BattleTech devs talk slowness, mods and what to expect from the next update

battletech-speed

I’ve been on something of an emotional journey with Harebrained Schemes’ turn-based mech combat game, BattleTech. I was turned off by its unusually slow animation speeds and drawn-out wars of attrition during my first dozen-odd hours of play, but a combination of speed-up mods and deepening understanding of rules the game itself did not take the time to explain saw me fall ever-deeper in love with it. Many people, especially fans of its tabletop source material, adored BattleTech from the get-go, but others expressed similar concerns to me about its pacing – and soon enough the developers announced that their forthcoming first major update would offer new, official speed-tweaking options.

So, I bounced a few questions off BattleTech game director Mike McCain and ended up with some candid answers about exactly what we can expect from those options, the original design intentions behind the game’s languid pace, how the team feel about it being altered by mods and why they’d “love to improve on” how BattleTech currently explains how to best take down a giant killing machine.

RPS: BattleTech is rather unhurried about its movement and animation speed. What led you to settle on that kind of pace for it?

Mike McCain, Game Director: Yeah, I think it’s just evolved over time, for a few different reasons. Selling the scale and weight of ‘Mech combat was certainly an important goal for us from the start of development, and BattleTech has always been more “giant lumbering war-machines” than some of the other mecha franchises out there. We wanted combat to feel visceral and cinematic – to not just be pieces on a game board. The default camera behavior really helps convey the scale of ‘Mechs, but of course takes time. And, there’s a lot of player-communication that can happen during a given action, so some of our steps to try to ensure that cause-and-effect and action results are clearly conveyed have probably caused turns to take a bit longer.

RPS: How has the response been to the game’s slowness, generally? Were there many other complaints about it, or was it just me being grumpy and time-starved?

McCain: No, you’re not alone! It seems like most players are content with the pace of the game, but we’ve also heard from many players (and some other reviewers) who wish the game moved along faster. Or from players who are starting to want more pacing control, now that they’ve played 50 or 100 hours of the game or more. We had gotten a little feedback like this during pre-release testing, but I’ll admit that I didn’t expect it to be AS frequent of a reaction as it has been. Combat used to be slower actually, during early development – so our internal compasses may have become somewhat skewed over time.

RPS: What about the pauses before and after some actions and sounds? What’s the thinking behind those?

McCain: Oh yeah, I recall you speculating about this in an earlier article – generally we were just trying to ensure that there’s enough time to digest the results of a given action. And in a few cases to keep MechWarrior VO emotes and ‘Mech audio from colliding. We may have been trying too hard to make sure players wouldn’t miss things, that combat would stay digestible.

RPS: How do you feel about the player-made mods which speed things up?

McCain: Honestly, we’re always glad when players are passionate enough about the game to put things like that out there. Our only concern is that we don’t officially support modding – and some of the changes people have been applying could be brittle, or break down the road as we update the game. So it’s like, I’m all for folks modifying the game to suit their needs, in principle – I just also don’t want players to end up inadvertently having a bad experience because of a mod they downloaded.

Changing specific json settings, at least, is usually pretty safe – like changing those delays to zero – you just might need to re-apply it after game updates, or if you ever need to verify your game files.

RPS: Can you tell us more about the official speed tweaks you plan to offer in the forthcoming update? How extensive will they be? What are the red lines you don’t want them to cross, in terms of preserving your original vision for this game?

McCain: Good segue. In our first big update, among other things, we’re adding a full speed-up mode that can be enabled or disabled at any time from the settings menu. It greatly accelerates the majority of a given action, then eases out of the acceleration at the end – so that you don’t miss where a unit ends up on the map, or seeing the results of an attack. We’re also adding an “on-demand speedup” function – basically, you can hit the SPACEBAR during an action to accelerate only that action. I’m excited about this one for players like me who might often want to watch the action play out, while still having the ability to “fast-forward” when desired.

And yeah it’s an interesting question about “original vision”, I’d say we don’t really put too much stock in that. During development it’s important to have a clear set of goals, and selling the scale and weight of ‘Mech combat was definitely one of those. Post-launch though, right now it’s all about reacting to player feedback. And that includes re-evaluating things like pacing.

If enough players would like better pacing control, then it kind of doesn’t matter what our original thoughts and desires on pacing were. It’s really important to us as a team that we’re willing to update our goals and plans in light of new information. In this case, player reactions to the game at launch. Sometimes people can really hunker down on a position and have a hard time shifting their viewpoint, even as all the data changes around them – we try really hard not to be guilty of that. For that matter, I appreciated your willingness to re-assess BattleTech as you got deeper into the game.

Anyway – if we can give players more options to customize the experience as they like, that’s good for us because it’s good for them.

RPS: Why does the in-mission tutorial stop short of mentioning several critical mechanics that differ from the TBS norm – stuff that’s perhaps obvious to long-term BattleTech players but might only become clear after many hours for newcomers – in favour of tucking it into dialogue trees with the base mode NPCs? Is this something that might be adjusted in later updates?

