Outside of MechWarrior Online, there's hasn't been a real meaty BattleTech game since MechAssault 2 for Xbox back in 2004. That's a long time to go without a great BattleTech gaming experience. Well, the wait is over, folks. Harebrained Schemes, the developer that already successfully Kickstarted and released Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and Golem Arcana, have launched a Kickstarter for BattleTech, a brand-new, single-player, turn-based tactical game for PC.
You don't even have to worry about the game not getting funded, because the BattleTech Kickstarter soared past its goal in an hour. Everything from now on is stretch goals and gravy.
Maybe you aren't onboard with the Kickstarter yet. Maybe you need just a bit more information before you take the plunge. I sat down with BattleTech and MechWarrior creator Jordan Weisman to talk about what Harebrained Schemes is planning for BattleTech and how it feels to return to the series he created. Here's seven things you should know about the all-new BattleTech.
The Rights Held Back BattleTech
After two Shadowrun games and the original creation of Golem Arcana, why did Harebrained Schemes decide that now was the time for a new BattleTech game? Because this year is when they finally got ahold of the rights to the original property.
"Frankly, it was when I could get the rights," replied Weisman when I asked about the timing of BattleTech. "Our fans have been asking for us to do this for a long time and we wanted to do it for a long time. It took a while to figure out how to get the rights. That came together this year."
The team at Harebrained will be led by Weisman, who's joined by MechCommander and MechAssault producer Mitch Gitelman and Shadowrun series creative director Mike McCain. That means the team is calling on strong veterans to craft a new experience in the BattleTech universe.
"I haven't made a mech game in 19 years and I made a lot of mech games over a lot of years," said Weisman. "Actually, I think the distance has really helped. As much as I love the universe, after making a lot of games, I needed some time away, to come back to it with the enthusiasm I have now."
"It's really fun to team up with Mike and Mitch on it, he added. "Mitch, like me, has made a lot of mech games. Our first game together was MechCommander, then he went on to do MechCommander Gold and MechCommander 2. With Mike, what's great is MechWarrior 2 was Mike's first PC game as a kid. It's fun because it's a good combination of old blood and new blood."
A "Spiritual Successor" Was Never a Possibility
Despite the idea of spiritual successors being the current zeitgeist of many Kickstarter drives, Weisman shot down the idea that Harebrained would've ever made a BattleTech game without the license behind it.
"No. Golem Arcana was as close as I was going to get to that," he explained. "Golem Arcana is fantasy mechs. I didn't want to do a scifi knockoff of BattleTech. I was going to be patient until we got the rights. I wasn't tempted to go off and do something like a spiritual successor."
Mechs and MechWarriors Will be Deep and Complex
BattleTech will be a turn-based title for modern PCs. This means Weisman and company have the chance to render the game's mechs in far greater detail than was previously possible. This isn't just from a graphics standpoint though. Instead, Harebrained wants your mech design choices to directly affect your gameplay.
"Those mechs are going to be rendered in great detail from a system standpoint," said Weisman. "One of the things I want to do is make sure that Mech Lab/Mech Design components have a stronger causal link between the design and the performance of the mechs. Obviously, you've got weapons and armor, but I want to dive deeper than that."
"The gyro and actuators you put in should have an impact on your performance," he explained. "I want to get into things like turning radiuses; the sharper your turning radius, the more the mech has a chance of falling over. Having your gyro have an impact on not just your turning radius, but also your chances of falling over when you take hits, which depends on your gyro-to-mass ratio. With a turn-based game, we can really express more axes of performance than we could in MechWarrior as a real-time sim. We can get to that kind of depth without it being cumbersome."
The MechWarriors themselves are also becoming a larger part of the process. Each character you recruit has a skill tree, allowing you to specialize that character to perform different operations. If you have a light mech, you need a pilot that can handle a light mech.
