Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Bit of Personal Commentary

Disclaimer: All of the points below made are mine, and mine alone. They don't represent anyone but me and I am writing this in response to a very good, if a bit testy point made on the CBT forums.

Hello all,

By now, you have read this missive on the Classic Battletech forums. And I wanted to respond here because I feel I have the freedom to do so in a more free-wheeling atmosphere, and frankly, some of what I may have to say is some very hard truths from my own perspective as a Battletech player of 32 years (God has it been that long?).

My first response to this missive is a short answer. "Yes, Classic Battletech is in trouble." There are also sorts of issues going on with the game. Some I am at liberty to talk about, some I am not. I will discuss the issues I can talk about, the ones I cannot, I won't, so don't ask.

But Jason, why is our beloved game in trouble? Well, there's a lot of reasons, some of which the OP in this post lays out in a fairly devastating manner. We don't have an entry level means for new fans to enter the world of Classic Battletech. Or, we do, but the Powers That Be (hereafter referred to as the PTB) will not give it the support it deserves IMHO. (Hint: It's the subject of this blog).

The game has become impenetrable, with the Total Warfare books consisting of 5 very heavy tomes, mostly full of rules most of us will never use. Worse, the editing of some of them is atrocious (and as a Tech Writer, I ought to know, books this size should be indexed. I have yet to see a CBT rulebook that has EVER had an index except for the old House Books in my memory, the rule books should have an index, at the minimum). The rules are becoming a series of tacked on additions with endless special cases and new rules. Advanced Squad Leader is more seamless these days. We're nearing, if not already at Star Fleet Battles levels of "rules for the sake of rules".

Second, the release schedule is becoming a lot of "wishful thinking". I am hearing a lot of promised products, but other than a lot of straight to PDF travelogues and unit profiles, what I am seeing is a whole lot of nothing. Now, as a small press publisher of my own stuff, I know it's hard putting together anything for market, and it takes time. But CGL is a lot bigger than me, and the Shadowrun stuff, for the most part, is coming out like an assembly line, what aren't you telling us, PTB? Is Battletech becoming what the industry calls a "loss leader"?

Next, the Jihad did a number on the game. Sorry, but it did. While sacred cows do make the best burger meat, it's not a good idea to screw too hard with people's nostalgia. Ask Hollywood, the endless remake cycle is making them less and less money every time because when they re-imagine something, they have seemed to do a good job of screwing it up. The Jihad and endless retcons have done similar to CBT. People are playing more and more in 3067 and earlier because they didn't like the shaft their faction got. Yes, Herb did say he was screwing everyone, but that just made everyone mad. Simply put, Davion fans have become the new Capellans. I am not saying factions don't deserve their own time in the sun, they do. But sometimes, the extent of the hatred the writers have had for some factions has been a bit..unappealing. (and I won't even mention how screwed over Clan fans have felt).

Battletech is a large, multi-faceted universe at war. Somewhere, in the Classic Battletech universe, someone is shooting at someone else. That by it's very nature, is a bit grim. But the focus has been and should always be, our big stompy 'Mechs. Now the Beta of the Battletech Manual is a bit hopeful, but it's an intermediate level book meant for lance on lance fights. And at the rate we are going? When is it going to see the light of day in a final version? I think I will have to be pleasantly surprised when I see it in a store.

In short, CBT is in trouble, but there are fixes. It's going to take some time, effort, and willingness to make some changes, and perhaps some retcons to the retcons, as much as that might cause some new angst.  But I don't personally see a another way out. But hey, this is only my opinion. I'd love to hear yours.

Please keep it civil, however.


  1. Agree with all of the above. The powers that be do not seem to care about the game at all.
    Just look at the rise of third party mwo miniatures. These are rediculously popular are draw alot of attention. Why arnt cgl trying to get into that action?

  2. Jihad was so dumb. Let's spend 20+ years building up the settings and factions and then tear it down overnight. My TT group plays ~3060, MWO is in 3060, HBS BT is going to be 3025. Dark Age? Seriously? Garbage.

    1. I couldn't agree more with what you just said.

  3. I'm a new player, and tonight I'm playing the first game of BT with a long-time gaming friend. Personally, I've been wishing to play BT for a long time, probably >10 years. My friend played it long ago during the Clan era so he's familiar with it.

    All the issues mentioned are absolutely spot on. It's all but impossible to find anybody to play with in my city, nevermind the whole of New Zealand (I know of, literally, 3 people in 3 other cities) since it's not marketed at all, hence I've had to try and recruit my friend and my wife.

    Intro boxes are being gouged on eBay for something like NZ$200 so I'm playing with paper cutouts I've printed from some images I scrounged off Google, on map sheets I've bought the PDF for and printed out and taped together. I've bought a copy of TW for myself, and the BattleMech Manual "beta" to use for other people because I fear the complexity being an initial turn-off (not likely an issue with my friend, but with others). These were really purchases made in blind faith that somehow, some time, the IP will be revitalised.

    I've finally made the jump to play a game I've always been fascinated by, yet I already fear that CGL might let it die a quiet death over in some dark, dusty corner, something it really doesn't deserve.

