MechWarrior Tactics GDC 2012 Preview -- Tabletop Mechs Go Free-to-PlayBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Mar 09, 2012
In 2012, seeing something like MechWarrior Tactics looks like the closest thing to the MechWarrior series going back to its tabletop roots as we've seen in a long time. With the rise of the free-to-play PC market, having a renowned property like Mechwarrior does seem like a natural fit. Digital playing pieces do not have to be overly detailed, the short-term session can provide worthwhile battles during a lunch break, and it’s easy to see the randomized digital booster pack model working for MechWarrior.
For those who know the MechWarrior universe, Tactics will start off in the year 3025, which happens to be the same year the first version of the tabletop game was based in. This not only makes for a great starting point to grow the product, but it’s obviously a time period that the fans can related to. There’s actually no single-player campaign to help enhance the lore, but at least the 3025 date can help fans know what kinds of mechs to expect.
Like the analog version of MechWarrior, so much of Tactics’ appeal will be in collectability. Right from sign-up, the game will provide you with the “bucket of toys” so you can blow up mech as soon as possible. The randomized booster packs offer the typical variety of MechWarrior enhancements including resources, weapons, heat sinks, armor, and mech chassis.
It also wouldn’t be a mech game (MechWarrior or otherwise), without the freedom of customization. The Mech Bay is the user’s garage, and this area is what I believe will or won’t sell Tactics to the newcomers. The game’s spokesman was in agreement, which is why the Mech Bay will have a very convenient drag-and-drop interface. Yet there still a lot of depth to appreciate as there’ll be layers of information, numbers to crunch, and aesthetic customizations. If you want to get truly granular, weapon loadouts will be visible in every mech in the field (customized or otherwise) so you can use that as a variable when planning your attack.
The core combat is the classic Deathmatch set-up. In the MechWarrior scheme, it’s the Lance vs. Lance layout with four mechs per side. Of course each mech will have their own roles from the agile Spider to the highly offensive Atlas. The gameflow is not unlike Words With Friends where you can either have a speedy real-time match or have a You-Go-I-Go asynchronous session.
There’s added simplicity in the actual battle as there’s only two phases: Movement and Firing Declaration. Like the UI in the Mech Bay, the interface during battle is meant to be easy to understand for the MechWarrior first-timers. For those who want a clean UI, you can toggle off views like weapon info, armor values, and hit percentages.
Whereas the upcoming MechWarrior Online will run on the graphically intensive CryEngine 3, Tactics' board game layout and design will only require the services of the very popular Unity plug-in used in countless social and browser-based games. In keeping with classic tactics design, drama is added at every turn in the form of a very brief cutscene showing how all the strategic choices play out.
While this pre-alpha build only showed the action with one camera angle, the developers are looking into having wide variety of AI-controlled cameras to heighten the intensity. I’m certainly in favor of that as I’m one of those tactics players who prefers to toggle off battle cinematics if the game shows the same kind of cutscene over and over. For the truly memorable battles, a continuous end-to-end cinematic replay can also be played back and saved after the fight.