"We want to make the skill trees for the MechWarriors really deep now." said Weisman. "You're in charge of those MechWarriors' careers. As you build up your mercenary unit, you're guiding those MechWarriors through a career path that allows them to specialize. You can take a guy and have him specialize in heavy mechs. If you then tell him, 'I need you to drive this light mech,' he's going to be like 'What? I don't know how to do that! I'll die doing that!' It's like taking a great truck driver and saying 'Go race formula one.' Balancing that with the fact that it's a deadly place out there and you've got to keep your MechWarriors alive. "
Perma-Death Stalks Your MechWarriors
That last statement is important. Your MechWarriors can and will die if you're reckless. If they die, they're gone forever and you've just lost a character who's career you've been steering for a long time.
"Our game is primarily a single-player campaign," said Weisman. "Within the context of the campaign, perma-death is there. I think we need to have those kinds of consequences. It's not simply alive or dead. If a guy gets his ass kicked, he may survive, but be in the hospital for two months. You have to figure out who you put in his place until he gets back in the rotation. Time is factor in the campaign. Travel time and combat time."
The Lore is King, If The Kickstarter Hits $1 Million
BattleTech is essentially medieval warfare in the far future with giant mechs. That means nobility, houses, and mercenaries in BattleTech's classic 3025 era, where the wars and infighting are at their height. You play the leader of a brand-new mercenary unit unaffiliated with any house, but where you ultimately end up is up to you. While the game's basic funding offers the skirmish mode, a full story campaign is the $1 million stretch goal for the title.
"Outside of combat, you're managing this brand-new mercenary unit," said Weisman. "The Machiavellian politics of the inner houses are at their peak. You're navigating these waters. Initially, you're too small to work for any of them. You need to build a reputation. You'll work for smaller players, periphery kings and things like that. As your reputation grows, you'll start to get contracts offered to you from the noble houses. How you perform on those contracts has an impact on future contracts."
"BattleTech is a place of deep passion for the factions," he continued. "We want people to be able to express their loyalties by the contracts they choose to take. Just like in the fiction, there are mercenary units who work exclusively for different houses. They aren't a house unit, but they effectively become one."
Unlike Shadowrun, Mods Aren't In the Cards
Part of the success of Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the extensive mod support, allowing players to create all-new campaigns for the base game. Unfortunately, similar mod support for BattleTech is beyond the scope of the first game Harebrained has planned.
"We're not currently looking in that direction," replied Weisman when I asked about mods. "We're not envisioning a true editor. Frankly, the project's really big and taking on a consumer-released editor - as we learned in Shadowrun - is a project all by itself. So, that's not on the plate."
Harebrained Is Keeping the Game's Scope Manageable
One of the reasons that Kickstarter games frequently don't deliver is that creators over-promise. They say they could deliver the moon, but when it's all said and done, all they could really make with their planned funds is a mountain. The reason Harebrained Schemes has been successful on Kickstarter is limiting the scope on their projects to what the studio can handle.
"That's one of the good dynamics in our studio, we do play as checks and balances for each other," said Weisman. "When I laid out 'Here's all the things I want to do with BattleTech,' Mitch and Mike were like, 'Okay, well that's game three in the series. This is in game two. Let's just deal with this stuff in game one.' My hope is the game is embraced and that allows us to continue down the line to explore all the things I really want to do."
"One of the things we've been really careful about is biting off what we can chew. We just shipped Shadowrun: Hong Kong, our third Kickstarter title. That's because we exercise self-restraint. We're not a Bungie or a Valve, we don't have 600 people. On the Shadowrun: Hong Kong Kickstarter, when we hit the $1 million total, fans asked 'What's the next stretch goal?' We came back and said 'There is no more.' We were worried about how they were going to respond to that. They respected that there were limits."
As of this writing, the game has already reached its funding goal, meaning the Skirmish Mode is coming to PC, Mac, and Linux. The planned release window is May 2017 and Harebrained is rather good about updating its release dates to cover any delays. In the end, Weisman has big hopes for BattleTech and this is just the first step in a larger plan.
"I want to deliver the world," he told me. "There's been a lot of great mech sims, but we want to go past that. We want to create something that brings the Machiavellian feudal politics of that world to life. The characters will count. It's not an RPG, it's a tactical combat game, but BattleTech was always that kind of middle ground. Even when it was a tabletop game, it had this story and character that it always felt like an RPG meeting a tactical board game. We want that to come to life."