The BattleTech arcade machines that were years ahead of their time

A couple of months back, a collector in Texas got in touch with me after reading my article on the man who is trying to preserve the old Virtuality VR machines from the early 1990s. He told me he had a collection of old BattleTech pods that he was trying to repair and install in an arcade somewhere, and would I be interested in doing a story on them?

The answer was a definite yes – until that point I’d never even heard of these BattleTech pods, but I was fascinated by what he told me. These things were years ahead of their time, and still seem futuristic even now. They are basically fully enclosed cockpits that mimic the controls of a giant mech, and people were using them in international 3D deathmatches back when the Super NES hadn’t even been released in the United States. The later versions – the so-called Tesla pods – were even more impressive, boasting seven monitor screens and switches for everything under the sun, right down to controlling the heat output from your mech. If you remember Steel Battalion and its insane controller back on the original Xbox, it was basically that, but far, far more impressive.

GamesRadar+ just published the story – check it out for yourself:

Battletech arcades were decades ahead of their time, holding global 3D matches before we’d even played a SNES – here’s their story

I think my favourite detail is that one of the tutorial videos for the game featured Judge Reinhold, Weird Al Yankovic and Joan Severance, who played the villain in the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor comedy See No Evil, Hear No Evil. It’s amazing, a real hidden gem.

I’d really love to play on one of these machines myself, but sadly it seems the only ones left in existence are all in America, although a few groups take them to trade shows. One day, one day…

6 Comments

  1. I got to go to a huge arcade complex in Chicago that had these a few times, but never tried them. To be honest, as a kid these things looked cool, but also way too intimidating with the ridiculous number of switches and dials and etc. Instead I just played the 90’s VR games they had like Dactyl Nightmare and Zone Hunter.

    1. I had a go on Dactyl Nightmare recently – it was pretty impressive considering the limitations of the time. But yeah, these BattleTech pods were crazily expensive, so I can see why they didn’t stick around. Still, they look damn cool.

  2. Got a kick out of this article. Last summer, there were twelve of these in a sea container headed for Russia. They are huge,heavy and full of empty space. Each one was around 4’x7’x7′ and maybe eight hundred pounds. The inspectors were searching the compartments when I saw them.
    The photos gave me a clue as to what they were. They didn’t look military quality. There was a sticker on them that said: “do not eat”. We assumed they were some kind of game.
    One of the agents checked that the mirrors and optics were not broken before shipping. He claimed the rest wasn’t really insured other than the optics.
    So they are just an old arcade. They were probably something in their day.

  3. The dozen were listed on ebay for around 30 days. Heard they were the top hits for ebay during that time. They were also listed on various simulator, arcade and pinball sites. The seller was easy to contact.
    The seller PM many of us with an invite to visit. It was well worth the drive.
    There was some mirros setup this articled missed. It was the mirrors that made these so expensive. They are something still made for aircraft simulators. The arcade and equipment are obsolete.
    I would not want to maintain the old technology. I will only buy the newer pinball and arcades.
    Pretty sure that Russians wanted them more than these old collecters in this article.
    Was hoping someone locally would buy them and do all the maintenance. That didn’t happen.

    1. Interesting! So the mirrors are the thing that’s hard to get, eh? I guess newer machines don’t use them….

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