Mechwarrior 2: The Clans

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Mechwarrior 2: The Clans Logo
Mechwarrior 2: The Clans logo

Almost every game goes through several changes in the design process, and Mechwarrior 2 was no exception. But this game went through more than just a few changes. In fact, the Mechwarrior 2 that we all know and love is quite a different game from the original design. Circa 1992, development began for Mechwarrior II: The Clans.


Mechwarrior II: The clans was originally set to be released sometime in 1993, but many delays had already pushed backed the schedule. A public demo had already come out, but more work was needed. A second demo was released December 16, 1993 featuring a combat level in which the player picked one of a two mechs, a Marauder and an Adder, and combated against a computer-controlled Adder.

Visually, the graphics look sort-of like a low-res, stripped down version of Mechwarrior 2 crossed with the original Mechwarrior. Mechs, just like the world that surrounds them, are fully polygonal and textured in blue and black tiger stripes. Explosions, missile fire, and PPCs light up the mechs and buildings around them. In the second demo, the resolution was locked at 640x400 and there were no adjustable levels of detail. The minimum requirements for the game were a 33MHz 386 processor and 4MB of RAM.

Mechwarrior 2: The Clans plays similarly to Mechwarrior 2 in some ways, but has a lot of differences. The basic controls are very similar, with "1"-"0" control the throttle, the cursor keys controlling aiming, "z" and "shift + z" do the zooming, and "," and "." control the torso twisting. Space and enter controlled the weapons. There were no groups or advance weapons control - just cycling from one to another. Targeting was nonexistent in the demo, and it was impossible to blow limbs off separately or score a critical hit. Oddly enough, ammo could still be ejected. It was promised that later builds would include the ability for line-of-sight weapons to target individual parts and that certain sensors could read the damage on enemy mechs. The mechs moved a lot faster, like in Mechwarrior 4, and seem really bouncy. Hits from weapons and bumps into buildings cause the mechs to bounce backwards. Auto-pilot is present in the demo. Activating it causes the mech to automatically try to track towards the enemy, leaving the player to control just the weapons and torso twisting.

Looking at the cockpit reveals sections of The Clans that remained in Mechwarrior 2. The altimeter, bearing indicator, and torso twist indicator look and work exactly like they do in Mechwarrior 2. The cockpit was made up of flat bitmaps with weapons and information overlaid on them. The radar, instead of being located in the upper left, was placed right in the center. The damage display, located on the lower left, didn't show area specific damage, as it might suggest. The bars on the right were for change in heat, throttle, jump jets x-axis cockpit movement, and y-axis cockpit movement. The bar in the center directly underneath the radar was for heat. Each mech had a different cockpit design. You could look up, down, left, right, and straight ahead in all of the cockpits.

Cockpit - Left View Default View Cockpit - Right View
The Inside Views of The Clans' cockpit

The shell had an area for the mission briefing, where it gave orders and a description of the planet the mission would take place on. There was a also a mech bay, to pick out a mech, and in the future, be able to customize mechs. The goal was to also have it print a text load out for the PnP players and allow mech trading with other Mechwarrior 2 players.

There would be a full career mode to the game including, not two, not three, but six different clans, including Clan Wolf, Jade Falcon, Smoke Jaguar, Nova Cat, Ghost Bear & Steel Viper. Multiplayer would be available via modem and direct connect, allowing up to eight players to fight it out.

Production credits for Mechwarrior 2: The Clans are listed as:
Producer - Kelly Zmak
Programming Staff - Eric Peterson, Kenneth Dullea III, and Scott Shiranama
Art Staff - Alex Story, Jack Burton, Blair Wolf, Dan Goldman, Karl Fornander, and Joe Asperin
Audio - Micheal Schwartz.

The game progressed further, as shown by the screenshots below. The mechs are more detailed, and the terrain looks slightly more interesting. Not all was well in the Mechwarrior camp, though. The marketing department had already been pushing a game that was nowhere near complete. While black and white promotion boxes and cardboard cutouts grazed gaming stores, the developers tried to rush through a game that seemingly lacked a focus.

Clan Hall A Madcat and a Novacat stand outside a building. A Novacat walks around the mountains.
Clan Hall (left), A Madcat and Novacat stand guard (center), and a Novacat walking around the mountains.

Note that none of the original team managed to make it through the development process. All of the original members left on their own and got jobs outside of Activision. Mechwarrior 2: The Clans continued to be worked on into 1994.

Eric Peterson managed to be the only member of the original crew to get on the credits in Mechwarrior 2. In fact, in the dorcs page, Dave Zobel said, "Eric no longer works here but he is really the grand-pappy of the Sim engine. The original concept was his and he single-handedly wrote the first real mode version (including all tools and much of the art). Without Eric's dedication to Warthink, we wouldn't have a snowball's chance in heck of completing this game. By the way, if anyone sees Eric, would they mind asking him what "booyow" means? We made it!"

