Hawken co-founder talks eSports, missing server browsers, clan support and big Beta fixes

Chunky free-to-play mech-shooter Hawken went into open Beta last month. You can spend money on its marketplace, so we reviewed the available version and rather liked it. We even made a video , and crammed some of our thoughts into it. However, as with any Beta, Hawken is evolving week by week – it could be a very different beast three months from now, after developer Adhesive decides what does and doesn't work in the wake of player testing and feedback.

We caught up with studio co-founder and lead animator Chris Lalli to chat about melee weapons, server browsers, counter-measures, and whether or not the community has been behaving itself.

How happy are you with the way Hawken has been received by the critics and community?

I'm pleased with the reception Hawken has received so far. We've gotten great reactions from the core gameplay as well as the steps we've taken to avoid a 'pay to win' design approach. The game is still going to see some major improvements so things should only get better. Hawken is still in beta, and it's a true Beta in the original sense of the word; we're constantly tweaking, testing, and listening to community feedback. The players have the power to add or improve things and help shape the game, which I think they like.

Is the Hawken community behaving, or do you need to keep it on a short leash?

The community is fantastic, our forums are a collection of some of the most constructive and helpful gamers I've ever seen. There are difficult people in every community wherever you go, but for the most part our community is friendly and positive. There are also a lot of serious hard-core players that genuinely want to improve the game and see Hawken succeed, so that's awesome.

The community is divided on counter-measures. Some see them as fair, skill-related items, others as pay-to-win abilities. Are you planning to modify them over the next few months?

The counter-measures we have now are a first pass at a mechanic we hope to make a lot of improvements to. We're testing them out and will make changes according to the feedback we get from players. Regarding pay-to-win, all the counter-measures are available through Hawken Credits which are earned in-game at no cost.

Are you considering the addition of melee attacks and / or melee weapons?

Yes, I'd say we're exploring the possibility of melee weapons, but in a controlled way that fits into the Hawken universe. We wouldn't want to see every mech running around punching or swinging swords at each other, or have a long-range sniper class staying in close to melee. I'd like to see specialized mech classes or balanced weapons that incorporate melee, but at the cost of ranged attacks or something along those lines.

Some players have complained about screen-clutter making fights too confusing. Are you working on a clearer way of indicating whether your shots have landed, or your health is dropping? Or is the confusion of battle deliberate?

To some degree the screen clutter is deliberate and a part of the game aesthetic, but we certainly don't want it to be confusing. We want the game to offer something unique from other FPSs and part of that is the experience of being in a cockpit, which includes managing aspects of the HUD such as health, heat levels, and fuel. It can be a lot to keep track of though. We're constantly trying to improve things like damage feedback through audio and UI. We've added indicators like sound cues and flashes when you damage other players, as well as warning alarms and cracked cockpit glass when your own mech gets damaged. One improvement we made that I really like was that the colours on-screen get very desaturated when you're low on health, which makes it fairly clear that you might need to retreat and repair yourself.

Would you consider specialised modes that allow players to try out new mechs or upgrades before buying?

We do currently have a trial system for 'test driving' new mechs, similar to how League Of Legends lets you try out different Champions. There are always two or three mechs available to play for free, and different ones rotate in and out after a certain amount of time. If you like a trial mech and decide to unlock it permanently (either through game currency or real money), you get to keep any XP or progress you earned during the test drive. We also have future plans to add shooting ranges and training maps where you can test out other things like new weapons before buying them.

How will visual customisation improve? Any plans for a decal system, or to let players create their own designs to make mechs unique?

As more mechs and new content gets added, there will be more and more options for visual customization. Parts, thrusters, paint, and camo schemes will keep being rolled out regularly. We do have plans to introduce decals or things like clan insignias, emblems, etc., but player-created custom designs are a little harder to implement. At the moment I think it would require too much oversight on our end, to avoid offensive material. Contests where player designs get elected and promoted by the community might be a good way to incorporate that though.

Are you looking to implement a server browser, or a more effective matchmaking system to balance sessions?

Yes! We do currently have a matchmaking system in place, and it was just recently updated to be more effective. The matchmaking will be constantly improved on as part of our Beta process. In fact, we intentionally removed the server browser so we could properly test and evaluate the matchmaking system. Unfortunately that has caused a bit of pain amongst the community, since players really want to see the server browser return. But we consider it a necessary step to make sure the game is in its best possible state on our full release. We'll be putting an improved server browser back in place once we reach our goals in that area.

Have your plans for eSports advanced since the Beta launched? You were talking about how Siege was a good mode for that kind of competitive play.

The competitive scene for Hawken is still really important to us, although our main focus at the moment is providing the best experience possible to everyone playing, including newbies. A big part of that is bringing important features like clan support, better matchmaking, achievements, and social features online. On the e-Sports side of things we will be working on a robust spectator system, better overall game balance, and tournament support. Siege mode has a lot of updates and improvements we will be rolling out, which will bring it more in line with the e-Sports scene. It might take a little more time, but we want to listen and work with our more hardcore audience to make those improvements and allow Hawken to become competitive.