On The Evolution And Development Of Mech Games

Wasim Salman writes about videogames using short, mechanical sentences. We asked him to do that for us with an article on a suitable subject: the evolution and development of mech games.

Stomp.

In 1997, I bought MechWarrior 2 for the Playstation.

It received a lot of hype a few years earlier on its initial PC release.

MechWarrior 2 was sluggish and barren on console, its mechanics were opaque.

Having no understanding of what either simulation or mech games were, I tried to play MW2 like an action game.

I never made it very far.

The game was frustrating, but enjoyable and revelatory.

With time, I understood what it was trying to do: An exacting simulation of piloting an enormous, bipedal war machine.

MechWarrior 2 was my introduction into the mech aesthetic and while it felt slow and difficult, it captured my attention.

It had a thoroughness of weight.

Everything in the game felt dense and mechanical, there was a real sense of inhabiting that world through an almost dieselpunk physicality.

Everything in the game took time: turning, moving, aiming – it all needed time.

Even though it was a real-time simulation, the player still had to think in terms of sequences of action.

Time was MW2’s currency.

Time became the most finite resource in the game.

MW2, on the whole, had a slow, powerful friction that mirrored the mechs themselves.

I stopped trying to understand MW2 once Metal Gear Solid released one year later in 1998.

I needed something faster then.

I had no idea who Hideo Kojima was and that Metal Gear existed.

I found out about MGS from a demo kiosk inside a local Software Etc.

I not only enjoyed its ‘cold’ aesthetic, but also its unique take on third-person action.

It wasn’t until I purchased the game that I discovered Metal Gear REX.

Metal Gear REX felt enormous when compared to the scale in MechWarrior 2.

Metal Gear REX was the first mech design I fell in love with.

I loved its asymmetry. I loved how it felt sticky and dense, but had a more organic mobility than MW2 mechs.

I loved that it almost felt alive.

Metal Gear REX was my introduction to Japanese mech design.

Armored Core 1 also released around this time on the Playstation, but it wouldn’t be until much later that I would dive into the series.

I was still going to arcades then and Marvel vs. Capcom became one of my favorite games.

I remember going through the roster and being drawn to Jin Saotome because I couldn’t place him in Capcom’s timeline.

I had no idea where he came from, but all his super attacks involved a giant mech called ‘Blodia’.

I traced him back to 1995 mech fighting game Cyberbots.

Cyberbots is still one of my favorite fighting games today.

The game fails at scaling the mechs, but it has a beautiful cohesion between time, density, and friction.

The mechs do not feel quick.

Much like MechWarrior 2, every action feels heavy and time-consuming.

Like Metal Gear REX, the mechs also feel organic.

It is a simple thing to forget the mechs have pilots in Cyberbots: each machine has personality and a fricative urgency in its movement.

While the game is not mechanically balanced, its take on the mech aesthetic and mechanics remains remarkably unique today.

It predated MW2 and Metal Gear Solid and yet synthesized their approach to the mech genre with an elegant mechanical cohesiveness.

It wouldn’t be until MechWarrior 4 that I would come across a 3D translation of Cyberbots’ physical design.

Tread.

MechWarrior 4: Vengeance only released on PC in 2000.

I bought it on the recommendation of a close friend and on the back of my own curiosity.

I hadn’t made a distinct effort to avoid MechWarrior 3, it simply never entered my world.

Having not seen how the series had developed since MW2, I wondered how FASA Interactive had iterated on MechWarrior’s physicality.

MechWarrior 4 was a much more fluid game overall.

The mission structure felt less rigid. The environments were more open-ended.

The mechs felt more graceful.

MW4 had thoroughly refined its action elements: time flowed and the physicality dissipated.

In making the game more fluid, the mechs lost some of their presence.

They no longer had the density of MW2.

This would have been fine had something else been added like a more organic mobility or a satisfying friction.

Instead MW4 cut the physicality of MW2 without replacing it with any other sense.

It never pulled the player into the world in the same way as 2.

It never gave the player the opportunity to inhabit that mechanical space as thoroughly.

And this trend would only continue across the mech genre, regardless of platform.

Until recently, From Software‘s console-only Armored Core series shifted from slow, grounded mech combat to fast-paced, frenetic action.

In the Metal Gear series, every iteration of Metal Gear since REX became faster and more streamlined. Less mechanical and more organic.

The mechs in Cyber-Troopers Virtual-On were much slower and heavier than in its sequel: Oratorio Tangram.

The Virtual-On series is unique to this trend in that following Oratan, the developers would seek to slow the game down and kill some of the mobility in order for the game engine to support 4-player battles instead of only 2.

But removing movement options and replacing them instead with extra players has its own way of hollowing out the physical identity of the game: more people doing less.

Stone.

Outside of a few Japanese developers and IPs, the mech genre remained dormant for much of 00’s and early 2010’s.

Mechs were often relegated to set-piece gameplay moments in FPS games like Killzone 2 and FEAR 2.

Mechs became a novelty.

This trend broke in 2012 with two near-simultaneous PC releases: MechWarrior Online and Hawken.

Both games releasing as F2P suggested just how far from the core imagination mech games had fallen in the previous decade.

I tried Hawken first.

Its world was beautiful and well-realized.

The mechs and the gameplay were unsatisfying.

Utilizing simple WASD movement and shooting mechanics, it felt like a standard FPS reskinned as a mech game.

Moving in Hakwen felt no different than moving in Call of Duty: quick and smooth.

The mechs had no physicality, no heaviness, no dense heart.

Hawken was simply a well-made aesthetic homage to the genre.

Disappointed by Hawken’s emptiness, I had hope for MechWarrior Online.

MWO ended up being a disappointment in different ways.

Outside of utilizing the beautiful CryEngine 3, the game had advanced very little from MW4.

The mechs in MWO felt the same as they did over a decade ago.

They had the same kind of friction, the same quickness, the same floating physicality.

