Continuing Lost in Translation‘s look at adapting tabletop gaming settings, let’s jump into the future, a future where mankind has been at war somewhere in the galaxy for several hundred years. A future where feudal lords vie for control of all human space. Welcome to BattleTech.
Lost in Translation has covered the BattleTech animated series. While the series had issues, it did show off the then-current Clan Invasion metaplot the game was going through. In universe, the cartoon is anti-Clan propaganda by the Lyran owned Tharkad Broadcasting Company, with the characters based on real people in the setting. The BattleTech setting has several hundred years of history, providing a number of eras of play for players, from the Aramis Civil War and the end of the Star League in the late 2700s, the four Succession Wars, the Clan Invasion of the 3050s, the FedCom Civil War of the 3060s, and the Word of Blake Jihad of 3067. Conflict is built into the setting.
BattleTech has something few other tabletop games provide, giant stompy mechs fighting each other. No matter what form the adaptation takes, the draw will be war machines stomping their enemies into paste. The MechWarrior series of video games has focused on putting the player into the pilot seat of a BattleMech, controlling one of the engines of war. The recent BattleTech video game puts the action at the lance level, giving the player control of four `Mechs to fight against enemy units.
The question becomes, what level should an adaptation look at? Will the adaptation follow a lance of ‘Mech pilots getting in over their heads? Or will it take a top level approach, using the different Houses and their machinations to become the one ruling the known galaxy? Are the Clans threatening to invade, a threat not yet looming, or a pacified enemy that is now in competition with the Great Houses?
At the lance level, the best choice of unit is mercenary. House units tend to be in garrison unless either the war arrives on their world or they’re sent to the front. Mercenaries have more choice on what sort of job they take. In film, it’s almost traditional that the hired guns aren’t told the full story about what they’re getting into. The plot could be taken from other genres, from heists to Westerns. The smaller cast allows for more focus on just the unit, not worrying about the politics going on at the galactic level.
However, with the Great Houses, it’s possible for a BattleTech version of A Game of Thrones, The five Great Houses – Steiner, Davion, Kurita, Liao, and Marek – along with some Minor Houses such as Centralla of the Magistracy of Canopus, Calderon of the Taurian Concordat, and O’Reilly of the Marian Hegemony. Not only is there conflict between the Houses, there is conflict within the Houses. Conflict that bleed out to the battlefield, fought by BattleMechs. To continue the comparison with A Game of Thrones, the Clans can represent the White Walkers, lurking, ready to strike.
The Clans provide yet another approach to the setting. The Clans themselves are alien in thinking to the Inner Sphere, but they are still human. The differences is how Clan culture evolved, with scarcity, ritualized combat to prevent unnecessary losses of MechWarriors, and a stratified caste structure placing warriors at the pinnacle. Following a Star, the Clan equivalent of a lance, of new MechWarriors as they fight for position in Clan society, figuratively and literally, and dealing with how the Inner Sphere does things provides a conflict to build a plot on.
Suffice to say, BattleTech provides a wide range of potential for adaptations. The catch, like with most tabletop games, is that the game isn’t widely known. The video games, however, give the setting a boost in recognition. The other problem is the expense of special effects. The animated series had a limited number of BattleMechs for use during the enhanced imaging portions of a battle. Granted, the cartoon came out when CGI was in its infancy; it’s possible to have more models available for scenes now, especially if there’s assistance from the video games. Introducing the setting to a new audience shouldn’t be difficult; all works need to go through that, especially genre fiction, original or adapted.
BattleTech has a rich setting to plunder for adaptations, with the only common factor being oversized walking tanks ruling the battlefield. The BattleMechs are the draw; the story is what will keep the audience. Getting the existing fans onside shouldn’t be difficult, especially with the volumes written about all the factions that exist within the setting. A studio just has to choose an approach.