BattleTech

Tagged: Game

Cardboard models-based Wargame (1984). FASA. Designed by Jordan Weisman.

One of the most commercially successful wargaming franchises ever created, BattleTech transplanted the human-piloted giant Mecha robots of Japanese Anime to a gritty far future setting of constant war. The original game is set during the thirty-first century, when hundreds of years of conflict have reduced an interstellar civilization centred on Earth to a collection of antagonistic feudal Houses which have forgotten how much of their own technology works (> Medieval Futurism). The players use teams of BattleMech robots, piloted by human MechWarriors, to fight battles between these feuding groups, each of which has a strong tribal identity. In the original version, cardboard figures are used to represent the players' BattleMechs and manoeuvred across a flat paper map; later editions replace the cardboard miniatures with plastic ones. BattleTech is easy to play, and the opportunity to become a pseudo-medieval knight in massive armour appealed to many prospective players, especially as the game contains extensive rules for creating custom BattleMechs. This latter element, and the suggestion that players could take their personalized Mechs and use them in successive battles in a lengthy military campaign, are both drawn from Role Playing Game design; the developers' intention was to create a Wargame which had some of the personal appeal of an RPG.

The earliest version of BattleTech was called Battledroids, but it was rapidly renamed after complaints were received from the holder of the trademark on the word "droid" (> George Lucas). Several editions of the basic rules were released by FASA after the first: the second (1985), the third (1992) and the fourth (1996). The game's Future History continued to evolve during this period; the squabbling states which occupy the "Inner Sphere" are eventually invaded by the technologically superior Clans. These are the descendants of the fallen interstellar civilization's last army, who fled known space to become a Spartan society of obsessively dedicated MechWarriors. After FASA's decision to cease commercial operations a new game was added to the core franchise by a different company: MechWarrior: Dark Age (2002 WizKids) designed by Kevin Barrett, Matt Robinson, Paul Nobles, a Collectible Miniatures Game set in the thirty-second century, after a collapse in interstellar communications has triggered another series of apocalyptic wars and religious jihads of gradually decreasing credibility. This setting is detailed in MechWarrior: Technology of Destruction (2004 WizKids). The game (renamed MechWarrior: Age of Destruction for the second edition in 2005) is based on a combined arms approach; players assemble teams of miniature figures representing infantry, vehicles and BattleMechs with which to defeat their opponents. Meanwhile, the rights to the original Wargame were sold to Catalyst Game Labs (CGL), who produced a new fifth edition of BattleTech in 2007; this version consists of an introductory set (2007 CGL) and the Total Warfare (2006), Tech Manual (2007), Tactical Operations (2008) and Strategic Operations (2008) expansions.

Several expansions were also produced for earlier editions of the game. CityTech (1986 FASA; rev 1994) designed by Jordan Weisman, L Ross Babcock III, Forest Brown adds urban combat, while Aerotech (1986 FASA) designed by Jordan Weisman, L Ross Babcock III deals with aerospace fighters. BattleSpace (1993 FASA) designed by Chris Hartford is a revised edition of AeroTech which also describes deep space operations; AeroTech 2 (2000 FASA) designed by Bryan Nystul, Chris Hartford is a further update. Other Wargames simulate different aspects of the setting: BattleTroops (1989 FASA) designed by Jordan Weisman, Sam Lewis, L Ross Babcock III is concerned with infantry, while BattleForce (1987 FASA; rev 1997; vt BattleForce 2) designed by Jordan Weisman, L Ross Babcock III, Cory Glaberson describes squad level combat between BattleMechs. On a larger scale, The Succession Wars (1987 FASA) designed by L Ross Babcock III is a strategic board and counter Wargame which deals with the wars between the interstellar Houses. MechWarrior (1986 FASA; rev 1991; rev 1999; vt Classic Battletech RPG, 2007) designed by L Ross Babcock III, Jordan Weisman, Brian Nystul, Lester Smith, Walter H Hunt, William H Keith Jr is a Role Playing Game focusing on the BattleMech pilots. A new RPG for the setting, with radically different mechanics, was released by Catalyst Game Labs in 2010 as A Time of War: The BattleTech RPG, designed by Herbert Beas, Randall N Bills.

