Community Outreach – Preserving With Emil Of The Art Of BattleTech

Late last year, I spoke with Michael Todd about his efforts to preserve some of BattleTech‘s long-forgotten art. These classic pieces were produced before the digital age and, in some cases, had been forgotten in a basement for decades. But with BattleTech‘s ongoing renaissance, renewed interest brought these pieces out of the dark for fans to appreciate once again. Those pictures have been scanned in high-definition and posted online, while the originals are sold for thousands of dollars at auction.  

Like many fans, I’ve always appreciated BattleTech for the art it produces: dynamic images of massive fighting machines armed to the teeth and battling in brutal conditions. However, my appreciation doesn’t even begin to compare to the depth of emotion brought by Emil, curator of The Art of BattleTech archive. While Catalyst is doing the bulk of BattleTech‘s art preservation now, Emil has spent years preserving art from various BattleTech and MechWarrior video games, using modern technology to ensure these pieces can be appreciated for decades to come. 

That mission has since grown to include preserving even fan works in current games like MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, where Emil mods 3D ‘Mech designs that otherwise would never have been seen. I’ve been a fan of his work for years, and on this month’s Community Outreach, I got to speak to Emil and learn more about his tireless efforts. Enjoy.

Sean (Sarna): Who are you? Briefly introduce yourself.

“MechWarrior 2 made a huge impression on me.”

Emil (The Art of BattleTech): My name is Emil and I’ve been running the Art of Battletech archive for about a decade now. I also do a lot of modding of Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, including the classic ‘Mechs collection, the MW2 Betty voice mod, the Mechwarrior 2 Remake demo, and the female protagonist mod. I’m from Denmark and when I’m not drooling over big stompy robots, I work as an academic in the field of game studies. I have a PhD, teach at a university, and have published research about video games and how they’re made.

Sean: When did you get into BattleTech?

Emil: Like so many others, it started with MechWarrior 2 in 1995. My dad and brother pooled money together to get a Pentium with 75mhz, 8MB RAM, and an 875 MB hard drive. Back then, you bought magazines that came with a CD-ROM that had a ton of demos on it. Accompanying that expensive PC was a game magazine with the MechWarrior 2 demo. While I had played on Commodore64 and Amiga beforehand, I had no idea what a top-of-the-line 3D ‘Mech simulation game would be. The MechWarrior 2 demo featured that amazing intro cinematic and nine-year-old me was hooked since then. 

Mechwarrior 2: 31st Century Combat - Intro (Remastered 4K 60FPS)
Watch this video on YouTube.

Maybe I’ve already mentioned it elsewhere, but I feel like that cinematic (made by Digital Domain which still exists today!) established the conventions or reasons for why I got hooked into BattleTech / MechWarrior: Not just the big stompy robots and huge explosions, but the first-person perspective of receiving damage and trying to handle your ‘Mech under fire, your ammo levels running critical during fighting, the computer voice informing you about system status, time of arrival, and enemies showing up, and you as a ‘Mech pilot ultimately end up getting blown up. On a visual level, the colors and atmosphere come across as foreboding and oppressive, while the first shot of the Timber Wolf’s left foot crushing that skull not only emphasizes that these are huge, hulking machines we are talking about, but that death is very much part of this universe. There are just a lot of things going on in those 90 seconds that convey what I came to appreciate about BattleTech as a universe and MechWarrior as a simulation game in terms of its aesthetics and genre conventions. 

But yeah, MechWarrior 2 made a huge impression on me. The music by Jeehun Hwang, the atmosphere, the Betty voice, the sound design, the many cockpit controls, the gameplay rhythm and ambiance of the game, the thick manual with its lore stuff, the ejection button catapulting you away from your blown-up ‘Mech, the HUD window options, the 3D render artwork in the Clan halls and mission briefings, and so on. I have been in love since that demo and I still remember when I got my mom to pick up the full game box (which I still have). I’ve since followed each BattleTech video game religiously—especially after we got an internet connection and I started hanging out on BadKarma and Dropshipcommand where Mitch Gitelman, Paingod, Heinz Schuller, and other FASA video game devs hung out and shared info about their upcoming projects. I could talk for ages about all the other BattleTech video games of course, especially MechCommander and its gorgeous sprite work that uses the classic Steve Venters ‘Mech designs, but I won’t bore people to tears with all of that. Following the video games, I started reading the novels in the early 2000s when my teenage insecurity was insignificant enough to think it was okay to read a nerdy novel like the reprint of the Jade Phoenix trilogy, and then came the sourcebooks and the Armorcast model kits and Iron Wind Metals miniatures, and so on.

