Frozen City is MechWarrior Online's new map

Evan Lahti at

The makers of MechWarrior Online sent along this first look at Frozen City, a new map they're announcing today. As if piloting legged tanks wasn't tough enough, the Hothian paradise will feature icy storms that affect visibility. No word yet on whether or not you'll have to sit in the cockpit, breathing into your hands for 10 minutes before fighting while your mech warms up.

I've also interviewed Russ Bullock, President of Piranha Games, about the new map. MechWarrior Online recently announced three tiers of pre-purchasing through its Founder's Program.

Hi, Russ!

PCG: What's your design goal with Frozen City?

Russ Bullock: When we think of map designs, one of the overarching themes is "How does this map play from a heat management perspective?" That's what our fans want. We've heard them very loud and clear, in our community and on our forums. They want environments that add more tactical play style. They want to see tactics come in to play. Whether it's the forest map, which has a lake or a waterfall, and a river, and finding ways to put your mech in that water while doing battle to basically increase your DPS because you're lowering your heat output... And while you're doing so, you're seeing your mech steam all around you. That's really the immersion that I think MechWarrior fans have been kinda crying out for, for a long time. Every map has that overarching mentality. When it came to Frozen City, it's definitely going to create a certain amount of different gameplay. People are going to be managing their heat a little differently, they're going to be able to let loose with energy-based weapons a little more, and in general run their mech hotter. But at the same time, we didn't want that to just be all it was. "Oh, I can run my mech hotter." That's where we're introducing game mechanics that do feed in to the pillars of the game.

I think MechWarrior Online is really about trying to bring the dynamics of the lance unit into play. I think that's the overarching theme and focus of almost everything we do when it comes to map design and development. It's to support the pillars of MechWarrior Online, and more specifically, role warfare. I've said multiple times in a lot of interviews that I've done, I feel like role warfare is the single most important and biggest thing that we're bringing to MechWarrior Online. The one thing that we don't want the game to be is to re-create the arms races of past games. It's really important that all the mechs have a strong role in the battlefield, so that the scouts have their role, they can go out there as fast, small mechs, find the enemy, relay that information to your lancemates, and that also large assault mechs have their role, perhaps as a commander on the battlefield. That might be something that a lot of assault mechs provide, since they're slower and generally have a higher, larger view of the battlefield. And then our ultimate goal would be to see the medium-class BattleMechs, along with heavies, be the main workforce of the battlefield. So the majority of the match will be filled with medium- and heavy-class mechs, with a sprinkling of scout mechs and assault-class mechs. Because one of the unique aspects of MechWarrior Online is the fact that you do manage heat systems that no other game has, essentially, it's a very unique MechWarrior Online play system, the aspect of managing your heat that the mech puts out. That kind of goes hand in hand with your weapon groups and the other unique aspects of MechWarrior, like the torso twisting and whatnot.

Like the snowstorms.

Bullock: Yeah, the snowstorms, exactly right. That plays into the information warfare pillar. So now, when the snow starts to come in real heavy, and you can't hardly see anything, well, you need to switch to thermal vision. So you can switch to thermal vision, and that's something that a MechWarrior game has never done before. And the CryEngine does it very well. It's neat to watch the mechs go from blue to red hot and show up on your thermal vision in the middle of the storm. And now, more important than ever, of course, your scouts going out there and relaying target information, it's going to have a level of value to it. Anything we can do to amplify the usefulness of your scouts and the other aspects of role warfare and information warfare, that's all the better.

Just to clarify, will every mech inherently have access to thermal vision?

Bullock: Yeah. Certain things like basic zoom and thermal and whatnot will be given to every mech, and then I think you can think of it like extra layers on top of that. Those might come with modules.

You mentioned building an avenue for scouts to express their role. I'm wondering, what will scouts scout? Will they simply be reporting, "Hey guys, enemy mechs are in this region," or more? Is that the extent of their job? It seems like it's going to be pretty hard to hide in general in MechWarrior Online. There's no way to be completely invisible, is that accurate?

