only two variants of the OmniMech were ever made into BattleTech cards.
Wizards would eventually see the lunacy of this compromise and declared that all older cards could only be played using the revised text. That said, competitive BattleTech was filled with confusion right up until the 1999 World Championship.
The 1999 BattleTech World Championship saw the rise of Marik GorgeMaster. A deck designed specifically to combat against Fast Clan and early swarm strategies, it used C3-equipped ‘Mechs to present an extremely tough defense that was further augmented by a sideboard filled with Rocky Gorge and Falsified Maps.
Falsified Maps allowed GorgeMaster to search for Rocky Gorge almost at will, while the Rocky Gorge itself would deal two damage to each attacking ‘Mech. This was enough to outright destroy Dashers and other free-deploy units common in Sandhurst Swarm decks while also severely weakening larger units, often to the point that they’d be forced to sacrifice themselves in a second attack.
What made GorgeMaster such a powerful deck at the time was how it specifically countered BattleTech’s best strategies but was adaptable enough to deal with others as well. However, it was an extremely difficult deck to play requiring immense knowledge of other decks and playstyles. GorgeMaster was the height of the BattleTech tournament scene. After that, it was all downhill from there.
The End Of BattleTech
The last expansion to arrive in BattleTech was Crusade, which took the collectible card game right up to the era of the reborn Star League and the Inner Sphere’s counter-invasion of Clan Smoke Jaguar. It saw the addition of a new clan, the Steel Vipers, as well as powerful Alliance cards that allowed players to use multiple factions in a single deck.
These Alliance cards dramatically enhanced the quality of existing strategies by not forcing decks to sacrifice quality in order to remain within the bounds of their faction. Now, Fast Clan had access to the best fast ‘Mechs from every Clan, whereas Solaris Contacts and swarm decks didn’t need to limit themselves to a single House.
Alliances were found in several top-placing decks in the 1999 World Championships. At the final Worlds tournament in 2000, Chad Edwards’ Invading Clans deck took first place using a mix of Crossbows and fast Clan Wolf ‘Mechs as well as Hidden Reserves and Improved Construction Facilities to simply out-pace his opponent both economically and tactically.
After that, the BattleTech card game was over. Wizards announced their intention to stop supporting the game with expansions after Crusade, and while they supported BattleTech‘s professional scene for a year or two, without new cards to keep the game fresh, both professional and casual players abandoned BattleTech for greener pastures (which was usually Magic: The Gathering).
And so the world moved on. Alpha Strike continued to operate for a couple of years before eventually closing up shop. The secondary market thrived for some time before dwindling to a trickle, although you can still find unopened boxes of BattleTech on sites like eBay and Craigslist.
But much like the tabletop game, BattleTech has a way of creating die-hard fans. The BattleTech CCG Yahoo Group maintained the largest depository of BattleTech articles, rulings, and card lists for over a decade before moving on to the BattleTech CCG Facebook Group. They’re still in operation today, where you can not only discuss the old BattleTech card game in whatever detail you want but also peruse an even larger depository of resources, including FAQs and starter decklists to bring new players into this very old game.
Not Quite As Dead As You Think
You’d think that a game that has been out of print for over 20 years would be extremely difficult to play. You’d also be mistaken.
To start, there are still unopened boxes of cards out there. If you’re not willing to pay the price for a dwindling resource, all the cards have been individually scanned and placed online in a number of locations, including here at Sarna. The legality of printing those scans onto new cardstock is questionable, but there are a number of sites online where you can print custom playing cards to bring BattleTech back from the dead.
But why bother with printing old cards when you can print brand new ones? Besides getting around the whole copyright issue, these unofficial expansions bring far more of the BattleTech universe into the trading card game than ever before.
You might remember Michael Todd from such glorious fan creations as the unofficial TRO 3028 and TRO 3049. Well, he’s also devoted a not inconsiderable amount of his life to making a fan-made BattleTech CCG expansion, and one that I absolutely adore. Mostly because it includes all of Unseen ‘Mechs, but also because there are several Locust variants that would make a Logistics-based Inner Sphere swarm deck absolutely busted.
Next, we have Michael Cohen and Chester Hendrix of the BattleTech CCG Facebook group. They jointly made an even more comprehensive fan expansion that includes not just the Unseen, but also Aerospace, ProtoMechs, tanks, and more Missions and Command cards than I can count. This is easily the largest fan expansion I’ve encountered, and one that’s definitely worth considering adding to your collection.
