Battletech Memories and Favorites

AtlasThe Battletech Kickstarter is doing very well, so it seems a good time to discuss the nostalgia consuming my psyche. I admire how Harebrained Schemes has been stirring fan conversations, either to gather metrics for game design (preferred mechs, ideas for mission designs) or just to generate PR buzz or maybe just for fun. But it’s effective and has gotten fans stoked.

I guess the best way to kick off is by telling a secret. Battletech played a major role in inspiring me to become a writer.

I’m serious. My first introduction to the Battletech Universe was through Mechwarrior 2. I procured the game on a whim, after having scored a fine report card and earning a reward from my parents.

While browsing PC games, a tough decision was laid before me. I very nearly took home a copy of Crusader: No Remorse. In the end, the classic mech sim won out. That very night I installed and played through a training mission. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to walk. However, I discovered that by shifting left and right, I inched forward just a little bit.

You read that correctly. I penguin walked my mech to my very first objective.

Two minutes of studying the instruction manual later I discovered this nifty thing called “throttle.” Before I knew it, my Firemoth was rushing from Alpha to Bravo, actually completing the laundry list of goals to accomplish. Everything after that was smooth sailing.

Until I accidentally fired a potshot at my training commander.

One violent death later and I was hooked. The game had no play timer that I knew about, but hundreds of hours of my childhood were invested playing and replaying trial missions and beating both campaigns inside and out.

Decision at Thunder RiftAs I progressed, I spent some time trying to understand the greater conflict between Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon and the universe as a whole. Later, while at the local bookstore, I noticed a connection between Mechwarrior and Battletech. That’s when I received my first Battletech novel, Decision at Thunder Rift.

For the audience members who haven’t read it, the book revolves around young Grayson Death Carlyle, son of the leader of Carlyle’s Commandos. While stationed on the desert planet of Trellwan, a bandit ambush cost Grayson his father, his unit and his inheritance.

Grayson survives, but is left stranded on a planet that has become hostile. However, after jumping into a battle between the bandits and the local militia, Grayson manages to turn his luck around and convince Trellwan’s government to set up their own Battlemech lance. Yet before he can finish off the bandits, Grayson is plunged into a greater political plot that threatens his home nation.

As a thirteen year old kid, this novel blew my mind. William H. Keith Jr did an amazing job of grabbing the reader’s attention regardless of their age and throwing them into the adventures, political intrigue and battles of the 31st century.

And as if it wasn’t awesome enough, the sequel Mercenary’s Star was even better. The kind of perfect guerrilla war story that was rife with conflict, challenges and betrayals. These tales helped set me down the path of trying to polish my writing craft on online message boards. Sometimes I produced fan fiction, and sometimes it was original pieces. Mechwarrior was a ton of fun, but it was Keith’s awesome novels that made me want to become a scribe in my own right. 

Back to the games themselves. Not long after Mechwarrior 2 came the Ghost Bear’s Legacy expansion, followed by my absolute favorite entry of the entire franchise, Mechwarrior Mercenaries. It was in this title that I developed a preference for medium battlemechs. They possess very good speed, can absorb some punishment and usually provide just enough firepower to legitimately threaten far-end heavies and assault mechs.

And as Mercenaries taught me, they’re a good price. Everything I thought I learned about being a Mechwarrior was turned upon its head once I learned to manage the flow of C-Bills. Before, the only punishment for using missiles and ballistic weapons was simply a little less ammunition with which to complete that mission. But the addition of financial considerations make me consider the price of every shot and every expenditure. And rewarded me with savings for preferring energy weapons.

For that reason, I have to give two mechs which I consider my favorites.

CenturionThe first is the Crab. I first piloted this mech during a campaign between rebel forces and House Kurita during Mechwarrior Mercenaries. The Crab’s exclusive focus on energy weapons, including two useful large lasers, helped me to outlast the competition and saved money in the long run. For the attrition-minded, you just can’t beat the value of a Crab piloted by a skilled mechwarrior.

The second must be the classic Centurion. Sure, I could easily list the Shadow Hawk, Wolverine or Griffin, all respected for their well-rounded designs. But while the trio were jack-of-all-trade types, the Centurion knew its role; peppering foes from afar and preferring to outgun over outrun the competition. When paired with other mechs, it did a great job at fire support. On its own, a strong raider.

