Welcome to another episode of Community Outreach! This time we’ve got someone who’s made truly significant contributions to BattleTech, whether it be model-making, technical writing, or fiction. Matthew “Stinger” Cross has truly done it all, and he’s recently embarked on terrain and accessories for your next tabletop BattleTech game. Together, we go over his prodigious career and why the original Summoner isn’t nearly as good as the Thor II. Enjoy.
Sean (Sarna): Let’s start with introductions. I’m Sean, the Sarna news guy. For any reader who hasn’t read your Sarna page already, who are you?
Matthew Cross (Stinger): Hello! I am Matthew Cross (Matt or Matthew, I generally don’t care), and my typical handle online is Stinger. I am an Iron Wind Metals freelance 3D designer, CGL freelance artist and writer, and the owner and proprietor of Cross Electric Designs! I kinda do everything these days.
Sean: And how long have you been a BattleTech fan?
Matthew: Oh gosh. For a very very long time. My first memories of anything BattleTech-related involved a random Freeware game in the early ’90s when I was probably five years old called Megatron. It had a Mad Cat and a Vulture (which now I see was an obvious ripoff), but it was cool at the time. Then came a version of MechWarrior 2 that didn’t actually work on my PC but we could look at the MechLab and read the archive. I really got into things with MechWarrior 4 when I was 11. So, pretty much my whole life!
Sean: That’s MechWarrior 2 and MechWarrior 4, what other MechWarrior or BattleTech games have you played?
Matthew: So, I’ve played a little bit of everything except MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries and Harebrained Schemes’ BATTLETECH. Back in 2009-2010 I even beat MechWarrior 1, played in Dosbox, without directly cheating. That game has an economic system that is easy to manipulate.
I’ve played chunks of Crescent Hawks Inception, the whole demo for MechWarrior 3 (never played the full game), and I was one of the first thousand beta testers for MechWarrior Online! MechWarrior 4 and its expansions are my favorite though, without a doubt. They’ve heavily inspired most of my 3D modeling career so far.
I’m a sucker for TROs, and 3075 is definitely a favorite. It was actually the first BattleTech sourcebook I purchased.
Sean: No MechWarrior 5 or BATTLETECH? Why avoid the two latest games? Just don’t have a rig for it?
Matthew: Don’t have the time! Well, for at least BATTLETECH. I actually backed the Kickstarter for that game, but it just came out at a busy time in my life and I guess I kept forgetting! Plus I’ve been busy with modeling, printing, writing, and not to mention the day job and being a dad!
MechWarrior 5 I haven’t really played for two stupid reasons. First, I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetic of PGIs ‘Mechs, but worst, secondly, is that the scale of the ‘Mechs in the game is… wrong.
Let’s see if I can say this briefly without ranting… ‘Mechs are 6-12 meters tall. Some of the top assault ‘Mechs would obviously go over this number and some lights go under, but the PGI Atlas is like 20 meters tall. And the tanks are downright tiny. They feel like Honda Civics plinking at you from below. This issue more than anything has made me overall avoid MW5. It’s stupid, but I stand by it!
And yes, I did hear about the mods for working around the scaling issue, which I should check out…
Sean: It’s true, mods do make MW5. But also, BATTLETECH is a triumph for anyone who likes turn-based tactics games.
Matthew: I know, I know! I really do need to play…
Sean: Alright, let’s go through the list. Most important question: What’s your favorite ‘Mech?
Matthew: Ugh. Such a hard question. But let’s keep it simple. Hammerhands.
It really caught my eye when I started getting really into BattleTech in college and the miniature was the first official BattleTech mini I’ve ever bought. And the mini, while scaled a little small, is absolutely fantastic.
I have so many more things to say are my favorites. Like the MW4 Daishi or the Mad Cat III (the XTRO version), the MW4 Vulture, heck even the Jenner is a favorite. I could go on and on and on, but I think Hammerhands is my final answer.
Sean: My favorite also meanders depending on my mood, so I totally understand where you’re coming from. What about your favorite era?
Matthew: Dark Age. Really anything post Jihad I would say. I love the small stories that can be told in the era. It feels like Succession Wars, but with higher tech. So many little things happening that don’t have to be world-shattering, but interesting stories can be told nonetheless. Plus, most of my Ironwind Metals designs are Dark Age or Republic Era designs, so I have a bit of a soft spot I think.
Sean: Dark Age is a polarizing era–you either love it or you hate it. Or you get confused by it, which is where I’m at most of the time with all the factionalization of everything.
