I went out on Friday night and drove a giant robot, ’cause I’m that rad.

 

The name of the blog is “Dial H for Houston,” which means that every now and again, I’ll talk about something Houston specific. Call it a geek guide to the Space City, or more of a “List of Stuff that I find cool,” really. In any case, Houston’s a big town, and there’s a lot of stuff to do.

Stuff like driving giant robots.

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If you’re reading this blog, I’m willing to bet you’re at least somehow aware of the MechWarrior/BattleTech franchise (or you’re at least smart enough to figure it out based on the name). It’s a straightforward premise: giant robots stomping around and shooting each other ’til they explode. The BattleTech/Mechwarrior brand has spawned multiple incarnations of the tabletop game, tons of little miniatures, dozens of tie-in novels, a Saturday morning cartoon of dubious quality, and a buttload of video games.

Which is where the Pods come in.

Back in the 90’s (remember those, kids?) a company called Virtual World Entertainment built a bunch of Mech simulator pods that could be networked together for blasty goodness. This being back when arcades were still A Thing, as opposed to a DDR pad hidden in the corner of the local movie theater. Now, the kicker was (and still is), this isn’t just a regular arcade game. Rather, this is a full-on giant robot simulator, in that there are 7 screens, with a bajillion different functions, and all of these functions Do Stuff. There’s even a big red self destruct button for one’s last resort. Only about 250 of these Pods were ever made. And now, MechCorps has the biggest single collection of them anywhere, because that’s how Texas rolls.

Battletech is a fun game, and the experience of actually sitting down in a cockpit, sliding the door closed, and pushing all the shiny buttons really brings it all together for a unique sense of immersion you just can’t get on a home console (unless you have a bad-ass Steel Battalion setup, but I digress). The game is fairly complex, too, in that there are over 140 different mecha variants you can drive, each one with a different weapon & equipment layout. I honestly couldn’t tell you which one’s the best, but I can at least say which one’s my favorite- a light mech called the Bandit, solely because it’s loaded out with tons of guns and not much armor, which can make for fun and chaotic rounds when everyone is playing one. Think Goldeneye set on rocket launchers.

Beyond the gameplay itself, I find MechCorps interesting because of the odd little sub-subculture that’s sprung up around it. For example, whenever you do a mission, you sign up with a Top Gun esque callsign, and the people there refer to you by said callsigns in general conversation (probably because they don’t know you’re real name). Still, as a kid who grew up on ‘code names’ a la GI Joe or X-men or whatever, I can’t help but get a kick out of it. Just make sure you pick something good, because if something like “DarkBlayde” pops up on the score sheet, I’m totally gonna judge you for it.

 

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Typical callsigns.

There’s a sense of history to the Pods, and it’s just a little bit ramshackle in the way that the dudes at MechCorps are able to keep these 20+ year old pieces of technology running. Even the little things like old banners have stories behind them, about how stuff from a Houston arcade wound up in a New Jersey storage unit, and so on. This gives the whole endeavor a sense of character, which is what distinguishes MechCorps from being just a “fancy arcade.” It’s almost like a pinball bar, in that respect, only with more explosions and less beer.

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The Pods even get cool 1940’s ish nose art! Or, uh, Cockpit Art. Whatever.

So yeah, if you’re in Houston, and if you’re at lack of something to do on a Friday or a Saturday night, I’d heartily recommend going to one of their regulars nights at least once. Alternately, if you don’t live in Houston for whatever reason, MechCorps is a regular on the con circuit, so keep an eye out.

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Still, the most advanced networked cockpit simulator available for game play.
    Thanks for a great story! Would have stopped in several times had I read it last year. Miss the one in NY. Played in California and places in-between.
    Was checking out the new Star Wars X Wing. The new arcade have graphics, but miss out on the real skills. New arcade simulators resemble the movie Jupiter Ascending: Pleasing to the eye but narratively befuddled.
    The use of the Virtual Reality with the expensive mirrors and beam splitter creates a unique experience.
    Hopefully, my business travels will bring me back to Houston again. It would be great to visit.

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