Hawken: The Developers Talk About Mech Combat From The Outside In


Posted October 20, 2011 - By Dennis Scimeca

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Hawken: Mech Combat From The Outside In

If you're a fan of mech games, then you're going to want an inside look at Hawken. Last week we presented a brief history of the mech game genre to prep you for this new mech game in development. If you love mech games, then you probably already know what we’re talking about. For everyone else, here's a brief review:

In March of this year, a trailer popped up on the radar of the games press for a new mech shooter that looked incredibly polished. We were amazed to hear that the game was the work of only nine developers at Adhesive Games, using the Unreal Engine, and that the trailer was the product of only nine months’ worth of development. The level of polish on display was something that major studios could spend years to achieve on their AAA titles.

X-Play spoke with Adhesive Games Art Director Khang Le two months later to get our first inside look at Hawken, and we spoke with Khang Le again this week to talk about his background, get caught up on how development of the game is proceeding, Adhesive Games’s pursuit of a publishing deal, what a “mech combat FPS” is, and when we can expect to see the finished title.

In your interview with Edge magazine in April, you said that you’ve designed a lot of robots for movies and video games. Would we recognize any of these projects?

Actually, all of the [game] projects that I worked on, primarily sci-fi projects, they never got made. I worked on this game called Freelancer 2, a space game from Microsoft, and I was working on another spaceship game that was never made, but recently I worked on Robopocalypse with Steven Spielberg, and I think that’s coming out soon.

What was the 2D title that Adhesive Games was working on before you began developing Hawken?

I can’t say much about that yet. That was supposed to be the title we were going to work on initially, because most of us came off from Project Offset, and we were doing a lot of high-end 3D graphic engine building, so we wanted to take a break from that after Intel and do something simpler. Then I realized that the core team was very experienced in 3D, so a 3D game would have been a better project for us. But it was supposed to be a very Monster Hunter-esque 2D game with a Miyazaki kind of look.

What does the title “Hawken” mean?

(laughs) So, Hawken…it’s actually kind of funny. The first concept art I did for this thing was way back in the end of ’09. That’s when the idea of a mech game sort of started. I’m usually pretty terrible with naming things.

One of the guys we worked with here is James Hawkins. He’s a 3D artist. He’s not with us anymore, but at the time I was trying to make fun of him, so I just called the game [after] his last name “Hawkins.” We made this sort of movie-poster looking thing, just for fun, and [the title] just sort of got stuck.

We couldn’t come up with a better-sounding name. We had “Bolthead,” we had “Steel Vultures,” a ton of other names like that, but [Hawken was] just the name that had a cool sound everyone liked. And gameplay, you have a lot of aerial kind of movement where you kind of swoop into the enemy, so it sort of makes sense for us, too.

takes place on a post-apocalyptic, human colony world, where factions are fighting for resources. Can you tell us anything new about how the story or background are developing?

The core of the game is multiplayer, so we were focusing much more on the gameplay than the story. Right now we’re actually working with Hollywood writers to piece together a much richer world, but it’s not at a stage yet where I can reveal much.

Are you working with those Hollywood writers as a result of the film interest?

Yeah. The film rights currently are being shopped around by DJ2 Entertainment.

You’ve labeled Hawken a “mech combat FPS.” You’ve also said that Hawken plays more like Call of Duty than a simulation-type mech game, like MechWarrior. Where is the line drawn between an FPS game and a mech game?

What I really like about the old MechWarrior games was the sense of a giant lumbering mech. A mech in Hawken is not as big. I think they’re basically three human heights tall…around 15 tons to 20 tons. The reason for going more towards FPS than a simulated mech game was I always liked the idea of driving a big mech in a game, but whenever I played them, I never had as much fun as I did with a shooter game. The gameplay tends to end up being more like a Civil War type of thing where once you see another mech everyone starts circling each other and then firing until somebody dies.

It didn’t feel strategic. It was more about like what weapon you were choosing and stuff like that. It’s not about your aiming or dodging skill. So, for [Hawken] we tried to have a hybrid between a MechWarrior game and like a Virtual On, Halo-esque kind of game. I really liked the Virtual On back in the arcade.

Is it fair to say that these mechs are more battlesuits than mechs in the classic sense?

Yeah, I would say so. They’re bigger than the typical battlesuit you see in like an anime, but they’re not nearly as big as the mechs you see in MechWarrior where they’re many stories tall. They’re basically around 18 feet tall.

When I watched the gameplay footage it reminded me very much of Heavy Gear. We classify Heavy Gear as a mech game, but it feels very much like an FPS.

I think a mech game is more about the choices you make than your aiming and twitch skill. It’s about resource management and which weapons you use against the enemy at certain ranges and things like that. We tried to keep those elements in there to make it feel like a mech game. We have overheat, we have the fuel gauge that you really watch out for when you side-dash and things like that, and we’re going to keep adding more of that sort of thing to make it feel like a machine … so it’s not just a FPS dressed up to look like a mech game. We’re trying to have a balance between that and the Halo and Virtual On side where it’s about getting behind cover, your aiming skills, how quickly you can dodge a homing missile lock-on, things like that.

Do you think the mech game audience and the first person shooter audience are the same audience?

I think there’s definitely a difference between them. I mean, even within the mech game genre itself there’s a lot of different camps. You know, there’s the Armored Core, like Japanese sort of fan base where they have very quick and fast movements, and the weapons already lock on, you just have to press fire. And then there’s MechWarrior, where it’s much more hardcore, you know, [the] Steel Battalion kind of crowd.