MWO’s mechs inhabit their world better than Hawken, but the lack of change since MW4 was stark.

Utilizing MW4’s approach to ‘lighter’ mechs, simplified controls, and online-only design, MWO suffers the same exact problem as the latter iterations of Virtual-On.

MWO is less interesting than its ancestors.

It would be another two years before a game would succeed at recreating and reiterating on the dense friction of MW2.

Titanfall understood what made MW2 so compelling in spite of its flaws.

Like MW2, it adopts time as a currency that can be actively traded for a mech.

Being that the default player state in TF is a grounded mech pilot, it becomes the player’s job to get into a mech as quickly as possible.

In each match, there is a clock that ticks down the seconds until the player’s mech is ready to be dropped from orbit.

It is the player’s job to speed up the timer by completing objectives and/or killing the opposing team.

The mechs in TF are scaled well. They loom over the battlefield without being overbearing.

They have a near-perfect density.

Even though Titanfall implements the simple WASD control scheme found in Hawken, the mechs have more mechanical presence.

Everything from the mechs’ swaying while in motion to the loud, heavy footsteps harden their identity in the game.

The mechs in TF feel like a new kind of organic machinery.

Where the pilots feel fast and loose, the mechs stick to the world around them.

Titans have no floatiness in them.

There is no question about where they belong and the space they are occupying.

Titanfall is the most authentic hybrid of Metal Gear REX/Cyberbots’ organic stickiness and MechWarrior 2’s mechanical density.

As more games seek to describe the future and fictions of military technology, it can only be hoped that mechs will continue to be given focus outside of short bursts of novelty.

Mechs have stood in the imaginations of people across all cultures for decades now.

While it is simple to dismiss them as fictional machines that have no real bearing outside of being a cog in nailing down a future aesthetic, they are more a congealing point for human technological imagination.

The fundamental identity of mechs lies in their physicality and more games need to do better in getting that right.

Games like Hawken that only utilize the mech aesthetic while ignoring their physical identities seem disingenuous and limiting.

When I first began to understand MechWarrior 2, it felt as though I was discovering something bold, honest, and complex.

While Titanfall dropped the complexity down, its mechs still have boldness and genuine presence.

Video games are the best platform for experiencing what a mech might feel like, what it might be able to do.

By ignoring the subtleties involved in that experience, we are only trading imagination for a rote, ineffectual boredom of space.

This article was funded by the RPS Supporter program.

110 Comments

  1. SquidgyB says:

    I’ll just post what I always post on mech related stories – single player mech game please, preferably in the Mechwarrior franchise.

    • Corb says:

      I would say instead, only games that are actually mech games. Metal Gear is not a mech game, it is a game that has mechs but mechs are not THE gameplay.
      Mechwarrior is a mech game, armored core is a mech game, starsiege is a mech game, earth siege is a mech game, front mission is a mech game. Notice how all of those you actually pilot a mech as the core gameplay?

  2. padger says:

    Lovely – and strange – post! Put this one on the front page, though.

    I think I still dream the intro sequence to Mechwarrior 2.

  3. ProApocalyptic says:

    Nice piece. I never got into mech games, but this article gives some really good insight into what makes them interesting.

  4. Rise / Run says:

    It reads somewhat like beat poetry. I like it (neither because nor in spite of). I also have to agree with the notion of physicality as of primary importance to well-realized mechs. It’s something I was never able to put words to.

  5. Wowbagger says:

    Does Zone of the Enders not count as a mech game? I’m not really into the plodding around in a heavy suit thing. (Although I kind of enjoyed it in Lost Planet) Very much enjoyed the space battle ballet that is ZOE though.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      ZOE is a very different take on mech movement, but movement and physicality are still very, very important to it. I’d agree that it definitely deserves a mention, but you can’t expect on author to include absolutely every game in a given genre.

      • nearly says:

        It’s interesting that there’s also to consider how mechs play differently in turn based or strategy games. There’s a (probably little known) Zone of the Enders game on the Game Boy Advance which I am incredibly fond of because it mixes a great blend of turn based strategy and some real time combat targeting (kinda reverse proto-Valkyria Chronicles but more heavily grid based). The Front Mission games, before they went all Armored Core were also pretty well regarded strategy games, though I can only speak for having played and enjoyed 4.

        I’ll also add that I’m a big fan of that godawful Gundam game which was a universally panned launch title for PS3. For everything bad about it, there are a lot of strong moves, similar to Titanfall.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Fist of Mars, right? Yeah, I remember that. I thought the targeting system was actually a pretty great idea. Also liked that you could tweak individual units to be easier to hit with, or more powerful, but harder to use.

        • Ishbane says:

          link to youtube.com

          Good times.

          While the gameplay itself was less demanding than, say, Advance Wars, i really liked the story and soundtrack.

        • Toadsmash says:

          Fist of Mars is fantastic. The game was absolutely no challenge at all once you figured out how how hilariously easy it was to cheese the game’s silly manual aim/defend minigame, but I loved it for the story and a surprisingly memorable soundtrack. I strongly suspect it’s one of those games that would not have aged well and is probably best left to memory, though.

          Better enjoyed as a visual novel than a fully featured strategy game, I remember thinking.

  6. cpt_freakout says:

    Great piece! Density – what a great word to describe the MW2 mechs. It would be great to have more of both kinds of mechs, the ‘organic’, cyber-something version that takes the mech as an extension of the body and the other, ‘artificial’ one that is more of a clumsy imitation of the body.

  7. Starcide says:

    really liked this piece, enjoyed the points made and loved the aphorism style, bring him back!

  8. David Bliff says:

    I love mech games and the slower pace of old ones.

    I do not like reading things that are not organized into paragraphs.

    It’s really annoying to read and adds nothing.

    Please don’t do this.

    • Ross Angus says:

      This is the style in which our creative director writes emails. It has become infectious.

    • SpiceTheCat says:

      It is an interesting style.

      It demands clarity of thought.

      Each statement must be self-contained.

      Each statement must also stand coherently by its neighbours.

      The spacing demands that the reader consider each statement in isolation.

      It is disruptive to readers used to fast reading of paragraphs.

      There is an imposed tempo which is consistent with the subject matter.

      But yes, please do not adopt this as a house style.

      Fluent and fluid prose is RPS’s collective strong point.

      Which reminds me, it must be almost time for the Flare Path.

      All Hail Tim Stone.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      Thump

      Thump

      Thump

      Thump

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I like when people don’t like things I like.

      I kind of like being an ass sometimes I guess.

      I think the style is nice.

      Please keep doing what you enjoy doing, author.

    • gnodab says:

      I would like to read an article about Mechwarrior.

      I am a supporter of RPS.

      I expect RPS to publish articles.

      Articles as in words, carefully crafted and organized to construe sentences, which in turn make up paragraphs which make up an article.

      I do not want articles of clothing.

      I do not like to read random notes.

      I imagine a world where there are editors, to protect us from unconnected sentences which stumbling over each other.

      I also imagine scotch eggs.

      There are no scotch eggs in germany.

      Not having scotch eggs for breakfast makes me sad.

      Reading unfinished word strings makes me sad as well.

      Sometimes it is better to not publish, instead of publishing poorly.

      This is even tiring to write.

      But not half as tiring as to read.

      Please make it stop.

      Please give scotch egg.

      • Timberly says:

        Agreed.

        Agreed.

        Agreed.

        I agree.

        Please don’t ever write a piece in this style again.

        Or if you do, keep it saved safely, privately on your own computer.

        Someone said “author keep doing the things you like to.”

        To which I would respond “unless being a commercially successful website is still a genuine priority of the RPS team,” which I’m gonna go ahead and state with confidence that it is.

        Thanks for taking our flames in good fun, as they are all of course intended :D

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Seem to be a lot of people here who DO like the style, though, so something tells me RPS isn’t going to suddenly go bankrupt as a result. Nobody here is suggesting every single article should be delivered in this style. But if another one pops up someday, no, I don’t think the site’s suddenly going to cease being “commercially successful”.
          Don’t be ridiculous.

    • B.rake says:

      Tractatus Mecha-Philosophicus

    • theanorak says:

      If you liked the writing style, or you HATED the writing style, you may want to read a novel by Matt Beaumont called “e”

      link to amazon.com

      It’s a novel told by emails, taking place in an ad agency. The Creative Director

      is roundly mocked

      For his belief that writing in

      One

      Word

      Paragraphs

      Somehow makes his writings more profound.

      It doesn’t.

  9. Ansob says:

    Moving in Hakwen felt no different than moving in Call of Duty: quick and smooth.

    This is definitely not the case any more. They changed Hawken a while back so that the class of mech you’re in (light/medium/heavy) imposes a hard cap on how fast you can turn (with heavier mechs obviously turning more slowly), and mechs definitely have inertia. Might be worth looking at it again now that it no longer feels like just a generic FPS with a mech aesthetic plastered on top.

    Another game that did something similar and ended up having mechs that felt ponderous but powerful was Battlefield 2142 – its walkers are similarly turn-capped and slow to start/stop.

    Also, no matter what, we definitely need more mech games.

    • AsianJoyKiller says:

      Don’t bother looking. The game has been abandoned for several months now. There is literally no support, and the remaining community is a circle-jerk of “this is the greatest game ever” despite the games rough development, and unfinished state.

    • dorobo says:

      Yes please bother looking. Im one of the circle jerks..

      • Kempston Wiggler says:

        Why? If the game’s not finished and the Devs have vanished….???

  10. Wolfman says:

    But what about the amazing STARSEIGE?

    It had all the physicality of the Mechwarrior series. But the campaign. Oh god so brilliant. Playable from both sides vantage point? Awesome.

    The feeling of helplessness when playing as humans as the Cybrids invade, all the atmosphere of the radio comms going on as you try to help.

    Such a good game. Shame the series disappeared.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I actually never got to play Starsiege, which upsets me to this day. Earthsiege 2 was, I’m fairly sure, my introduction to mech games though.

      • B.rake says:

        Earthsiege 2 was one of the first 3d games I played (does Red Baron count?) ! I had no idea what I was doing and dropped dead constantly for no apparent reason but I did enjoy wandering around that flat brown plane.

        I had much more success playing CyberStorm… anyone else recall that? Mecha TBS set in the Earthsiege universe, was really awesome, at least until Total Annihilation came out.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Only ever played the demo of Cyberstorm – another regret.

          • B.rake says:

            Maybe its even better than my memory… this dude revisited it and writes pretty glowingly about it link to obscuritory.com.

            Such a shame fantastic stuff like Cyberstorm and the Missionforce games are forgotten, relegated to the dustbin when they could at least be earning new fans and some (perhaps negligible) income for their IP holders (Activision? or maybe HiRez as they own Tribes) on GOG or something.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Never got to play that. Earthseige is where it’s at IMO. ;)
      It’s tactical gameplay was a bit better than MW as it had resources and base managing between missions.

  11. Spacewalk says:

    I’m more of an Armored Warriors chap than a Cyberbots chap probably because it’s a belt scroller but mostly because you can swap out parts of your mech for new ones on the field which is also a mechanic in Cyborg Justice on the Megadrive which I was pretty big on back in the day.

    I haven’t played Oratan in yonks and I doubt that I could handle the speed anymore. There was this one bloke at the arcade that would slaughter me all the time which was problematic because he was always playing it, I couldn’t get the opportunity to have some alone time with it to practice. At least I got slaughtered in style.

    I am glad there was no mention of Shogo in this article.

  12. P.Funk says:

    Tragic that the author apparently never knew about Mechwarrior Living Legends.

    Its basically the perfect Mechwarrior game for our era murdered to make way for the crappy Mechwarrior Online.

    Playing MWO after MWLL was like going from Project Reality or Arma to vanilla Battlefield.

    • DoughburtCakesworth says:

      Yeah, I kept scrolling down in hopes that he’d mention that glorious mod but nope. Shame it’s more or less defunct now. Really miss it :(

    • JKLauderdale says:

      Yep, I had logged in to say just that. Excellent mech game, probably the best in the past 10yrs. Took forever to release but DAMN it’s fun. Things got a bit complicated after gamespy went dark but it’s still quite playable

    • untoreh says:

      I felt somewhat offended that it did not mention mwll. Let’s remember it was awesome with all its flaws. It was the first mech game for me that made me love mechs. It was the first mech game developed on the cry engine and it was stupendously good looking. It mysteriously stopped developing for legal matters just around the time MWO was coming along also developed on the cryengine. This article should be named something like “my experience with mechs”… Not really a proper digression on mech games.

  13. Geebs says:

    Jesus

    H.

    Christ

    T

    L

    ;

    D

    R

    • Pockets says:

      quite. However, I did read it so here is a summary;

      I played a mech game that felt weighty.
      Then I played some mech games that didn’t feel weighty.
      I wish new mech games felt weighty.

      Hope that helps. The thing that annoys me the most about this isn’t just that the article relies on an irritating gimmick but that underneath it, it has very little to say on what could have been a very interesting topic.

      • Shadowcat says:

        (Genuine) thanks for the summary :) Despite being very interested in the topic, I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading that article.

      • guygodbois00 says:

        There’s that word again. “Heavy.” Why are things ‘not’ so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull?

        • Shadowcat says:

          Best read as Rik responding to Neil (before getting beaten up by Vyvyan).

  14. AsianJoyKiller says:

    tl;dr Hawken has been abandoned by it’s developers for several months and has no support. The game is still an unfinished beta product. The remaining playerbase is tiny, and new players get matched against skilled veterans regularly. Also, it’s arena-shooter styled gameplay, alongside a low-TTK isn’t what most people look for in a mech game.

    A fuller explanation:
    As the top poster on the Hawken forums, not to mention I spent months as part of a special volunteer group acting as QA for the developers (and yes, I can prove it if need be), I would recommend nobody try it.

    Firstly, because most people looking for a mech game aren’t looking for what’s in Hawken. It plays more like an arena shooter with an emphasis on movement than a tactical shooter. (I won’t say it’s run-and-gun like CoD, because that would just get you obliterated in Hawken)

    While they did improve the feel of mech weight a bit, it’s won’t be enough for most people looking for mechs. The weapons still have zero feedback. They actually reduced how slow the turn rate was, so now aiming happens even faster (while it isn’t “twitch” aiming, it’s definetely more “twitchy”). Most damning however, is they significantly lowered the time to kill. The mechs can easily die in seconds now. The lightest mechs may can only take 2 or 3 rockets before they die, and the heavy ones only a couple more than that. Movement is paramount to survival. So you won’t be having slugfests. You’re not going to slowly move into position for an ambush. It’s very much about dashing back and forth, with most of you timing spent hiding behind cover. You walk out, shoot, and then dodge back into cover.

    The game has been abandoned by the developers. They disappeared without a word, and there have been no updates for several months. Attempts to contact the lead developer have only resulted in nebulous comments about the game that are complex ways of saying nothing.

    There is currently a twitter movement being pushed by the remaining circle-jerk, pro-Hawken playerbase trying to get new players into the game, and get them to support it. Encouraging people to spend money on an abandoned game, that never made it out of beta (Yes. You heard me right. The game is still officially a beta.) is sketchy and unethical if you ask me.

    And the playerbase is tiny. 300 people average online, worldwide. Generally, most regions are entirely devoid of activity, and even EU/UK players are regularly forced to play NA in order to get a match. Also, with the tiny playerbase, brand new players are regularly matched against top-tier players who have literal years of experience in the game. The matchmaking is crap. Not that it matters, because many high-level players are known to create smurf accounts. Given that the vertical progression in Hawken only provides a minimal advantage (you have to be of a fairly similar skill level for it to really matter), it’s extremely easy for an experienced player to completely and utterly destroy inexperienced players using the default mech without any equipment.

    • dorobo says:

      It was abandoned but you can still play it FOR FREE. And who gave you the idea that everyone interested in mechs want a slow mechwarrior style game? I dare say hawken is a unique game no matter what haters might say.

      • AsianJoyKiller says:

        I didn’t say that everyone was interested in slow mech games. I would never say that, considering I’m one of the people who always pushed for the faster iterations of Hawken.

        Why I’m I not surprised you’ve carried over the “AJK is a hater let’s ignore what he actually said” attitude from the forums?

        And sure, while it may be a unique experience, and you can play it for free, people should be aware of its many flaws before bothering with it.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      They did have some opportunity with their heavy mechs. But no idea if they were ever going to make it work.
      I liked the early gameplay, but IMO it went down hill after Alpha (and coincidently the “injection” of cash from else where!).

  15. Low Life says:

    Steel Battalion. Now that was a mech game (even if not on PC)!

    • krushdbug says:

      But did you ever wade through the horror of the Kinect version on 360?

      • Toadsmash says:

        I think pretty much everyone who knew anything about the original Steel Battallion has been going through through life attempting to make themselves forget that the Kinect game ever existed.

        • krushdbug says:

          I got it for review and had no choice. Dark times.

          You would get smoke inside your mech, choking you, and would have to wave your arms to flip open a panel, open a vent and air it out. Trouble was, the vent button was next to the mech’s self destruct button and the Kinect controls were sloppy as hell. Same went for the lid over the slit you were looking out of. Half the time I was blind, the other half I was self destructing.

          The worst part was that it used a hybrid gamepad/Kinect solution, and I found that there were enough buttons left on the gamepad for mapping every Kinect movement. They could have patched out the Kinect support (or made it optional) and it would have been.. well.. not THAT much better, but definetly playable.

