Origins 2013: Mechjocks & Battletech Pods
One of the more interesting and cool items at Origins 2013 that deserves special mention are from the guys at Mechjock.com and Virtual World. Set up in the main hallway in the convention center were 6 (or 7, I can’t recall) pods that just looked awesome. All around it were logos, posters and video screens displaying Battletech ‘mechs and Battletech combat. I thought it was some new Battletech simulator game being released at Origins. However, it turns out that it’s not something new but it is still very cool.
Virtual World Entertainment is the company behind these pods. The Mechjocks is the company that travels to various cons with these pods and sets them up for you to play Battletech: Firestorm. Based on the Mechwarrior 4 engine, these pods put you in the cockpit of a Battlemech of your choice. Built a few years back, they appeared in Battletech Centers and other arcades like Dave & Busters. These machines are a little dated, running mostly on Windows XP boxes. The pods are called the Tesla II cockpits and have a full mechwarrior cockpit inside with the main viewer screen and several other minor screens throughout, updating the status of your ‘mech during battle. It is a very slick-looking pod that gives you all the realism you would want for a Battlemech pilot.
This group is out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, but there is a southern group in Texas. They also currently have 4 pods for sale if you so happen to have $25,000 laying around. I asked them what the minimum size of a con they would do because I would imagine they would not just attend any con. Minimum size to make it worth it is about 1000 to 2000 people, so you have to have a decent con before they will consider you. I don’t blame them. I would imagine hauling these beasts around the country can get expensive.
The pods are completely networked together so you are in a battle with all the other pods. They run simple 7-minute free-for-alls for $6 or full fledged tournaments for a little more. Signing up is fairly simple. I had a few generic chips left for the weekend, so I paid for myself and my friend Jim Harris to play in a free-for-all. All I had to do is walk up, give them my call sign (which appears above the pad in LED lights) and pay.
Sitting in the cockpit after a 15-minute wait, I was somewhat overwhelmed by sensory input. There was the main screen, of course, but there were 5 other green screens feeding you input as well. Also a secondary radar screen helps you target your opponents. Remembering back in my days with Mechwarrior and Mechwarrior 2, I remember how important the secondary screens were. They helped alert you of opponents all around you, as well as assess your damage, heat, ammo and energy situation. In this cockpit, all that information is in front of you but you have no idea which screen is which when you first start out. To just play the game in a free-for-all that information is not overly important, but in a tournament or long term mission it’s essential. I know it would take me 3 or 4 times to grow accustomed to the cockpit displays.
There are two hand controls – one for torso pivot and the other is the throttle. The throttle, foot pedals and military-style joystick help you pilot the ‘mech and at your fingertips are the weapons controls for the various weapons your ‘mech has. Results may vary based on the ‘mech your choose – and there are quite a few to choose from, all the familiar ones as well as some I did not recognize. There are over thirty different ‘mechs to choose from. Of course each ‘mech has variations on size, speed, weapons and controls. There are also choices of more than twenty different battlefields, including cities, swamplands, canyons, and more. I played in a grassland with some kind of landing zone or something. I piloted a Rifleman, which is a ‘mech that is best at long range. That ‘mech just popped into my head when they asked me what ‘mech I wanted to pilot. I just remember taking out even Atlas at long range with a Rifleman. Shot to the head! Long Range Heavy Laser! Unfortunately, not the best ‘mech for short range free-for-alls.
Once you get dropped into combat and orient yourself, the controls come fairly naturally. I think it would serve them well if they gave the pilots a 2 or 3 minute practice round before going into combat in order to get accustomed to the screens as well as the weapons. Since I only had two primary weapons, I found myself toying around with buttons I did not need to, wasting valuable time in combat. As it turned out, 7 minutes is a lot longer than I expected. If you die, seconds later, you are dropped into the combat again. You get a full 7 minutes no matter how many times you die.
I did pretty well against the smaller ‘mechs. The heavy lasers on my arms did enough damage that I did not have to worry about them. It was the big Atlas and the medium ‘mechs that were a pest. I think I died 4 or 5 times. I don’t remember my score but I do not think it was all that good.
I really enjoyed the 7 minutes I played and definitely wanted to play more. However, I am not sure I enjoyed it enough to pay another $6 – almost $1 a minute. Like I said, it would take me 3 or 4 times to get good enough to make it worth it – which is what they are hoping for. The staff was very friendly and answered all my incessant questions. They are a good group of people who love what they are doing, obviously. I highly recommend at least trying it once and if you think it’s worth your $6 or even more, then go for it!
If you are interested in having them at your con or event and think you will have enough people to interest them, check them out at MechJock.com.