Renegade HPG’s Travis Gardner has also been hard at work creating custom cards over on his YouTube channel. Instead of focusing on entirely new cards, Travis seems to fall into a different camp within the BattleTech CCG community that believes BattleTech’s in-game resource pricing is fundamentally flawed and requires correcting in order to end the utter dominance of Fast Clan and Inner Sphere Swarm. To do that, he’s devotedseveralvideos to creating ‘Mechs that are priced based on a formula developed by the community to ensure a fair playing field.
Unfortunately, Tabletop Simulator can be oppressively cumbersome to play virtual card games. Instead, the BattleTech CCG Facebook community recommends using Lackey, a free-to-play card game app that lets you play almost any old card game, so long as someone has the scans for it. You’ll need to spend some time getting the BattleTech plug-in for Lackey set up, but as always, Michael Cohen at the BattleTech CCG Facebook Group has got you covered.
Battletech CCG | Building a Custom Card (Episode 9) Black Knight
Unlike most of my articles, this one wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a few notable individuals and one group as a whole.
First off, I’d like to thank the BattleTech CCG Facebook Group for keeping this game alive long past its expiration date. I’d also like to thank Mark Roberts for maintaining a collection of scanned BattleTech memorabilia, including full-page magazine ads that have really added a nice touch of color to what would have otherwise been a pretty drab jaunt down memory lane. Kudos to Travis for putting me in touch.
And an even bigger thanks to Michael Cohen for interviewing Richard Garfield so I didn’t have to. You can read the whole interview over on the BattleTech CCG Facebook Group, but just be aware that he’s a guy who has spent more decades designing card games than I have spent breathing and he can’t really remember much of the nitty-gritty details of BattleTech anymore.
Also, literally any of the subjects I touched on over the past 3000 words or so could have their own 3000-word article, so I apologize if it seems like I glossed over some of the grittier topics covered here.
It’s probably safe to say that without the BattleTech CCG I would never have gotten into the BattleTech fiction, and without that, the BattleTech video games likely wouldn’t have resonated with me nearly as much as they did. I really do hope that this game sees a resurgence, either with more expansions or with a completely revamped pricing formula that makes it a little fairer for every faction.
I’ve got a question for you, my fellow BattleTech aficionados. Why doesn’t everyone just scrap their LRM-20s and use a bunch of LRM-5s in their place? This is a question that has dogged me ever since I got into BattleTech and one that I’ve decided to answer once and for all.
For me, this all started way back with MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries when I discovered than an LRM-5 weighs just 2 tons, meaning I could boat-up four of those suckers and get the equivalent firepower of an LRM-20 but at just 80% of the tonnage requirement. Then I got into the tabletop game and saw that the LRM-5 was still just 2 tons, and it made me wonder why didn’t everybody scrap all their LRM-20s and duct-tape together a bunch of LRM-5s? Is every ‘Mech jock in the entire universe stupid or what?!
It turns out there’s a reason for that, and that reason has changed with every new generation of BattleTech games. But for much of BattleTech video game history, there was little reason to keep those big LRM launchers instead of swapping them for an equivalent number of LRM-5s, and that made me wonder just how the heck this innocuous weapon system can be so weird across so much of BattleTech’s games.
So today, we’re going to take a deep dive into the many intricacies of perhaps one of BattleTech’s most boring weapon system: the LRM-5.
LRM-5, According To The Table
Starting where it all began, of course. My introduction to the LRM-5 might have come in the form of a video game, but to understand the LRM-5 we have to go back to the beginning, and that means tabletop rules. Even here the LRM-5 can seem like a questionable choice, so let’s break this weapon down.
The LRM-5 weighs 2 tons, takes 1 crit, and can fire a packet of five measly long-range missiles at a target up to 21 hexes away (Inner Sphere stats, of course). One look at Sarna’s vast repository of BattleTech knowledge reveals that this is a significant weight savings when compared to larger missile launchers such as the LRM-10 (5 tons, 2 crits), LRM-15 (7 tons, 3 crits), and LRM-20 (10 tons, 5 crits), so why would you ever want to use any of those larger launchers?
The answer is hiding in the damage tables. To determine damage, you roll 2D6 and then consult the table. For most of the possible rolls, the damage between four LRM-5s and a single LRM-20 is equivalent, except for two results: a 2 and a 4. If you roll a 2 on an LRM-5 shot, then you’re only dealing 1 damage, whereas an LRM-20 is dealing 6 damage. That’s a 50% bonus over four LRM-5s firing simultaneously.
