30 July 2019

FWS Topics: There was going to be an ATARI 7800 LaserDisc Battlestar Galactica Game?!

A few days ago, a video popped up on my YouTube feed concerning the failed 8-bit ATARI 7800 and a connection between it and a well-known military sci-fi franchise: Battlestar Galactica. While there are other 8-bit system are far more worshiped and discussed than the failed and forgotten 7800 system in the retrogaming community, it was important to me. That is because I was one of those kids that got a ATARI 7800 over the beloved Nintendo Entertainment System...yeah...that was a good decision by the 10 year old me. For those who do not know, the ATARI 7800 Prosystem was the iconic ATARI company's second-to-last great attempt at recapturing the home video market back in 1983 when the "ATARI 3800" project was undertaken. While the 2600 had been a massive success that basically established the home video game market, the bulkier 5200 followup system had not been and ATARI needed a home system that could married the 5200 and the 2600 while improving upon the experience to capture the gaming community's attention again.  That home console system was to be the ATARI 7800 (2600+5200=7800), but instead of being developed in-house by the Warner-Brothers owned ATARI company, someone else was tapped to forge the savor of the house of ATARI: General Computer Company (GCC).

This was due to the lack of faith that Warner-Brothers had in ATARI due to the failure of their 5200 system that provoked Warner-Brothers to tap GCC to develop the Project 3800 into the 7800 system due to their proven track-record of developing arcade games for ATARI. The 7800 home console was targeted for a summer of 1984 release, however, 1983 was a critical year in the story of ATARI and the American home video game market as a whole. With the crash of the video game market. ATARI was struggling and it was sold to Jack Tramiel on July 2nd, 1984. Tramiel wanted ATARI to enter into the home computer market (that became the ST line of home computers) as well as remaining in the home video game console market for the immediate future. Interestingly enough, there could have been another path for ATARI. Nintendo approach ATARI to license their Famicom console as ATARI product and this would have reverse the course of world history if it had unfolded. That deal collapsed and the new ATARI under its new leadership which was attempting to get the 7800 project as well as the 2600JR onto store shelves in the mid-1980's to counter the NES and the SEGA Master System.
After much money was thrown to secure licenses from the grip of GCC, the 7800 was allowed to be released...finally. The odd thing was there was actual finished consoles setting in warehouses from the original production run of the 7800 when the company was under Warner-Brothers from around 1984. Finally, in May of 1986, the aging system was released at a price-point of $79 ($181 in today's money) which was lower than the NES. I cannot imagine buying a "brand new" 7800 in 1986 and it was really a 1984 machine! Under the original plan for the 7800 Prosystem, was there to be upgrade future hardware modules that were to use ports already built into the Warner-Brothers 1984 made 7800 consoles. One of the additional hardware modules was being planned and developed was a LaserDisc player module.
As far back as 1979, ATARI had been eyeballing LaserDisc technology for use in games as it was thought to be the future of gaming by the industry. At the time in 1983/1984 when ATARI was researching a LaserDisc add-on hardware module for the 7800, there were LaserDisc games in the arcade at the time: Space Ace, Dragon's Lair, and ATARI's own Firefox, which was based on the Clint Eastwood 1982 film. In Japan, the MSX home computer system had a Pioneer LaserDisc add-on back in 1984 that played LD-based games. The MSX LD module only last until 1986. Back in the States, ATARI was planning on developing home console versions of Space Ace, Dragon's Lair, and Firefox along with a untitled racing game. a Knight Rider game, and even a space shooter based on 1978's Battlestar Galactica. We have to remember that in 1984, BSG was a dead property and while some in the sci-fi community were passionate about the cancelled series...there was nothing like what we have today, in terms of BSG fandom. But, it was indeed underdevelopment and the test footage exists of classic Vipers engaging Cylons in space dogfights and even landing on the good old Galactica herself. It is likely that the game would have been similar to the Firefox game. So, why did we not see the ATARI 7800 LaserDisc player and I was robbed of blowing up Cylons in my living room in 1986? The following information was from interviews that have been conducted by other sites with former ATARI game developer and programmer Owen Rubin.
Back in 1978-1979, Rubin had been at MIT learning about the new LaserDisc technology and disagreed with ATARI about using that format for video games due to the expense and reliability issues of LD. They did not heed his warnings and went about developing the LaserDisc format for the video game arcade market with a special development group at ATARI. During this, Owen Rubin, a fan of the classic Battlestar Galactica TV show, was able to begin development on a BSG-themed LaserDisc space-shooter around 1984 with support from Universal. Owen Rubin's team got access to footage from BSG and used that to develop a initial test footage for the game on a LaserDisc. Why was ATARI allowing a BSG game to be developed when the classic series was cancelled after just one season? We can only assume that Rubin had some influence and that Universal was happy to make some money off of their cancelled Star Wars inspirited expensive military sci-fi TV series and gave their blessing and support at a good price.
This initial test footage can be found today on YouTube and it is really just a series of looping sequences. This game, along with the Road Runner, Knight Rider, a car racing and golfing simulator were in development for the hardware that GCC was developing.While there are many rumors associated with lost working prototypes of the 7800 LaserDisc module, it is likely that there are none that were developed due to the timeline of the project. Like many video game stories of this time, it was the Video Game Crash of 1983 that partly cost the 7800 LaserDisc add-on module its life initially. While Jack Tremiel was committed to the 7800 Prosystem, he was not interested in the time and money for these hardware add-ons and their games to be developed.
By 1984, the LaserDisc development team was disbanded and the add-on project for the 7800 were cancelled. Some of the original Warner-Brothers ATARI 7800 consoles do retain the expansion ports, but the later 7800s do not...like mine. Despite the comments on ATARI forums and such, the 7800 LaserDisc player would not have saved the 7800 Prosystem or made it more popular than the NES. It would have been an expensive add-on of newer technology that would have not played movies, and likely been buggy and slow. It would have been a prized rarity today and command high prices...but it would have unsuccessful, much like the Neo-Geo CD of 1994 or the ATARI Jaguar CD peripheral module. Still, if it had been developed and released, it would have allowed for Full-Motion Video many years before the Sega Genesis hardware add-on module, and it would have allowed me to blow up frakking Cylons on my 7800 back in the 80s!

