Monday, July 13, 2009

Mechwarrior, and the Glory Days of Summers Past

NatWu filled me in on the news that Mechwarrior 4, released in 2000 and the fourth in the line video games based on the "Battletech" wargame, will be distributed for free in honor of Battletech's 25th anniversary. Unfortunately, any fun that you might have playing that version is about to be rendered completely moot by the newest version of the game, which looks completely awesome and amazing (and which might cause me to actually play a video game for the first time in five or more years.)

Now, as NatWu could probably tell you himself, the three of us are huge Battletch fanatics. Well, were huge Battletech fanatics, back when we had the time for such things (like when we were in college and were avoiding studying.) We had it all; every spin-off of the game (including Aerotech and the Mechwarrior RPG), maps depicting various topologies that we played on, multiple sets of dice specifically for Battletech playing, and a variety of miniatures painted to a greater or lesser degree of artistry and competence. Seriously, it is entirely possible that between the three of us, we spent over $1000 on the game and its and various supplements (and that's a lot of money when you're living on student loans.) In fact, we would organize epic games that would stretch far into the night and into the next day (this was not a difficult task when a single round involving up to two or three dozen 'mechs and various infantry and armored units could easily take an hour or more.) I don't know how common this is with other gaming groups, but our Battletech contests were arranged in the fashion of an RPG adventure; I would organize the campaigns and battles, and typically play the "bad guys" in any set up. Also, I was very typically defeated, though this was largely because the bad guys were "supposed" to lose and I was entirely too lazy to play the mix of units necessary to defeat or even seriously challenge my players' legions, which were usually tweaked to maximum fashion (if anything, battlemechs were more lovingly crafted than characters for our RPGs.) Now and again I would enjoy the pleasure of obliterating a player character in a hail of missiles or laser blast, but that was a rare (and most welcome) treat.

As I mentioned above, we also played Mechwarrior, the RPG spin-off of the wargame (when you have hundreds of hours to kill in the summer, there's almost no RPG that you won't play.) We didn't spend a ton of time at it as we weren't quite as invested in it as we were other RPGs like Shadowrun or Top Secret or Warhammer. For one, the RPG took the most interesting aspect of Battletech-the gargantuan battlemechs-and stripped them away. Imagine the most awesome fighter jet simulation game you've ever played...and then imagine playing an RPG where you're one of the pilots of one of those awesome jets, only now you're standing on a street corner somewhere and your jet is parked in a hanger. That's Mechwarrior. Now in most RPGs, you can elect to play any number of skilled fighters, magicians, etc., etc. In Mechwarrior you play a character who's greatest skill will not come into use during the course of the game. As you can imagine, it takes some creativity to come up with an interesting adventure. Fortunately I as BM (battlemaster) had just the idea. I decided, when I wanted to kill about 100 of the hundreds of hours of free time we had, that I would built a multi-module adventure that would utilize every aspect of the Battletech universe. We gamed the invasion of a planet, utilizing Aerotech to play out the destruction of the planet's space defenses and the landing of the dropships (giant ships built to carry battlemechs), then switched to Battletech to game the fight for the planet's cities, then switched again to Mechwarrior when the players were deprived of their battlemechs by chance and circumstance. So then instead of doing what pilots usually do when they're not in their machines (get drunk in bars and start fights) they were forced to do what pilots do when they are rudely deprived of their machines (run for their lives on foot or become a POW.) I'm not sure that campaign ever came to an end, probably due to the fact that up until the point at which the players' were deprived of their 'mechs the game had been very interesting, and afterwards the game was not. It's entirely possible that we never played Mechwarrior again after that, as in truth I can actually only recall that single campaign. But then, I don't save much space in my brain for fourth-rung RPGs I played in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Anyway there are other Battletech war stories to be told beyond that one, though I think we'll save some of those for another night when I have some Coke and Doritos laying around to help set the mood.


Nat-Wu said...

I think you said it all when you pointed out that it's a game where you take out the reason for playing it.

Nat-Wu said...

I do recall my character owning a double-barreled, pump-action shotgun. Yes, I know that makes no sense at all.

Xanthippas said...

Ha. Well, it was the future you know.