Mech_Con 2016 is now in its closing hours, and if you've been watching on our Twitch.tv livestream or keeping up with the various posts discussing the event and some of the presentations, you've already had a look at what's to come for MechWarrior Online in our December patch and further into 2017.
While the Mech_Con reveal of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries - a standalone, single-player, story-driven campaign in development by a separate, dedicated team at Piranha Games - is sure to be garnering lots of attention, there were also a number of awesome announcements for MechWarrior Online, which will continue to maintain its full development cycle unabated.
Before we look ahead to the final patch of 2016, and what's in store for MechWarrior Online in 2017, we'd first like to take a moment and look back at the past year of development for MechWarrior Online.
January marked the beginning of a monthly patch cycle; a change from the bi-monthly (twice a month) patch cycle we had established way back in the days of our initial launch. While hot-fixes between our full patches remain a component of this live game, the number of fixes released in our monthly patches this year have had a drastic impact and range of improvements as a result of this cycle change.
January was also the first month following our launch onto Steam the previous year, on December 10th. Though many existing players continued to use our standalone client and patcher for launching MechWarrior Online, Steam has had a noticeable impact on the total size of the playerbase.
Subsequent months in 2016 saw a number of significant features and changes, many of which constituted either entirely new additions to MechWarrior Online, or types of additions not seen since earlier years, including:
• Two brand new Quick Play maps - Polar Highlands and Grim Plexus - along with full revamps or art updates for four existing maps: Frozen City, Viridian Bog, Crimson Strait, and Terra Therma.
• The introduction of four more classic and iconic 'Mechs from BattleTech history, brought back into the fold of modern MechWarrior with the release of the Warhammer, Archer, Rifleman, and Phoenix Hawk.
• The release of the Domination Game Mode in March, our first Quick Play mode since the introduction of Skirmish in 2013.
• The 2K texture normalization, also in March, which standardized a high level of texture fidelity for all 'Mechs.
• The completion of the comprehensive 'Mech Re-Scale project in June.
• The release of the Command Wheel, also in June, empowering MechWarriors with greater communication abilities to maximize coordination.
• The release of the Decal system in July, ushering in a new era of aesthetic 'Mech customization.
• The release of a dramatic quality-of-life improvement, also in July, in the form of sweeping optimizations to the MechLab saving systems.
• The release of Multiple Drop Decks for Faction Play in August, along with the addition of 'Mech Favoriting, Supply Caches, and the In-Game Cart system.
• The long-requested release of Stock 'Mech Mode in September, enabling players to easily run pure, stock Loadout matches through Private Lobbies.
• The release of another optimization pass in October, focused toward improving the responsiveness of an array of MechLab actions.
Of particular note for 2016 was the April release of Faction Play Phase 3, a major update to Faction Play which introduced the Career system, the Planetary Reinforcement and Planet Value systems, Loyalist War Planning, Leaderboards, and the release of the Faction Play Scouting Game Mode. Since then we've released incremental improvements, adjustments, and fixes to Faction Play systems, along with additional Quick Play maps receiving support for the Scouting Game Mode.
Even with the release of Phase 3 however, and the incremental changes and improvements seen in later patches, Faction Play still undoubtedly requires much additional work to achieve the goals that you the playerbase, and we at PGI, truly want from the feature.
Our next step toward realizing those goals - Faction Play Phase 4.1 - is releasing on December 13th 2016, with major work continuing on Faction Play in 2017.
The above selection of 'marquee' features only paints a portion of the total picture, however. A multitude of other additions, changes, and improvements made their way into patches throughout the year - far too many list here - and constant work was performed by our programmers, artists, and support staff in 2016 to resolve a significant number of issues; new and old, large and small.
2016 also saw a range of balance changes, such as the redesign of the Flamer weapon, the introduction of MASC, and an array of tweaks to 'Mech Quirks, equipment, and weaponry throughout the year.
It must be said that 2016 has not been without its missteps and mistakes; some quite avoidable, others the natural result of working with a live, constantly-updated game. While we can't claim mistakes and missteps will never occur as MechWarrior Online continues its ongoing development, we are resolute in our dedication toward addressing such issues when they do occur.
That said, it is not sufficient to simply acknowledge and accept that mistakes are inevitable, nor to assume they can simply be addressed after-the-fact; we must strive harder to prevent them from happening at all.
We are dedicated to MechWarrior Online, and we are dedicated to you, our fans and players. 2016 has been a year of great progress for MechWarrior Online when taken as a whole, and we have every intention of doing our best to not just mimic the same kind of progress in 2017, but to chart new paths and continue expanding the depth and scope of MechWarrior Online.
All of us here at Piranha Games would like to thank all of you for a stellar 2016, and for continuing to take to the battlefields of the Inner Sphere as a MechWarrior. We are extremely excited for the continued development of MechWarrior Online in 2017, and we hope you are as well.
So now, we look ahead to December and beyond.
Faction Play Phase 4.1
Our latest major update to Faction Play releases in December, with significant changes to Factional warfare mechanics, a refocusing of the Faction Play interface, the introduction of a new Tug Of War system for active battles, the replacement of Long Tom Artillery with a Radar Jammer Planetary Upgrade, the integration of Quick Play modes into Faction Play, new support for special Faction Play events, and more. We've chosen to call this update Faction Play Phase 4.1, both to signal the start of a new development phase and to stress that this is only the first of future updates and improvements planned for Faction Play as we renew its focus in 2017.