25 July 2019

FWS News Feed: the French Military Hiring Sci-Fi Writiers?!

It came out this week that the French military newly established Defense Innovation Agency (DIA), the French version of the US DARPA, is seeking the input of science fiction writers for evaluation of next-generation threats France and the world. This "Red Team" of thinkers and creators (or visionaries) will be using their talents to dreaming up fantasy tactical scenario and strategies to deal with all manner of "propose scenarios of disruption". No information is available to ascertain the likely scenarios that their imaginations will be wrapping around. It is unlikely that the reports that these visionaries generate or who is among the chosen few are due to the secret measures taken. Chief FWS Contributor alerted me to this story and the fact that in the awesome 1985 sci-fi novel Footfall by dynamic duo Niven and Pournelle, the US military hires three sci-fi writers as consultants during the Fithp invasion to provide thinking outside of the military perspective. Does not mean that spacefaring elephants are getting ready to invade Kansas? And no, neither Yoel or I were asked to be part of the Red Team. Recently, the flying Board Frenchman and the anti-drone rifles made appears at the Bastille Day celebration, only adding to this story.     

12 July 2019

Nine Years of Future War Stories!

It has been nine years since the founding of FWS way back in 2010, and it is only because of your support that we have reached that milestone. Since its founding, FWS has growth to be one of the largest military science fiction websites in the world that helps writers and creators with developing military sci-fi projects. That's all well and good, you might be saying...but, just what the hell has been going on for the past few years? It is true that since 2016, FWS has experienced a number of issues with production and all I can say is that I am very sorry. I feel that I have not be the fair to the readers of this site. There were promises made and not delivered. Once again, for that, I am sorry. I feel ashamed. The last few years have a hard road and there were times, including recently, that I thought of closing down FWS. I thought I could not create anymore and I nearly turned it over to someone else to continue the work. But, I could not give up on FWS and how important it became to me. At the moment, I am attempting to balance everything in order to push out the bigger blogposts. I have been pleased with the new "Guns from the Future" series and the strong reception to "Future War Stories from the East". I just want to say thank you for your support of FWS and its mission...which will continue as best it can. Stay Frosty. 

23 June 2019

FWS Top 10: Forgotten Military SF Games (Vol. 5)

FWS is continuing down the rabbit hole of the "lost" and forgotten military science fiction video games, with part five of the ten part series. In this installment, FWS will be looking at some titles that were born from well-known military sci-fi franchises, like BattleTech and ROBOTECH.

1. Incubation: Time is Running Out (Blue Byte, 1997)
Strategy games have been a time-honored genre in the realm of PC gaming, and there a ton of them. Lost in the sands and the technology of time is the 1997 military SF “bug-hunt” RTS game: Incubation: Time is Running out. Made by a German developer, Blue Byte, the game sold poorly in the United States, but was one of the first RTS games to use 3D graphics. This can be seen in the blocky graphics that appear horribly dated today, which could be one reason for Incubation being a lost title. That and the complicated control input system that cause gameplay to be a labored affair, sucking the enjoyment.

2. BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception (Infocom 1988)
Way back in the pivotal year of 1984, Chicago-based FASA developed a mecha combat game using designs from Japanese sources without permission. Coming at the perfect time, FASA had a true hit on their hands, and the BattleTech empire was founded. While originally, BattleTech was a tabletop wargame, today, BattleTech is also a successful series of video games that all started in 1988. Infocom, that gave us Zork!. The first BattleTech game, The Crescent Hawk's Inception, was released for a variety of PC machines like the Commodore 64 and the ATARI ST. Featuring an amazing cover, it was sadly not as dynamic as the cover art would lead you to believe. This turn-based RPG game looks more like The Legend of Zelda than MechWarrior, and had you play as a Mechwarrior cadet named Jason Youngblood in the service of the Lyran Commonwealth during the 31st century. During the game, Jason will be thrust into a war, finding LosTech, and the fate of this lost father. From videos and articles, the game is complex and lengthy, that proved successful enough to warrant a sequel in 1990 called BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Revenge. The reason for these early BattleTech games becoming LosTech was that the kinetic nature of mech combat was not expressed in the gameplay like later titles, and the fact they were released back in 1988 media.

