MechWarrior® Online™: First things first, give us a quick biography.
[THOMAS DZIEGIELEWSKI] Started working for Piranha straight out of school, which was 8 years ago.
[EVAN HALIM] I’ve been a character artist in the game industry for about 7 years. Started my career as a character artist at Electronic Arts, working on sports title such as FIFA and NHL. Joined PGI in 2008 and worked on much more exciting title such as Transformers: Revenge of the fallen, Duke Nukem Forever, and now Mechwarrior: Online. So I have experience working on a variety of different types of characters from humans, to robots, and creatures.
[ENRIQUE BARAHONA RAMOS] I’ve been working in the games industry for nearly 12 years now, first as character concept artist, then as character modeler, etc., until I started specializing in animation. I’m currently Senior Animator at Piranha Games.
MWO: Which games are you currently playing (if any)?
[THOMAS] EVE Online, Skyrim, Football Manager 2012, Civilization V
[EVAN] Final Fantasy XIII-2
[ENRIQUE] I’m re-playing all the Half-life episodes. Taking a cue from Homer Simpson, I cunningly gave my daughter the Orange Box as a gift last Christmas, so when she was done with it I thought I’d have a go at re-living the epic.
MWO: What does your day-to-day job consist of?
[THOMAS] Implement gameplay features. Fix bugs. Get yelled at by designers.
[EVAN] Modeling and texturing the ‘mechs and other [things]. Also making sure all the ‘mechs look good in game and tweaking the shaders accordingly.
[ENRIQUE] Lately I’ve been increasingly delegating the animation work and concentrating more in the process of rigging the Mechs for the game engine. That will usually involve creating the skeleton to which all the ‘mech parts are attached, as well as other assets that complete the framework, such as animation events, collision volumes, ragdoll behaviour, etc.
MWO: What’s the most fun part of working on MechWarrior Online?
[THOMAS] There is no dull moment when implementing new and exciting gameplay features for a giant ‘Mech. I would have to say the weapon system has been the most fun just because it’s the main part of the game that players will be interacting with constantly.
[EVAN] Bringing Alex’s fantastic concept arts to life has been very exciting and I’m totally obsessed with creating every little detail that goes in to the ‘mechs. And playing the ‘mechs that you’ve worked on at the end of the day is a very rewarding feeling.
[ENRIQUE] After all the hard work, it’s always a blast to see our latest ‘mech stomping around in the test level, and then blow it to pieces in our weekly team play-test!
MWO: Did you ever think you’d be making a game about giant ‘Mechs shooting each other?
[THOMAS] ‘Mech’s shooting each other, maybe. MechWarrior, never.
[EVAN] I’ve always wanted to work on robot games. I grew up with Macross, Gundams, Patlabors and other Japanese ‘mechs and always been fascinated with the details of the machines.
[ENRIQUE] Not at all. This game is a total departure from anything I’ve done before, which usually involved creating animation for human or human-like characters, not big-ass walking tanks.
MWO: What’s it like working on ‘Mechs for the game? Creating giant robot death machines sounds like a blast!
[THOMAS] There’s nothing more exhilarating then building ‘mechs and their systems from the ground up.
[EVAN] It actually feels like a blast too! It’s fantastic! Each ‘mech’s design is absolutely brilliant. It’s a fast pace working environment and sometimes it can even be frustrating because we want to put every detail in the ‘mech but we only have very limited time. I enjoy it very much.
[ENRIQUE] It’s actually quite a lot of hard work involved. The nature of the ‘mechs means that this is not the usual game pipeline required to create a playable character. i.e a single organic mesh that you weight to the skeleton. The fact that they are destructible and customizable imposes a new set of challenges for artist, animators and coders.
MWO: What part of MechWarrior Online surprises you the most? Is there any part of it you think will surprise the fans?
[THOMAS] My biggest surprise was that it was going to be F2P. I have never played such a game on the PC and have not enjoyed any that I’ve played on the android tablet market. They would just hound you to put money into them without much in return or no way to proceed with interest without pumping in funds. I am confident of what I’ve seen and know of our design that players will not feel the same with our product.
[EVAN] I’m amazed how good the game looks so far. Mechs look awesome. Environments look stunning. Animation looks smooth. Gameplay is fantastic. We’ve achieved so much within such a short amount of time. And we’ll continue to add and polish the game.
[ENRIQUE] The richness of the environments is off the charts, and there is a cathartic satisfaction in being able to blow off the arms of your opponents.
MWO: What is the most difficult thing about making sure the ‘Mechs look and work correctly?
[THOMAS] It’s hard to please everyone. Every player is unique in their perception of what is happening. That is the biggest challenge is building something that will satisfy everyone.
[EVAN] It’s quite a challenge to compact every little detail of the ‘mech into one single texture map considering how many parts and components each ‘mech has. So texturing can be quite a challenge. The UVs in each mechs are immensely complex and an art in itself.
