Monday, October 10, 2016

Giant Robots & Me: A Love Story (Part Two)

BattleTech and I have a certain love-hate relationship, much as I do with Palladium Books. Whereas Palladium's Robotech RPG could, and did, allow you gameplay experiences that felt and delivered like the source material you didn't get that with BattleTech. I always called it "The Game of Lumbering Tin Cans With Guns", because that's how it felt when you played it. However, you could always trust the game to do just that, so when that's what you wanted you broke out the boxed set and got out the Mech sheets.

I got into this game because it had the Destroids from Macross featured prominently on the cover. The names were changed, and how they performed was different (yet familiar enough), but I went with it just the same. As with Robotech, BattleTech took art assets from existing Japanese shows and built a wargame around them. In time, they bolted on a tabletop RPG (MechWarrior, now A Time of War), and off to the races FASA went.

The other reason for why I got into this game was due to folks I knew not being into either watching or playing Robotech, but otherwise dug giant robots. Sure, their transformer rules were full of suck, blow, and ass and they never had combiners but we went with it anyways. We used the construction rules (as we were all into Car Wars also) to build OP-as-Fuck Mechs and shit on each other with Alpha Strikes, until we got the Vehicle rules and started coming up with way to use them to shit on each other. The lore, such as it was, was not something we cared about. Killy McKillface was our pilot and that was it.

Then came the 2750 book, and the new toys and mechs that came with. Then came the fucking Clans. By then I was out of high school and fumbling my way around adulthood, so after some time with Clan stuff I dropped out of the scene. I didn't get back into it until recently, where I found that the core game was unchanged and most of the stuff I found bothersome had been addressed as optional rules. (Still no combiners, but hey.) By now, however, I had long since become a historian and writer and as such the game's lore now had relevance to me.

However, BattleTech still has a distinct feel to it--that same lumbering tin can feel--and as such it's appeal is limited to those who want something harder than what you usually seen in mecha anime and manga these days. The late-70s, early-80s sources were a lot more in common with the game. Fang of the Sun Dougram, in particular, had that aesthetic nailed.

However, there was something missing. I wanted to design and play my own mecha, but I didn't want lumbering tin cans and nothing else. Enter R. Talsorian Games, publisher of Mekton. When I first got into this tabletop RPG (which has its own wargame subset baked in), I came in through previously playing Cyberpunk. so I already grokked the rules. The problem? The game was clearly made with Mobile Suit Gundam in mind, and I did not know Gundam then; it was Mekton that got me into Gundam because I wanted to know where Maximum Mike was coming from. The issue I ran into was that most people did not share my passion for giant robots in general, so that went by the wayside in favor of RIFTS from Palladium Books and I would not get to actually play that game again until my 30s.

But by then I had become well acquainted with all things Gundam. In the same time that I got to witness the Clans' impact on BattleTech, I also got introduced to the Gundam franchise. I wasn't part of the anime tape-trading network, knew no one until I was about 20 who had a laserdisc player, and anime on VHS was a pain in the ass to acquire (hard to fine and expensive as fuck) legally. So, it is no surprise that what little I did see made an impact, and one of those early encounters was with a raw 1st gen dub of 0083: Stardust Memory- specificially the first 20 minutes or so, where a training exercise would lead into a Zeon attack on an Earthside Federation base. They had me at the first good look at the cockpits. I would later see 0080: War in the Pocket, and then suffer for years until Gundam Wing and then--finally!--the original Mobile Suit Gundam (and my favorite, 08th MS Team) all on Toonami.

Which would lead me, in time, back to where I began, but that's for tomorrow.

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