Battletech Centers are commercial virtual entertainment venues that feature multiplayer virtual combat in the fictional BattleTech universe. The games are played in fully enclosed cockpits with multiple screens, joysticks, and rudder pedals. The centers were initially created and operated by Virtual World Entertainment, LLC. Today, the gaming cockpits can now be found in various sites around the United States.
The first BattleTech Center opened in Chicago in 1990, with others in Yokohama following in August 1992 and Tokyo in 1993. Eventually, 26 such facilities were built and included other game types and more elaborate operations. These new locations were called 'Virtual World'. Each Virtual World site featured at least 16 networked "pods" designed in part by Frog Design. In 1991, Computer and Video Games called Battletech "definitely the most exciting interactive videogame system yet devised." It was also featured in Discovery Channel's Beyond 2000.
By 1993, patrons could compete against players in other centers across the country. Red Planet was the first non-BattleTech game added, and involved racing through the mining tunnels of Mars using vectored thrust mining hover-crafts. However, rapid advances in arcade games and online games meant that the Japanese Centers began closing in 1995, and by 2000 no BattleTech Centers remained operational in Japan.
In 1996, Virtual World Entertainment and FASA Interactive Technologies merged and became wholly owned subsidiaries of Virtual World Entertainment Group (VWEG). In 1999, Microsoft Corporation purchased VWEG, sold VWE to a group headed by VWEG's former CFO, James Garbarini, and integrated FASA Interactive into the Microsoft Game Studios division. In 2005, all interest in VWE was sold to Nickolas 'PropWash' Smith and the principal offices were moved from Chicago to Kalamazoo, MI.
In November 2005, an independent operator of the Virtual World Tesla II cockpits, MechCorps Entertainment, LLC, in Houston, Texas, USA opened its doors to the public with eight Tesla II pods. They acquired another four pods in 2007, and hosted the 2007 National BattleTech Invitational in September 2007 with all 12 pods operational.
Virtual World Entertainment, MechCorps Entertainment LLC, and VGCorps decided to refit existing Tesla II pods and take the BattleTech Center experience on the road starting at GenCon in 2007. Gaming, sci-fi and anime conventions (including Comicpalooza, Oni-Con, MechaCon and Dragon Con) in the southern U.S. were introduced to MechCorps' Mobile Armor Division while Virtual World Entertainment in association with MechJock LLC made appearances in the Mid-West at events including Gencon, Origins, ACEN and Youmacon.
In 2006, hardcore players in Japan purchased four Tesla pods from the U.S., and began to put together an 'unofficial' Virtual World Center in Tokyo. Despite many key components becoming 'Lostech' and their spare parts no longer available in market, the pods are now semi-operational, though no commercial operation has resumed yet.
In June 2012, Mr. Biggs Family Fun Center closed and all assets were auctioned off. The sold Tesla II pods have not been re-deployed in a retail environment, reducing the number of available BattleTech sites.
List of BattleTech centers
|Center name||Location||Number and type of pods||Game(s) available|
|The Fallout Shelter Arcade||Twin Cities, Minnesota||12 Tesla II pods||BattleTech: Firestorm and Red Planet|
|Hinkle Family Fun Center||Albuquerque, New Mexico||6 Tesla II pods||BattleTech: Firestorm|
|MechCorps Entertainment LLC||Houston, Texas||18 Tesla II pods||BattleTech: Firestorm and Red Planet|
|Big Kidz Games||Grand Rapids, Michigan||12 Tesla II pods||BattleTech:Firestorm and Red Planet|
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- Computer and Video Games 117 (August 1991)
- Discovery Channel Beyond 2000 Battletech Center 1992 - YouTube
- "Microsoft Acquires FASA Interactive" (Press release). 1999-01-07. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
- "Virtual World Entertainment Acquired by Nick Smith" (Press release). 2005-12-16. Archived from the original on 1 January 2009. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
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