been about ten years since we’ve seen a new MechWarrior game. The giant
BattleTech beasts have been slumbering and we’ve missed them greatly. Since the
halcyon days of the MechWarrior series in the early ’90s, it feels like the simulation
genre on the PC has taken a nose dive. There’s no shortage of games simulating
the experience of driving trains, buses, or even garbage trucks. But where are the
sims for giant mechs battling over war torn planets? Fortunately, it looks like
it’s finally time to dust off your flight stick with the upcoming 2012 launch
of MechWarrior Online.
We recently spent some time with Piranha Games creative director Bryan Ekman
and president Russ Bullock to find out more about the studio’s philosophy on
modernizing mech combat while staying true to the series’ robotic roots. Both
Ekman and Bullock recall fond memories of the original MechWarrior titles and the
BattleTech tabletop strategy game. “We want to make the next true MechWarrior sequel,” says Bullock.
Piranha Games, part of that means looking towards streamlining the best experiences
from the PC versions of the game more so than the simpler console releases.
With MechWarrior Online, the developers are aiming for a deeper control system
that captures the complexity of piloting a mech. “MechWarriors have a lot of
controls,” explains Ekman. "You have torso twisting, you have aiming, you have
weapon firing, you have weapon grouping and group firing, you have jump jets, [and]
you have throttle…"
Above: Concept art of a cockpit paints a picture
of a more complex and strategically minded approach to MechWarrior Online’s
controls and combat
focused on using the PC and its input devices to the max,” continues Ekman. “We’re
going to allow players to customize those devices however they see fit, and we’re
going to be supporting those devices as much as possible.” You can expect the
mech sim to support full keyboard and mouse and joystick setups from the start.
that doesn’t mean that MechWarrior Online will just be a carbon copy of its
predecessors. The IP is nearly 30 years old and Piranha Games is looking at how
to evolve the MechWarrior experience with new technology while retaining the
essence of what they loved most about the series. “Previous MechWarrior games
were very open,” explains Ekman, adding, “You could see enemies coming from
great distances. But now we are able to make the battles really personable and
have them get up close and fight in detailed city environments detailed
landscapes.” But it’s not just about making the game look better. It’s also
about bringing the series’ more strategic and teamwork elements to the
frontline of battles and cutting out the things that aren’t so much fun today.
Bullock points to the abundance of circle strafing enemies and aiming for the
legs as one MechWarrior legacy that doesn’t need to be revisited. Instead,
Piranha Games is focusing on highlighting what it’s calling “role warfare.”
The current plan is to host a maximum of 24 players for 12 vs. 12 matches
averaging 15-20 minutes in length. With a progression system based more on
loyalty and mastering your team role and the type of mechs you pilot rather than
an XP-only system that ranks you up based on your kill count. Bullock
highlights some of the MechWarrior roles and what the team is shooting for with
MechWarrior Online: “Each of the mechs have a specific and useful role. A Lance
unit in the MechWarrior lore is made up by four mechs and we really want that
Lance unit to be a strong aspect of gameplay. You’ll want to make up that Lance
with the appropriate types of mechs, both scout mechs and medium, heavy, and
This emphasis on role warfare and the persistency of the world as factions
battle around the clock is the heart of what Piranha Games hopes to add. “That
brings a level of modernization to gameplay that MechWarrior hasn’t had before.
Before, it was a fairly unapologetic arms race to the heaviest of mechs, but
our design will be quite different,” says Bullock. He doesn’t want players to
spend countless hours grinding for the supposed “best” mech. Without going into
too much detail, he emphasizes that players will be rewarded for focusing on
teamwork and playing their roles appropriately.
Expect more details and impressions on how MechWarrior Online is shaping up as
the game’s 2012 launch date draws closer. In the meantime, you can find out more
by visiting the game’s official site.