Saturday, 28 April 2018

Franchise Familiariser: BattleTech

This is the year of BattleTech. A brand-new strategy video game just came out (and is excellent), another video game is due at the end of the year and both the miniatures wargame and the roleplaying game are getting refreshed this year. There’s more interest in the franchise than there has been in maybe a decade, but what to do if you’re intrigued but have no idea what it’s all about? Time for a Franchise Familiariser course!

The second edition of BattleTech and the first to use that name, released in 1985.

The Basics
BattleTech (and its related brand, MechWarrior) – not be confused with Robotech – is a franchise that merges elements of space opera, military science fiction, fantasy and Japanese manga and anime. It was originally created as a tabletop wargame, followed by a pen-and-paper RPG, but gained its greatest exposure through video games, a lengthy series of novels and a short-run animated series which ran for half a season in 1994.

BattleTech was created by Jordan Weisman and L. Ross Babock III for FASA Corporation in 1984 as a tabletop wargame. The original idea had been to create a wargame using large, human-piloted robots known as BattleMechs or ‘mechs. Originally called BattleDroids, the game had to change its name after a few months due to a copyright claim by Lucasfilm (who claimed that they had copyrighted “droids” as part of their Star Wars franchise). A companion tabletop roleplaying game, MechWarrior, was published in 1986. The first BattleTech video games, The Crescent Hawk’s Inception and The Crescent Hawk’s Revenge, were released in 1988 and 1990 respectively.

The franchise received a significant boost in popularity, however, through the MechWarrior video game series. The original MechWarrior (1989) was well-received but it was MechWarrior 2 (1995) that took the series to new heights. Released at exactly the right moment to capitalise on 3D graphics cards and more powerful PCs, the game was a huge success. It was followed by MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries (1996), MechWarrior 3 (1999), MechWarrior 4: Vengeance (2000) and MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries (2002).

In 2001 FASA almost went bust and sold the BattleTech and MechWarrior properties to WizKids. In 2003 WizKids was bought by Topps but continued to release new material under the WizKids name. They have also provided companies such as FanPro and Catalyst Games with licences. Since 2007, Catalyst Game Labs has been releasing new versions of the classic wargame and the roleplaying game, whilst Piranha Studios and Harebrained Schemes have released new video games.
2018 has been dubbed the “year of BattleTech”, with two new video games (BattleTech from Harebrained and MechWarrior 5 from Piranha) and a refreshed version of the wargame and roleplaying game on the way from Catalyst.

MUCH MORE AFTER THE JUMP


The video game MechWarrior 2 was a massive success in 1995, expanding the BattleTech universe to a new legion of fans.

The Canon

The BattleTech canon consists of the background “fluff” or “lore” from the various editions of the wargame, the background material to the video games and the story told across 116 novels. Despite changing owners and creative teams several times across thirty-four years, the BattleTech lore has remained remarkably consistent and largely free of retcons or changes, the few that have taken place being driven more by rights issues over the original mecha designs than creative problems.

Wargames and Roleplaying Games
BattleDroids (1984)
BattleTech (1985)
MechWarrior (1986)
BattleTech: The Succession Wars (1987)
MechWarrior: The Dark Age (2002)
BattleTech: A Time of War (2010)
BattleTech: A Game of Armoured Combat (2018)

Video Games
BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk’s Inception (1988)
MechWarrior (1989)
BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk’s Revenge (1990)
MechWarrior SNES (1993)
MechWarrior 3050 (1994)
MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat (1995)
MechWarrior 2: Ghost Bear’s Legacy (1995)
MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries (1996)
MechCommander (1998)
MechCommander: Desperate Measures (1999)
MechWarrior 3 (1999)
MechWarrior 3: Pirate’s Moon (1999)
MechWarrior 4: Vengeance (2000)
MechWarrior 4: Black Knight (2001)
MechCommander 2 (2001)
MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries (2002)
MechAssault (2002)
MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf (2004)
MechAssault: Phantom War (2006)
MechWarrior Online (2013)
MechWarrior: Tactical Command (2013)
BattleTech (2018)
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries (2018)

Michael A. Stackpole is the best-known BattleTech author. His work on BattleTech led him to working in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, where the penned the well-receivd X-Wing and Corran Horn novels.

