Catalyst Announces New Kickstarter To Bring Clan Invasion To New Box Sets

Timber Wolf

It looks like the new box sets Catalyst released earlier this year (technically last year, but they got a little held up) sold pretty well. So well, in fact, that not even six months later Catalyst is planning a big expansion. And there’s only one thing that could make an even bigger splash than the arrival of the new box sets.

Clan-Invasion-box-render

Is it the Clans? It’s the Clans, isn’t it? It’s totally the Clans.

Yes, the Clan Invasion is about to come to BattleTech: A Game Of Armored Combat. Only it won’t be coming in the same way the box did. Catalyst will be paying for BattleTech’s first expansion by crowdfunding it on Kickstarter, which is another first for the BattleTech board game.

As you’d expect, the Clan Invasion will add brand new Clan ‘Mech models redesigned in the same awesome way as with the original box set’s minis. According to Catalyst’s recent update, the new ‘Mechs will hold “to the spirit of their original design while embracing a modern aesthetic.”

So what do we know so far? First, there will be the core Clan Invasion expansion, which will include 5 new minis, one of which is the iconic Timber Wolf (or Mad Cat, if you’re a Spheroid). This expansion will also contain added documentation for the new Clan tech, new maps, “and more.” 

courtesy of Catalyst Games

Next will be two smaller Clan expansion packs modeled after a Clan star. The Command Star Expansion was pictured on Catalyst’s page and looks to include a Summoner (Thor), Shadow Cat, Mist Lynx (Koshi), Dire Wolf (Daishi), and Stormcrow (Ryoken). The Attack Star Expansion wasn’t pictured, but we’re told it contains a Warhawk (Masakari) and a Nova Cat, as well as three more.

That leaves a lot of Invasion-era ‘Mechs unaccounted for. Off the top of my head, there’s the Fire Moth (Dasher), Kit Fox (Uller), Nova (Black Hawk), Viper (Dragonfly), Mad Dog (Vulture), Hellbringer (Loki), Ice Ferret (Fenris), Gargoyle (Man O’ War), and Executioner (Gladiator), which conveniently would slot into the 9 Clan ‘Mechs still to be confirmed in the Clan expansion.

courtesy of Catalyst Games

As much as people will be excited for the Clans, we know they’ll be equally excited (if not more excited) to see more Unseen ‘Mechs return to BattleTech. Two Inner Sphere lances will feature lost designs, with the Command Lance shown to include the Marauder, Archer, Valkyrie, and Stinger, while the Attack Lance is said to have the Phoenix Hawk and Warhammer.

Still no sign of the Rifleman, but maybe it’ll be one of the other two chassis in the Attack Lance.

The Kickstarter starts on July 17th, and will include stretch goals for even more Inner Sphere and Clan ‘Mechs. There will also be other stuff, such as “exciting new BattleTech merchandise, the latest rulebooks, sourcebooks, boxed sets, and more!” As expected, details are scant on what will fit where, but you can expect to find out more (and likely discover the full roster of ‘Mech designs) once the Kickstarter begins next month.

For more details, check out Catalyst’s webpage here.

And as always, MechWarrior: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Let’s Talk About The MechWarrior 2 Soundtrack

Last week we got into the weeds with MechWarrior 2, but there was one topic that I didn’t get to go nearly as in-depth with as I would have liked. So I’m hitting that topic this week in its own special featurette.

I’m talkin’ about the MechWarrior 2 soundtrack.

Timberwolf

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.”

MW2 Stormcrow

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.

Firemoth

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.

MW2 FireMoth

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.

Dire Wolf

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.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Leak Suggests Microsoft Might Resurrect MechAssault At This Year’s E3

MechAssault

Microsoft might be bringing back MechAssault at 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.

MechAssault Phantom War

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.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

 

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games – MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat

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.

Arch Rivals At War

MW2 Splash Screen

MechWarrior 2 takes place during the Refusal War between Clan Jade Falcon and Clan Wolf. The player can decide to fight for either the Wolves of the Falcons, with each side’s campaign consisting of 12 missions interspersed with Trials of Position as you make your way up the Touman‘s ranks.