Emil's Timber Wolf Tattoo

Sean: What’s your favourite ‘Mech? An all-important question. 

Emil: It might be a boring answer, but the Timber Wolf/Mad Cat was iconic and introduced me to the universe through that amazing cinematic intro in MechWarrior 2. One of my first tattoos was the classic Timber Wolf blueprint by Steve Venters and it’s a big one placed on my thigh. In general, I’m very prone to liking the chicken-leg ‘Mechs, such as the Mad Dog, Stormcrow, and Timber Wolf.

Sean: What parts of BattleTech do you play? Perhaps a better question: What haven’t you played?

Emil: So funny thing: I’ve never played a single game of tabletop BattleTech. Where I’m at, there are literally zero BattleTech communities. The FLGS here never really wanted to carry the game even after I practically begged them during the Clan Invasion and Mercenaries Kickstarters. And there never really was an established community or organization for people to gather around and keep it alive, so BattleTech simply never took off here in Denmark—which is funny considering how big BattleTech is in Germany right next to us (I usually call Germany the European Mecca of BattleTech).

“It might be a boring answer, but the Timber Wolf / Mad Cat was iconic and introduced me to the universe through that amazing cinematic intro in MechWarrior 2.”

But this lack of anything BattleTech means I’ve never played a single game of tabletop BattleTech. Not even Alpha Strike. I’ve just been all about the video games, the fiction, the art, the sourcebooks, the miniatures, and I even collect 1:60 scale kits of the ‘Mechs. Maybe I’ll play some of that Encounters by myself.

Sean: When did you start The Art of BattleTech and what made you want to start preserving BattleTech art?

Emil: It started in 2013 when I was on my usual dopamine fix of BattleTech/MechWarrior and I was going through some of the old sourcebooks from the FASA days. I really enjoyed all the black and white color artwork by Jeff Laubenstein, Earl Geier, Dana Knutson, and so many others, but when I was looking around the internet, for some reason, no one really bothered to archive or share or commemorate all that gorgeous art. At the same time, ever since I got a 56k modem back in 1998, I’ve been saving BattleTech and MechWarrior art and images from both official sites and fan sites into one single folder. For instance, I got some funky 3D fan art from 1996 and 1997 from some GeoCities site still lying around in my “mech” folder which I’ve been maintaining since the late 90s. 

The whole folder is a bit of a mess, but the internet isn’t forever, so I’ve got some stuff lying around that is now very difficult to find. I’d always figured why not share it and spread it around for whoever might be interested? Catalyst and others have always been cool and appreciative of grassroots communities, so it’s allowed to proliferate and be commemorated online. It was never my intention to grow or become an account with a lot of followers, I just wanted to share my love and passion for the great artistry that us fans have been exposed to for over four decades now. It has been very heartwarming to see how many people enjoy the art and can put up with my amateur/hobbyist approach.  

Sean: How do you go about preserving BattleTech art? Feel free to get as technical with this answer as you like. 

Emil: I have dabbled with buying some old and less popular BattleTech products from the ‘80s or ’90s and scanning the artwork to archive and share it. For instance, I bought a bunch of empty Ral Partha boxes to scan and clean up the artwork that Steve Venters did for them, which cannot be found online or digitally. I’ve done the same with some of the BattleTechnology Magazine that also featured art that is difficult to find online these days. I also scanned and archived all my video game boxes of the BattleTech games that I’ve collected and owned since 1995 and I’ve uploaded them and their manuals and promo flyers to MobyGames for archival purposes.

Some years ago, I saw that the user Phosix on Reddit had scanned the ancient classic ‘Mech blueprints of the Wasp, Marauder, Warhammer, and BattleMaster and made these gorgeous vector graphic versions of those old hard-to-get blueprints. I asked them how they went about it and finally, when time opened up for me, I got down to doing the same for the Steve Venters OmniMech blueprints that a guy called Mathias provided some decent scans of (my own scanning wasn’t as good; they’re big posters), which I then did vector graphics versions of and shared online last year. It wasn’t a perfect professional job, but I think it was important to archive and digitize those hard-to-get blueprints, especially since CGL likely won’t ever return to those designs ever again.

