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BattleTech

BattleTech is a wargaming and science fiction franchise, launched by FASA Corporation and currently owned by WizKids. The series began in 1984 with FASA's debut of the board game BattleTech (originally named BattleDroids) by Jordan Weisman and L. Ross Babcock III, and has since grown to include numerous expansions to the original game, several computer and video games, a collectible card game, a series of more than 100 novels, an animated television series and more.

Overview

Original game

Chicago-based FASA Corporation's original, 1984 BattleTech game focuses on enormous robotic, semi-humanoid battle machines called BattleDroids. Their name was changed to BattleMechs in the second edition because George Lucas and Lucasfilm held the rights to the term "droid." The visual design of the earliest line of BattleMechs were taken from Macross and other anime, including many signature images. In later years FASA abandoned these images, and it was common speculation by fans that the decision was the result of a lawsuit brought against them by Playmates and Harmony Gold [USA] over the use of said images. No official broke the silence until 2007, after FASA had sold the BattleTech intellectual property to WizKids Games. Under license from them, the Classic BattleTech line developer for Fantasy Productions, Randall N. Bills explained that FASA had sued Playmates over the use of images owned by FASA, but received no compensation, even though Playmates was ordered to stop using the images in question. After realizing how the use of licensed images made them vulnerable to lawsuits and afraid that such a suit would bankrupt the company, FASA made the decision to only use images owned by them and them alone. The BattleMechs taken from the various anime sources were then considered "Unseen". When Fantasy Productions licensed the property, these "Unseen" images were expanded to include all art produced "out-of-house" – that is, whose copyrights resided with the creators, not the company. Catalyst Game Labs has continued this practice.

Expansions

The game's popularity spawned several variants and expansions to the core system, including CityTech which fleshed out urban operations, infantry and vehicle combat, AeroTech which focused on air- and space-based operations, and BattleSpace which detailed large spacecraft combat. FASA also published numerous sourcebooks that featured specifications for new combat units that players could select from. However, despite the large number of such pre-designed BattleMechs, vehicles, aerospace units and other military hardware, the creators also established a complex system of custom design rules, enabling players to generate their own units and field them in combat. This engineering aspect of the game, itself expanded by several design and technology sourcebooks, has proven to be enduringly popular and may explain BattleTech's longevity.

FASA launched two additional systems to complement the core game: BattleTroops, an infantry combat system, and BattleForce, a large-scale combat simulator governing the actions of grouped BattleTech units. The Succession Wars, a board game released in 1987, is one of only two purely strategic titles of the series (the other being "The Stars At War" from the Combat Operations book). The Succession Wars is played on a political star map, with players vying to capture regions of space.

Recent years have seen a trend of consolidating the expansions into the core products, beginning under FASA's aegis and continued by both FanPro and Catalyst Game Labs. Of the current set of core rules, Total Warfare includes elements originating in CityTech and AeroTech 2 (itself a consolidation of AeroTech and BattleSpace), while Tactical Operations consolates Maximum Tech Rules and adds new rules for Advance/Experimental weapons & equipment, Strategic Operations is slated to include remaining AeroTech 2 elements and a version of BattleForce, and Interstellar Operations is slated to introduce rules to control Clans/Succession Houses/Empires to conquer the Inner Sphere or Clan Space.

Spin-off games

The BattleTech franchise first extended beyond the tabletop wargame format with the release of MechWarrior, a role-playing game in which players portray BattleMech pilots or other characters in the 31st century. The RPG system has been republished in several editions and expanded by various sourcebooks and supplements. In 1996, FASA also introduced the BattleTech Collectible Card Game, a CCG developed by Wizards of the Coast, creators of the popular Magic: The Gathering.

WizKids, the owners of the BattleTech franchise since 2001, introduced a collectable miniatures-based variant of the classic tabletop game called MechWarrior: Dark Age in 2002 (later renamed MechWarrior: Age of Destruction). The game incorporates WizKids' "Clix System", a means of tracking the combat statistics and abilities of each figure by turning a dial in its base.

BattleMechs, the hulking flagship units of the franchise, made a natural subject for computer emulation, and so in 1988 Infocom released a PC based RPG called BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception, which took place in the canonized BattleTech story universe. It was later followed up with a sequel, BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Revenge in 1990. Both games were reasonably well received, although aside from storyline continuity the second game held few similarities to its predecessor.

The first pure simulation of BattleMech combat, however, was released for computers in 1989. Entitled MechWarrior and published by Activision, the single-player game gave users the opportunity to pilot a range of 'Mechs and engage in combat against computer-controlled opponents. Sequels MechWarrior 2 (1995), MechWarrior 3 (1999) and MechWarrior 4 (2000) created progressively finer and more engaging simulations.

The franchise saw its first online-dedicated game with Multiplayer BattleTech: EGA in 1992, which was followed by Multiplayer Battletech: Solaris in 1996. 1994 saw the series' first console original title, the simply titled BattleTech for the Sega Genesis. Other notable titles include the MechCommander series for the PC (MechCommander in 1998 and MechCommander 2 in 2001) and the MechAssault series (MechAssault and MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf in 2002 and 2004, respectively, for the Xbox, and MechAssault: Phantom War in 2006 for the Nintendo DS).

