As expected, my first essay and story about the future of BattleTech has created a lot of excitement. (Okay, excitement is a euphasism here for some of the more volatile responses.) I could head out to the net and read a lot of traffic that suggests I've completely lost my mind, or so I am told. I'd do it, but I suspect reading that stuff would be like pounding my head against a wall: it would only feel good when I stopped.
I do understand there are a several points that need clarification. Folks have been expressing concern about part of the storyline, and have been extrapolating material, sometimes unwisely, from what was written in the story. One big caveat is vital when viewing any BattleTech fiction and source material: because it is written from the point of view of someone in the Universe, it could be wrong. In this case, you have a farmer telling her son about the grand doings in the universe. Not quite the same as getting a ComStar news flash or reading a historian's treatment of the Stone era.
In other words, here's your grain of salt.
The first point of concern is a biggie and really comes in at two angles:
1) How could Word of Blake gotten rid of the Houses, Clans and Mercenaries? How could all this happen so fast?
Let's break this down into its parts. More on the collapse of the Houses, Clans and Mercs below. How could Word of Blake have done what they did? First, based on the story, you have only the most sketchy of evidence about what they did. It would seem that they caused everything to collapse--as was always their intention--but equally evident, they failed in doing that. In fact, Jeremy's grandmother helped defeat them, and clearly did it inside the seventeen years she fought with Devlin Stone. Moreover, since Stone began his reforms in that time, the Word of Blake threat must have gone down much more easily than most folks fear. So, when someone points out that they couldn't have brought everything down, mainly because they were undermanned for the operation, and the story contains ample evidence that they failed in their attempt, doesn't the question carry with it its own answer?
As for the question of speed, we're talking a gap of sixty-five years since the end of the Davion civil war. That's nearly three generations. In the last three generations on this planet we've gone from being locked in a world war pitting racists against the forces of freedom, through a cold war, to a world where freedom has spread. In the latter half of the 20th century we saw sweeping changes in the social structure of our world--changes unprecedented in the history of Mankind. That changes could sweep over the BattleTech universe in so long a period is no surprise, especially if you compare that rate of change with what you've seen since 3025 to 3067 in the Inner Sphere. The seeds for everything that is the foundation of the new era are there in the current storylines.
A subcurrent of comments running along with these questions does strike me rather hard and deeply: some folks have suggested the above storyline is ridiculous and this has caused them, in the words of one, "to lose all faith in Michael A. Stackpole." I think, before anyone goes that far, we need to look at the simple facts of what we're dealing with here.
A) Based on a couple of paragraphs in a 3000 word story, paragraphs that constitute's a farmer's understanding of events that took place when her parents were children, people are supposing that a whole unseen structure of events could not have taken place. Well, based on a shipyard worker saying that the Titanic had a strong hull, we could likewise decry the ship's ability to be sunk by an iceberg. The nightmares some folks are visualizing are based on zero fact.
B) Let's not forget two things: I have a degree in history and if you want to take a look at my reading list, you can see that in the non-fiction area there's plenty of history being read there. I keep current, I keep expanding my knowledge of how things work in history, so I've got a fair shot at getting things right and making them work. More importantly, I'm not the only person working on this project. Jordan, Randall, Loren, Janna and lot of other folks are there to keep me honest, to make sure things work, and are in keeping with the traditions, history and flavor of BattleTech.
C) We get back to the same point I made in my first essay: the architects of the universe have been moving the BattleTech universe forward for years. We know what we're doing. Despite that, we always have folks who resist change. We always have folks who decide we've lost our minds. We always have folks who stand up and say, "If you do this, I'm never buying another product again, and neither will my friends, and I'll work at a store and I won't stock it, and I won't recommend it." That is your right, both to protest, and to decide to walk away from BattleTech, or to continue to play classic BattleTech and have nothing to do with the new stuff.
What you don't have the right to do, however, is to distort and misquote to make your points. Hysterical reactions and hyperbole do not add to the discussion and tend to mask your true concerns. Quite frankly, the level of reaction we've seen here is all fear based because very little material has been released so far--and far too little to support or justify this Chicken Little attitude about the destruction of the BattleTech universe.