“I have dabbled with buying some old and less popular BattleTech products from the ‘80s or ’90s and scanning the artwork to archive and share it.”

So I do a lot of scanning on my own. There was a promo flyer from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s featuring Steve Venters’ classic Timber Wolf artwork on either side, which I’ve scanned, cleaned up, and shared. I’ve also scanned and shared some of the artworks found in the 25 Years of Art & Fiction copy that I own, but where the artwork simply does not exist digitally (for instance, Doug Chaffee’s Falcon Rising artwork). I had a stint of scouring through old gaming magazines from the ‘90s that featured the old BattleTech/MechWarrior/MechCommander games and finding unpublished or unreleased promotional artwork. For example, I found a pretty good rendition of a 3D promo render of the Mad Dog in a Finnish magazine that covered the Playstation version of MechWarrior 2 or a good image of the artwork you see in the main menu screen in MechCommander in a US gaming magazine that interviewed Mitch and Jordan in 1998. Or this Rifleman poster that a friend bought for me from Marco Mazzoni at Mechcon 2018 that hasn’t yet seen the light of day (to my knowledge). I don’t think I’ve really come across this Steve Venters back cover artwork for the 1993 Update Flyer, so I scanned it and touched it up to the best of my ability. I used to use the local library’s scanner, but it had budget cuts so you can no longer scan (despite a scanner on site), so now I must use my phone which does a decent enough job, I think.

Sometimes I also contact the artists directly if it’s old or obscure enough, and I’m sometimes lucky to get a reply! Just thinking about it now makes me so happy and I’m reminded of how amazing these people are. I wrote Eric Chadwick who worked for Mondo Media and did the intro for MechWarrior 3 and all that promo and cover artwork, and he sent back the original source assets from 1998! So we managed to excavate the first-ever digital release of the render for the MechCommander: Gold box cover artwork, the Pirate’s Moon box cover artwork, and some of the MechWarrior 3 advertisements. Probably the biggest thing for me and I still cannot believe it’s real, but I also managed to get ahold of Scott Goffman, one of the lead artists for MechWarrior 2, who still had archived most if not all of his old artwork for MechWarrior 2. So we got the original renders of the MechWarrior 2 Timber Wolf, high-quality sources for the Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon prerendered backgrounds, the planet drop loading screens, and a whole bunch of other amazing assets thanks to Scott being so kind and nice to share it with us fans (I still cannot believe it happened). Alex Iglesias has also been super cool and shared his sublime MechWarrior Online, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, and MechWarrior 5: Clans artworks he’s done for PC Gamer magazine over the years. I’ve pestered Bruce Jensen to share more of his artwork and he recently started sharing his paintings again on Facebook.

In terms of working with digital sources to clean up or upscale to add more detail and extra information to small-resolution images; some of the older art I have archived is usually stuff I saved back in the mid to late ‘90s. These are usually around the common desktop resolutions at the time, so 640x480 or 1024x768, so they can be a bit small and undetailed at times. For these, I’ve used upscaling software, which is not the “AI” thing that Silicon Valley is pushing through these days (I think Brent Evans also misunderstood what the method does in a recent Sarna interview, as upscaling is not generating new art or using any pre-existing database to generate art). The software that I’m using is not built on Large Language Models which has otherwise become associated with the whole AI gimmick. What the software does is simply fill out missing information in a low-resolution image to extrapolate what more information could be added. Sometimes artifacts and too much sharpening are added if you’re not careful, so they’re never really perfect. But it’s not “AI” in the sense that people understand it today.

“I was also the one who upscaled the BattleTech Animated Series a couple of years ago.”

Other methods: If it doesn’t drag down the artwork, I might use Photoshop to remove dirt and scratches or titles or texts that obstruct the image. I always try to emphasize and indicate if an image I share is something that I’ve touched, edited, or upscaled. Obviously, the result won’t be as pristine and great as a high-detail scan of the original, but it works fine, and it makes it easier on the eyes if you’re using it as a desktop wallpaper or phone wallpaper or even if you print it for yourself. I made a Lensdump album with some of the stuff I’ve been experimenting with.

For more modern artworks above, let’s say, 1600x1200 resolution, I usually don’t upscale it, and for all the insanely impressive contemporary art we’ve gotten from Alex Iglesias, Marco Mazzoni, Anthony Scroggins, Florian Mellies, Alan Blackwell, Ken Coleman, Eldonius Rex, Tan Ho Sim, and many others, it’s shared in such high quality that I (obviously) don’t touch it.

