MechWarrior Online preview

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.

For 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…"

“We’re 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.

But 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 assault mechs.”

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.