Exploring The World Of BattleTech Part Five: BattleTech Developer Q&A!

September 19, 2016 by crew

Good day, Beasts of War, Oriskany here. They say the element of surprise is a key factor in warfare. Well, just when you thought the BattleTech Article Series was over, we’re happy to “surprise” you with another great piece of BattleTech content.

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During the run of the original four articles, I was able to get in touch with Ray Arrastia, Product Developer for BattleTech at Catalyst Game Labs. In this Q&A, we get his insight on this incredible franchise, where it’s been, and where it’s going.

Introduction by Ray Arrastia

Hi there Beasts of War! I wanted to take a moment to apologize on behalf of my boss, Randall Bills, Catalyst Game Lab’s managing developer and the BattleTech line developer. He should have been in the hot seat here, but it was a matter of bad timing what with Pax Prime then being followed by a nasty flu.

However, being involved in BattleTech production on a daily basis I’m happy to fill in here!

James: Could we start by talking a little about Catalyst Game Labs, its products, and what it brings to today’s wargaming and RPG market?

Ray: Catalyst Game Labs was founded by gaming industry veterans Loren Coleman and Randall Bills nearly a decade ago, and along with its parent company In Media Res, is dedicated to producing high quality fiction and games, be it RPGs, card games, board games, or tabletop games.

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Catalyst may be best known for their Shadowrun and BattleTech licensed games, but we’ve produced a wide variety of fun games over the years such as The Duke (tile-laying game), Cosmic Patrol (RPG) and Wrath of Dragons (resource-destruction game), as well as other licensed games including the Valiant Universe RPG, Encounters: Bravest Warriors and the Vikings Board Game.

So BattleTech has been around since 1984, owned by many different companies. Can you tell us a little about BattleTech’s history in gaming, and Catalyst Game Labs’ role in the current phase of this story?

BattleTech casts a pretty long shadow across the last few decades of tabletop gaming and RPGs, and if you’re a long-time fan, you can spot its influences in many modern tabletop games—and even in RPGs based on tabletop games.

The history of the BattleTech IP can get a little tricky, and the “Exploring the World of BattleTech” articles did a good job laying out the salient points. BattleTech originally began with FASA, and ownership of the non-electronic rights were transferred to WizKids around the turn of the century.

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Wizkids produced the MechWarrior collectible miniatures game, and licensed the production of “Classic” BattleTech gaming material to FanPro LLC. Meanwhile, a license for “Classic” miniature support was awarded to Iron Wind Metals (IWM). It’s worth noting that a many of the staff at WizKids, FanPro and the owners of Iron Wind Metals at the time were also originally employed by FASA (and Ral Partha).

In Media Res (IMR) was founded in 2003 and received a license from WizKids to publish fiction for both Shadowrun and BattleTech. When FanPro closed its doors in 2007, IMR created the subsidiary Catalyst Game Labs to pick up the licenses and carry on where FanPro left off.

Topps, Inc. acquired WizKids (and thus ownership of the BattleTech non-electronic rights) in 2003. CGL and IWM remain licensed to produce games and miniatures, respectively, for BattleTech.

What sets BattleTech apart from the other Sci-Fi “mech-based” wargames, and how has it endured as a wargaming powerhouse for an incredible 32 years?

The BattleTech Universe is vast and rich in possibilities for players, readers, and lovers of lore. When it was first introduced three decades ago, the few pages that laid the groundwork for the universe was teeming with plot hooks, and already had the sense of a lived-in setting.

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The sourcebooks that followed built up a world with a history spanning a thousand years out from our present time; and instead of creating monolithic factions, the writers of the time created living, breathing nations—greater than the sum of their parts, yet made up of diverse cultures, peoples and ideologies—a flavour for any taste.

The end result is a stage where any story could be told, great or small, whether on the tabletop, via a role-playing campaign, or with short fiction. While it’s not required that these stories feature BattleMechs, where’s the fun in that?

Of course BattleTech isn’t just “one game.” There’s also the RPG, “A Time of War.” Can you tell us a little about that, and how it connects to BattleTech the tactical wargame?

A Time of War (AToW) is the 4th Edition of the BattleTech role-playing game, and is the most fully fleshed out of all the editions thus far. It offers both a “Life Module” system, where you create your character by building up a history of experiences, training, and occupations, or a more traditional point-buy method.

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AToW is flexible enough to run adventures within the BattleTech Universe in or out of your ’Mechs, whatever the scope of the campaign. There may not even be any warfare or BattleMechs involved, but again … where’s the fun in that?

AToW integrates with BattleTech tabletop in a few ways. Characters have skill values that convert into the skill ratings used by pilots (or vehicle crew, infantry teams, etc.) in the tabletop game. Characters also have access to Special Pilot Abilities, unique traits that specifically affect tabletop play.

