Jordan Weisman is the father of the mech, that big, hulking robot exoskeleton that has become the staple of sci-fi combat games. So it’s only right that he was on hand for the revival of the original property that he first got started in 1980.
Last week, developer Piranha Games and publisher Infinite Game Publishing held a launch event for MechWarrior Online, the free-to-play version of mech combat that has drawn interest from lots of longtime fans of the franchise. The title crossed more than 1 million registered players even before its official launch.
Weisman and his father, Mort, attended the event, where e-sports competitors battled for the North American crown. They explained the 33-year history of the BattleTech, Mech Warrior, and Shadowrun Returns franchises. Weisman has been busy with the Shadowrun Returns reboot project, and his Harebrained Schemes studio has a Kickstarter going to raise money for a new tabletop game, Golem Arcana. But he took some time to talk about MechWarrior Online, which formally launched on Sept. 17. Here’s an edited transcript.
GamesBeat: It must be feeling like a bit of a mech revival these days.
Jordan Weisman: Between this and Shadowrun Returns, yeah. My dad and I were just talking about it. These properties are 25 and 30 years old, and they just refuse to die. They keep coming back stronger. That’s pretty rewarding.
GamesBeat: How does the history on this one go again? How long has this been in the making?
Weisman: BattleTech was published about 30 years ago as a tabletop game. In 1987, we built the Virtual World Centers together. The first one was the BattleTech Center in Chicago. We built those all around the world. They were the first multiplayer BattleTech games – in fact, some of the first multiplayer games available to the public, and the first 3D immersive games available to the public. In 1992, we licensed it to Infocom, which got bought by Activision, and we worked with them on MechWarrior and MechWarrior 2. I was just reading that MechWarrior 2 is still the single largest unit seller that Activision’s ever had.
Then we took the rights back in. We started working on MechWarrior 3. Microsoft had bought us in 1999, and we developed MechWarrior there for a number of years. After a while I left and it kind of went in the closet. So I licensed it back out from Microsoft four or five years ago.
GamesBeat: Did you ever get any indication of why it went into that sort of fallow period?
Weisman: Microsoft was going through a lot of management transition. The focus on intellectual property wasn’t too high at the time. There wasn’t any in-house champion at the time, so it just sat there. I licensed Shadowrun and Mechwarrior back from them and tried to get them placed.
GamesBeat: Were you thinking of online opportunities?
Weisman: It was for all digital games. We had a bunch of different things we were trying to get done. Russ Bullock and Bryan Ekman from Piranha and I teamed up, and we worked on the trailer for this game back in 2009. It took a lot of effort to get this thing back up and running. Bryan and Russ have done a fantastic job with it.
GamesBeat: It seems like a pretty complicated history.
Weisman: Everything’s a complicated history with me. [Laughs] Any time you have a property that old and you’ve sold the companies and it’s moved through different hands—there’s been all kinds of stuff. But it’s great to see it. Shadowrun Returns, we finally funded that through Kickstarter last year and shipped it on PC a couple of months ago. Today’s actually the release on iOS and Android. Apple was nice enough to give us the top banner spot, which is always appreciated.
GamesBeat: It sounds like that’s done well.
Weisman: Shadowrun’s been doing very well. We’re back on Kickstarter now with an interesting hybrid. This all started with tabletop games 25 and 30 years ago and then moved into computer games. Now our current Kickstarter – Golem Arcana – is actually a hybrid computer and tabletop game. It’s a tabletop game with a device we created that connects from the tabletop to your mobile device. So we get all the benefits of an MMO, effectively, but it’s played face to face on the tabletop. It’s interesting to think about how my career has always been bifurcated. Now this one object brings it together.