Matthew: Oh man, I think I have a strong attachment to the so-called “Pirate” factions because I had a small collection of MechWarrior: Dark Age figures. I got the “Premier” box set and probably only four to five boosters in total, but it cemented my love of the Blue and Green Swordsworn units. I think I have a good 20 minis painted in that scheme in my collection. Even my latest Shrapnel story, No Rest for the Accursed, actually dealt with two of the factions, the Highlanders and the Dragon’s Fury.
Sean: I’m still getting caught up on Shrapnel, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for that story when it arrives. Any particular favorite bit of BattleTech media? A novel, video, or game?
Matthew: Well, excluding MechWarrior 4, I’m a sucker for TROs, and 3075 is definitely a favorite. It was actually the first BattleTech sourcebook I purchased. I’ve read a lot of novels as well, but I love the pure, crunchy, techy goodness that is a TRO or Recognition Guide.
Sean: Let’s get into your Sarna page. It says here your first contributions to BattleTech were to Ironwind Metals for the Vulture III and Thor II models. How does one even go about creating models for Ironwind? Is it like today with 3D modeling software or is it more old-school since these are pewter figures?
Matthew: I learned 3D modeling as a required one-credit course for my computer engineering degree at the beginning of college. This was 2008-2009 or so and 3D printing was barely a thing yet. But that class, combined with a weird summer internship where I was both working in CAD and writing code, in CAD, led me down a long journey of making BattleTech 3D models. I even tried teaching myself some techniques while modeling a Mad Cat at the internship.
It’s… not pretty.
Sean: It seems like it’s half a ‘Mech.
Matthew: I eventually finished it into what my friends commonly call the “Chibi-Cat”
Sean: Okay, I like chibi ‘Mechs.
Matthew: They say that everyone starts somewhere, and the Chibi-Cat was definitely my start.
From there I did some more modeling, including my own version of a Manatee DropShip (from the aforementioned TRO: 3075), and then, right around the release of TRO: 3145: The Clans, I got images of the Vulture III and Thor II. Being the big MechWarrior 4 and MWDA fan that I am, I know these two mechs are based on the MWDA versions of the ‘Mechs, which in turn were based on the MW4 versions of the ‘Mechs. I jumped at the opportunity to model them for myself. Additionally, I knew Ironwind Metals was using 3D models for their minis, as this was around the time designs like the Dark Age Black Knight and the Ares tripods were released, so I knew that my models had potential.
I also wanted to get my foot in the door, so I offered both models to IWM for free in an email to IWM president Mike Noe. And private messages to Speck, the IWM admin. And general pestering. And while IWM opted not to use my Vulture III, and instead opted for a version closer to the MW4 art, they did ultimately go with my Thor II which was just hugely exciting.
Sean: I see why that Mad Cat is considered the Chibi-Cat. Such tiny limbs! What other ‘Mech submissions did IWM accept?
Matthew: Since 2014, I have had 21 accepted designs with Ironwind! The Arion, Arctic Wolf II, Roadrunner, Pendragon, Centurion resculpt, and Centurion OmniMech. A bunch of MechWarrior 4-based resculpts including the Cougar, Chimera, and Hellspawn. I should really update my Sarna page with the full list. My latest and greatest was the Mastodon, just released last month!
Sean: Do you have a favorite IWM model that you created?
I love the MWDA mini and decided to buy one off of eBay to use as a 3D modeling reference. I knocked out the first draft in like four hours straight (very fast for a model for me). I eventually was able to get the model through IWM’s Fan Funding program and the mini ultimately was made! I really tried to take everything that was good with that MWDA figure and mold it into something a bit more believable for the BattleTech universe. Heck, I even made some TRO-style art for it from my model.
That, admittedly, was made even after the IWM model was made and includes some extra detailing, but it’s essentially the same design nonetheless
Sean: Rockin’. Alright, next on your page, I see you’ve also submitted game stats that have been officially published in multiple places, including the Clan Recognition Guides and TRO 3150. Does this mean you’ve made ‘Mechs that are now part of BattleTech canon?
Matthew: So, I’ve always been one to play around in the MechLab and try my hand at designing some loadouts. During the designing of the Pendragon for IWM, I wanted to design a bodyguard, dual C3 master version of the ‘Mech. This was 2015 I am pretty sure. The CGL assistant art director at the time was our now fearless leader, Ray Arrastia, who introduced me to the then XTRO developer (now the full TRO developer) Johannes “Jymset” Heidler who has become my good friend and mentor in all things BattleTech. We massaged the design a bit and got it included in the New Tech section at the back of TRO: 3150, whose record sheets were FINALLY released earlier this year!