3. Citadel (Arrakis Software 1995)
This Polish shooter was made and released in the era of DOOM and some consider Citadel a DOOM clone game. Being released for the UK PC gaming market for the Amiga, this FPS title was also known as "Cytadela", and it was the one of three title developed by the Polish Arrakis Software company that was based in Gdansk. After releasing three games from 1993 and 1995, the company folded after Citadel failed to be a commercial success. Being set in a off-world prison, the character was there to put down a riot via two different paths, one being harder than the other. While a solid title by most modern reviewers, it was credited for being the first DOOM-like game to be playable on British home computers. Given that the game was not released in other markets, only on the Amiga, and at a time where gamers were awash in DOOM clones, it is easy to see why Citadel is widely unknown today.  

4. ROBOTECH: Invasion (Vicious Cycle Software 2004)
Over the course of the nine year history of FWS, we have covered ROBOTECH repeatedly, and it is high time we examine this 2004 title because of its uniqueness with in the realm of ROBOTECH itself and anime-based video games. As many of us know, ROBOTECH was cobbled together from three separate anime series with similar art styles and production staff. For the 3rd Robotech War series, Harmony Gold used the 1983-1984 series Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. Much like Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, MOSPEADA was not has successful as Macross, and has not enjoyed the continued popularity of Macross in Japan. However, both MOSPEADA was incorporated into the titan that is ROBOTECH and for many, including myself, it was a favorite of the three stories of the Robotech Wars. After the success of ROBOTECH: Battlecry, another title was begun, and it was decided to set the next game into the second most popular ROBOTECH stories: The New Generation. This was exciting news for fans of the 3rd Robotech War until the game came out in 2004. This game is a total and complete mess both in a visual presentation and in a gameplay sense that was lightyears away from the much more solid Battlecry
The reviews were not kind and Invasion  was a commercial failure which caused it to be mostly forgotten by the general gaming public and even by some ROBOTECH fans. What Invasion represents is something more impressive the lazy game presented here. Much of ROBOTECH merchandise and spin-off material is focused on the 1st Robotech War, but here we have a game set into something else besides Macross. Despite being a fan of The Next Generation,  I bought this game quickly, then was horrified by the results and returned it for my money back within 48 hours. On interesting note, some fansites  theorized that if ROBOTECH: Invasion had been a success like Battlecry, that we would have gotten an Masters set video game. Pity. 

5. DUNE (Cryo Interactive, 1992)
At the opening of the the 1990s, DUNE was not on anyone’s radar. While it was a legendary novel series and an oddball 1984 film with even stranger merchandise, the 1990’s would have been a quiet point in the total history of DUNE if it was not for Cryo Interactive and Virgin's excellent RTS set that was a sort of merging between the book and Lynch film. When released in 1992, it was a game that spanned the era of media between the 3.5 disk and the CD-ROM, along with generating interest in the DUNE universe.
At the time, I was deeply into DUNE and the game was a happy converges of my interest and a great product. While the game was celebrated and beloved at the time the gaming press and by some of us original fans of game at the time of release, there was never a formal sequel to the Cryo/Virgin DUNE game. There was other RTS games set in the DUNE universe, but they were done by other companies. Cryo Interactive would revisit the DUNE universe in 2001 for a game tie-in to the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries. While there are still others that discuss the phenomenon of the DUNE RTS fad and its impact, there is less chatter on the French 1992 game. For me, this was the definitive DUNE game.

6Star Trek: Voyager – The Arcade Game (Game Refuge 2002)

It always surprises me that this arcade machine exists at all. There are only Star Trek arcade game titles in existence, and one of them is based on one of the most divisive Trek shows in franchise history: Voyager. This is odd anyway, but then to make this Trek arcade game an on-rails-shooter, with light guns that in no way look like a phaser is just criminal. Another odd thing is that it was relativity popularly at the time, but it since has disappeared from arcades and movie theaters, along with the collective gamer memory. The gameplay was centered around liberating Voyager from attacks by the standard enemies of the series, and the it was rated as an okay game with Trek elements nailed on.

7. Zillion and Zillion II:The Tri Formation (SEGA 1987 and 1988)
During the Golden Age of Anime, Tatsunoko Production would develop and air yet another action/sci-fi anime about characters during a time of war. This show, called Zillion, was not that remarkable for the time and it was not a success, causing the TV show to be wrapped up early. What does make Zillion interesting is its connection to the SEGA Master System and its light gun. Some of the Zillion Weapon System blasters seen in the series were based on the SEGA Light Gun, the "Light Phaser", and in turn, the Light Phaser design was used for a home market IR laser tag came called "Zillion".The laser tag system actually worn by the main characters of the series, much like the Lazer Tag Academy cartoon series. In addition to these works, two SEGA Master System games were released in 1987 and 1988 involving the anime Zillion setting and characters. The games are more or less standard side-scrollers with military science fiction elements and even mecha that is compared to the maddening Impossible Mission.

8. Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II (Apogee Software 1991 and 1993)
I played Duke Nukem 3D on a friend's brand new Gateway Computer at around 1996 and loved it deeply (this game caused me to say "groovy") and I would buy the PlayStation One port in 1998. For me, Duke Nukem 3D was beloved title that continues to be a good time to the point that I currently replaying it on my Xbox One. It was not until I bough a strategy guide for very cheap from a book store that was closing that I learned that Duke Nukem 3D was actually the 3rd game in the series.
Later on, it was only when I googled the first two Duke Nukem games did I learn the odd truth. I think for a vast majority of players of the 1996 game, they believed that Duke Nukem was a the first entry due to the radical change in format and exposure. The original two games came out at very different time in PC gaming, but would lay the ground work for the idea of "shareware" and the character of Duke Nukem. Developed by one of the early titans of PC gaming, Apogee Software, it would released Duke Nukem 1 and under the Apogee name, while the 3rd game was developed under 3D Realms. The extremely successful and beloved 3rd game completely obscured the original two games, due to the fact that Duke Nukem 1 and 2 were side-scrollers, along with lacking in Duke's big "personality" that made the character and the game so memorable.       

9. ALIENS: A Comic Book Adventure (Cryo Interactive Entertainment 1995)
Another Cryo Interactive title that came to us in 1995 would have a link to something that changed my life: the Dark Horse ALIENS comic books. With the massive success of the Dark Horse ALIENS comics and the lukewarm reception to ALIEN 3, and that seemed to be the best plan for any future ALIENS titles. Being the mid-1990's, advancement in optical media allowed for a new gaming frontier to be opened up. There is very little information available today on just how this title got developed or why...but it was connected to the Dark Horse ALIENS universe, specifically, Labyrinth. This point-and-click adventure was graphically impressive with a solid story, but it was buggy and crashed often. It sold poorly and made many "the worst games of 1995" lists. Even being a massive fan of the Dark Horse ALIENS universe, I did not know this existed until after I started this blog and kinda wished I didn't.

10. ALIENS Versus Predator: Extinction (Zono Incorporated 2003)
There few promises that sci-fi has made to fans that held such power and excitement as pairing up the ALIENS and Predator franchises into a shared universe of fangs, blood, and hunting. Fans started laying the groundwork for the ALIENS vs. Predator concept since first witnessing the hunters of men in the 1987 blockbuster, and 20th Century Fox gave their blessing with a series of products in 1990. FWS will be exploring and explaining the broken promise that is the AVP franchise in a upcoming article, but we will discuss on of the misfits of that maligned franchise: AVP: Extinction.Coming out in 2003 on the PS2 and original Xbox, this single player RTS focused on a battle royale between the Xenomorphs, the Yautja, and various human factions (normally Colonial Marines). Most of the AVP video games were more direct combat, like a side-scroller or a shooter, not an RTS. It seemed out of place in the AVP realm, and it could have been an attempt to steal some of the Starcraft thunder. From most retrospectives on the EA title say that is is just okay for an RTS with bugs throughout with being an odd concept. AVP: Extinction sold poorly and was not released on PC nor was there, mercifully, a sequel. I used to see this game on the GameStop Xbox wall for cheap and I passed on it due to it being an RTS.

27 May 2019

Future War Stories From the East: Armored Trooper VOTOMS

Many of the more famous anime and manga is often defined and remembered because of a certain iconic character, unique setting, or piece of machinery (which is often Mecha). Some imported Japanese animations or comics are lucky enough to be imported wholly to the West along with other associated products like models, video games, or toys. Others were not so lucky and came over to our shores in pieces and over a great length of time, forging fans along with way. Both statements above directly apply to one of the most mecha-based military science fiction animes of all time: Armored Trooper V.O.T.O.M.S (装甲騎兵ボトムズ Sōkō Kihei Botomuzu). After many requests by the loyal readers of FWS, it is high time to suit up and explore VOTOMS!

What is “Armored Trooper VOTOMS”?
VOTOMS is the brainchild of Fang of the Sun Dougram creator Ryōsuke Takahashi and despite being developed in 1983, VOTOMS is still an on-going Japanese military science fiction franchise encompassing anime TV series, OVAs, video games, models, and toys. At about the time that Fang of the Sun Dougram was ending its run on Japanese television, Takahashi and Nippon Sunrise animation studio would continue the mecha-centered war stories with the VOTOMS 52 episode television show that aired on TV Tokyo from April 1st, 1983 through March 23rd, 1984. The 52 episode epic is normally divided into four somewhat equal parts detailing the misadventures of former elite armored trooper Gilgamesh Confederation soldier Chirico Cuvie. Much like Fang of the Sun Dougram, Takashasi would work with the same animation studio and the same mechanical designer, the famed Kunio Okawara, who also worked on Mobile Suit Gundam and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Since the original TV anime series aired on Japanese airwaves in 1983 to 1984, VOTOMS has become one of the most iconic military science fiction animes of all time. This status as an anime legend resulted from VOTOMS being set in a great, more realistic war scenario, with a traumatized ace mecha combat pilot as the main character, and a kick ass mecha design to wrap in all up.     