McCain: Time, mostly! Putting some information in dialogue trees wasn’t about trying to tuck it away, it was about trying to make sure it got in. Our content creation pipeline does a lot of things well, but unfortunately, constructing tutorial missions was a more time-consuming (and error-prone) operation for us, so we focused on critical-path tutorialisation in mission and then did our best to augment that with the out-of-mission dialogue. We’d love to improve on this in some way in the future, but we’re still evaluating what to prioritise after Update 1.

I’ll add that we’ve been very grateful for all the fan-created resources that started to come out even before launch, there’s some great write-ups and Youtube videos explaining different aspects of combat and mercenary play out there now, and I’m glad the community has done so much to help fill in some of those gaps for new players.

RPS: What’s the fastest way to take down a King Crab? Asking for a friend.

McCain: Definitely stay out of range of those AC/20’s for as long as possible, try to deal stability damage from range – look for ++ LRMs and PPCs with extra stability damage – and use any higher initiative units in your Lance to your advantage. Precision Strike and focusing your attacks on the left or right facing are also generally good ideas to maximize the effectiveness of your damage on a tougher enemy unit. The more you can pile onto that LT or RT location through a combination of knockdown called shots, Precision Strike, and positioning, the quicker you’ll break through the shell to that soft internal structure.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

29 Comments

  1. MiniMatt says:

    Have really been loving Battletech; the number one improvement I’m hoping for would be some optimisation.

    As a turn based game there really is no excuse for this running GPUs harder than FarCry. The visual experience doesn’t suffer for it as it’s not the sort of game which really matters if it’s at 30,60, or 120fps, but the auditory experience suffers greatly thanks to the screaming of fans running full pelt to cool the GPU struggling to render a…. static menu screen.

    • StAUG says:

      This. Even navigating between mechs in the bay between missions would cause the game to hang for several seconds, and in-mission I was often dropping below 30fps regardless of settings. The minute-plus load times didn’t help either. I’m running a pretty decent SSD and a 1080ti, I was surprised how badly the game ran.

      In saying that, I otherwise loved the game despite the performamce issues and I’m hoping for a sequel.

      • Werthead says:

        I found that at least some of the out-of-game, back-on-the-ship slowdown was caused by the number of saved games you have: if you have loads (and they build up), just go into the directory and delete the ones you no longer need. That then speeds things up a fair bit.

        • bee says:

          I did some searching online and found the same tip. I can confirm that reducing the number of save game files does indeed improve load/save performance. That said, It’s a difference of at most maybe 20% for me. That’s not zero, but it’s still an inexcusably bad performing game.

          Still, this Battletech PC game is one of my favorite games to come out in years. I’ve already sunk 60+ hours in the game in around a month.

        • Foosnark says:

          I tried deleting save files — it didn’t help a lot, and they were restored automatically through some mechanism or other (Steam Cloud?)

    • LexW1 says:

      Well, in a sense there is no excuse.

      On the other hand it was built in Unity, so I suspect we see the root cause right there. That’s not to say all Unity games run badly, but…

      • Dandadandan says:

        Kind of a general fix for Unity based games:

        In steam launch options for each game add

        -window-mode exclusive

        I don’t have BattleTech so can’t test the specific game, but the above got a couple of other Unity games from 20-30 FPS up over 100 FPS on my 1080 Ti.

        • MiniMatt says:

          Genius! Without this setting I was having a devil of a time getting third party apps (or even the graphics drivers) to cap frame rate down to 30.

    • Rublore says:

      I solved that problem by restricting the game’s fps using nVidia Inspector. I’m not sure what the AMD equivalent is for people with those cards, but I understand there is one.

      • MiniMatt says:

        Solid advice there, I’ve in the past used the Nvidia control panel applet to force half-refresh-rate vsync (ie ~30fps for a 60hz monitor) but that route has been a bit flakey of late.

    • Tyrmot says:

      Yes, also rather disappointed not to see anything regarding game performance rather than the pacing – it’s pretty crazy that on high-end hardware I can’t even switch between the various static screens on the argo without interminable waiting every time.. I find the actually in-battle performance to be fine though. Hopefully those are coming too, but just weren’t mentioned in the interview..

  2. Michael Fogg says:

    Alec is really wearing his Torquemada hat for this one.

  3. mpk says:

    Wait, there’s a tutorial?

  4. Erockcdn says:

    Take that money you made and voice all dialog please. (I’m to lazy to read) would be nice to g have an ambush option.

  5. Ham Solo says:

    I’m okay with the movement and animation speed, apart from the knockdown effects (on uneven grounds half the mech disappears into terrain) and the turning speed (it looks comical for huge mechs to turn on a time in less than a second without much leg movement).

  6. rodan32 says:

    Loving the game, but the performance makes me glum. My system should be OK; 7700k, 32 GB RAM (I know, overkill – my reason is pretty stupid, too. I had 16GB, but only having 2 slots filled looked lonely, so I bought another 16GB for the aesthetics. My wife hates me), 1060 6GB, 850 EVO SSD. The load times are still so bad. I don’t know what can be done about that.