The first BattleTech related Videogame was BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception (1988 Westwood Associates [WA], Amiga, AppleII, AtariST, DOS; 1989 C64), a blend of Computer Role Playing Game and turn-based strategy. BattleTech: The Crescent Hawks' Revenge (1989 WA, DOS) was an influential early Real Time Tactics game, with a storyline which followed on directly from that of The Crescent Hawk's Inception. MechWarrior (1989 Dynamix; 1992 SNES) was the first real time digital game in the franchise, featuring a complex story presented in the manner of a Computer Role Playing Game and the ability to pilot a BattleMech from its cockpit with a three-dimensional view. MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat (1995 Activision, DOS, Win; 1996 Mac; 1997 PS1, Saturn) is broadly similar, but is set at a later point in the BattleTech Future History than the previous game, during the invasion of the Clans. MechWarrior 2 is often considered to be the best in the series for the elegant way in which it handles BattleMech customization and the need to balance competing robot subsystems during combat, two of the features that most attracted players to the original Wargame. Further sequels are MechWarrior 3 (1999 Zipper Interactive, Win) and MechWarrior 4: Vengeance (2000 FASA, Win). Several of the MechWarrior games received expansions: MechWarrior 2: Ghost Bear's Legacy (1995 Activision, DOS, Win); MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries (1996 Activision, DOS, Win); MechWarrior 3: Pirate's Moon (1999 Zipper Interactive, Win); MechWarrior 4: Black Knight (2001 Cyberlore Studios [CS], Win); MechWarrior 4: Clan 'Mech Pak (2002 CS, Win); MechWarrior 4: Inner Sphere 'Mech Pak (2002 CS, Win) and MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries (2003 CS, Win). NetMech (1996 Activision, DOS, Mac, Win) is an add-on for MechWarrior 2 which enables competitive play over computer networks, an important feature in later iterations of the MechWarrior series, and one which was also the main focus of Multiplayer BattleTech (1992 Kesmai, DOS). This latter game was a version of the original MechWarrior designed to run on the online GEnie service (> Online Worlds). Despite receiving generally poor reviews, it proved popular enough to spawn a more successful sequel: Multiplayer BattleTech: Solaris (1996 Kesmai, DOS).

MechCommander (1998 FASA, Win) and its sequel MechCommander 2 (2001 FASA, Win) are Real Time Tactics games that allow the player to command a squad of BattleMechs through a series of missions. MechCommander; Desperate Measures (1999 FASA, Win) is an expansion pack for MechCommander which continues the storyline of the original game. Of all the various BattleTech-related Videogames, the MechCommander series is perhaps closest in spirit to the original Wargame, though the first of the two games is generally acknowledged to be unusually difficult. A number of action games have also been created for home game consoles: BattleTech (1994 Malibu Games, MegaDrive; vt MechWarrior 3050, 1995 SNES), which uses an Isometric view; MechAssault (2002 Day 1 Studios, XBox), which features fully destructible environments; its sequel MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf (2004 Day 1 Studios, XBox), which extends the original game design to allow the player to pilot vehicles other than BattleMechs, and MechAssault: Phantom War (2006 Backbone Entertainment, NDS). These works deemphasize the tactical considerations of the original game, notably the risk that BattleMechs could overheat disastrously if too many systems are used at once, in favour of nonstop giant robot action.

In recent years the BattleTech franchise has become markedly less well known, especially since the Collectible Miniatures Games were discontinued in 2008. The various Wargames, Role Playing Games and Videogames are now played largely by dedicated fans. However, it is possible that the upcoming release of MechWarrior Online, a real-time game of three-dimensional BattleMech combat set in an Online World, will restore some of BattleTech's lost popularity.

Related works: BattleTech: Solaris VII (1991 FASA) designed by Mike Nystul is a supplement for BattleTech set on the eponymous "dueling world", which adds rules for gladiatorial contests between BattleMechs. MechWarrior Solaris VII (2007 WizKids) designed by Ethan Pasternack, Kelly Bonilla, Mike Elliott is a similar expansion for MechWarrior: Age of Destruction. BattleTech: The Collectible Card Game (1996 Wizards of the Coast) designed by Richard Garfield is a Collectible Card Game focusing on combat between BattleMechs. The BattleTech Science Fiction Combat Books (1987 Nova Game Designs) designed by Alfred Leonardi, Karl Hiesterman are a set of 6 books which can be used to play a combat game between two BattleMechs, beginning with SHD-2H Shadow Hawk (1987). Each book represents one Mecha, containing images of it performing various attacks and rules for determining their results. The Classic BattleTech Miniatures Rules (2003 FanPro) describe the use of miniature figures on three-dimensional modelled terrain to play the fourth edition of the game.

The BattleTech universe has spawned a large number of spinoff novels, beginning with Decision at Thunder Rift (1986) by William H Keith Jr. More than sixty novels set in the thirty-first century followed, until a new line was begun with Ghost War (2002) by Michael Stackpole, to accompany MechWarrior: The Dark Age, describing events in the thirty-second century. Currently there are over thirty books in the Dark Age series. BattleTech: Fallout (1994-1995) is a four-issue Comics series written by Roland Mann. BattleTech (1987-1988), BattleTech in 3-D (1989) and BattleForce (1987-1988) are all Tied Comics published by Blackthorne. BattleTech: The Animated Series (1994) is a 13-episode (one season) animated television series based on the Clans' invasion. [NT]

further reading

  • Randall N Bills. BattleTech: 25 Years of Art & Fiction (Lake Stevens, Washington: Catalyst Game Labs, 2009) [nonfiction: includes a full bibliography and articles on the history of the game: hb/Franz Vohwinkel]

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