A similar story happens if you roll a 4, which causes an LRM-5 to deal 2 damage and an LRM-20 to deal 9. A single extra point of damage isn’t quite as pronounced as the snake-eyes situation, but it’s still more damage on low rolls.
There’s also heat to consider. An LRM-20 produces just 6 points of heat, but four LRM-5s firing together produce 8 points. On the other hand, you can manage your heat better by just firing a few of those LRM-5s at a time rather than all four at once, but in terms of average damage per round, the LRM-20 is clearly beating our cludged 4xLRM-5.
Whether you think a little less heat and a little more consistent damage is worth the extra two tons and one critical slot is a matter of personal opinion, but the math checks out--at least, for the tabletop. That story changes dramatically once we get into the video games.
Off The Table And Into The Silicon Wafer
While things were just fine and dandy for the LRM-5 in the tabletop version of BattleTech, as soon as things went digital, shit got weird. Really weird.
First, LRMs in the old MechWarrior 2 days didn’t use damage tables to randomly calculate the amount of mayhem a flight of LRMs will produce. In MechWarrior 2, every missile was its own object with its own specific trajectory. However, LRMs had such good homing in those days that a missile lock often meant that every single one of those missiles would hit its target--many of them in the same location. Worse, the splash damage of the explosion essentially doubled the firepower of LRMs, meaning you were dealing 2 damage per missile instead of one.
So in MechWarrior 2, it absolutely made sense to replace all your LRM-20s with LRM-5s, but only if you had space for them. MechWarrior 2 limited players to just 10 total weapons systems, so this would work on some ‘Mechs like the Vulture, but not on more heavily-laden machines like the Mad Cat.
The only downside to this strategy was heat. LRM-5s still produced more heat than the equivalent LRM-20, so that extra ton is likely to be used up with a heat sink to offset the extra heat produced.
MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries still had inexplicable Streak LRMs, but at least the splash damage bug had been fixed so that each individual missile only did 1 damage. However, the same situation remained: all missiles fired hit their mark, and that meant random damage tables couldn’t account for the extra 2 tons and 1 crit that an LRM-20 has over four LRM-5s. Once again, it absolutely made more sense to toss your heavier LRM units for group-fired LRM-5s.
This situation continued into MechWarrior 3, but finally changed in MechWarrior 4 when LRMs got a complete overhaul. Rather than fire streak-style homing missiles directly at whatever you had a lock on, LRMs in MechWarrior 4 would take an arcing path over obstacles if fired at great distances. Missiles were also grouped into “packets” of 5, just like in the tabletop game, and it was certainyl possible for those packets to miss a fast-moving target.
However, this isn’t quite the same as the tabletop’s damage. Those packets of 5 missiles either struck home for 5 damage (actually 4--MechWarrior 4 used weird damage values) or they missed and did nothing. There’s no in-between. So, boating LRM-5’s once again appears to make sense.
Only MechWarrior 4 did something different that finally gave players a good reason to use a larger missile system over a smaller one. MechWarrior 4 added fixed hardpoints to the MechWarrior series that prevented a player from simply swapping out whatever weapon systems they wanted. Although the tonnage of each weapon remained the same, critical slots had been replaced by weapon hardpoints that would allow only a certain amount of energy, missile, or ballistic weaponry.
An Inner Sphere LRM-20 still weighed 10 tons, but now it took up two “missile” slots in a hardpoint. This meant that a single LRM-20 could only ever be replaced by two LRM-5s, albeit with significant weight savings and with only 8 possible damage (again, MechWarrior 4 used different damage values than pretty much every other MechWarrior game).
For me, MechWarrior 4 was where LRMs started to make sense again. Yes, larger LRM packs were less efficient in terms of weight, but they were more efficient in terms of damage per missile hardpoint slot. The key here is that MechWarrior 4 changed the relationship between damage, tonnage, and space. Instead of tonnage being the key limiter to damage, hardpoint slots were often the limiting factor. This meant that it made sense for larger ‘Mechs to have larger LRM packs, while smaller ‘Mechs made do with LRM-5s.