The Plot and Setting of VOTOMS
Armored Trooper VOTOMS takes place in another galaxy called Astragius that had been relatively at peace for over 500 years with the two major galactic powers: the Balarant Union and the Gilgamesh Confederation since the end of the 2nd Galactic War. That was until 7113 AC, when the need for colonial expansion to provide for its large population forced Balarant into bitter and bloody conflict with Gilgamesh over the possession of a single star system on their border. The war (called the 100 Years War or the 3rd Galactic War) would be fought with soldiers, starships, and a new type of armored power suit: the Vertical One-man Tank for Offense & ManeuverS or V.O.T.O.M.S. Developed in 7118 AC, the “machine trooper” rapidly became the primary weapon in this long war and soon after being improved, these one-man powered armor become known as the "Armored Troopers".
In 7198, the most famous Armored Trooper mecha model of the 3rd Galactic War was put into the field: the ATM-09-ST “Scopedog” of the Gilgamesh Confederation. Just a few years prior to that, the main character of the VOTOMS universe was born, Chirico Cuvie on planet of Melkia. In the original 1983-1984 TV series, the former elite Red Shoulder Battalion pilot was questioned, tortured, imprisoned due to his unique nature and involvement in an off-the-books mission. As the 100 Years War ends in an uneasy treaty, Chirico breaks out of prison and is on the run in the ruined city of Uoodo on Melkia. Throughout his journeys and the new people he meets, Chirico learns his destiny and a hidden force controlling current events. With the success and loyal following, the original 1983 TV series formed the spine that the rest of the VOTOMS titles are centered around. Most of other titles in the vast VOTOMS franchise focus on Chirico or other people during or around the 100 Years War era.           

The Iconic Mecha of VOTOMS: The ATM-09-ST “Scopedog”
In the bitter interstellar war between Balarant Union and the Gilgamesh Confederation, the war was mostly waged with smaller CLASS-II Armored Powered Suits known as: Vertical One-man Tank for Offense & ManeuverS or V.O.T.O.M.S and it immediately became an iconic of anime mecha design.  One of the most often cited iconic elements of VOTOMS was that the primary mecha and it was not some massive transformer war machine like those seen in Macross or a towering pilot robot like Gundam, but more like the Marauder suits from the Starship Troopers novel. That was not by not chance, but was the vision of smaller combat mecha (about four meters in height) was laid down by both Takahashi & Okawara. This combat mecha, the ATM-09-ST “Scopedog”, would become the overall symbol of the VOTOMS universe and a longtime favorite among modelers and collectors. Even if you did not know the original source of the Scopedog mech suit, you knew intrinsically how good the design was. This was true of me when I would see the Scopedog model kits in the comicbook store in the 1980s. I knew of the Scopedog APS mech long before knowing the name of the source.
It would not be until an early issue of Animerica Magazine that I learned of VOTOMS. According to the source material, the Scopedog was developed in 7198 AC, nearly in the middle of the 3rd Galactic War, and it became the primary foot soldier of the war. To counter the Gilgamesh Confederation new Armored Trooper, the Balarant Union developed the lesser B-ATM series that was an attempted copy of the Scopedog. Some of the Scopedog CLASS-II armored power suit would fall into the hands of private military contractors during and after the war. Often these mercenary suits were painted a different color to differ themselves from the military issue mecha. According to technical data, the standard Scopedog was just under four meters and weight in at 6.7 tons when loaded for combat. While the powerplant is unknown, mecha of this type rely on “Polymer ringers” as a mecha muscular system that requires a liquid that needs to be recharged. The Scopedog has an operational range of 218 hours of the polymer ringers before needing refueling. When it comes to armaments, the Scopedog has a vast array of offensive systems that can be mounted and in-hand.
Classically, the Scopedog is pictured with the GAT-22 30mm heavy box-fed machine gun and shoulder-mounted, magazine-fed grenade launcher. What gives the Scopedog its odd name comes from the tri-camera lens turret system that is slaved directly to the pilot's helmet HUD. While these bipedal walking one-man tanks were impressive, they could be taken out easily by several clean shots and due to this, the Scopedog used rollers in the feet to increase movement speed as defensive maneuver. Since the original series ran in 1983, the Scopedog mecha has been a daring of the Japanese modelling industry and mecha fans alike.         