Bullock: No, you can shut down your mech. So you could take yourself off of radar systems. But I think, also, the maps that we've announced so far, that people have seen, whether it's Forest Colony or Frozen City, are a little bit small. Frozen City especially, I would call that a small map. I would call Forest Colony a little bit bigger than that, it's bordering on a medium-sized map. The next map we'll announce, I won't give it a name just yet, but it's probably at least three or four times bigger than anything people have seen to date. So much bigger. Functions like zoom and sniping with long-range weapons and scouts are going to play an even bigger role yet. But I think, to your point... It's not just about scouting the location of the enemies, but as the scouts and other members of your units get skills, meaning if they've spent their XP and pilot skills in certain ways, they'll get the use of certain modules. And those modules will actually relay certain information. So it's one thing for your scout to tell you, hey, there's an enemy over here. But it's another thing to have your scout tell you, hey, there's an enemy over here, and here's his exact weapon config, so you know what you're up against.

Could go into more detail about how snowstorms will work on Frozen City? If there's a storm, will it be affecting the map globally, all at once, or will it be a localized event? How much variance is there in the strength of the storm? Will there be light storms and heavy storms?

Bullock: Right now it's a fairly random process. These are all values that we can tweak, and we're testing it right now in the closed beta environment. But right now it comes out globally on the map, and then recedes on the map. You can never really know when the storm is coming or isn't coming, it's just one of those random elements right now. You could be running around and sniping enemies at long distance, and then all of a sudden the storm just comes in and forces you to go into thermal mode. Right now it's really a random process.

Would a storm negatively affect certain types of mechs more than others? For example, would scout mechs have a harder time using jump jets?

Bullock: More than anything it's going to affect the heat of your mech, and therefore it's going to affect your weapon systems the most. But visually, targeting, of course, is going to be much more difficult, unless you're using thermal vision. And even then, of course, depending on how hot or cold an enemy is running their mech, its usefulness will vary. But jump jets are a good example, because the buildings and various structures give off no heat, so jumping to the top of a roof is going to be a lot more difficult when the storm's in.

When a storm is active, will it further lower the temperature within the map?

Bullock: That's an excellent question. I don't believe it does that at the moment, vary up and down when the storm is more of a global map modifier, but you've given me a good idea and I'll see if we can use that. [chuckles]

Is there a particularly dangerous spot within Frozen City that you've encountered?

Bullock: Well, right now, the map is really turning out to be one where scout mechs are very effective, because there's a couple of routes through the ice caves, or through a lower road, where people can get at the enemy bases pretty quickly. So it's a map where you have to be extra careful to watch those pathways and make sure that you're not going to have enemy scouts in your base all of a sudden. But beyond that, it seems to have a natural chokepoint at the middle of the map, where there's a sort of ridge, there's a crashed dropship there, smoking wreckage, you can see it in the video footage... There's a natural ridge there that really forms the bulk of the conflict, where whoever can win the battle for that ridge can possibly win the map. But that's just one way to win the map, of course. It really depends. If you've got a well-organized team you can dominate the cave system and end up at the enemy base. Or sneak the low road and catch everyone by surprise. But I would say that ridge in the middle of the map is the natural chokepoint for that main kind of brawl.

If my plan as a lance was "Okay, we're going to dominate that cave system," how might we configure our mechs, hypothetically, what type of weapons would we bring into those caves?

Bullock: The only thing you wouldn't be able to use much in the caves would be long-range missiles. And at any given time, there's not a really long stretch in the tunnels, so long-range weapons would not get a lot of use in the tunnels. So I suppose you'd want to go for more short-range missiles, beam weapons, smaller-caliber autocannons, basically up-close-and-personal brawling types of weapons. And you could punch your way through the caves to the enemy base. Although, of course, like... MechWarrior in general is about having a well-rounded lance and unit. So I think you'd want the spearhead to be configured that way, but once you did get through the cave systems, maybe got on top of their base and they came back to protect it, you're going to want some long-range weapons systems then to help you keep the base and maybe keep off the defenders that are coming back. I think in general you're going to want to have a well-rounded group, but maybe your spearhead in that situation would want to have some nice short-range punch.