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Bad ‘Mechs – Cicada

Cicada by Eldoniousrex

Courtesy of Eldoniousrex

There was a fly in corporal Grubb’s cockpit. The Cochrane’s Cavaliers operated throughout the periphery with all its weird and bothersome wildlife, but Grubb had never experienced a fly as annoying as the kind found on Waypoint. Its high-pitched whine somehow managed to drown out the rumbling of his Cicada’s fusion engine, and unfortunately for Grubb, it had developed a taste for human sweat.

Grubb swatted at the fly away for the umpteenth time and checked his sensors. It didn’t help that garrison duty was the worst sort of contract–hours upon hours of boredom with the smallest chance of intense terror should the planet ever actually be raided by bandits. So far it was all quiet on the western front, according to captain Cochrane, but Grubb didn’t agree. The fly in his cockpit was absolutely deafening.

But not as deafening as the sudden, blaring alarm of incoming missiles.

“This is beta two-four, I’m under attack!” Grubb kicked his Cicada’s engine to the point where it almost became louder than the fly. A few missiles stuck at his ‘Mech’s long legs, pockmarking the relatively thin armor protecting his 40-ton machine.

“Get to cover, two-four, help is on the way,” came Cochrane’s calm and commanding voice. “What’s the situation?”

“Unkown,” Grubb replied, throwing his Cicada into a trot while throttling up and down to throw off any potential attacks. He needn’t have bothered; as more LRMs rained on his outpost’s position, it became clear they were targeting the facilities and not his ‘Mech. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Suddenly, a target appeared on Grubb’s sensors. A Locust, judging by the silhouette and the tonnage range his radar estimated. It came barreling at him straight on, its spindly legs rapidly closing the distance to where it could fire its medium lasers. One bright green bolt flew past his Cicada’s left “wing,” while the other struck it dead center just below the cockpit. Grubb blinked away the outline of the blast that was momentarily burned into his retinas.

“Contact, one Locust–looks like pirates,” Grubb offered as another flight of LRMs blew out the garage that housed one of the company’s Pegasus hovercraft. “They’re targeting the outpost with long-range missile fire. Probably from LRM carriers or Harassers.”

“Acknowledged,” Cochrane replied. “Sit tight, Corporal.”

“Roger,” Grubb said, and then grinned. His Cicada was purpose-built to defeat Locusts. Twice as heavy but just as fast, the Cicada was a far more imposing design, but it only matched the Locust for armor. And, as Grubb’s sensors pointed out, the LCT-1E had one more small laser to bring to bear than his own machine’s complement of twin medium and a single small laser.

A fair fight then, thought Grubb as he slowed his trot for an accurate shot at the incoming Locust. His own medium lasers struck the smaller ‘Mech’s torso and leg, removing more than half a ton of its protection. The Locust struck back, beams momentarily connecting their machines as armor ran like rivulets beside his Cicada’s jutting cockpit.

Heat began to rise in Grubb’s cockpit as the Locust came into range of his small laser. The two ‘Mechs put on a dangerous light show as they blasted away while circling at high speed, both nearly tripping over trees or cars or debris from the rain of missiles that were still periodically cratering the outpost’s parking lot.

Just as Grubb’s heat gauge started to bleed into the red zone he managed to score a direct hit on the Locust’s left shoulder, shearing its arm and half its weapons clean off. This caused the Locust to stumble at the sudden loss of so much weight, but it didn’t falter. It almost seemed to cower as the pirate tried to regain control of their machine.

Grubb swung his Cicada around to deliver the final blow, but that’s when the fly decided to attack. It flew straight into Grubb’s ear, so loud and unexpected that it caused the corporal to veer hard enough to topple his Cicada just as it was about to straighten for its assault on the dazed Locust. Instead, Grubb’s ‘Mech landed right at the enemy’s feet.

Fortunately, this pirate wasn’t interested in blood. The raider was happy enough to leave the dazed and confused pilot on the ground as it carried on subduing the local resistance. By the time Cochrane arrived with reinforcements, the pirates were long gone, and corporal Grubb was sitting on the wreckage of his ruined ‘Mech, the splattered remains of an unusually large insect plastered to the inside of his neurohelmet.

Cicada by Spooky777

by Spooky777

HartfordCo IndustriesCicada was the direct response to the ubiquitous Locust from Bergan Industries. Although the two companies had no real rivalry (HartfordCo had only ever produced communications and targeting systems for ‘Mechs before the Cicada), executives at HardtordCo recognized the value proposition of a ‘Mech designed specifically to outclass and destroy Locusts, one of the most popular and numerous recon ‘Mechs ever made. Proposing a ‘Mech that was just as fast but twice as large as the Locust, HartfordCo managed to convince Star League procurement officers to agree to a limited contract for a small number of Cicadas that began to roll off its assembly lines on Bryant in 2740.

