MechWarrior: An Exercise in Game Design

The purpose of this post is simple: If I were to design an MMO for a MechWarrior game, how would I approach it?  Please feel free to point out my flaws, add your own thoughts, or propose your own designs.

If I had to tackle this as a game designer, I don’t think I would bother trying to do any kind of class or archtype system beyond possibly giving some initial choice of a small (2-5%) bonus in certain skills.  But then, what would I do?

First off, I would completely and absolutely separate character level from character power.  As a player does things in the game, be it quests, or crafting, or combat (both PvE and PvP), they would earn experience which would go toward a “rank”.  I’d probably steal ranks from the military, and for each rank I’d have a few mini-levels inside, like to move from Private to Private First Class you might only fill the exp bar once, but going from something like Sergeant Major to Second Lieutenant you might have to fill it 5 times signifying the harder jump from Noncommissioned Officer to Commissioned Officer.  This level would largely be a measure of how much ass you have kicked, but without a real relation to the power of the character.  Meeting a Brigadier General on the field as a Colonel doesn’t mean he’s going to win, it just means he’s been doing this longer or more than you.

Second, I would tie the player’s power into sort of an “item level” system.  As a MechWarrior, you pilot a Mech (giant powered robot armor), and if you like your wrist mounted pulse lasers, the more you use them, the more experience you earn with them, and you’ll level up your wrist mounted pulse laser skill which directly would affect your accuracy with the lasers, but indirectly would allow you to use more complicated and intricate wrist mounted pulse lasers.  On the other hand, if you prefered wrist mounted welders and repair kits, you’d get similar skill levels, but with wrist mounted welders and repair kits instead of lasers.  The key here being, if you can level up both if you want to spend the time, but you can only have one equiped when you leave the garage.

In a way, this would mirror Eve Online’s system of skills and things you can attach to your ship and which ships you can drive, but without the forced delay of a strictly time based advancement system.  Think of Eve but also being able to actively grind out the skill instead of logging out one day and coming back a week later when Frigate level 5 is done training.

Anyway, as will the item skills, there would also be rig skill.  Items attach to slots on your rig, rigs come in various shapes and sizes.  As the game expands, more and different rigs could be added, new items and item groups, specialized items.

Because experience given is based on usage (you plus item used plus target of item use times the success of the usage in some formula), there would be no need formalize grouping or raid structures for the dividing of experience points, so groups would end up being just communications channels.  Then you could even add in skills and items to support “hacking” so that you can “tap in” to an enemy’s chat, and of course to monitor for taps and counter them.

I think the entirety of the game would be PvP.  The beginning focus would be on One on One gladiator style combat, expanding into Two on Two, Five on Five, 3 or more Teams, Free for All or whatever.  Then, just like they have for first person shooter and racing games (or for that matter, World of Warcraft’s Battlegrounds), you can add “mission” types.  Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Marked Man/Escort, anything you can think of.  In fact, the game might go so far as to run contests for player designed submissions for maps and rulesets.

If a “larger” game is needed for people to play, you can make a robust guild system having people swear allegience to an army and fight for them in massive battles.  The guilds/armies can build their own bases, run scrimmages for themselves or against other teams.  Blending that in with the “missions” from above, you can actually throw in leader boards and seasons to turn them from random battles into an organized sport.

Outside of the Mechs, players would have an avatar, a character, to run around “the city” in, to meet up with other people and talk.  Or not… you could also go the route of EVE Online and just have an avatar image, a picture of you, with no animation (although, even EVE is adding in stuff for people to walk around space stations).  The world outside of the combat zones becomes just a simple chatroom.  If you really wanted to get crazy, you could even drop the text and have it all be voice chat.  If you did that, and made the game playable with a controller, you might even get an MMO you could run on a console, cross platform even.

So there, in a completely un-fleshed out outline is what I would do for an MMO based around a MechWarrior style mythos.  Feel free to comment…


  1. Aye, no class, separate the level from power, and honestly, the Clan and Inner House system is perfect for factional warfare. Mercs always have a place, too. That forms a good basis for divorcing the avatar from the ‘Mechs; if you don’t know which House or Clan you’re working for, you need to be able to have a very portable set of skills.

    I’d also suggest making all weights of ‘Mechs valuable. I’d hate it if the game’s progression was from light ‘Mechs to assault ‘Mechs, effectively becoming another idiotic gankfest like WoW 80s beating up on 30s in Stranglethorn Vale. Light ‘Mechs can’t stand toe to toe with the big boys, but the power differential shouldn’t be a few orders of magnitude, and skill really should carry the day. Say, four well-piloted light ‘Mechs should be able to take an assault ‘Mech down… maybe even three exceptionally well-piloted ones. One on one should be possible, too. Taking a Battlemaster down with a Jenner was one of my highlights in the original MechWarrior, and it would be nice to see that sort of thing as being possible here, too.

    So… PvP would definitely be a core component. I do think there’s a place for good PvE as in the MechCommander and MechWarrior games, though. It could be fairly wide ranging, since drop weights are typically all over the map in MW games. There could be solo missions as well as group content. It’s more expensive to make PvE stuff, but it’s really almost necessary for any mass market game to have traction.

    One thing that I keep coming back to is the notion of healing and repairs. MechWarrior is a game of attrition, and repairs are typically not part of combat. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to retain that or fudge things a little with repair bays and repair ‘Mechs. I would also hate to see the IP turned into yet another Tank/DPS/Healer trinity game. ‘Mechs are pretty much all tank/DPS, all the time, and it’s refreshing as it involves resource management in different ways (especially heat). It would be a shame to try to shoehorn the classic MW mechanics into the trinity.

    1. I always envision healing as being more of a combat medic than the healer we get in most MMOs. Triage. Stop the damage from getting worse, rig a failed component back into function, etc. If you really want to get rid of healers, just adopt a “healing potion” method where a player can do repairs on his own given a limited quantity of storage. But I like having a little player inter-dependence.

      1. Yeah, I’m not convinced that I want to get rid of healing, since it’s a nice fudge factor to allow for mistakes to be made… it’s just sort of contrary to the core design of MW. Of course, repair bays in MechCommander worked pretty well by tying healing (repair) to location and making it a tactical and spatial control consideration rather than bringing along a healbot… though there were also repair trucks. Thing is, those took up 40 tons of dropweight, so were often less useful than packing another ‘Mech or bigger guns.

        Potions (repair kits) could work too by maintaining the notion of limited resources and attrition, as well as giving players a choice of when to repair instead of just counting on a healer to have their back.

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