MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries Q&A

We sit down with FASA Interactive to discuss the next standalone MechWarrior game.

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The long-running MechWarrior series earned a loyal fan following with MechWarrior 2 back in 1995, thanks to its then-state-of-the-art presentation of piloting huge armored mechs into battle. A year later, the Mercenaries expansion pack was added to MechWarrior 2, and it added an intriguing new element to the game--mercenary mech pilots of differing skill levels whom you could recruit if you had enough cash.

MechWarrior returns!
MechWarrior returns!

Years have passed, and the MechWarrior series has evolved. The last major installment in the series, MechWarrior 4, was released in 2000 by FASA Interactive and Microsoft and looked fantastic for its time. MechWarrior 4 represented something of a return to the series' roots--much of the game was about straightforward battles, and though you had a bit less freedom to customize the weapon loadouts on your mechs, the game itself was still graphically impressive for its time and lots of fun to play. In 2001, developer Cyberlore Studios developed MechWarrior 4: Black Knight, a new addition to the MechWarrior series that made a number of improvements to the core MechWarrior game, and also included new mechs and new multiplayer modes. And most recently, Microsoft has released independent mech packs for the game's warring factions, the Clan and the Inner Sphere. But FASA Interactive is gearing up for a brand-new stand-alone MechWarrior game. We sat down with lead designer Dave Fifeld and FASA Interactive's TJ Wagner and got all the details.

GameSpot: MechWarrior 4 looked terrific when it was first released in 2000, and the previous MechWarrior 4 expansion, Black Knight, still looked good in 2001, but it's been almost two years since the original game was released. What kind of technical enhancements will Mercenaries make to MechWarrior 4's graphics and sound?

You'll be able to enjoy all the graphical bells and whistles.
You'll be able to enjoy all the graphical bells and whistles.

TJ Wagner: The engine we built for MechWarrior 4: Vengeance was made to be scalable. With the inroads that video cards and faster processors have made over the past couple years, we're just now able to turn on all the options to the highest detail. Most people who played Vengeance and Black Knight never saw the full potential of the Vengeance engine. They will in Mercenaries, and they will be impressed. Mercenaries will also include a brand-new sound track, which will add to the overall hard-edge feeling of being a mercenary.

GS: Some players criticized Black Knight for battles that seemed as straightforward as those in the original MechWarrior 4--just more difficult. What new features will Mercenaries add to battles to make them more varied and more interesting in general?

Dave Fifeld: Mercenaries gives a lot more latitude to player choice. Many missions also have optional objectives that you can complete to earn cash bonuses beyond standard mission pay. The campaign in Mercenaries allows you to travel between star systems at your discretion, paying jump fees as you go. Each star system is home to one or more potential employers, each offering multiple contracts. The choices are pretty broad at first and remain so through a significant portion of the campaign. Your mission choices and the actions you take within the mission have an impact on later contract availability and midmission events. For instance, destruction of neutral vehicles in some of the heavily populated scenarios will give a marked increase in infamy, which can limit your list of potential employers.

The Solaris arena matches provide you the option of straight-out mech fights, where the last one standing takes home the largest purse. These new tailor-made mech fighting arenas are an extremely popular venue within the development team for putting our new mechs through their paces.

Multiplayer Mercenaries

You'll be able to take this bad boy into multiplayer.
You'll be able to take this bad boy into multiplayer.

GS: Can you give us a rundown on Mercenaries' multiplayer modes? Will the expansion pack support goliaths, Clan vs. Sphere, and the other new multiplayer modes from Black Knight? Any plans for enhancements to existing multiplayer modes?

DF: For individual and team play we are supporting a point-based system similar to the old attrition and absolute attrition [game modes].Team play is being enhanced with an improved version of no respawn, where players stay in the game and cannot respawn until one side achieves victory. The winning team is awarded a victory, and play restarts without dropping to the lobby.

We've lumped functionality from the more offbeat game types into a new game type called mission play. In mission play each team is given an objective to complete. With either side victorious the players are notified through objective pop-ups, and the game resets for another go.