The further along the Kickstarter gets, the more convinced I am that it’s the game I didn’t even know I wanted until now. All the elements of Mechwarrior Mercenaries with the tactical considerations of Mech Commander. A persistent lance, missions throughout the entire Inner Sphere and hopefully multiplayer arena battles, all set in the era of classic Battletech. 2017 never seemed so far away.

Battletech KickStarter

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During my teenage years I was a considerable fan of the Battletech universe. To this day, I still have several books including technical readouts and novels by Michael A. Stackpole, William H. Keith Jr and Robert Thurston, as well as a small collection of the tabletop miniatures. If I dig, I might even find several hard copies of the MechWarrior game series.

So when I heard the news about Harebrained Schemes putting together a new KickStarter for a fresh Battletech title, I wanted to take some time to dissect the news. Truth be, this seems to be a situation where KickStarter is the absolute safest approach to gauging consumer interest. More on this in a moment.

For newcomers, Battletech is a war game that puts players on the 31st century battlefield, filled with walking tanks known as Battlemechs. The background goes that a star-settled humanity was united by the Star League, and held together by five Great Houses in the territory around Terra known as the “Inner Sphere.” When the ruling Star Lord (not Peter Quill) and his family were assassinated, the Star League army slew his usurper and disappeared into the unexplored Periphery territories. Left with their private armies, the five Great Houses each declared themselves the new Star Lord and sought to claim the Inner Sphere as their own.

techreadoutThis began a series of conflicts known as the Succession Wars. Several centuries later, the first couple of wars have knocked humanity down a peg or two and have truly desensitized our species to the violence.

Liberal use of nuclear weapons and heavy targeting of science and production centers has sent our technology backwards. As a result, several technology preserved agreements even as the battles and raids continue.

Eventually the Star League army returns, reformed as the Clans. A more technologically advanced and warrior-derived society, they move to seize control of the Inner Sphere. This results in a massive, fragile alliance between the Houses, the effects of which change the political landscape forever.

In the games, players join a side and engage in a variety of machines such as assassinations, protecting or invading territory, scouting or escaping. Depending on the nature of the title, players can pilot the machines themselves simulator style, command lances or companies and/or order them about much like a real time strategy game with very limited resources. The titles with the “mercenaries” suffix also feature a great deal of economic management, giving incentive to avoid damage and minimize ammunition expenditures to keep the C-bill revenues in the black.

Originally created and owned by FASA Corporation, Battletech has faced hardships from its very conception. The earliest fourteen designs were heavily based off of several anime series, and the legal rights came under challenge from Harmony Gold. These now “unseen” designs are gone, but in their place are hundreds of new, original mech designs.

The problems didn’t end there though. FASA Corporation closed its doors in 2001, and the rights to various projects shuffled about for sometime. The franchise was acquired by WizKids, and then by Topps only three years later. The video games have gone through several publishers, including MicroProse and Microsoft. Recently two new games were released, the free-to-play MechWarrior Online from Piranha Games and MechWarrior Tactics whose publisher has filed for bankruptcy.

successionwarsFor better or worse, Battletech separates itself from many similar board top properties with its detailed history, that has been expanded upon for more than two decades. This on-going history can be an impressive barrier-to-entry for potential new fans. While Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 thrive in a universe of ignorance, doubt, deniability and massiveness, no historic event happens in Battletech that isn’t somehow recorded and important.

Clans and factions too have been and will be destroyed, such as the enigmatic Clan Wolverine who may have become the Minnesota Tribe, and Clan Smoke Jaguar who was the victim of the massive The Twilight of the Clans book series. Major political figures have been born, raised and die, though the reasons range from battles and assassinations to old fashioned age and cancer. 

My faith in the series has long died away since my favorite authors have moved on and the ever changing hands weakened the brand. But if there’s anyone out there who can get it right, it’s going to be series creator Jordon Weisman. After his company’s incredible work with the Shadowrun franchise, his name alone justifies tossing a few dollars into the hat.

Look for the Battletech Kickstarter this fall.

MechWarrior Resurgence

Sometimes, a game series or universe just tries and tries and fails. Maybe it just fell into the hands of the wrong developers. Maybe there’s franchise fatigue. Who knows. But that’s what happened to the MechWarrior series years back. And we stopped getting new games for it.

