So. MechWarrior 5 is going to be an Epic Games Store exclusive title after all. It’s also been slightly delayed, now releasing on December 10th instead of September 10th as previously hoped.
I can’t say I’m all that surprised. The writing was on the wall, which you can read all about in Sarna’s previous coverage on the matter. Suffice to say, what was once mere rumor has now become reality, with PGI making the official announcement on the MechWarrior 5: Mercenarieswebsite on July 25th.
What does being an Epic Games Store exclusive mean? Well, it means that MechWarrior 5 will be available only to those willing to download the Epic Games Store launcher. It will remain there as an exclusive title for one year, and then hopefully release on Steam, GOG, and other game stores on December 10th, 2020.
As for the delay, that’s covered in the updated FAQ page on the MechWarrior 5 website. The extra few months will give PGI more time to complete localization for a few different languages and also provide time for some additional marketing before release—both of which are Very Good Things™.
An AMA held on July 25th with PGI President Russ Bullock also mentioned not wanting to compete with the release of Borderlands 3, which is set to release September 13th on the Epic Games Store. No surprise there–Borderlands is expected to be a pretty big deal.
“Our partnership with Epic Games store allows us the opportunity to make sure MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries meets our internal goal of creating the best MechWarrior game possible,” PGI wrote on their FAQ page. And while few would have been upset with a 3-month delay in MechWarrior 5’s release, there are quite a few more MechWarriors absolutely livid at the fact that MechWarrior 5 will now be releasing on the EGS after promising since the game was first announced that it would release on Steam.
And it’s resulted in many pre-order holders demanding a refund. To PGI’s credit, they’re offering a no-hassle, no-questions-asked refund to anyone who wants one, even if those pre-order buyers already used their community bonuses that were tied to MechWarrior Online. PGI also pointed out in their development update that those Community Pre-Order bonuses represent $100, $180, or $300-worth of MechWarrior Online goodies (depending on the level you pre-ordered MechWarrior 5) which they are now giving away essentially for free.
That said, many view the sudden swap to Epic as a betrayal even with the refund policy. There are also some open questions on just when PGI decided to sign a deal with Epic. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries was still selling pre-orders up until May, and Bullock was even fielding concerns of Epic exclusivity in AMAs as late as April 10th, saying that the game would release on Steam and GOG as planned and they had no intent to release on Epic.
In the July 25th AMA, Bullock stated there may have even been “a couple of days crossover” between when PGI signed their Epic exclusive deal but were still selling community pre-orders promising a Steam release.
PGi didn’t exactly have the greatest reputation to begin with, but this bait-and-switch with Epic has truly pissed-off a lot of folks. The various MechWarrior and BattleTech-related subreddits are abuzz with people expressing their outrage and that they will make full use of PGI’s offer of a full refund.
I don’t have numbers, but we know from the previous MW5 AMA that the game received roughly 20,000 pre-orders. You gotta think that a significant quantity of those pre-orders has been refunded by now.
To get your refund, email email@example.com. All refund requests have to be in by Septembers 1st, and please give PGI 10 business days to process your refund. They’re probably dealing with a lot of angry people, so patience will be a virtue.
What will this mean for MechWarrior 5 and the future of the MechWarrior franchise? It’s hard to say. Whatever deal they’ve signed with Epic has almost certainly secured PGI’s financials for the time being, and Bullock said in the July 25th AMA that Epic provided enough data to convince him that MechWarrior 5 will still sell as well—if not better—on the Epic Games Store than on Steam.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe Epic’s smaller, more carefully curated game store will give MechWarrior 5 the sort of visibility that would have been impossible on Steam. Maybe this will result in that injection of fresh fans that an old franchise like MechWarrior desperately needs. There are certainly more than a few people that think MW5 going Epicis the right call.
It’s just a shame it had to come at the expense of so many old-school MechWarrior fans who are now angrily demanding refunds.
So MechWarrior 5 might become the next Epic Games Store exclusive title. Maybe.
Before anyone starts shouting, there has been no official confirmation from either Epic or PGI (the makers of MechWarrior 5: Mercenariesand MechWarrior Online). What we have is some troubling changes to the MechWarrior 5 website and PGI President Russ Bullock saying they’re just due to a harmless website update.
One thing that you’ll immediately notice is that the new MW5 FAQ is much smaller than the old one. You’ll also notice that there is no longer any mention of getting a Steam key from pre-orders that recently wrapped up and that any mention of Steam has in fact been totally removed. The pre-order beta has also been removed.
Getting rid of the pre-order info makes sense since you can’t pre-order MechWarrior 5 any longer (although they might have another pre-order closer to release). But removing all mention of Steam–ostensibly the platform that the game will release on–seems a little strange. Suspicious even.
In case you’re not up on the latest brawl to hit the digital gaming market, Epic Games is the maker of Fortnite (that battle royale game you see the kids playing these days), Unreal Engine 4 (which is the same game engine that MW5 uses–more on that later), and also a brand new digital storefront called the Epic Games Store.
The Epic Games Store works just like every other digital storefront, but with a big incentive for game developers. Rather than the customary 70/30 revenue split, Epic gives studios more of the gaming pie to the tune of 88/12 (that’s 88% revenue to the developer, in case that wasn’t clear). All of this is done under the guise of breaking the virtual monopoly that Steam holds on the PC gaming market.
However, the Epic Games Store doesn’t have anywhere near the same features as Steam, GOG, Discord, or other game stores have. They don’t have cloud save file storage, user reviews, wish lists, news feeds, or bundled prices that reflect already-installed DLC. They also don’t have multi-language support or support for payment in any currency other than US dollars.