BattleTech Novels
The Sword and the Dagger (1987) • Wolves on the Border (1988) • Heir to the Dragon (1989) • Wolf Pack (1992) • Natural Selection (1992) • Ideal War (1992) • Main Event (1993) • Blood of Heroes (1993) • Far Country (1993) • Assumption of Risk (1993) • D.R.T. (1994) • Bred for War (1995) • I Am Jade Falcon (1995) • Highlander Gambit (1995) • Tactics of Duty (1995) • Star Lord (1996) • Malicious Intent (1996) • Operation Excalibur (1996) • Impetus of War (1996) • Double-Blind (1997) • Binding Force (1997) • Ghost of Winter (1999) • Roar of Honour (1999) • By Blood Betrayed (1999) • Dagger Point (2000) • Illusions of Victory (2000) • Path of Glory (2000) • Flashpoint (2001) • Test of Vengeance (2001) • Patriots and Tyrants (2001) • Initiation to War (2001) • The Dying Time (2002) • Imminent Crisis (2002) • Storms of Fate (2002) • Endgame (2002) • Embers of War (2015) • Betrayal of Ideals (2016)
Saga of the Grey Death Legion: Decision at Thunder Rift (1986) • Mercenary’s Star (1987) • The Price of Glory (1987)
The Warrior Trilogy: En Garde (1988) • Riposte (1988) • Coupé (1989)
The Blood of Kerensky: Lethal Heritage (1989) • Blood Legacy (1990) • Lost Destiny (1991)
The Jade Phoenix Trilogy: Way of the Clans (1991) • Bloodname (1991) • Falcon Guard (1991)
Carmacho’s Caballeros: Close Quarters (1994) • Hearts of Chaos (1996) • Black Dragon (1996)
Twilight of the Clans: Exodus Road (1997) • Grave Covenant (1997) • The Hunters (1997) • Freebirth (1998) • Sword and Fire (1998) • Shadows of War (1998) • Prince of Havoc (1998) • Falcon Rising (1999)
The Capellan Solution: Threads of Ambition (1999) • The Killing Fields (1999)
Archer Christifori: Measure of a Hero (2000) • Call of Duty (2001) • Operation Audacity (2002)

BattleTech: Dark Age Novels
Ghost War (2002) • A Call to Arms (2003) • The Ruins of Power (2003) • By Temptations and By War (2003) • Fortress of Lies (2004) • Patriot’s Stand (2004) • Flight of the Falcon (2004) • Blood of the Isle (2004) • Hunters of the Deep (2004) • The Scorpion Jar (2004) • Target of Opportunity (2005) • Daughter of the Dragon (2005) • Heretic’s Faith (2005) • Blood Avatar (2005) • Trial by Chaos (2006) • Principles of Desolation (2006) • Wolf Hunters (2006) • Surrender Your Dreams (2006) • Dragon Rising (2007) • Masters of War (2007) • A Rending of Falcons (2007) • Pandora’s Gambit (2007) • Fire at Will (2007) • The Last Charge (2007) • To Ride the Chimera (2008) • A Bonfire of Worlds (2009)
The Proving Grounds Trilogy: A Silence in the Heavens (2003) • Truth and Shadows (2003) • Service for the Dead (2003)
Republic in Flames: Sword of Sedition (2005) • Fortress Republic (2005)

BattleTech: German-language Novels
Phoenix (2001) • Madness and Method (2004) • Above the Law (2005) • The Albatross File (2005) • Bitter Fruits (2006) • Fall from Grace (2007) • In Passing (2007) • Infernal Duo (2007) • Karma (2007) • Royal Flush (2008) • Cradle of the Basilisks (2011)
Clan Founder: Renunciation (2004) • Dream (2006)
The Bear Cycle: Cat Among Bears (2006) • Clan Guard (2007) • Mission Kiamba (2007)
The Andurien Wars: Prelude (2012) • Wrath (2012) • Greed (2014)

BattleTech TV Series
BattleTech (1994, 13 episodes)

Promotional artwork from the video game BattleTech (2018).

Backstory

BattleTech is set in an alternate history to our own, with the point of divergence being the collapse of the Soviet Union; in the BattleTech timeline the Soviet Union did not collapse until 2011, resulting in a bloody civil war. Outside forces intervened to end the war and secure the USSR’s nuclear arsenal by 2014, preventing a nuclear exchange.

