Can You Say Melee? How About Merch? Anyone Want a Production Update?
Mitch here, back again with our final update of 2016. It’s a long one, so smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em....
Man, what a whirlwind of activity in our little studio! (Did you know we sit at 4’x2’ desks crammed up against each other all day?) The bees are buzzing up the hive but good, pushing hard to prepare for our Kickstarter Backer Beta next year. Expect news on that topic in a KS Update in early 2017. Today, we’ll go in-depth on a feature we’ve been teasing a looong time - melee! We’ll also give you some insight on everything we’ve been working on since we put out our Super-Pre-Alpha video in August. And HUZZAH! The official BattleTech Crowdfunded Merch site is officially open! Woo hoo! I want ALL THE THINGS!
Okay MechWarriors, let’s get to it!
Melee! Melee! Melee!
Hello! This is your friendly neighborhood Design Lead, Kiva Maginn, with some new information about how we’ve approached one of our most-anticipated game features: giant robots punching other giant robots in the face!
When we started working on melee, I proposed a single overarching goal: once you’re close enough to punch someone, punching should usually be the right thing to do (or at the very least, it shouldn’t ever be the wrong thing to do). There are a few reasons for this, mostly having to do with the speed and intensity of battles. When battles get in close, it’s not all that much fun to spin in circles around each other, trying to get a good back-shot but otherwise standing mostly in one place. I wanted the final stage of a battle, when ‘Mechs are in spitting distance of each other, to be brutal and decisive. Once you’re that close, the fight’s about to be over one way or another.
One of the first decisions we had to make was: how many different melee attacks are there? On one hand, offering a wide variety of options makes the experience more involved; when you choose to “kick” and your results clearly reflect your choice, it feels like your decisions mattered. But on the other hand, the risk of offering a variety of choices is that some of those choices are always sub-optimal, and thus act as a trap, encouraging less-experienced players to make the wrong choice.
As well, the more time we spent on the weapons UI, the less we wanted to force a similar level of complexity into other parts of the game. It’s really important that you be able to pick and choose which weapons will fire and at which target, so we can’t really avoid that level of complexity. But melee attacks seemed to come down to a simple choice: do you punch, hoping for a head hit, or do you kick, hoping for a leg hit?
This dovetailed with another issue I wanted to address, which is the frequency of head hits. Generally, head hits are fun and interesting and provide an element of chaos and sudden reversals to battles, and I approve of that (Mitch says, “Watching McCain lose his Atlas in the Super-Pre-Alpha video was one of the great joys of my life.”) but it’s a lot different when the victim of the head shot is your prize MechWarrior, whom you’ve carefully guided through dozens of hours of gameplay. It’s interesting when a veteran MechWarrior dies; it’s less interesting when it happens abruptly, through no fault of yours, at the whim of a single random die-roll from a lucky punch.
The third element that we considered is how melee looks. In an abstract system, we can just declare that a ‘Mech punches, kicks, shoulder-checks, or whatever seems appropriate. Even if it’s an Atlas punching a Commando, we can basically imagine how that would work. But in our game, we’ve committed to animating every single attack so that it looks like something that could hit and do damage. That means the Atlas has to kick a Commando; its punch will swing wildly over the Commando’s head.
Bringing these three concerns together -- complexity, head shots, and visual consistency -- we decided to collapse all melee actions down to just one, “Engage”. When you engage, we look at your relative size, your relative position above or below the target, whether you have arms suitable for punching, whether those arms are intact or blown off, and so forth. Then we pick an attack that best fits what you have available.
To ensure this isn’t unfair to some ‘Mechs, we also collapsed all the consequences of the attacks into one outcome. This means that, in terms of effect, a punch and a kick are the same thing, a shoulder check is the same as a punch, and so forth. Some ‘Mechs are still more powerful in melee than others due to both tonnage and design; the Atlas is always going to wreak more melee destruction than the Catapult. But every ‘Mech can melee, regardless of their build.
The system works like this: every ‘Mech has an “engagement range” at which it can move up and take a swing at an enemy. If you’re within the engagement range of a target when you start your action, that target gets a gold box around it to show that you can punch it. Then, as your entire action for the round, you move up and swing (or kick, or shoulder-check, or stomp).
Which of the possible attacks you perform is based on your ‘Mech, your opponent’s ‘Mech, and your relative heights. If you’re standing on a hillside facing an Atlas whose head comes up to your waist, you’re going to kick the Atlas. If you’re driving a Catapult, you’ll kick or body-check, but never punch (you have no real arms!). If you engage a vehicle or a downed enemy, you’ll try to stomp them instead of kicking. The goal is to make sure that whatever your situation, the attack looks and feels like it solidly connected.