I was also the one who upscaled the BattleTech Animated Series a couple of years ago. I was showing off the major improvements my upscaling was doing to the original show and then Travis from RenegadeHPG DM’ed me to ask if he could host them on his YouTube channel that he had just started. This was pretty expensive for me to do in terms of energy costs, but the software I’ve been using has been updated, so I’d love to revisit it and try to do a better job. But of course, I wish I had a higher-quality source to do it from because some of those digitized VHS recordings are not the best to work with.

BattleTech Cartoon | Episode 1 [Remastered]
Watch this video on YouTube.

Beyond the more technical stuff and archiving, I always want to make sure I credit the artist. Maybe I’m too much of a ‘materialist’, but I always think of how the things we have in front of us get to be made and transported and consumed by us. When I look at those gorgeous miniatures from the Clan Invasion and Mercenaries Kickstarters, I think about those hardworking Chinese workers laboring away at molding and assembling these relatively intricate but small plastic figures, that then get packaged and put into a container and shipped on a large ship to arrive at a warehouse and then delivered to my door. Just the sheer scale of the production process and amount of human labor put into this one very pretty miniature is just mesmerizing and awe-inspiring to think of. 

“I’d love to pitch a book project on the history of the BattleTech video games as an epub/print-on-demand with a CGL stamp of approval.”

The same happens when I play Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries or Harebrained SchemesBATTLETECH or even the older games: The thousands of hours of labor and craftsmanship and millions of dollars put into this project to ensure that this piece of software is running as smoothly and impressive as possible. If you have any idea about how complex video games are, your mind would be blown that we are getting stuff like MechWarrior 5 or HBS BATTLETECH. Just the amount of time used to make textures or 3D objects on top of all the scripting, coding, and sound design, which all have to work together into one somewhat cohesive unit. This makes me appreciate the ‘product’ and the creators behind it—whether it’s the miniature or the video game or the sourcebook or the PDF novel—so much. It’s also why it’s very difficult for me to see when laypeople complain about a video game or a miniature or something else super complex. So, in that sense, I always want to make sure to attribute and credit whoever made the artwork or the commodity that I am sharing for others to enjoy and appreciate. It’s one of the most important things for me. Sarna has been absolutely essential for determining the origin of some uncredited artwork, as well as the year of publication.

Sean: Has preserving/upscaling BattleTech art ever gotten you in trouble with Catalyst Game Labs? Have you ever worked with CGL to provide them with upscaled digital versions of older art?

Emil: I’ve unfortunately never spoken to CGL and they’ve never contacted me either. I usually only share art that’s already been shared by either the artists themselves or if it’s old art that simply cannot be found anywhere because it’s that old. I’m just some fan account, I don’t hold myself in any high importance. I sometimes doubt how many people who work with BattleTech and MechWarrior are aware of what I do. But I’d love to talk to them, but not for the reasons people might think. I’d love to pitch a book project on the history of the BattleTech video games as an epub/print-on-demand with a CGL stamp of approval. I’ve been following the video games for 30 years, I’ve interviewed some of the game developers behind them, and I’ve also archived a lot of material on how those games were made, how they were critically received, their sales numbers, and their lineage, and their legacy and impact on the mech-sim and strategy genres.

Couple this with my PhD on video games and I think it would be a decent contribution to the product line and legacy of BattleTech. For me, it would be such a dream project to collect everything into one commemorative retrospective that included interviews, analysis, reflection, etc. on each game à la the Boss Fight book series for those who are familiar with it. I especially find such a project important considering the role that video games play for people who play BattleTech, where Loren revealed during a stream that 37% of the Clan Invasion Kickstarter respondents came to the IP via the video games. So if anyone from CGL is reading this, feel free to hit me up (or tell me who to get in touch with!)

“In the modern era, I’m a huge fan of Alex Iglesias and Marco Mazzoni. In terms of the ‘classic’ era, I really am a huge fan of Steve Venters and Doug Chaffee. Venters’ artwork of the Mad Dog and the Hatamoto-Chi for Reinforcements 2.”

Sean: What’s your favorite piece of BattleTech art?