In 2020 humanity developed workable fusion power, solving the world’s energy and pollution issues rapidly. By the end of the century humanity had established colonies on Mars and numerous moons across the Solar system.

In 2107 mankind developed the Jump Drive, capable of making faster-than-light (FTL) jumps to other star systems. In 2116 the first extrasolar colony was established at Tau Ceti. By 2235 some 600 extrasolar colonies had been founded, resulting in the first human diaspora from the overpopulated homeworld.

In 2242 Earth’s government, a descendant of the United Nations now called the Terran Alliance, set a demarcation zone of 30 light-years from Sol. All worlds within this sphere were claimed by Earth, whilst colonies outside the zone were granted independence. Six Great Houses, evolutions of corporations, sovereign governments and wealthy families into dynastic organisations, took control of the region beyond the demarcation line: Houses Davion, Cameron, Kurita, Liao, Marik and Steiner. This was followed in 2315 by the overthrow of Earth’s democratic government by the military dictator James McKenna.

In 2412 the planet Tintavel was devastated by weapons of mass destruction, with over 300,000 deaths. In the wake of this catastrophe the Great Houses and Earth – now usually called Terra – signed the Ares Convention, both enshrining ritualised warfare as a means of solving disagreements but also banning the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. New weapons were instead developed, culminating in the creation in 2439 of the Mackie, the first BattleMech. A building-sized robotic exoskeleton, the BattleMech combined the abilities of a naval battleship and tank in a single unit, with a bipedal structure allowing it to operate in all terrain types. In 2455 House Steiner stole the plans to the BattleMech, resulting in ‘mech technology spreading among the Great Houses.

With the human powers tiring of war, in 2571 the Star League was founded. Consisting of Earth and all of the Great Houses, whose combined territory was now known as the Inner Sphere, and many dozens of small powers beyond, in the Periphery, the Star League became the dominant governing body of humanity, dedicated to peace. Several minor powers rebelled against the Star League and attempted to undermine it, resulting in the Reunification War of 2577-97, which ended with the surrender of the Taurian Concordant.

The Star League became more powerful and technologically advanced. In 2630 the first hyperpulse signal was sent, linking all the worlds of humanity together through FTL communications. Despite this prolonged period of peace, humanity maintained their weapons of war and built new ones: BattleMech fighting tournaments became huge draws on hyperpulse entertainment, resulting in the construction of ever-more-elaborate ‘mechs.

In 2766, First Lord of the Star League Richard Cameron was killed and his position usurped by Stefan Amaris, President of the Rim Worlds Republic. The Star League Defence Force (SLDF) refused to recognise the usurper’s claim and, commanded by General Alexander Kerensky, fought its way to Terra and unseated the usurper. In the war ended in 2780, but the conflict had been devastating, wiping out almost three-quarters of the SLDF. With no central military to keep the worlds in line and maintain the peace, various Star League member worlds began breaking away.

Seeing the collapse of the Star League was imminent, Kerensky and his closest advisors and allies left for deep space, taking with them over six million people in Operation Exodus. They headed out beyond the Periphery, with the League collapsing behind them. Shortly after this, the Star League’s former Ministry of Communications broke away to become an independent super-corporation, ComStar. ComStar seized control of the hyperpulse network and the banking system, allowing the various worlds to continue talking and trading with one another, whilst also ensuring their own survival.

The collapse of the Star League led to the First Successon War (2786-2821) and Second Succession War (2830-2864). During these conflicts the Great Houses and their nation-states reasserted themselves: House Kurita’s Draconis Combine, House Davion’s Federated Suns, House Liao’s Capellan Confederation, House Marik’s Free World League and House Steiner’s Lyran Commonwealth. The Great Houses fought one another, sometimes breaking the ban on the use of weapons of mass destruction. These conflicts were devastating, killing millions and undermining the massive economic foundations of the former Star League which allowed the building of BattleMechs on a vast scale. As more timed passed, the economic cost of building ‘mechs became ruinous, forcing the various powers to horde their supply ever more jealously. Some scientists made strides in finding new ways of building new ‘mechs, but they were assassinated during Operation Holy Shroud by ComStar, who believed that they alone should hold these secrets.