          • KDR_11k says:

            Alternatively they could make a game on the Wii U and put the cockpit controls on the touchscreen.

  16. dmastri says:

    Tiring to read.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Jogging’s tiring too. Lots of people seem to find it pretty satisfying.

      …it bothers me that I jumped to jogging as my example for that.

      • P.Funk says:

        Jogging rarely tires me out within the first 5 seconds.

      • Timberly says:

        Kaeoschassis, do you own stock in a paragraph spacing company or something??

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          There are PARAGRAPH SPACING COMPANIES?!
          Be right back, I’ve got some googling to do!

  17. gulag says:

    No mention of Heavy Gear? You’ve missed a treat there. While Heavy Gear 2 is more varied and better looking, arguably the original holds closer to the principles outlined in this list of declarations.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      HG2 was a strange one, honestly. It’s a shame that basically nobody can get it to run these days, so I’m working off memory here. It was neither a huge, ponderous mech game, nor a fast, fluid fps. You didn’t have the same sense of weight or physicality of a giant robot, but you had many of the limitations – particularly related to how far and fast you could turn and swivel, change stances etc.
      I definitely loved it at the time, though. It was great to get a taste of stealth and teamwork in a mech game. I also remember the space missions being fun but have a horrible feeling that I’m badly, horribly mistaken there.

      HG1 was ace, in that it was basically Mechwarrior. Not what they aimed for, but I wasn’t complaining.

  18. Kempston Wiggler says:

    LOVED this article.

    Each solitary line dropping like the stomp stomp stomp of a 100-tonne mech foot.

    Through its very construction this post explains the difference between the mech games of old and the speedier, fluid, but ultimately shallow successors.

    HAWKEN was never anything more than an arena shooter; anyone who believed otherwise was letting nostalgia blind them. Mechwarrior 2, and MW2: Mercenaries were the golden era for Mech games. I still take them out for a thrash now and again. MW3 had enough of the DNA from those games to be really enjoyable, although signs of streamlining were present. MW4 was crap, for all the reasons you’ve described. Streamlined, focus-led designs stripped away all that interesting density (GREAT word! Love it!).

    We need another mech game, please, gaming industry. MW2 with modern graphics would do very nicely.

    • dorobo says:

      What is wrong with an arena shooter? I don’t get it how something so silly as Wareframe gets more attention than hawken.

      • Kempston Wiggler says:

        There’s nothing wrong with an arena shooter, per se. I love a quick blast of UT now and again but as a genre it’s been done to death[match], hence the modern trend of trying to shoe-horn in interesting/novel opponents (dinosaurs, sharks, etc) that turns out to be just another model using the exact same slick run-and-gun, gotta-kill-em-all-fer-frags gameplay formula. Hawken disappointed because the beautiful Mech designs promised more of the simulation aspects that have been stripped out of modern mech games very much to their detriment.

        When playing MW2 you feel like you’re driving a massive metal monster machine, with radar, weapons and heat systems that require careful monitoring. You’ve got to consider turn rate of your legs, your torso and the angle your cockpit can pivot up and down…it’s just so different from your bog standard arena shooter.

  19. cylentstorm says:

    Exactly. I was also burned by that awful little half-assed PS adaptation, but was similarly impressed by the FEEL of the mechs. Still, I returned that turd the very next day–probably for some silly JRPG.

    Yes, the Titans have a decent feel to them, but unfortunately you never get to spend much time in the cockpit because they pop like an aluminum can after the slightest tap and then you’re back to running around with the few other meatsacks and playing Call of Dookie with jetpacks and wallrunning.

    We need a true and worthy successor/replacement for Ye Olde Mechwarrior series, or at least something that nails the feeling of giant metallic presence that Mr. Salman describes. Nice bit of scribbling, btw.

    • MrUnimport says:

      I think Titan durability was sacrificed intentionally for Titan availability, a worthy trade if you ask me. This is based purely on my experiences with the demo, but cautious play and avoiding sticky situations helped me hold onto a Titan for several minutes at a time, even on occasion carrying my first Titan to the end of a match. Maybe it’s coming from an anime background as far as robots go, but I didn’t feel like they were any squishier than they deserved to be against heavy weapons. Considering the fast pace and short life expectancy of the human players in Titanfall, I don’t think a Titan ought to last the whole match anyway.

    • Pockets says:

      Mechwarrior Online might be a half-finished cash grab but it does at least get the feeling of weighty-ness right. It does trade that off with the light mechs to make them actually viable, but if you get a regular heavy or assault mech and resist the urge to upgrade the engines, it definitely has that weight to it.

      Where it lacks in feeling weighty is largely the bland and static environments.

  20. Kaeoschassis says:

    In this, you’ve outlined beautifully exactly what I didn’t like about MW4. It had great mission structure, and was a lot of fun overall, but jeez, the mechs just felt so boring. I don’t know if you eventually got to play MW3 or not, but it still captured the physicality of the mechs in much the same way as 2 did – my favourite of the series, though many disagree. As for MWO, to my mind as soon as you start balancing a game primarily for multiplayer, you will lose a lot of the fun of experimentation and, yeah, a lot of the power trip that comes from most mech games.

    Excellent article.

  21. Gothnak says:

    I liked Mechcommander 2 the best (Yeah, i know, it’s a strategy game) … And then anything with no other players in it, just AI who i could slowly level up against and learn how to play the game without being killed by L33tM3chHunter4. So i haven’t played Hawken or Mechwarrior Online

    It seems difficultly levels don’t really exist anymore, you are pitched against anyone with 0-max skill and expected to have fun, which i don’t. I’d be up for a game where you play co-op against the Ai and can choose increasingly difficult missions, but against other Players? No thanks.

  22. SomeDuder says:

    writes loves enter button. visitor doesn’t read article. writer loses his chance at glory in the wonderful and sincerely transparent industry that is VIDEO. GAMES. JOURNALISM.