[ENRIQUE] Animating the Mechs proves to be a balancing act, since you don’t want them to move like an armor suit would. But they still are humanoid in shape, their locomotion has to reflect the fact that they’re tanks on two legs.
MWO: Do you have a favourite ‘Mech?
[THOMAS] Marauder II – MAD-5C
[ENRIQUE] Since the start of the project, the Hunchback has been my favorite, because it was the first concept art we saw from Alex, and I loved the direction he was taking with his design. Made me want start animating it right away! If you ever had wondered what an Abrams tank would look like if it ditched the threads, sprouted four limbs and started strutting his stuff around… that was exactly my first thought when I saw the re-design. That’s when I knew this game was going to rock.
MWO: Was seeing the videos from GDC exciting, or was it relaxing to finally know the fans had seen actual combat footage?
[THOMAS] The video was all for the fans to see what we have accomplished so far. The explosive reaction from the fans is what made the video release exciting.
[EVAN] It was definitely exciting to see the fan’s response. Really glad that we had a lot of good feedback.
[ENRIQUE] It was a relief to see the in-game videos finally out, because we knew that fans had been waiting so long for in-game footage, and it was very encouraging to read the many positive reactions.
MWO: Which weight class is your favourite: Light, Medium, Heavy, or Assault?
[THOMAS] Assault then Light.
[EVAN] Medium. I like the balance between strength, defence, and agility.
[ENRIQUE] With assault ‘mechs, it’s always fun to tower over an ongoing battle, raining fire upon them, but can feel frustratingly slow. You start hearing clanks in your back, and you want to turn around to answer their fire, and it seems to take ages to do an about face. I find that light ‘mechs get me in the thick of the battle too fast while I’m still trying to figure out my weapon groups, usually get there just in time to get blown apart. So far the Hunchback strikes the right balance.
MWO: What systems or options are there in MechWarrior Online to customize the way your ‘Mech works?
[THOMAS] Where to begin really… let’s put it this way. If something isn’t customizable but it should be, we’ll make it happen eventually. The beauty of frequently updated content is that we can listen to our fans and get it done for them.
[ENRIQUE] Designers will be able to answer that better than me, but I believe the weapon systems will be the main customization option, along with armor skins.
MWO: What makes MechWarrior Online different from other F2P games?
[THOMAS] You should never feel that because you can’t invest vast amounts of money into the game that in any way you’ll have less killing power than someone who can.
[EVAN] The vastness of MechWarrior universe.
[ENRIQUE] Once you play your first match you’ll keep coming back for more, MWO will be in your hard drive to stay! The look and feel will be definitely not your run-of-the mill F2P, and has something to offer to hard-core fans as well as newbies of the BattleTech/MechWarrior universe.
MWO: How do you ensure that ‘Mechs ‘feel’ as big as they are?
[THOMAS] Every one of us had to first get into one of these beasts and experience what it feels like firsthand so we could give the same experience to the player.
[EVAN] We put as much detail as possible while maintaining the overall look of the ‘mech. Small detail like ladders, bolts, vents, etc can be used for the scale comparison of how big the ‘mech is. The environments and props around the level also help to determine the scale of the ‘mechs.
[ENRIQUE] The obvious first step is building the ‘mechs to size in real world units, so the visual cues in the environment around you and other mechs (size of buildings, trees, cockpits) reflects the scale of your own machine. Equally important is movement to differentiate the category class that a mech belongs to ie. light, medium, heavy, assault: good animation timing and weight helps to communicate the Jenner’s agility vs. the lumbering bulkiness of the Atlas.
MWO: Which weapon system (lasers, autocannons, etc) are you most excited to work with? (I personally love the ‘clank!’ of the AC/20)
[THOMAS] I hate it when my ammo explodes…I have to go with medium lasers…maybe a dozen of them…then I overheat and explode…
[EVAN] I had so much fun working on Catapult’s LRM 15’s. Atlas’s autocannon was also great. And Hunchback’s cannon… and Dragon’s AC5… Actually, all of the weapons system in Mechwarrior: Online excite me very much. They are remarkable.
[ENRIQUE] During a playtest driving a Jenner, I realized the full power of the AC/20 when I was wiped out with a well-placed shot by Paul’s Atlas… I could hear that scoundrel’s evil cackle from the other side of the office. I learned never to approach an Atlas in a straight line again: zigzagging is a must, using Jenner’s speed to your advantage…,or sneak on ‘em from the back.
MWO: Are there any ‘Mechs you personally want to add in the future?
[THOMAS] Has to be my favorite mech, the Marauder II.
[ENRIQUE] The Catapult is currently. It’s looking like a mean SOB!!
MWO: Who would win in a 1 on 1 duel, you or Paul?
[THOMAS] When you engineer a weapon system, you become one with it. Paul stands little chance.
[EVAN] I would let Paul win…. sometimes :P
[ENRIQUE] Paul wins hands down, every time. But I’m waaaay easier on the eye than he will ever be, and nobody can take that away from me.
We hope everyone enjoyed this, and thank you for being the best fanbase ever! ;)