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The Hawken open beta launch interview - challenges, specs and consoles

With Adhesive Games' mech shooter Hawken's open beta launching on Wednesday, it's an exciting time for mech fans. Meteor Entertainment's CEO Mark Long talks to PCGamesN about the challenges they faced, how the team ramped the game up without taxing player's systems, free-to-play and why we probably won't see the game on consoles.

The extremely impressive looking Hawken has many wondering if it will max out their system, but Long clarifies things. "Our goal was to hit as large a market possible. 70% of the games on Steam would play on our minimum platform. Believe it or not, even though it does look graphically overwhelming... but it’s not a system killer. This is hard to articulate without getting extremely technical, but I know the Unreal engine inside and out - I’ve produced 13 Unreal games."

"When I got to Adhesive the first thing I expected was, this thing looks amazing but it’s never going to run on anything except a super-computer. Then I opened it up and I’m like, holy s**t, you guys pulled every trick in the book that I know. You’re not actually using normal maps on the majority of the objects in the environment. It looks amazing. This looks like a console produced title to me.”

"It might be a couple of weeks before we really ramp up. A lot of our data shows that the majority of players have registered so far, like 60%, have some college education and are in the age range of 15-25. So they’re probably in school. So it may be that our launch day won’t necessarily be a big day. Friday will be the big day, when everyone comes home after school." Long says, when asked about his expectations on the number of players jumping into the game's open beta.

He's also adamant they've done the right thing making it free-to-play, when asked if they ever considered going another direction. "Absolutely not. That’s going backwards. You’d have to be an idiot to look at the data and the market and not see that free to play is the way to go."

"We’re coming in between console cycles and traditionally we’re seeing PC gaming spike in between cycles - that’s because we see that PC gaming graphics surpass consoles that are getting long in the tooth. You also have markets emerging that were never there before, like Russia, Brazil, Turkey, China."

"The other thing: I don’t know about you but I used to play everything. Now I only play a couple of things, but I play a ton, like 10 times more, on tablets."

A game of this magnitude surely has it's challenges, but the team worked hard to find the right solutions in balancing the control and gameplay difficulty. "Another thing was getting the controls right. The team was very used to their own game. The first new players on it had a very hard time with the controls. This is where they really worked their magic where they found a balance between the weight of a mech and the velocity of first person shooters that we’re used to."

"After that it was integrating free-to-play, and figuring out how not to gouge players with pay-to-win. That’s not a linear function. You want to be able to level up - not grind too hard, but not make it too easy. Don’t make it too easy for someone to buy their way up a level. There’s a difficult balance: you’re not familiar with the controls, so there’s more reward and less grind. As we began to scale we had to adjust that."

It's unlikely we'll see the game on console though, and not specifically due to tech specifications. "It’s really in the details of how games are certified and launched. You have to pay Microsoft and Sony ten or twenty thousand dollars every single time you want to patch your game. So what happens is that you try and load your patch. You end up waiting and waiting through weeks of pain while the players are telling you, this is crashed and breaking, but you just want to make sure you capture everything."

"Ultimately I think that tablet is going to be the defining platform. But we’ve got a ways to go. You basically need to have super-tablets that can run console level graphics, wireless HDMI and a good bluetooth controller that’s ubiquitous. But all those things are converging to say a boxed product launch, would certainly do well, I think, but you’d do an order of magnitude greater, over a period of time, through PC free-to-play."

The interview goes on to discuss more technical specifications and some of the tricks the team used to get the game looking and running so well.

The final version of Hawken was recently delayed without a new date given, but the open beta is live now. Check out the cinematic trailer here.

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