Fifteen Years of Giant Robots
by Chase "Scharmers"
Set the Wayback Machine (2 LRM-20s, 6 MEDLAS)
to the decade of Bad Hair
Its the mid-80s, a couple of weeks after Christmas.
A teenager stands in a game store, deciding what he wants to spend
his gift money on. Eventually, the decision boils down to two
games: the first is SSGs Europe Ablaze, a computer-based
wargame covering the air war over Europe in WW2. The second is
a cardboard wargame calling itself Battledroids. This one is pretty
neat. It features big robots, with guns, pounding the crap out
of each other. The back illustration has robots running around
a swamp. It looks cool, but the teenager has never heard of FASA
the games publisher -- before. It sounds cheap, like
one of those fly-by-night Microgame companies. He doesnt
want to get burned on his rare shopping opportunities his
family is fairly poor and so picks up Europe Ablaze instead.
The teenager likes airplanes. He plans on joining the Air Force
when he gets out of High School.
It wasnt that bad of a decision. Europe Ablaze was another
example of SSGs mastery of cramming a decent wargame into
a 64K Commodore. Its funny how things turn out, however.
This teenager ended up joining the Navy, instead, when he was
eighteen; he also ended up buying Battledroids (now BattleTech,
thanks to the lawyers at Lucasfilm, who claimed Lucas owned the
word droid) that same year. While he never got as
addicted to it as some of his friends, he spent a great many hours
tracking heat, damage, and movement points; he also threw quite
a few pairs of dice lengthy distances when they betrayed him on
What they did instill in the teenager was the desire to actually
drive one of these robotic beasts. Naturally, he wasnt the
only one who felt this way and, even better, the computing
gaming market responded. Since the late 80s, there have
been many Mech simulations, and the previously-mentioned
teenager (who is, obviously, this writer) has now played just
about all of them. This retrospective covers the major releases,
and finishes up with a quick review of MechWarrior 4:Vengence.
What will not be covered are the numerous non-simulation Mech
games. This includes what is perhaps the best BattleMech conversion
ever created BattleFort, a shareware game created by Ralph
Reed for the Amiga, many moons ago. BattleFort is a flawless conversion
of the pencil-and-paper BattleMech rules, with the added improvement
of a phased movement system. (The legal spats between Mr. Reed
and FASA are also legendary, but, alas, this is not the forum
to talk about them). Other worthy Mech hex-based games include
the seminal Crescent Hawks Inception (1988, Westwood), and
MissionForce: Cyberstorm (1996, Sierra/Dynamix), but, again, will
not be covered here.