Saturday, 7 November 2009
BattleTech Déjà vu
I saw an interesting post on on a now defunct site that required me to go away and write my own perspective.
As an early adopter of BattleTech, quite literally at the time I started playing the game was called Battledroids, and the number of players was less than the first print run world-wide, with virtually no magazine support either, what I feel is déjà vu. The Word of Blake (WoB) is the Clans all over again, an upgrade to the universe that deletes the original. We all know where that one leads to don't we? It leads to players who are heavily invested in the old paradigm not wanting to transfer to the new one.
As I sit here typing this I can't help but think of the in game transfer of power plot that is the ComStar plan and thinking that this is a metaphor for what is happening in the game itself. Depending on how you look at it, we are seeing the second or third transfer in the game.
The original game was set in a Mad Max universe of scarcity, where manly men, or strong women, piloted mechs that ruled the battlefield. The first transfer was the development on new technology from the Grey Death Legion Helm core. This brought double heat sinks into the game, which unwittingly made all auto cannons pretty much redundant as primary weapons (specialist functions still exist for them, but no-one would want an auto cannon over a PPC for instance; my caveat here is that I've summarized a very complex argument into that one line).
The second transfer, or cementing of the first (depending on your viewpoint), was the coming of the Clans. Players went from making sucking noises about Gauss rifles being too powerful, to the Clans allowing you to field munchkin mechs. This time players voted with their feet big time, and today we have the situation where there are people who will only play 3025, and I don't blame them. I've never found the game more fun to play because of the extra toys that newer tech brings to the table. For me the game is fun due to the central conceit, and conceit it is, because giant humanoid war machines make no sense in the real world.
Now we see the third transfer within the game from the Clans, to the threat that is the WoB. The problem is that the WoB need to be able to beat the Clans, and the Clans are already have the most munchy game stats. The question then becomes how to make the WoB better without destroying the game again? The answer is to take it to the max in a way that is limited in some way. Therefore we get the WoB Munchkin-Max tech from the introduction of prosthetics. I imagine that this route was taken, because it allows the writers to remove it naturally at a later date.
Within the game architecture, having something that makes the players feel revolted, is a very good way of limiting the use of said tech. By this (and again I'm simplifying a very complex argument), I mean that though the tech is available the cost benefit analysis of having it is such that it is no longer seen as the solution (short character life, going mad etc). In this case given the introduction of the RPG, very few players would want to play monsters (or more likely the CGL scenario writers and GMs would allow) , because that is what the WoB are. By using implants they become monsters.
Phew, sorry if this argument has been a bit tortuous, but I'm thinking through the ideas as I write them down here.
The Clan warriors were never seen as monsters. Not quite fully human, and certainly the enemy, but not monsters. The WoB start off as fanatics, and the tragedy is that they become monsters. So all that is good about them is sacrificed because they believe that the end justifies the means. I also see that the writers at CGL are doing a grand job of writing a set of very comprehensive rules that have transformed the games from giant mechs kicking ass, to a more subtle game of combined arms, but here's the thing. If I want a more subtle combined arms game I wouldn't be playing Battletech.
I'm of the school where mechs are a conceit, but you then run with that conceit, rather than try and create a more realistic and balanced game. As one of the old time players I stopped with the Clans, and have rather jumped over the middle period to come back into the game at the Jihad. I like the Jihad, conceptually, but you know what I still mostly play 3025 games, because it is what I know and it is fun to play.