Virtual World Entertainment

The BattleTech creators' goal of creating an immersive BattleMech simulation came to fruition in 1990 with the opening of the first BattleTech Center at the North Pier Mall in Chicago. The BattleTech Center featured 16 networked, full-sized cockpits or "pods" that resembled a fully functional BattleMech cockpit with over 80 separate controls. Each player selected a 'Mech to pilot into combat against up to seven other human players in the other cockpits.

Virtual World Entertainment, the company that managed the centers, later opened many other Virtual World centers around the world. It eventually merged with FASA Interactive Technologies (FIT) to form Virtual World Entertainment Group (VWEG) to better capitalize on various FASA properties. In 1999, Microsoft Corporation purchased VWEG to integrate FIT into Microsoft Game Studios and sold VWE. VWE continues to develop and support the current BattleTech VR platform called the Tesla II system, featuring BattleTech: Firestorm.

Beyond gaming

The popularity of the BattleTech games and the fictional universe they inhabit has led to a number of related projects in other areas.

Battletech Novels: By the far the most active of these is the line of popular science fiction novels, with more than 100 titles published to date. The novels are set in both the Classic Battletech era (mid-3000s) and the Dark Age era (3130s). The original Battletech novels were produced between 1986 until 2002. While the Dark Age era Novels were produced from 2002 to early 2008. A online venture named BattleCorps produced online-canon novelettes of the Battletech universe which are set in all Classic Battletech & early eras as well. Recently the July 2008, it was announced that both book lines Classic Battletech & Mechwarrior were resuming by end of 2008.

BattleTech: The Animated Series, a 13-episode television show produced by Saban Entertainment, aired on Fox in late 1994. Plots centered around the character of Major Adam Steiner and his First Somerset Strikers, and their conflict with Clan Jade Falcon.

Electric Entertainment, a company under contract to Paramount Studios, has leased the rights to produce a motion picture based on the BattleTech universe, but development has been slow and little is known about the project's status.

The BattleTech universe

The breadth and volume of material written for BattleTech has yielded a fictional universe with a richness and complexity that rivals Star Wars and Star Trek. A detailed timeline stretching from the late 20th century to the mid-32nd describes humanity's technological, social and political development and spread through space both in broad historical terms and through accounts of the lives of individuals who experienced and shaped that history. Individual people remain largely unchanged from those of modern times, due in part to stretches of protracted interplanetary warfare during which technological progress slowed or even reversed. Cultural, political and social conventions vary considerably between worlds, but feudalism is wide spread, with many states ruled by hereditary lords and other nobility, below which are numerous social classes.

A key feature of the BattleTech universe is the absence of non-human intelligent life. Despite one or two isolated encounters in novels, mankind is the only sentient species, making the incessant warfare among humanity's feudal empires seem a more realistic and direct extension of the past and present. Though not the norm, fictional futures in which humanity is alone have been explored in a number of other popular series, including Frank Herbert's Dune and Isaac Asimov's Foundation.

Above all, the central theme of BattleTech is conflict, something to be expected given the franchise's wargaming core. Interstellar and civil wars, planetary battles, factionalization and infighting, as well as institutionalized combat in the shape of arena contests and duelling, form the grist of both novelized fiction and game backstories.

History

BattleTech's fictional history covers the approximately 1150 years from the end of the 20th century to the middle of the 32nd. Most works in the series are set during the early to middle decades of the 31st century, though a few publications concern earlier ages, including a technical readout describing 2750s-era technology. MechWarrior: Dark Ages and its related novels take place in the mid 3100s.

Technology

The level of technology evident in BattleTech is an unusual blend of the highly futuristic and the nearly modern. Radically advanced tech like faster-than-light interstellar travel and superluminal communication mix with seemingly anachronistic technologies as internal combustion engines, projectile weapons and artillery. Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, androids, and many other staples of future fiction are generally absent or downplayed. Incessant warfare is generally blamed for the uneven advancement; the destruction of industry and institutes of learning over the centuries of warfare having resulting in the loss of much technology and knowledge. As rivalries and conflicts have dragged on, the most common advanced technologies - used to gain military advantage - are redeveloped for the battlefield. Because the BattleTech universe reached a pinnacle of scientific achievement before it collapsed in strife, there is an element of LosTech that is sometimes used as a tool in fiction and/or gameplay to add new dimensions to the storyline. LosTech represents designs and occasionally implementations of technological advances that were at some point achieved, but believed to have been lost over the ages. LosTech is frequently found in Star League-era caches, the locations of which have been forgotten or have been made inaccessible for various reasons. When designs and schematics are found, the most common source are old ComStar locations, as their organization held the majority of the most powerful and best-maintained computer systems.

Political entities

BattleTech's universe is governed by numerous interstellar human governments that vie for supremacy. Described below are the major areas into which these factions fall.