Sean: Maybe you’d be a good person to ask since I see you worked on a lot of the “II” ‘Mechs. now, I have no problem with the IICs since they seem like a logical evolution for classic ‘Mechs that stuck around within the Clans. But the II ‘Mechs never made much sense to me. How do you feel about ‘Mechs like the Thor II and Loki II, especially with respect to the recent Clan Recognition Guides and the latest variants for the original Thor and Loki that have now been published?
Since 2014, I have had 21 accepted designs with Ironwind! The Arion, Arctic Wolf II, Roadrunner, Pendragon, Centurion resculpt, and Centurion OmniMech. My latest and greatest was the Mastodon, just released last month!
Matthew: So, let’s talk about how the IIs came about. Particularly the Thor II, Loki II, Kodiak II, Arctic Wolf II, Vulture III, and Mad Cat III. The Dark Age Black Knight and Atlas S3/II kinda also apply here and I may be missing a few, to be honest.
We’ll use the Thor as our main example here. We’ve got the original 3050 artwork. That in turn inspired its look in MechWarrior 4, but due to art style and whatnot, quite a bit changed. Also with that change came a change in default weapons loadouts, likely due to game balance. That MW4 design was translated into the MWDA dossier load out, which was (somehow) translated from real BattleTech stats. From there, CGL devs created fresh loadoats and artwork based on the dossiers and the looks of the Dark Age miniature, resulting in the Thor II. The lineage was original TRO art -> MW4 art -> MWDA art -> sequel Mech art.
It’s convoluted, but in the end, it ultimately makes some sense. And frankly, I love the looks of many of the II designs.
The T configs on the other hand were created so you could buy a mini from the Clan Invasion box and play it in the Dark Age and IlClan eras. Does it make a ton of sense? Nah. Does it just give us more toys to play with? Definitely.
I say majorly, to each their own. I love me the Thor II and will gladly use the extra 3.5 tons of equipment to pummel your original Thor into the ground.
Matthew: Catapult II is a direct pull from an original MWDA ‘Mech whilst the Raven II was a production model of the experimental Raven from XTRO: Liao, I believe. Both are interesting cases that don’t follow the pattern.
Sean: You were first writing technical readouts, but then you swapped to fiction writing, the first being The Last Flight of the Black Condor in Shrapnel #10. Was that a big switch for you or were you always looking to be a fiction writer?
I love me the Thor II and will gladly use the extra 3.5 tons of equipment to pummel your original Thor into the ground.
Matthew: So, I actually tried my hand at fiction writing first. I wrote a story that was going to be in BattleCorps but, well, it was bad. Very bad. I tried writing in the first person, thinking it would be easier, then I tried converting it to third person, unsuccessfully. Tenses are hard.
Then, a few years after that I wrote a really fun article on why Clan ER medium lasers are better than standard ER medium lasers over in the fan articles section of the official BattleTech forums. I was inspired by another article I read on those forums to do it as a college lecture. My background as an engineer combined with my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I have sat through a LOT of lectures. It was a style I felt I could do really well with.
After showing off my article on the forums to Phil Lee, the Shrapnel Managing Editor, he was interested in me writing more articles for Shrapnel I was very excited about doing. After getting four of those under my belt, I decided to tackle Black Condor, which was a scenario and setting I had in my mind for years and years. Heroic band of misfits saving the day, and getting picked off one at a time. I’m not going to lie to you, it was inspired by the climax of Shrek 2. It’s embarrassingly true.
The writing was hard and had A LOT of edits from the editors. It almost didn’t pass muster. No Rest for the Accursed was much easier on a whole. Getting the hang of dialog was a change from the lecture style and I think that was the hardest thing to do.
Sean: Hah, well if Shrek 2 inspired Black Condor, what inspired No Rest for the Accursed?
Matthew: A random violin piece by Lindsey Stirling. I’m not joking.
Sean: Oh, I have a friend who really likes her!
I decided to tackle The Last Flight of the Black Condor, which was a scenario and setting I had in my mind for years and years. Heroic band of misfits saving the day, and getting picked off one at a time. I’m not going to lie to you, it was inspired by the climax of Shrek 2. It’s embarrassingly true.
Matthew: My kids found a song of hers, “Roundtable Rivals,” and I definitely thought immediately of a Highlander IIC having a slugfest with an entire lance, and wins. I did change the music to bagpipes in the story, but the effect remained all the same. You really need to read this story…
Sean: Welp, I’m grinding my way through Shrapnel since it’s my preferred method of getting BattleTech short stories.