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

MW2 Mech Bay

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.

Hellbringer

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 Firemoth alternate configurations were modified in some way, as was the primary config Hellbringer, several Kitfox variants, the Warhawk, and the Gargoyle Alt 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.

Nova

The Timber Wolf and Dire Wolf also 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.

Accerlated Graphics MW2

I managed to avoid those special editions. By the time I got my first PC upgrade, MechWarrior 3 and MechCommander were 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.

MW2 Timberwolf

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.

Warhawk

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.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

BattleTech: Urban Warfare Confirmed For June 4th Release

BattleTech’s second expansion, Urban Warfare, arrives on June 4th.

Development of BattleTech continues 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.

Urban Warfare

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.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Let’s Talk About MechWarrior: Dark Age

 

Hi everyone. Pull up a chair, take a sit, grab a cup of hot cocoa. I want us to have a frank, honest discussion about MechWarrior: Dark Age.

Now, I know that Dark Age wasn’t particularly well received by the BattleTech faithful. There are plenty of good reasons for that–the complete sidelining of all the major houses, the inability for anybody to communicate due to the HPG blackout, and ‘Mech stats that didn’t even bother to follow the classic ‘Mech construction rules are all valid complaints. Even for me, as someone who arrived at BattleTech a little later on, thought that Dark Age represented a franchise reboot that pissed all over the original game’s charms.

I mean, who wants to field an army of modified AgroMechs and unarmored infantry? Nobody, that’s who. A glorified farmer in a chainsaw-wielding tractor with legs is nobody’s idea of a sound military strategy.

Dark Age Panther

courtesy of Troll and Toad

But I don’t want us to just spend an hour bashing Dark Age and blaming them for BattleTech’s relative obscurity in this era of increasing tabletop gaming interest (I think that has more to do with the complicated web of licenses and ownership of the original IP). There were real, genuine merits to MechWarrior: Dark Age.

First, there were the models themselves. I know plenty of people love painstakingly painting their own figures and even customizing them into miniature pieces of art, but man, I don’t have that kind of time! Being able to get a fully-painted and even slightly opposable figure straight out of the box was actually pretty cool, if I do say so myself, and they weren’t half bad! Sure, sometimes the arms fell off at the slightest provocation, but they were intricate, fully-painted models that look good for zero effort. I call that a win.

And the Clix system wasn’t half bad either. Let’s be real: BattleTech’s rules are a wee bit on the complicated side, as my 300-plus page tome of Total Warfare can attest (I had university textbooks that were smaller–just sayin’). Simplifying everything down to “damage equals clicks”, and having your ‘Mech’s or tank’s (or whatever) stats modified to represent battle damage with every click was actually a really clever way of making combat easier to keep track of.

Admittedly, using a tape-measure for movement a la Warhammer 40K made the rules slightly more complicated, but it also meant that Dark Age could be played anywhere and even household objects could be repurposed as ad hoc terrain. Empty bottle cans became buildings, moldy pizza boxes became swamps, and that bit of carpet where your dog threw-up became a toxic waste zone.

For some reason, my miniature battles were usually fought in some pretty rank areas.

Dark Age Swordsworn

via Twitter

I even appreciate the random “loot box” nature of buying most MechWarrior: Dark Age boxes. It was a lot like buying Magic: The Gathering cards, which was another pastime that I genuinely enjoyed. And even if you don’t like that aspect, the age of the internet has made purchasing specific figures in Dark Age or any other collectible game easier than ever–just go on eBay and you’ll probably find what you’re after.

Tundrawolf

via eBay

Anyways, my point is that Dark Age gets a lot of flack, and while a lot of is deserved, it’s important to understand that it wasn’t all bad. There were some truly innovative of fun aspects of Dark Age, and I kinda wish that some of those aspects could be incorporated into the original tabletop game. But no AgroMechs, please. Those were stupid.

Also, I’m selling my old Dark Age collection. It’s spring, I haven’t touched the things in years, and I suspect wherever I wind up next won’t have the storage space for me to keep these plastic bins as monuments to my childhood. So they gotta go.

