Ok, so that didn’t come out quite right.
Or did it?
SO, THIS IS BASICALLY THE STORY OF THE LAST YEAR. OF GAMING. FOR ME.
It all began after GenCon 2016. Wait. Not really.
It all began when I saw Harebrained Schemes was crowdfunding a new computer game based on the Battletech tabletop game, in conjunction with Catalyst Game Labs and Battletech creator Jordan Wiseman.
Ok. Ok. It REALLY all started when I saw a 3025 Technical Readout for the Battletech Tabletop Strategy game in a comic shop in Idaho Falls, Idaho, tagging along with my dad as he made his weekly run to pick up the new issues, circa 1992.
Battletech: Giant stompy robot war machines piloted by humans locked in an ongoing struggle for dominance of the galaxy. When you’re a 12-year-old kid who’s been fed a strong diet of comic books, TransFormers, GI Joe, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Monty Python, I ask you: What’s not to love?
I saved my yard-mowing money until I could afford the basic boxed set of the game, and thus was an addiction born. I began playing the game with anyone who had the patience to read through the basic ‘quick’ simplified rulebook. I painted my miniature plastic BattleMechs with my mom’s acrylic craft paint. I saved for and purchased more books, more miniatures, and as friends fell away from the game, I even relieved them of their neglected troops.
I should say at this point that Battletech, like most of the things that hold my creative imagination and attention, is so much more than just the battlefield combat, and the competition of out-thinking and out-fighting your opponent. There’s LORE. There is a HUGE story involved. It’s the story of a humanity that spread out among the stars, but even with the interstellar distances involved in a galaxy-spanning human society, the universal stories of Greed, Ambition, Bravery, Cowardice, Valor, Skullduggery, Hope, Desperation, and all the crap Shakespeare and Michael Stackpole wrote about have continued to shape the human experience. . . on worlds as yet unexplored and in the depths of SPACE. It’s great stuff.
And then, like many others have before me, I discovered sports, the fine arts, and girls. School provided so much extra- and co-curricular activity, I’m amazed looking back that I had time to sleep. As a result, the disciplined warriors of House Kurita and my mercenary band of roughnecks collected dust in a cardboard box. But, every once in a while, I would flip through the Battletech Compendium of rules, just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. The years passed: college, Chicago, grad school, Tacoma, working, marriage, kids.
After a while, I got back into tabletop games. My parents moved nearby and I reclaimed my old gaming gear from the basement. I thought to myself, “Maybe when I have time, I should get back into Battletech. Man, I used to love that game.”
A couple more years passed, but what was no longer out-of-sight was also no longer out-of-mind. I started looking online at Catalyst Game Labs’ website dedicated to what has become “Classic” Battletech. (Nothing is quite the same after something you loved as a young person becomes “Classic”. Classic Rock, for instance. When did R.E.M. and U2 become classic rock? But, I digress.) Once again, the itch to sit in that command couch, strap on my neurohelmet, and pilot my 70 ton instrument of battlefield dominance to victory was as overwhelming as that February day in that comic book shop I can’t remember the name of so long ago.
I never really thought I’d get as close as I have to living that particular dream.
You see a year ago, a Seattle-area game developer, Harebrained Schemes, Kickstarted the aforementioned Battletech computer game. It would be a turn-based, third-person, top-down strategy combat game, with all the flavor and many of the mechanical aspects of the Battletech tabletop game (but, like, with 3d ‘Mechs and terrain, and environmental effects, awesome lighting, sweet weapon animations, voice acting, an open-ended single-player campaign mode as well as a PvP gameplay aspect as well).
I totally backed the heck out of it when time came to crowdfund the production of the game. (If I’ve piqued your interest, and you’re interested in backing the game yourself, just follow this link.)
Six months later, Em and I were invited to GenCon Indianapolis, where I knew there would be a chance to play a super-early build of the game at the Harebrained Schemes booth in the exhibition hall. I played the heck out of that demo, too, and came away super impressed and, well, wanting way more.