Emil: That’s like picking your favorite child! It’s very difficult. In the modern era, I’m a huge fan of Alex Iglesias and Marco Mazzoni. I don’t think we can underestimate the impact that Iglesias has had in terms of re-envisioning and rebooting the BattleTech ‘Mech aesthetic through his work on PGI’s MechWarrior games and the contract work for CGL over the years (the Alpha Strike cover is so good). Mazzoni’s Red Duke Marauder is perfect and hangs next to my desk, but I could go on and on about all the stuff he’s done for both Catalyst and Harebrained Schemes.

In terms of the ‘classic’ era, I really am a huge fan of Steve Venters and Doug Chaffee. Venters’ artwork of the Mad Dog and the Hatamoto-Chi for Reinforcements 2 has this absolutely gorgeous red sky that I cannot get enough of. Or his colored artwork in the BattleTech compendium with the Timber Wolf, Mad Dog, and Summoner, which I also re-created in a Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries shot using Alan Yeoh’s model. Doug Chaffee’s artwork is a good reminder of how big of a fan I am of 70s sci-fi artwork like Chris Foss and Peter Elson (and why I also adore the Homeworld video games and their art direction). Chaffee always uses heavy coloring that really makes the image pop out and maybe my favorite is his iconic Bushwacker in the TRO 3058 with this pink-red sky that contrasts well with the Bushwacker’s metallic grey look.

Sean: Do you have any physical examples of BattleTech art? Are there any particularly noteworthy pieces of media?

Emil: I have too many posters and books and not enough wall space! Of my favorites, it’s probably the Mazzoni Red Duke, but I’ve also managed to snag a Nelson poster and a Venters poster for cheap on Ebay over the years, and I got signed prints from Jenna Ravenna, Ken Coleman, and Joel DuQue. I got the Armorcast Timber Wolf and Mad Dog right before they went out of production, I have almost all the big boxes of the video games and I even printed the Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries big box and its manuals. and I’ve made a custom print of the digital artbook that came with Harebrained Scheme’s BATTLETECH. Damn, now I’m realizing how crazy I am with this stuff. I promise whoever is reading this, I’m pretty normal outside BattleTech/MechWarrior lol.

My white whale is probably a piece of art from the late Eric Peterson (one of the programmers for the engine that MechWarrior 2 used). He had a huge wall scroll of Blake Wolf’s key art for the canceled Mechwarrior 2: Clans. But I don’t ever expect to see that in real life. It’s just an impressive piece of physical art and I appreciate Peterson’s story behind it (RIP).  

Sean: Most of the official art coming to BattleTech these days is digital, with CGL actively preserving it. Do you think your job is done in preserving BattleTech art?

Emil: I’m not sure. I sometimes think I’m done sharing any of the old art, but then I encounter something I hadn’t seen before when sitting late at night and browsing the web. For example, I came across a German fan site a while ago that had a lot of the Dark Age-era cover artwork that Franz Vohwinkel made, especially for German publications, and it was fascinating to excavate some of the art that hadn’t really been a thing for many years, especially for those outside Germany. For instance, I’ve never seen his Warrior Trilogy triptych. The images were only around 500x700 pixels, so I used upscaling software on it and it came out well enough, I think. People never really talk about Vohwinkel’s art, so it was neat to suddenly find it and be able to share it and disseminate it.

I also want to get back to some of the black-and-white line art again and share those things, so it seems like it never really stops for some reason. The question is not really if there’s enough art to share, it’s instead that I just don’t have so much time to share everything, especially with two kids and a job. But my love and passion for BattleTech won’t ever stop, so the art and appreciation will continue to flow.

“I’ve made around 40 mods for MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, of which 29 are (classic) ‘Mechs. The others are the MW2 Betty voice mod, the female protagonist mod, and a bunch of immersion and atmospheric mods that remove some of the more ‘gamey’ elements and lessen vehicle fodder.”

Sean: You also do a lot of work modding MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. Do you have a lot of modeling and animation knowledge? How do you go from these older 3D models to a fully realized MechWarrior 5 mod? 