The Modern Solution To The LRM Problem
In modern games like MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries and BATTLETECH, the solution to the LRM problem has become a hybrid of MechWarrior 4’s hardpoints and more classic tabletop ‘Mech construction. In both titles, ‘Mechs are limited in the number of specific energy, ballistic, and missile-based weapons they can mount in any given section of the chassis, but the more traditional critical slot layout is also retained from the tabletop game.
MechWarrior 5 goes one step further. Instead of just having missile, ballistic, and energy hardpoints, it also subdivides those weapons into small, medium, and large categories. A small weapon can fit into any sized hardpoint, but it occupies the entire hardpoint and prevents any additional weapons from slotting in. A large weapon can only occupy a large weapon hardpoint, so an LRM-5 can replace a single LRM-20, but an LRM-20 can’t replace an LRM-5. And, crucially, four LRM-5s cannot replace an LRM-20 unless the chassis has four total available missile hardpoints.
You’d think that would be enough for MechWarrior 5, but no. PGI REALLY wanted to differentiate between small and large launchers, so they added a very interesting quirk to LRMs.
Lock-on Weapons (LRMs) in Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries | Full Mission Gameplay
In MechWarrior 5 there are actually two styles of LRM launcher: stream launchers and regular launchers. Stream launchers fire their missiles one after the other so that each missile’s launch doesn’t affect the one behind it. This causes stream launchers to be somewhat more accurate and have a tighter grouping than regular launchers.
Regular LRM launchers fire all their missiles at once, creating a sort of “cloud” of missiles that home in on their target. The orientation of that cloud is random every time it’s fired, and that randomizes how damage is applied when missiles strike their target.
If they strike their target. In MechWarrior 5, the larger the launcher, the larger the cloud of missiles. Unlike in previous MechWarrior games, missiles don’t converge when they approach their victim, so if the target is significantly smaller than the cloud of LRMs fired--like in the case of an LRM-20 fired at a Locust--then the vast majority of those missiles will just hit the ground and deal no damage.
Suddenly the LRM-5 is more than just a smaller version of larger launchers. Since the cloud fired from an LRM-5 is small, it can be used against smaller targets like light ‘Mechs and armored vehicles. LRM-20s, on the other hand, are only really useful against larger targets that will get struck by the majority of the missile cloud--otherwise you’re just wasting most of your ammo.
MechWarrior 5 is smart too. If you manage to group together four LRM-5s, firing them all at once essentially creates the same cloud as firing a single LRM-20. You do have the option of firing them one at a time, however, which will keep the cloud to a smaller size that’s more appropriate to dealing with smaller targets and adds a measure of flexibility.
I gotta give PGI credit, this is probably the most innovative and effective iteration of LRMs in any MechWarrior game. Boating is discouraged, but having an LRM-5 or two is still an effective way of dealing with pesky light ‘Mechs at extreme ranges. LRM-20s are better for heavy and assault ‘Mechs or heavily armored structures. The difference in weight efficiency is overshadowed by the importance of using the right weapon for the right job.
Now let’s take a look at Hairbrained’s BATTLETECH, the game that perhaps mirrors the tabletop experience more than any other BATTLETECH game ever produced. On the surface, BATTLETECH appears to handle things very similar to the tabletop, which means we’re back to maximizing damage per ton with our cludged 4xLRM-5 launchers again, but it’s not immediately obvious what’s going on when the computer is the one rolling digital dice. To find out, I actually reached out to Harebrained Studios to get the inside scoop on what’s happening when you light off a flight of missiles at some schmuck in a Thunderbolt.
“LRMs roll a separate to-hit for each missile in the rack,” BATTLETECH engineer Connor Monahan told me via email. “The first to-hit is rolled on a normal hit table (respective of facing) and that first hit determines the ‘center’ of the LRMs clustering, then all subsequent location rolls for successful hits from that missile rack roll on that influenced/clustered table.”
So, does that mean there’s really no real damage advantage between four LRM-5s and a single LRM-20? Monohan explained essentially “yes,” but that’s not the whole story in BATTLETECH.
First, there’s still heat to consider. Four LRM-5s are a lot hotter than an LRM-20, and that will seriously reduce a ‘Mech’s average damage per round. Second, since every missile rolls separately, missile weapons are some of the best weapons in the game to take against smaller, more evasive targets. A medium laser with 40% to-hit is most likely going to miss and deal no damage at all, whereas an LRM-20 with a 40% hit chance is likely to still deal 8 total damage with 8 missile hits. This is in stark contrast with MechWarrior 5 where larger launchers are actually no better than smaller ones against small targets.
