Archive for October 12th, 2011

October 12, 2011

MechWarrior: Then and Now

Back in middle school, a friend and I were able to obtain copies of one of my favorite games of all time, MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat.  For those who don’t know, the game allows you to pilot a Mech, which is basically a big walking tank.  There were tons of different ones to choose from, ranging from the light, weak, and quick, to the large, powerful, and painfully slow.  As a 7th grader in the mid-90s, I thought the graphics were top notch, and for the time they were.  The landscapes were great, and I loved exploring everything from the desert planets to those that were lush with beautifully rendered skies above.  I can’t remember if I focused on the story or what exactly the story might have been; I recall that there was some vague notion of a war going on between two groups, and there was always a reference to the Inner Sphere.  But I played this game all the time.  But that’s not the only thing that makes this game unique in my experience.  What makes it unique is that it was the very first video game that I played online.

I couldn’t talk to my friends while we played together, mind you, because the land line wouldn’t work when we were connected to the internet.  But we’d also talk to each other constantly while playing single player, and it was amazing fun for two dorks that had years before they would discover beer.  You could customize your Mech, earn armor upgrades or better weapons, and in between missions it would return you to your loading area, an airport-like place where you could do such upgrading.  I remembered that the music in the game was better than any I’d ever heard before, and am listening to it now while writing this.  I used to put the game disc in a CD player and listen to the soundtrack while doing homework.  I must say, it remains some of the best orchestral music in a game out there (or I could be simply drowning in nostalgia).  Either way, MechWarrior and its progeny had a tremendous impact on me as a kid and influenced the way I feel about video games to this day.  When a game can give me that sense of awe like MechWarrior did, I know I’ve stumbled onto something I’m going to really enjoy.

One thing to note is the way the graphics actually were, and the way I perceived the graphics to be.  The above picture is from the upgrade area between missions, but it’s merely a background to the in-game selection menu.  It’s not a a gameplay graphic, not even close.  See, this was an in-game graphic:

But I had something no graphics card could match at that time, and that was a kid’s imagination.  It also helped that I wasn’t looking at these graphics through 2011 eyes, having seen so many better graphics in the interim.  In my mind, these graphics were as real as graphics could get, and with the music and the ability to play with friends, this game and its subsequent expansion packs gave us something to look forward to after school for a couple of years.  Now, as I write this, it amazes me the amount of information I actually remember about the game.  I totally remember Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon, I totally remember the jump jets, and I totally remember something even better, MechWarrior 3.

Not only were the graphics way better, but you could actually step on the soldiers and bomb whole groups of them.  It was an incredible upgrade.  Sadly, it came at a time when my MechWarrior lust was fading.  I was entering high school, I had a N64 and Goldeneye to worry about, not to mention discovering cigarettes my ability to barely grow a mustache.  Yes, the times they were a changin’.  And so MechWarrior fell into the dustbin of memories, forever serving as a nostalgic reminder of when my imagination could make a game more than the sum of its limits.  Now, I judge a game solely on its limits, and play it for a week or two before growing bored.  Thinking back to the MechWarrior days is akin to thinking back to my childhood, and I look upon it fondly.  That’s why, when I began thinking about writing something about MechWarrior, a friendly fellow pointed out to me over the Twitter that they were rebooting the franchise, and it was supposedly to be released soon.  I was excitedly skeptical.  But I looked into it, and it appears to be true.

Of course like all good things, it looks like the development of the game is beset with copyright issues and other things that are destined to plague any 20 year old franchise, with the rights sold and resold to countless companies between the original and today.  It appears development began in 2008, but how far they’ve come now, and whether this will remain in development hell like Duke Nukem remains to be seen.  I must say I remain skeptical, not only because reboots of 20 year old franchises usually suck (Mortal Kombat being the very, very big exception) but also because I’m sure at least some of what made the game great for me was its originality at that time, and the fact that I played it at the age that I did.  This is not to say its a kids’ game, but rather that a kid may be more forgiving of a less-than-exceptional game.  Regardless, I can say with all certainty that if I’m alive and have yet to succumb to homelessness by the time it’s released, I’ll be buying the new MechWarrior.  I’ll have to give that old friend from middle school a call when I do, too.