Also at GenCon, I made a brief connection with Zac Eubank of Hyper Rabbit Power Go!, which is a Twitch channel. (More on Twitch here) Not only is HyperRPG a Twitch channel, but they’re affiliated with Harebrained Schemes and producing a weekly broadcast of a hybridized Roleplaying and Tabletop Battletech series, played on a large scale gameboard with huge, 3D-printed Battlemech ‘mini’atures. The name of the show? “Death From Above”. Cool. Super cool.
So, there I was, at GenCon with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment as a ‘booth dude’, and I thought to myself, “Hey, I should make sure and get Zac’s card and see if I can make some kind of connection between these two companies because they’re both in the Seattle area and in the same sort of entertainment biz and maybe we can bring them some of our audience and we can get some more exposure for ZOE. . . everybody wins?”
EVERYBODY WINS. YOU WIN . . . and YOU WIN!
I handed off Zac’s card to Ben Dobyns and he handed off the networking to Chris Ode, who thought it would be a super good idea to leverage all the improv comedy talent in the ZOE stable to help create content for HyperRPG. And thus, history was made, and a rag-tag collection of actors became the Renegades of Death From Above.
As a way to introduce us to the HyperRPG audience, and give the original cast of “DFA” a break (They’d been at it every Friday for five months.), the kind people at Hyper RPG put us right into their prime Friday 6pm spot, and I was so graciously asked by the one and only Chris Ode (chosen by the top brass to be the gamemaster for this little circus of improv and Battletech) to be the first “Bad Guy,” of this interim series. I would get to be the first obstacle to the other characters’ goals, the first speedbump on their path to success . . . or maybe I’d end up killing them all off in the game.
One of the interesting aspects of this episodic ‘game’ show is that when a player’s character is killed in the game, that actor is done. Finito. Not asked to return. So, if you want to come back and play again, there are some significant stakes to the survival of your character.
I was called on to play a tough bounty hunter character who is after the price on the head of our plucky hero (played with some drunken elán by Christian Doyle), and Chris thought it would be fun if he had some kind of dialect. I remember trying a few out on him over the phone, and somehow we settled on Russian. That was basically my brief for the evening, with a couple plot bits thrown in for good measure. Not only did I get to create a fun character, but hey, my character survived! And I didn’t kill off any of my opponents, so, in the game, and after the combat was over, our characters all decided to go out for drinks together to celebrate living to fight another day.
Another of the more interesting parts of this experience was discovering the community that this show had generated. Wow, are they a great bunch of people! They were so welcoming and really seemed to enjoy what we brought to the gaming table and into the room as these new characters came together in this established show.
To elaborate: the followers of this show are able to chat online with each other while watching the show, and this chat is essentially part of the action (and through contributing $$ to the channel during the program, they can affect the course of the game). They chat with each other and comment on the action in a way that the audience of an improv show can’t. It was entirely novel to me, and the richness of the interaction was something I was totally unprepared for. During performance, there’s no way to really keep track of what they’re commenting on, but it was possible to see what they enjoyed/liked/didn’t like so much when I watched the Video On Demand of the episode with the Chat visible. It was easy to see that this was truly a remarkable group that was really enjoying our work (play).
To top it all off, the audience enjoyed me enough as the Russian from space, the good people of HyperRPG and ZOE invited me back! I got to play in four of the eight episodes of the “DFA: Renegades” run, and I had an absolute blast as the Space Russian Bounty Hunter: Nikolai Sokolov. It was such a pleasure to work with both the ZOE and HyperRPG teams, and I really hope I get to do it again!
And THAT’s the story of how I got to play Battletech in front of the ENTIRE INTERNET.
(Want to check it out? The episodes of “Death From Above: Renegades” are available on YouTube and for Twitch subscribers (VOD streaming with chat visibility) at the HyperRPG Twitch channel.)
It was a heck of a lot of fun to watch. I hope we get to see you come back in the future!
I just finished the Battletech campaign mission and I’m watching the credits (because, yeah, credits! I liked seeing all the photos of the folks behind the many many many hours of gameplay I’ve done in the Battletech universe..) and.. WAIT, did I just see Matt Shimkus on the credits? The dude from Gamers?! I had to look it up.. and, sure enough! HOW RAD. Just wanted to say it’s damned cool to see your name in the game! Cheers!