And third, you can split your fire with four LRM-5s. This is especially useful when a pilot has Multi-Target, which enhances your accuracy when firing at multiple opponents.
The Evolution Of A Tiny Missile Launcher
So, are we done? Is MechWarrior 5 the pinnacle of long-range missile technology? Or is BATTLETECH and its faithful adherence to the original tabletop rules the best that an LRM can be?
Honestly, I think MechWarrior 5 has gotten the formula right. You can still boat those LRM-5s to replace heavier LRM-20s and wind up with weight savings, but there are appropriate tradeoffs. You lose the option of mounting other missile launchers (most likely, as few ‘Mechs have more than four missile hardpoints), but you gain extra tons to devote to other weapon systems. Each LRM launcher is best suited to increasingly larger enemies, and if you do decide to mount multiple LRM-5s, you’re given maximum flexibility in being able to engage both large and small targets without wasting ammunition.
But I don’t think the evolution of the LRM is over. We started out with ludicrously broken and overpowered missiles in MechWarrior 2, and each iteration of BattleTech brought them first towards balance, and then to something better: justification.
Is MechWarrior 5 where the evolution of the LRM launcher ends? Or will long-range missile launchers of the future take a more retro-inspired approach like BATTLETECH?
Right now it’s hard to say since we’re sort of in-between generations at the moment. All I can say is that I will always hot-swap my LRM-20s for LRM-5s until I’m convinced to do otherwise. And even then, I’ll probably still swap for those two extra tons. It’s just how I’ve been taught.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.
(Edit: Yes, I know I’m omitting quite a few games, including the first MechWarrior, MechCommander, and MechWarrior Online. But I think this article is long enough.)
As is sometimes the case here on Sarna.net, I must begin this article with an apology. I had heard of MechWarrior: Living Legends many years ago, before my stint on MechWarrior Online and even while I was still replaying MechWarrior 4 for the gazillionth time, but I’d never really considered it as something I’d like to get into. Firstly because it was initially built on Crysis, a game famous for taking modest gaming PCs and turning them into shambling corpses unable to render a single frame, and secondly because it was an online multiplayer shooter of the kind that I just had little interest in.
Fast forward many years later and I would still occasionally see news about MechWarrior: Living Legends on social media, but I always passed it off as such a tiny corner of the wider BattleTech community that it was hardly worth mentioning. I hope this article–and perhaps more like it–will make amends for my transgression.
And as I’ve found out over the years, I was wrong about many things, and certainly wrong about MechWarrior: Living Legends. It is a game worthy of my attention and the attention of any BattleTech fan looking for a different kind of BattleTech experience.
Although I wasn’t wrong about it having a very small community, I’ve discovered that small doesn’t mean disorganized. They even have a PR guy, whom I will give full credit for sending me on this journey into yet another weird and wonderful corner of the BattleTech universe (and also being a great historian for MechWarrior: Living Legends–shout out to you, Bird_Thing).
Apologies out of the way, let’s get this party started. This week on Did You Know?, we’re looking at an older MechWarrior title with an interesting origin story and gameplay unlike any other game in the franchise. Mostly because it’s not an officially licensed product and so it never had to conform to the rules. Welcome to MechWarrior: Living Legends.
How To Be A Living Legend
As I mentioned before, MechWarrior: Living Legends has a small community both developing and playing it, so you might not have even heard of this game. Allow me to illuminate.
MechWarrior: Living Legends started life as a Crysis total conversion mod that has since become a game unto itself. Although it still prefers to call itself a Crysis total conversion mod, Living Legends has its own stand-alone installer and has virtually nothing in common with the original game from which it’s based on.
If I had to describe Living Legends in a single sentence, I’d say it’s Battlefield, but BattleTech. Unlike most MechWarrior games that focus on the ‘Mechs, Living Legends provides players with several different options of vehicles to play as well, including Aerospace fighters, tanks, VTOLs, and even battle armor.
Although there are several different game modes available, the most common (at least, from my short time playing in it) is Terrain Control, where each team attempts to capture control points in order to drain the opposing team of tickets. Once a team’s tickets are exhausted, that team loses unless they can also exhaust their opponent of tickets within a short period of time in a sort of sudden-death showdown.
