Friday, 13 August 2010
Loving the Alien
Or, how I learnt to enjoy BattleTech in spite of the Clans.
Over on the Classic BattleTech Forum there is a long and rambling thread about aliens in BattleTech that started as a hate fest for the idea of all things alien being added to the game background, but which has settled down to a more reasoned discussion through polite persistence..
As an Old School Renaissance player (or Retard, depending on you point of view) I really don't care what is, or is not in the BattleTech game, because I see the official rules as merely a buffet that I can choose to pick from as I like. However, the tirade of anti-alien hate rather puzzles me. I can see that the anti-alien proponents feel that aliens add nothing to the back ground that can't be done by using humans, which is a circular argument that leads no where useful.
OTOH, BattleTech has always been driven by back ground fluff. As I've discussed in previous blog entries, this is a board game that feels like an RPG campaign. Not a bad thing, though I have never been a faction player in BattleTech, I observe that now that I have MechWarrior armies to play with, I have become very faction orientated. Go figure I guess? I think this is down to the simple matter that MechWarrior miniatures come pre-painted, which makes compiling a force in one faction relatively easy.
In BattleTech I've always been pretty faction neutral. My main army was nominally mercenaries that were loosely attached to House Kurita, as I like the Japanese culture for the background, but I did not want to tie myself down to specific units in the canon literature of the game. Recently, since returning to the game about three years ago, I've started adding more canon markings to my OPFOR armies, making them loosely House Steiner and Marik by the addition of the appropriate decals.
However, BattleTech remains a game where I haven't invested greatly in the canon background to any great degree, other than dressing mechs with paraphernalia as a nod of acknowledgment to the rules background. Rather I'm interested in using the stage that BattleTech give me as set dressing for my own aims, and goals that I want from any game I play. Namely the ability to create interesting scenarios that are based on historical precedence, which require the players to do more than kill the enemy, kill all of them.
So aliens, what's the big deal?
They aren't human for a start. Some objections can be raised here about the ability of writers to write about aliens in a way that is meaningful can be raised here. However, as an SciFi fan of many years, I know that the history of the genre is full of examples of really alien aliens. Now, admittedly, a lot of these aliens won't fit into a game involving giant stompy robots. Mind you, I think that a game of giant stompy robots is so far out from any reasonable definition of plausible that the addition of other implausible elements is hardly a big factor. Though again one can argue that too many implausible things would dilute the verisimilitude of the game to the degree that one's sense of disbelief will destroy any feeling of involvement with what is going on.
This after all is the main reason why lots of historical wargamers will not play Sci-Fi or Fantasy wargames. So what kind of aliens might be added to Battletech without destroying the background of the universe. For me, it would be aliens that were "interesting", because of their unique perspective.
What can added to the game is more variety of unit types. Everyone likes a new mech, and the more the merrier. Otherwise why do we need the 1300 plus mech designs we already have? Arguably we don't, but players like new designs. Players like new weapons. Now while you don't need aliens to have either, alien mecha and weaponry would appeal to those who like rules for different technology, in pretty much the same way as some players like Clan tech, which is arguably the shape of BattleTech to come, if my understanding of MW:DA/AoD is correct?
Some of the factors to consider would be the visual design of the alien mechs. which would mean for me non-bipedal mechs like quads with arms, or six-legged mechs with turrets, and or eight legged mechs. The aliens may, or may not have a different underlying reproductive biology, for instance marsupials, reptilian, insect, or arthropod. We could add more fluff and make them hermaphrodites too. Or perhaps they are a race that has uploaded themselves into virtual worlds. This would lead to different minds, more like a hive collective, or one where replication of a mind was routine.
So, for instance, we could have a dispersed technological hive mind that is limited by the laws of the physics, as they pertain to the BattleTech universe. This could be used to generate scenarios where we only meets small forces that wreak havoc and destruction, who then disappear off stage for years, because the travel times are so long that it slows down their communications. So the aliens are effectively at the end of a very long logistical chain. There motive is purely xenophobia, they can't tolerate other races.
However, I agree that the real question of whether or not BattleTech should have aliens is not about the how, but what purpose do they serve?
The one big question that has never been answered in the BattleTech universe is where are the advance alien civilisations that should exist? Did they all destroy themselves in wars, and ultimately mankind is doomed to the same fate? If they didn't destroy themselves, who did destroy them? Or, are we the first to survive and reach the stars?
Depending on how you spin these answers out, you either create a story where mankind is either going to die out from self inflicted conflict, or a story where mankind goes and destroys any possible alien race that might develop (i.e: we are the destroyers of worlds), or a story where we find the big bad out there and it awakens to the threat that we represent, or one where we are all alone in the dark?
Any alien threat has to be bigger than just another faction of humans gone stir crazy, or rabid from drinking the local water, or being out in the sun too long, or inbreeding etc. The trick is coming up with ways to maintain the game balance of said alien force; otherwise you end up with the humans being wiped out through superior technology. The whole aliens as gods/angels versus puny things like us humans.
This question and its answers are what could be added to the background of the universe that would then allow the RPG side of the rules more scope for non-military play.
I favour the latter idea.
Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.