In 2866 the Third Succession War began. This conflict raged for a massive 159 years. However, the conflict was not really one single, massive military war, instead consisting of a complex series of interlocking smaller wars that gradually petered out over time and was finally declared over in 3025 AD. The original BattleTech tabletop game and many of the novels and video games are set during this era, which is also called the “Classic BattleTech” period.

In 3028 a cache of Star League-era knowledge was discovered on the planet Helm. Despite ComTech’s best efforts, the cache was retrieved and disseminated to the Great Houses, allowing the worlds to begin rebooting their technological and scientific development.


In 3028 House Davion and House Steiner joined forces by marriage, uniting the Federated Suns and Lyran Commonwealth as the Federated Commonwealth. The two houses then immediately invaded House Liao’s Capellan Confederation, triggering the Fourth Succession War. Much shorter than the previous wars, the two-year conflict saw Capella lose a lot of territory to the two other powers, but the conflict was unsuccessful in completely overrunning its territory. Despite great military successes, House Steiner was unable to completely consolidate its holdings and in 3034 lost several systems to a secessionist movement, which formed the Free Rasalhague Republic.

Fifteen years later the galaxy was shaken by a massive invasion of new, advanced ‘mechs. It was revealed that after leaving the Periphery almost 300 years earlier, the SLDF had fallen into internal squabbling and its original plan, to establish a colony of the Star League far beyond explored space, had faltered. Alexander Kerensy’s son, Nicholas, instead founded a society based on ritualised combat, honour and religion. This society divided into seventeen groupings known as the Clans. The Clans ultimately decided that their religious imperative was an invasion of the Inner Sphere and the reclamation of Eden, which they identified as being located on Terra, with a possible view to reestablishing the Star League. Despite a strong bloc protesting that the Clans did not have the manpower to mount such an invasion, they lost a key vote (helped by the arrival of ComStar exploration ships in Clan space and the news that the Houses were on the verge of rediscovering lost Star League technology via the Helm Memory Core, eradicating the Clan’s technological advantage).

In 3049 Clans Wolf, Jade Falcon, Ghost Bear and Smoke Jaguar invaded first the Periphery and then the Free Rasalhague Republic, conquering it in the first wave of the assault, as well as mounting flanking attacks into the Federated Commonwealth and the Draconis Combine.

The resulting Clan Invasion, known as Operation Revival, was a brutal, fast-moving conflict. ComStar allied with the invaders (respecting their desire to restore the Star League) and shut down communications between the targeted worlds and the Great Houses, throwing the situation into chaos and confusion. The Periphery worlds were quickly overrun, but many called in mercenary units to defend them. Founded during the Succession Wars, the mercenary companies consisted of only a few ‘mechs each, but working in conjunction with one another they were able to help slow the invasion (if only slightly), gained battle experience facing the Clans’ superior ‘mechs (most notably their highly adaptable OmniMechs) and also learned of the Clans’ rigid concepts of honour, chivalry and ritual combat. Far worse, from the Clans’ point of view, these mercenary companies refused to surrender and switched to guerrilla fighting, continuing to pin down Clan resources even after the civilian population had surrendered in defiance of honour. This rapidly began to eat away at the Clans’ limited man and ‘mech power, as they had to redeploy units marked for the front line to police and guard duty on seized worlds.

The first wave of the invasion ended in early 3050 with 35 worlds under Clan control. The Federated Commonwealth and Draconis Combine made an alliance of convenience and redeployed their forces usually held in reserve to fight one another to the warzone. Although they were unable to retake territory, they firmed up the lines and strategically withdrew from tactically unsound positions. Although the Clans seized another 27 worlds, they found themselves increasingly bogged down in tedious ground fighting. This allowed Clan Wolf, which had only reluctantly taken part in the invasion, to gain the political ascendancy in the campaign. During the third and fourth waves Clan Wolf, helped by superior intelligence on Inner Sphere politics and culture, seized a dizzying number of worlds whilst their supposed allies, the Jade Falcons and Smoke Jaguars, suffered a series of military defeats.

Events culminated in a ship of the supposedly conquered Free Rasalhague Republic suddenly ramming the Clan invasion flagship, killing the ilKhan, the supreme leader of the invading forces. Honour forced the Clans to suspend the invasion to return to their homeworlds and undertake a new rite to appoint a new ilKhan. This bought the Houses a year to prepare for their return.