To be fair to Epic, they plan to implement all these features within the next 6 months, but when it launched, the Epic Games Store was a barren wasteland compared to Steam.
So to get people onto their store, Epic has adopted an aggressive strategy of gobbling up PC games as exclusive titles. They also don’t care if that game promised its Kickstarter backers or pre-order buyers a release on Steam. Just look at the debacles of Shenmue III and Metro Exodus for proof if this.
Here’s where I’m going to diverge from the facts for a second to insert some personal opinion, which I mention specifically because this is a very heated topic with a lot of misinformation floating around.
It seems clear to me that Epic’s plan is to replace Steam as the de-facto PC gaming platform. Steam makes TONS of money–enough that Valve hasn’t really released a real game in years (Artifact doesn’t count)–and Epic wants that bank all to themselves.
But to get it, Epic is spending a ludicrous amount of cash essentially guaranteeing the developer a reasonable amount of sales. This is based off a tweet from June whereby a Korean games community discussed how SNK was offered “hundreds of thousands” of pre-orders for Samurai Showdown to become an exclusive title.
The only games store looking for exclusive titles is Epic, so put two-and-two together and you get Epic’s gameplan.
Initially, there were some unsavory rumors that Epic was full of spyware and was actually a front for the Chinese government. So far, that’s all turned out to be bunk, but there was an element of truth to it. Epic is 40% owned by Tencent, a huge Chinese entertainment and media company, and I think it’s Tencent that is funding Epic with gobs of cash to throw at any and every game they can turn into an exclusive title all with the intention of eventually becoming the big kahuna of PC gaming.
Anyway, opinion over, and now back to speculating on MechWarrior 5.
We already knew from last month that PGI was hurting for cash. New ‘Mech Packs being sold in MechWarrior Online had stopped being profitable, and Bullock basically admitted that the studio was going all-in on MechWarrior 5. If the game flopped, then PGI would be in serious trouble financially, to the point where the likeliest outcome would be the cessation of operations.
But if MechWarrior 5 went Epic Games Store exclusive and PGI got a cash infusion from Epic, they wouldn’t have to worry. Epic guarantees their sales to the point where they could at least continue as a business. On top of that, MechWarrior 5 already uses the Unreal 4 engine, making even more sense for an exclusive deal.
If this all turns out to be true, I can’t blame PGI for taking the money. Games development is a risky business and most studios are one bad game from going bankrupt. That said, they promised a Steam release with their pre-order, and judging by the MechWarrior subreddit, people would be mighty upset if MechWarrior 5 were to suddenly become an Epic exclusive.
Twitch Streamer Nuttyrat asked Bullock on Twitter about the changes in MechWarrior 5’s FAQ, with Bullock responding that they’re just the result of the community pre-order being over so there’s no need to have information about it on the site.
Well now you can let them know it’s just the site update incoming – no need to have preorder bits in the FAQ
But again, it seems odd to remove all mention of Steam at the same time as removing the pre-order info.
Personally, I don’t have nearly as much hate for Epic as a lot of rabid Steam fans do, and if Epic is able to eventually provide the same sort of services that Steam does I’d have no problem with switching sides. However, the use of exclusives to get users is pretty anti-competitive and puts a sour taste on things, especially when those games already promised to release on Steam and other platforms.
June is almost over. E3 has come and gone, and with it came basically no news about BattleTech, MechWarrior 5, or anything else ‘Mech-related. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t news to report! And now that I’ve got a minute to get caught up, here’s what’s happening in the world of BattleTech video games.
BattleTech Releases Urban Warfare Expansion And The Raven Was OP AF
Urban Warfare is out, and with it comes a bunch of new things including Flashpoints, a new biome, and new ‘Mechs. The Javelinarrived with the 10N and 10F variants, which allows you to boat up on SRM-6s or Medium Lasers, depending on your preference. But the ‘Mech that made the biggest splash was easily the RVN-1X Raven.
Why? ECM was busted, my friends. With a Raven in your lance, every ‘Mech is effectively cloaked until they move or fire. While this seemed like it would only be useful for guarding assault ‘Mechs that move last in the turn order, if you simply reserved your movement until the enemy had gone, it actually just made your lance completely untargetable unless your opponent was already inside the ECM bubble or they used Sensor Lock.
Also, there was a bug in the game that prevented the enemy AI from using Sensor Lock or just charging the Raven as soon as it appeared. This had been noted by many in the BattleTech community as a completely busted mechanic that needed fixing.
Here’s my man Baradul with a pretty good example of what I mean.
See how the enemy AI was basically helpless against the Raven‘s ECM? That bug has since been fixed as of the June 20th 1.6.2 patch. Gone are the days when a single Raven could take down an entire enemy lance single-handedly, and good riddance. Ravens should be fragile balls of copper wiring and heatsinks liable to explode at the slightest provocation.
With Urban Warfare out of the way, all eyes turn to the next expansion, titled Heavy Metal. We already know that Unseen ‘Mechs are lurking in this expansion, although we don’t know which ones. But judging by the name, we’re guessing they’re heavy ‘Mechs like the Marauder, Warhammer, or even the Archer.
Did Microsoft Announce MechAssault At This Year’s E3?
At the end of May, PGI President Russ Bullock went on No Guts No Galaxy TV to provide an update on MechWarrior Online, MechWarrior 5, and Mech_Con. While there was plenty discussed on all three topics (which you can read a summary of here), the big bombshell Bullock dropped happened roughly 17 minutes into the broadcast when he basically just came out and admitted that new ‘Mech packs in MechWarrior Online weren’t paying the bills anymore.
“We have something like 1,000 different ‘Mechs between all the variants and everything. Frankly, it’s a lot,” Bullock said. “It’s been quite a while now–I would suggest maybe even a year-ish–since the last time a ‘Mech really was a good return on investment for us.”
Before May of this year, MechWarrior Online stuck to a schedule which saw the release of a brand new ‘Mech every month. It was the cornerstone of MWO’s monetization model: a new ‘Mech every month to spend money on and keep the game afloat. While this model has seen a lot of rare and esoteric designs finally find their way into a MechWarrior game (where else can you get inside a Vulcanor a Dervish?!), it hasn’t been worth PGI’s time to create these new designs for some time.
If people aren’t buying ‘Mech packs, then MechWarrior Online isn’t generating money. If MWO isn’t generation money, then PGI’s survival now depends entirely on the success of MechWarrior 5. Even when asked point blank on how MWO would make money going forward, Bullock replied: “I think you can put two and two together.”
First, let me say this isn’t exactly a big surprise. MechWarrior Online has been in decline for years. Steamchartsreports an average of 1,122 players in January of 2018. By January 2019, that number had fallen to 818 players. In the last 30 days, that number declined to just 635 players.
You can pick and choose whatever reason you want for MWO’s slide, but ultimately the game is just old. MWO first arrived in open beta in 2012, and very few games last 7 years at all, let alone make enough money to fund the development of a completely new single-player, campaign-based MechWarrior game.
As for all the eggs being put into the MechWarrior 5 basket, that’s how most game studios do it, so why should PGI be any different? They’ll take out a loan or team up with a publisher if things get tight between now and September, but then the game will come out and they’ll be rolling on dough again. Probably.
Also, it should be noted that people are still buying new ‘Mechs, just not in volumes that make it worth PGI’s time to make. To turn that around, PGI will release fewer ‘Mech packs but choose popular designs that haven’t already made it into MechWarrior Online (might I suggest the Crusader, Wraith, or Stone Rhino?)
This is fake, but imagine if it weren’t!
Bullock said that MechWarrior 5 got an exceptional number of pre-orders given the current climate against pre-ordering anything in PC gaming, so we’ll have to wait and see how this shakes out. MechWarrior 5 is out September 10th, with pre-orders available now (EDIT: actually pre-orders are over! Don’t ask me why, I thought that developers liked getting money).
As for MechWarrior Online, if it does die, well, then it had a good run. It leaves a complicated legacy filled with missteps, but it also brought about an incredible revolution in ‘Mech simulation, phenomenal art design and assets used in other ‘Mech games, and created a community of loyal ‘Mech fans from around the world. You can’t really ask for much more than that.
But before we start singing MechWarrior Online’s dirge, I just want to point out that PGI is still hiring a writer for MWO’s Faction Play, so they’re not planning on closing up shop anytime soon. Heck, I might even apply.
As much I loved stomping around in polygonal representations of giant robots armed to the teeth with lasers and PPCs, MechWarrior 2 wouldn’t be half the game it was without that bitchin’ set of tunes guiding me every inch of the way. This was the first game I played that actually had a soundtrack worth mentioning. Sure, there were other games with some great music at the time, but none of them had the polish, the fidelity, or the sheer quality as MechWarrior 2’s soundtrack.
A lot of that quality can be traced back directly to the game’s composer, Jeehun Hwang (with the help of Gregory Alper and Kelly Walker Rogers, but we’re going to focus on Hwang for this article). This guy has done a ton of work in video games, contributing music to Quake, Heavy Gear, and Battlezone. Amazingly, Hwang’s first ever video game soundtrack was MechWarrior 2, and he hit it out of the park on the first try.
Here’s a refresher in case you might need it:
In an interview with Indie Game Reviewer.com, Hwang recounts how he landed the gig. He first started out as a production assistant at Activision just to make some cash. After moving to Los Angeles, he sold his car and purchased his first synthesizer–a Korg X2 sequencer–and worked on his music career in his spare time.
“At first, I was asked to help with the composer selection process, but then I brought in a few tracks that I’d written for the game on my Korg X2 internal sequencer, and shortly after, I was asked to stay home and write music full time,” Hwang recalls. “I got a lucky break since the game was such a big success, and my music reached a big audience and got a lot of recognition. The rest is history.”
Another interview with SoundOnSound (courtesy of a NeoGAF thread) went into a bit more detail on how that initial interview went. “After I’d written a few songs I took them in and there was this big meeting with everyone, including the head of the company, where first they played all the music the other guy had done and then they played my music. To my surprise, I got a standing ovation!
“I was literally learning as they were paying me,” he continued. “It was the very first time I’d used a computer sequencer: prior to that, I didn’t even know they existed! They also wanted me to score the movies–the intro and outro–so I got an old VCR with timecode and pretty much scored everything in real time and then went back over them. It wasn’t really the conventional way of doing things and it took a long time, but I worked very hard on it.”
All that hard work paid off. MechWarrior 2 won a slew of awards from gaming publications, and many of them were specifically for Hwang’s incredible music.
It’s hard to pin down a single genre to describe MechWarrior 2’s soundtrack. Parts of it are filled with orchestral grandeur, others with a sort of jungle bongo rhythm, and still others with an electronic futurism that holds up even today.
Besides the music itself, there were a few other things that really made the MechWarrior 2 soundtrack stand out, and the first was the disk it was recorded on. For most games of the era, music was encoded into MIDI files and installed on the computer’s hard drive. Now, I’m not knocking MIDI music, but a lot of early PC game soundtracks were just plain bad and it had a lot to do with the fact that MIDI music files were designed to be as small as possible. There just wasn’t a lot of physical memory available for more complex sounds, and it showed.
MechWarrior 2 did things differently. The game’s soundtrack was actually encoded directly onto the game disc itself using a relatively new technology called Compact Disc Digital Audio (CDDA or CD-DA), also known simply as Red Book Audio CD. The technology was essentially just a set of standards used to encode music onto the digital compact disc format. It had been used for years in the music industry so that Sony Walkmans could navigate from one track to the next, but it was still relatively new to PC gaming in 1995.
MechWarrior 2 was one of the first games in the world to use this format to encode its soundtrack. This meant that the PC’s sound card would read the disk and play the disc’s music while the rest of the computer concerned itself with running the game. It also meant you could take MechWarrior 2’s disc, put it in a regular old CD player, and listen to the soundtrack wherever and whenever you wanted.
It was also one of the few ways to listen to MechWarrior 2’s entire soundtrack. A bug in earlier versions of the game caused certain songs to never play for the mission they were intended and instead repeated the tracks from other missions.
I can’t tell you how many walks home from school were spent listening to the MechWarrior 2 soundtrack. And from the looks of things, I wasn’t the only one. In fact, some very talented people have taken the MechWarrior 2 soundtrack and used it as the inspiration for their own musical endeavors.
The one person I’d like to mention is Timothy Seals, an Australian artist who took eight songs from MechWarrior 2 and remixed them into something that’s both very modern and very awesome. His album is called New Dawn, which you can listen to and download for free on his Bandcamp site (although as a “pay what you want” download, he’d certainly appreciate it if you’d toss him a few bucks).
These are some very faithful recreations of MechWarrior 2 music using modern software and not some ancient Korg sequencer. I think the kids these days would call it a “cover”, but I’m not a music writer, so I have no idea.
And before I leave you, I just wanted to note how the song Pyre Light has a very special place in my heart. Way back in the day when I was first being introduced to the world of the internet and was suddenly confronted with the necessity of an online handle, I chose “Pyre Light” in honor of MechWarrior 2.
I’ve long since abandoned that name, but the song still hits me in the feels every time I hear it.
Microsoft might be bringing back MechAssaultat this year’s E3, and I have no idea why.
So my day job is to write about games for another publication (among other things), and I found a very interesting leak concerning Microsoft’s upcoming E3 presentation on June 9th. The leak comes courtesy of a thread on NeoGAF from an industry insider, and while the leaker seems on the up and up, all of this is unverified, so break out the salt shaker while you’re imbibing this little tidbit.
Under the section our anonymous tipster labeled “Has A High Chance Of Happening” is… well, this:
“MechAssault/Mech Game – Reveal (Microsoft owns the right to MechAssault, for those who do not know. There is a VERY high chance that a new mech game has been in the works and it will be finally revealed here)”
For those of you who skipped MechAssault on the original Xbox, kudos! You made the right choice. MechAssault was–and I say this as a lover of arcade-style robot shoot-’em-up games–bad. It was buggy, had some pretty extreme difficulty spikes, and featured a plot that had only the barest hint of resemblance to the wider BattleTech universe.
They also just made up a whole bunch of ‘Mechs that did nothing to follow the wider BattleTech aesthetic. Like, what the fuck is a Hackman? And why is it a 35-ton ‘Mech with a top speed of 54 kph and armed with a Gauss rifle? Why couldn’t they just use the freakin’ UrbanMech?!
To me, Dark Age had its place and as a genuine attempt to revive BattleTech’s tabletop years, I can respect it and even like it. But MechAssault was crap and had no redeeming features. There. I said it.
They made a sequel in 2004 called MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf, and a Nintendo DS game that was even worse than all previous MechAssault games put together. Then resources were put towards a nascent MechWarrior 5 as MechAssault’s sales didn’t exactly impress (although apparently good enough to warrant a sequel). Then MechWarrior 5 was canceled (which was not the current MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, set to release this September), but that’s a totally different SNAFU for a totally different day.
The point is, MechAssault is unloved and nobody asked for a reboot of MechAssault. Apparently, Microsoft is so desperate for some exclusive game franchises that they’re dusting off the old MechWarrior IP and putting it towards a new game.
We know that the actual MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is coming this September, and Piranha Games (the makers of MechWarrior Online) are licensing the MechWarrior IP from Microsoft (as well as Topps–it’s really complicated), so there is a slim chance that MechWarrior 5 might just be the ‘Mech game that our leaker was referring to. But I doubt it.
So yeah. Woo MechAssault.
But let’s just take a step back and imagine a world where Microsoft didn’t make a terrible BattleTech arcade game. Let’s imagine a world where they instead remade MechCommander, or just remastered MechWarrior 4 so that we can replay that little gem. Remasters are a big deal these days–just ask Blizzard and Capcom.
The time has finally come. We’re taking a look at MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat in this week’s retrospective look at the BattleTech video games that made the franchise. And for me at least, there was no more formative experience in BattleTech than MechWarrior 2.
But before we get into the game, let’s head back to our last retrospective on MechWarrior 2: The Clans. If you recall, the original MechWarrior PC game was made by Dynamix, but then they got purchased by Sierra On-Line and took MechWarrior’s engine with them. That meant Activision had to start over from scratch back in 1992.
As is often the case with Activision, development did not go smoothly.
You can read up on the details in our previous post. Suffice to say, the entire production staff either quit or left for other projects, and MechWarrior 2 would have died entirely were it not for Tim Morten. Credited as an associate producer, Tim took the engine being worked on for The Clans and refined it until there was something resembling a game. Morten was also instrumental in convincing Activision’s leadership to keep the project going with a team of about two dozen people.
Finally, two development teams and one scrapped game later, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat released on PC for MS-DOS in 1995.
MechWarrior 2 would go on to win dozens of awards from various game publications and sell 500,000 copies in the first three months of sales. For the mid-’90s, that’s basically a blockbuster. Overall sales were a lot more than that, but getting specific figures is a bit tricky. Let’s just say it’s well into the millions and leave it at that.
I came across MechWarrior 2 back when games were still being handed around via shareware discs. The internet was still in its infancy and my home still didn’t even have a dial-up modem. My gaming was done entirely solo, and MechWarrior 2 was easily the best DOS game I’d ever played.
Depending which team you play for, either the Jade Falcons crush the Wolves and go on to take Terra, or the Wolves defeat the Jade Falcons and defend the Inner Sphere against Clan incursions for the foreseeable future. Obviously, MechWarrior 2 doesn’t take place in traditional BattleTech canon, so these outcomes are entirely apocryphal.
Also, you wind up as Khan of either Clan after the final Trial, which is technically an elected position and not one you can achieve strictly through combat. But whatever–you’re also destroying dozens of ‘Mechs completely by yourself in some missions. ‘Mech games sell based on hero fantasies and not realistic depictions of a single person’s ability to sway history, after all.
Choose Your Weapon
Both sides feature the same arsenal of 14 ‘Mechs and both sides lacked some of the newer designs introduced in 3057 (some would be added later in the Ghost Bear’s Legacy expansion, but it’s still a notable slip). You do get several IIC variants, including the some unseen ‘Mechs such as the Rifleman, the Warhammer, and Marauder, but otherwise, you’re limited to Clan ‘Mechs that were present during the start of the Inner Sphere invasion.
MechWarrior 2 also didn’t ship with certain technologies that were present in 3057. Anti-missile systems, ECM, active probes, and basically anything that wasn’t a standard Clan weapon was just too complex for the developers to handle and still actually ship a completed game. To that end, many of the ‘Mechs featured in MechWarrior 2 didn’t arrive with their historically correct loadouts. Basically all the Firemothalternate configurations were modified in some way, as was the primary config Hellbringer, several Kitfoxvariants, the Warhawk, and the GargoyleAlt Config C and D.
Another limitation in MechWarrior 2 was that each ‘Mech could only carry a maximum of 10 weapon systems, which meant several weapons-heavy ‘Mechs also needed to be changed. The primary configuration of the Nova, famously comprised of 6 ER Medium Lasers in either fist, was instead changed to just 7 ER Medium Lasers, 2 Medium Pulse Lasers, and 1 ER Small Laser.
Strangely, Activision didn’t stop at just altering the Nova’s weapon loadout. They also gave the ‘Mech an Endo Steel chassis and a 300 XL engine to give it a running speed on par with that of the Storm Crow. Nobody is quite sure why they did that, and we can only assume it was to ensure the Nova stayed roughly on par with the Storm Crow in terms of performance.
The Timber Wolfand Dire Wolfalso had minor changes to their primary configurations due to possessing too many weapon systems.
Unlike modern BattleTech games that limit the types of weapons that can be taken on an OmniMech, MechWarrior 2 allowed anything and everything on any given chassis. If you wanted to rip out the missiles and lasers on a Mad Dog and replace them with autocannons, that’s just fine. This would do nothing to the overall appearance of your ‘Mech, mind you, but you could do it. It wouldn’t be until MechWarrior 3 that dynamic loadouts were considered in a Mech’s model.
Piloting your multi-ton beast was done entirely via keyboard unless you were one of the lucky few who purchased MechWarrior 2 packaged with Microsoft’s Sidewinder joystick. The Sidewinder allowed you to control your ‘Mech’s torso by twisting the stick, making it a lot easier to maneuver your machine while maintaining weapons on your opponents. Otherwise, one hand was on the arrow keys while the other was busily hitting the “<>” keys to keep your torso pointed in the right direction.
The Prettiest Death Machines
But what truly set MechWarrior 2 above most PC games of the era was its graphics. MechWarrior 2 used dynamic lighting and color shading to really add depth to every world you encountered. Textures were entirely basic–you would see some bitmaps on each machine, but otherwise, every surface was just a flat color interrupted by the occasional sprite of a bush or piece of rubble.
And yet, somehow, it still holds up. Take a look at the video below to see for yourself.
MechWarrior 2 remained on the cutting edge of graphics technology for quite a few years following its initial release. As Digital Foundry calls it, the mid-’90s was a Wild West-era for PC gaming where there were multiple video card manufacturers and each one required their own special game release in order to take full advantage of what that manufacturer’s card could do. Activision catered to pretty much all of them, which meant that MechWarrior 2 was released in no less than 38 different versions over three years.
And frankly, a lot of them sucked. Sure, it was neat to see ground that was something other than a flat-shaded polygon, but in order to make the textures work, Activision had to remove a lot of the dynamic lighting that made the original DOS version look so great. They often also removed textures from the ‘Mechs themselves making them look drab and utterly boring.
I managed to avoid those special editions. By the time I got my first PC upgrade, MechWarrior 3 and MechCommanderwere out, and they did a much better job of making things look pretty. But these graphically enhanced editions and expansions like Ghost Bear’s Legacy and the stand-alone MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries–packaged together as the Titanium Trilogy–kept the MechWarrior series relevant for years and were widely considered the golden age in ‘Mech simulator games.
The Little Things
Another thing that set MechWarrior 2 apart from games of the era was the music. Even today, MechWarrior 2’s soundtrack holds up extremely well, combining orchestral and digital sounds in a way that was both unique and cutting-edge for that era of PC gaming. It was also one of the first PC games to burn the music directly to the CD rather than encode it as MIDI files, meaning you could take the CD, put it in a Walkman, and listen to the entire score whenever you wanted.
There were way more little gems that set MechWarrior 2 apart. The manual came with its own Technical Readout section that basically took part of the actual Technical Readout: 3050 for the relevant ‘Mechs. There were little notes added in the margins to make it look like a pilot had been scribbling notes to provide cadets hints on how to succeed. And between every mission, there was a short story that provided you with a bigger picture of all the battles that were happening at that time in the Refusal War.
I could say without a doubt that it was these little things that gave MechWarrior 2 a certain magic that no other game of the era possessed. The music, the lore–they all made it seem like MechWarrior 2 was bigger than it actually was, which if we’re being honest, wasn’t all that big. You could crunch out both campaigns in a single afternoon if you were really rushing it. But then you’d miss out on reading the stories that came before and after each mission, or on tweaking your ‘Mech so it was armed and armored exactly the way you wanted it.
That’s not to say MechWarrior 2 was perfect. The Windows 95 versions were often bug-filled messes that crashed after a few minutes of play. Splash damage was so hopelessly broken that it doubled or even tripled the stated damage of ER PPCs and LRMs, making a pair of LRM-20s capable of destroying any ‘Mech in a single salvo. And those LRMs were actually Streak LRMs considering how they locked-on and homed in on targets.
Let’s not even get started on the Sega Saturn or PlayStation versions of the game.
But these faults were relatively minor. MechWarrior 2 was the first game that truly captured the magic of BattleTech in a single experience. You had all the lore of previous BattleTech video games combined with the feeling of really being inside a multi-story death machine, with truly enough firepower to level a city block. That’s an intoxicating combination that snapped up more than a few impressionable young minds.
BattleTech’s second expansion, Urban Warfare, arrives on June 4th.
Development of BattleTechcontinues over at Harebrained Schemes with the recently announced Urban Warfare expansion. We knew this one was coming when the whole season pass thing was announced, but now we know when it’s coming and what we’re all in store for.
As the name suggests, the first thing we should get used to is the idea of fighting in an urban environment. That’s right: ‘Mechs are going to brawl in a city, and suddenly the UrbanMech isn’t looking half bad.
The important thing to note here is that every building–EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.–is fully destructible. This means that you can either go around a building or, as is my preference, through the building to get at the enemy. However, it should be noted that not every building will leave a convenient ‘Mech-sized hole to walk through. Some high rises will just flat-out collapse and leave a building-sized pile of rubble that you can’t just smash or shoot your way through.
On top of that, there’s going to be gas and transformer stations that can really change the face of combat. At the very least, there will be a lot more tactical options to consider in every engagement.
Along with the new urban biome comes a bunch of new tech. In this case, Lostech. ECM and Active Probes are coming to BattleTech, and they’ll arrive in the first new ‘Mech we get to discuss: the RVN-1X Raven.
The RVN-1X was the very first Liao prototype pushed into service in 3024 to beat back the invading Federated Suns armies. It was equipped with a prototype Electronic Warfare system that combined the ECM and Active Probe into a single 7.5-ton device, which really cut into the Raven’s available tonnage. This meant that either weapons or engine would have to be sacrificed in the name of this EW suite, and the 1X chose engine. It can wobble at 86 kph, which puts it on the slow side for a light ‘Mech, but not as slow as the UrbanMech.
We’re not 100% clear on how ECM is going to work, but we do know it will disrupt enemy targeting and provide immunity to indirect fire. This likely means that ‘Mechs covered in an ECM umbrella will simply be harder to hit in combat.
The Active Probe is described as being able to “reveal, locate, and target enemy units that would otherwise be hidden.” That’s a little vague, but we’re hoping it also increases overall sensor range, and might even add something to indirect fire targeting (ie. LRMs).
Our next ‘Mech is the beautiful Javelin. We’re not given the exact designation of which Javelin, but I’m thinking it’s at least going to be the classic JVN-10N with its twin SRM-6 packs. There are a lot of other Javelin variants that could be added here as well, but we’ll have to wait and see what Harebrained says about it.
Three new enemy tanks join the fray, including the Gallant, the Packrat, and the Rotunda. The Gallant is particularly noteworthy for being an incredibly old design! Circa 2551, to be precise, but it’s still equipped with a potent arsenal that MechWarriors cannot take for granted.
The Packrat is described in our beautiful Wiki as having an SRM-6 and a Flamer, but Harebrained seems to have made a bit of an alteration to give the Packrat ECM. The Rotunda scout car has also been switched up by having an Active Probe added to its arsenal. It seems doubtful with an Active Probe on board that the Rotunda would still have room for a Large Laser and an SRM-2.
Urban Warfare will also expand BattleTech’s Flashpoint system with more possible encounters, special events, critical choices, and Lostech loot. There will also be a new mission type called Attack and Defend where the objective is to “destroy an enemy’s base to stop a steady stream of attackers before they can overcome your forces and knock out your employer’s base.” Which sounds hard.
Urban Warfare drops June 4th. After that comes Heavy Metal, and Harebrained has already said that some Unseen ‘Mechs will come along with it. Judging by the name, I’m gonna guess that we’re going to see the Warhammer, Rifleman, and Marauder. We’ll see how accurate that prediction is later.
Welcome to another part in Sarna’s retrospective series of old BattleTech video games.
Last time we took a look at the original MechWarrior and saw how it would set the stage for the breakout ‘Mech classic, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat. But there was a lot of work to go from the pixelated and basic graphics of MechWarrior to the fully 3D environments of MechWarrior 2. So much work that it actually took two tries to get it right.
I speak of the long-forgotten first attempt at a MechWarrior sequel known as MechWarrior 2: The Clans.
That’s right: before we had MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat, Activision tried their hands at a MechWarrior sequel that had way more than just Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon going at it for bragging rights.
We’ll get to that in a bit, but first, let’s recap what happened after the original MechWarrior hit store shelves in 1989. To summarize, the original developer Dynamix got bought by Sierra On-Line and used their tech to create Earthsiege, and then later Tribes, and then later still go bankrupt. That meant that the original game engine left with Dynamix, leaving Activision to start from square one.
Which is exactly what they did starting in 1992. Activision gave the game an ambitious release date of sometime in 1993, which meant that the development team had just over a year to go from nothing to a full 3D ‘Mech simulator.
As any game developer can tell you, that’s not enough time. Especially for a team of roughly a dozen over-worked and underpaid people.
courtesy of Local Ditch
So anyway, 1993 came and went without much of a game, but Activision did put out a playable demo that showed just exactly where MechWarrior 2 was headed. What we get is a strange amalgamation of ‘Mech models that would become familiar in the real MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat and the old bitmap-style cockpit that was the mainstay of the original MechWarrior.
You can see where the demo was going with a lot of the cockpit stuff: the altimeter, bearing indicator, and torso-twist indicator look and feel exactly as they do in the final MechWarrior 2. The radar now sat dead center in the screen, while the exterior portion of the cockpit would bounce around with the ‘Mechs movement.
That exterior skeletal portion, as well as the green letters of the HUD, would be the only things that survive into the finished MW2. That and the overall look of the models, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the ‘Mechs we know and love.
However, there were a lot of limitations to the demo. First, you couldn’t get critical hits so you never had to worry about losing any of your components. Second, you couldn’t lose limbs which meant that losing an arm didn’t mean a whole lot. Instead, you just kept shooting until your armor and internal structure depleted, at which point you exploded.
Besides the whole fully 3D game thing, Activision had some big plans for MechWarrior 2: The Clans. Originally there were going to be 6 clans total, including Can Wolf, Jade Falcon, Smoke Jaguar, Nova Cat, Ghost Bear, and Steel Viper. There would also be 8-player multiplayer free-for-alls where everyone could enjoy a good ‘ol Grand Melee whenever they wanted. For its time, the game was really forward thinking.
So what happened to MechWarrior 2: The Clans? Perhaps in a sign of things to come, Activision’s marketing team and executives kept pushing for a finished game that was nowhere near ready to be published. According to an ancient article from Local Ditch, there were internal disputes over when to release as well as some legally questionable arguments between the game’s producer Kelly Zmak and Activision higher-ups. And even though the team had 3 programmers officially, most of the work on the game’s engine was being done by one guy: Eric Peterson.
courtesy of Local Ditch
Eric would describe in his personal blog working 14-16 hour days on MechWarrior 2, although he admitted that had as much to do with loving the work as it did with any pressure from Activision. Eric would also be the only person on the original MW2 team to be credited on the final version of MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat, with the second team’s producer explaining that much of the final game’s engine could be chalked up to Eric’s work.
By 1994, the original team working on MechWarrior 2: The Clans had all left Activision for greener pastures. At the time, it looked like Activision would kill the game entirely, but a guy named Tim Morten proved instrumental in convincing the bigwigs in charge to continue development. Tim would build on Eric’s original designs and eventually finish the game and release it as MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat in 1995.
The biggest differences between what would have been The Clans and MW2: 31st Century Combat mostly boiled down the story. The Clans was more of a random mission generator attached to a multiplayer game, while the MW2 that got released offered a single player campaign set during the Refusal War between Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon. It also meant that the other Clans would have to take a bit of a backseat (at least until the first expansion came along).
Technologically, MW2: 31st Century Combat had two big improvements over The Clans: dynamic lighting and a fully 3D environment. Lighting effects from explosions and even a moving sun would change the shadows and colors that the player sees to be far more realistic, while the 3D environment got rid of all the old bitmaps that made the game seem a lot more like the original MechWarrior than a true sequel.
We’ll take a bigger look at the real MechWarrior 2 next time, so stay tuned.
Once again, a big shout out to Chris Chapman who can be considered an official BattleTech games historian at this point. He also sent me an entire scan of the original The Clans promo box, which Activision sent out a little prematurely but Chris somehow still got his hands on one.
Welcome back to Sarna’s retrospective on classic BattleTech video games! I’ll be your host as we look back on some of the games that made BattleTech and MechWarrior the storied franchises they are today.
We’re going to switch things up a bit due to some… we’ll call it “negative feedback” that was given during my last foray into the Crescent Hawks Inception. I understand that some of these classic games might not quite be the shining jewel of digital accomplishment when compared to more modern ‘Mech games, but at the time they were real accomplishments that should be respected for the stepping stones they were.
That and nobody likes having their childhoods shit on, no matter how awful the sound effects were.
So instead of a pseudo-review where I start tossing out crazy things like numbered scales, we’re going to just look at the game’s history and see what it contributed towards modern MechWarrior titles. Starting with the original first-person ‘Mech combat simulator, MechWarrior.
MechWarrior was originally published in 1989 by a little company called Activision–you might know them as the massive game corporation that’s slowly eating Blizzard Entertainment alive right before our very eyes. Back in the day, the evils of microtransactions and rushed development cycles weren’t nearly as prevalent, so Activision was just another little fish in the nascent pond of PC gaming.
While Activision published the game, it was created by a humble team of 17 dudes working at Dynamix Inc. Dynamix would eventually be bought-out by Sierra On-Line, creating both Tribes and Earthsiege as their subsidiary, but back in 1989, they were known for creating flight simulators like A-10 Tank Killer, F-14 Tomcat,Arctic Fox, and Red Baron.
They also made Abrams Battle Tank, a tank simulator game that shares much of its engine with MechWarrior. I never played the original MechWarrior, but I did play Abrams Battle Tank, and the similarities in the first-person combat sequences are uncanny.