I have a question for one that’s not canon–Welcome to Nebula California. I’ve never heard of this, and the art on the Sarna page makes it look like it’s about ‘Mechs versus superheroes. Can you tell me more about that and what you contributed to this sourcebook?
Matthew: Oh wow. Yeah, I forgot about Welcome to Nebula California! That one was a collaboration between myself and CGL’s top layout guy, David “Dak” Kerber. Dak had a bunch of art he needed to create and we collaborated on using some of my IWM designs and integrating them into throughout the book. I did some renders (especially the cover) and Dak colorized them. Some of the silhouettes throughout the book are also my renders blacked out as well
It was just a free April Fools product, during some of the darker times for CGL, but that was a fun project to work on.
Sean: But, like, it is ‘Mechs versus super-powered people?
Matthew: I believe so! There is even an image of a Superman-type character punching my Thor II. I honestly didn’t fully read the book myself, but it is very typical of an April Fools project. You’ve got the Disney Princess ‘Mechs, XTRO 1945, Escape from Castle Wulfensteiner, etc.
Sean: I’m gonna have to pick up some of these. I’ll grab the Nebula Californa one first. Now let’s take a look at your first official design: the Kamisori Light Tank. Seems like a fine vehicle, if on the lighter side. What was your inspiration for this spry little guy?
Matthew: So, this was another of my many collaborations with Johannes (mentioned earlier!). He and I were conspiring to make an XTRO that never materialized, but there was a tank that was mentioned one-off in some online-only MWDA fiction. The Kamisori Light Tank that was mentioned was transporting some battle armor, and Johannes whipped up some stats. The stats that he provided me in 2016 and I did a really fast pencil sketch that eventually became the final Kamisori.
From there, I made a basic model that I updated a few times over the years, but then we pulled in another good friend and excellent CGL artist Dale Eadeh to provide art direction. We took it from this:
Sean: I got some big T-34 vibes from this guy.
Matthew: With rumble seats in the back for battle armor! Originally the design was a flat-bed like a pickup truck, but we changed to the externally facing seats to make it more obvious in its role as a battle armor taxi
Sean: With a touch of mobile fire support on the side. Let’s talk about what you’re up to these days. I hear you’re making terrain for BattleTech, is that right?
Matthew: Terrain under my own label, Cross Electric Designs, yes! I am also doing more writing for Shrapnel and another mini for IWM, but I can’t really talk about those right now. So yeah! Terrain!
Sean: Alright, then let’s focus on the thing you can talk about. When did you start Cross Electric Designs and what products do you have available?
Mathew: So, back to Dale Eadeh.Dale runs his own little terrain studio, called Hardware Studios. Dale was looking for some more terrain to fill out his digital files shop and I initially declined his offer to get my stuff onto his site. About a year later, with inflation being a pain in my rear end, I decided, hey, let’s try this digital files thing. I already had some terrain that I had previously made for various reasons, some to support Dale and some just for my own fun. I also had my Manatee DropShip that I designed years and years ago, and I decided to spruce that up, with a little extra art direction from Dale as well. Beyond all this, I had two 3D printers already and decided, “Hey, let’s sell some physical product as well!”
I launched Cross Electric in and around the spring/summer of 2022, with just a handful of products. The Beluga DropShip (renamed for obvious reasons), my Vengeance Palace Wall set (inspired by the palace map in MechWarrior 4: Vengeance), the Muse Turret (inspired by the Calliope Turret from MW4 as well), and a few other bits and bobbles. I even started selling some prints on BattleTech International Trade and Sell and they were all a hit, much more so than I really expected.
I moved from selling on BTI: Trade and Sell to Aries Games and Minis and I have recently expanded to having my stuff at conventions through BV traders and selling through Fortress Minis and Games. And I think I have something like 30 different products, with more on the way!
Sean: That all sounds pretty great! I remember hating those Calliope Turrets. They’d make a great addition to a BattleTech scenario. Are all those homegrown designs on the Aries Games site now?
Matthew: Pretty much everything is on Aries, Hardware, and Fortress, yeah! There are a few designs that are less popular or too large to sell viably that I sell only on Hardware Studios as files, but otherwise, everything is on those sites!
Sean: You mentioned a few MW4 inspirations for these designs, but I’m seeing a lot of MechCommander here too–like the gas tanks, the Double ‘Mech Bay, the Factory Facility Alpha, and the AeroSpace Hanger. Was MechCommander a big inspiration for these designs?