  4. While I agree with some of your points (need a new or reprint intro box, new intro book, Alpha Strike is the future), the negativity against the story line choices shown by many players is one of the biggest detriments to the future of the game.

    I mean seriously, do you think a young player is going to want to get into a game where the players constantly complain about the game?

    Also, to dismiss the many players that liked the Jihad and the Dark Age will not help the game grow. The reason we still have a BattleTech game to talk about is because thousands of players bought sourcebooks, Technical Readouts, novels and minis for those eras. We need to keep those players in our fandom, not drive them out.

    Everyone is free to dislike an era or story line choice. I have a few of my own I don't really like. Don't get me started ;) But, we must stop dismissing other players who liked those eras. Especially since there is the possibility of another time jump in the future.

    Nostalgia is a good thing now and then, but if we wallow in it and constantly talk about "back in my day", we will kill the game faster than any business decision in my opinion.

    1. I agree with some of your takes, sir. But the point of it was that the writers used the Jihad in some cases to exorcise some of their own prejudices in the Battletech universe. Not to mention the Jihad sourcebooks themselves were written in a style that was way too much "read between the lines". Sourcebooks are best written in a clear, concise, journalistic style. Anything else is best done as extras on a website.

      The fact is, as many players were brought in, I am willing to bet an equal number of players have since fled partly because of the storyline decisions of late. Yes, wallowing in the past is a sure way to kill a game, but so is disrespecting it, and to be honest, that's what the Jihad managed to do. There needed to be a re-balance of the factions, to be honest, but the manner in which it was done left a bad taste in a lot of mouths, including mine. But, to each their own, and at the end of the day, once you buy the sourcebooks, minis, etc, it is yours to do with as you please.

  5. We need to start over, and it's not going to be easy. Retcon? More like reboot.

    Problem: At this point, old hands expect the rules to at some level involve combined arms. This leads to, as we've seen, rulebook bloat.

    Problem: While BT has absolutely fascinating lore, and a longstanding devotion to advancing that lore, the consequence is that figuring out the 'current state' of the universe, as well as the 'how-we-got-here', takes multiple sourcebooks and countless hours. Even just picking a faction (unless you're going off of 'what looks coolest') is a huge undertaking.

    Problem: When the universe was begun, the writers and designers didn't make it immortal. One could make a ten trillion word post about this, but let me boil it down to an analogy: why is it that the original Star Wars aesthetic (other than Luke's hair) is still looked at today as acceptably sci fi and cool, while introducing new players to Battletech art produces eyerolls? Hint: it has something to do with everything looking like it was taken straight out of the 80s. Let's not even get into some of the remnant-of-their-era names and stereotypes that were immortalized by that early lore (one of the founding members of the Western Alliance was the 'Confederation of Free Orient Peoples.' The only people that refer to east Asians as 'Orientals' are 80 year old men in tweed).

    Solution: Keep the bones, keep the muscle, and cut the fat.

    Return to the early 3000s, either late 3rd SW or 4th SW, as the 'start date' for the universe. Advantage: warfare in this era is still largely ritualized, thus reducing the focus on combined arms detachments and refocusing on the Mech vs Mech combat that popularized the setting and system in the first place.

    Rewrite the lore, from the 2000s on up. Keep the basic structure - Soviet civil war, founding of the Western Alliance, slow spread to the stars, fragmentation, reunification, fall of the Star League, etc. But get rid of the ridiculous stereotypes that make anybody under the age of 30 roll their eyes. No more 'the space Asians are evil! And also, though everybody is autocratic, somehow worse than all the other nations!' Enough of that.

    Re-do the art. I feel like there's a lot of institutional pride in the old art, and given the Unseen controversy perhaps justifiably so. But the designs are outdated. Twiggy legs, inconsistent model scaling, etc. Put almost any Battletech art or miniature up against a competitor, and the differences are striking. Swallow our pride, take some inspiration from PGI's new Mech designs, and start over.

    And finally, for God's sake, hire somebody to be in charge of merchandise. Look, I love that when there's an issue with something I'm buying from Catalyst, I get to talk to Randall Bills about it. But that should never happen. It's either a sign of bad planning or it's a sign that Battletech's "team" is about four people, and I'm not sure which is worse.

    1. (Same author, dunno why it is listing the top-level author as 'unknown')

      Heck, I can even kick you off in the direction of the source for the reboot. Whether we as sci-fi fans like it or not, FTL communication implies the ability to talk backwards in time. (Here's a good post on the subject: http://www.theculture.org/rich/sharpblue/archives/000089.html)

      Maybe the HPGs have some way of preventing that, and that's why we've never seen it up to now. Whatever. But somebody, in the death throes of civilization that are the Dark Age/post-Jihad era, figures out how to bypass that preventative measure. One short burst message, targeted back at whoever circa whenever (Michael Cameron?) to change the course, if not the destination, of history.

      It's simple enough a catalyst for the changes, it's consistently hard-ish sci fi (which Battletech has always been), and I genuinely think it could save the game.