How to do the first hour of a game, compliments of BattleTech: The Crescent Hawks Inception (1988)


3 minutes


  • In BattleTech, you’re a student living on campus in an elite school and go about your day-to-day business
  • You go through progressively more difficult mechwarrior training missions until you get surprise attacked by an enemy house during a (random) training mission, and you can lose your mech or die during this encounter
  • It’s shocking, it’s organic and it works as an intro to the game
  • Compare this to Deus Ex: Invisible War, where the scene is almost the same (student at an elite academy and academy gets attacked) but a whole bunch of things just happen to you all at once, and you’re just like “oh”

I like to think that old games brought a lot more imagination to game design, since resources were so limited back then. Developers made do with what they had, whether that was 16 colors, “PC Honker” sound, or 2 MB of memory.

There was a game I played back in the late ’80s called BattleTech: The Crescent Hawks Inception. I’ve got a pretty hazy memory of most of the game, but the beginning and the end were memorable in quite opposite ways. The endgame was awful (sorry, spoilers) because instead of a boss fight/climax, there was this huge, idiotic puzzle where you had to grab keycards that could only open a specific door, and you could only carry three at one time. So you had to spend hours going back and forth between doors and figure out which cards opened which doors. Trial and error. That’s not fun for anyone.

As for the beginning, we’ll get to that in a sec. For now…

Some short history

BattleTech is (was?) a large franchise that started back in the 1980s and revolved around big robots (mechs) fighting each other amid a bunch of political houses backstabbing each other throughout the galaxy.

In BattleTech: The Crescent Hawks Inception, you’re Jason Youngblood, a spoiled rich kid who happens to have one of the greatest mech pilots in the galaxy as a dad. By some coincidence, you get accepted into the most prestigious mech training school in the Commonwealth.

The game really sells you on the idea that you’re attending an elite academy, to the point where the manual even has a section on campus policies, how students are expected to behave and how you can spend vacation time after your first twelve training missions.

You get put into this nice, safe space and spend time focusing on mech training, making money through the stock market, or leveling up different weapon skills.

What I love is that the whole thing is actually an elaborate troll and one of the most elaborate trolls I’ve experienced in a video game (outdone by maybe Portal).

You never end up finishing those twelve training missions because during one of them (and this is randomized between games), the mechs that are supposed to be training partners are actually House Kurita soldiers aka Big Bad Guys who are trying to kill you and end up destroying the entire academy. If you’re unlucky, they blow up your mech. If you’re really unlucky, you die.

The game doesn’t do any sort of handholding here, and instead gives you the freedom to fight off the baddies (almost impossible) or try to run away (what’s supposed to be the “correct decision”, despite the game not even telling you where you can run).


I thought of this game intro after spending around 15 hours playing through Deus Ex: Invisible War. In the beginning of IW, you’re a student at an elite academy that escapes to the Seattle campus after a bomb goes off in Chicago (you get this from the intro video). The game actually starts you off in your dorm room, and you walk over to the rec area where you talk to your fellow students (a grand total of three people, big school). RIGHT AFTER THAT, the school gets attacked by Order bad guys. And then you also find out that your dorm room ceiling is actually transparent and scientists have been watching you the entire time.

The BattleTech intro works because it systematically builds up this fantasy of being a student and going about your day-to-day training. And then the game tears the whole thing down when you least expect it. Whereas the Invisible War intro fails because it tries to tear down something that doesn’t even exist. There’s no buildup; they just throw all this random crap at you all at once. Oh, you almost got blown up in Chicago? Ok, now you’re in Seattle. Oh, the academy is getting attacked again. Oh, and there were scientists watching you 24/7. Oh, and here’s some biomods.

It’s so stupid and unrealistic.

My point is that if you’re going to have something dramatic happen near the beginning of a game, preface it with some sort of lull. Don’t just have random crap happen and then sling more crap. Build it up first before tearing it down.

Just a suggestion.

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