Matthew: So, actually the Double Mech Bay and the Gas Tanks were both direct MW4 inspiration, to be honest. The Double Bay was featured in the final mission of Vengeance (and a few other places) and the fuel tanks were present throughout! I played MOST of MechCommander 2 back when it was released as freeware by Microsoft in 2010 or so, and I am sure those inspirations were definitely still there, but they weren’t in the front of my mind. The Factory was something that kinda took off as I learned what my style was. It’s something that really needs to be established for an artist. What is your style? You can see it in the MWO style of Alex Iglesias or the Catalyst style of Anthony Scroggins, but every artist has their own way of making things. I really am trying to learn from other’s styles still. I like to make things chunky with a lot of shapes, very similar to MechWarrior 4′s style because, back then, big boxy shapes were easy to make within the graphics limitations of the day. But you have so many other interesting sci-fi styles to hit upon that I really do try to draw from other sources, but somehow I typically devolve into my chunky style.
Sean: Ah, you never played the original MechCommander? I think you can find MechCommander Gold as a free download somewhere. Might need to make an emulator to play it, though.
The Beluga DropShip seems very MW4. And I think the Military Hover Barge is also from a MW4 mission where you have to defend a bunch of barges. Turrets all seem MW4 too. So we can safely say MW4 really was your jam. What was your favorite part of MW4 that you wish could come back in MechWarrior 5?
Matthew: Hmmmm… Probably a few things. And I’ll likely be referring to MWO for comparison because I played a lot more of that game than I have MW5.
First off, and I know this won’t happen, but I loved the joystick support for MW4. Playing with a joystick to properly control your mech felt like the absolute right way to be piloting a ‘Mech and it was the one thing that just felt so wrong about MWO to me. The ‘Mechs don’t shake around as much because you need to provide some stability to the mouse pointer MechWarrior 4 has some fairly turbulent fast ‘Mechs. Pointing and clicking with a mouse on an enemy just didn’t have the same effect as lining up a shot with the joystick and pulling the trigger.
We’ve already talked about scale, so we’ll skip that topic as well…
I think so of the speed of MechWarrior 4 is missing from MW5/MWO. The weapons hit faster in MW4, given the lasers were all hitscan (instant laser beam that just hits or doesn’t hit) versus the beam approach that MWO uses. The ‘Mechs felt faster and more nimble. And, well, to go to scale, the smaller scale but the same ground speeds of mechs make MW4 feel faster as well. MWO/MW5 ‘Mechs can feel floaty rather than stompy at times.
I’ve got some new factories in the works, a mostly finished Shrapnel draft, and a Mech assignment from Ironwind Metals. So many cool projects!
Finally, I think it really comes down to art style and the eras. You weren’t able to get hyperrealism in 2002 vs. 2019 and sometimes, MWO/MW5 just seems too detailed and too real. It’s a weird thing to complain about, but it feels more Modern Warfare than Halo sometimes.
Sean: MWO lasers are also hitscan, but they might not feel like it because of internet issues and the game polling rate. And I agree, MWO/MW5 is definitely going for hyper-realism with a dash of tacticool. There’s a winch on the front of the Marauder in the MW5 splash screen, for example.
I don’t think it’s a bad aesthetic, but if the ‘Mechs are hyper-realistic, then everything should be, and occasionally you’ll find some terrain that doesn’t make sense or foliage that seems too big or too small. I still really like the look of MW5 overall, and think it’s the best-looking MechWarrior ever made. But there was over a decade between MW5 and MW4.
Matthew: Oh, I’m referring to the lasers being an instant shot versus a beam that lasts for half a second or so for the hitscan. An MW4 laser is a single spot with a single spot for damage. MWO/MW5 has a nice little beam.
But honestly, we are arguing a difference in huge game design decisions between 2001 and 2019. MW4 is practically an arcade game these days.
Sean: True, and I definitely appreciate the arcade feel of MechWarrior 4. I played it a bunch back in the day. Arcade doesn’t mean bad! It’s all just a matter of game mechanics, and MW4 was very solid mechanically speaking.
Anyway, we’ve talked a lot here. Did you have any other topics you’d like to discuss? Any other upcoming projects you’d like to announce?
Matthew: Haha, we have indeed talked a lot!
I think I have covered most of what I want to talk about, but I always have new stuff that I am working on. I’ve got some new factories in the works, a mostly finished Shrapnel draft, and a ‘Mech assignment from Ironwind Metals. So many cool projects! I try and share my stuff on my Facebook page, but I’m not amazing at keeping it updated. My wife is supposedly going to be giving me a hand in that regard soon, but no promises!
Sean: Alright, then that covers it. Thanks for sitting down to chat!
Thanks again to Matthew Cross for taking the time to speak to me, and be sure to check back soon as I take a look at some of the models offered by Cross Electric Designs.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.