Details are on the eBay listing. Yes, this is a shameless use of a pulpit for my personal benefit, but someone else should be able to get some joy from these toys so they don’t just languish in my basement. That and it’s tax season and Canadian taxes are no freakin’ joke!

And if that ultimately means my old collection gets chopped up to be used as props in someone else’s custom miniature scene because Dark Age is stupid and everybody hates it, that’s fine with me.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

The ‘Mechs That Time Forgot: Quad ‘Mechs

art by Shimmering Sword

art by Shimmering Sword

Well, they were never really forgotten–you can find Quad ‘Mechs as late as the 3140s with the introduction of Hell’s Horses QuadVees (and man, are those ‘Mechs ever a trip!). But Quad ‘Mechs, even though they certainly exist and a few of them are even fairly notable, are pretty easily forgotten. Why is that?

Maybe it’s because Quad ‘Mechs sort of ruin the whole image of a MechWarrior. ‘Mechs are often seen as these avatars of their pilots but made of metal and myomer, armed with more weapons than a battalion in today’s army and capable of leveling a city block with a single press of the trigger. It’s kinda hard to personify the person within if the thing on the outside is this four-legged beast.

For that reason, Quad ‘Mechs remain fairly rare in comparison to their two-legged counterparts, but there are also in-universe reasons why Quad ‘Mechs aren’t seen more often. Being rare and strange meant that technicians often didn’t know how to work on them, and it also meant spare parts were harder to come by. It’s easy to get a spare arm for a Centurion, but a spare leg for a Jaguar is a little harder to come by. You’d need a direct connection to the factory where the ‘Mech is built, which meant that Quad ‘Mechs often saw service only in the highest echelons of any military.

There were also unpopular with pilots for being… y’know, weird. You didn’t have a torso to twist, and not all Quads had turrets to make up for it. Having no arms or hands meant you couldn’t really interact with your environment in any way other than stomping the heck out of it, and on top of that, no arms meant no arm-mounted weapons, which seriously hampered a Quad ‘Mech’s firepower.

On top of that, everything on a Quad is essential. Sure, if you lose a leg you’re not nearly as useless as a two-legged ‘Mech, but losing an arm still allowed most ‘Mechs to run away to safety. Losing a leg seriously hampered a Quad ‘Mech’s mobility, making them unable to escape should a firefight turn bad for the home team.

That’s not to say that Quad ‘Mechs weren’t without advantages. Unlike other ‘Mechs, Quads could dance side to side in a sort of crab walk (even if the design was more canine than crabby) and they were very stable firing platforms (noted by their -2 piloting skill bonus when all legs are fully-functional). Quads are also shorter than most ‘Mechs, allowing them to gain concealment from terrain that would leave other ‘Mechs partially exposed.

Still, Quad ‘Mechs are rare in fiction and in real life. Just two Quad ‘Mechs have ever appeared in any BattleTech video games–the Scorpion in MechWarrior, and the Tarantula in MechWarrior 2–while the rest are rarely mentioned in novels.

Which is why I felt it was necessary to give these big four-legged brutes the proper tribute that they deserve. Let’s hit a few of the more well-known Quads and then you can inundate me with your favorite–and weirdest–Quad ‘Mech designs.

SCP-1N Scorpion

I admit, I have a soft spot for this ‘Mech. Not because I ever got to use it or anything (as I mentioned, Quads are notoriously absent from any BattleTech video games)–I just like the look of the thing. Kind of like if a modern APC sprouted dainty legs and tried to walk away from its problems.

I also like the design. A PPC and an SRM-6 is nothing to sneeze at (at least in the 3020s), and the Scorpion’s speed and sufficient armor meant that it could serve in a variety of combat roles. Things got even better after the Reseen designs emerged in 3067, although the SCP-12S version gets rid of the PPC for an LBX-10 in a move that makes it entirely ammo dependent.

Give me the SCP-10M with its Heavy PPC and vertically-firing LRM-10. Yes, it looks like it belongs more in anime than BattleTech, but dammit, it looks good.