Escort Game Mode
Escort, an all-new asymmetric Game Mode for MechWarrior Online, arrives in the December patch. Teams are split between Attackers and Defenders, each with their own victory condition. Defenders must ensure the AI-controlled Atlas 'Mech reaches the Extraction Zone in time for evacuation; the Attackers must do everything in their power to destroy that Atlas and prevent its escape. While the Attackers must also contend with destructible Defense Turrets, enemy Support Towers can be captured to aid the attack with additional ECM and/or Radar support.
Outside of the MechWarrior Academy, this new Escort Game Mode features the first implementation of AI-controlled 'Mechs in MechWarrior Online. The work performed to introduce this initial presence of AI also has some additional benefits elsewhere, which leads us to our next December feature.
'Mech Collision Improvements
The work required to implement reliable mobility for the AI-controlled Atlas 'Mech at the center of the new Escort Game Mode necessitated a re-evaluation of 'Mech collision code as a whole. As a result of this work, 'Mech-on-'Mech collisions will now operate much more smoothly, causing less 'rubber-banding' and warping. These improvements should have a great effect on the feel of close-quarters combat.
Competitive 1v1 'Steiner Coliseum' Private Lobby Map
The 'grey-boxed' 1v1 Private Lobby map introduced in a previous patch this year has undergone a comprehensive art pass for this December patch. The result is Steiner Coliseum, a Solaris-themed Private Lobby map focused toward competitive 1v1 matches.
Gameplay and Quirk Changes
A number of balance and gameplay changes will be present in the December patch, including Quirk adjustments for 14 'Mechs (12 IS, 2 Clan), Heat Capacity and Engine Dissipation improvements for both Clan and Inner Sphere Double Heat sinks, along with a few ballistic and missile weaponry tweaks, including improvements to the Damage and Spread of both Clan and Inner Sphere Machine Guns.
The line of Clan IIC 'Mechs grows by one significant entry in this patch with the release of the Marauder IIC chassis to eligible MechWarriors. This 85-ton Clan Assault 'Mech, a full 10-tons heavier than its Inner Sphere predecessor, is likely to be a devastating presence on the battlefields of the Inner Sphere.
In addition to the above 'marquee' items, the December patch will of course include some additional items, such as improvements to the Domination Game Mode on Alpine Peaks, new Decals, more 'Mech Pattern Retrofits, new Cockpit Items, and more.
As usual, the above December Roadmap is only a broad outline. All of the details for the December patch - including Design Notes for the relevant balance changes - will be provided in the full Patch Notes, to be posted
Friday December 9th by 6 PM PST in the evening of Friday December 9th.
Assault Game Mode Revamp
A revamp of the Assault Game Mode has been underway for some months now, and while it was originally slated for release much earlier in the year, the revamp wasn't quite heading in a direction we were satisfied with. The core components of Assault that we wanted to address do still remain as our design goals, above all our desire to put the focus back on the primary objective: capturing the opposing base.
Assault is now currently planned for early 2017, and as stated back in July, we do still intend on running an Assault PTS session sufficiently prior to release to garner feedback and test it in the wild. The exact date of that PTS, along with the exact date of release for Assault, are yet to be determined.
All-new Skill Tree
The Skill Tree revamp is set for release in early 2017. This is going to be a significant change for 'Mech performance customization and specialization, providing you with greater control over the performance-focus of your individual 'Mechs.
All past Module purchases will be refunded to you in whole, and all GXP and 'Mech XP spent on Skill or Module unlocks will be carried over as 'Legacy GXP', to be used at-will for unlocking new nodes in the revamped Skill Tree system for any variant.
Continued Faction Play updates
Faction Play Phase 4 begins with the release of 4.1 in the December patch, but much work is still required to achieve the goals that you the playerbase, and we at PGI, truly want from the feature. We are committed to the improvement of Faction Play, and are very much looking forward to its further development in 2017.
Additional improvements to the in-game chat systems are slated for 2017, with new levels of persistence and refinement.
Improved Spectator Tools
The Private Match Spectator system received a lot of use during the MechWarrior Online World Championships, and an array of improvements are in store for 2017 to improve the system further.
As with Assault, the restoration of 'Mech IK was a feature we had originally intended to implement earlier in the year. The performance concerns that initially spurred its removal back in 2012 have been addressed, but some concerns about the aesthetics of IK behavior with certain 'Mechs on certain environmental objects delayed its release. As other features of greater direct importance came in IK had to be delayed in 2016, but is still planned for release in 2017.
New 'Mechs for the battlefield
Roughneck (the first, all-new canon 'Mech designed by Alex Iglesias and Piranha Games)
....and an as-yet unannounced Light 'Mech
The items outlined above are only a selection of things you can expect to see in 2017; the year is shaping up to include more waves of quality-of-life improvements and refinements, along with an array of additional items and features currently in the planning and design phase, to be revealed once ready for preliminary announcement.
With your continued support and feedback we aim to make 2017 another great year for MechWarrior Online.
Thank you for your playing, MechWarriors.