Emil: My apologies if I’m going overboard with this interview, but I never had any modeling or texturing experience before Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries came out. I’ve worked in Unreal Engine 3 a little bit with sound and level design in the early 2010s and I do have a Ph.D. on video games and their production, but I never had any idea about modeling, texturing, or animation. When PGI released their mod tools, at first I just dabbled a little bit with some minor mods here and there. But one day, I saw that super impressive classic Timber Wolf model that Alan Yeoh (art director in the games industry who’s worked for Activision Blizzard King and Avalanche Studios) had made and sold on his Sketchfab around 2021. And just for the fun of it, I bought the model and textures (it just looks that good, holy crap it’s incredible!) and I managed to put it into Mechwarrior 5 as a static model without animations. So, then I realized that it was possible to get that gorgeous ‘Mech into Mechwarrior 5, I just knew at that point I simply had to learn how to get this damn ‘Mech into the game even if I had no idea how modeling or texturing or animating worked! When time opened up for me again, I took a crack at all the tutorials that other people had made for the community (shoutout to Zombeh and GentlePayload) and then a bunch of super nice and helpful people helped out on Discord whenever I had a question (huge thanks to Offai, Rumia, MagnumGB, 42and19, Bear, Ayakos, Vishante, Czsolee, Glaive, KodiakJ, LT-47, and Perpetrator). UE4 and PGI’s assets are luckily somewhat straightforward so it was not super frustrating to pick up on.

So, after doing this for around two years or so, I’ve made around 40 mods for MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, of which 29 are (classic) ‘Mechs. The others are the MW2 Betty voice mod, the female protagonist mod, and a bunch of immersion and atmospheric mods that remove some of the more ‘gamey’ elements and lessen vehicle fodder. In the meantime, Alan Yeoh has been so incredibly nice and generous that he also has utilized his very, very, very talented and professional skillsets and made these absolutely mindblowing models and texturing of classic ‘Mechs available to me to mod in. Since we started talking together back in 2021 where he was so kind to not only allow the modification of his models, but also help me out with the process, he’s sent over the Mad Dog he did, the Summoner, and then last year, the mad lad went ahead and modeled and textured the classic Hellbringer according to the Chris Lewis artwork as well as the classic Raven seen in the MechCommander intro. 

If you take a look at his creative process, he is really serious and talented when engaging with these models and texturing. I still hope one day that PGI or someone else will contract him or buy his models to implement them into whatever BattleTech video game there is because they are simply top-tier. As fans, we are so privileged to have Alan do the work that he does and share it with the community. I also managed to get Pawel Czarnecki’s 3D models from the early 2000s into the game that originally were used as these gorgeous CGI renders that kept us fans warm during the twilight years of MechWarrior, but now those models work gorgeously as in-game models in MechWarrior 5. Another top-tier artist I worked with has been Michael Long aka VertexNormal who used to do some super impressive renders in the 2000s and has since created some gorgeous-looking classic ‘Mechs. He made the classic Nova and sent over some truly incredible paint jobs to go along with it. I hope to work with Michael again when or if the opportunity arrives, his talent is out of this world.  

Technically, I don’t do the actual modeling, but instead, I find a model that looks pretty good, and then I ask the creator or artist behind it if they are okay with me taking the model and putting it into Mechwarrior 5 with full attribution and linking to whatever portfolio site or Patreon or Paypal donation site they might have. I then take the model into Maya and chop it up according to each body part. I then find a suitable animation skeleton from MechWarrior 5 (e.g. the Raven animation rig for the Classic Raven) and try to rig the properly scaled static ‘Mech model to that skeleton. Sometimes it isn’t perfect with the animations, but it works most of the time. I then use Substance Painter to texture the model according to MechWarrior 5’s colorable camo patterns and metal texture material, including the wear, grime, and dirt texturing that MechWarrior 5 automatically applies, plus all the extra decals that I’m adding to each ‘Mech. I then use Photoshop to make unique paper dolls for the ‘Mech. Then I move into the UE4 Editor, where I have to set up the variant loadout, the MDA file, hardpoints, weapon placement and animations, hitboxes, targeting, unit spawn cards, damage model, jumpjet bones, and cockpit. 

I’ve optimized the process now to reduce the time spent. Where previously it could take up one or two months for one ‘Mech, now I can crank out two ‘Mechs every three to four weeks. I used to do showcase videos for each ‘Mech, but after getting a second kid, time is really short, and it doesn’t seem like that many people are watching those videos anyway.  Last year I set up a Patreon and that has really helped with motivation and investment, where a bunch of super cool and amazing people are chipping in every month (special shoutout to ForgottenChaos!) to help motivate me to continue doing the modding.

Catapult Classic mod for Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - Dead Eye Tribute
Watch this video on YouTube.