"At first, I actually thought this was a demotion and went so far as to ask if I had done something wrong. We were ultimately able to reinvigorate the design and the technology, however, and release a great game." - Josh Resnick, producer of Mechwarrior 2.

In the rebirth of Mechwarrior 2, Tim Morten became instrumental in convincing Activision not to cancel the game. The programmer had been working on the game on his own, updating the engine and pulling Mechwarrior 2 out its hole. If you look in the back of the Mechwarrior 2 manual, Morten is specially thanked for "The Second Coming."


Josh Resnick, final producer of Mechwarrior 2, speaks of "The Clans" in an interview.

With how great this MechWarior II turned out, how big of a success do you think the First MECH2 project would have been, compared to this one?

JR: It wouldn't. We felt at the time when John and I took over the project over a year ago, we took a look at what we had, and what we had was not bad. It was ok, and infact it measuered up fine against what was available at the time, but again we knew what we could do with it and we knew we could come out with something that was so unique that would blow people away. So it wasn't that the first product was so bad, it was that we knew we could do so much more with it and we knew there were many people out there waiting for something great and their expectations fairly high.

What was your main concern with Mechwarrior II in terms of what MUST be done in this project as compared to the old scrapped one?

JR: Again, one of the things we wanted to focus on a lot was for one, we wanted it to be ultra realistic and hence our decision to make it totally 3D and to spend a lot of time working on the lighting, palette and movement of the Mechs and the dynamic palette shifting from morning to day to night.

There's a lot of touches that we have put in there that really make a difference, and people might not even notice it but it's there. It really helps them feel like they are immersed in the world. I think the 3D virtual cockpit is a good example of that.

The second thing we did is we added a story and we added a reason for being there. The old version of MechWarrior2 was kind of a random mission generator and you were just kind of out there fighting and you really didn't have scripted missions or a story giving a reason to be there. You didn't have the rivalry set up between the two clans etc...

I think that is an area we could have improved on even more but we kinda ran out of time there, and I have heard some criticism that the story didn't react enough to the events that were involved in the missions.

That was the dramatic improvement from the first version, plus I think we added a lot features that made the game very fun to play in that you have Death from Above and the type of weapons you have available to you, as well as the types of maneuvers you can do with your mech like the jump jets.

Another main difference between this version and that version is the fact that we made it more accessible for the NON hardcore player. We knew this being a simulation, we would appeal to the hardcore sim fanatics, but we wanted to make sure this game basically appealed to everyone, so we were very careful in designing the controls to be accessible to first time action sim players we added some gorgeous graphics and some fantastic sound effects. I think the training section of the game really helps bring new players into this genre, with the movies and everything else it really helps broaden our audience.


The gaming mags had always talked about the Mech2 engine being held together with duct tape and bubble gum, and this piece of software had a massive development behind the scenes. Reading interviews available with the team members, I wrote what was on the page. At the time (circa 2003), I was just trying to put the pieces together and understand a bit more about the development of Mechwarrior 2.

Earlier in the year (2008), Eric Peterson commented on my ramblings at his Port of Evil forums. Now, his comments weren't too detailed, just that "No one in the gaming press had really gotten it right." His site is unfortunately down (or moved?), as he had a ton of insight to Mechwarrior 2's development process, which, if I can recall correctly, started when the engineering market went down. He moved from programming simulations in the aerospace industry over to Activision, where he pursued the sequel to Mechwarrior.

It sounds like between internal disputes with Activision about the release date, arguments with the game's producer (downright illegal stuff), and Eric having to program the thing, it was just a mess. That being said, it was still the same game. Though it may have been implied, there weren't two different games, but rather, a lot of little changes that all added up. It's not that The Clans and 31st Century Combat were completely different games, but that one was a teen-aged version and the other an adult.

Straight from the Source

The afore-mentioned Eric Peterson is posting his Mechwarrior 2 development memoirs at his planet E blog. Click the link below to go to each article in the series. (Links to the articles will be added as they are posted.)


Blackhawk Cockpit Mech Lab Madcat running Madcat stomp Thor 1 Thor 2

Download the Mechwarrior 2: The Clans Demo

Mechwarrior 2: The Clans Demo - To get this thing running, you'll want to take the file and extract it to a floppy disk first. A CD may work in this situation, but I haven't tried it personally. After that, go into DOS and install it straight off of the disk. I have been unsuccesful in getting the game to install directly from a hard drive. After it's installed, you should be able to run it inside of a DOS window, but you may need to use a program like Slowdown to get the game running at an acceptable speed.

This is the second public demo of the game. If you know anything about the first one, please contact me.