Aside from AToW’s conflict combat system, there is also a Tactical Combat Addendum, which acts as a “middle ground” system between the RPG and full-scale BattleTech. Essentially it’s a tabletop wargame system, but at the scale of the individual characters.

The BattleTech universe also includes “Alpha Strike,” a different version of the BattleTech core system. What makes Alpha Strike different, and what role does it play in the BattleTech portfolio?

Alpha Strike is a fast-play tabletop system designed to retain the feel of classic BattleTech play. It serves a number of purposes. People with limited time are able to get a full BattleTech gaming experience down in a couple of hours, and miniature hobbyists/collectors can field large armies and resolve big battles in one session.

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Alpha Strike also allows for gameplay the mirrors the fiction/fluff, with multiple lances or companies participating in combat. And the rules—including optional force building and formation rules (“squad-based”)—should feel familiar and less intimidating to other tabletop gamers.

BattleTech has a legion of die-hard fans, some of whom have been playing since the mid-1980s. But what advice would you have for new players interested in getting started in BattleTech?

First, take it at your own pace. People are passionate about this game. PASSIONATE! So you’ll have no problem finding BattleTech fans eager to help you out—but many will want to bring you up to speed on 30 years of rules, lore and personal opinions all in one go. Don’t be intimidated; just wade in as you feel comfortable.

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Between the different ways to play in the BattleTech Universe, the different ways to read up on the rules and/or lore, the various factions to call friend or foe, all the fiction there is to read, and all the communities of fans and gamers, you’ll definitely find something that calls to you, if you do it on your own terms.

I’ll also add, take advantage of the great online community resources out there: the official forums at bg.battletech.com/forums, the (unofficial) wiki Sarna.net, and the numerous welcoming communities on Facebook (the largest being BattleTech International).

BattleTech also has an incredible backstory, including a vast library of fiction. Can you tell us a little about the world of BattleTech, and some of the recently published novels and sourcebooks?

It’s actually a good time to start reading BattleTech fiction; Catalyst Game Labs has been re-releasing the older BattleTech novels electronically within the past six months under the Legends imprint. They’re available for purchase at BattleCorps.com, DriveThruFiction.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

These older novels cover several eras of the BattleTech timeline: Third Succession War, Fourth Succession War, Clan Invasion, Civil War, and the much later Dark Age (the time period in which WizKid’s MechWarrior CMG took place). Catalyst is also producing new novels covering the Jihad era, starting with Embers of War by Jason Schmetzer.

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In addition to novels old and new, BattleCorps.com is a subscription service website that publishes BattleTech short fiction.

Our most recent sourcebooks include the First Succession War, detailing the first major conflict after the fall of the Star League, as the Great House Lords fought over the bones of fallen Terran Hegemony. We’ve also just released Combat Manuals for both Mercenaries and House Kurita—“army books” for those two factions.

We’re currently working on ilClan, a sourcebook for the Dark Age era, which should finally draw the curtain on that era and open the door to a brand new BattleTech era.

Aside from the print sourcebooks, we offer supplemental material in PDF form which cover the gamut from mini-Technical Readouts, Turning Points (mini-campaigns), AToW Adventures, Touring the Stars (planetary data and plot hooks), Field Reports, Era Digests and more.

We’re also developing new PDFs, such as “Spotlight On” which takes an in-depth look at storied units. Some of these are well-know (like the Crescent Hawks), while others are either brand new or were never given any “stage time” in the lore or fiction.

Now for the inevitable question. Everyone in BattleTech seems to have a favourite house / successor state, clan, and battlemech. What are yours?

Well, I don’t say it lightly when I say I love all the factions of the BattleTech Universe, they’re all fascinating and they all bring something to the table. But “my” faction has always been the Federated Suns—and favourite ’Mech, the Marauder, in all its incarnations.

When it comes to a favourite Clan, it becomes even harder to choose. Wolf, Jade Falcon, Smoke Jaguar, Goliath Scorpion, Blood Spirit—really hard to say just one out of that bunch!

It certainly sounds like BattleTech is here to stay. What plans do Catalyst Game Labs have for BattleTech, and what can we look forward to in the near future?

We’re very excited for the next four years. Our customers and fans can look forward to more BattleTech novels and more ways to play and enjoy BattleTech!

Thanks Ray and best of luck with the future of BattleTech!

So, there we have it. A neat Q&A to finish off this mammoth series which appears to have tickled a few of the nostalgia centres of the brain for our community members. Please let us know if you’re going to be bringing BattleTech to the tabletop once again.

James Johnson

If you would like to write articles for Beasts Of War then get in contact with us at ben@beastsofwar.com for more information!

"The BattleTech Universe is vast and rich in possibilities for players, readers, and lovers of lore..."

"...but “my” faction has always been the Federated Suns—and favourite ’Mech, the Marauder, in all its incarnations."