Friday, September 04, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: Heavy Gear

In the spring of 1994, Dream Pod 9 released its popular Heavy Gear tactical miniatures game. The game featured a grim and gritty universe where giant humanoid shaped vehicles did battle on the battle scarred landscape of Nova Terra -- and throughout the galaxy. The game featured an easy to learn tactical game system that could be easily scaled to a companion role playing game, so players could use the same characters in both the rpg and the tactical miniatures game. The components were high quality, and the sourcebooks were -- and still are -- engaging.

Dream Pod 9, a company that started business as the creators of a licensed setting (Jovian Chronicles) for another company's role playing game (Mekton), emerged as a force of their own with the creation of Heavy Gear. Eventually, Dream Pod 9's Jovian Chronicles setting would be translated from the Mekton system into the DP9 in house Silhouette system. From small beginnings, the company became a gaming establishment whose product line diversified and whose IP became desirable commodities. Their Heavy Gear game has been licensed as video games and as an animated series. The company has also shown an ability to adapt to changing market forces and have released new editions of their game lines.

In 2001, Sony's 40 episode animated series based on the Heavy Gear IP was released worldwide -- though it seems that there was not much advertising in the American market for Heavy Gear gamers who might have wanted to watch the show. I know I certainly never saw any advertisements for the show, and I was actively looking.

The show had a similar animated style to Reboot, which should come as no surprise as both shows were produced by Canada's Mainframe Entertainment -- now Rainmaker Entertainment. Where the role playing and tactical Heavy Gear games featured a grim setting, the animated series toned down some of the darker elements and aimed a a younger audience. The gear battles at the beginning of the series take place in an arena in formalized, almost athletic, competitions. The show's tone was a far cry from the setting established in the games.

The original press release hints at what the initial concept for the show was intended to be. It appears that the initial concept was closer to the original IP than the end product. That release stated:

The animated series' storylines will focus on the soldiers who pilot the Heavy Gears combat machines, combining state-of-the-art storytelling with the fascination of heroic dogfighter pilots and the dynamics of Japanese mechanical warriors. It will also deliver a tremendously rich storyline that lies beneath the action of Heavy Gear: politics, love, religion and unexpected mysteries as well as unexpected enemies all play their part in the saga of Heavy Gear.

In the end, the show ended up focusing on a character named Marcus Steven Rover whose characterization is close to that of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films. Watch the opening episode with A New Hope in mind and you can see how being a Gear Pilot can be seen as analogous to going to the "Academy." The end product, as DP9's current site describes it is:

The Heavy Gear: the Animated Series followed the adventures of Marcus Steven Rover, a young Gear pilot just recruited into the Shadow Dragons, a special independent dueling squad of the Southern MILICIA. His team is pitted against the Vanguards of Justice, their counterparts from the Northern Guard. Both squads meet in a series of events and battles in the arena desert town of Trash City to determine who will take home the coveted Heavy Gear Championship cup and its associated glory. Major Alexander Wallis III, the leader of the Vanguards, will let his team do anything to secure a victory against the ragtag team of Southerners.

Gone are any mention of politics, love, or religion. All that remains is the quest for the cup and a battle against a team willing to cheat to win. As always, we are rooting for a "ragtag team" fighting against the odds.

Though the show abandoned a darker tone, which would have appealed more to the gamers who play the game, it is still an entertaining series. It just happens to be a series for a younger audience. One could look at it as a show you get your kids to watch to "prepare" them for shows like Robotech.


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