But now there’s not just one, but two MechWarrior games on the horizon. MechWarrior Online and MechWarrior Tactics. Both these games will be free to play, the first being a combat simulator and the second being a tactical strategy game. After years of pretending to be apathetic, I can’t help but be excited again.

MechWarrior is the video game extension of the BattleTech universe, a gaming universe I was involved with before the Black Library made me their unholy convert. Unlike Warhammer 40k, BattleTech is 100% sci-fi. Political intrigue, space travel and lots and lots of micro-wars.

The story goes that mankind achieved some unified government called the Star League, that pushed for an age of peace. When Stefan Amaris befriended and betrayed the heir to the Star League throne, he set a chain of events that shattered the league into five warring houses, collectively called the Inner Sphere. The five great houses made use of BattleMechs, large, often-bipedal battle tanks, to wage the majority of their wars.

Meanwhile the Star League army disappeared into the periphery, the area of unknown and barely explored space surrounding the Inner Sphere. They would return later as the Clans and try to violently reform the Star League. This event has yet to occur in MechWarrior Online. Given that the Clans are superior warriors by their genetic breeding, training, significantly better technology and are honor bound to use as few resources as possible to wage war, it’s going to be a point of contention between players who want to be Clanners.

The are two reasons I fell out of the BattleTech fandom. First was that the politics started to get convoluted. The universe cannot really “stand still” like Warhammer 40k can. Change drives it. The second was that I had an argument with BattleTech author Blaine Lee Pardoe and was left sour by the incident. What can I say? I was a teenager.

Still, I’ve gotten over it. And MechWarrior Online returns the fighting to my favorite era: When it was just the Inner Sphere smashing itself during the Succession Wars. Although players will be invited to join one of the five major houses, they can also do their own thing and work as mercenaries. Scuttlebutt says that they can even form their own mercenary corporations.

The old BattleMech designs have been dusted off, detailed and streamlined. Instead of looking like boxy robot toys, they look more like genuine robots now, but they maintain their signature traits. The Atlas still sports a skull shaped head. The Jenner kinda looks like the U.S.S. Enterprise on two legs. You don’t need to even know what the original Hunchback looked like to fear that giant, over the shoulder cannon.

Although streamlined and detailed, the new designs keep the feel of the old ones intact.

Although streamlined and detailed, the new designs keep the feel of the old ones intact.

What originally made the MechWarrior games so great? A few things.

First, they were often objective based. Destroying your enemies is nice, but you often had more victory-oriented things to do. Defend this, scout that, support this, escort that and assassinate this guy. Some crazy missions focused on escaping a dangerous situation, like when that too-good-to-be-true 6 million credit contract is actually a set-up that almost gets you killed. Combine this with a variety of terrain from jungles to deserts, beneath the ocean to cities to space itself, and you have all kinds of crazy surprises waiting to be thrown at you.

The different missions helped balance out the available Mechs too. Light Mechs, 20 to 35 tons, usually don’t stand much of a chance against 100 ton Assault Mechs. But when your mission was to scout an area or escape a situation, sometimes that speed lets you pull off  objectives you couldn’t otherwise do.

Second was the game’s customizability and rewards system. You didn’t have to stick with just a Mech’s default configuration, you could customize it if there was something you didn’t like. The mercenary games from several years back took this further, offering all kinds of black market operations and trade systems that let you swap out parts and mechs. The best thing of all was the salvage system. Destroy an enemy mech and you often got first dibs on surviving parts. And if you took out just the cockpit, you could sometimes salvage the entire machine!

This system sometimes came with some intriguing downsides, which added to the uniqueness of the challenge. In MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, destroyed parts could only be replaced if you brought replacements, or returned to the mercenary planet (not always an option). If your mech was destroyed but you ejected, you can keep going if you have a replacement mech or can afford the cheapest machine. Otherwise, game over.

This means that during multi-mission campaigns, your victories could be quite Pyrrhic. You had to manage your company finances as well as win your battles. I loved that.

After MechWarrior 3, there was a loss in quality in the coming games. Some innovative attempts revived my interest, such as MechCommander. But after college I walked away from the MechWarrior culture.

That was seven years ago. And hell, their new games are free to play. I think it’s time to see if this reboot will sink or swim.

