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BattleTech: Reactors Online

Columns By Red Thomas on October 08, 2015

BattleTech: Reactors Online

Back in high school, my group of intrepid adventurers would break our tabletop D&D games up periodically with other games, and BattleTech was by far the most common.  Years of campaigns across the Inner Sphere resulted in a number of stories we still laugh about over phone conversations and Facebook posts all these years later.  Other tabletop games certainly existed, but there has just always been something particularly special about the BattleTech/MechWarrior universe for many of us.

I’m not sure if the folks over at Harebrained Schemes just enjoy making us older gamers feel particularly old, or if they really have just found a fantastic niche in modernizing old pen and paper games.  Whatever their reasons and however it is they got there, I’m very glad they’ve decided to stick with it, because now BATTLETECH promises to bring back some of my fondest memories.


But before you jump in, you need want to know whether it’s a good investment or not.  You want to know whether the funds will be spent well, and whether you’ll get your money’s worth out of the project.  As crowdfunding becomes more popular, it’s also becoming a bit more dangerous.  As a supporter of a number of campaigns and a big fan of what crowdfunding can do for our industry, I’d like to take some time today to look over this project for you and answer some of those questions.  Also, I’ll take a look at a few concerns I have for the game itself, and consider how that might impact whether you should be throwing money at this project or not.


With all the news rolling out about potential mismanagement of funds over in the Star Citizen project, wise backers are now doing more research before jumping into a new crowdfunded game, and that’s a really good thing.  It’s important to see the project team being wise with raised funds and to know that the developers respect backer money for what it is, and don’t just treat it as another source of revenue.  Smart backers makes for better games in the end.

If you’re over 30 and you don’t cheer a little at that image, then I question your childhood.

Answering the question of integrity isn’t normally easy, but in this case we have a solid history that we can turn to for a solid start.  Before you back, you need to know that you’ll eventually get your game.  Harebrained Schemes have funded a number of projects through the crowd, and so there’s a pattern of success that should give you initial warm-fuzzies.  It’s a team that’s used this method of funding games plenty of times, and should be well aware of the normal pitfalls.

Thus, the first check is easily made in their favor.  This is the same studio that’s produced Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and Golem Arcana.  All projects funded through Kickstarter, all of them delivered in 16 months or less of being funded, and of the two that I’ve played, I’m really happy with the results.  Plus, each has gone on to be a stream of revenue post-campaign, which shows the team builds solid products that remain marketable.


The second question comes down to fiscal responsibility.  We know that they’re likely to deliver the product, as they have a history of doing so.  That doesn’t mean they’re spending your money wisely, though.  Kickstarter funding amounts to a gift, so you want to make sure you’re not paying for someone’s first class ticket to Paris and a new snooker table for the team.

Luckily, information was slipped during my recent Skype conversation with the team that I think sheds solid light on the situation.  I’m not sure specifically who it was that made the comment, but someone in the conversation said they have just under 70 developers working at Harebrained Schemes.  My napkin math tells me they probably have an operating budget of about $7-8 million annually.  In the last three campaigns, they’ve raised just over $3.5 million in about four and a half years.

This is my mech. There are many like it, but this one is mine… No really. Look at the paint job!

Forgive all the nerdy math, but here’s where it becomes important.  Even if they’d raised all that money this year, that still leave a deficit of over $3.5 million, and even more if you space that out over several years.  Where’s the money coming from? 

Minus a couple other games the company has under its belt, the bulk of their development seems to be focused on the crowdfunded projects.  That means the cash has to be coming from continued revenue from the products backers funded, which means much of it is still selling.  At the very least, this tells us that they make a lot more off the finished product than they get from the crowdfunding, and that’s awesome.

This makes me much more comfortable supporting their products, because I know they’re asking just what they need to get the product shipped, and they’re not trying to cash out on backers by taking obscene salaries from crowdfunded cash.  They expect to make their money on the completed game.  It also tells us that they produce something marketable, so you’re really getting more than your money’s worth out of it when you back.

Of course, that’s not as big a bombshell as it might have been since BATTLETECH, like Shadowrun: Hong Kong, is already partially funded from Harebrained Schemes’ coffers, a fact they’ve been very open about.  The folks at Harebrained believe in what they’re doing enough to self-fund the first portion of the game.  Even less of the load is put onto backers, and you know at the very least you’ll get a minimum viable product out of it, to borrow venture capitalist terms for a moment.


BATTLETECH is being developed by a team with integrity, a proven record of delivering, and who’s shown they have a great deal of respect for backer money.  That doesn’t tell you if you’ll like the game, though.  Now, we’re hitting the good stuff and I finally get to be a little bit critical… sort of.

I think the beauty of the previous two Shadowrun games is the simplicity of the architecture.  While the colors and art is superb in both games, they still run well on my travel laptop.  It seems to me that taking that approach made them more accessible, and frankly allowed more effort to be put into the story and game mechanics, which is what matters more to me with these nostalgic games, in any event.

BATTLETECH looks to be a little different, though.  For one, the team will be using Unity5 as the engine of choice, and from what they’ve released, it sounds like a lot more attention will be devoted to making a more modern-looking game with much better graphics than you might have expected.

Good move or not, I’m really glad to see this game set in an era where these names mean something.

My problem is that I know a couple other studios using Unity 5, and while it’ll be great eventually, it’s a bit buggy right now.  Plus, it takes a lot more effort to put together appropriate shaders and textures when you switch to a more realistic rendering style.  These guys are professionals and I’m sure have accounted for that, but I’m still a little leery.  Especially when they have a track record of delivering the finished game so quickly, and I’d rather not see that sandbagged due to engine choice.

I know Unity receives great support and that there are truckloads of fantastic tools for working in the engine, so I don’t think this is a major mistake in any way.  It’s not really a mistake at all, but more something that caused me to raise my eyebrows a bit, so I felt obligated to at least mention it.

Architecture aside, another concern I have is the in-game time-period being before the Clans invade.   Personally, I love it.  Realistically, I’m a little worried that it might limit the audience a bit.  Most people playing games from the MechWarrior universe have become accustomed to Omni-Mechs and are going to want the flexibility those more advanced mechs offer.  At the risk of pulling from the typical “kids these days” speech, I do worry a little that gamers who grew up in the digital age may be turned off by the lower-tech mechs of the Succession Wars time period.


Regardless of any concerns, the game is funded and it’s going to happen, but if you asked me whether you should fund it?  I’d say, “I did in the first half-hour.”  My concerns about the marketability of the game and design decisions aside, I’m stoked to see this game made.

I’ve been a rabid fan of the MechWarrior and BattleTech games for decades and I am incredibly excited to see what Harebrained Schemes can do with it.  They treated Shadowrun with a great deal of respect and were very true to the spirit of the game I loved in my youth.  I’m particularly excited to see what they do with BATTLETECH.  I’m even more excited when I think about how this first campaign is probably just the introduction for another installment down the road.

If your first MechWarrior game was on a computer, I’d suggest you watch a few videos and maybe read one or two of the books featuring this time period before jumping in.  I think you’ll still like the game, but you want to make sure you understand that it’s not the same as the MechWarrior you’re probably more accustomed to playing. 

If you played BattleTech on a table with models, then… well, I suspect you’ve already backed.  I sure did, and I haven’t stopped smiling since.

Red Thomas / A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture. Follow him on Twitter: