MechCommander 2 Q&A

We sit down with producer Mitch Gitelman to gauge the progress of this tactical game since its last public showing.

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During last year's Gamestock event, Microsoft unveiled MechCommander 2, the 3D sequel to the original 1998 real-time tactical game. The most apparent improvement on its predecessor was its gorgeous new 3D engine, which rendered terrain and units with a high level of detail. Since then, the game has been publicly shown only twice--once at E3 and another at Mechstock 2000--so information on the game and its progression has been scarce. With Gamestock 2001 just a few days away, we took the opportunity to sit down with Mitch Gitelman, the game's producer, to talk about MechCommander 2's progress, the new features his team has implemented since the last time we saw it, and how much of the game Microsoft plans on showing at this year's Gamestock.

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GameSpot: Hi, Mitch. What changes have been made to the game since its last public appearance at Mechstock 2000?

Mitch Gitelman: The biggest thing was finalizing our between-mission interface, which we call "logistics." It allows you to put the right MechWarrior in the right mech for the right mission. We've spent a lot of time making it easy for players to customize their mechs and understand their capabilities. We've also added our new multiplayer mission types, which we think will be a lot of fun.

GS: In our last interview, you mentioned that night missions operate a little differently than daylight missions. Aside from the obvious, what kinds of differences are there--in terms of gameplay--between the two?

MG: You'll have to rely more on your scout mechs. Their sensor systems will help you identify targets hiding behind buildings or in forests. Relying solely on line of sight would be a tactical error. Luckily, if you lose your scout mech, you can use your support options like a sensor probe or scout copter to give you intelligence on enemy locations.

GS: How many different types of mission objectives are in the single-player mode?

MG: Uh, I never counted. I guess it's because a lot of our missions mix and match different objective types. You destroy a supply convoy and then capture a weapons facility. Or you steal some enemy mechs and then destroy their orbital gun emplacements. Each of our designers likes to combine things in different ways.

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GS: What kind of multiplayer options will be included in the final release?

MG: You'll have control of every support option in the game. Don't like minelayers? Turn 'em off. Wanna play a game without in-mission salvage? Turn it off. Want to use only "off the rack" mechs? Check the "no variants" option. Best of all, if you want to start shooting right away, use the "quickstart" option and you'll bypass the logistics interface completely.

GS: How do MechWarriors advance in skill level? Do they receive points for destroying enemy units or is there just a general upgrade in skills after the successful completion of a mission?

MG: MechWarriors gain skill points through their actions in a mission. When their gunnery and piloting skills reach a threshold, they are promoted to the next rank. Now the new part: When your pilots go up in rank, you get to choose a specialty skill for them. In this way, you direct their "training" and make them into a unique part of your team.

GS: So, since the skills are attributed directly to pilots, BattleMechs salvaged by an opposing team won't have the added skills, but they'll keep any upgrades you made, right?

MG: That's correct. Mechs are mechs and MechWarriors are MechWarriors. I think this is a big difference from other games where you build tanks and don't care whether they are destroyed or not. In MC2, if a mech is destroyed, that's not so bad--you can salvage it (hopefully) or at least buy another. But when a MechWarrior dies--especially one you've trained from a raw recruit--that can be an emotional experience.

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GS: How quickly can you rescue a disabled BattleMech, and can you actually put it back into battle as soon as it's salvaged? Can you pause the action and issue a command to retrieve the damaged mech?

MG: You can grab a mech by calling in a salvage craft containing one of your pilots pretty quickly. You can use the mech right away, but depending upon the level of damage it sustained before the pilot ejected, you might want to repair it first. That will fix the armor, but if it's missing an arm or a weapon, the repair vehicle can't replace them.

You can issue any order while paused, including waypoint orders. We know that some people like to stop the action and mull the situation over, so this feature was added for them.

GS: Since height offers such a strong advantage for MechCommander 2 players, what strategies can people use in multiplayer games to attack enemy units placed in areas with a distinct height advantage?

MG: If they're camped at the top of a hill and won't move, that means they're a sitting duck for an air strike--that'll make 'em scatter quickly. Send a scout copter in long enough to get LOS and then call in the fireworks.

GS: How dynamic is MechCommander 2's AI? Will units with long-range fire abilities stay as far back from the battle as possible while still staying in line of sight?

MG: Yes. We've tried to make the MechWarriors defend themselves better than in the first game. Your pilots know their loadout and the best range for doing the most damage. They'll attempt to maintain that range while staying within LOS. If their heavy long-range weapon is destroyed, they'll change to the next best weapon range.

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GS: What about pathfinding for computer-controlled mechs? How do units interact with secondary details--such as trees--in the terrain? Can secondary details prevent units from advancing or does it just depend on the type of unit?

MG: Units easily negotiate things like forests. Of course they're mechs, so something's gotta give occasionally. Mechs smash through wood and chain-link fences, but they must stop to destroy heavy emplacement walls. Jump-capable mechs laugh at this stuff. Also, only mechs and hovercraft can cross water, and only hovercraft and helicopters can go over deep water.

GS: We still haven't seen the interface of the game. Have you planned the layout yet? Is control the same as the original MechCommander's control? Have you added any new features in that respect?

MG: The layout's been done since last Gamestock, actually. It's similar to MechCommander in many respects--players won't have to learn a completely new interface. There have been some additions, of course--the whole support menu, waypoints, patrol paths, hotkeys for camera angles, and we have an option to use a left/right mouse button control like Age of Empires. You can remap your hotkeys, too, by the way.

GS: Have you modified the game's air-support feature since E3? Will players still be able to call in for air support and repairs at any time during a given mission?

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MG: Any time they have enough resource points they can call for a support option. You must have line of sight on an area to drop something down, though. In other words, you can't drop an artillery piece into an enemy's base from across the map. Now, if you snuck a Raven up a hill nearby...

GS: What has been the biggest obstacle during MechCommander 2's development?

MG: Making sure we're satisfying everyone. Our goal has always been to delight our fans while expanding our audience as far as possible. In a game universe that's been around for over 15 years, that can feel herculean at times. BattleTech fans know their stuff, and they're vocal about what they want. Sometimes they want more detail than a newcomer would be able to digest. On the other hand, there are some things that aren't supported by the fiction, but are necessary for good gameplay.

GS: Is this the same game that you started work on nearly two years ago? What's been the biggest change since its inception?

MG: We started MechCommander 2 with a clear list of fan-suggested features and a straightforward plan. Take the game 3D, remove the black shroud, add in-mission save, and some other things. Conservative things. It was our managers at Microsoft who told us to think bigger and make a real leap forward from [the original] MechCommander. That was a big surprise. We thought they were Mr. Suits. Turns out, they were gamers.

GS: We know that there is a mission editor for fans to construct their own scenarios, but do you guys have any plans to support MechCommander 2 after its release?

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MG: You mean after our vacations, right? I guess the best answer is, "We love our players." We proved that after MechCommander was released and in our feature set for MechCommander 2, which was taken directly from e-mails and fan posts on the Internet.

GS: How much of MechCommander 2 will you be showing at Gamestock, and how far has that build come along since last year's Gamestock?

MG: We'll let people go hands-on with a few of the missions in the game. How far has it come? Nearly to the end, Bubba. Nearly to the end.

GS: We can't wait. Thanks, Mitch.

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