The Historical Context of Armored Trooper VOTOMS
VOTOMS would be developed and broadcast in the Land of the Rising Sun during an interesting time in the history of anime that began in 1972 with Mazinger Z, but came into full bloom with Mobile Suit Gundam and Macross. This anime forged the long running passionate love affair between anime and mecha that bore many offspring and endless plastic statues attesting to the idol worship of the adoring masses that included me very much back-in-the-day. This was also a time when anime studios and creators took more chances with regards to subject matter and more of these titles were being condensed into OVA format rather than lengthy and expensive TV series. Of course, it helped titles like VOTOMS to be funded due to the titanic success of Star Wars that injected new fans and cash into the genre of sci-fi. Helping VOTOMS specifically was the success of Ryōsuke Takahashi’s previous work, Fang of the Sun Dougram, along the popularity of those mecha model kits. Also at the time of VOTOMS release was that the United States market for anime and related products was heating up with the US going through their own Giant Robot Craze fever. While Japan had a developed system for retail sales of anime on VHS and LaserDisc, the market for home media in the United States was still waiting to boil.
This brings about an interesting element of imported anime titles in the US market during the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Before the advent of DVD, anime was sold on VHS or the rarer LaserDisc format. For anime in the typical TV series format, like VOTOMS, the US import companies like US Rendering would package two episodes of the anime on one VHS tape and sell it around $20 at various retailers like Hastings and Suncoast. For smaller series, like Bubblegun Crisis or even the compact OVA titles, the retail anime market in the US was more agreeable rather than the full TV series that would cost the consumer hundreds of dollars to collect.
These mammoth VHS series would also eat up a great deal of shelve space at the local Suncoast Video store, which could have been used for more OVAs. And it never failed that you would trip down to the local anime-friendly video retailer and they were sold out of the very tape you needed and then you would have to order it and it would take fucking six weeks to get it! That happened. Given the time and the state of the internet, it was extremely difficult to preview these series to see if they were worth the cash commitment. At times, you could rent a few of the episodes at your local Block Buster, as I did with Bubblegum Crisis. However, that varied greatly from region-to-region and store-to-store. These were some of the challenges that were overcome by the advent of DVDs, anime on cable, and the improved technology of the internet.                         
Armored Trooper VOTOMS in the West
When it comes to what anime titles were imported to the US back during the 1st and 2nd Wave of Anime in America, it was often more subjective and frankly odd than one might think. After all, the only reason Voltron is the Voltron that we know is due to a mistake made by Toei Animation resulting in World Events Productions receiving the tapes for Beast King GoLion rather than Future Robot Daltanious. Oddly, we did not get a dubbed Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, but somehow, we got Star Musketeer Bismark?! As we discussed in the article on Fang of the Sun Dougram, it almost does not seem fair to us fans of mecha anime that Dougram was never brought over to the western market and I think that same about the various VOTOMS titles that were never imported. For some reason, titles like Beast King GoLion, Macross, and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman were brought over to the shores of America, dubbed, altered for American media consumers, and then aired, feeding the Giant Robot Crazy. However, on the flipside, iconic military sci-fi mecha anime series like VOTOMS and fucking Mobile Suit Gundam were not given the same treatment. Much like Takahashi & Okawara other production, Fang of the Sun Dougram, VOTOMS would never be given the ROBOTECH treatment, but unlike Dougram, the original 1983-1984 VOTOMS TV show would be released for the home video market on VHS tape by Central Park Media’s US Manga Corps at around 1996 as the market for anime on VHS was heating up.
According to scans of the 1996 US Manga Corps one-page ads in publications like Animerica, the original VOTOMS TV show was being sold on the common format of two-episodes per tape. This made owning the *complete* Armored Trooper VOTOMS TV series comprised of 52 episodes an expensive venture, especially considering that each tape retailed at $24 or the boxset of each “stage” (example: the Kummen Jungle Wars) at a lower price point of $99. I did see some of the VHS tapes for Armored Trooper VOTOMS TV series at Suncoast stores in the DFW area, but they were not the complete collection and I did not take the plunge despite my love for military sci-fi mecha-based anime. Video tapes were not the only arrow in the VOTOMS quiver, there was the manga, video games, RPGs, and model kits to draw upon. With US Manga Corps rolling out the VOTOMS TV series on VHS, they also attempted to also print a VOTOMS limited comic book series via their “CPM Comics” imprint. I say, “attempted”, because it seems that only one issue was printed by CPM Comics and any information is extremely limited and/or conflicted.
According to the cover of CPM’s “Armored Trooper VOTOMS #1”, it was intended to be a limited four-issue series, but the only the first issue seems to exist. No online retailer or comic book data site has anything other than the first issue. This seems to me that it is highly likely that only one issue was printed. Then in July of 1997, CPM published a tradepaper back graphic novel collection called “Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Supreme Survivor” which is a prequel to the 1983 TV series that might have originally printed in Japan and then exported to the west via US Manga Corps. Today, this 112 page trade paperback commands a heavy price of nearly a thousand damn dollars and speaks to the rarity and popularity of VOTOMS in the US. But just the hell is it? From the Amazon preview of this expensive graphic novel, new information is presented inside via editorial by Tim Eldred. It seems that this was Supreme Survivor graphic novel was indeed a collection of the aborted comic book series with some nice extras thrown in, but VOTOM superfan Tim does not inform us why the limited series was halted at issue#1. Also from the limited preview on Amazon, I can safely assume that Tim Eldred and CPM Comics developed this VOTOMS work wholly in the United States and is not an translated manga. Given the subject matter of mechs battling one another, the MSF universe of VOTOMS lends itself easily to a video game shooter. At present, about 20 videos have been released with a VOTOMS theme for the Japanese market, with the majority of titles being released on the original PlayStation and PS2 consoles.
As far as I know, none of the VOTOMS games were officially released in the States. Now, there can be no real separation between the iconic mecha of VOTOMS and the fictional universe itself (just like Dougram). The Okawara designed  Scopedog served as the ambassador to the Takahashi’s military sci-fi franchise, and to this very day, model kits and display pieces are made in lovely detail of the Scopedog APS at all price points. Since 1984, imported model kits of the mecha of the 100 Years War have been for sale in the US, and for many, this is how they learned of Armored Trooper VOTOMS (as the same was for Dougram). For more 12 years, the models were the only real product of VOTOMS in the US. In this new era of information and commerce, Armored Trooper VOTOMS has finally been able to be enjoyed in the west…just some 30 years late.

