January 27, 2023

Real Life Isn’t That Great

The MechWarrior series, a video game spin-off of the popular table-top war game BattleTech, has been around for decades, and for the first time in 10 years, it is receiving a new title in the form of Piranha Game’s MechWarrior Online, essentially a remastered version of the last MW game, but this time modelled after the increasingly popular ‘Free to Play, Pay to Win’ strategy employed by too many games for me to list. While this isn’t exactly news, I am writing about it now for two reasons: 1: I love MechWarrior, and have played it ever since my father handed me his joystick and copy of MechWarrior 3, and 2: I just received a key for the MWO beta. Yes it’s another one these: the spiritual successor to last week’s rambling on the Dungeons & Dragons 5e beta; the glorious thing about beta testing is that it’s free, and it’s news, in the sense that you are not only writing about something when it is new, you’re writing about it before it’s even released. The downside to beta testing being that nothing you say is necessarily true when the game does come out. But regardless, I cannot really ‘review’ MWO because I had to sign an agreement of non-disclosure. But I am able to talk about what’s already been shown to the media, so here goes.

When I said MWO was a ‘remake of the last game’, I think I sent the wrong message across; yes the graphics have been improved and the Hunchback looks better than ever, but gameplay wise, there are some nostalgia-shaped, gaping wounds. Much is the same, indeed: throttle controls handle like a dream and the in-battle interface looks very much the same. But not quite. Even in the gameplay trailers, you can pause any video and notice the holographic displays are all rather indistinct in that you can’t really look at them and know what is going on. In earlier games, everything was done in contrasting colours, and there was no doubt in my mind that I had any single group of weapons active at one time. In MWO, I looked at my weapons indicator and, well…I was lost for a second. I set my throttle to nil so I could investigate not only my weapons systems, but the interface of my ‘mech as a whole.

The background of a single hologram panel and text thereof is a little too similar to be distinguished as actual words, and it makes one wonder if you’re supposed to actually use the monitors or if they’re just for show. And now if you take too much damage, you’re blinded with fire. Considering how difficult it is to steer a 50 tonne walking tank in favourable conditions, doing so while blind doesn’t make fighting back much of an option. However it isn’t like that matters too much: considering all the maps in the beta so far are such particle-effect-maelstroms of dust and rain, first person is just not really cutting it.

So what about third person? Personally, I would have quit playing MechWarrior games a long time ago if I couldn’t tap the ‘v’ key and switch into third person. You see, here’s the thing about piloting a ‘mech: you set your throttle, and then your legs just start moving at that speed and don’t stop until they hit a wall. You move your arms and torso separately, and so while aiming and firing becomes the center of your attention, it is easy to forget your legs as they slowly approach the edge of a cliff. Hence, third person camera: all the user-interface panels are where they would normally be, and now it is much easier for people like me to pilot a ‘mech.

This is what Piranha Games had to say about third person views in MechWarrior Online: The game is played from the first person. We’re exploring ways to have a third person camera that make sense from a gameplay point of view.

In other words: it’s unrealistic to pilot a ‘mech in third-person, so you had better deal with it and enjoy the realism. This would be the topic of my article this week: Real Life, and realism in games for that matter, just isn’t that great. A few weeks ago, I talked about how wrong it was of 2K Game’s head of business to state that one cannot fully enjoy a game’s story unless it has photo-realistic graphics. While I may be later discredited for saying this, I admit it: I was only even able to play one round pf MechWarrior Online. I just couldn’t quite ‘deal with it’ like the developers would have me do, and when realism is making it hard for people to enjoy your game, that’s a problem right there.

As a game developer myself, I can honestly say that compromise is always an option. It is possible for your own design to get in the way of your design, and that means there are moments at which one must stray from their vision to actually improve it.

What players look for in their experience isn’t how realistic a game looks, it’s how immersive  their experience is. When I see my ‘mech doing exactly what I tell it to do from a third-person perspective, it doesn’t phase me: I still feel like the pilot- it is still doing what I say to do, and I am still monitoring all the hologram panels around me like I would in a first person view; this is just how I prefer to do it, and I know I’m not the only one out there. Realism is great, until it starts to make your game less fun to play. Maybe we’ll see this fixed in the official release of MechWarrior Online, in which case I have once again been stabbed by the double-edged sword that is beta testing, and the reporting thereof.

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