A couple days ago, during an argument about MechWarrior games, a friend of mine mentioned that Harebrained Schemes had a new tactics-based game in the works. What I failed to remember at the time (on account of being preoccupied with dodging bullets in Counter-Strike), was that Jordan Weisman is front and centre over at Harebrained.
Harebrained Schemes, you might know, have been responsible for the brilliant new Shadowrun games, including Returns, Dragonfall, and Hong Kong. What you may not realize if you weren’t swooning over the Kickstarters for those games the way some of us were, is that Weisman himself is responsible for the Shadowrun pen and paper. Oh yeah… and a little thing called Battletech. And now… it’s back.
Set in 3025 (the year the Third Succession War ended, for the truly devout), Battletech, as is the current title on Kickstarter, is a return to tactical turn-based combat, the way the series was originally conceived. It’s also the first of its kind in over twenty years (limbo-stricken MechWarrior Tactics notwithstanding). And one way or another, it’s a game we’ll be seeing reach completion, as Harebrained have come seeking not funding for the base game, but instead with a series of stretch goal-like offerings. They’ve put forth the funding for the base game themselves and are instead turning to the fans in the hopes of expanding it to fit demand.
If you ask me, this is a great twist on the usual approach to funding a game through Kickstarter. Rather than seeking funding for an entire game, leaving backers vulnerable to cancelled projects and drastic design decisions that may leave fans feeling cheated, Harebrained have come to the table with an already-funded game and asked the community if there’s enough demand to see that game expanded upon. Harebrained are veterans of Kickstarter at this point, and it’s clear they know how to handle themselves. In an era rife with pre-order gouging, this seems to fulfil the same purpose of the pre-order-based “market research” some bigger publishers are citing, while allowing the scope of the game to expand or contract to suit the response. Publishers and marketing teams don’t have to lie to generate sales, and die-hard fans have the opportunity to buy-in early and support the developers.
And support they have. In less than seven hours, Battletech has reached the $610K mark, well on its way to the second “funding stage” that will see it grow beyond the base skirmish game and enjoy a single-player story campaign once $1M is reached. $1.85M will see an expanded and open-ended campaign for your mercenary crew, and $2.5M will bring about PvP gameplay in the arenas of Solaris VII (the arenas made famous in MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries). Considering the 34 days left in the campaign, the already overwhelming response before the social media and journalism snowball effect have peaked, and the fact that it’s been rolling in roughly $1000 a minute since I started writing this, I have little doubt that Battletech could become one of the highest-grossing Kickstarter videogames to date.
And if you ask me, no one deserves it more than Harebrained. As a PC gamer, I can’t think of a gaming franchise that could have more of an appeal to a child of the high sci-fi 80s than Battlletech—apart from Warhammer: 40k, but that’s a bit like arguing Quake vs Unreal. And like arguing over the merits of Unreal and Quake, few things this side of Mario Party and slappers-only GoldenEye had the friendship-shattering potential of telling your filthy, Steiner-backing friend that you fought for house Davion. Maybe it’s time that a whole new generation of gamers had the opportunity to experience the Battletech universe the way it was intended. Certainly, apart from 40k, no gaming franchise comes anywhere close to being as lore-rich and polarizing as that of Battletech. I know I’ve lost weeks to immersing myself in it on the wiki over at Sarna, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally get the modern Battletech game that devout fans deserve.