Terra

Terra is the homeworld of mankind (no longer commonly called Earth, although this name is very occasionally used) and former capital of the Star League. Many planets around Terra were rendered uninhabitable during the first two Succession Wars, and surviving planets suffer from the damage even centuries later. Several dozen of these worlds, in what came to be known as the Chaos March, briefly gained their independence between 3057 and 3081. Historically, whichever faction controlled Terra has held more political power than any single Great House. Several groups have held Terra, including the Terran Alliance, Terran Hegemony, ComStar, Word of Blake, and Republic of the Sphere; most of these nations fought bitter struggles upon Terra, scarring the world.

The Inner Sphere

The Inner Sphere, heart of the BattleTech Universe, contains all worlds within 500 light-years of Terra. It is dominated by five "Great Houses": House Davion, House Liao, House Marik, House Steiner and House Kurita. (The term "Inner Sphere" sometimes refers to these houses collectively). The leader of each Great House claims to be the rightful successor to the rule of the Star League, and so their nations are known as the Successor States.

There are few other significant nations in the Inner Sphere. The St. Ives Compact was a short-lived state that broke away from the Capellan Confederation after the Fourth Succession War, and was reabsorbed following a brief war in 3062. The Free Rasalhague Republic was created in 3034 by a deal between the Draconis Combine and the Lyran Commonwealth. It rivaled the Capellan Confederation for size, but by 3052 it had been almost entirely conquered by the Clans; in the 3070s, much of it was incorporated into the Ghost Bear Dominion (which is known as the Rasalhague Dominion by 3130).

The Periphery

The space surrounding the Inner Sphere contains a number of independent nations, known collectively as the Periphery. The largest of these nations (the Outworlds Alliance, Taurian Concordat, Magistracy of Canopus, and Rim Worlds Republic) predate the Star League and rival the Successor States themselves in size, but are inferior economically and militarily. More moderately sized nations, such as the Marian Hegemony or Bandit Kingdoms, also lie near the Inner Sphere. The Periphery contains countless other independent nations, many consisting of a single star system each and rarely playing a significant role in Inner Sphere politics. The mostly uncharted space beyond the nearby Periphery states is known as the Deep Periphery and contains numerous pirate havens and lost Star League colonies.

The Clans

During the Fall of the above-mentioned Star League, the Star League Defense Force exiled itself and eventually settled in the Deep Periphery. They reformed into the Clans, a warrior-centric caste society relying on genetic manipulation and artificial birth. The four strongest of these Clans returned to the Inner Sphere as would-be conquerors in 3049, were reinforced by three more Clans a year later, and were joined in the late 3060s by another two. Of the original twenty Clans, by 3067 three were absorbed, two were annihilated, two fragmented, two defected, and one was abjured. The Clan Occupation Zones together occupy a region roughly equivalent to one of the Successor States.

Mercenaries

Inner Sphere has many private military companies. Some of them are quite powerful, and their actions have influenced the history of the known universe. Among the most famous mercenary groups are the Wolf's Dragoons, Eridani Light Horse, Kell Hounds, Northwind Highlanders, Gray Death Legion, and McCarron's Armored Cavalry.

Miscellaneous

  • BattleTech has won three Origins Awards and its various expansions and spin-offs have won several more.
  • Many of the novels and sourcebooks incorporate pop-culture references, in names and places. Anime and manga seem to be a popular source of names for minor characters, as does true history.
  • FASA, the company that produced BattleTech, sued Playmates for trademark infringement for using several mecha designs that FASA developed for their battletech game for their ExoSquad toyline. The resulting counter suit from Playmates targeted mecha images taken from Macross and other anime series used in Battletech. The related lawsuits were settled and later products of BattleTech do not use the designs under contention. In the Japanese edition of BattleTech, all of these designs were redesigned by Studio Nue, creator of Macross.
  • An estimated twenty-five million people have played a BattleTech or MechWarrior RPG or read a BattleTech or MechWarrior novel, and at least ten million people have played the BattleTech-based computer games. More than eleven million copies of MechWarrior PC games and a similar number of MechWarrior: Dark Age Collectable Miniatures Game figures have been sold to date. Over three hundred and fifty different BattleTech/MechWarrior game and toy products have been produced to date; several products, such as the Technical Readout series, the core rulebook and base box set, have been in continuous print (in one form or another) since publication. More than five thousand World Wide Web pages have been created to date by the online BattleTech community.

See also

References

External links

Official sites

Designated BattleTech wiki

Online multi-player sites

  • BattleTech: The Frontier Lands , a text-based, real-time version of the BattleTech board game.
  • BattleTech 3065 , a real-time, multi-player combat simulation site.
  • Inner Sphere Wars , a real-time multi-player combat site featuring live drops 24/7.
  • Neveron , a free, massively-multiplayer strategy/combat game using technology and large amounts of rule sets from the BattleTech universe.
  • Invasion3042 , a free, real-time MMO strategy game based on the BattleTech board game.
  • MegaMekNET , a free MMO implementation of the BattleTech board game.

Animated series

References

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