08 March 2014

FWS Topics: The Grandfather of TITANFALL

Giant mecha battling on off-world colonies has been a staple of military science fiction since the heady days of Macross, Fangs of the Sun Dougram,and of course, Battletech. This fascination with combat manned robots as tall as apartment buildings continues today with Titanfall being the latest example. With the Xbox One online mecha combat game about to drop, I thought we should look at the grandfather of this mecha combat game: the Battletech Combat Centers. While FWS as covered the early Battletech game-simulators in the blogpost about Mecha, I came across this old video from a TV program Beyond 2000, was this segment was all about the Battletech gaming center located in Chicago around 1990, the home of FASA, the creator of Battletech. Back when these centers in the USA and Japan went online, they were the only way at the time to wage mecha combat against real players, something that we do today with the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.
Beyond 2000 was an Australian TV show that aired, in different forms from 1981-2007 and covered then cutting edge technology and future developments that were in prototype phase. In America, Beyond 2000 was aired on a variety networks, including Fox and PBS, and was then aired with new episodes on the old Discovery Channel. All of these I watched, and my first glimpse of the Battletech center came when I watched this episode back in the early 1990's. For about a dollar-a-minute,  Battletech Gaming Centers would allow a dozen players square off in virtual mech combat via the Tesla II pods on a variety of environmental conditions with several mech types and weapons.
People could channel their inner voyeur by watching the battle in the lobby of the combat center while buying some FASA swag. Video monitors inside the combat center played CNN type news updates on the events across the Inner Sphere. Players inside the Tesla II pods were treated to a lavishly designed cockpit with all manner of controls and buttons to make your first mech battle like the first time you had sex...short. There was a real attempt to capitalize on the interest of this type of gaming with the opening of "Virtual World" locations that were an successor to the Battletech Combat Centers. Virtual World locations were networked to other locations, allowing players to engage in mecha combat with players around the globe. As the virtual Battletech games continued, they were dumbed down for less skilled players and more of a rec/arcade feel, rather just appealing to the  Battletech, Mobile Suit Gundam, or ROBOTECH fanbase. While cool, the party didn't last long for the Chicago Battletech combat center, closing around 1992 or 1993. The Tesla II pods would float around, and even today, you can still track down these pods and play your own game of VR Battletech...or you could pour a Jack & Coke, and play some Titanfall at home, which is what I plan on doing. I do think it is important for gamers today to understand that it has all happened before and it will happen again...see you out there. FWS will return with the blogpost about female soldiers...just taking longer to write it than I planned...typical of me. 

Here is the Beyond 2000 Video

6 comments:

  1. I remember these from my visit to Gencon when it was in Milwaukee and then after the con going back to Chicago to meet with FASA people to talk about writing for them. Happy memories.

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  2. When Wizards of the Coast had retail stores, their location in the University District in Seattle had an arcade in it with a number of these pods. They built a themed room and everything around them. On most days it was often the employees playing these anytime there were not paying customers. :)

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  3. Thanks for sharing those memories! I miss FASA and that time period! Those Wizards of the Coast stores were very cool, there was one in Dallas, I used to go to, and wife used to roll her eyes every time we went in. I missed the battletech Tesla II pods, due to living in Oklahoma. However, when I moved to Dallas, I played a few mecha games at some of those massive arcades. Wished I could have played in a Battletech Center. The Battletech Centers remind me of the old Photon Centers in that kind of atmosphere. I think that this time as passed by in favor of the Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. Thanks for commenting and viewing!

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  4. I wish Mechwarrior 5 had come out instead of MW:Online

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  5. Recently started playing MW:Online and all I can is that while it looks stunning the learning curve is the steepest I've every encountered in an FPS.

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  6. To be honest, I've never visited a Battletech Combat Center. Instead, I visited one time a Virtual World center way back when that had both a MechWarrior and a racing game that utilized the same pods. It was my one and only visit there and I wanted to go back for the longest time, but by the time I was able to go for a second visit, the store was closed. It was a sad day for me when the one place, well one of many, that I wanted to revisit so bad finally closed when I had the first opportunity to return. Still, good memories.

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