  23. RARARA says:

    I always found the fascination with mechs intriguing. It makes little sense to make hulking robots upright, bipedal, humanoid … but we are still obsessed with dreaming up of giant destructive figures built in our image. Just like we built our images of gods.

    At any rate, my favorite mech designers have to be Shoji Kawamori (responsible for every single Variable Fighter in Macross) and Shinji Aramaki (Motoslave from Bubblegum Crisis, Maneuver Blades from Viper’s Creed, and probably every other anime that features a bike turning into a mecha).

    • airmikee says:

      Going back to the grandaddy of the mech games, BattleTech, there are triped and quadped mechs in existence, such as the Scorpion and Goliath, and not all of the bipedal mechs are humanoid, like the chickenwalking Locusts and Ravens. The universe includes tanks, planes, and naval and spaceships that sometimes even dwarf mechs, so it’s not as if these humanesque machines are the only thing in their arsenals, they just happen to be a unique quality to some battlefields. So having every other weapon imaginable, why doesn’t it make sense to make a death machine in the image of a person, or animal?

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        And of course, it should be pointed out the best ‘mechs aren’t actually humanoid. They might be bipedal, and they might have guns bolted on in places vaguely resembling arms, but they’re nothing like a person. The reason I’ll always be a clanner at heart has nothing to do with the superior tech (okay, it helps…), its their designs. The Inner Sphere have some more practical, less horrible designs, I’ll admit (I’m partial to the look of the Raven, if nothing else) but the majority of them stick too rigidly to humanoid proportions and they look so laughably flimsy and liable to trip over at a moment’s notice. Compare that to the hunched torso, stocky reverse-jointed legs and wide, low-slung ‘arms’ of something like the old Timber Wolf and you quickly see that there’s a huge difference between “bipedal” and “humanoid”.

        Of course, I haven’t kept up with battletech. For all I know they all look like people now and I look like an idiot.

        • Premium User Badge

          Phasma Felis says:

          The Timber Wolf/Mad Cat was visually just a combination of the Inner Sphere Marauder and Catapult, though.

      • KDR_11k says:

        Well, “Granddaddy” is relative, Battletech was clearly inspired by earlier mecha anime to the point where the first BT mechs were direct ripoffs. Mecha anime tends to give its mechs more maneuverability to make it about pilot skill rather than “who’s piloting the bigger mech”. Especially since the bigger mech tends to be on the side of the bad guys (e.g. Gundam’s mobile armors) or it’d be rather boring.

        There are of course different approaches to mechs along with different weight classes, where Gundam has mechs as the ultimate land and space battle machines they’re much weaker in VOTOMS which puts them more in the armored car/heavy infantry role where they can withstand small arms fire but a tank is already a big obstacle.

        In Armored Core a mech plays more like a heavier gunship with extremely high mobility but unable to fly (also absurdly strong armor, mechs can take about 100x as much damage as almost equally sized tanks in AC…).

        • airmikee says:

          Since the first Macross game didn’t come out until a year after Battletech, and the series was only two years prior and set largely in space and not on the ground like Battletech, I’ll go ahead and keep referring to Battletech as the grandaddy of mech games.

          • RARARA says:

            Ummm, originally, the Stinger, Shadow Hawk, Archer, Griffin, Warhammer, Phoenix Hawk, Marauder, Crusader, Wasp, Rifleman and Merlin were all designs lifted wholesale from SDF Macross, Fang of the Sun Dougram and Crusher Joe. You may want to look up the ‘Unseen’, and the legal battle between FASA and Harmony Gold. Battletech was obviously inspired by Japanese mech designs.

          • Premium User Badge

            Phasma Felis says:

            Every one of the original battlemechs was literally traced from the box covers of Japanese mecha kits. FASA did later pay for the designs (and then was prevented from using them anyway because Harmony Gold had bigger lawyers), but there wouldn’t have been a BattleTech game with Macross, Dougram and Crusher Joe.

  24. bad guy says:

    WTH!? The author never played the most amazing mech games for the PC.

    Mechwarrior 2 (PC)
    Mechwarrior 3
    Mechwarrior: Living Legends

    Sorry, but I expect better from RPS. ),:

    • ansionnach says:

      Never really got into Mech games but expected something on the history of their development focusing on the likes of Mech Warrior, Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri and other PC games on the simulation end of the spectrum. Maybe with a mention for Heavy Gear and Shogo: Mobile Armour Division. Must actually get around to paying Terra Nova some day…

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Goddamn, I missed an opportunity to shoehorn a discussion of Terra Nova into a comments section,what is wrong with me?
        It’s not exactly the sort of game the author’s talking about, I’ll admit, its PBAs were barely bigger than a person, but they had an interesting style of movement that was very much their own. And with its detailed modeling of systems and damage, it very definitely made you FEEL like you were piloting powered armour – ah, the feeling when you were limping around with no armour, a damaged external camera, weapons that cut out for no reason and a targeting system that could barely tell a tree from a hostile soldier. Good times for immersion, those were.

        Seriously though, are you telling me you have a copy of that game? Why are you not playing it right now?

        • ansionnach says:

          Tend to keep a mental note of things I like the sound of and pick them up when they’re released on budget. They may sit on the shelf for a long time, gnawing away at my conscience. Had backed up all my floppies and CDs so I could reach for them whenever I felt like it but that hard disc was sent crashing to the ground by somebody recently. I’ve started to look at backing up again, have spent a lot of time on Civ2 of late. For single-player I think my hacked-together version of the Conflicts in Civilization CD is the optimal use of space. I’ve removed all the data from the first track barring the civ2.exe the game seems to use to identify the CD and converted all the music to OGG format. For music purposes, any 18-track CD is recognised as Conflicts in Civilization. It all runs nicely from this and have a shortcut that loads it all up in DOSBox and opens win3.1 for me. If I want to play multiplayer I’ve a similar script that converts the OGG files to WAV, mounts the disc runs the game and deletes the WAV files afterwards. Not that I’m short of space, but perhaps I like hacking around more than playing the games sometimes! So yeah, must get to Terra Nova sometime. Really enjoyed Underworld and System Shock (the first one), must finish UW2 and Thief soon and maybe start into SS2 again (never got into that one)!