While this might sound similar to MechWarrior Online’s Conquest mode, the two are starkly different. For starters, MechWarrior: Living Legends games can go on for much longer than a single round in MechWarrior Online, with games sometimes taking over an hour to conclude. Players also respawn after death and must purchase new machines to fight with each time using a pool of accrued credits based on their performance.
But perhaps the single largest difference between the two games is pacing. Yes, you can respawn in Living Legends so you never need to wait more than a few moments to get back to the action, but simply running to the battlefield any dying to enemy fire over and over again won’t actually get you anywhere. You gain credits based on how long you survive, and so it’s important for you to play strategically (I’d even go as far as saying “carefully”) in order to preserve your machine. Falling back to repair and rearm is far more beneficial than dying and respawning.
Understanding that your survival has meaning beyond merely staying alive is fundamental to a player’s success in MechWarrior: Living Legends. If all you do is run in with an Osiris and die repeatedly, you’ll never be able to afford heavier, more impactful units that can truly sway the tide of battle.
And I’ll admit that it took me at least three games before I understood this concept. RIP my Osiris.
But Is It BattleTech?
MechWarrior: Living Legends takes an approach to balancing itself that is similar to MechWarrior Online. Yes, there are Clan and Inner Sphere units, but their respective stats have been tweaked to resemble a fair playing field. And while it seems that the developers have tried to stick with cannon designs as much as possible, there are a lot of differences between classic BattleTech and Living Legends.
For starters, Inner Sphere ‘Mechs have lettered variants for every chassis similar to the Clans, and those variants don’t have a lot in common with their tabletop counterparts. Even some “prime” variants like the Marauder have two AC/5s instead of one and can run at 86 kph instead of 64 kph. Again, this is all in the name of parity between Inner Sphere and Clan factions so that each game is fair and balanced.
There’s no ‘Mechlab and no customization of any kind. You can change your paint job for some appropriate camouflage, but that’s it. Some BattleTech purists might lament the loss of such an iconic part of the BattleTech experience, but you can understand how quickly players will become irate at a teammate that takes 10 minutes to design their perfect custom machine only to lose every control point on the map and cost their team the game.
A more interesting aspect of Living Legends is the ability to pilot vehicles. You start the game equipped with battle armor (Elementals for the Clans, Longinus for the Inner Sphere), but they’re generally ineffective on their own with only a single-shotSRM-2 and a small laser to work with (although I am told there are some legendary battle armor players that will ruin your day with a man-portable PPC). Tanks such as the Harasser or Goblin can provide additional firepower at a premium price, while Aerospace assets like Corsair or Visigoth can provide extreme mobility and take advantage of an enemy lacking in anti-aircraft weaponry. You can even take a Long Tom to lob artillery at opponents.
This move away from ‘Mech-centricity and towards combined-arms combat is MechWarrior: Living Legends‘ greatest strength, although I recommend that only experienced pilots take the wheel of a hovercraft or Aerospace fighter. In the one game I decided to play a Harasser, I flipped my hovertank in the first five minutes of battle and couldn’t get it righted. At least ‘Mechs don’t have to worry about falling on their backs like an upended turtle.
It also means that games can become truly chaotic. Some maps can have up to 14 players on each side, and with that many people all swapping their gear to gain an advantage on their opponents, you might be dealing with a wave of Aerospace fighters one second and a team of LRM-equipped high-speed harassers the next. Staying alive and capturing resource points should be your primary concern in the early game, and only later in the match should you even consider moving to larger, more formidable units.
After charging in and dying repeatedly for my second game–which relegated me to light ‘Mechs for the entire 30-minute match–I finally decided to change tactics on my third game. I picked an Owens equipped with LRMs and stayed well back from the fight, lobbing missiles at targets of opportunity and retreating whenever the enemy got too close. I managed to survive (and even get a few kills) for long enough that I was able to swap my Owens for a Marauder on my next return for ammo and repairs, and then I was able to truly anchor the line in my team’s next big firefight.
It was a totally new way of playing MechWarrior that I’d never experience before and I’m embarrassed it took me so long to understand the flow of MechWarrior: Living Legends. But then, the folks behind Living Legends started with a totally different mindset for this game than any other MechWarrior game ever made.
Genesis Of Living Legends
Living Legends got its start way back in 2006 under a development team called Wandering Samurai Studios (WSS). They initially started working on the game using the Quake engine, but then decided to change course with the arrival of Crysis in 2007. From the beginning, the idea was to make Crysis into a game like Battlefield 2142, using BattleTech as the inspiration for all the sci-fi tanks, space fighters, and giant stompy robots.
