Many of us at Destructoid have been looking forward to Hawken for a very long time now. How could we not? The mech genre was seemingly dead in the water until Adhesive Games revealed the teaser video which showed us a mech game that's bringing triple-A quality to the free-to-play PC market.
We've been following Hawken's progress very closely, and at gamescom I sat down with Khang Le, Adhesive Games' CEO and creative director, to talk about what's new with the game, the fear of meeting expectations, whether or not giant mechs wielding melee weapons feel realistic, and how indie companies are able to take on risks.
Khang and I first talked what's new with Hawken since we last saw it at E3. The team is currently focusing on the more in-depth customization, mech parts, and on the weapons. Khang teased a rocket that you control in first-person akin to the rocket launcher in Unreal Tournament, and a tripwire item similar to the one in Duke Nukem.
So far, we've only seen the light and medium mech classes. The former feels floaty and gives off a Quake vibe for most people. But there's also going to be a heavy class. "It's all about armor," Khang told me. "He moves very slowly. So if people out there really want to have the more weighty feel mech he's the perfect one for them.
The heavy mech definitely feels more like MechWarrior. It's super fun to play, you totally feel like you're an armored tank. It has these shields over the top of its body that comes down almost like a phalanx kind of thing. It makes him into a turret so he can't walk but he's invulnerable from the front and vulnerable from the back."
Adhesive is also focusing on the training features. Even though you're controlling giant, heavy mechs, Hawken is very much a twitch-based shooter. There's a lot of movements to master, from all the ways you can boost, perform quick 180 turns, and other moves that can be combined to form some great strategies.
One good strategy to adopt would be to boost right past a player, perform a quick 180 turn, and then fire away. Another one involves you moving to hover over an opponent to get on the other side of them; when they try to counter this by turning to where they think you're going to land, you can just land back to where you were originally and attack.
Many strategies like these have been created from the private beta for Hawken. "I can't wait until we have the closed beta and get hundreds and thousands of people going in and see the crazy, weird stuff they will do with the game," explains Khang.
Don't let this turn you off from Hawken, though. There's a deep system here for those that want to really sink their teeth into the experience, but it's simply enough to pick up for newcomers. Still, Khang can't help but have some apprehension when bringing the game to public shows like gamescom. "I'm kind of worried about these conventions because people got eight minutes, right? Even the most simplistic game you need a bit more time to learn how to play the game.
I'm surprised people are actually really enjoying it. The controls are complex enough that it would take a while to learn but they seem to get it pretty quickly. There were kids that played like five games yesterday. It takes 30 minutes to wait each time so they spent a long time at the booth. It's actually really awesome to see."
The scariest show for Khang was E3. Prior to that show, no one had really been able to see the game outside of the beta. The only thing people had to go on was the teaser video. "We'd been showing the video, it got viral, we were super happy at the response we got. But the scary thing is nobody played the game yet. Everybody loved the visual, and they have an idea or expectation of what the game would play like. We were so afraid that we couldn't meet it. People have very high expectations when they get excited about something."
So it was a giant relief for Khang, and I'm sure the rest of the team, as they got a great reception at E3. People liked what they saw and played, and Hawken even garnered our best PC game award.
Personally, I've been looking forward to Hawken as I haven't played a good mech game that really makes you feel like you're really in control of a giant walking machine since Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise From the Ashes on the Dreamcast. Khang never played the game, so I described some of the billions of reasons why it's so great.
Khang told me they're looking into a melee system when I started talking about how you could engage others with the beam saber in Gundam 0079. "We're still trying to work in a melee system. Chromehound did a good one, they had this spear thing. Their melee was these four spears that like jammed out. We know people really want it, but we haven't decided if it's actually going to be a physical sort of melee, or some sort of energy melee. We want it to make sense. The game has a sense of realism; I don't want to all of a sudden bust out a sword or something."
I couldn't help but point out how Khang is looking to keep a sense of realism in a game where you're fighting in giant mechs. We laughed, and he elaborated that they're "trying to get something that fits in our world. We're still trying to work that in where maybe a specific mech class or a specific mech actually does melee moves."
I think it says a lot that my favorite mech game of all time was from the Dreamcast era. This current generation just hasn't offered a lot, but there's a growing resurgence once again. While some of the more recent ones haven't been that great, we do have ones like MechWarrior Online, Zone of the Enders 3, and of course Hawken to look forward to.
The mech genre "used to be very popular, then it died out," says Khang. "I think it's almost like a renaissance of it again. It's coming back slowly. I think if MechWarrior Online, Hawken, and any other game coming out do well financially, then all the big companies will support [the genre]. It takes indie companies to do things that are risky because we're light on our feet, and we can take risks.
Let's say if [Hawken] was a boxed good, let's say half a million copies sold. That would be really good for us. But for a big corporation, three million sales/copies would be like a failure, or a barely breaking-even point for them. I think if they see that there's financial rewards in making mech games, and if the audience out there is supporting it, then it'll be coming back."
Hawken will be going into open beta on December 12, 2012.