The original MechAssault stood as one of the best reasons to get Xbox Live when the game launched in November of 2002. The fast-paced, arcade-style game put an accessible spin on the Mech Warrior universe that had an undeniable appeal. The impressive visuals were complemented by a good array of game modes, including Xbox Live multiplayer, which ensured that players kept coming back. For the sequel, Microsoft and developer Day 1 Studios are cooking up more than just a "by the numbers" sequel. Mech Assault 2 sounds as though it's going to be fully loaded and then some. We talked to producer TJ Wagner about what to expect from the upcoming game, which is due later this year.
GameSpot: How satisfied were you with the original MechAssault?
TJ Wagner: Overall, we were very pleased. MechAssault is the second-most-played game on Xbox Live (since Microsoft launched the service), and the feedback on the overall game has been exceptional. Ultimately, developers are judged on how their products sell, and in Day 1's case, we feel good about the financial results. We know we can do even better, and we will.
What would we like to do better? Every time a game is released, a development team wishes they could have a little more time to tweak a few aspects of the game. MechAssault is no different. The single-player experience would have benefited from more gameplay variety, and the storytelling needed to have more impact and polish.
GS: How did these feelings affect the development of MA2?
TW: We are improving every aspect of the game for MechAssault 2. The game is deeper and requires more skill to get good, but it's just as easy to pick up and play. The new vehicles add the gameplay variety we were striving for and offer the player a significant opportunity to use cooperative tactics. In MechAssault, we developed our game engine while working on the product. With MechAssault 2, the engineers have more development time and are adding some incredible lighting, special effects capability, and optimizations to ensure the game kicks ass visually.
GS: What were some of the key elements you felt needed to be included in MA2, from the start of development, and why?
TW: Getting up close and seeing the mechs from a human's point of view is incredibly cool. We had to get the player out of the mech to experience just how awesome these huge war machines are. Adding new elements to the game--like the BattleArmor's ability to jack an enemy mech or the transport-salvage-distribution capabilities of the VTOL--have broadened MechAssault 2's appeal. Sure, MechAssault 2 will be an awesome mech game, but we are offering so much more. We wanted MechAssault 2 to provide the player more opportunities for unique tactics and new cooperative strategies. So far, our early testing indicates that we have hit the mark.
GS: What's new this year?
TW: We've talked a little about the BattleArmor and its jacking capabilities, but it can do much more. It can climb buildings with its powerful claw, and it comes equipped with a mortar cannon that requires some skill to use effectively. However, it packs a serious, area-affect punch. The VTOL drives like nothing else in the game. It'll take some practice, but it can transport up to two BattleArmors into the thick of a fight or into the enemy's base. It also can collect and drop salvage to needy teammates in multiplayer.
The tanks can operate in tighter quarters than mechs, and MechAssault 2 provides plenty of interesting opportunities for players to show off their cooperative techniques and hit-and-run tactics. We have released information on the Raptor, with it's all new flamethrower. This weapon is devastating up close. Trust me. Keep this speedster at a distance, if you can. Other mechs and vehicles will be discussed in the near future. Stay tuned.
GS: What mechs will make it into this year's game?
TW: You will see many of your favorites from MechAssault, but we've redone the graphics and capabilities for several of the mechs. Again, more info to follow.
GS: What's the game's story layout?
TW: All I can tell you at this point is that it is a continuation of the first game. You are stationed on a quiet trade planet with your crew--which consists of Natalia and Foster--when suddenly all hell breaks loose. Add a fearsome enemy, new technology, and a little mystery mixed with betrayal, and I've already said too much. In the last game, you were trapped on one planet, so in this one, we are going to let you travel quite a bit more.
GS: How are the graphics being improved?
TW: Oh yeah! The game is looking awesome. It is a serious upgrade to the MechAssault engine. We are going to push the Xbox and push it hard. During the development of the game, it is easy to get used to looking at the graphics and taking the advancements for granted. Last week, we booted up MechAssault side by side with MechAssault 2. It is a shocking improvement. Destruction, lighting, effects, frame rate--it is all better.
GS: Name one critique commonly made about the first MechAssault, and tell us how you're addressing it in MA2.
TW: The story was thin, and you only met the main characters at the beginning of the game in the opening cinema. People wanted more, so in MechAssault 2 we are telling you the story (in-game) through the characters you are aligned with and meet along the way.
GS: Will there be downloadable content? Is the plan to make it free or pay?
TW: Microsoft Game Studios will be making a decision on this, and as we're told, no decision has been made at this time.
GS: What can we look forward to seeing at E3?
TW: Bring your "A" game to the convention, because we are bringing the new Live experience to the party!