With the return of the Mechwarrior franchise and Hawken making a big splash, Heavy Gear Assault finds itself at a fulcrum where it can make use of this mecha-friendly moment in time and catch up with the competition, or where it may slip back into obscurity.
The answer is simply; be distinctive. Stand out from your competitors as they stand out from each other before trying to just be “better” than they are at what they do. Heavy Gear will be the last entrant to the mecha-game market with a terrific but obscure franchise. It cannot rely on its fan-base exclusively to generate interest, like Mechwarrior Online did, by presenting a reincarnation of a classic game with modern tech. It also can’t simply focus on action-FPS players, delivering a simple and fast experience its competitor, like Hawken.
From what you’ve said in interviews and your website, you’re aiming to make an FPS/Sim game that balances between action and depth. One of my concerns is that you’re aiming for an arena setting, which is cutting along the same lines as Hawken and Mechwarrior’s current incarnation. If HGA does the same, then all three games will be set in small-to-medium maps, with the environment playing a secondary role (I’m discounting the spectator participation feature you’ve mentioned, the ROI on that feature is just too low to survive the first round of cuts.)
With these choices, you’re limiting the type of combat that will occur as well as its durability. Machines will have to be repaired using a game-y mechanic like repair bots or regenerating shields (see Hawken,) or die/get crippled for the duration of the match if caught in an unfavorable situation (see MWO.)
You’re aiming for the eSports brass ring, so these choices are understandable within this context; you want to make the game fun to watch as well as to play. On that point I’d like to mention that eSports has not proven to be a successful venture for most games and leagues that have pursued it. Only a handful games have been successful at it, and they have a much wider audience your game will have. In fact, by doing so, you’re increasing your competition from MWO and Hawken to include League of Legends, Starcraft II, Halo, Shootmania… The list goes on and on. Your answer to this criticism is that you’re aiming for the eSports prize within your niche, thus limiting your competition to MWO and Hawken again, but the deck is stacked against you there already. Why? Because you’re limiting yourselves to the choices they already made.
How can you break away from the pack without giving up on those choices? Here are some suggestions:
- Make your game have several ‘rounds’ per match. Make the combat as lethal, spectacular and fast as you can, but shape it around a round structure where both teams are returned to their garages. There, you can allow the player to repair and reconfigure their gear in a way that reacts to what their opponents fielded. This way you increase your player’s urge to buy weapons and gears, by making the meta-game a meaningful part of each battle. Neither MWO nor Hawken do this, and both games force the player to choose the theoretical ideal mech/playstyle as a result.
- Include a variety of game types. MWO still has a fairly straightforward TDM game mode with a base-capture appendix. Hawken has its siege and missile assault modes, but they’re not really game modes as much as they are combat-directors, in the sense that those game modes dictate where combat occurs without changing the core of the gameplay. HGA can pull away by following cues from the tabletop game. There are plenty of workable examples in DP9s Duelist’s Handbook.
- Destructible terrain. Self-explanatory. Neither of your competitors is doing this. I don’t know the capabilities of UDK4, but this is worth pursuing as it opens up new uses for certain types of weapons over others.
The intent of this entire post is to offer you an outside perspective of where your game (potentially) stands vis-à-vis your direct competitors. You’re still in the very very (very) early stages of development, but you already have a plan, which is why I’m writing this now.
Your fans, meanwhile, are waiting for news regarding your kickstarter. Hopefully you’ll have more media to proper your game forward.
Remember, distinguish yourselves from the rest! And thanks for taking the time to read this.