Prelude to Invasion
by Jamie K Badgerow (crowfoot)
December 10, 2001
The VGL Underground sits on a large parcel of land surrounded by hills and trees overlooking the Kalamazoo valley (which I got a good view of my first night there) in the southwest corner of Michigan. Behind the main house there is a building just for the pods, which I guess you could call the "Pod Bay." Inside you will find the 3.0 BattleTech pods and a large collection of items from both FASA and the Virtual World Centers that the brainchild of the facility, Nickolas "PropWash" Smith, has acquired over the years.
The VGL Underground had started out as a hobby: a quest for collectibles from the 3.0 BattleTech / Red Planet Pods. The newer Tesla pods had pushed the older pods into retirement, so Nick had acquired a few pods and was piecing together one working pod that he intended on keeping as a collector piece. The rest were destined to be sold off to other collectors. Fate intervened when some of the people involved with the 3.0 pods (Virtual World, etc) heard about Nick's acquisition of the pods. They started helping Nick get all of his pods working. Nick began acquiring all the spare parts he could get his hands on; those pods burn up a lot of parts. Several road trips later, including an expedition to Las Vegas this past summer, Nick now has 6 working pods and dozens and dozens of spare parts.
As mentioned above, there are 6 pods at the Underground, and they all work. Recently, Nick had to expand his "Pod Bay" in order to house all 6 pods comfortably. While I was there (before the remodeling), Nick had set up one of the extra pods to be used as a "Camera Ship." It allowed spectators to watch games as they were being played. If you have played any multiplayer PC game with a camera mode then you know what I am talking about. The projector and screen (see below) were even used to make it easier to watch the games as they progressed.
Besides the pods, Nick has acquired extra pod seats and doors (which are for sale to collectors), Virtual World BattleTech posters (also for sale), and even a 6-foot "laser" (sorry, he won't part with this) that was used as a display at one of the centers. Recently Nick has been picking up a lot of collectible pieces from the recently closed FASA. When Ross Babcock (of FASA) needed help selling off the larger, more expensive, FASA items left in the warehouse, he picked up the phone and gave Nick a call. In the process, Nick managed to pick up some more items for the VGLU. He now has tons of displays, artwork, and other historical items. Slowly, the VGLU is becoming a pseudo-museum of FASA & Virtual World history.
Many readers out there are familiar with the MechWarrior PC series. Whether you got hooked on Activision's classic MechWarrior 2, which is graphically comparable to the 3.0 pods, or if you just got into it within the last year with Microsoft's MechWarrior 4 Vengeance & Black Knight, you understand how difficult it is to pilot the Mechs when you first start learning the game. But once you get a couple of weeks of piloting under your belt, it's second nature, especially with the seriously arcade-like MW4.
With the pods it is more complicated. First off, there are an uncountable number of switches and buttons. Then you have a joystick with buttons for different firing "TICs". On the left side of your seat there is a throttle joystick with a button for forward/reverse switching. In front of you is the main monitor that shows the view out of your cockpit. Below that is another monitor that shows the status of your BattleMech including armor and weapons indicators. At your feet are pedals that, in advanced mode, are used to turn your 'Mech while the joystick then becomes the device to turn the torso.
On my first visit there, I had arrived later than planned and the group gathered at the Underground had already logged in a number of BattleTech games. Apparently, they were itching to play some Red Planet. Since I had already had experience with the pods, I didn't have a problem with them switching, so we got in a couple more games of BattleTech before switching over. I decided to pilot a munchy Mad Cat and sat down to re-familiarize myself with the controls. The last time I had sat in a pod, it has been at Dave and Buster's in Chicago in 1999 where they had the newer pods. Using 3.0 for the first time was definitely a change. The controls were mostly the same so I got the hang of it quick and started dishing out punishment. I was doing OK despite that it was basically a free-for-all and it is a normal occurrence to get blind-sided by someone in your rear arc. Picture a clan grand melee and that was what we had going on. Exciting.
I was having a good time; but then I got cocky and stuck it in advanced mode. For those of you familiar with the MechWarrior PC games, you are familiar with the concept of torso-twisting. I had done it for years. But using those foot pedals to turn the Mech while using the joystick to torso turn changes the feel of the game. I had this same problem at D&B's over 2 years ago. I was far too familiar with a mouse and keyboard arrangement at home. My score, which was respectable in basic mode, took a quick downturn and I soon found myself in last place. I definitely need more practice in advanced mode.
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