‘Mechs do melee damage based on their tonnage, and whether they’re particularly good at melee -- you can build your ‘Mech to be a punching machine by installing melee-focused actuator upgrades, and Jordan and I both still dream of one day getting the Hatchetman. In keeping with the goal of making close-range melee a decisive moment in battle, the damage is tuned to be quite large. After all, you’ve had to walk up under a hail of fire from every long-range and mid-range ‘Mech, survive all of that mostly intact, and then hit with an attack. Gambling all that on a single attack roll is risky, so we want to be sure you’re well-rewarded for doing so.
Probably more important than the damage of a melee attack is the instability it inflicts. Melee is by far the easiest way to knock another ‘Mech down. Especially if you outweigh the target, you can put them on the ground with just one or two attacks, leaving them vulnerable to further attacks and forcing them to stand up on their action instead of moving. And, of course, when you fall down, if your MechWarrior fails her piloting roll, she’ll take an Injury. Enough knockdowns and an enemy pilot could end up as a red paste inside the cockpit.
We also wanted ‘Mechs to be able to use some of their weapons in melee, but that led to a problem: even as powerful as punching was, short-range, high-damage weapons like the AC/20 were the kings of melee. We wanted melee range combat to be for everyone, not just the Atlas and the King Crab. So when you punch, you don’t use all your weapons.
This turned out to be an excellent opportunity to address a part of the game I wasn’t satisfied with: the small weapons. Machine guns, small lasers and flamers are woefully underpowered, underused, and generally a poor choice when you’re customizing. Especially when melee is so powerful relative to other weapons, why would you ever fire your small laser at all?
So the small weapons are simply incorporated into your melee attack. If you have them, and you punch, you also fire any small weapons you have. For a good time, get in close with a Firestarter and punch the enemy. You’ll also blast them with four flamers worth of damage and heat, on top of the punch itself. It’s pretty great, and gives ‘Mechs with high tonnage and small weapons (looking at you, Battlemaster) a reason to have the small weapons: the punch rips off the target’s armor, and the MGs spew possible criticals into the structure.
I’ve talked about how we rolled most of the melee actions together into one overall “Engage” action, but there’s one melee attack we kept separate. We knew from the start that we’d be including the Death From Above attack as a special and deliberate action. It’s too iconic a moment to not let you choose it yourself.
If your ‘Mech has jump jets, and you’re within the melee engagement range, you can jump and land on top of your target, smashing them to the ground. It’s powerful, does a ridiculous amount of damage, smashes your legs up something fierce, and it looks really damn cool.
In a recent fight, I DFAed an enemy with my Shadowhawk (and let me tell you, the SH is nothing to sneeze at when you use it as primarily a melee attacker). I landed as the enemy ‘Mech’s head and center torso both turned black. I’d basically ripped it in half with the DFA. Mission accomplished.
After several rounds of iteration (as always!), we're very happy with the state of melee in the game. It feels really satisfying to engage in, and ensures that the battles that make it to close quarters become bloody and decisive, rather than bogging down in frustration. We're excited for you to punch 'Mechs in the Kickstarter Beta next year!
Mitch again. We’re still up to our eyeballs in work (gotta end the year strong) so to keep things focused we’ve put together a list of all the stuff we can remember doing since GenCon ‘16. Since we’re not going for a long verbose explanation of everything (or a super-high level overview of everything either) feel free to hit us up with questions in the ASK THE DEVS section of our forums on battletechgame.com and someone will try and answer you when they get some spare cycles.
- Updated, expanded, and refined the combat interface
- Added multi-targeting (so you can split your fire between more than one enemy).
- Added melee (including Death From Above)
- Added commander abilities such as calling in airstrikes and artillery barrages
- Added pilot skills and activatable combat abilities
- Deepened the Line of Sight and detection mechanics to give more utility to careful scouting and misdirection; pilot skill determines how much information you can get from a radar blip
- Implemented the first version of the MechWarrior inspiration system, where continued aggression allows you to build and maintain momentum
- Created a plot system which allows maps to reconfigure certain areas based on the encounter that uses them, swapping buildings and entire installations to increase reusability
- Refined our map-making process for missions to the point that we can create now a final map (on the design side) in a single day
- Made a bunch of neat maps of both the highlands/alpine and lowlands/farm variety
- Began constructing many cool enemy encounters to place on said maps.