Cicada CDA-2A

As with many companies that were looking to branch into ‘Mech production during the lucrative years of the Star League, HartfordCo’s first offering wasn’t perfect. The largest issue suffered by original model Cicadas was faulty heat sinks that would wear out at a faster rate than models from other ‘Mech manufacturers. Most former Star League models had their heat sinks replaced, but several still used the older, defective kind that would prove to be disastrous for the Free Worlds League during the battles for Oriente against the Capellan Confederation. The last Cicadas didn’t have their faulty heat sinks replaced until the year 3029.

However, even with fully-functional heat sinks, the Cicada leaves much to be desired. The CDA-2A, the primary and most numerous model of Cicada produced, had just two medium lasers and a single small laser as its only armament. While this barely managed to outgun the typical LCT-1V, the LCT-1E had the same weapons complement plus an additional small laser, meaning it technically outgunned the CDA-2A. It also had just as much armor at four tons and was just as fast at 129 kph, but only at a fraction of the cost.

Marketing the Cicada against the Locust still proved to be an effective marketing strategy, although the two ‘Mechs rarely fought in combat. In fact, the Star League used its small order of Cicadas to replace Locusts lost to fighting in the Periphery. Cicada production picked up during the First Succession War, however, HartfordCo’s factory on Bryant was destroyed during the Second Succession War. Despite this, HartfordCo had managed to produce a sizeable quantity of Cicadas before the factory’s destruction, with the planet enduring multiple raids where stockpiled Cicadas were House militaries often procured them at the barrel of a gun. This led to the Cicada proliferating throughout the Inner Sphere.

Cicada CDA-3M TCG

Like many ‘Mechs during the Succession Wars, the Cicada‘s numbers would dwindle following its factory’s destruction, and by the Fourth Succession War, it was in danger of going extinct. The 40-ton ‘Mech was saved in the late 3040s by Free Worlds Defense Industries, which opened a new factory on the planet Gibson. Although most of the new Cicadas produced went directly to the Free Worlds League military, replacement components were sold on the open market. This revival of old and broken-down Cicadas caused a resurgence the likes of which harkened back to its namesake.

The CDA-3M was the first entirely new Cicada to be introduced by Free Worlds Defense Industries in 3049 using technologies recovered from the Helm Memory Core. Given an extralight engine to free up space for an Ulra AC/5 vastly improved the Cicada‘s firepower while CASE protection prevented a catastrophic ammunition explosion. Armor protection still remained light, which was perhaps why the CDA-3F was introduced. The CDA-3F was based on the CDA-3C, a variant produced in 2840 that improved the Cicada‘s firepower by removing its lasers and adding a PPC with paired machine guns at the cost of a slightly reduced running speed. The CDA-3F upgrades the 3C with an ER PPC and twin medium lasers as well as six and a half tons of ferro-fibrous armor. It also adds eight jump jets to improve the ‘Mech’s already superb mobility.

During the Jihad, the Free Worlds Defense Industries produced the CDA-3P, which updated the CDA-3M with a Heavy PPC and four ER medium lasers at the price of moving at the same speed as the CDA-3C. After the company collapsed alongside its Word of Blake allies, many former Free Worlds Defense Industries ‘Mech specialists joined Andurien AeroTech, which had split from FWDI when it became clear that the former Cicada manufacturer had become overrun with Blakists. Andurien AeroTech would use its newfound ‘Mech expertise to produce the CDA-4A. This latest variant keeps the CDA-2A’s top speed of 129 kph but replaces the standard lasers with two medium variable-speed lasers and a re-engineered medium laser. It also more than doubles the original’s protection with ferro-fibrous armor.

Much like its predecessors, Andurien AeroTech also markets the Cicada in opposition to the Locust, but these days the Locust can out-pace even the most modern Cicada, making its claims as a Locust-killer ring slightly false. Still, the Cicada‘s popularity within the League has assured its continuation for another generation.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

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

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

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

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

"Mechwarrior 2: The Clans" Trailer
Watch this video on YouTube.

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

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

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

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


courtesy of Local Ditch

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

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

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

MechWarrior 2 The Clans Demo Gameplay
Watch this video on YouTube.

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

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

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

Mech Bay

courtesy of Local Ditch

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as always MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy