Welcome back to Community Outreach, the ongoing series where Sarna reaches out to the BattleTech community to see what makes it such a vibrant and evolving place. Last month, I found out about Gaming Jay’s personal project to remake The Crescent Hawks’ games for modern audiences, so I decided to sit down with Gaming Jay to find out more about Battle Mercs and what fans can expect from this retro-inspired BattleTech game. Enjoy.
Sarna (Sean): I’ve played Crescent Hawks’ Inception, so I know a bit about what this game is likely about. What made you want to make a Crescent Hawks’-style game? And just how much is it like Crescent Hawks’ Inception/Revenge in terms of gameplay?
Gaming Jay: So the Crescent Hawks’ Inception was my first exposure to BattleTech as a kid. When I was little my uncle had a computer in the basement with a tray of disks and I would just leaf through and try random games. One day, I discovered The Crescent Hawks’ Inception and I was blown away. I loved the mix of RPG and tactical elements, the graphics were amazing for the time, and there was so much to explore. For years I played the game and wished, just wished that there was a sequel. A few years later I was on vacation with my parents and I walked into a random computer store and on the shelf, I saw something called the BattleTech Powerhits. I picked up the box and was shocked to find there was a sequel: The Crescent Hawks’ Revenge (also MechWarrior 1). I begged my parents to buy the game for me and they did. I spent the rest of that vacation reading the instruction manuals and plotting how I was going to actually install the game on my computer when I got home since it came on CD and I didn’t own a CD drive. Anyway, The Crescent Hawks’ Revenge quickly became one of my all-time favorite games. I played it over and over and especially loved the free battle Training Field they give you at the end of the game. My only gripe was that I wish the open gameplay at the end allowed different maps and maybe incorporated some of the mercenary system from MechWarrior 1 (which I also played to death).
Years and years later, my love for these three games never went away, and I always dreamed that a sequel existed to Crescent Hawks’ Inception that combined the best elements of CHR and MW1. In high school, I actually did program a game that played a lot like CHR, however, I never fully finished it. A while ago I found the old game and showed it on my YouTube channel and people really were blown away at the time. The bug got planted in my mind after that, and shortly thereafter I started work on a prototype. That prototype became a CHR combat engine. I expanded that with a CHI RPG engine, and then eventually a MW1 style contract and Inner-Sphere-travel system, and before you knew it, I had started to make my dream game.
In terms of how much CHI is in the game; a lot! The game recreates everything from CHI except for the RPG combat (although that may come down the line). But yes, people can design full RPG adventures, create interesting scenarios or unique planets or environments, and using some basic .json scripts just go nuts in creating whatever they want. Once you jump into actual ‘Mech combat the game plays like an updated version of CHR. It is a real-time combat game but you’re supposed to pause frequently and micro-manage (think Faster Than Light). Lastly, you can travel the Inner Sphere, and take contracts from any major house, live through years 3025 to 3050, fight the Clans, find Star League ‘Mechs, and even fight in arenas on Solaris VII or less reputable arenas on Dustball or other planets.
The other cool thing about the game is that it’s fully customizable. The game is intentionally designed such that all the gameplay mechanics draw from .json files. People can make their own campaigns with their own .json files that can change everything from what kinds of weapons are in the game, to what kinds of units to how the RPG segments work, to what options you get when you select units in combat, to what planets or factions are available. Even though I wanted to make my dream game, I wanted my game to be something people could change and mod, and make their own unique visions within.
Sarna: So this is all pretty amazing. Is this a home-built engine, or is it based on some other game engine? The FTL enhancements are a great touch to bring this game up to more modern standards, and I love the 3025-3050 era personally.
Gaming Jay: The engine is 100% home-built. It’s written in PyGame, which is a game add-on library for Python. And yes, FTL is one of my favorite modern games. I really love how that game handles combat. It’s all real-time but you can still micro-manage everything very well, yet it still feels frantic when a lot is happening. I have tried to bring other small improvements to the game to help it feel more modern in control yet retain its obvious retro charm.
Sarna: Are you planning to create your own campaign, or are you just going to throw this out into the world to let people build off of?
