Why mechs are the most fun thing to shoot in a video game
PCG: How do you make it fun to shoot a robot?
Russ Bullock, President of Piranha Games: We play games to get away and to step into something else. When I step into a giant mech, I want to feel like it's powerful, that it can take some abuse. In some of the past games, you could die pretty quick. We feel like we've made some really good adjustments. What we're doing is we're making a giant robot battling game. It's based on BattleTech. It's based very heavily upon it. But in the end it's still an interpretation of what those rule sets mean in a live environment.
We have done a really good job of making players feel like they're in a powerful mech. That means you can take some abuse. It's not a slow, plodding thing. If someone comes and plays MechWarrior Online, they'll understand what I mean. It's fairly fast. It's fairly action-packed. But at the same time, you feel like one mistake doesn't kill you. You're something more than just a fragile shell. You can even plan to take some punishment on purpose in order to get what might be a killing shot in. Those are decisions that you wouldn't be able to make your regular humanoid shooter game. That helps you enter the world of being in a giant walking robot. You feel like you're a walking weapons platform.
I like that you bring up durability. How do you guys approach feedback? What do you consider successful or good feedback in MechWarrior?
Bullock: Probably the most important one is audio. Audio and animation. Those are the ones that really help you feel like you're in something. We have a great sound engineer here that's spent a lot of time trying to match what the sounds would be like, not only in your cockpit—because you're way up above the ground, right? You're 18 meters or whatever above the surface where your feet are hitting. And what are those lasers and autocannons sounding like when you're inside of that cockpit when you're being hit? If you bring all three of those elements... We're continually tweaking it, but those three elements will enhance the effect.
What do you think MechWarrior would feel like without modular damage?
Bullock: It gives the game a level of really interesting strategy. It definitely adds to the fun factor, when you talk about how mechs are the most fun thing to shoot in video games. Blowing off the right arm... There's a ton of strategy there. First off, the player is being given a lot of feedback. They have a lot of strategy behind every shot. They can remove the deadliest weapon that their enemy has if they were to take off that limb. There's the strategy aspect, but also, whether you're the mech getting the arm blown off or you're blowing it off, and you see it getting blown off... That does continue to enhance the effect of being in a giant, durable, walking machine. That arm just got taken off, but by no means are you out of the fight. You've still got a lot of weapons to bring to bear. The person doing the damage realizes that too. The fight's not over.
It's attrition, I guess, is the word that MechWarrior has. It can be a good thing and a bad thing. In a round-based game like MechWarrior, we only amplify it as being a good thing. You need to manage your mech in a way that leads to lowering the attrition on your BattleMech. If you can manage that properly, you'll last longer. The longer you last, the more opportunity you have to whittle down your enemy's mechs. There's a great sense of strategy there when you're looking at the enemy mech and doing a mental note of just how damaged it is. That affects not only how you should attack it, but you make a mental picture of... "Okay, just how close to dead is that enemy BattleMech?" You plan your attack based on that information.
Another bit that makes MechWarrior extra special is the notion that your BattleMech is extremely valuable and extremely important. Nothing's done a better job than BattleTech and MechWarrior of feeding the player the notion that they're a very elite warrior. Only the most elite warriors in the world get to become mech pilots. Just the term MechWarrior, the whole notion that you're the pilot inside of a giant BattleMech... All that. MechWarrior does a great job of feeding into the ego of the player and saying, "You're the most elite warrior in the world. That's why you get to be a MechWarrior. That's why you get to pilot BattleMechs." That's part of why it's so much fun to blow up the other guys.