Hello Mechwarrior: Living Legends fans!
In a departure from our usual News & Media release type announcements I want to take a moment today to instead address some questions and concerns that have been put to me and the MWLL project team as a whole. I am writing this because we recognise the need to clearly state the intentions and direction of the MechWarrior: Living Legends project as we move forward into 2012 and are joined within the Mech game genre by other projects.
What is MechWarrior: Living Legends?
Perhaps it’s easiest to start with explaining what MechWarrior: Living Legends is and who we are as a team. MechWarrior: Living Legends is a total conversion modification for Crysis Wars that started back in 2007 and saw its initial public release beta in late 2009. MWLL ascribes to be the first game to allow players to experience the breadth of the MechWarrior/BattleTech universe by creating a multiplayer, combined arms shooter/simulation featuring representative vehicles, weapons and scenarios from the rich history of Classic BattleTech. We do not seek to be a 1:1 translation of CBT tabletop rules into a video game medium, nor do we wish to create a hi-def rework of the classic MechWarrior video games. In MWLL, players may choose to play as an infantry battle armour, a tracked tank, a hovercraft, an aerospace fighter or VTOL, or select from over 25 different ‘Mechs while engaging in combat across various gamemodes like Terrain Control, Team Solaris Arena, Test of Strength or Solaris Arena.
The MWLL team is composed of volunteer game content developers from all over the globe who have come together to create the game experience described above. MWLL is a non-profit effort that receives no financial support from an outside entity.
MWLL was created under Microsoft’s “Game Content Usage Rules” using assets from the MechWarrior intellectual property, © Microsoft Corporation with their written permission.
Where does MWLL fit within the ‘Mech game pantheon in 2012 and beyond?
The MWLL team definitely sees a place for MechWarrior: Living Legends as we continue to move into 2012 and other Mech-based games are completed and launched. 2012 definitely is the Year of the Mech as none of us can remember a time when such a large number of Mech-genre games were in simultaneous development. MechWarrior: Online, MechWarrior: Tactics, MechWarrior: Tactical Command, Solaris Assault Tech, Reign of Thunder, Hawken, Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour and Armoured Core 5. However, none of the above games delve into the specific gameplay experience that MWLL inhabits: combined arms within the BattleTech universe. We are unique when compared to the above list in that we do not require a purchase other than the underlying game upon which we are based: Crysis Wars, which can be found for about $10 as both digital download or disc media.
It might be said that MWLL would compete for players from some of these other games it could just as easily be stated that the presence of MWLL will cross-pollinate additional players to them that might not have otherwise been aware of them. We have historically positioned ourselves as a true combined-arms experience and we will continue to do so. We have no plans to offer Mech-only combat and our game design inherently disallows such a restricted mode.
Why are we making a choice to stay with CryEngine2 instead of moving to CryEngine3?
The reasons for this are varied and span a gamut of resource availability, technical challenges and being viewed as potentially competitve with other efforts in the genre at this time.
Resources & Technical Challenges
MechWarrior: Living Legends has always been and will continue to be an all-volunteer effort. The availability of developers with relevant skills is the biggest factor governing the nature of the releases that we provide to our community. At any particular time our developer team composition can change and this has a direct impact on what features and assets we can work on. Moving to CryEngine3 would require programmer resources that we simply do not have available at the current time and cannot guarantee recruitment for. Announcing an intention to move to CE3 would potentially allow us to recruit for these positions (possibly). Regardless it would mean that any new feature development would be put on hold while all of the migration efforts were being undertaken which would equate to a 9+ month period during which no new features would be released for MWLL.
The Unseen Advantages of Being a Mod
One of the things that is often overlooked as an advantage to being a modification project of an existing game are all of the underlying assets that we can make direct or indirect usage of. This includes many of the environmental models (trees, buildings, rocks, etc.) the numerous environmental game textures, and some sound effects. Additionally features like the Flash menu system, the multiplayer server browser system and the player profile system, as well as several other features that the game playing community has come to expect as standard features for any game. Any assets or features that our team had not created would all have to be recreated under our own codebase as we cannot legally make use of them from a commercial title if we were to move to CryEngine3. To recreate all of these assets would amount to a great deal of effort that we do not currently have developer hours to put behind.
Potential Competition or “Why not go to CryEngine3 and become Free to Play?”
We have not previously made direction mention of what moving MechWarrior: Living Legends to CryEngine3 and becoming a free to play standalone game would mean in terms of potential competition as we have no way of knowing how that would be viewed by other developers in the genre at this time. Our Game Content Usage Rules license from Microsoft would still apply meaning that we would still be bound under a non-profit, volunteer effort governance. I personally do see where moving MWLL to CE3 could be viewed as direct competition to MechWarrior: Online and we as a team have chosen to stay with CE2 as a Crysis Wars modification due in part to this potential concern, but more due to the technical and resource limitations mentioned above. I would certainly entertain a discussion with the Pirahna Games management on this particular topic to get their views on our choice and future options but thus far I have not had any communication from them, nor have I solicited it.