Gaming Jay: So what I’d like to do for the game is to produce a fairly elaborate campaign as a bit of a showcase, to both give the game a good starting campaign and also show off what the scripts are capable of doing. In this way, people can look at my scripts if they want to know how I made a certain special mission, and then use them as an example to build their own campaigns and ideas. As for the campaign I want to include, I’d like it to be a reimagining of the Crescent Hawks’ story, essentially retelling their tale in this modern engine
Sarna: With the 3050-era available, you could replace the Draconis Combine attack with a Clan invasion. This way you’d also give players access to Clan tech. Speakin’ of tech, how many ‘Mechs have you got in this game so far, and how many do you ultimately plan on having?
Gaming Jay: So long story short, yes the Clan invasion is a playable part of the game even right now. It’s not very detailed at the moment but could easily become more detailed.
As for mechs in the game, pretty much every Inner Sphere mech from 3025 and 3050 is in the game. The 2750 Star League era mechs are also in the game (though hidden right now since only ComStar has access to them). The Clan OmniMechs and IIC variants from the 3050 invasion are all also in the game. At the moment I probably am not planning to add any more myself, but as I mentioned, the game is moddable so other adventurous BattleTech fans could add more mechs themselves (and more eras!)
Sarna: Did you take assets from the original game or did you recreate all these pixel images yourself?
Gaming Jay: Currently the assets in the game are mostly from the Crescent Hawks’ games, yes. Though the mech models came from a free set I found online, a really amazing set actually. They are several years old and the creator encouraged people to use them in games. I tried to reach out to him to get in contact but all his contact info (at least that I could find) seemed to be out of date, so I wasn’t able to track him down. The in-game ‘Mech units are about half from The Crescent Hawks’ Revenge and half my creations based on CHR. I’m not a great pixel artist mind you, so they look a little rough and cobbled together. One thing I would love to happen at some point is to get a pixel artist (or a few) to help give the game a fresh graphical makeover. I don’t want to fully change the look of it or anything (I love the retro, pixelated charm of the graphics currently), but it would be nice if the game’s graphics were more original than just lifted from the CH games.
Sarna: And using something that’s not lifted from a super old game would be better for copyright issues, although Crescent Hawks’ Inception is so old that it might be public domain at this point.
So there’s still the Clan Invasion campaign and MechWarrior campaign to finish, what else is still needed to get this game to what you’d consider a finished state?
Gaming Jay: Haha totally agree. That’s one reason why I still consider it an alpha, since it has so many graphics that I really think of as just stand-in. I mean truthfully BattleTech itself is owned by someone who’s not me so even with unique sprites there are still copyright issues! :)
Anyway, I’ve been working with a dedicated gang of testers to root out as many bugs as possible. So it’s reaching a stable point. At that point, the only major thing left would be to add in mission varieties. Right now it’s all search and destroy but I’d like guard missions, attack missions, recon missions, raid missions, the whole gamut. It shouldn’t always just be “go have a slugfest!”
At that point, I just need to finish the campaign so there’s at least one stock campaign with the game and it would be ready I think. I’m sure there may be more small changes along the way and even after this seeming final stage, but that’s always the way
I’d also like to establish some kind of wiki or make a few tutorials on things like making maps and making campaign levels, editing units or factions, or making star maps. As I’ve said, I want this to be something other people can add to with their own campaigns and stories and mods, so that would be one of the final steps. In my mind that would be the point where I’m giving the game over to the community to develop to their hearts’ content. I would look forward to sort of stepping back from the game a bit and just trying other people’s campaigns and maps at that point.
Sarna: What’s your favorite ‘Mech and why? The all-important question of course.
Gaming Jay: Favorite ‘Mech is the Marauder. From the first time I saw it in a technical manual I just loved the look and load out of it. As a kid, I thought PPCs were just the ultimate weapon and this beast was rocking 2 with a totally unique frame and look. How can you go wrong?
Sarna: Have you played any other BattleTech games? And if so, would perhaps any of them be a good fit for a Crescent Hawks’-style translation into your project?
Gaming Jay: And yes I played almost everything BattleTech I could get my hands on when I was younger. MechWarrior 1 and 2 (including all the add-ons like Ghost Bear’s Legacy and Mercs), MechCommander, and even the Xbox MechWarrior games which I’m blanking on the name of. Truthfully though, although I loved MechWarrior 1 and 2, I never loved that franchise as much as the tactical games. Since the gaming industry went heavily in the MechWarrior direction I stopped keeping up with BattleTech games after a while. That is until Harebrained Schemes launched their turn-based BATTLETECH game. I was a Kickstarter backer on that and boy, that game did not disappoint. I believe that game is probably the ultimate BattleTech game and when it launched I actually spent 36 hours straight playing it. I kept saying, one more mission, one more mission, until eventually night became morning and I could hear the birds outside.
