The Universe of Battletech

I’ve talked before about world building, specifically within the universe of Tribes.  World building is extremely important and the more you work on the world that your characters inhabit, the better. While some world designers only go far enough in their world building to create what’s needed, others go well beyond the call of duty in order to created a rich, elaborate depth.  One very good example where this is the case is the universe of Battletech.

Two Mad Cat Battlemechs

For those that are unfamiliar with the tabletop game Battletech, here’s the basics.  In Battletech, you pit your army and wits against your opponent’s.  Like many tabletop games you move small models, called miniatures, around on a battlefield grid.  What sets Battletech apart from other war games is that your army consists of huge lumbering war machines called Battlemechs, or Mechs for short, piloted by MechWarriors.  These great monstrous machines are the ultimate combat unit, raining destruction in their wake in the form of lasers, long range missiles (LRMs), autocannons (ACs), and particle projection cannons (PPCs).

The creators of Battletech could have stopped at this point with the lore.  All you really need to know is that two sides are at war and they use Mechs to fight each other.  Thankfully, this doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of the Battletech universe.  To start off, they have a deep history reaching back centuries before the era in which the tabletop game is set.  History about the migration away from terra, and the settling of other planets.  There’s a whole line of events about what has happened in the Inner Sphere, including all the factions, territories, and wars that have rages over the centuries.  Then, there’s the Clans, a group of MechWarriors who fractured away from the Star League, a doom alliance of the Inner Sphere houses, and created their own Clan order in a distant star system.  Later, the Clans would return in the Clan Invasion, or as the Clans called it Operation Revival.

All of this is still just scratching the surface and I’d need pages to go into any real depth.  There’s so much history and depth that Battletech has even spawned a series of Battletech novels, each one pulling from known Battletech history and adding more of its own.  Each of the rulebooks is also filled with short stories between their sections and if you want even more gritty details of the history there’s a whole series of Historicals that can be purchased and read.

The Battletech TechManual

While a historical background is fantastic, my favorite part of the Battletech universe is the technical information.  While the Total Warfare rulebook gives you a small taste of a few technical details, the real treat is the TechManual.  This book, while providing construction rules for the game itself, is filled with in universe descriptions of all the technology used by all sides.  From how Battlemechs operate to the operation of the various weaponry, it’s packed to the brim with lore for technology geeks like me.  As an added bonus, the Technical Readouts, which provide new units to play with, have information on the history and technical details of each unit they offer.

The Battletech universe tends to draw enthusiasts in and surround them with elaborate lore.  Thanks in part to this deep rich lore, the Battletech universe has managed to move beyond being just a tabletop game.  Everything from videogames to novels, to even an RPG, has come out of the universe that Battletech has created.  I can’t help but think that it can only get bigger.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to read the TechManual.

The World is in the Details

Multiplayer video games have been around for a long while and have become one of the most popular types of game out there.  There’s something about competition and being able to play with or against other people instead of just against a computer.  While some games throw the player into a free-for-all competition of every man to himself, many more place players onto teams.

In team multiplayer games, players are most often separated into two sides.  In order to distinguish enemy from foe, the two sides need to look different.  In many games, even popular ones such as Halo, the two sides are differentiated by color.  These color differences are enough to serve their function of team identification, but when developers pay closer attention to team details, a whole new layer can be added to the game.

In the Tribes game series, which is exclusively multiplayer, the developers made the effort to have each side look completely different.  Player armor isn’t just a new paint job with a different color slapped on.  Each team’s armor not only has its own color scheme, they also have their own insignias and even the models are different, giving each team a unique look rarely found in other games.

The Diamond Sword (left) and Blood Eagle (right) pathfinder armor.

In the latest incarnation of Tribes, Tribes: Ascend, they take these differences much farther.  While in past games there were minor differences in armor models, in Tribes: Ascend each team’s models are completely different.  They have even made each class have different armor, though all armor on a team keeps the same style across all classes.

Even the flags are completely different.  The Diamond Sword flag has a stylized metal sword running through it.  Its colors are almost metallic with a hint of blue.  In contrast, the Blood Eagle flag is adorned with an eagle crest on the top of it and its coloring is very, very red.  Even the flag stands themselves are different, leaving nothing but their general flag shape the same between them.

The Diamond Sword (left) and Blood Eagle (right) flags.

To cement these differences between the teams even more, the announcer for each team is voiced by a different actor.  The Diamond Sword team’s announcer is a strong woman who calls the Blood Eagles “butchers”.  As a strong opposite, the Blood Eagles announcer is voiced by a man who speaks of the Diamond Swords as “sand rakers”.

What’s even more exciting to me is that Tribes: Ascend doesn’t yet include the tribes of Starwolf or Children of the Phoenix.  Hopefully Hi-Rez adds these other Tribes to the game and makes them just as different and diverse as Blood Eagle and Diamond Sword.

All of this detail and team diversity builds a world in which the Tribes universe can firmly exist.  It brings everything beyond just a multiplayer game and gives the players subtle hints as to the nature of the conflict between the two fighting sides.  The backstory, if you give it a little thought and pay attention to the clues, starts to build itself without any in your-face-lore, thus making it all the more intriguing, pulling you deeper into the game.