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Gamasutra plays Battletech with game director Mike McCain

December 1, 2017 | By Bryant Francis

As you know, some of us aboard the good ship Gamasutra have an affinity for giant robots. We also love tabletop games, and of course, we are fascinated and compelled by video games. 

Earlier today on the Gamasutra Twitch channel we were lucky enough to be joined by game director Mike McCain, a man who could satisfy all three of our primal needs, since he's working on Harebrained Schemes' Battletech as we speak. 

As it turns out, our conversation with McCain also steered away from those areas, and wandered through what life is like for one of the successful Kickstarter-driven indie studios these days.

It was a full and illuminating conversation about everything from the history of Battletech to the nuance of fog of war. You can watch it up above, or if you're rolling into battle for House Steiner as we speak, here are a few quick takeaways for you down below. 

Balancing mechanics from the tabletop game

When pulling mechanics from the tabletop game to adapt to the new video game, McCain says it was more important to think about 'behaviors' than 'rules,' such as heat management, mech weight, and the melee system. 

Since mechs are a "collection of parts that contribute to their performance," McCain says the development team has been focusing on adapting those interconnected systems into the game's combat rather than literal rulesets. 

Fog of war has changed (and helps unit variety happen)

According to McCain, one of the reasons to keep fog of war in the game (something not necessarily seen in the tabletop game), was to help give light mechs (faster units that have less armor and weaponry) a sense of purpose in the game. In earlier versions of the game, McCain says combat turned into a race to roll out the heaviest mechs possible, without much regard for the lighter variations. 

Since light mechs come with their own abilities like the scanning function seen in our playthrough, they're able to range ahead of the larger units and encourage players to mix up their unit variety. So if you're considering fog of war in your game, maybe start thinking how you can use it to drive what units the player uses to counter it. 

Battletech is partially competing with Shadowrun

When queried about how he feels about game discoverability in 2017, McCain sarcastically commented "yeah, I'm a bit worried." While not claiming that the sky is falling, McCain acknowledged that part of the challenge for a PC development company like Harebrained Schemes is that they're partly competing with their own existing library. 

As he described it, when players are seeking new games, they're not only grappling with the array of new releases, they're also looking at their Steam backlog and regular sales for games like Shadowrun, which Harebrained released back in 2013. That means when Battletech hits (digital) store shelves, the studio's prior output may be partly a bane on its new game's release (while also being a boon, since it's brought them financing and a fanbase willing to follow them to new games).

In any case, McCain says he thinks Battletech will do well with those who love turn-based strategy games, but his insight that you may be your own competition sometimes is a thought worth heeding if you're releasing on Steam anytime soon. 

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel.

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