Massively Interview: Piranha Games' Russ Bullock talks MechWarrior Online

Death's Knell
Is there anything more fun than massive suits of mechanical armor smashing into one another and firing lasers all over the place? MechWarrior Online, the free-to-play MMO-like set in the MechWarrior universe and developed by Piranha Games, would argue that the answer to that question is pretty obvious.

Piranha has just today announced the addition of a new Command Hero Mech, christened Death's Knell. The mech is tiny by MechWarrior standards, weighing in at only 25 tons, but it packs four powerful lasers on each arm and is quite fast to boot. Piranha also confirmed the addition of the familiar Bitching Betty startup sequence, which should give longtime MechWarrior fans a jolt of nostalgia straight through the eardrums.

We sat down with Russ Bullock, president of Piranha Games, to talk mechs, MMOs, and the future of MechWarrior Online. Check out the full interview and a video of Death's Knell in action after the break.

Massively: Open beta launched in October. Can fans expect an "official" release anytime soon?

Russ Bullock: Open beta has been going extremely well! We thank our dedicated players for helping out during beta and providing the valuable feedback. Regarding the official launch of MechWarrior Online, we are finalizing a list of features and improvements we feel should be present for launch and hope to announce a launch date in the near future.

MechWarrior Online
Since opening to players, MechWarrior Online has seen a steady stream of new Mechs and content, along with special weekend XP events. Can fans expect expansion to continue at this rate, or is this more of an initial burst?

The rate of new content updates, bug fixes, and improvements is very close to what people can expect for the foreseeable future. We have been able to establish a nice cadence on the release art content, other features, and Battlemechs -- both regular and hero Mechs. Feature content isn't as predictable, but we have a full-sized team working constantly to update the game with no slowdown in sight.

Along those lines, what can players expect from the new Hero Mechs?

In terms of new Hero Mechs, expect a lot more variety and perhaps some really special surprises in the near future.

MechWarrior Mech
Some players have noted MechWarrior Online's steep learning curve and heavy team dependency. Are there plans to make the early moments a little easier on new players and encouraging for those who haven't yet found a reliable team?

Absolutely. We spend many hours each week discussing ways to make the new user experience easier, and more importantly, fun. As the game has evolved, we have identified roughly a year's worth of work, so of course we do our very best to identify the very highest priorities and work to get those into the game as quickly as possible. For anyone who was excited or intrigued by the prospect of Mech combat but had difficulty learning the game, I encourage you to come back and try the game with each content update.

MechWarrrior UI
For example in the final 2012 content update with Conquest Mode, we also implemented a "Cadet Bonus" (C-Bills bonus) for the first 25 games, enabling new recruits to advance faster and purchase more powerful Mechs. Content changes that will make the experience easier and more rewarding will continue to be added. In the near future, we have a big update to the matchmaking system, which should pit all those brand-new players against each other.

Additionally, we offer online tutorial videos and other resources in the community forums.

What enhancements to MechWarrior Online's metagame can players expect in the near and distant future?

In short, the Holy Grail you all know as Community Warfare is one of our biggest enhancements on the horizon. This, of course, is when we will see the faction gameplay come into effect.

Any word on the implementation of a persistent world?

I guess this somewhat depends on what exactly would qualify as a persistent world in your or your readers' minds. I guess the best way to answer that is that Community Warfare is a very robust way to create a lot of persistent systems and features. Community is the best and important first step in that direction.

MechWarrior Customization
Which upcoming feature of MechWarrior Online is the dev team most excited about?

What excites us and what excites your readers are probably very different things. We get excited about big performance improvements or network predictive code improvements. But if I made myself focus on a gameplay feature, I would have to say Dropship mode. This is a mode where the player can choose to fill a small dropship with four Battlemechs and take them all into a special battle. The result is a limited respawn game mode that lasts much longer and requires a lot of strategy by teammates. This mode is, of course, a part of Community Warfare.

Thank you for your time, Russ!

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!
This article was originally published on Massively.