As for whether any of these past games could get a reimagining as a campaign in Battle Mercs, I suppose any could, but of course, something like MechCommander or MechWarrior 2 would be a bit of a demake. MechWarrior 1 could be possible, though it would shift genres from a first-person game into a tactical game in the process. So I’m not sure. The Crescent Hawks‘ games are the most obvious ones to translate. I’m sure others could be done, but no real plans to do any others for the time being.
Sarna: Anything else you’d like to add? Feel free to get shamelessly self-promoty.
Gaming Jay: I don’t currently have a website for it but I run a YouTube channel and, though the main focus isn’t on game development, I will be doing a few videos on the game eventually over there. So folks can always connect with me that way. I’m hopeful that this summer I’ll be able to put out a public alpha on the BattleTech subreddit as well as on my channel. So yeah, those are the two best ways for folks to find me or see the project when it’s ready. I have a Discord for the alpha right now which I’ll probably make public when the public alpha does launch but I’ll mention that when the alpha does come out.
Thank you, Gaming Jay! I’ll be keeping an eye out for that public alpha when Battle Mercs goes live.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.
When this goes public I’m taking a day (read week off).
This is right up my alley and reading Jay’s comments made me relive my own intro to BT (oh and shameless marauder/PPC love).
This project looks darn perfect for a lot of fun, I hope others can write some stories/campaigns for it but being a sand box will also be great.
Stuff like this is why the community is so great and still alive so many years after CHI and the cartoon drug many of us in.
Thank you both so much one for sharing and second creating this!
This sounds fantastic! Would love to know where the public sprites were found? I’m planning something similar myself
Look’n forward to this! Loved the CHI and CHR as a kid.
Perhaps some of the sprites were from the MechaTonicle project from the MekTek days? That was years ago! I help with some of those sprites.
So looking forward to this. Should be a ton of fun when it’s released.
I’m tempted to offer my help as an 8-bit artist.
I’ve been playing around with CHI recently. I started out writing a walkthrough for it — because a lot of the information provided in spoilers on the net, including the ones on this site, are bad advice or just flat-out wrong — and have ended up working on modding the thing by hex-editing the EXE. It provides stats for all of the L1 weapons in the game, but doesn’t use most of them, so part of what I’ve been trying to do is replace the limited assortment of bug mechs you can encounter with a better variety of mechs, and make it so that if you succeed in escaping with the Chameleon at the end of the training sequence, you don’t start out already driving the best mech on the planet.
This has meant swapping out a bunch of mechs… un-nerfing the Chameleon, for starters (because as ridiculously as it outclasses everything else in the game, it’s a nerfed version… reduced armor and basically no internal structure, which is why you so often die instantly if anything gets behind you), and then replacing Jenners with Dragons, Locusts with Jenners, Wasps with Phoenix Hawks, Stingers with Warhammers, Commandos with Zeuses, and UrbanMechs with Hunchbacks.
This means that the best mech you can escape with is still the Chameleon, but it’s no longer the best mech available. Katrina gives Rex a Zeus, the mech you can pick up at the Jail is a Warhammer, and you can salvage other Warhammers off the field. The attack at the end of the training sequence is by a lance of Dragons (and because they’re slower than you but have LRMs and AC/5s, it’s easier to escape, but harder to escape unscathed), and the enforcers at the Arena are Hunchbacks. The randos you fight along the way are Jenners, Phoenix Hawks, and Warhammers.
I was actually just trying to work out where it keeps the stats for the mods you can do on some machines, so I can tweak those appropriately.
Of course, none of this addresses the basic problem with the game, which is that the entire mech combat system that all the gameplay revolves around is just a sideshow, and completely irrelevant to actually winning the game. After you get out of the training sequence, you can just run away from every fight (except maybe one, and even that one you can flee in the second round). It’s not only possible to beat the game without ever firing a shot at an actual enemy, that may be the *easiest* way to beat the game.