GOL-1H Goliath

Now, if you wanna talk about ‘Mechs as walking tanks, it doesn’t get any closer than the Goliath. This thing is, quite literally, a tank that has sprouted legs. On the plus side, that turret means that you can shoot in any direction. On the downside, you look like a militarized giraffe that was recently decapitated.

The Goliath isn’t bad, as far as Succession Wars-era 80-ton assault ‘Mechs go. A running speed of 64 kph and an armament of two LRM-10s and a PPC puts it in line with most other 80-ton ‘Mecsh of the era. It even saw some prominence in fiction thanks to a brief appearance in Warrior: Riposte.

But man, does this thing look just freakin’ goofy.

The Reseen design improved things somewhat, giving it a more “beast of burden” look than a tank with delusions of quadrupedia (which is technically an Italian word I’m repurposing because it sounds cool). I do like the GOL-5D variant, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for a Rotary Autocannon.

ZPH-1 Tarantula

When I saw the Tarantula for the first time in MechWarrior 2, I thought, “Cool, a four-legged ‘Mech!” Then it died to a random PPC blast and I thought this thing was a fragile piece of !@$%.

And indeed, it is.

The Tarantula is a scout ‘Mech. It gives the Spider a run for its money with 8 Jump Jets, a running speed of nearly 130 kph, and an armament of 2 Medium Lasers and a Streak SRM-2. It also has ton more armor than the Spider as well. So why is the Spider so much more popular than the Tarantula when this thing actually looks like an arachnid?

Probably because the Tarantula looks freakin’ creepy. I wouldn’t want to pilot one, even if it is an extremely good scout ‘Mech.

BGS-1T Barghest

Now we’re heading into the Quad ‘Mechs that can really sow some discord. The Barghest might have four legs and all of its weapons in the torso, but those weapons are fierce. A pair of ER Large Lasers backed up by an LBX-20 is enough to give any ‘Mech a rough day.

Besides that, the Barghest was also one of the first Quad ‘Mech designs to look truly mean. It has the posture of an angry canine: hunched and ready to pounce. Plus, the design evolved in the absolute best direction, mounting Heavy Gauss Rifles, Ultra AC/20s, ER PPCs, and eventually Light PPCs and MMLs.

It’s just a shame the Lyrans didn’t make more of them.

TFT-A9 Thunder Fox

I have a confession to make: I actually really liked MechWarrior: Dark Age. Not the fiction, mind you–the whole HPG blackout and all these random factions made it weird. No, I liked the ‘Mechs, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Okay, I’m a little ashamed.

But the Thunder Fox is super cool. It’s a warhorse ‘Mech aimed straight for my heart. It’s cheap, it’s well armed, and it’s well armored. You can make an army of these bad boys and take down anyone in the Inner Sphere and still have C-Bills to spare.

Admittedly, the art and overall design make the Thunder Fox look a lot swifter than it actually is. Top speed is 64 clicks (which is not exactly stellar for a 55 ton ‘Mech) with a trio of Jump Jets to turn it around if it finds itself pointed in the wrong direction. It only has a ton of ammo for its Light Gauss Rifle and Streak SRM-4, so it’s not exactly equipped for prolonged engagements.

But you gotta admit, the Thunder Fox looks freakin’ cool. If I had to pilot a Quad, this would be the Quad for me.

So what’s your favorite Quad ‘Mech? Let us knew in the comments!

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Catalyst Releases New Map Pack, New Fiction From Michael Stackpole In March Update

Catalyst Releases New Map Pack, New Fiction From Michael Stackpole In March Update

Catalyst has announced more new products to continue BattleTech’s 35th-anniversary celebrations.

Hello again, ‘Mech fans! We’re back with another update from Catalyst Games as they’ve announced new products to add to the successful release of the latest box sets, starting with the previously mentioned new map packs.

The first new map pack is simple called “Grasslands”, and as the name implies, it’s all about fighting on generally flat, grassy plains. Not a whole lot of difficult terrain, forests, or water to get in the way of a good slugfest here. Just a good, old fashioned, stand-up shootout.

Grasslands comes on 6, double-sided, 17″ x 22″ paper sheets, which means there’s actually 12 maps total. Each map can be flipped and swapped to either side and then lined up to make whatever grassy battlefield you desire. All maps feature the new art aesthetic that’s showcased in the new box sets, and 10 of those maps are brand new, never-before-seen designs.

You can pick up Grasslands for $29.99 on the Catalyst store, or wait until April 17th for them to arrive at your local games retailer.

Next up is an even more exciting map pack called BattleMaps. These are 4, larger, neoprene maps that come in 4 different flavors: Desert, Lunar, Alpine, and Savannah. But wait, that’s not all! On the other side of these maps are the Grasslands maps, so you get to double your battlefield possibilities.

Each BattleMap is 36″ x 22″ and is only available on the Catalyst web store. Each one sells for $29.99, but you pay for durability on these bad boys.

Along with new maps comes new fiction. Everyone’s favorite Michael Stackpole is back with a trilogy of new short stories that describe the Kell Hounds’ founding an early years as Morgan and Patrick Kell fought tooth and nail to create their own mercenary company.

The first book is entitled Way the Smart Money Bets and is available now, while A Tiny Spot of Rebellion arrives March 22nd. A Clever Bit of Fiction concludes the trilogy on March 27th. Each is available for $3.99 wherever good e-books are sold. Sorry, no paper release is yet planned for this trilogy.

We’ll conclude this bit of BattleTech consumerism with a bit of an update on the Beginner Box Set, which is back in stock online and in store. The reprinted Total Warfare manual is now out of stock, but a reprint is underway, while the reprinted TechManual is currently available online but not quite yet available in print–but Catalyst expects to have it available soon.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Did You Know? – Retro BattleTech Games – MechWarrior 2: The Clans

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.

Adder

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.

Mech Bay

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.

And as always MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

Catalyst Games Releases Succession Wars Record Sheets And Reprinted BattleTech Manual To Get Everyone Up To Date

UPDATE: Whoops! Looks like I screwed up: it’s the Record Sheets portion that’s new, not the Technical Readout itself. Either way, go get it!

Catalyst Game Labs have announced a new compilation technical readout volume as well as a new version of the all-important BattleTech Manual.

With the new box sets finally having made it to stores, it’s time for us to look towards expanding the new players’ repertoire. While the latest full version of the game, ‘BattleTech: A Game Of Armored Combat, came with the new BattleTech Manual, it didn’t come with an exhaustive list of every ‘Mech featured during the Succession Wars Era of BattleTech.

So Catalyst made a new tech readout with all of them in it. Simple problem, simple solution.

Succession Wars is a compilation volume combining ‘Mechs seen in Record Sheets: 3039 Unabridged, Record Sheets: 3050 Upgrade Unabridged-Clan & Star League, Record Sheets: 3058 Unabridged, and Record Sheets: 3075 Unabridged. I’m assuming only the ‘Mechs seen before the Clan Invasion are featured, otherwise it would be odd to call the new TR “Succession Wars”.

Catalyst describes Succession Wars as “the perfect ‘first Technical Readout’ companion to the BattleMech Manual. Combining the ’Mechs previously found in Technical Readout: 3039, Technical Readout: 3050 Upgrade, Technical Readout: 3058 Upgrade, and Technical Readout: 3075, this volume features some of the most common ’Mechs from the Age of War to the Succession Wars.”

And it’s got some sweet cover art. Love me a Dragon, Jenner, and Panther Kurita lance.

Succession Wars is $9.99 in PDF format, $39.99 in print, and $44.99 together. Meanwhile, the Record Sheets only is $9.99 with 290 sheets total.

Catalyst has also made the latest version of the official BattleTech Manual available for purchase as well at the same prices as Succession Wars. It has all the latest updates and errata already included, and another spiffy new cover art that would look sweet on anyone’s bookshelf.

I mean, who can say no to that Marauder? Anyone? I didn’t think so.

Get ‘em both today at Catalyst’s store.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy