Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The static world of BattleTech

I recently picked up a copy of 25 Years of BattleTech Art and Fiction (Scribd link here). It's an impressive and weighty tome full of giant robots smashing each other to pieces - a subject that generally wins in the awesomeness stakes. Being a pure and unadulterated dose of mech combat, the universe of BattleTech should be a recipe for success. However, I have mixed feelings about the art direction of this "oeuvre".

I think this is because BattleTech is rare (and perhaps stands alone) in being a universe where the design of its protagonists (in this case big-ass robots) has remained substantially un-revised. Most comparable worlds which have been around as long as BattleTech have undergone visual overhauls, perhaps on several occasions. BattleTech, by contrast, persists in using the same designs for its mechs. Many of these were drawn up in the early 80s, some of which are good, and others are, frankly, less so (I am looking at you here, Mr "Highlander HGN-732").

On the one hand I admire the retro nature this brings, on the other hand I wonder if its a sign that BattleTech's publishers are wallowing in nostalgia. By the time I learned about the BattleTech products at the start of the 90s, anime was becoming more popular in the UK and Japanese designers offered a more contemporary and stylised vision of mech combat I found infinitely more attractive. Gundam, in contrast to BattleTech, is a constantly evolving universe in terms of mecha design and new products never look dated. If you don't believe me, check out the difference between the official BattleTech website, and the website for the new Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn anime.

I admit that there's probably a lot more money behind the latter, but visual overhauls are now part and parcel of the gaming community and BattleTech should perhaps take note of this.





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11 comments:

  1. I take it, then you'v never seen the redesign BattleTech got at the hands of Studio Nue of Japan? A lot of Kawamori Shoji's remakes of classic B'Tech mechs went into the current generation of Armored Core art.

    The book's out of print, but can be seen online here:

    http://www.gearsonline.net/btech/

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  2. Hey #2501,

    Whoa! That explains a few things - I didn't know about that book but do have some of the images. I wondered where they came from. It looks pretty cool. Still, I feel the BTech universe is pretty static generally, compared to things like WH40K, D&D and so forth.

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  3. True, compared to WH40k and D&D, Battletech's a block of granite stuck in the wasteland. It's worn away with time, and never really got to be much more than it is. They never upgraded the rules to correct shortcomings, the background fluff was blah, and designs went from bad to worse. They tried to fix it with their new plastic line and kiddie rules (don't get me started on that one...) but in the end, they should've just let the patient die.

    The Kawamori designs, sadly, were only a short, unsupported leap sideways :(

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  4. I spent almost 15 years sculpting Battletech Mechs for Ral Partha and then Wizkids.. The Dark Age stuff with Wizkids was the only new look the game ever got and the hard core fan base pretty much hated it.

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  5. Hey Jeff

    Good to hear from you! I had also forgotten the Dark Age stuff. The brutal look was pretty cool, so it's a pity they chose not to pursue it.

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  6. While I despised the rules, I thought the Dark Age designs showed promise. (some nice sculpts there, man) Alas, it was something they should have done long before they did.

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  7. Besides a total lack of design evolution Battletech's original designs suffered from a lack of common mechanical design. The Dougram 'mechs (Shadow Hawk, Griffon, Wolverine, etc) used in early BTech looked like manufactured products that shared basic design systems. I think all of the original designs were so varied and sometimes physically impossible seeming that they lack the visual power of the Japanese mecha.

    Only the USS Enterprise design seems to have evolved in the same way that Gundam has. It takes time I guess.

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  8. I've seen people complain about Battletech Mechs having an eclectic look before, but that's always something I've liked about the game. It fits in with the changing time period and diverse cultures. A guy from a culture enforcing Japanification at gunpoint 200 years ago isn't going to design a Mech to look the same as a guy from 200 years in the future that thinks King Aurthur was cool.

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  9. While all the above are valid points I would just like to add that both the Locust and Marauder are freakin' cool and I would like one of each. In Blue. For my birthday. Just putting it out there, guys and gals...
    And thanks for showing "The Crescent Hawk's Inception". What a blast from the past. I played that game constantly when I had it and I do mean constantly. As soon as I completed it I'd just start from the beginning again (Hi, my name is Neil and I'm a mech-addict). The only reason I stopped was because my treacherous Amiga, in a desperate and futile attempt to save humanity, took its own life and went to Silicon Heaven.
    On a more serious note I found the same design aesthetic from B'Tech was carried through to FASAs Renegade Legion game collection (Legionaire, Interceptor, etc). Once the essential components of the main factions' vehicle designs were set there seemed little or no variation over the years as the game was "developed". Not that that was a bad thing as far as I was concerned. I love the RL imagery so much my most recent modelling project - a scratchbuilt grav-tank - drew pretty heavily from it.
    Okay - so can I have a Trajan for my birthday too? And possible an Horatius while you're at it?

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  10. Neil - I am sure we can arrange those mechs for you. However, finding enough paper to wrap them in might be an issue. ;-)

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  11. I'm fairly sure Steve ordered a microSD card from Amazon. The packaging they came in should be big enough...

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