Interview: We chat with Piranha Games about MechWarrior Online

In the 1990s and in the early 2000s, one of the biggest game franchises was the MechWarrior series. PC gamers could not get enough of playing these titles that mixed in action with some sim elements as they piloted massive war machines, some of which looked humanoid, against AI opponants and each other. However, the series came to halt in 2001 and since then the MechWarrior franchise has been idle.

Cut to 2012 and fans of the series are getting close to getting on board those mechs again. Developer Piranha Interactive and publisher Infinite Game Publishing are getting ready to launch the free-to-play game MechWarrior Online, which promises to bring the series back to its roots. While the game is free to play, gamers can go ahead and purchase Founders Program packages that offers some exclusive content and early access to the game's beta.

We got a chance to ask some questions to Piranha Games president Russ Bullock about their plans for MechWarrior Online.

First, how hard was it to secure the rights to the MechWarrior franchise for the game?

Well the answer might be that it was both easy and difficult to secure the MechWarrior rights. On the one side, we were lucky that there wasn’t really anyone else that was willing to spend real money on trying to reinvigorate the brand. We spent a fair amount of time and money on the 2009 trailer and that whole event, and then of course we were willing and able to spend more when it came time to lock down the rights for MWO. So our timing was lucky and strategy right in that we identified that a new MechWarrior game was more than viable in today’s market, utilizing a new business model. On the flip side, it still took us two and a half years from the time we first started working with the brand until we were able to secure the rights. During that time, there were plenty of ups and downs and moments where we thought the dream might be over

How much of the lore of MechWarrior's fictional world will be involved in MechWarrior Online?

I would say it is heavily involved. The MechWarrior universe uses the Earth calendar so every day in our world is currently the matching date in the year 3049 of the MechWarrior Universe. We have a good working relationship with the guys at Catalyst and they are working directly with us to make sure we get the lore right. In fact, we have a daily Inner Sphere news Twitter feed that they manage directly, which allows us to inject daily news from the MechWarrior world to all our players.

What can you tell us about the different types of mechs that will be available in the game at first?

We will have at least 2 mechs from each of the light, medium, heavy and assault classes. Each of those mechs in turn will have multiple variants available at launch as well so there will be plenty of mechs to drive and master. Then of course we will be releasing a steady stream of mechs ongoing indefinitely.

How will players gain access to more weapons and mechs?

One big change in MechWarrior Oonline compared to past MechWarrior products is that the game is not an arms race. Players can start out in Assault class mechs or small scout mechs and they will intermix on the battlefield very effectively. So with that in mind, we do not have unlocking trees where you cannot get into this mech until you have that mech. You are free to buy any mech with C-Bills (in-game currency) or real money at any point. Weapons and the items used to outfit your Mech are purchased with C-bills earned in combat. At first thought, it may seem like buying power to be able to buy any mech with real money, but in MWO, you’re not done when you buy a particular chassis, you’re actually just getting started. In order to master that chassis, you will need to play the game and earn the XP to be spent on mastering that particular mech.

Previous MechWarrior games have been more about the sim aspects than the action gameplay. Will there be equal amounts of sim and straight up action in MechWarrior Online?

Well that is a debatable point as many fans would tell you that MW4 was perhaps the most action oriented of the bunch. I think MWO strikes a very unique feel and balance that no other MechWarrior game has had. It is hard to explain but if I was to try I would describe it as such: Every mech you encounter on the battlefield has a presence like never before and when mechs engage in combat, encounters last longer and take more strategy than ever before, but it captures all of this while still feeling like an action game. That is how I feel when I play the game and so far, beta players seem to agree.

What will the game's locations be like? Will we see a mix of urban and more outdoor levels?

We have some forest maps along with an icy setting and an urban city. The urban city I feel is really our flagship map and will give MechWarrior fans the urban combat they have always dreamed of.

How will the game handle features such as matchmaking and clan support?

Well matchmaking is an evolving process, but there are lots of great ways built into the MechWarrior universe to help us. First, every mech has a tonnage which will come into play. There are also battle values as part of the mech’s design which will change dynamically in the mechlab. There is a lot to work with there in creating a match maker, but expect it to evolve and improve over time. As to Clans I assume you mean the group of players not “the clans” . In MWO we use Mercenary units and the factions of the inner sphere to bring people together into fighting units that will compete for territory of the inner sphere.

How customizable will the mechs be in the game?

There is a full featured MechLab along with patterns, skins and decals. 9. After the game's official launch, what plans does Piranha have to add content to the game? Our plan is simply to add content constantly and steadily and we have the calendar timeline to be our guide, which means we have the clan invasion to launch in less than a year.

"Free-to-play" is a term that some people don't care for in terms of games. How do you feel about this trend and how does MechWarrior Online handle both the free and paid players?

I think it is quickly becoming a non-issue. Here in North America where we are primarily console centric, we have been a little slower to come around to the free-to-play model and I was in that category not so long ago. People are now realizing that free-to-play does not mean the product has to be bad or that it has to be dominated by people spending money. We feel MechWarrior Online which uses state of the art technology and a full team of AAA console developers will play a big part in continuing to redefine what free-to-play means.

Finally, is there anything else you wish to say about MechWarrior Online?

We truly love playing the game we have made; if you’re a past MechWarrior or giant robot fan of any ilk, you are going to love playing MechWarrior Online. Even if your just a huge FPS fan but crave a little more of a “thinking man’s shooter” come give the game a try. Reserve your pilot name at http://mwomercs.com/.

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