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[personal profile] krpalmer
Once again, I'm trying to craft a post around a video game I've started playing of late. As an unofficial open-source adaptation of a board game (or, at least, a game played with "map boards"), it's not a multimedia extravaganza, but it does give a chance to try out something I've been aware of for a long time. The game's called "MegaMek," and it's a computer version of "Battletech."

I started noticing Battletech game modules in hobby stores not that long after starting to watch Robotech, and as with other people the similarity in names and art left me wondering who was ripping off who. (Maybe it was more complicated than that, but of that a little more later...) With what little I could remember from the backs of those packages about the ravages of future war, I tried sketching out a timeline with the thought it might even turn into a story, one that only ran a few centuries into the future and had two sides facing off on a post-apocalyptic Earth. It was a bit later, the story unwritten, that I learned the game was set a full millennium in the future, and extended my timeline only for it to still end up with two sides facing off on a post-apocalyptic Earth. By then, though, there were Battletech novels on the science fiction shelves of bookstores, and I started learning what the real story was...

This wasn't that long after the Robotech novels seemed to have wrapped up, and I suppose there was always the chance I could have moved on from one "tech" to another. However, I seemed to stick on something. Perhaps it was just the sense that the first few novels I happened to read were just a slice of a much larger fictional world, one they just might have expected you to be a bit more familiar with already. I also admit that the egalitarian in me revolts at the "space nobles" ruling the story's interstellar future, but then it also does that with Foundation, Dune, The Mote in God's Eye, and the "Crest of the Stars/Banner of the Stars" anime series. (David Brin would no doubt be disappointed Star Wars doesn't bother me the same way for some reason, but he never seems to have criticised the written science fiction I've just mentioned.) In retrospect, though, I can see how a fairly healthy democracy on one side of the war might become the sentimental favourite. Beyond that, though, the novels may have just given me the sense that "BattleMechs" were slow, clumsy, and lumbering compared to "Robotech mecha." (I suppose, though, that the Robotech novels may have slightly overstated their case... I can recall thinking that Robotech's "mental control" was much more impressive than Battletech's, and then I was informed there was no evidence for "mental control" in the original animation...)

At one point, I did manage to buy a few of the core game modules at a yard sale, and the game did seem easier to manage than the Robotech role-playing game, which I had a number of books from, calling them "sourcebooks" but not quite sure how they were supposed to play out beyond rolling to hit, rolling to dodge, and rolling to damage with no sense of how you might close from long range to close range. I drew, copied, coloured, cut out, and glued together playing pieces and made up a hex-grid map board of my own design, tried to play a simple game against myself... and right when the Mechs were closing into range, I realised I'd lost track of the modifiers for movement. Still, the thought of trying to move the Robotech mecha into the game system enticed me a bit, but with my biases it probably would have amounted to a hideous "munchkinism" where the mecha ran circles around the slower Mechs when they weren't sniping them from distances their opponents couldn't reach.

Not that long after that, I started watching anime, and figured out at last that the first designs to appear in Battletech had been taken from Macross and two other mecha anime. Not that long after that, Battletech stopped including those old designs in its art through some complicated disagreement. Then, a while after that, I happened to learn there had been a Japanese-language version of Battletech with the Mechs redesigned there, and was fascinated by the art; with no apparent need to draw the machines over and over in animation (or even in a manga), the designs have a baroque complexity that sort of make me think of things like "a 1970s underground cartoonist's take on giant robots." In any case, they were more interesting to me than a good number of the more recent North American designs. Certainly, though, I do see how Battletech could appeal to people because it doesn't contain the familiar elements of mecha anime and feels more like regular science fiction... For me, though, when I hear occasional comments that Battletech is "more realistic," I think that just about any "giant robot" would make for a great big guided missile target in a "realistic world," so you might as well go for the gusto.

In the end, though, I did learn about and decide to get "MegaMek" running. The game is complex, and I do appreciate the computer keeping track of the bookkeeping for me. It's also a slugging match, evenly matched Mechs whacking at each other until they've broken through their opponent's armour and smashed up their internal components. I do suppose that combat more like what I think of when I think of mecha anime, with dodging being important and "one hit, one kill" being part of the story unless you're a main character, could be more a matter of a pure role-playing game (and, indeed, there are RPGs designed for that). Still, for all that I can start playing a game and then realise how much time I've put into it, I am putting that time in. I've even learned a thing or two. Some of those old game modules I found made the confident claim that a single one of the heaviest Mechs could smash up any number of the lightest; it may well be able to demolish one of them in a single volley, but a dozen of them can chew it to bits before they're all wiped out.

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