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.
Today’s BattleTech is a massive franchise consisting of a tabletop wargame and a tabletop RPG from Catalyst Labs, a popular online multi-player video game developed by Harebrained Schemes, and many novels covering the range of history of the setting. The game was first released as Battledroids in 1984 by FASA. The game was renamed after Lucasfilm reminded the company that “Droid” wasn’t FASA’s trademark. The second edition was renamed to BattleTech and had corrections and more advanced rules, including a way for players to create their own BattleMechs, the kings of the battlefield.
The second edition, the first under the BattleTech name, introduced a galaxy at war, with the 3035 Succession Wars. The five great houses, Steiner of the Lyran Commonwealth, Kurita of the Draconis Combine, Laio of the Capellan Confederation, Marek of the Free Worlds League, and Davion of the Federated Suns. The initial BattleMechs provided were licensed from the designer of the mecha for Super Dinemsion Fortress Macross, Crusher Joe, and Fang of the Sun: Dougram. As the game line increased with supplements, Technical Readout: 3025 added more designs, some of which were also licensed from the mentioned anime.
The third edition came out in 1992. However, problems were looming. Harmony Gold, the studio that adapted three separate anime series – Super Dinemsion Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Squadron Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA – into the series RoboTech noticed that FASA was using mecha from Macross. The result of the lawsuit turned a large number of BattleMechs being removed from the game in 1996; those ‘Mechs became known as the Unseen. However, FASA was already advancing the setting’s time line, having released Technical Readout: 3050 with more new designs for BattleMech, AeroFighters, and conventional vehicles.
Since the game is based on BattleMechs battling each other, any peace in the setting could only be short-lived. For 3050, a new threat appeared, one that allowed FASA to use new BattleMech designs on the covers of their games. From beyond the Periphery came the Clans to reclaim Earth from the Inner Sphere barbarians. Lost in Translation covered this in some detail in the review of the BattleTech cartoon. The Clan Invasion looked to be unstoppable with their advanced weapons technology outstripped anything the Inner Sphere had. Two events caused the Clans to stumble. The first was the loss of the Khans of the invading Clans, taken out by a lone pilot, Tyra Miraborg, who A-winged her Aerospace Fighter into the bridge of a Clan warship.
The other event was ComStar calling out the Clans to Tukayyid for a proxy fight for possession of Earth. Until 3055, ComStar was the quasi-religious corporation that had the monopoly on interstellar communication. No one expected ComStar to have a vast horde of Star League-era BattleMechs, least of all the Clans. No one expect ComStar to survive with green pilots and soldiers. When the smoke cleared, though, on May 20, 3052, Tukayyid was in the hands of ComStar and the invading Clans were defeated.
The fallout of the Battle of Tukayyid was that the Clan Invasion was stalled for fifteen years, giving the Inner Sphere time to figure out what to do. ComStar underwent a schism, with the more religious of the corporation upset with what happened and splintered off to become the Word of Blake, named after the founder of ComStar. To the Great Houses’ credit, they saw an out that would cut off the Clans from further invading once the fifteen year moratorium ended. The Second Star League formed. Without the pressure of the Clan Invasion, the Lyran part of the Federated Commonwealth started a civil war, resulting in the polity splitting into the Federated Commonwealth and the Lyran Alliance.
The Second Star League didn’t last long. While the idea was sound, the implementation didn’t take into account the existing tensions between the Great Houses. After seven years, the Second Star League dissolved. The Word of Blake, feeling betrayed by, well, everyone, began their Jihad to punish everyone responsible for the Second Star League’s failure.
All of the above is just scratching the surface. FASA and, later, Catalyst Game Labs have produced a number of sourcebooks and novels that go into far greater detail. The setting’s vast history is a draw for fans of the game. It’s possible to play in any era, and the setting’s timeline is still being advanced.
The Tex Talks BattleTech series is a love letter to a game from such a fan. Tex started the series because of how much fun he had with the game and wanted to do something light with it. The first Tex Talk was on Tex’s favourite BattleMech, the Awesome. He followed up with the assault ‘Mech, the Atlas. He then turned it over to the fanbase on what to cover next. As with any Internet poll, the results were predictable. There’s always a so-ugly-it’s-cute item in any setting and in BattleTech, that role falls to the UrbanMech, a light ‘Mech that is essentially the Volkswagen Beetle of BattleTech, though Beetles could outrun one. Despite the Urbie’s performance, Tex treated the ‘Mech the same as he did the Awesome and Atlas, though with far more memes.
The turning point came May 20, 2019 with a special Tex Talk “remembering” the Battle of Tukayyid, with Tex giving a historical overview of the battle for Earth with insight on where both sides made mistakes. Tex does more than just restate the results of the fight; he gets into the tactics, the psychology of both the Clans and of the ComGuards, and adds his own opinions on why the battle ended the way it did.
The special was just a hint of what was to come. Tex and his team then took on the main event in the BattleTech setting, the one that set off all the Succession Wars, the Clan Invasion, the Word of Blake Jihad – the Amaris Civil War that ended the original Star League. Tex went back to the source material, spread across a number of sourcebooks and websites, to put together a 3+ hour presentation split into two videos to cover the build up, the war itself, and the fallout.
Again, Tex goes beyond the text, adding insights on everyone involved and analyzes why the Star League fell and what could have been done to prevent it. The videos can act as an intro for any new player to understand why the galaxy is constantly at war.
Tex’s video have a light touch, with humour to keep a potentially dry subject interesting. Tex himself is a voice made of well-aged whiskey. There are meme and running gags. Some, like calling ComStar “Space AT&T” are based on what the corporation does. Others are based on quirks of the various Houses, such as the Lyran use of assault ‘Mechs, the heaviest of the heavies, to do scouting.
Tex Talks BattleTech is a labour of love for Tex and his crew. They know the setting and have the sourcebooks on hand if they don’t remember a detail. Fans have been sending in more sourcebooks and other items, including painted miniatures of various BattleMechs. The videos don’t just do the surface details; Tex and his team get into details and analysis over several sources, working out the whys behind the whats, then adds a layer of humour on top.