I think FPS games are mostly about your aiming skills, and your understanding of the space, the cover, the situation, so we try to weld the two together, between the twitch and the strategic.

You’ve said that you don’t want players “to spend so much time customizing their mech.” Isn’t customization something that mech fans traditionally want?

We’re actually changing that. The game is actually going to come out with much more customization than we had planned for.

The reason why I said that in the first place is because the game that we originally set out to make was a very action-based game, and we didn’t want players to spend lots of time tinkering too much with the mech instead of just jumping in and playing a battle. I noticed in games like Armored Core or Chromehounds the beginner players end up spending a lot of time building mechs, but they’re building the wrong types of mechs. I didn’t want that to have to happen [in Hawken]. We want the mechs to all have a level playing field. We didn’t want the customization to get in the way of that, but there is turning out to be much more customization.

Hawken E3 Gameplay Demo »

Is the battleship in the sky a support mechanism or an environmental hazard?


It’s actually of very central importance in one of the game modes called Siege Mode. It’s basically like a tank escort kind of mission. You use the battleship to destroy the enemy’s base. The players themselves can’t destroy the objective, which is the enemy base, but the battleship can. So, the whole gameplay of that mode is to collect enough resources to launch the battleship to destroy the enemy’s base, but then [the enemy] can also shoot it down and collect energy units, and then they can launch their own ship and it goes back and forth like that.

It feels like very simple RTS. We didn’t want [Hawken] to feel like a mindless shooting game, so, actually, that’s the mode right now we’re having the most fun with.

You’ve stressed the importance of the jetpack in all of your interviews and trailers thus far. Are we going to find a lot of elevated positions in which to place our mechs?

Yeah, definitely. The game has a lot of vertical elements. I think that’s why the Hawken title is kind of fitting, because right now I would say at least 50% of the battle plays out in the air. There’s a lot of people flying, swooping in, but there’s also a lot of walking because you can’t abuse it. Your fuel gauge has to be replenished before you can jump again [but] yeah, there’s definitely a lot of verticality to the gameplay.

Were those all light mechs in the trailers so far?

They were medium and light. The heavy one hasn’t been shown.

Any idea when we’re going to get our first look at the heavy mechs?

It will be a while. We’re gonna go sort of low-key for a while. The reason why we have all this video releasing is to get the public interest. … We’re basically close to signing a deal. We should go focus on making the game again, because it takes a lot of time and effort to make trailers and stuff like that, so we just want to get back to work and just focus on making the game.

So you found your publisher at this point?


The RPG points you’ve mentioned that are used to customize mechs before a battle: Are there going to be more options besides “speed,” “defense” and “offense” to put those points into?

Yeah, there probably will be. We’re revamping that whole UI interface, and there will be more customization. We’re definitely listening to what the fans are saying on the forums, and trying to make everyone happy. You know, there’s a certain vision for Hawken, but at the same time we want to please the fans.

Are you planning on supporting Hawken with downloadable content?

Yeah. For sure.

Is Adhesive Games still running with 9 people, or has the attention from the press warranted expanding the team to get the game ready faster?

Okay, so, Adhesive Games was originally six core people with three spots for interns on rotation. (laughs) All of our interns went back to school recently, so we’re actually back down to six right now, actually seven. We’re close to signing a deal and we’re hiring more people, so the team actually should be growing pretty fast, pretty soon.

Your first demo in March was already looking very polished after only 9 months’ work. Could you guess how long it would have taken you to get to the same place in a corporate structure?

That’s a difficult question. The reason why we did a mech game, not just because like I’m a fan of the mechs and I used to love drawing robots and stuff like that, is actually we only had one animator on the team prior to starting out on this project, while we were still planning to do a 2D side-scroller. So we were like “Okay, one animator, we’re doing a 3D game, so I don’t think we can do a lot of human characters,” because that requires a lot of animation work. So we knew it had to be something robotic.

Sci-fi is also much faster to build in terms of environment, because you can repeat elements. You can’t repeat like one broken column ten times, it would look very weird like in a fantasy game or like in a real world kind of game, but you can repeat one techie-looking column like a hundred times and actually it’s fine. [Hawken] is a very modular design set that we can build in very quickly and keep the visual fidelity high. The reason Hawken can look high fidelity is the art direction that we chose, to keep very few pieces made, but then we can use them in very unique ways, and make it look much more impressive than it really is.

That’s the kitbashing you’ve talked about.

I mean, if we were doing Grand Theft Auto, like New York or something, there’s no way we could have that sort of fidelity level for nine guys. It looks good because, we just picked the “most bang for our buck” kind of art style.

Are PC/360/PS3 still the target distribution platforms?

Uh, I actually can’t comment on that at this point.

So that might be changing?

That might be changing, yeah.

Are you still on target for an early 2012 release?

No, actually, and I can’t even comment on that either.

You can’t even give us maybe a financial quarter? A rough idea?

Uh, actually, I can’t reveal that, no. Sorry.

No, don’t be sorry. It’s my job to ask, your job to say no in this case.


Dennis Scimeca is a freelancer from Boston, MA. His weekly video game opinion column, First Person, is published by Village Voice Media. He occasionally blogs at punchingsnakes.com, and can be followed on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.

Hawken: The Developers Talk About Mech Combat From The Outside In


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