  25. Elusiv3Pastry says:

    As much as I loved and played MW2 and it’s expansions to death, I love the vastly underrated MW3 the most. It was the most “sim-y” and stompiest of the series; even the lighter mechs were stupendously ponderous, and your three mobile repair vehicles were critical assets that persisted across missions (or not, if you failed to protect them). A great game that, but it never got the attention it deserved.

    • airmikee says:

      I agree. I’ve still got it on disc, Win7 can run it with only a few hiccups. That damned train mission is still a pain in the ass.

  26. airmikee says:

    I played Mechwarrior Online quite a bit, and I think it’s a fun game, but it’s still not finished. It’s a great PvP Mech game, but there’s nothing between the matches to make sense of the game universe, just an endless stream of battles. It’s been a couple months since I put any real time into it, maybe I should update it and see what, if anything, is new.

    I wanted to like Hawken, but it really is nothing more than Call of Duty:Mechwarrior. Every great mech game has left me feeling like I’m piloting a mech, not playing a soldier dressed up in a mech suit. Movement shouldn’t be quick and easy, turning around should take a while, going into reverse shouldn’t be as quick as tapping a button, at least when it comes to piloting a multi-ton machine. Each step I take in my Atlas feels like I’m in control of a 100 ton death robot, each time I fire an autocannon I can hear the shell clink out of the chamber and sizzle as it hits the air, each hit I take jars my cockpit, just as it would when taking hits from weapons with slugs that weigh more than a person.

    • AsianJoyKiller says:

      While I’m quick to criticize Hawken (On the official forums, I’m considered #1 critic of the game, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone play it given the direction it’s taken), comparing Hawken to CoD is a comparison of ignorance. It’s terribly inaccurate. Hawken is closer to Unreal Tournament or TF2 than CoD.

    • Ishbane says:

      Community Warfare will finally be added in December, allowing you to drop multiple waves of mechs (restricted by total tonnage) to attack or defend planets and claim them for your chosen faction.

  27. TechnicalBen says:

    I found the opposite. Hawken felt like Mechs (though they DO “hover” and the game shows that with thrusters etc).
    The Mechs in Titanfall felt like MasterCheif in Halo. Less like a giant robot.

  28. floogles says:

    Front Mission series, esp Front Mission 3 and 5.

    There is an exceptionally good reddit post about Front Mission and Mecha games in general:

    link to reddit.com

    I learned a lot about mech games I didn’t know about.

  29. KDR_11k says:

    My problem with super heavy mechs is that at some point it feels like you can’t do much except shoot and hope the other guy dies first because moving the thing is gonna take forever. Playing deathmatch in MAV feels like that, I guess that style is meant more for team fights where multiple mechs working together matter, not a lone brick with guns.

    In Chou Soujuu Mecha MG the mechs are heavy but guns are rare, most attacks are blunt weapons or the occasional missile, all delivered with the same pace the mechs walk with so movement remains relevant. Also its mechs are extremely clumsy to operate, requiring you to manually load shells, fill up the burner or input launch sequence codes. So there’s the added gameplay of actually operating the mech you’re using rather than having some easy click-and-shoot attack. It also means that every mech you get feels extremely different. It’s not just a matter of how many weapons there are on it but also how you operate them, whether the mech requires some complicated extra actions to use or is weaker but straight-forward. Also transforming into cars and such makes a whole lot more sense in a game where mechs are sloooow and cars can often drive under enemy attacks.

  30. MrUnimport says:

    Actually, I’m pretty sure Mechwarrior was your first exposure to Japanese mech design.

    Also have to second the sentiment that Titans are even floatier than Hawkenbots. What makes Titans special is the fact they coexist with humans and human-scale environments. In first person they’re nothing too special: in third person, they’re absolutely terrifying, a tower of angry metal. The fact that Titans can grab, punch, roadkill and be ridden by the puny humans lends them a fantastic world presence.

    Hawken has its numerous failings, but it doesn’t play or feel even remotely like Call of Duty.

  31. MadMattH says:

    The title is quite deceptive. This article does little to describe the evolution, much less the development of mech games. I think I’d much prefer a more in-depth article which actually tried to describe those things mentioned in the title, instead of merely talking from one guy’s point of view. Is this really what they are spending subscriber money on? Send some of that subscriber money my way and I’ll give you a much better article.

  32. Unruly says:

    I remember way back when I was but a young teenage idiot, a game came out called Steel Battalion. I had never played any Mechwarrior game. I had a very small amount of experience with Armored Core 2, and it was all less than good. Metal Gear REX, Gundam Wing, the original Mobile Suit Gundam, and Gundam 08th MS team(Fuck yea Gouf!) were my only real exposure to mechs in any real capacity. A mech game was something that had never really appealed to me.

    And I wanted that game so badly. I wanted it because of that controller. It had a covered, big, red, eject button! It looked amazing! And everything I read said that the controller really mattered and was so heavily ingrained in the game. The mech had an actual startup sequence that you had to perform at each mission start! Failure to eject meant your pilot died and your save was wiped! It was like actually, really being a mech pilot.

    But it cost like $300, because of that awesome controller. And not only did the game cost that much, but it was for Xbox, and I only had a PS2. And I was a jobless, broke teenager. I never got to play it.

    Now, I’m a slightly less broke adult. And I want a game like that. I would love a game like that. A fully-featured mech simulator. Especially if it had a campaign editor and multiplayer, because I could see an ArmA-like community springing up around it. Small, but dedicated. And I think it would be amazing. Give me that game. I want it. I crave it!

  33. gameaddict says:

    Great article! Loved the style!
    Keep writing Mr. Salman.

  34. Wrenchfarm says:

    Logged in just to say how much I enjoyed this read!