Wandering Samurai Studios succeeded spectacularly. The initial beta release of MechWarrior: Living Legends released in December 2009 and received its first patch in January of 2010. It then went on to win 2010’s Mod of the Year from ModDB, the massive modding community site that also hosted MechWarrior: Living Legends. It would also get an honorable mention in 2011’s Mod of the Year awards after the mod achieved a second year of high votes, but wasn’t allowed to win the award two years in a row.
This was the golden age of MechWarrior: Living Legends. There was even talk within the community of packaging up Living Legends and selling it as its own game.
Then two things happened. The first was MechWarrior Online. This portion of Living Legends legacy is shrouded in some controversy, so I’ll just provide key points. Both Living Legends and MechWarrior Online used the same engine: Crysis. Living Legends had a non-commercial license to use the engine, while MechWarrior Online had every intention of making as much money as humanly possible. PGI felt that Living Legends might split their target audience and exerted some pressure to have Wandering Samurai Studios cease production.
That last bit is where lies the controversy. Neither PGI nor WSS state that there was ever a cease and desist letter sent, but that might not have been necessary. Several WSS members worked at Crytek, the company that made Crysis and the Crytek engine, and having some of your employees trying to make a free game that sucks players from one of your customers is certainly a bad look.
According to Mandalore Gaming, a YouTuber that covered a bit of Living Legends in his review of MechWarrior Online, PGI met WSS at the 2012 Game Developers Conference and politely asked them to cease development of Living Legends. Which they did after the final 0.70 update released on January 16, 2013, simultaneously announcing that they’d move on to other projects.
The second was the death of Gamespy in 2014. MechWarrior: Living Legends relied on Gamespy’s servers for matchmaking, and without them, nobody could actually play Living Legends. At the time, this seemed to be the final nail in Living Legends’ coffin, and there was widespread belief that this would be the end of this beautiful little game.
Living Legends Lazarus
I may have forgotten to mention something earlier: MechWarrior: Living Legends has a small and highly dedicated community. They wouldn’t let a tiny thing like the departure of the entire development team and the destruction of the fundamental backbone of the MW:LL‘s online matchmaking prevent them from keeping their beloved game alive.
In 2013, the MW:LL community released a universal installer for the game that no longer required Crysis (or Crysis Wars) to run. It still used the same engine, but for all intents and purposes, MechWarrior: Living Legends was its own game.
Throughout 2015, the MW:LL forums are used to assemble, document, and just fucking cludge together workarounds to the total lack of Gamespy servers. This allowed the community to keep playing as a more long-term solution was sought.
That solution happened at the end of 2015 with a brand new launcher that would search for active game servers and provide them to the user. This came after the better part of a year trying to track down the source code and many more months of trying to get it to compile. MechWarrior: Living Legends had officially returned from the dead.
Thus began a new era for MechWarrior: Living Legends, one we can consider a sort of community-driven renaissance. WSS gave their blessings to a new development team, with Living Legends co-founder Kamikaze making that announcement in January of 2017. Since then, iterative updates have continued to add content to Living Legends in the form of new maps, units, and a new login service that made MW:LL completely independent of third-party services.
That team continues to work on Living Legends to this day. The most recent major update, 0.12.0, added the Sunder and Kodiak ‘Mechs to the game, along with a slew of balance and bug fixes. The team plans to add the Mars and Behemoth tanks for the next major update as well as adding the C3 Master equipment.
Of all the BattleTech fan projects I’ve played, MechWarrior: Living Legends is easily the most polished. There’s a lot of love in this game, and it’s that love that keeps the game going. Not at all unlike BattleTech itself.
If you do download the client (which again, is totally free and doesn’t require Crysis to play anymore) I recommend perusing the new player guides first and familiarizing yourself with the controls. Head to an empty server to test things out (“Free Testing Practice” on the 12th VR game server network has one with unlimited credits for new players to test things out) and get yourself situated with some early-game units. Then it’s time to dive into an actual game.
My biggest takeaway with Living Legends is: survive. If you take damage that puts you close to death, retreat and get repaired at a ‘Mech bay. If you run out of ammo, retreat to reload. The longer you live, the more money you make, and the bigger the ‘Mech you’ll be able to purchase.
After that, your old MechWarrior reflexes should be just fine to mix it up. At least, it was for me.