However, MechWarrior is only half about the giant stompy robot combat. Much of the game still harkens back to the text adventure style of gameplay exemplified in the prior Crescent Hawks PC games, with the player going from planet to planet seeking fortune and machinery as they build up the Blazing Aces mercenary company.
Almost all of the modern BattleTech games, including BattleTechand the upcoming MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, can thank the original MechWarrior for the whole “mercenary commander” gameplay loop.
In MechWarrior, you play as Gideon Braver, a disgraced Davion noble who’s forced to flee his home planet due to some inter-familial intrigue (ie. a bunch of ‘Mechs showed up and killed everyone). Since Braver has some cash and an old Jennerjust lying around, he decides to take up the mercenary mantle and start making some green (C-Bills, that is). Braver will then journey all over the Inner Sphere, building up his company’s strength and meeting such notable BattleTech personalities as Natasha Kerensky and her Black Widow Company.
But Braver never really forgets his heritage and continues to pursue his family’s killers even as he chases after the almighty C-Bill and a better set of robot legs. It’s during these text-heavy portions of the game where the player can branch into several different endings, depending on what the player decides to do.
For the text portions of the game, you can see some very significant improvements in MechWarrior over Crescent Hawks Inception–most notably in the art. Full-screen, vibrantly colored pixel images add a lot more atmosphere, and additional music plays during certain areas of exploration (usually in the bar).
Sound effects are also improved, although still a far cry from what would be heard in the sequel, MechWarrior 2.
There are eight ‘Mechs the player can purchase (salvage is represented only in C-Bills and not in the burnt-out wrecks of your foes) including the Locust, Jenner, Phoenix Hawk, Shadow Hawk, Rifleman, Warhammer, Marauder, and BattleMaster. The Scorpion, Atlas, and Griffinare also mentioned but aren’t pilotable. Since the tonnage tops out at the BattleMaster and Marauder, this is the main reason why these two ‘Mechsstill have reputations amongst the BattleTech faithful as being scary as all get out.
As I mentioned before, much of MechWarrior’s combat will appear the same as Abrams Battle Tank as they use very similar engines. Terrain appears as large polygons while the ‘Mechs themselves appear as smaller, more colorful objects. The player can zoom-in to get a better view of their foes and engage with long-range weapons or wait for them to close to use things like lasers and SRMs.
There’s no denying that the combat is pretty basic, but you can see how MechWarrior created the template for all other games to follow. A giant radar dominates the center screen with heat and jump jet gauges to either side. Weapons status are all listed in the lower right corner, while enemy target data appears in the lower right. That’s all still essentially the same in MechWarrior Online, with the minor tweak of enemy combat data appearing in the upper right corner and the player’s own ‘Mech’s status appearing in the lower left.
(Things would get completely swapped around in MechWarrior 2, but we’ll dig into that later.)
With Dynamix doing such a great job of mixing the classic text adventure elements with a more modern 3D simulator, it’s almost sad that Activision had to go it alone for the sequel, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat. But as I said before, Dynamix (and all their proprietary 3D engines) got picked up by Sierra On-Line, and that was it for them.
If you want a great example of what a MechWarrior 2 made by Dynamix would have looked like, check out Earthsiege. It’s an interesting alternative view of what MechWarrior could have been rather than what it turned out to be.
With incredible thanks to Chris Chapman who provided a lot of invaluable information on Dynamix and MechWarrior’s development.
Now that the holidays are over, we turn our sights to the future where we have a lot to look forward to in the BattleTech world. Chief among them is the hotly anticipated release of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, which hits digital store shelves on September 10th.
We’re less than 9 months away from release, which means it’s time to get that hype train moving. And what better way to get it rolling than with a brand new game-play trailer?
This trailer initially released through IGN a few weeks ago, but then Piranha Games put it up on the MW5 YouTube channel after they got their exclusive clicks in. We here at Sarna would be jealous, but we don’t even have a YouTube channel to provide our own exclusive video links (but that does sound appealing–hit me up PGI, let’s talk).
Anyway, what we see here is a quantum leap forward in graphics. Finally, we see some real weather on these planets in the form of rain and fog. Fog of war becomes quite literal in this clip, with players relying on instruments and laser beams to see where the enemy is located. It looks really good, although frame rate still seems to be a bit of a problem. Maybe that’s just an issue with whatever software was used to record the footage.
In addition to the reminder that MW5’s development continues with steady progress, Russ Bullock himself (he’s the president of PGI, don’t ya know) posted his own video to let the BattleTech community know that pre-orders are now available.
Called the “Community Edition”, these pre-orders all come with a variety of goodies for both the impending MW5 as well as PGI’s other game, MechWarrior Online. In fact, the rewards for MechWarrior Online seem to be even greater than the rewards for MW5. Purchasing the top-tier “Ultimate Community Edition” gives MWO players 30,000 MC, 90 days of premium time, a free Marauder II, and a ton of C-Bills and experience points.
That’s an in-game value of stuff in MWO way more than the $119.99 you spend pre-ordering MechWarrior 5.
For MechWarrior 5, each tier comes with various incentives to pre-order, such as exclusive in-game skins, digital downloads like desktops and soundtracks, and access to the beta test and the official MechWarrior 5 Discord server.
So1ahma provided a handy chart that breaks down the rewards over on Reddit, which also includes the approximate cash value too (kudos to you, So1ahma).
Personally, I think it’s a little weird that pre-ordering one game actually gives you way more goodies for a completely different game that is only partially related. It’s also a problem for those who really want to pre-order MechWarrior 5 but don’t even play MechWarrior Online–all those digital goodies are just going to waste.