The MechWarrior series is probably one of the only licenses that has become more popular on the PC than it ever was during its roots as a Battletech paper-and-pencil RPG. Although the franchise has been developed for the PC for some time, it really fell under the spotlight with the 1995 release of Activision's MechWarrior 2. Since that time, the series has switched hands between different developers, but with each successive release, the MechWarrior series has maintained its addictive gameplay while constantly offering improved graphics and more options. Fasa Interactive and Microsoft's MechWarrior 4: Vengeance was widely regarded as the best game in the series, and its GameSpot review score certainly reflects that fact. Recently, Microsoft announced an expansion pack to MechWarrior 4, which is entitled Black Knight. This add-on will let you assume control of the Black Legion, a group of mercenaries known for its brutality. We sat down with Cyberlore's Dave Fifield, the lead designer for MechWarrior 4: Black Knight, to find out more about this expansion pack.
GameSpot: Dave, how long ago did you start development on Black Knight?
Dave Fifield: We started in mid-March of 2001.
GS: Tell us a little about the plot. Who is the Black Legion? How loyal are its members to House Steiner?
DF: The Black Legion is a mercenary unit renowned for questionable recruitment, Spartan discipline, and a willingness to work for just about anyone (for a price, of course--preferably a large one). Every legionnaire's first loyalty is to the Black Legion and its officers. Their loyalty to any employer is commensurate with pay and assignment.
GS: When does the single-player campaign take place? During or after the rebellion by Ian Dresari?
DF: The campaign takes place immediately following the battle for Kentares, which saw Duke William unseated and Davion loyalists in charge of the planet.
GS: Will you encounter Ian Dresari or fight any of the MechWarrior 4 lancemates in the field of combat?
DF: You will be fighting on Kentares at some point...
GS: How many new mechs are there? What about the new weapons?
DF: There are five new mechs: three Inner Sphere and two Clan. Nine new weapon types are available. New autocannons fill out the expected lineup and a cluster bomb launcher has been developed on Long Tom technology. The ancient Lostech X-Pulse Lasers have been rediscovered and put into mass production throughout the Federated Commonwealth. In a remarkably short time, they have been turning up in significant numbers.
GS: Can you import these new weapons and mechs into the original MechWarrior 4?
DF: Not at this time.
GS: How will the black market work? Is there a monetary system for purchasing parts?
DF: Mercenary units often turn to questionable contacts for repair and refit when operating away from normal lines of support. In such instances, they typically trade away excess weapons or mechs to acquire the items they need from a pool of available goods. No C-bills change hands, just weapons and mechs.
GS: Can you buy the best equipment right away on the black market, or will there be limits on what you can or can't buy?
DF: The market is not always available to you. When operating within the same theater as the entire Black Legion, your inventory is governed by quartermaster allotment. Only when operating remotely is the market an option for acquiring goods. Salvage is still the key method of increasing your inventory, with the black market giving the ability to better tailor your arsenal to your personal fighting styles.
The market has a limited supply of weapons and chassis available at any given time. The most-sought-after weapons are hard to come by at first. Once your tech support knows where to go, they are more frequently available for trade. Part of availability is regional as well. Merc units in hot climates are certainly more willing to part with heat-based weapons than those in cold or frozen locales.
GS: Can you describe the new multiplayer modes added in the expansion?
DF: We're adding several new types of multiplayer modes. Most notably, strongholds and siege assault incorporate military bases on the map. This gives the teams tactical objectives to destroy and defend. Turrets and other defenses will augment base defenders in repelling attackers. Giant killers pits a group of 35-ton player mechs against an ever-increasing number of AI-controlled assault mechs. For the MechWarrior traditionalists, we've added Inner Sphere vs. Clan multiplayer, which restricts each team to its respective tech levels for chassis and weapon selection.
GS: Have there been any changes to the game engine?
DF: Not beyond the dynamic campaign and inventory enhancements, such as the black market.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Black Knight?
DF: We here at Cyberlore Studios have thoroughly enjoyed teaming with the folks at Microsoft and the FASA Studio to bring this expansion together. I've been a big fan of the miniatures game and all things BattleTech since the mid-'80s. Needless to say, I'm extremely excited to be working in the MechWarrior universe. Living up to the standards set by existing triple-A titles is always a challenge, but a challenge Cyberlore is accustomed to meeting. We're standing on the shoulders of gaming giants, and that's a pretty cool place to be.
GS: Thanks, Dave.