Returning To Battletech 31 Years Later

by Mike Futter on Sep 28, 2015 at 11:40 AM

In January, I had the opportunity to chat with Harebrained Schemes’ Jordan Weisman and Mitch Gitelman about Shadowrun: Hong Kong. During the conversation, we discussed how the studio was evolving its approach to Kickstarter. Jordan also hinted that one of his classic IPs was coming home, and our guess at Battletech was spot-on (if you don’t count us hedging with Crimson Skies).

Today, I had a chance to chat with Weisman, Gitelman, and co-director Mike McCain about what’s in store for Battletech. It’s been more than 30 years since Weisman and Gitelman created the franchise, and while much has changed, their love of giant robots stomping smaller things into dust hasn’t waned.

Harebrained Schemes’ Battletech is a turn-based tactics game set in 3025. The universe is in a “technological retrograde” according to Weisman. While newer mechs are still being produced, the older machines are more powerful and better performing. Pilots are members of noble houses, but this game puts players in the role of a mercenary leading a mech lance.

Battletech will have similarities to Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun, but the two will ultimately be quite different. Weisman says that Battletech is tactics first, whereas Shadowrun is very much an RPG that happens to have turn-based tactical combat.

Just like with Shadowrun: Hong Kong, Harebrained Schemes is bringing a funded concept to the community. For its fourth Kickstarter, the studio has a four-stage plan for Battletech.

Stage one, which is entirely funded by Harebrained Schemes, is a player-versus-AI skirmish game. The Kickstarter campaign goal is set at $250,000, at which point “combined arms” (vehicles that complement mech combat) will be added. Infantry is being considered, but will only be implemented if it works well. 

“There is no stretch goal associated with [infantry],” Weisman says. “In our point of view it’s part of combined arms, if we can pull it off in a way that works.”

There are a number of smaller steps like this on the way to the three big phases that the studio is planning to implement to grow the game.  At the $1 million level, Harebrained Schemes will add a single-player campaign. At $1.85 million, the solo play will become more open-ended with side missions and procedural generation. The final stage kicks in at $2.5 million with player-versus-player multiplayer.

This staged approach worked well for the Shadowrun: Hong Kong campaign, which raised $1.2 million. That game was delivered on time in August of this year. Unlike that campaign though, Battletech is a completely new endeavor on a new engine (Unity 5) with systems that evoke the the tabletop game without mimicking it.

“It’s a new set of mechanics, but the goal is to model it heavily on the spirit of the tabletop,” Weisman explains. Feel is more important than strict adherence to what already exists. “I designed those mechanics 31 years and not for use by computer. In some respect, we can get closer to the spirit of the tabletop without using those mechanics.”

“It’s gotta feel like Battletech,” Gitelman says. While the team is still prototyping systems, they are pushing towards movement and risk/reward that mirrors what players experience while gathered around the tabletop with friends. Part of that is allowing a more methodical approach to combat.

Unlike MechCommander, which was a real-time game, Harebrained Schemes is taking advantage of the more thoughtful pace of turn-based play. “The biggest thing to me is the discreet understanding of risk and reward,” Weisman says. “In a real-time game, you can’t be shooting all these numbers at a player and expect them to make intelligent decisions. In a turn-based game, we can tell you what your chances of falling over are if you plot a really tight turn for a mech that’s moving fast. We can tell you what your chances of success are for a weapon group when you’re targeting a mech through intervening terrain.”

Weisman says this gives players a heightened sense of control, but also gives access to deeper systems. Battletech will include a mechbay for player who wish to customize their big, stompy robots. Not only will this allow players to customize arms and armor, but also more granular elements like actuators and gyros. These impact turning radius, as you wouldn’t want your mammoth war machine to fall over.

You won’t need to go that deep if you just want to get out on the battlefield. “Our goal is to offer you more than you’ve ever had before, but not require you to use it,” Weisman explains.

With the Inner Sphere currently existing in the tabletop realm and in MechWarrior Online, Harebrained Schemes wants to make sure that its strategy-tactics game fits in thematically. Battletech will use art created by Mechwarrior Online studio Piranha Games for a sense of consistency.

Unlike Shadowrun: Hong Kong, Harebrained Schemes is planning for a longer development curve as it works on its first Battletech game. The latest Shadowrun title took eight months between Kickstarter launch and game release. 

Battletech will take about 18 months. “We’re building a new house,” McCain says. “Battletech is an all new house and an all new foundation that we’re building.” 

The Kickstarter goes live at 10 a.m. Pacific / 1 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, September 29. Jordan Wiesman, Mitch Gitelman, and Mike McCain will be appearing on No Guts, No Galaxy TV tonight, September 28, at 6 p.m. Pacific / 9 p.m. Eastern. They’ll be talking about Battletech and taking your questions about the upcoming game.

Update: The Kickstarter page is now live.