Clan Wolf assumed the seat of ilKhan and prosecuted the invasion with a renewed zeal, bringing in three additional Clans to support the invasion. The resumed invasion was a mixed affair, with the Wolves seizing a wide swathe of Federated Commonwealth territory and Clans Smoke Jaguar and Nova Cat launching a daring and devastating invasion aimed at the very heart of the Draconis Combine itself. The Combine formally allied with the Commonwealth and halted the Clan invasion at the Battle of Luthien. The two Clans suffered massive losses and had to pull back in disarray.

With the fighting ongoing, ComStar and the Clans held additional talks, during which it became clear that the Clan invasion was aimed at Terra itself, which ComStar currently held. Abruptly realising they were helping the invaders to undermine their own power, ComStar switched sides and re-opened communication channels and provided intelligence to the Houses. They also challenged the Clans to ritual combat, a massive battle between their forces and those of ComStar on the planet Tukayyid.

The Battle of Tukayyid in May 3052 was possibly the largest and bloodiest war since the First Succession War and saw millions killed. At the end of the fighting the Clans had failed to achieve their objectives and were forced to withdraw, whilst the Com Guards had lost almost half their entire military in the engagement.

As a result of the conflict, a fifteen-year truce was agreed, to the Clans’ fury as it meant losing momentum and also their technological advantage: during those fifteen years ComTech and the Great Houses made good on much of the technological difference between their factions. Even more infuriating, it allowed the Inner Sphere to re-unify in 3058 with the declaration of the Second Star League, although this was more of an ambition than a reality. Still, it allowed an expeditionary force to be launched to the Clan homeworlds in the Kerensky Cluster, located some 1,000 light-years from Sol. A further ritualistic combat in 3061 resulted in the Clans agreeing to abandon the invasion, although those worlds they had seized would be retained. The Second Star League’s collapse in 3068 led to the Clans revoking their agreement in 3071, declaring it null and void, but an internal conflict rooted in growing xenophobic horror that the Sphere was “corrupting” the Clans prevented the invasion from resuming. Instead, the Clans already in the Inner Sphere were cut off from their homeworlds and effectively abandoned, whilst the Cluster became embroiled in the Wars of Reaving.
ComTech’s treachery during the war was exposed and a splinter group, the Word of Blake, seized Terra and overthrew ComTech’s rule there in 3058; by 3081 the group had been overthrown and the Republic of the Sphere declared instead.

The aftermath of the Clan invasion saw a tremendous period of instability; despite their attempts otherwise, the Clans-in-Exile became gradually embroiled in the politics of the Great Houses and other factions, and a complex series of minor wars unfolded. In 3132 the HPG Grid, which underpinned the hyperpulse communications network, collapsed and cut off all FTL communications galaxy-wide. Whilst various forces attempted to repair the grid, the Houses had to switch to using jumpship couriers to remain in contact. With immeasurable damage done to the galactic economy, this resulted in the onset of a new “Dark Age”.

The Dark Age is the setting for the chronologically-latest events in the BattleTech universe, with the “current” (or most recent) year in the setting being 3145. However, more recent BattleTech products have focused on earlier time periods, due to a mixed fan reception to both the Clan Invasion and the Dark Age time periods.

A map of the BattleTech universe in 3067, after the Clan Invasion but before the Dark Age. Clan homeworlds not shown.

Setting

BattleTech takes place across a relatively small area of the Milky Way Galaxy, with the action almost entirely constrained to an area within 1,000 light-years of Earth. The primary or “classic” setting is the Inner Sphere, a region centred on Terra, in the year 3025 AD at the close of the Third Succession War. At this time the Inner Sphere is dominated by six factions: the Draconis Combine ruled by House Kurita; the Federated Suns ruled by House Davion; the Capellan Confederation ruled by House Liao; the Free World League ruled by House Marik; and the Lyran Commonwealth ruled by House Steiner. At the very heart of the Sphere is Terra, Old Earth, which is controlled by ComTech, the corporation/nation which controls all interstellar communications and banking.
Surrounding the Inner Sphere is the Periphery, a hinterland region consisting of smaller powers (although some are notable, still consisting of dozens of planets), independent worlds and dominated by mercenary companies. The Periphery is a frontier region where the law rarely extends beyond the reach of a laser cannon.