CryEngine3 is often held up as some sort of magic bullet that will be the miracle cure for the various performance issues that have been encountered by MWLL over the years. The truth is that we don’t actually KNOW whether such a move would resolve ANY of these issues. MWLL operates at a scale and complexity far beyond the base Crysis experience and thus far there have been no games released on CE3 that demonstrate a utilisation of scale that we would still require. That’s too much of an unknown to take on for the team right now and while it might seem self-limiting, at least we know where we stand with CE2 and what we can and cannot feasibly achieve on the platform as a modification project.
How does MechWarrior: Living Legends feel about MechWarrior: Online?
The MechWarrior: Living Legends team has an enormous amount of respect for Pirahnas’ efforts on MechWarrior: Online, perhaps even more than the average community gamer as we have an intimate understanding of what it means to work within a CryEngine product and the design and technical challenges of creating a MechWarrior game that satisfies player expectations. We like to think that we had some influence in generating continued interest in a next-gen MechWarrior title and perhaps even had an indirect hand in paving the way for what Pirahna is doing with MechWarrior: Online.
We at MWLL are incredibly excited to see where MWO is going and what a dedicated, full-time team of developers can do with Mechs within CryEngine3.
Addressing Criticisms of CryEngine2 and the modSDK
CryEngine2 is a very challenging engine to work with. Unlike some of the other game engines available to the mod community, CE2 has much greater requirements for performance while at the same time not having as many projects released on it that can be used as reference. As such, MWLL has repeatedly found itself on the forefront of CE2 modding which means that when we run into problems there really isn’t anyone else to ask. I know this from personal experience in having run up against certain sound channel utilisation issues and creating detailed assistance posts within the Crytek forums that go unanswered.
We know that CE2 is a demanding engine on player hardware and we spend a great deal of our development efforts trying to run down the more serious performance robbing issues before they are released. Many of the things we are doing in MWLL do require a system that exceeds the recommended specs for the underlying Crysis game simply because we are pushing the engine to deliver a non-Crysis experience. Many of our maps have massive vistas and open areas that the Crysis player experience was never optimised for. Our vehicles send status data over the network that Crysis never had to account for (heat, radar states, equipment status, etc.). Each new ‘Mech we add compounds the amount of vram required to store the texture and model data and at current we have 24 ‘Mechs with another 9 planned for this year alone.
Despite these criticisms and limitations, we still feel that CE2 is the best combination of features, capabilities and flexibility to allow our vision of a complete MWLL game to be realised. And I would be remise if I did not acknowledge the very real element of inertia on our current engine choice; we have thousands of hours invested in learning CE2 and bending it to our will.
I feel very confident in saying that we could not do MWLL in another engine and deliver the same experience as we have thus far.
What is upcoming for MWLL in 2012?
We’ve spent the first quarter of 2012 changing some of our internal processes to allow for a better release pipeline and to allow sub-branches of development to more easily co-exist with the main release branch. Each time we do a release there are a number of steps that are required to create a release package, calculate a checksum for it, internally test and validate it, and finally to release it to the public. Some of these steps are automated but a number of them still require manual reconcilliation of code and this unfortunately can introduce errors. We are creating new scripts and a refined build-releaser to take some of the human error out of the mix.
In 2012 we would very much like to, and plan on delivering the following:
- Capture the Flag game mode
- revised & improved Terrain Control game mode
- full parity of assets for Clan vs Inner Sphere modes*
- new Mech, Tank and Aerospace HUDs
- Assault Battle Armour: Corona and Phalanx
- Internal Damage Model and system interactions
- preliminary MechLab support & interface
To the Clan vs. IS point above*, we currently have the following assets in the queue that I feel comfortable mentioning:
- Mechs: Black Lanner, Ryoken, Avatar, Kodiak, Masakari, Hunchback IIC
- Vehicles: Epona, Ares, Chevalier, Donar, Anhur, Karnov, Mobile Field Base
- Aerospace: Corsair, Visigoth, Xerxes
- Maps: TC_Mirage rebuild, TC_Frostbite rebuild, TC_Wildlands (new), TC_Enkeledus
Thank you for reading our “MWLL Manifesto” for 2012 and beyond. We hope that this posting clarifies our position as a MechWarrior project for the coming year and sheds some light on our rationale for making certain decisions on our platform and place in the Mech games spectrum. If you have any comments or questions we will do our best to answer them in our forums, but please note that we might not have all of the answers at the current time.
On a more personal note, I would like to thank the MWLL team for their efforts over these past 5 years and look forward to our future together. 2012 has some very exciting features upcoming and more than a few “secrets” which I will enjoy teasing our community with.
The MechWarrior: Living Legends Team