MechWarrior® Online™: First things first - give us a quick auto-biography.
[DION LINAKER] I have been designing interfaces in the games industry for the past 10 years at Electronic Arts, Bioware, Radical Entertainment, and Disney. I have always been interested in how the interface can influence and enhance the player’s experience. I find games offer unique challenges in designing user experiences in regards to UI because not only does the design of the interface need to communicate information intuitively but, it must also help support a level of immersion provided by the game play.
[COLIN HUANG] I joined Piranha Games as Database Administrator six months ago. Before this job I had been working on database design and maintenance for 15 years in several industries including online gambling (Bodog), engineering (MDA Corporation) and telecommunications (Pacific Bell).
[STEPHEN ANDRUSYSZYN] I was born and raised in upstate New York, then spent 20 years in the medical field before becoming a game programmer. I have for the last 12 years worked as a generalist programmer. Major games that I have worked on include Ghostbusters, Army of TWO, 40th day and Duke Nukem Forever.
MWO: What is it that you do day-to-day on MechWarrior Online?
[DION] My day-to-day here at MechWarrior Online is to review the game design and then try to understand how I can represent that information visually to the player. I am committed to providing the player an intuitive and immersive UI experience.
[COLIN] Design data models to meet the software requirements and setup test databases for development. After launch, I need to secure player data and maintain game database high availability.
[STEPHEN] I am the lead programmer on the front end UI.
MWO: What's the best part of your day? What's the worst?
[DION] One of the best parts of my day is checking out the MWO forums to see how everyone is engaging with the latest posts or concepts. It’s been great to be a part of a project that is involved with such a strong positive community, and how we all seem to be developing this project together.My past experiences with other projects has followed your typical game development timeline. You develop the project secretly behind closed doors until you reach the ship date, only then do you finally get to share it with the community.
[COLIN] Best part: Testing the MechWarrior game client and seeing the new game features got implemented. Worst part: When the design team changes requirements after the data model is implemented.
[STEPHEN] Best: When my kids call to say hi. Worst: Paperwork
MWO: What was your experience with MechWarrior prior to starting work on this game?
[DION] I will admit that my experience with MechWarrior was limited, I had played MechWarrior 4 and I had gone through the Battletech Technical Readouts( mainly to check out the visuals ), but only now since working on this project have I come to appreciate the history and depth of this Universe, and what PGI is going to bring to the player experience.
[COLIN] I didn’t play any MechWarrior games before. But I have started loving the series after reading the BT Tech Manual, understanding Mech Construction, Costs, and Battle Value, and playing in the Friday play tests.
[STEPHEN] Before working on MWO I had only briefly played MechWarrior 3.
MWO: Is there anything unique about working on MechWarrior online - something that really stands out?
[DION] I would have you refer to the earlier question about the ‘best part of my day’, but it is being a part of the larger MWO community that is special about this project.
[COLIN] MechWarrior has such a huge fan base. It is amazing to see how many fans have been registered in our database.
[STEPHEN] This is the first free-to-play game that I have worked on, that makes the development cycle rather unique. There is really no such thing as "alpha", only features that get rolled out for each iteration.
MWO: If you had to pick a faction, which one would it be?
[DION] I would have to pick House Marik because of its ideology and structure. The strong multicultural aspect reminds me of home here in Vancouver.
[COLIN] Capellan Confederation (House Liao).
[STEPHEN] House Liao.
MWO: Which part of the MechLab do you think will be the most popular?
[DION] I am a visual person and absorb myself in line and colour so I am biased towards the visual customization component of the MechLab.
[COLIN] Mech Tree and Pilot Tree. I think players would like to make their 'Mechs more and more efficient as they progress in the game play and the pilot skills can be customized to the role that player would like to devoted to. So I believe the Mech Tree and Pilot Tree will be visited by players very often.
[STEPHEN] Hard to say until we get it [out in the live environment].
MWO: What sort of customization of 'Mechs can fans look forward to with MWO?
[DION] I think fans can look forward to a customization experience that offers enough variety and depth. It will allow players a chance to configure and creatively represent their Mechs, without abandoning the canon of the MechWarrior Universe.
[COLIN] Bryan, Paul and David are constantly checking messages posted by fans in the forum. We are listening to what MechWarrior fans want.
[STEPHEN] There are three segments to customization: item configuration (weapons, ammo, armor etc.), visual customization, and modules (enhancements to abilities earned through experience).
MWO: Speaking of customization - which is your favourite 'Mech?
[DION] I have to admit that I have always been partial to the larger assaults like the Atlas or the Awesome, but after running around in the Jenner these past few weeks, I think I have found a new friend.
[COLIN] In term of customization, I would say Atlas. It is 100-ton Mech and has lots of options to customize.
[STEPHEN] The Dragon.
MWO: What do you think people will notice first when using the UI - it has unique look to it.
[DION] I realize that the presentation is as much a part of the UI experience as the information it conveys, but there is still a part of me that hopes that people will not notice the UI, having done its job and presented the information so that the players may succeed. But, having said that I also hope people will notice that we have tried to enhance the pilot experience and immerse the player into what it would be like to manage and pilot a Mech.