The “classic” BattleTech setting allows for massed combat between large armies of ‘mechs and interstellar warships, but more typically the focus is on skirmishes between small formations of ‘mechs (typically four), known as Lances. The idea is that a sort-of peace exists between the major powers, but lots of smaller scale conflicts and border skirmishes are occurring, allowing for a great deal of combat against a reasonably stable backdrop.

The second major era of BattleTech is the Clan Invasion period of 3049-61, which introduces the seventeen Clans as a series of new factions. The Clan Invasion saw the balance of power between the Houses upset in a dozen years or so of war, but this eventually ended in a new balance of power being established between the Houses and the Clans who took part in the invasion, who were ultimately exiled from their homeworlds after being “corrupted” by the dishonourable “Sphereoids.” This period saw the introduction of new technology, such as OmniMechs (‘mechs with easily-swappable hardware pods rather than the more intricate hardpoints of the older kind). This period is controversial with fans, some of whom felt it upset the old balance of power (which allowed for a more interesting focus on small-scale conflict) and was a big event for the sake of it. Other fans welcomed the shake-up to the status quo. The event also allowed FASA to retire some of the ‘mech designs they’d been using under legally dubious circumstances in favour of new, custom designs.

The third major era is The Dark Ages, beginning in 3132 with the collapse of interstellar communications and the outbreak of a complex series of small and medium-sized wars involving mixed alliances of House and Clan forces. This period seems to have met a lukewarm response from fans, and there seem to be no plans to advance the timeline beyond it at present.

The 100-ton AS-7 Atlas (Assault-class) is arguably the best-known modern BattleMech. Entering service in 2755, the Atlas typically wields a Type-20 Autocannon, a Type-20 long-range missile battery, a Type-6 short-range missile battery and four medium laser cannons, making it a formidable machine at both long and short ranges.

BattleMechs

At heart of all iterations of BattleTech are the BattleMechs themselves. These towering bipedal war machines combined elements of main battle tanks, aircraft carriers and powered suits in a single military unit. BattleMechs tend to be slow-moving, but can unleash tremendous amounts of firepower. They can also capture and hold territory and are extraordinarily rugged: the Superheavy class of 'mech can withstand everything but a direct hit from a nuclear weapon, and due to the importance of territory and resources, the use of such weapons is extraordinarily rare.

BattleMechs are divided into the following classes:

Light
Light 'mechs act as scouts, artillery spotters, fast-moving interceptors (especially when fitted with jump jets) and reconnaissance units. They can't take a lot of punishment, but their high speed makes them extremely difficult to hit. They can only fit one or two armaments but the stories of a lowly Locust firing the last blast to finish off a heavily-crippled Atlas are legion. The Locust, Commando, Spider, Jenner, Panther and Firestarter are all Light-class 'mechs.

Medium
The most commonly-encountered 'mechs, Mediums are versatile workhorses. They can fulfil many of the roles of the Light 'mech but their much greater weapons payload and armour means they can hang in a firefight even with heavier 'mechs for a while. The Cicada, Blackjack, Vindicator, Centurion, Griffin, Shadow Hawk and Wolverine are all Medium-class 'mechs.

Heavy
The heavy tanks of the battlefield, Heavy 'mechs are missile platforms, heavy cannon machines or close-up brawlers. They can withstand tremendous amounts of damage whilst dishing it out themselves. They tend to be slow, but a few specially-adjusted models are capable of surprising turns of speed. The Dragon, Quickdraw, Catapult, Jaegarmech, Thunderbolt, Grasshopper, Black Knight and Orion are all Heavy-class 'mechs.

Assault
Assault 'mechs are relatively rarely seen, and spark terror into the hearts of their enemies. A single Assault can wipe out several lances of Lights without too much issue, and can hold of several Mediums at once. Assault 'mechs can unleash a terrifying amount of firepower, withstand ridiculous amounts of enemy fire and obliterate everything in their path. On the negative size, they are slow, ungainly, tend to attract the fire of absolutely everything on the battlefield, are mind-bogglingly expensive and very rare to find on the open market. The Awesome, Victor, Zeus, Battlemaster, Stalker Highlander, Banshee, Atlas and King Crab are all Assault-class 'mechs.