    I’m used to this, I guess. I seem to remember the load times for Mechwarrior on the old 286 were pretty nasty too. I just had this dream when I was a lad those many years ago that one day load times wouldn’t be a thing. Maybe my children will live to see it.

  7. Zenicetus says:

    It’s a little disappointing that speed/pacing was the main topic of conversation. I enjoy the game, not having the performance issues some others are, but there’s a lot more that needs work. For example:

    Immediate fixes: Fine-tune the appearance of “reinforcements,” and program escorted vehicles so they hang with their protectors. Escort missions just aren’t worth doing because they’re too frustrating, unless you meta-game to avoid the poor programming.

    Later fixes or DLC: Make the enemy mechs on contract missions more distinctive, so we’re not just fighting generic interchangeable enemies once we hit the ground. Some enemy VO for non-story missions would help, and also more distinctive paint jobs for each faction. Include missions that make it worthwhile to keep and use light and medium mechs throughout the game, not just at the start.

    The core of the game works fine, but it could really use some polish and expansion, to make it less repetitive when you’re not doing the story missions.

    • sleepyGoat says:

      Where reinforcements are concerned, I was on the same page until I realized I don’t have to defeat every unit on the map every time. Now I’m sort of okay with things as they are.

      If these random battles are to be truly random, then sometimes the odds will be stacked against you. Sometimes you’ll have to bag the objective and run.

      Or just run.

      • ratache says:

        I don’t mind that either. Actually some real tactics use this method, the protection slows down the baddies so the convoy can escape while reinforcements are called in. So it’s actually quite immersive.
        And on a final note, the Changes to turnspeed will be welcome.

      • Premium User Badge

        ooshp says:

        Yeah I cracked the shits at the game the first time it happened and I got swarmed by 7 mechs about 3 hours of playtime in.

        Now I’ve gotten used to it and play more cautiously I do like the randomness – though they should express the uncertainty of numbers in the mission briefing and fix the radio barks which let you know the (burning ruins of) reinforcements have arrived as you finish the mission.

        The escorts are just plain stupid – the game specifically tells you they will follow you to stay protected, then it’s god damned Leeroy Jenkins time.

  8. Killy_V says:

    I love this game.

    First impression was really rough. I did not understood what I was doing. Then after reading some articles and tips, it clicked. I love the progression, I’m feeling attached to my Mechwarriors and I feel the pain of loosing an arm with a ++ weapon !

    I don’t really get the pacing hate, I m loving it so far, especially when you look at movies at the same time or waiting for that ping on Discord ^^

    My only concern is the difficulty because some mission are really really hard but I love the ‘go back to other planet and pex some more’ approach the game offers.

    I’m having a blast playing.

  9. Fitzmogwai says:

    Best way to take down a King Crab? Precision Strike to the head with twin-linked +++ Gauss Rifles. (Thank you modders!)

    • Premium User Badge

      ooshp says:

      Ah yes, cheating with OP weapons is a great way to take out a Crab. I wonder why that wasn’t mentioned in the article?

      • Morat Gurgeh says:

        Fuck yeah mate! Why even bother playing if you’re cheating! It’s one thing to mod in QOL improvements, another to fling a fucktonne of super weapons at yourself.

  10. vecordae says:

    I’ve enjoyed the game quite a bit and, mechanically, I’ve got few complaints.

    Visually, though, while I appreciate that time was taken to make the mechs themselves huge and ponderous, their dingy, scratched-off looking paint jobs are really generic and, when zoomed out at all, kind of indistinct. I barely register the secondary color and haven’t really noticed any kind of heraldry on the mechs that indicate what faction they belong to. It’d be nice to have nicer, less ragged-looking paint jobs and bolder colors to choose from. It’d be a great way to differentiate between, say, pirates, and the elite units of major political powers.

    Fortunately, the way the game itself plays out, it’s not caused me any visual confusion. I just found it a bit less inspired than, say, the interesting motion-comic style cinematics.

  11. dancingplanet says:

    I can understand adding control so that players can speed up animations if they want, but please don’t change the original speed for those of us who love Battletech as it is. This game is so close to the tabletop experience and I, personally, am overjoyed at how it turned out. The only thing I really, really wish for is to get my hands on a Marauder or a Warhammer….

    • nogglebeak says:

      There are at least 2 WH variants. the 2H and another one. They are as good as you’d expect them to be. SRM6+++ all day… medium mech wrecking assaults.

  12. meskus says:

    I like game speed as it is but speed up or skip action is OK as long its optional . General speed of a game now is right for giant Mechs and BattleTech as a game and speeding it up would ruin lot of a “right” feeling for many players. Option for some choice and fine tuning is always good but it should be optional. I spent a lot of time with this game and only in very few instances felt that some action should run faster

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