Why is VOTOMS Considered Military Sci-Fi?
At times, the label of military science fiction is loosely applied to a work to jazz it up or it is debated by the fan base, as the case is with Star Trek. However, it is amazing to read how many times the label of "military science fiction" is applied to the entire VOTOMS franchise by many sources. All of the titles, across all media types, are firmly rooted in military scenarios, military sci-fi tropes, and packed with service personnel, along with cool combat mecha. In addition, VOTOMS includes the cost of war on both society and the individual as we have seen with pilot Chirico.

The Impact and Legacy of VOTOMS
It did not take long during researching the subject of Armored Trooper VOTOMS that its impact and legacy are repeatedly praised in the genre of military sci-fi anime and mecha-centered anime. The majority of mecha in Japanese media were similar to metal giants like the Veritech, the RX-78-2 Gundam, and the prototype Combat Armor Dougram. However, the powered armor suits used in VOTOMS were only about four meters in height, did not tower over urban centers like the mechs from Battletech. Instead, they were on the ground and in the thick of battle, like normal infantry and the Scopedog APS were cranked out of factories like Ford Model Ts and were NOT customer one-off rare mecha, like the Dougram.
This set Armored Trooper VOTOMS apart automatically from the herd of giant-armed-robots-piloted-by-teenager trope populating anime and manga along with the main character. The adult Chirico is deeply affected by his actions during combat, he is haunted by the horrors of war, and he is in search of some sort of peace from his talent. This reintegration back to civilian society for a warfighter is a very topical issue today and it was rather refreshing in an anime of the time, but not isolated as some have claimed. VOTOMS had similar themes as Fang of the Sun Dougram, Space Cruiser Yamato, and even Macross. The themes and more realistic mecha design influence a whole generation of creators on both sides of the Pacific, including Dynamo Joe creator Doug Rice and the creation of the Heavy Gear Canadian mecha combat RPG.

The List of VOTOMS Anime:

VOTOMS: The Last Red Shoulder (1985)
On August 21st, 1985, Sunrise would immediately go back to the VOTOMS universe after the end of the original VOTOMS TV show and tell the tale of the time between Part 1 and Part 2 of the original anime series via this hour-long OVA. From the comments made about this OVA, it seems to be a critical and important part of the overall story of the central character of Chirio as well as VOTOMS universe as a whole. I do not believe that this was imported into the USA.

VOTOMS: Big Battle (1986)
Released in July 5th, 1986, this hour long OVA took place just after the events of the 1983 TV series, but before the epilogue of the original series and further develops the “Perfect Soldier” program. From the comments made about this OVA, it seems to be regarded as just another VOTOMS episode. Once again, I do not believe that this was imported to the Western market. 

The Red Shoulder Document: Roots of Ambition (1988)
Airing in March of 1988, the Roots of Ambition OVA was a story taking place while Chirio was in the service of the Special Operations Red Shoulders unit. This was a much requested storyline by the fans since the original TV series. Chirico and others new in the "Red Shoulders" Special Operations unit were pitted in a virtual battlefield to test their abilities. Again, it was likely this was not imported and some have written this off as just okay.

Armor Hunter Mellowlink (1988)
This 12 episode OVA that aired from November of 1988 to April of 1989 and the first VOTOMS title that did not include the character of Chirio. Instead, the OVA focuses on Mellowlink Arity, soldier blamed for taking military equipment on the path of revenge. This OVA has positive reviews and it does not look it was imported due to an interesting developed. According to the translator for the fansub of Mellowlink, the masters of this VOTOMS entry were destroyed in a flood. It is hinted that US Manga Corps was eyeing this for release and may have done some work on it prior to the flood. 

Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Brilliantly Shining Heresy (1994)
This marks the only entry into the VOTOMS franchise in the 1990s, and continues the story of Chirio and Fyana after they went into cryo to avoid a new war. They awake some 32 years after the events of the original series to take on the Church of Marteal. This was imported to the west just this year. Some have claimed online that this entry failed and prevented anymore VOTOMS anime projects until the 2000’s.

Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Pailsen Files (2008)
To somewhat save VOTOMS, the original production crew of the original TV series developed an entry of Chirio during the 100 Years War, but with then “cutting edge” CGI effects. Yeah…I'm sure that aged well. The reviews are all over the map on this 12 part OVA series, and many criticize the dated and hated CGI effects. However, many have praised the story and what the OVA shows of the universe of VOTOMS.

Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Phantom Chapter (2010)
I’ve always been surprised by the lack of the overall cohesion in the VOTOMS franchise and the six-part OVA only reinforces that. This has the three friends of Chirio reuniting and yeah…that’s not why I would want to watch VOTOMS. A number of reviews speak of nostalgia and an semi-ending to the original VOTOMS storyline, but that was replaced with the 2011 entry: Alone Again

VOTOMS Finder (2010)
This is an odd entry into the whole of the confused VOTOMS universe. Finder could take place in an alternate universe of VOTOMS, we are not 100% sure, and it does not involve the typical players in VOTOMS works. The main character is a mecha junk finder and deal, but when he is tapped to rescue a kidnapped girl, the plot thickens. This has yet to be imported and it is a stand-alone, spin-off title one hour long OVA.