Superheavy
The Superheavy class of 'mech is an extremely rare class. 'Mechs of this type weigh in at over 100 tons and usually require specialist equipment to function correctly: some have two or three pilots instead of one and some are "tripods", with a third leg to help with stability. Their firepower and armour is staggering, but their speed is ponderous and the expense of building them ruinous; most commanders would prefer to have two Heavies or three Mediums instead. Still, they are a formidable sight on the battlefield. The Stone Rhino, Omega, Ares and Poseidon are Superheavy-class 'mechs.

An Atlas firing four laser cannons.

BattleMechs utilise the following armaments:

Lasers
Divided into Small, Medium and Large categories, lasers are useful as they do not use ammo (and thus don't require a separate ammo container), do heat damage to the enemy and can operate at a variety of ranges. Their weaknesses are that they are not the best at shooting through armour and generate immense amounts of heat whilst firing (to the detriment of the firing 'mech).

Plasma
Plasma cannons do exceptional damage at both long and close ranges, and are a favourite of snipers. However, they generate far more heat than lasers and enemy 'mechs will usually focus fire on plasma-wielding units to wipe them out as fast as possible.

Missiles
'Mechs have a variety of missiles which can be fired at both long and short ranges. "Missile boats" are a common 'mech variant, which strip out as much armour as possible and use Light 'mechs as spotters. Once the enemy are located, the missile boat fires a truly staggering amount of missiles (up to 50 in a single volley) to try and destroy enemy forces before they close to short-range combat.

Autocannons
Powerful weapons which chew up armour and internal systems with aplomb, Autocannons are a favoured weapon of many MechWarriors. A Type-20 AC can punch through the armour of even the strongest Assault 'mechs if wielded by a skilled pilot.

Gauss Guns
An electromagnetically-charged weapon, the secret of Gauss Gun mass production was lost some time ago, making this a very rare but utterly formidable weapon if encountered on the battlefield.

BattleMechs also rely on several key pieces of equipment to keep functioning. Their actuators allow them to keep walking, moving and deploying weapons: crippling these slows down the 'mech or blows off their limbs altogether. Their heat sinks manage heat disposal and waste. Having insufficient heat sinks causes the 'mech to shut down, fry the pilot or, in rare cases, explode if it tries to fire too many weapons. Armour is relatively self-explanatory, but some MechWarriors have a cavalier approach to personal safety and strip off armour plating to fit on more guns, which results in the occasional sight of a formidably weaponised Assault 'mech strolling onto the field only for the pilot to be one-shotted by a Jenner. Finally, jump jets are a handy and oft-overlooked bit of kits which allows the 'mech to make tactical jumps from one position on the battlefield to another, flying over obstacles. Some pilots throw out the jets to get more guns and armour, but jump jets are a versatile advantage, allowing a 'mech to take cover from enemy fire in a hurry or, under extreme circumstances, launching a kamikaze strike from above on an unsuspecting enemy unit.

The original release of the game under the "BattleDroids" name, which had to be changed after Lucasfilm claimed to own the copyright on the word "droid."

Conception and Development

BattleTech’s beginnings date back to the 1984 Hobby Industry Trade Show in Anaheim, California. Jordan Weisman and L. Ross Babcock III had founded FASA a couple of years earlier to publish roleplaying games and had found great success with modules and materials for Marc Miller’s seminal space opera RPG Traveller, as well as their first major licence, Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game, and Behind Enemy Lines, a niche-but-acclaimed RPG set during World War II.

Whilst walking the floor, Weisman found an importer who had acquired a number of model kits for “mecha,” giant walking war machines found in numerous Japanese animated programmes. The bulk of the models were from the Japanese show Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Weisman placed a bulk order and created a fictional backdrop for a game explaining where these machines came from. Drawing on the Fall of Rome and the Mongol Invasion, he developed a space opera setting in the 31st Century depicting two distinct eras: an earlier period with the various powers fighting one another for supremacy in the aftermath of the collapse of a vast empire known as the Star League and, later on, an era where the descendants of a massive fleet which left the Star League before its fall returned and invaded established space, the so-called “Clan Invasion” (still a controversial story decision among hardened fans).

A line of novels began with Decision at Thunder Rift by William H. Keith, Jr. (1986). 64 books have followed in the core BattleTech line, establishing the career of Michael Stackpole (who went on to write some of the most popular Star Wars novels of all time) and several other writers such as Robert Thurston and Loren L. Coleman. Victor Milan, best-known for his contributions to the Wild Cards shared superhero universe, also wrote numerous books in the series.