I should also note that I’m not doing the classic ‘Mech designs as if I do not like the modern redesigns by PGI and CGL. That is not the case at all. I love both the old and new designs, they’re like my children, I love them equally in their own special way! PGI’s ‘Mechs are awesome and great. I’m only doing the classic ‘Mechs because 1) I figured we would get the other PGI ‘Mechs in a Clans sequel and I would rather spend my time on something unique or distinct that won’t get added in later in a much better manner anyway, and 2) Alan Yeoh’s classic ‘Mechs are just that gorgeous (and so are all the other artists of course) that they are simply screaming to be put into the game, and 3) it’s nice to commemorate the stuff that came before and it has its own special flavor. 

(Sidenote: I don’t like that the modern redesigns by both PGI and CGL have prompted some fans to disavow the old-school designs as if the classic designs were always poor or bad when they’re just different and evoke a different aesthetic era and context.)

Sean: You’ve also remade MechWarrior 2 (at least partially) in MechWarrior 5. What made you want to embark on this remake project?

“I’m just a huge psycho fan of MechWarrior 2 and I wanted to see if it was possible to recreate it in MechWarrior 5 using my own mods, the game assets, and the mission scripting tools.”

Emil: Well, I’m just a huge psycho fan of MechWarrior 2 and I wanted to see if it was possible to recreate it in MechWarrior 5 using my own mods, the game assets, and the mission scripting tools. I took it on as a challenge because I’ve only made ‘Mechs, sound and visuals mods, and immersion mods for MechWarrior 5. Thad Jantzi at PGI has been so incredible as to provide some pretty great mission scripting guides with both video tutorials and PDF guides to help you through the process, so the process was relatively painless when I was following Thad’s instructions and guidance. So, I released the mission Pyre Light first, because it is one of my favorite missions (due to the atmosphere and music) but also to see how many people would be interested and in support of such a long endeavor. 

The response has been somewhat muted and not a lot of people in the usual BattleTech chatter have talked about the remake demo that I released, so maybe it’s less of a desirable thing in the community? It’s been hard to gauge. I haven’t seen any of the usual YouTubers and streamers talk about it, so I dunno.

Come to think of it, I have found it weird that not many in the BattleTech/MechWarrior community have picked up on the mission modding tools. You can easily make your own missions and campaigns via the tools without any programming experience. I do not know visual programming or anything, yet I managed to make Pyre Light from Mechwarrior 2. I could easily imagine plenty of BattleTech/MechWarrior fans going together to make missions based on sourcebooks or scenario campaigns. It’s been surprising to see it not happening. I hope people take this as encouragement and not admonishment!

The same applies to machinima and MechWarrior 5. BattleTech and MechWarrior fans regularly ask, “When will we get a BattleTech TV show or movie?” (I’ve repeatedly seen that question since I connected to the Internet in 1997 and discovered a BattleTech community). In MechWarrior 5, you have built-in cinematic tools that easily allow amateurs to capture great cinematic shots and clips featuring those pretty ‘Mechs and explosions and destruction. With all the assets and graphics of MechWarrior 5 at hand, BattleTech and MechWarrior fans could make their own machinima with some voice-over and some gameplay footage, where the tools lend themselves to creating some cool montages. I’m surprised this hasn’t occurred either and it feels like it has so much undiscovered potential. Not everything has to be at the insanely high quality of Hired Steel, you know!  

Sean: What can we expect from your next MechWarrior 5 modding project?

Emil: In the very near term, somehow that which should not be seen has returned.

Warhammer Emil MW5 Mod

In the long term, I really, really want to devote more time to making a fan remake of MechWarrior 2, and if the pipeline gets optimized, then also Ghost Bear’s Legacy. And I definitely will do the project in due time, but it will take years at the current rate, simply due to having my busy day job and a family with two kids. Once the modding tools for MechWarrior 5: Clans are released sometime in 2025, and if it allows mission modding the same way that Mercenaries do, then I will see what’s possible, but it will take time.

But I’d love it if there was some ultra-rich BattleTech fan out there who could throw me $60,000 for one year of work and I could pause my job and instead devote myself full-time to producing that MechWarrior 2 remake. Because right now it’s those evenings and nights where the kids are asleep and I’m not too stressed out from work. One mission is probably one-to-two months of work with all the assets, scripting, and testing that needs to be set up. And I haven’t even had time to play Dragon’s Gambit or Solaris Showdown yet because all my free time is spent on modding!! So yeah, I would love to devote myself full-time to the MechWarrior 2 remake if someone(s) could help out.