[COLIN] Players probably won't believe how high the quality of the game is when they first play it.
MWO: Which has been your favourite 'Mech to use in playtests?
[DION] As per the question before the last, I have become partial to the Jenner.
[COLIN] Jenner. It moves so fast and it's hard to be targeted.
[STEPHEN] The Jenner. Enough armor to last a while in battle and fast enough to evade the big boys.
MWO: Do you tend to like Energy, Ballistic, or Missile weapons?
[DION] I tend to use Energy weapons more. Closing in fast to deliver some heat then getting out before they can get a bead on me. Maybe it’s the excitement of skirting that edge of being too close for too long.
[COLIN] Hmm.. It is hard say to which one I like most. It depends on the situation. For example, I will use Missiles for long range and Energy and Ballistic for close fight. I tend to use Energy weapons more often during the play tests because I don’t need to worry about running out of ammo.
[STEPHEN] That depends on the situation. For hit and runs, energy weapons are most likely to be effective. Face to face battles an AC-20 can be formidable.
MWO: What is the one thing you think everyone should know about the MechLab?
[DION] I think everyone should know that the MechLab will offer the players a visual treat that will provide you with a place where you can relax and contemplate future conquests. A place where you can interact with your Mechs without the fear of being rained on by LRMs.
[COLIN] One 'Mech is made of many items - Chassis, Internal Structure, Armor, Cockpit, Engine, Gyroscope, Heat Sink, Weapons, Ammo, Module, Decal, Camo and etc. All these items are stored in player’s inventory database. Players can move some items from one 'Mech to another as long as it meets the tonnage and space requirements.
[STEPHEN] We will try to follow customization rules as closely as possible, but there will be some restrictions due to technical issues. We have plans to overcome these challenges though.
MWO: Has anyone done anything with the MechLab that surprised you?
[COLIN] Yes, the Art team has made the MechLab look so impressive. I was surprised when I first saw it in the recent build: “wow…this is great!”
[STEPHEN] So far, only the occasional abuse due to full restrictions not being in place yet. [ED: Someone (*coughMATTC*) stuffed his Catapult with 2000 missiles.]
MWO: What are your thoughts on the art style of the game?
[DION] I think the art style is very suited for our version of a Universe of giant mechanical war machines. The gritty rougher approach helps emphasize and support a more mechanical based machine. It implies a more down to earth working machine that is designed and operated by hands and not by aliens(if that makes any sense). I guess I mean, less supernatural science fiction. The style is more tangible perhaps even more relatable which speaks to the game play pillar of providing the player with the full pilot experience.
[COLIN] Sorry, I cannot provide the valuable thoughts on the art style as I am backend person.
[STEPHEN] Your asking a programmer about art? That's what we have Dion for.
MWO: What was your first 'live' game of MechWarrior Online like? What's it like seeing your work in action?
[DION] My first ‘live’ game was more about just absorbing the experience of everything that was happening to me as I piloted my Mech, from the feeling of speed I had as I accelerated past trees and around objects to the multiple warnings and distortion in the HUD as I began to absorb enemy blasts. I remember trying to close in tight on an enemy Mech so that I could be more precise with my lasers, but soon learned that I can only spend so much time within the range of the larger Mechs before I realize the expiration date of my strategy. Needless to say I am continuing to perfect my technique.
[COLIN] It was full of excitement and accomplishment.
[STEPHEN] It was quite delightful. Working on the front end I rarely get the chance to play around in the levels, much less actual combat. It is quite astounding the amount of progress the gameplay guys have done in such a short period.
MWO: What do you think the most popular thing to do in the MechLab will be? My guess is putting as many PPC's on 'Mechs as possible.
[COLIN] It is hard to predict. The simplest way to make a BattleMech perform better is to use XP earned in game on new things and add modules using pilot points.
[STEPHEN] You won't be able to go hog wild in the MechLab since you will have to adhere to restrictions in tonnage, space, etc. But certainly it will be fun to see people push the limits.
MWO: Is there any one message you'd like to give the fans?
[DION] If there was any message I would like to give the fans it would be that I hope your experience with MWO will be as fun and rewarding as mine has been so far.
[COLIN] Be ready. The giant 'Mechs are coming!
[STEPHEN] Have fun, and let us know what is not fun so we can fix it.
MWO: How many pink and purple 'Mechs do you think you'll see once the game launches?
[DION] Funny you should ask, the House Marik logo has a purple hue to it, which is the Faction I see myself picking. So in that case I hope to see lots.
[COLIN] I really don’t know but I saw some impressive 'Mech paintings in the forum and I am looking forward to seeing them in the game.
[STEPHEN] Since I am in charge of creating the interface that allows it, I’ll make sure that pink and purple ‘Mechs won’t last long on the battlefield
Thanks for reading everyone, we hoped you enjoyed it. I'd like to thank Dion, Colin, and Stephen for taking time out of their (insanely) busy day to answer these.