Case: Irvine (2010)
There have some bold experiments within the VOTOMS spin-off media and Case: Irvine was one such attempt. The story was centered around mech technician Irvine Lesterand and those much featured gladiatorial mecha games. While somewhat interesting from the review, it was never imported in the west and it never led to another work based on the character. 

Alone Again (2011)

This is a OVA love letter and goodbye to the main character of the VOTOMS series, Chirio. In this hour-long OVA from 2011, Chirio visits his friends for the first time in over 30 years in a dusty western town. Of course, some violence gets kicked up. From what I read, this ends the Chirio character in VOTOMS and allows for a new beginning. At the time of writing, this was not imported to the west and is the last/current VOTOMS title in the franchise.

The VOTOMS Video Games
In the west, we are often not treated to a vast collection of Japanese video game titles on many of the home consoles and for one reason or another, they were never imported. One of those was the entire VOTOMS video game catalog. It seems almost natural that the VOTOMS universe would translated into mech shootin’ video games!  The first three titles on the VOTOMS video game library are confined to Japanese PCs like the Sharp X68000 Computer, which were not imported to the western market and that makes sense. It wasn’t until the fourth title that the VOTOMS video games came onto a system that we know and love: the SNES.
The apex of the VOTOMS mecha-combat centered video games came on the Sony PS and PS2 systems. The odd thing is that a full 11 titles featured some element of VOTOMS, likely the Scopedog APS, as a guest character. After reviewing gameplay footage of the VOTOMS games on YouTube, the majority of games are centered on a third-person POV mecha combat, while other titles (like the SNES title) are focused more on  gladiatorial style arena game. After watching the footage, I wished that some of the PS2 titles had been given the western treatment and imported so that they could have been sold alongside works like ROBOTECH: Battlecry and MechaAssault series (FWS needs to talk about these titles!).

The Models and Toys of VOTOMS
When VOTOMS came on to the airwaves of Japanese TV in 1983, it was a time that some of the most iconic mecha was designed and developed and then recreated in plastic and metal. It would be impossible to catalog and explain each of the Scopedog (and other mecha) kits that the Japanese model industry pumped out and this speaks to the popularity of the VOTOMS brand. Muddling the waters much like Macross and Gundam, is that the VOTOMS franchise is ongoing to this very day, allowing for the demand to keep pushing more product into the market place. This market place also includes the west as well. What it is interesting is that VOTOMS, like Dougram, had their Takara made model kits and even some of the diecast toys come over to American shores without the show airing here. In VOTOMS case, it was more than a full decade before US Manga Corps released the original TV series on VHS and Laserdisc in 1996. This was not a full-on assault like the Revell ROBOTECH Defender model line, it was more a local effort by importers. Today, you can buy the iconic OD green Scopedog APS in all shapes, sizes, and price points both in Japan and in America.

Another nearly organic product evolution of the VOTOMS was into the realm of tabletop mecha combat game in the same vain as BattleTech or MechWarrior. After all, Dougram had no less than two mecha 3D combat tabletop boardgame made for the Japanese market. The first was Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Battling that released by Tsukuda Hobby in 1992 and was rooted in the gladiatorial mecha combat featured in the original series. This hex-and-counter game was noted for being very complex and not released in the USA. In 1997, Washington state based R. Talsorian Games finally developed and release an official VOTOMS RPG using their own mecha Fuzion system and under license from Central Park Media. There are no sources on how popular the game was, but it seems to have only had a single game released with no addition modules or miniatures (some 10mm VOTOMS mecha miniatures were released in Japan though). This was likely an marketing strategy on the part of Central Park Media as this was the time with the VHS tapes were released along with the comic book “series”. One of the things that the R. Talsorian VOTOMS RPG is known for today in VOTOMS circles is that game manual is packed with tons of information on the VOTOMS universe. Until the release of the R. Talsorian gaming system, the Canadian mecha RPG game, Heavy Gears, was developed in the image and influence of VOTOMS in 1994.

Is VOTOMS Worth Watching Today?
Many speak of the legacy and impact of the original 1983 series along with the many VOTOMS OVAs, but it is important to take those praises with a grain of salt. The original series is very good in parts and does often earn its legacy…however, it is also muddled, wandering, and the focus on “prefect soldiers” is a well-worn trope of military science fiction. The majority of the OVAs were not imported and the fansub on these is hit-or-miss, but the OVAs containing more about the 100 Years War seem to the better of the lot. I think if you are a fan of classic mecha anime, it is worth checking out on a streaming serve first before making the investment in the hard media. One of the elements I was not expecting in the 1983 TV series was the quality of the animation was not as good as other anime titles of the same time or even before. This was true of Dougram as well, though…maybe it has something to do with Sunrise? Another element I found odd was the mecha combat. Some of the scenes were dynamic and compelling, but some lacked any energy or assumed realism. Anyway, there is something in the vast VOTOMS universe to satisfy your mech cravings that was developed by one of the masters of mecha-centered anime. 

Next Time on FWS...
From the castle sieges of the 15th century to the modern battlefields of the 21st, one of the few remaining weapon systems used then and now is the mortar. Today, the mortar is a critical infantry support indirect fire weapon that is deployed and improved. However, this important weapon system is poorly represented in science fiction, making one of the rarest weapon systems in all of science fiction. In the next installment of FWS Armory we will be diving into the mortar!