For the MechWarrior 2 remake, I envision four different versions: Musically, one with the soundtrack by Jeehun Hwang, and the other with Timothy Seals’ renditions. ‘Mech-design wise, one with the gorgeous PGI-designed ‘Mechs from MechWarrior Online and MechWarrior 5, and the other with the classic Steve Venters designs (made by Alan Yeoh, Michael Long, FarSeer Animations, and others) that I’ve already been modding.

But yeah, time is an issue and if there’s someone rich out there, get in touch if you want a MechWarrior 2 remake!

Sean: Anything else you’d like to discuss? I’m open to anything :)

“If we compare today to the twilight decade of the 2000s, we start to realize how unbelievable what we have gotten. BattleTech is now at Barnes & Noble and Target!”

Emil: As a fan in my late 30s, I really want to stress how much of a golden age we fans are in right now and how much we should appreciate it. Whether it’s new fans or old fans, I just want to emphasize what an amazing time it is to be into BattleTech/MechWarrior. The product coming out in terms of fiction, minis, sourcebooks, TROs, merchandise, artwork, and so on—it’s unbelievable. Video games-wise, I still feel like I’m in a dream. The fact that we got a single-player MechWarrior without any publisher backing the initial release, and then six DLCs and over four years of post-launch support is incredible. You have no idea how great of a thing we have gotten thanks to PGI. I mean, playing MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries with the VR mod is absolutely bonkers, are you kidding me?

I lived through what I call the twilight years in the early to late 2000s. Let me tell you, it was not a good time. Microsoft had killed off MechWarrior. MechAssault was the only thing and even that didn’t get a proper third entry. FASA had shut down, the license was split between Microsoft and Wizkids, and the universe had been nuked and rebooted into the Dark Ages (figuratively and literally lol), and then Topps came in later and took over part of the IP with Catalyst having to salvage and do the bidding of the new owners. Video game-wise, it seemed like the darkness was eternal. Microsoft didn’t want to do anything with the IP. It was depressing to go on forums like Dropshipcommand or MekTek. Then in the late 2000s when Smith & Tinker and PGI tried to get something off the ground with MechWarrior :3015, which didn’t pan out either until PGI rescoped and got Mechwarrior Online off the ground in 2012.

If we compare today to the twilight decade of the 2000s, we start to realize how unbelievable what we have gotten. BattleTech is now at Barnes & Noble and Target! We are getting the first Clans-focused video game in almost 30 years! Duncan Fisher just came back! The amazing people at Catalyst and PGI are really going above and beyond for us (now if only Paradox had allowed Harebrained to continue with their BATTLETECH 2 proposal and their existing pipeline instead of banking on an unproven IP that then made Paradox gut the majority of the studio, we would be in pure bliss).

More positively, if we take PGI & Russ Bullock and that whole crew, I feel incredibly grateful for what they have accomplished in their decade of stewardship. From resurrecting the IP from Microsoft’s catacombs; to redesigning and reimagining the aesthetic design of the ‘Mechs, to sharing their assets with Harebrained Schemes to help make it possible to make BATTLETECH 2018; to hosting all those Mech_Cons; to singlehandedly and without a publisher bring the first singleplayer MechWarrior game to market 17 years after the last one, to bring the Unseen back from the void and taking Harmony Gold by the horns and winning everything for Catalyst, Harebrained, and themselves; to providing more than four years of post-launch support and six (or seven?) worthwhile DLCs and modding tools to MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries; to bet tens of millions of dollars on MechWarrior 5: Clans that will focus on the Clans’ perspective for the first time in almost 30 years; the dream just never seems to end and I feel like someone needs to pinch me. I cannot thank the people there enough.

So, I’d recommend taking a deep breath and breathing in all the amazing BattleTech and MechWarrior we have now and cherishing the moment. All in all, I really, truly appreciate being able to experience this period that we are in. It’s simply an amazing time to be a BattleTech and MechWarrior fan thanks to the creators (past and present) involved!

And If anyone ever wants to have me on a podcast to talk about the video games, hit me up, I can talk for hours.

Thanks to Emil for agreeing to talk with me and share his love of BattleTech

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

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