2) The Clans and Mercenaries: Because the story does not mention the Clans or mercenaries, there has been an immediate reaction among folks who fear the Clans and their favorite mercs are no more. Nope, not true. (Look, the story was only 3000 words long, I couldn't fit EVERYTHING in there.)
Do the Clans still exist? You betcha.
Do mercs still exist? You betcha.
Are both going to be exactly the same as you remember them? No, but they haven't changed all that much and are still a vital part of the universe. (Like I'm going to get rid of the Kell Hounds and the Wolves.)
3) The Houses: The story mentions, in passing, that during the reforms, some ruling families were deposed. This has been taken to mean that the entire old order has been swept aside. Um, everyone should remember that EVERY planet in the BattleTech universe has a ruling family or two, and we've deposed rulers all the time. Reading the above as an indication that everything we knew and loved is gone is just silly.
Do the Houses still exist? You betcha.
Have they changed? You betcha.
You're not losing factions, you'll be gaining some.
4) Why are fusion engines so rare? My thanks to Randall Bills for this answer. Demand for fusion engines decreased as the need for them decreased--they're damned expensive and when the military isn't buying tons, the means of production were retooled to grind out other things (hello the aerospace industry in the USA). As a result, when the new era opens up, while the know-how to produce them has not been lost, the factories that are in a position to do so are few. (As Randall has pointed out, this is the same position we're in with Saturn V rockets, the ones that took man to the moon. We know how to make them, we just don't have the infrastructure to do so at the moment.) From a story standpoint, the rarity means, once again, the BattleMech is the unrivaled master of the battlefield, which is what we all want.
5) Why did you abandon the previous timeline? Okay, this is a purely emotional question, and it presumes facts not at all in evidence. The previous timeline has not been abandoned, any more than what happened in the 4th Succession War was abandoned when we took the 20 year jump to bring in the Clans. We were looking for a place where we could reenter the BattleTech saga at a point of maximum impact, a point that would allow us to continue telling stories for decades to come. As I have noted before, we'd really written ourselves into a corner where we were just going to be retreading old stories and you'd have hated that. Heck, we would have hated that, so the whole game would suffer.
We have jumped things sixty-five years in the future to give us this new canvas. As the story unfolds, you'll see how it all flows together. And, please, do bear in mind that the average lifespan of someone in this universe is 100 years. If you were thinking that everyone you once knew and loved was dead and gone, well, once again, you're extrapolating from things not in evidence.
6) Apparently one paragraph in the previous essay has been read to indicate that I am an egotist of the highest order. For the sake of simplicity, I've quoted it here:
4) Don't write me telling me your ideas of how the universe could be done better. First off, if you approach things logically and build on what's been laid out in the novels, your ideas for what should happen in the future are likely my ideas, since I'm the one who has been layering in the foreshadowing and hints upon which you'll build your future. Second, I do this for a living. If everyone could do what I do, I'd be selling bacon-cheeseburger heart attacks at some fast food joint. It's not that your ideas won't be good, its that they won't be good enough to make the universe sing and scream. Third, and very important, you don't know enough of the other things going on to be able to provide suggestions that will work to shape the universe into what we need it to be. Lastly, you're not paying me, so I can't listen to your input anyway. (emphasis added)
The main objection came with the phrasing "your ideas...are likely my ideas...." The simple fact of the matter is this: over the dozen years since I've had BattleTech novels out, there have been numerous letters suggesting we do X or Y with the universe--all of which were things that had long been planned and were already in effect. At FASA, these sorts of letters were known as "instant requests," because they had already been fulfilled without any extra work.
(One of the best letters concerning the novels that I ever got, in this vein, was one to FASA in which the writer requested that FASA tell me to tell him what was coming up in the future, because my latest book had forced him to totally revise and change the novel he was writing. He'd been picking up on all the clues and was writing his book, and there I had the temerity of doing exactly what he was doing.)
One of the things folks like so much about the BattleTech universe is the fact that we DO build off the past. There is tons of foreshadowing layered into what goes on there. Astute readers, and there are legions of you out there, are very good at picking up on the little clues and projecting out what the future is likely to be. Quite frankly, you make the job of every writer in the universe very tough, because we constantly have to come up with new ways to surprise you and entertain you.
And we work very hard to do that.
Pursuant to which, I just returned from Seattle and the WizKids offices, where we had a BattleTech summit. Jordan Weisman, Randall Bills, Loren Coleman and I joined Janna Silverstein and others to pound out details about the universe, ironing out problems, projecting directions for the next several years, shaping how various projects will be presented and generally doing exactly the same sort of stuff we've done for years to make the universe scream. It was a fairly intense day of discussions, one that leaves you drained, but also really jazzed. I cannot emphasize enough how enthused I am about the future.
I'd like to thank the folks who have sent me notes to let me know that they trust what we're all doing. That sort of confidence is very heartwarming. It's the sort of thing that makes enduring the stinging abuse of the ignorant and angry very possible.
It has to be noted here that everyone connected with the project is well aware of the fears our audience has, and we are doing our best to make sure that these concerns are dealt with. I did find, very telling, a question I was asked in one note: "Can you tell me that we will have a game with the complexity of the previous game?"
My answer? "Yes. You have the previous game. The old BattleTech--Classic BattleTech--isn't going away. The game system still works, you can still generate 'Mechs and scenarios. FanPro will bring out material to support Classic BattleTech. It's not going away, and the simple fact of the matter is this: it never would have gone away. Had FASA just dropped off the face of the planet, folks would continue to play BattleTech for years and years to come, building their own future history, just as all the classic players can do now.
No one is being forced to convert. Face it, we know that there are already folks out there who have seen the first images of things like the Forestry 'mech (aka the "weedwhacker" to witty detractors) who have gone to the rules for same in Maximum Tech, and have created record sheets for these things. If you choose to take things from the new game and apply them to Classic BattleTech, GREAT. This is the sort of spirit that is the reason our hobby lives.
It cannot be overemphasized, however, that there is a need to bring new players into our hobby. I've been part of the hobby since 1972 as a player, and I've been working in it since 1977. I've watched it wax and wane through several cycles, and the only thing that has ever pulled us out of a gaming recession has been a portal game that opened the hobby up to more people. D&D did it in the late 70s and early 80s, DragonLance and the rise of gaming novels did it in the mid to late 80s, then Magic: the Gathering did it in the mid 90s.
MageKnight is that new portal game, the first of the 21st Century, and it's going to be what keeps our hobby alive until we find that next portal game. Every time we expand our reach, by finding new players and inviting in younger players, we guarantee that we will have more gamers for longer, which means you have gaming for a longer period.
And the new BattleTech means, for a lot of folks, that gaming is equated with BattleTech. BattleTech, as a property, has lasted sixteen years, which puts it ahead of a lot of things, from Masters of the Universe, to Power Rangers and even those Mutant Ninja Turtles. The New BattleTech means it's likely going to be able to push on into the realm of Star Wars and Star Trek, which is fairly rarified territory.
This is very good, and all of us should be pleased to be part of it. I know I am.
To the folks who are dissatisfied or worried, a couple of quick points:
1) Investment: Some of you have invested a lot of money in figures and books, not to mention the amount of time you've spent painting and playing, reading and enjoying. Knowing that there is something new on the horizon is annoying because it would seem that this entire investment is now worthless. But it's not.
No one can take away from you the fun you've had all these years. No one IS taking away from you the potential for lots more years of enjoyment, playing with the material you already have. You own all this stuff, and can continue to play it. (And if I had a nickel for every gamer who has told me over the years, "Well, I read the novels, but those events aren't true in my world," I'd not be worrying about back royalties.) The simple fact of the matter is that your gaming world need not and really isn't affected by the events of the new game.
2) Ignorance: A lot of the anxiety going on is based on ignorance. As I noted above, it was just Monday (8/20) when we got together and nailed down definative facts and directions for the universe, making it tighter, making all the plans we have work better. The creation of a universe, its modifications, the changes to the storyline and the game, this is all a process. We know how important the game is to you--which is as important as the game is to us--so we are working hard to make it the best it can be.
As we know things, as we lock things down, as we do more fiction, as we have updates, you'll get them. Right now we've announced that there would be changes and, as noted above with the first questions I dealt with, folks are projecting their own worst case scenarios--scenarios that really too silly for words. A lot of energy is being wasted by folks boxing at shadows.
In short, be patient and your patience will be rewarded.
3) Munchkinization: A lot of folks are worried that the game will be dumbed down so a bunch of eight year olds can play. They fear that any sort of streamlining or simplification of the game will sully the classic version. Folks are reacting as if anything but the Classic version of BattleTech is blasphemy.