31 more books followed in a separate line, BattleTech: The Dark Ages which advanced the timeline to the 32nd Century. In addition, German publishers have released an additional twenty novels exclusively for the German-language market. Recently, new novels have appeared (under the original BattleTech title) acting as prequels to the entire saga. The BattleTech novels have won a surprising degree of acclaim for the focus on massive ‘mech combat, memorable characters and the political situation. With its interesting take on interstellar feudalism, the BattleTech universe has drawn comparisons with both the Dune saga and fantasy sagas such as Game of Thrones: more than one commentator has called BattleTechGame of Thrones in space” (with ‘mech lances replacing knights and armies), complete with its Great Houses, complex web of political alliances and internal warfare whilst a greater threat is gathering offstage.

BattleTech has also been blighted by legal issues. It had to change its original name (BattleDroids) after Lucasfilm threatened to sue them (slightly nonsensically) and it then ran into a major problem when many of the original ‘mech designs used in the first wave of products were also purchased for use by Harmony Gold for their television series Robotech (which directly used Super Dimension Fortress Macross as one of its constituent TV series). FASA had to sub-let a licence from Harmony Gold to keep using their designs, which then ran into another problem when it turned out that Harmony Gold’s licence was itself dubious. In 1994 FASA retired these ‘mechs, dubbing them “the Unseen,” to focus on newer, Clan and post-Clan designs, to the annoyance of fans who were long-standing fans of those designs. More recently, many of the “unseen” designs have been slightly or completely redesigned to eliminate these copyright issues.

The success of BattleTech was buoyed by the video game adaptations, particularly the much-praised MechWarrior series which ran to six games and three expansions, putting the player in the role of a ‘mech pilot fighting battles in real-time 3D. The series sold several million copies and was critically acclaimed. This series was accompanied by the MechCommander companion series (two games and an expansion) which is a real-time strategy series allowing players to control entire lances of BattleMechs in combat. FASA set up its own video game company to develop these games, which was subsequently bought by Microsoft.

In 2001 FASA effectively went bust (although it was resurrected a few years later) and sold the BattleTech and MechWarrior licences to WizKids. WizKids were subsequently bought out by Topps in 2003. BattleTech and MechWarrior material continued to be produced under the WizKids name until Topps eliminated the subsidiary in 2007. Topps then licenced out the properties to other companies. Catalyst Game Studios took over development of the BattleTech miniatures and roleplaying games, whilst Piranha Studios took over the video game licence. Piranha began development of MechWarrior 5 but, needing more funds, switched to developing MechWarrior Online instead, which focused on multiplayer combat. Released in 2013 and somewhat controversial among fans (particularly for the monetisation of new ‘mech designs), the game nevertheless attracted a significant fanbase. Piranha resurrected their MechWarrior 5 plans with the game now slated for a late 2018 release.

Meanwhile, the franchise’s original co-creator, Jordan Weisman, had gone on to other projects. He had created the extremely popular roleplaying and wargame properties Earthdawn, Shadowrun and Crimson Skies and in the early 2010s set up his own video game studio, Harebrained Schemes. After developing three highly successful Shadowrun RPGs, he licensed BattleTech and developed the first-ever turn-based video wargame in the series, entitled simply BattleTech. The game was released in April 2018 to, mostly, critical acclaim.

In 2018 BattleTech, at first glance one of the most 1980s of SF franchises, is undergoing an unexpected renaissance. The first of the two video games due this year has been released to some acclaim, and a new edition of the wargame is on the way to see if the franchise can tap into the current vogue for board and miniatures games. Originally a very niche board game, it expanded thanks to some very well-written novels (they massively lucked out getting people like Michael Stackpole and the late, great Victor Milan on board) and some exceptionally good video games which massively expanded the fanbase. The franchise has suffered from “lore fatigue”, where the designers made some story and background choices that alienated and splintered the fanbase, but recent entries seem keen to hearken back to the original setting of the game, before such controversies, and re-invoke the wild west and fun frontier feeling of the early game. It will be interesting to see how the franchise develops in the years to come.


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1 comment:

Silent said...

The Legend of the Jade Phoenix is still a favorite trilogy of mine. If this ever gets adapted I hope they use this trilogy for the adaption.