- Tuned the bonuses and penalties from environmental features like forest and high ground to emphasize the role of terrain and positioning
- Played a lot of BlazeRush at lunch
- Added "Influence Map" system to allow the AI to select intelligent positions and orientations to move to
- Increased sophistication of choosing weapons for AI attacks
- Configurable AI Heat Management, with tactical withdrawals
- AI “personality” support
- "Corridor Map" strategic (long range) pathfinding for AI units
- Lots of work on weapon visual effects, including lighting effects
- Lots of new audio effects
- Added heat visual effects for ‘Mechs and environmental features
- Added an audio emote system, greatly increasing and prioritizing the list of things MechWarriors could talk about in combat
- Massive load time performance improvements
- Lots of improvements to overall environment art process to allow for more polish control
- Created new road system with several custom art presets to quickly lay out dirt tracks, asphalt roads, and even rivers
- Fully revamped rendering with proper physically based rendering and atmospherics
- Fog of war improvements, including the ability to coordinate visual effects with mood
- Developed a system for mission “moods” which change the atmosphere, lighting, and colors
- Set up a proper wind system with better visual results
- Made our first pass at water with shallow and deep water effects
- Built out a huge set of “environment stamps” for us to quickly create map landscapes
- Major improvements to procedural placement of foliage and ground texturing
- Revamped and improved environment surface rendering and visuals
- Finalized a complete process for creating destructible buildings
- Made lots of new buildings and structures
- Created two full new “biomes” with distinct geology and vegetation sets
- Made lots of small decoration elements like barriers, light poles, decorative vehicles, etc.
- Made lots of new trees, bushes and foliage
- Made lots of new rocks (Yay rocks!)
- Tons of work on animations and ‘Mech functionality
- Lots of new ‘Mechs fully animated, textured, and working in-game
- Completed an opening cinema for the game. (No, you can’t see it, yet. We’ll release it when the project is ready to get some “buzz”.)
- Planned out the entire single-player story campaign, outlined all cutscenes and story events, wrote the opening and closing cutscene scripts.
- Planned out the entire mercenary simulation game, and started implementing the infrastructure to support it
- Built the first draft of the user experience for the mercenary simulation game
- Built the initial skirmish mode interface, allowing you to choose your ‘Mechs, map, and encounter
- Ran our first internal multiplayer games!!!
- Fixed a metric shit-ton of bugs
- And even more things that I’m sure we’re forgetting...
So what does all of this work add up to? In a word, “PROGRESS.” The team is focused, collaborating beautifully, and using their time very wisely. The passion for the work is obvious and we’re having fun making and playing the game. I’m pleased to report that the project reached an important milestone last week, as the team completed an Alpha version of the combat game and sent it out to friends and family for feedback. As mentioned in our last Kickstarter Update, this is a major step in preparing for our Kickstarter Backer Beta next year.
Now that the combat game has reached “Alpha” (note, just the combat game, not the campaign or multiplayer!) we’re rapidly expanding from that foundation, with development of the Mercenary sim-game, story campaign, cinematics, and multiplayer. And from a schedule POV, we’re tracking well towards our Kickstarter Backer Beta target. As a long time Producer and Executive Producer, I can tell you that this is one of the best managed games I’ve ever been a part of and that my overall confidence is quite high. Of course, that experience also tells me that shit happens and to expect the unexpected. I’m still not worried, though. The BATTLETECH team’s ability to “improvise, adapt, and overcome” is fantastic and I’m impressed by their ability to efficiently and unflinchingly attack any problem they encounter.
Remember last update when I said this was gonna happen fast? Well guess what? BattleTechGear.com is LIVE! As in, right freaking now!
If you haven’t heard, thanks to a new licensing agreement with The Topps Company, (who own the intellectual property rights for physical goods) HBS can now able to offer a limited amount of BattleTech merchandise. Because we’re only able to offer a limited number of items, we want each of these limited editions to be special. Say hello to the first batch of items available now!
Again, due to limitations in the license and in order to ensure that none of the funding you put towards developing BATTLETECH is at risk, we’ve set a minimum order quantity for each item and will only manufacture exactly what you order. Think of it kind of like crowdfunding - until we have enough committed orders, we won’t make the item or complete your credit card payment, and then we’ll only manufacture what is ordered.
And Finally, A HUGE Thanks & Happy Holidays From HBS!
Thank so much for all your support this year. Making games is stupidly hard and I can’t tell you how much it buoys us to know you’re out there, excited to play what we’re cooking up and cheering us on towards the finish line.
We held our annual holiday party this weekend and it was warm and wonderful, as always. There’s nothing quite like a horde of well-dressed nerds descending on a local dive bar to make heads turn! This place had a pinball room, an old arcade games room, and a boardgame room, plus a full bar. As you might guess, we were in our element.
Have a joyous and safe holiday and we’ll see you in the New Year… of BATTLETECH!
-- Mitch and the gang
P.S. A Holiday Gift From MechWarrior Online
In addition to being fantastic hosts at MechCon a couple weeks ago, our friends at Piranha have sent along a little MWO holiday gift for everyone. Enjoy!
This Gift Code Expires Jan 3rd, 2017.