Fear the power of the Edge!
BattleTanx was 3DO’s first N64 game and a pretty decent success for a company that was trying to pivot from their failed hardware endeavor. As 3DO would soon prove, they were crazy about franchises and sequels. It’s not surprising that BattleTanx would be up for a new entry the very year after it launched.
Creative director, Michael Mendheim, was nice enough to humor some of my questions about BattleTanx, so it seemed natural to also pivot to its sequel. Here’s the thing: even though he’s credited as creative director for BattleTanx: Global Assault, he wasn’t heavily involved in its design. According to him, “My involvement in BattleTanx: Global Assault was mostly just pre-production just to make sure nothing went off the rails.”
Off the Rails
“BattleTanx was a very successful game for 3DO. It was a top #10 game on the N64 when it was released. After the success of BattleTanx, the company assigned me to the N64 version of Army Men which would become Sarge’s Heroes,” explains Mendheim.
“The BattleTanx sequel was put in Rob Zdybel’s capable hands with Amber Long as project director and the talented BattleTanx team. It was difficult for me to leave the team and the project.”
The goal for BattleTanx: Global Assault was bigger and better, and you can feel the right out of the gate. Tanks move even more unrealistically than they did in the first game, but they do so with style. There’s a tangible feeling of weight shifting on their treads, but maybe not the amount of weight you’d expect from all that armor. They still accelerate like a skateboarder from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. More enemies seem to zoom around in the single-player, and the framerate stays steadier.
Not quite global
It’s also visibly better looking; surprisingly so for a game released a year after the previous title. Unfortunately, it doesn’t use the Expansion Pak, a feature that Army Men: Sarge’s Heroes used to improve resolution. I’m of course speaking of the N64 version. There was one for the PlayStation, but I heard it’s not very great but does have FMV cinematics. The N64 uses comic-book-like still frames, and the art style is sometimes bizarre. The main antagonist has a huge forehead covered by some massive bangs. It reminds me of the 32-bit version of Road Rash.
One of my favorite visual effects added is quite subtle. When a destructible building is hit with a weapon, all the windows flash as if it’s being detonated from the inside. Realistic? Probably not. But definitely stylish.
Weirdly, though, despite its subtitle, BattleTanx: Global Assault only has levels in the U.S. and Europe. I don’t know how great your geography skills are, but that’s really not a big portion of the globe. I asked Mendheim if it was intended to have more levels in other places, but unfortunately, he didn’t have any insight into that.
As he explains, “I was involved in some high-level creative direction for Global Assault during the pre-production phase, but my main focus was on N64: Sarge’s Heroes and the Army Men brand. The Global Assault team drove the creative of their project.”
BattleTanx: Global Assault was definitely bigger and better in every way. More maps, more modes, more tanks, and more weapons; what else could you ask for? A cooperative campaign? That’s in there too. It was probably one of the best weekend rentals you could ask for. However, it seems it couldn’t live up to the success of the first game.
“The original BattleTanx game came out of nowhere,” explains Mendheim. “It was unexpected and took gamers and reviewers by surprise. It received positive reviews and sold enough units to be considered a hit. The multiplayer component gave consumers something new and fresh to play with their friends. The follow-up sequel was going to have a difficult time matching BT1’s sales numbers because the novelty of the title was no longer new. Global Assault was superior to BattleTanx 1 in almost every way except it wasn’t new.”
Much of the BattleTanx crew would move on to create World Destruction League: Thunder Tanks for PS1 and PS2, which is sometimes considered to be the successor to BattleTanx: Global Assault. Rather than a post-apocalyptic future, World Destruction League presented a television program where participants duked it out in tanks. However, it wasn’t as well received.
“When new people are brought into the team and working on the project, they bring in new ideas and new directions, just like I did, when I joined Rob Rob Zdybel’s team. World Destruction League is a sports-themed battle franchise that can introduce almost anything (tanks, planes, etc.). The game evolved into something entirely new and different from the original BattleTanx concept. Queen Lords was all but a distant memory. I thought the transformation into a sports league was a good direction for the product line but not necessarily how it was executed as an arcade sports game.”
Besides two great games, BattleTanx and its successor also presented us with some great ads. Did Mendheim have anything to do with those?
“No, those commercials were created by the late, great Jody Jodar who was the creative director of all 3DO’s innovative television ads. This hilarious commercial shows Tready Bear (a parody of Snuggles the Bear for Snuggle fabric softener) falling into a pile of soft laundry before being chased down by a battle tank. Tready gets set on fire, run over, and final coughing up some of his fluffy innards while saying, “BattleTanx.” Unilever (the company that owned Snuggle fabric softener) filed for an injunction against 3DO and the ad had to be pulled.
“Then for Global Assault, they ran another Tready Commercial almost as funny as the first. This ad starts where the last one ended. Tready is barely alive, and doctors rebuild him with bionic robot parts, it’s a Six Million Dollar Man parody — “we can make him stronger, faster and softer” but in the end, Tready still gets run over by a tank. Once again Unilever filed another injunction and lawsuit. The ad again was pulled.”
“Even though both commercials were pulled and eventually banned they did their job because they both ran during both product launches. With all the controversy and lawsuits, it created even more exposure and word-of-mouth buzz. Both ads did their job. Honestly, though when I saw the second ad, I couldn’t believe Trip Hawkins had the cajones to air it. “
The nuclear-kissed future
I had to cap off the interview with Michael Mendheim with two burning questions. The first was in regards to a belief I had as a youth. I had somehow convinced myself that the heroes from Army Men: Sarge’s Heroes were a playable faction in BattleTanx: Global Assault’s multiplayer. Perhaps unlocked through a code. But looking it up as an adult, there was no such code and no such faction.
“Brilliant idea for cross-branding! Yeah, that would have been awesome. Shame on us for not coming up with that ourselves.”
My 11-year-old self is simultaneously disappointed and thrilled.
Finally, was there any chance that Michael Mendheim would return to BattleTanx, either through a direct sequel or spiritual revival?
“My company Digital Dreams Entertainment Inc. is hard at work on developing Mutant League sports games, like Mutant Football League. We’re extremely passionate about making these games and you never know what the future holds.”
That’s not a no. In the meantime he confirmed they’re planning a Mutant Hockey League, so, as a Canadian, I’m excited.