From what seemed like an endless ocean of free play areas that populated the upper level of the Hynes convention center during PAX East, it was one of the smallest rooms that sparked the most intrigue. When you first enter the room and see all of the monitors lined up with these massive glowing controllers with glowing buttons below them, one can only think that they have just walked onto the bridge of a real life starship enterprise. All I needed was a pointy-eared Vulkan to show up and tell me to “live long and prosper.”
However, upon further inspection and coming to terms that awesome stuff like that never happens in real life, I realized what was going on when I then noticed all of the original Xbox’s and what was being shown on the screens. It was Steel Battalion; no, check that, it was TEN Steel Battalions set ups – all in one room!
I was still a bit puzzled as to why there were so many, and that’s when I looked back at Yaris to which he silently acknowledged my stupor by shooting back a certain look. You know, kind of like when Jim from “The Office” breaks the 4th wall and looks right at the camera with a “Is this really going on?” face. Yeah, that’s the one.
Right at that moment is when I hear a guy yell out from amongst the crowd. He yells, “Noobs over here on this side, and bad ass mother f******s on this side. If you have played this game already you are probably a bad ass mother f*****r.” I immediately wished I was related to this guy, but figured I would probably just settle for an interview.
We hover over to Chris “Maradine” Deibler who is more than happy to engage in any conversation regarding his precious collection of the cult classic known as Steel Battalion.
For those (very) youngin’s out there, Steel Battalion was a title from Capcom and Nude Maker (yes I just said one of the the developers is named Nude Maker, get over it) that was released way back in 2002. Chris refers to it as being “by far the most complicated mecha combat game that had been produced at that time, and easily rivaled the complexity of traditional theme park style simulators. This was that same experience in console form.”
You’re probably wondering what exactly would make a mech combat title so complicated? Well to answer that I would have to first start off with it’s controller. In case you haven’t seen this beast, please take a gander at the image below from the Steel Battalion Wikipedia page.
While some would call it a bit excessive, others (like myself) who grew up watching stuff like Voltron (yes, I’m old) or maybe even Mighty Morphing Power Rangers (the earlier years, don’t judge me), an over the top peripheral like this is a kid’s (both young and old) dream. So, while we’re probably not going to live until a time where people run around in Gundam mechs, this is by far the closest thing to it. Especially around its price tag, which was at 200 greenbacks when it originally launched.
The price, is one of the main components that contributed to the title’s hasty disappearance from what seemed like the face of the earth. “This was a time before Ion drums for your Rock Band game were 200 bucks, different time, different era” is how Diebler replied when asked about the cost of the hefty controller. The game would never reach its AAA, mass market penetration that it was shooting for, but did receive enough notoriety to be granted a follow up, online-only sequel Line of Contact. It was actually what was being played in the PAX free play room. Line of Contact was a title created strictly with being “all about the hardcore” as it was designed in a way that if you lost or better yet killed online in battle, it would actually delete your save file from the Xbox and would make you start from scratch with a new character.
According to Diebler, the campaign servers had been taken down sometime ago, as they required a lot of upkeep in the background. Free servers on the other hand are still up and running, but their days are numbered as the April 15th Xbox Live 1.0 cutoff is only hours away (as of this writing).
That doesn’t mean it’s completely over for Steel Battalion and its cult like following, as the title will still be able to get online via System Link. So, while,it may not have the convenience of connectivity that the Live service offers with a universal friends list, the game can and will be continued to be played using its system link setting over online gaming gateways such as XBConnect and Xlink.
The only problem that lies is that while the game will be playable, certain controller buttons will not function correctly unless the game connects to the free servers on Xbox Live and downloads certain save files. To put it in layman’s terms, it’s just like “downloading game settings” for all you Call of Duty heads out there – it’s essentially the same idea. How does the game know you’re a level 70 with certain weapons unlocked if you can’t connect to the server?
When asked about whether or not there’s a petition in the works, Deibler stated that there hasn’t been anything official, but did have some advice for those who want Steel Battalion to live on.
“Go tell the design office [at Nude Maker] that they need to make a sequel to this game, because the times have changed. Even in an economic downturn, people are buying Rock Band like it’s no one’s business. Maybe that’s because people like music more than giant robots – I don’t know. But I like Steel Battalion!”
Well, I can only hope that Microsoft, Nude Maker and Capcom are reading this and realize that while Steel Battalion may be a niche title in an even smaller niche genre of games, it doesn’t mean that its followers and supporters aren’t as passionate as their Halo 2 playing counterparts. April 15th will be the unofficial death of the King of Mech-Combat titles. Long live the king.