Yes, I said blasphemy, and used the word very deliberately.
We all know that gaming is most often taught by someone who has knowledge to those in a group who do not have it. This is how gaming has always spread and there are some folks who jealously guard their specialized knowledge of the game because they like being in charge. They like being the leader. They like folks treating them as an authority figure.
That's all well and good, but neither gaming nor BattleTech is a religion, and hosting a gaming group is not like having a congregation. Holding forth on rules questions and interpretations isn't giving a homily, and house rules are not commandments. Gaming is entertainment, and BattleTech is a commercial entertainment property, and both are well beyond the control of those who might set themselves up as a priesthood (and my choice of religious terminology here is not a shot at either the Church of BattleTech or the Ministry of BattleTech).
BattleTech is a game. It has rules that are subject to revsion for whatever reasons, and the owner of the game is the sole authority that can change the game. Because BattleTech is part of a commericial enterprise, changes are made to expand an audience and maximize profit potential. These are the stark facts of the situation. While I don't think we'll be seen a marshmellow MadCat in boxes of Lucky Charms cereal, I think if an offer were made to do just that, some serious consideration would be paid to it. (And if collecting five proof of purchase certificates could be redeemed for a special BattleTech figure, we know a lot of cereal would move in a lot of circles pretty quickly.)
So, what is my point here? Several, actually. The first is that some folks who are angry over the news that there will be changes are the same folks who have always protested change because it upsets their sense of complacency. They liked things fine before. They understood it, they had control over it and, look, FASA/WizKids went and messed it up. It means they have to go and work some more to remain the authority.
And, you know what, it's fine to say, "Oh, gosh, I don't want to have to learn all this new stuff." Nope, you don't, the old game will serve you fine and well for ages to come. But, saying the above is worlds away from the nonsense going on now of, "Change is evil. You are evil for making change. Die, die, DIE!!!!"
Second, as I noted in the first essay, we need to expand our audience so we can keep BattleTech going. A modified MageKnight system works to let us do that. It makes the game more accessible to new players, younger players. You might have to think of the characters in the new era as the grandchildren of your current characters, but now you have a game that you can introduce to your own children or grandchildren and enjoy with them, and continue to enjoy with your friends.
Third, while the game system itself might become easier to use, quicker and faster, this does not mean we are going to dumb down the universe or the events in it. In the discussions we had in Seattle this was never suggested, never even hinted at and would have been the subject of heated discussion had it been brought up. On the fiction side, in terms of presentation, tone and tenor, you can continue to expect the same level of quality, or better, than you've had in the past.
There will be some folks who choose to dismiss anything I write here as being stuff I have to say because I'm a paid shill for WizKids, etc.. While I think I've earned a bit better treatment than that over the years, let me respond to such ad hominem attacks this way: Choose your words carefully because, a year from now, when the new material starts rolling out, you'll be eating those words. Pick only the ones that will go down well.
The Cool Stuff
Most of you know that the new figures will be produced in "N" scale. That's fairly small in terms of model railroads (but think of all the prefab buildings and terrain now available), but for 'Mechs, it's very cool. At the meeting we had one representation of what a new 'mech will look like on the table top. If you took a deck of cards, set it up on the narrow side, well, a new 'mech still couldn't hide behind it.
Just seeing that I was instantly jealous. Had I had the new BattleTech when I was getting into the hobby, the ping-pong table in our basement would have been constantly dominated by terrain and battles. The new 'Mechs will be utterly and completely cool to play with, and I suspect a lot will get bought up by Classicists who use them for larger scale battles. (I can't wait to see that at conventions.)
The discussion of plans for the book line were equally impressive. While details are still fluid as a publishing deal is being finalized, the plans are for a presentation of BattleTech unlike anything you've seen before. I am very enthused about what we'll be able to do, the minimum book lengths that will be put into the contracts, the treatments of same, and the list of authors Janna has already assembled to slot into the line along with your favorites. The program will be aggressive, and the loyalty you've all showed down through the years will be greatly rewarded.
After this summit meeting, I'm even more jazzed than I was before about the future of BattleTech. It will be frighteningly cool. Start preparing now, because this will be one ride you do not want to miss.