Lost in Translation has covered BattleTech a few times. The setting is vast with a history covering over three hundred years. Lost in Translation touched on the main eras with the review of the animated series, but the setting isn’t set in stone. Two eras not really covered in the past reviews are the Jihad and Dark Age.
The Dark Age is set about a hundred years after the classic 3025 Succession Wars era. When FASA, the original company publishing BattleTech folded, Jordan Weisman, one of the game’s designers, took the IP and founded WizKids in 2000. The first game produced by the new company was Mage Knight, a collectible miniatures game. At the time, collectible card games, also called trading card games, were hot sellers. Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering blazed a new trail with the Pokémon Trading Card Game following up. There were many attempts to cash in on the new big thing, but few survived the initial hype. However, a collectible minis game was a new approach. WizKids evolved Mage Knight into its Clix system, leading to HeroClix in 2002, where players could have Marvel and DC heroes and villains fight each other.
In 2003, the MechWarrior: Dark Age collectible minis game was released. The setting was still in the BattleTech universe, but with the timeline advanced. Gone were recognizable factions like House Marik, which had shattered into separate provinces, and several of the Clans. Instead, the Inner Sphere was recovering from the loss of the faster-than-light communications means known as Hyper Pulse Generators, or HPG. The Republic of the Sphere, having taken Terra from the Word of Blake, worked to restore humanity. Naturally, some factions still thought they were better at ruling than others and fought back. The BattleTech setting is one of war, after all.
Fans of the older games were put out by the advance of history and the sudden changes. The random selection when buying a box of miniatures didn’t help. With the older games, looking for the specific BattleMech needed for a unit meant looking through the racks of blister packs and picking up one or two Atlases for an assault lance, or four Atlases for a Steiner scout lance. The BattleMechs also came unpainted, so players had the option to choose their preferred affiliation. The collectible minis came pre-painted with most assigned to a specific affiliation. Still, there were players who enjoyed the game, even with a lack of UrbanMechs.
Topps bought WizKids in 2003 and shut down the Clix line in 2009 before selling it off to NECA. Topps kept the BattleTech and Shadowrun IPs, though, and licensed both lines out to Catalyst Game Labs for continued game development. With BattleTech, Catalyst filled in the gap from Clan Invasion to Dark Age. The Inner Sphere, seeing the end of the ComStar imposed Truce of Tukayyid coming up, decided to short-circuit the Clans and came together to form the Second Star League. The newly reformed Star League then eliminates Clan Smoke Jaguar and then fights a Trial of Refusal, ending the Clan invasion once and for all.
However, the Second Star League had all the problems of the original – powerful Houses that couldn’t play well with others. The League fell apart, leading to the Word of Blake losing what little it had left of its sanity. The Word of Blake lashed out, striking everyone and everywhere, plunging the Inner Sphere into chaos. The Republic of the Sphere formed over time to fight back and reclaim worlds from the Word of Blake zealots, finally putting an end to them. But the Word of Blake had one last trump card, the destruction of the HPG network, leading to the Dark Age.
With the details filled in, players can choose their preferred era, set out their favourite unit of BattleMechs, and engage in giant stompy mecha carnage. Some players go beyond just playing out battles on the tabletop battlefield and create their own narratives. With Games Workshop clamping down on fan-made animation, there has been an exodus of Warhammer 40K players over to BattleTech, where the IP holders aren’t hunting down fan works. There are enough fan-made animated videos to help newcomers figure out the BattleTech setting.
Case in point,the 2006 Mechwarrior film, MechWarrior – Age of Destruction by the Class of March 2006 at the DAVE School of Animation of NUC University. This six minute video is a mere sliver of time compared to the vast BattleTech in-verse history, but it is an intense six minutes as Republic of the Sphere Armed Forces triy to evacuate a world in the face of a Wolf Hunters invasion. With the help of Paladin Mandela, the invasion is delayed.
Paladin Mandela and Wolf Hunters leader Anatasia Kerensky are both from the source material. The designs are straight from the game, with Mandela’s Atlas being an Atlas III with a rotary autocannon. The mix of defense units is something that MechWarrior: Dark Age promoted; while every blind box had a BattleMech, they also contained other more conventional vehicles.
The video does have a few advantages. The producers are Jordan Weisman and Kevin Goddard, the people in charge of WizKids. The story was created by Kelly Bonilla, who was the lead deisgner for MechWarrior at WizKids at the time of filming, and Sharon Turner Mulvihill, who wrote and edited several BattleTech supplements, including the 1st Somerset Strikers Sourcebook for the animated series. The screenplay was written by Loren L. Coleman, who wrote several Battletech novels, and Lee Stringer, an instructor at the DAVE school and the director of the video. Details were going to be accurate.
Being a student production, there are elements that don’t quite work. However, the purpose of a student production is to provide experience to students on how a work is made. The only way to learn is to make mistakes, or learn from someone else’s mistakes. The acting isn’t bad; there have been other works reviewed here with worse. The polish isn’t there, not like experienced actors. Again, these are students, so this is them getting experience.
The short length of the video prevents getting in depth over what’s happening. It’s a short story, not a novel. The goal is to get to the core of the action, set up the conflict fast, and then resolve it in the short term. Yet, the video shows the Wolf Hunters winning the battle, but not necessarily the war. Kerensky gets her goal, the spaceport, but not the personnel, while Mandela achieves his by buying time for the Republic personnel to escape, then escaping himself.. This is but a skirmish between the two MechWarriors.
Lost in Translation approaches fan works in a different way from professional productions. Fans are usually working from a limited budget, with a smaller crew that doesn’t have the experience that would be found in a Hollywood blockbuster. To make up for the shortfalls, fans bring a passion for the original work. Passion isn’t always a replacement for talent and experience, but can make up some of the shortfall. In the case of Mechwarrior: Age of Destruction, the enthusiasm of the students guided by the people responsible for creating the setting results in a video that represents the original work, a video worth watching.