  35. Zenicetus says:

    It helps to understand the reverence for the original MechWarrior series in the context of other tactical simulation games for the PC that were around at the time. Look at what else we were playing back then on the PC:

    MechWarrior – 1989
    Wing Commander – 1990
    Wing Commander 2 – 1991
    F-117A Stealth Fighter 2 – 1991
    X-Wing – 1993
    Wing Commander 3 – 1994
    Tie Fighter – 1994
    MechWarrior 2 – 1995

    They all shared a certain seriousness about the simulation while still being fun to play. They came with fat printed manuals you had to study. They all shared the same control methods, back when it could be assumed that everyone gaming on a PC had a joystick, and later even other peripherals like throttles and pedals. I remember how much fun it was to use rudder pedals to swivel my mech torso for circle strafing in MW2 (or was it 3? I don’t remember).

    I don’t think we’ll see a return to this type of game with deeper tactical simulation and a slower pace, unless there’s someone out there that pulls off what David Braben and Chris Roberts are doing with crowd-funded “old school” space games. I doubt there’s a big enough market for it, but I’d chip in if it hit the right sweet spot and had a singleplayer campaign. Mechs as a military concept are silly, but I had fun anyway in those older games.

  36. theallmightybob says:

    To bad you never experienced MechWarrior 3, it was much better then MechWarriorr 4 IMO.

    • Ishbane says:

      3 was much more of a true simulation, while the control scheme of 4 could be boiled down to a WASD-shooter.

  37. sabrage says:

    And here I just bought a load of Gunpla last night.

    Shoutout to Evangelion for the hefty, organic robots.

  38. Timberly says:

    Well, I must say I disagree with you on the Mechwarrior series in the sense that they gave me everything and more I could’ve hoped for at the time they were made. I also must disagree with you on Titanfall in that it is everything a mech game should NOT be: mechs just slightly more powerful than a man on foot with the proper weaponry, an emphasis on spending at LEAST as much time out of your mech as in it, if not much more, and the lack of a decent story to tie anything together whatsoever. Mechwarrior had a deep, rich story on which it fell back and that made me feel as though there was a point to us fighting in these 100-ton war machines.

    I also have to question the bizarre layout of your article: was there a point to it? I know that may sound rude, but I have no other way of asking the one thing about which I was most curious while reading it. It looks like a haiku written by an Alzheimer’s patient, it’s very distracting and adds nothing to the content in this man’s opinion.

  39. Continuity says:

    It makes me sad that MW2 is still the best mech game by a long way. I had such high hope for the future of the genre back in 97.

    Oh well.

  40. Strangerator says:

    Surprising to see no mention of MW4 Mercenaries, the last real mech game. It had everything I like about mech games, deliberate movement, freedom of loadout customization, and salvaging of enemy mechs. In my opinion this was the high water mark, and yes I did play MW2 repeatedly as well. MW2 was amazing when it came out, and only MW4 mercs was able to knock it off the top spot. MW4 had an entertaining variety of missions, a voiced protagonist, and so much customization that I probably spent as much time in the mech lab as on the battlefield. It also had something MW2 lacked, which is mech knockdown. Alpha-striking some lighter mechs (or removing one of their legs) can result in the mech falling to the ground. It also had a coliseum where you could compete in 4 weight classes for cash. So much good stuff! A lot of people missed MW4 mercs because MW4 vanilla was fairly underwhelming. If you ever loved mech games, give Mercs a try!

    Titanfall is a joke, and APTLY named. Titans fall to a stiff breeze. I’m sorry, but my suspension of disbelief only stretches so far. In Titanfall’s universe, mechs don’t have any discernible purpose. In any mechwarrior game, infantrymen appear as environmental decoration, and can simply be ignored and stomped. But if titans can be so instantly obliterated by dudes on foot, why in the hell spend the resources on building them? In order to justify the existence of mechs in Titanfall, you’d need larger maps and a greater variety of targets. You’d need wide open spaces and a “middle” class of armored elements that can easily wipe out infantry. Then you have your purpose for titans, who could easily take down other armored elements and turret emplacements. If you have some wide-open fields that connect the more urban environments, you’d actually have a purpose for those big bots. But the scale of the game is too small, and the mechs too fragile, to be really satisfying.

  41. totem42 says:

    Dug the article style, fun stuff.

    I’d agree that neither MWO nor Hawken are satisfying. MWO is too ponderous, Hawken is too smooth. I want my mechs JUST right, and I have no idea what that means.

    MWO keeps taunting me, if they ever add a single player element to the mix (a la the first MW [MW2 was outta my price range/computing power back in those days], BT universe is amusing) I’d give it another whirlsy.

  42. Thrippy says:

    Sorry you missed out on a PC gaming milestone.

    Mechwarrior 2 was my introduction to internet online multiplayer (after Red Baron on The Sierra Network). I joined my first clan. I learned not to give up against overwhelming odds. My thick skin was first grown there. My clan often lost and we grew to treasure our dark horse underdog reputation. Shortly after that came kali.net, DOOM, Warcraft 2, Duke Nukem and then again MW2 with NetMech running through Kali.

    So a big bow and abiding thank you to MW2. I’m fairly certain it was the direct inspiration for many deathmatch conventions that followed. Pity so few games borrowed from its depth.

    Consoles. Bleh.

  43. Burius1981 says:

    Good article, I enjoyed it. I would humbly submit Ring of Red (Playstation 2) as a good Mech game theme wise. It is a turn based strategy game with mechs fighting along side infantry squads against other mechs and their infantry in limited real time encounters. All of the Mech’s and their pilots have a ton of personality, they are diesel powered with chunky armor, stompy movement, heavy melee attacks, and the whole package carries that weighty feel even though it’s not first or third person. The main element of gameplay with the mechs is time. It takes time to get into your current mech’s optimal range, time to line up a shot: the more time you take the better the accuracy but you risk taking fire which reduces your accuracy, reloading takes considerable time, and each encounter has a time limit.