So there’s a question out there that I’m sure has been bandied around the upper echelons of Catalyst Game Labs more than once: does BattleTech have a Pokémon problem?
It’s an honest question, and one I’m probably going to have to explain before I dive into the weeds. BattleTech is obviously not competing with Pokémon in any way–I can’t imagine there’s much overlap between Pokémon and BattleTech fans (although feel free to prove me wrong). I refer to the “Pokémon problem” to point out how BattleTech and Pokémon are two game universes with a very similar issue and one that gets to the core of what each franchise is even about.
Late last year, Pokémon fans were in an uproar when they found out that the latest video game installment wouldn’t feature the full list of nearly 900 Pokémon. Instead, Nintendo decided to pare back the list to 400 individual monsters, citing issues with maintaining game balance when there’s close to 900 separate Pokémon to keep track of.
Simply put, there are just too many Pokémon for a franchise to keep adding more and more with every new game. Eventually, you’d have a game with thousands or even tens of thousands of Pokémon, making it impossible for anyone–even the game’s designers–to properly keep track of them.
While there’s certainly an argument to be made on the player’s side that having thousands of options would keep every game fresh thanks to the abundant variety of Pokémon to choose from, the logistical challenges of an ever-expanding roster are undeniable. A game just can’t keep getting bigger and bigger forever without something, somewhere, breaking.
The number of Pokémon weighing down the franchise had become a problem. The solution was to cull some, relegating them to past games where they would stay until future games decided to bring them out of retirement for another romp.
Now let’s talk about BattleTech. There are currently just over 650 ‘Mechs, according to my quick addition on Sarna’s BattleMech portal, although that number might be a bit low as I’m basically eyeballing each tonnage category. When you add in Aerospace fighters, DropShip classes, types of Battle Armor, tanks, VTOLs, WarShips, and everything else that makes up BattleTech, you get a number so high I’m not even going to bother to try and calculating it because I don’t get paid by the hour.
But we’re going to keep our discussion limited to ‘Mechs. So, just like Pokémon had too many Pokémon, does BattleTech have too many BattleMechs?
Too Many ‘Mechs. Maybe.
I’m going to say right off the bat that I don’t have the answer to this question. I think it’ll be a different answer for different people, but it’s definitely something worth considering as BattleTech continues into the future.
One of the problems that has always existed in BattleTech is the desire for new content, and for the tabletop game, that means new maps, new stories, and new TROs filled with new ‘Mechs. If a TRO came out and it didn’t have a new ‘Mech or a new variant, it just wouldn’t be a TRO, and crucially, it probably wouldn’t sell. So from Catalyst’s perspective, you can probably never have too many ‘Mechs since you can never sell too many TROs.
Or can you? Just like with Pokémon, each new ‘Mech has to be tracked. Luckily, we have Sarna here to continue expanding the BattleMech portal, so keeping track of all these new machines isn’t a problem. Likewise, tracking for the sake of balance isn’t a problem in BattleTech because the game isn’t designed to be balanced, it’s designed to simulate warfare, and warfare is rarely fair.
Now, if all those 650+ ‘Mechs were to ever arrive in a video game, it would be a different story. The rules of a tabletop game keep things from getting out of hand, but the multitude of factors that go into creating a ‘Mech in a game like MechWarrior must be balanced for the sake of multiplayer. If one ‘Mech can simply have more weapons, armor, and speed than any other, everyone would just use that ‘Mech.
Here, the tabletop rules again largely save MechWarrior the trouble of balance, but that doesn’t mean everything is fair. Just look at MechWarrior Online to see the trouble that an ever-expanding roster of ‘Mechs can cause in a multiplayer game. In MWO’s case, there are definite tiers that have emerged as certain ‘Mechs prove to be superior to others due to quirks, movement profiles, and just overall shape and size.
Even MechWarrior Online doesn’t have 650+ ‘Mechs in it though. In fact, most MechWarrior games throughout history have handled the Pokémon problem by limiting the era in which the game takes place. MechWarrior games that take place before the 3050s, such as MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries and MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, have largely overlapping rosters where certain ‘Mechs reappear again and again (I’m looking at you, Centurion). Whenever the Clans appear, ‘Mechs like the Timber Wolf, Summoner, and Mad Dog are never forgotten by the developers.
These fan favorites tend to ensure that even as the tabletop game keeps adding ‘Mechs by the truckload, BattleTech video games tend to stick with the machines that MechWarrior fans most recognize. It’s as much about good marketing as it is about good game design.
But even still, BattleTech keeps getting new ‘Mechs from fiction, TROs, and video games (such as the Bull Shark and Corsair). I know that when I read a BattleTech book I always have Sarna open on my browser to quickly lookup a name I don’t recognize. That’s not really a problem, per se, as I always love refreshing my memory or even learning about a ‘Mech I’d never heard of until that point. I can’t help but wonder, though, if that’s the same for everyone.
So, can there be too many ‘Mechs? Does BattleTech have a Pokémon problem? And if so, what’s the solution? Let me know in the comments below.
PS: And if you find any more Pokémon X BattleTech memes, send ’em my way!
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.