Battletech by Email

Back in the infancy of the internet, we didn’t have quick and easy access to the graphical interface that the internet and computing now have.  I’m not “old”, by any means, at 37, but it still very much makes me a generation removed from my high school students and their impressions of tech.

In the early and mid 90s, it could take 5 minutes to download a single crappy resolution photo.  So, what did we do to game over the internet?  We used our imaginations and we played by email (PBEM).

My buddy DJ and I have been developing a somewhat simple PBEM interface for Battletech using MS Word or Publisher.  We combine a 2D map and use semi-transparent hexagon sprites to represent units.  This makes any unit representable.  It makes stacking hard, but we’ll work on that.

The attached pics shows part of an image we can work off of (I since have made higher resolution ones), as well as the turn info we send each other back and forth with the pictures.  We use color-coded arrows to represent walks, runs and jumps, as well the starting hex of a move.

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We use random.org’s dice roller to roll dice.  Yes, there is trust that is involved with something like this.

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So, this plays really slow.  It took us several weeks to get through a 2 on 2 battle.  Of course, the “slow moving” game isn’t new.  People would play Chess via snail mail for long periods of time and it really isn’t any different from that.  Think about Sebastian playing Chess against Tyrell in Blade Runner. We send each other moves when we have time.  We’ve fallen off the last few months, but I definitely want to keep it going, and I have other friends who are interested.

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2 thoughts on “Battletech by Email

  1. klecser Post author

    I have played around with Megamek. Here’s my brief impressions:

    I’ve been playing around with computers since DOS. The Megamek interface is NOT easy to use. I know that there are fans who would vehemently disagree. I think they’re wrong. Part of the reason I started this blog is because of game “tools” like Megamek. Just loading the correct sprites package is tedious enough. Don’t get me started on the connection procedure. I understand that this is a fan project and was done in someone’s spare time. I don’t think that excuses the fact that it’s very difficult to use. Think me impatient if you will. As a professional educator I spend most of my patience on my students and can’t spend my precious recreation time trying to decipher a system like that. With thousands of games to play, if it isn’t user friendly, I’m out. Imagine it being nigh impossible to follow your suggestions in your video because your game CAN’T be boiled down to simple points or that dragging around sprites (your finger fiddling suggestion, which was great) crashed the system?

    Now, don’t think I didn’t work hard to learn. I spent more hours than I care to admit. I’ve started about 20 games in Megamek and only completed two. The other 18 were all lost connections whose save files wouldn’t load. This is with experienced players giving me advice at all times. Its possible that THEY were just terrible at teaching Megamek, I don’t know.

    Now, you might argue that the PBEM system I showed off here takes a long time to setup and implement. And you wouldn’t be wrong. If I’m not patient enough to solve my MegaMek issues, how can I have the patience to run a non-efficient PBEM system? I have ownership over this endeavor. This system works. There have been minor kinks, but we’ve been able to complete games. Its purposefully slow moving. No pressure. We game at our own pace.

    Maybe not the response that you were expecting, but MegaMek cuts against everything that I’m interested in with teaching games. Call it a challenge, but that is a level of challenge that is completely unnecessary given the number of games that are easier to teach and learn that could bring joy to someone.

    Thanks for your comment. I had not thought about discussing MegaMek here, but its a good opportunity to talk about what can lead to making the teaching of games difficult.

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