In addition to adding the concept of C-bills to the single-player campaign, we are using C-bills in multiplayer as a limiting factor for mech selection. Players now have the ability to set maximum cash values on individuals or teams when setting up a multiplayer game.

GS: Naturally, Mercenaries will be compatible with the recently released Clan and Inner Sphere mech packs. What other new mechs and weapons can we expect to see in Mercenaries, aside from those in the mech packs, the original MechWarrior 4, and Black Knight? Will the mech packs be required to play?

You'll be able to use existing mechs, as well at the ones from the 'Mech packs.
You'll be able to use existing mechs, as well at the ones from the 'Mech packs.

DF: As you've probably heard, we're adding 10 new battle mechs to the game, which complement the existing ones that will be included. These include all the mechs from Vengeance and the Black Knight expansion. If you own the two mech packs, you can use those as well, which adds another eight mechs to the mix. You'll see more details later on what the 10 new mechs will be.

The mech packs aren't required to play, but if you don't have them and your opponent does, you could be at a disadvantage.

GS: Can you describe Mercenaries' single-player component? For instance, we know that this new stand-alone title should have about 40 new missions, but how many instant-action maps will this new game have? Will this game have a dynamic campaign?

DF: All of the campaign missions are available for play in instant action as well as 15 maps set up for wave play. Some of the later campaign missions cannot be played in instant action until they have been beaten in the single-player campaign.

GS: MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries was actually a prequel to the events of MechWarrior 2. Will Mercenaries take place before MechWarrior 4? Can you reveal any more of the plot?

DF: MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries takes place after Vengeance, in the year 3066. The FedCom civil war is raging, and contracts for mercenary companies abound. As you progress through the campaign, you earn faction points, with either or neither of the major players in the conflict. In addition to a free-form campaign, which allows you to choose from multiple systems and contracts at any given time, there are several story branches that carry you through the end of the civil war. The contracts you take on and your relative faction ratings determine the endgame paths available to you.

Sphere Vs. Clan

GS: The original MechWarrior 4 did a terrific job of helping new players get started, but it was released almost two years ago. What sort of measures is the team taking to make sure that new players can get up and running quickly in Mercenaries?

This looks like it's worth a C-Bill.
This looks like it's worth a C-Bill.

DF: The training missions in MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries will be as helpful and easy to understand as they were in Vengeance. We have also added emphasis on midmission tutorials in the early contracts for use of features veteran players take for granted, like lancemate commands and use of field repair bases. The balance and pace have definitely been tweaked to account for players unfamiliar with controlling a battle mech.

GS: Can you describe how mercenary sponsorship will work in Mercenaries? What improvements are you making to the sponsorship system over Black Knight and MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries? Will you still be able to recruit individual mercenaries with different skills and abilities?

Careful! You want to make sure you can salvage something!
Careful! You want to make sure you can salvage something!

DF: Sponsorship represents a professional affiliation with a regiment of renown from the BattleTech fiction. It means you are associated with the sponsor regiment, receiving support and minor guidance, but not directly in their chain of command or even under their authority. You call the shots for your company, no one else. From the beginning of the game you have access to the free market where mercs of various skill levels can be hired.

GS: Since mercenary devotion doesn't go beyond the C-bill, how important a role will resource management play in the game? Will you be able to scavenge parts from the battlefield?

DF: Resource management is definitely a large part of the play experience in Mercenaries, with a C-bill-based payment system and the free market for making purchases. We deliberately keep away from forcing you to pinch every penny just to survive. Spending millions on an arsenal of mass destruction is fun, and that's the experience we're shooting for. Of course if you're into struggling to make ends meet, you can ratchet up the difficultly settings. Salvage is as always a major part of compensation in MechWarrior games. Mercenaries is no different. A difference that does come into play is the ability to repair the chassis you salvage and sell them for cash.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries?

DF: You are going to want to play the campaign more than once for sure. Arena battles on the planet Solaris 7 are going to be intense in the campaign and especially online.

GS: Sounds good. Thanks for your time.

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