A lot of games have a nice cut-and-dry history: Game is created. Sequel to game is created. Another game in series is added. The End.
Mechwarrior is at the other end of the spectrum From changing development teams, almost being cancelled, postponed, and tossed around, it has seen a lot.
A few interesting tidbits:
- Every number in the series was released by a different development team.
- Most of Mechwarrior's direct competitors come from its former developers.
Ready to take the ride?
Infocom obtains the Battletech license and begins publishing a series of isometric-view Battletech games including The Crescent Hawks Inception in 1988, and its sequel, The Crescent Hawks Revenge in 1989.
But there is another title in the works, in devolopment from another company: Dyanmix.
The new product is a PC game based also on the pen-and-pencil Battletech. With a greater focus on the pilot of giant war machines that inhabit the Battletech universe, the game is titled Mechwarrior. Opposed to the previous Battletech games, players take not an outside view, but a first-person perspective as they explore the Inner Sphere and go to war in their Battlemechs. With Activision as the publisher, it is released in 1989.
Dynamix's Battletech license only lasts for one game. Without the rights to the Battletech name (now licensed to Activision for Mechwarrior 2) Dynamix continues in the mecha genre and the creates similarly-themed Metaltech: EarthSiege. Over time, the series blossoms to include the StarSiege and Cyberstorm series of games as well, reaching its height with StarSiege: Tribes in 1998. Mostly known as Tribes, the game focuses on online multiplayer and is quite successful.
The games perhaps are too similar to Mechwarrior, with FASA filing a lawsuit against Dynamix for that very reason.
Also based on the original Mechwarrior is the online-only Multiplayer Battletech EGA (EGA Battletech). The game focuses on the battles and wars within the Inner Sphere and runs on a heavily-modified Mechwarrior 1 engine. Players use the GEnie online service to role-play and compete in a pay-for-play environment.
Though GEnie officially shuts down in 1999, MPBT lives on in its sequel Multiplayer Battletech: Solaris. Solaris is launched as an open beta in 1996 and goes pay-for-play in 1997, available through several online services, including AOL and Earthlink.
Kesmai, developers of the MPBT series, begin work on the latest version, MPBT: 3025, in 1996. Due to low funding however, the project is postponed. In the meantime, Solaris runs until 2001.
That same year, gaming-industry giant Electronic Arts, now in possession of Kesmai, launches a public beta of the MPBT: 3025 with a more refined focus. The game never makes it past this stage and is cancelled in December of 2001.
(More on the MPBT series available at the MPBT Archives.)
Activision, in the meantime, rekindles the series with Mechwarrior 2, which is to focus on the Clan invasion of the Inner Sphere and see a 1993 release.
After many delays and much internal struggle (see Mechwarrior 2: The Clans), the game is released two years later on July 24, 1995. The wait is worth it though, as the game is successful, both critically and commercially. It's also a popular show-piece, as Mechwarrior 2 is one of the first games to take advantage of early 3D acceleration and has a specialized version released for most major accelerators of this era.
To get the game out, several ideas are cut or not fully implemented. These are to be completed in future add-ons.
At this point, FASA, original creators of the Battletech universe in which the Mechwarrior games exist, decide against renewing their deal with Activision due to delays in Mechwarrior 2's release. To counter, Activision will release several more games bearing the Mechwarrior 2 name, which doesn't violate their licensing agreement.
Originally to be included with Mechwarrior 2, NetMech, which allows up to eight players to compete online, is released eight months later.
A proposed Missions & Technologies pack eventually evolves into a full-on expansion now called Mechwarrior 2: Ghost Bears Legacy.
In 1998, a patch is released (again behind schedule) for Mercenaries, upgrading its graphics and 3D acceleration support, but also introducing a slew of new bugs.
The upgraded visuals are also applied to the existing games in the Mechwarrior 2 series and are released at retail, both together as the Mechwarrior 2 Titanium Trilogy and independently as Titanium Editions.
The entire Mechwarrior 2 Series of games accounts for more than $70 million dollars in sales (Microsoft, 1999).
Without the rights for another Mechwarrior game, Activision procures the license to another pen-and-paper-based war-game: Heavy Gear.
Heavy Gear is released in 1997. Using an enhanced version of the Mechwarrior 2 engine, it's criticized for being too similar to the Mechwarrior series. Rather than trying to simulate the feel of a small nimble gear, the game retains Mechwarrior 2's tank-like feel.
Though Activision announces that it will only publish future games, a member of its in-house team secretly builds a new engine, known as Dark Side. After a demonstration to management, the engine and Heavy Gear 2 are approved. This is to be Activision's Mechwarrior 3 killer.
Though a Savage Entertainment-developed Heavy Gear III is eventually announced, nothing materializes.
Mechwarrior 3, though, has its own problems.
A 3D Battletech game released by Virtual Worlds in select areas (Chicago being the most famous) features "pods" with 'Mech cockpits. Each cabinet (officially a "Tesla pod") is connected with up to seven other machines to simulate 'mech warfare in a competitive game.
FASA wants to use this technology in the home version of Mechwarrior 3, and MicroProse (purchased by Spectrum Holobyte in 1993) is set to publish the game. A new division of FASA, FASA Interactive Technologies (FIT), will do the development work on Mechwarrior 3.
Since FIT is part of FASA, they own the license to the Mechwarrior games. Unfortunately, the project begins to fall behind schedule, as FASA Interactive is having trouble with their game engine (based on the pods) running on current hardware, delaying the game.
MicroProse struggles as well, but with internal problems. Parent company Spectrum Holobyte consolidates all of its various brands, releasing most of the original MicroProse employees in the process. Holobyte rebrands itself as MicroProse in 1996. In 1998, while Mechwarrior 3 was under development, the new MicroProse is purchased by Hasbro Interactive.
FASA Interactive also plays the corporate shuffle game, merging with Virtual World Entertainment Group (VWEG), creators of the Battletech pod system.
An outside company, Zipper Interactive, is brought in to finish up the Mechwarrior 3 while the original project is put on hold. Some technologies are reused (some Mechwarrior 3 models are almost identical to the Tesla pod Battletech) while most were combined with an existing Zipper-created engine.
Before Mechwarrior 3's release, Microsoft purchases VWEG, keeping FASA Interactive, but selling off the remains. Now, Microsoft has control of not only the Battletech license, but rights to the next Mechwarrior game.
By the time Mechwarrior 3 is released in 1999, it features the branding of several companies. MicroProse, Zipper, Hasbro Interactive, FASA Interactive, and Microsoft all grace the game's cover.
Heavy Gear 2 and Mechwarrior 3 face off as direct competitors. While Heavy Gear 2 is a radical departure from the walking-tank feel of the Mechwarrior series, Mechwarrior 3 adds further refinement to the basic gameplay introduced in Mechwarrior 2. Both are well-received, but it is Mechwarrior 3 that wins in the sales charts.
One add-on pack is released for MW3: 1999's Pirate's Moon.
Based on the original Mechwarrior 3, Mechwarrior 4 is developed by FASA Interactive, now as a division of Microsoft. The team, however, consists of the same group that had programmed the Battletech Tesla pods, and in fact, initially bases MW4 on libraries from the MUNGA engine that the pods use (Wagner, 2000).
Despite ruffling the feathers of a few older fans, the results are successful, as Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance sees several add-ons, including Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries (2002), the Inner Sphere and Clan Mech Packs (2002), and MW4: The Black Knight (2001).
Just as VWEG's Battletech influenced the Mechwarrior series, the same is done in return. The Mechwarrior 4 engine is converted for use in the latest Tesla pods under the name Battletech: Firestorm.
Though Mechwarrior 5 is initially announced, it is officially cancelled shortly thereafter in 2003. At this point, Microsoft chooses not to pursue any further Mechwarrior games, instead shifting their focus to X-Box development.
In 2007 new venture Smith & Tinker, founded by original FASA and Battletech creator Jordan Weisman, purchases the rights to the Battletech Universe.
2007 also sees the demise of FASA Interactive. While many of its personnel move to other positions within Microsoft's games division, the brand is relieved of its duties with only a few positions remaining to provide tech support for past games.
July of 2009 sees Smith & Tinker's use of the Battletech license come to fruition. Indeed, it is a new Mechwarrior game. Rather than a sequel to the exisisting storyline, this Piranha Games developed title is a reboot of the series, taking place in YEAR, before the arrival of Wolf's Dragoons.