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 Four Act Play of Diablo 3

This last Tuesday I finished Diablo 3 on normal difficulty.  It took me sixteen hours and I had a blast.  I’ve seen a lot of critiques of the gameplay and game itself around the net.  I figure if you want to read about the gameplay aspects of Diablo 3, you have a plethora of blog posts and reviews to choose from.  So, instead of going into gameplay, let’s talk about story.

Act I

The Diablo 3 story is split into acts, giving it almost a play quality.  Each act has its own unique setting and atmosphere that sets it apart from the other acts.  This somewhat helps to break up the feel of the game and make otherwise continuous dungeon crawling stay fresh longer.  Sprinkled throughout each act are minor cutscenes, with major cutscenes placed between the acts.  These cutscenes, along with short in-game conversations between characters, help advance the story.

The story arc itself is close to being well paced, but leans toward slow.  Throughout the acts the story slowly builds until it reaches its peak at the end of Act III.  It is then quickly and succinctly wrapped up in Act IV.  I will admit that by the end of Act III, I was glad it was almost over.  This slower pacing was mainly due to quest dungeons taking awhile to fight through, and with the plot points mostly between the quests, plot advancement can feel as few and far between.  It probably didn’t help that I was going out of my way to complete every side dungeon I found.  It’s possibly that the pacing feels better if you only stick with the main quests.

Diablo III Opening Cinematic

I’ve seen some people describe Diablo 3 as not being your story, but an interactive movie.  While it is most definitely not your story, as things happen a certain way no matter what you do, I don’t see it as a movie, but instead, as a play.  When I think of movies, I think of fancy camera angles and flashy effects.  It’s a look through a window into another world, framed exactly as the director wants it to be seen.  Except for cutscenes, there are no fancy camera angles or fast motion in Diablo 3, just characters delivering there lines and playing their parts.  The game is not a window that the audience looks through, controlled as a director sees fit.  It’s a stage with backdrops and sets where the actors perform their play, and every audience member sees things from a slightly different perspective.

The closest Diablo 3 gets to being a movie is with its cutscenes.  The major cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game, and between each act, are done in gorgeously prerendered 3D.  Each of these cutscenes is its own mini movie, and are filled with flashy, but not overdone, special effects, and epic fights scenes.  The smaller cutscenes, usually placed throughout an act and narrated by your player character, are done in the style of an ancient scroll with faded paper backgrounds and ink drawings.

Wizard Opening Cinematic

One final small touch that caught my attention was how lore was presented.  Lore is any other information that isn’t directly related to the main story and helps to flesh out the world.  Where most games either force lore into the main story, or have you going out of your way to read paragraphs of information out of a journal, Diablo 3 takes a slipstreamed approach.  As you play the game and encounter monster, a button in the corner of your screen appears alerting you to new lore.  When you click on the lore button, a short voice over talking about a creature you just fought is played while you continue fighting through a dungeon, never interrupting your play.  Journals, written by various characters, are also dropped from containers throughout dungeons.  When you pick them up, you are once again presented with a quick voiceover, done by the character who wrote that journal, informing you of back and side story, all without stopping gameplay.

Overall I enjoyed Diablo 3’s story.  While a bit slow paced, which might have been my own fault, it kept me interested until the end.  I don’t think I’ll be playing the story completely through again without skipping conversations, but I will be watching cutscenes whenever they come up, they’re just too badass to skip.  For a game with so much focus on gameplay, the story was more than adequate.