There are still things I don’t know. Is the music on par with MechWarrior 2? Will there be contracts, looting and finance management components like Mercenaries? Since I can build my own mercenary company, will the social elements be inviting? That’s an aspect that has never existed before in the MechWarrior games. Will I need to take care of my pilots?

Guess we’ll find out before the year’s up.

10 Musical Selections for Writing

Gary Moore. April 4th, 1952-February 6th, 2011.

Gary Moore. April 4th, 1952 to February 6th, 2011.

Okay, so my eye is feeling a bit better but I’m still going to hold off on the review. So instead, here are 10 more music pieces for writing. 10 more, you may ask? If you have not seen it, then allow me to direct you to the original 20 musical pieces post.

However, this post is a bit melancholy because I had just discovered that Gary Moore, a talented guitarist and singer from the UK, died of a heart attack earlier this year. Many people have not heard of the skilled musician and his amazing blues, but I had been listening to his music since before his death in February, 2011. For a lyrical taste of his work, check out Over the Hills and Far Away.

A quick note. This particular set of songs takes more from games than before. It’s easier to pick music from game sound tracks than it is from movies. The downside is that game sound tracks rarely show up on sites like Pandora.

  1. Cloud’s Theme, Final Fantasy VII Orchestral Soundtrack.
    It’s a strange theme that mixes hope with hopeless, and something on the lighter side with darker undertones. This song could work well for a overture of your piece.
  2. Doom 3 Theme, by Tweaker.
    Explosive piece that threatens something menacing until it just bursts into combative guitar and drumming, mixed with eerie vocal sound effects.
  3. Pandora’s Music Box, by Nox Arcana.
    Nox Arcana is an incredibly reliable source of subtle, creepy music sans vocals. Adding this music to any scene instantly turns it into horror material just because of its gentle yet eldritch nature.
  4. Underworld Domain, by Dargaard.
    A piece that is so pure, it was perfectly named. Unfortunately, this piece breaks the no lyrics rule, but given how well the singer blends her voice with the music, I’m making an exception.
  5. Wilderness, Diablo II OST.
    I love the Diablo series, and despite becoming slightly more cartoonish than it’s previous incarnations, I am still looking forward to Diablo III.  Here’s a piece from the second installment. Stay a while and listen!
  6. Arkham Bridge, Mechwarrior 2 OST.
    I used to be a huge, huge Mechwarrior and Battletech fan. As I got older however, I grew out of it. It wasn’t deep enough for me, just a constant mix of politics and warfare. That and I met one of the authors and wasn’t impressed with their attitude. If you don’t care for your fans, they’ll soon not care about you. Still, good music. You may also want to check out Umber Wall.
  7. Bloody Tears, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night OC Remix.
    Okay, I seriously believe that ‘Bloody Tears’ may just be the single most remixed game music of all time. There are dozens of versions, from classical pieces to piano solos, heavy metal jams to DJ dance mixes. The original piece started from the NES game Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and was updated in later titles. Here’s an acoustic guitar version, a violin version and the version from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
  8. Theology/Civilization, by Basil Poledorius.
    Straight from the original (as in, 1982) Conan the Barbarian, this ponderous piece is slow and mixes renaissance touches with classical music.  I admit that this is not one of my favorite pieces of music, but I suspect that others will enjoy this for its lighter notations. It can’t rain all the time.

    Explaining exactly what Berserk is about is... you know what? Find out yourself.

    Explaining exactly what Berserk is about is... you know what? I'm not responsible for what will happen to your sanity. Find out yourself.

  9. Murder, by Susumu Hirasawa.
    I honestly don’t watch much anime or read much manga anymore. But there is still one series I go out of my way to read, and that is Berserk by Kentaro Miura. Beautifully animated, beautifully told, I cannot stress how amazing is Berserk. This piece just keeps growing and growing in madness…
  10. The Loner, by Gary Moore.
    A non-lyrical piece by Moore, the original version of The Loner is 6 minutes long and takes a minute to warm up appropriately. However, compared to other versions, the guitar isn’t as distracting, but communicates its sorrowful melody well. To be honest, a chance to apply this to writing would be very difficult because it’s sad but also not slow. It may work well if a character is fondly recalling a person who has passed on. Rest in peace, Mr. Moore. You will be missed.