MechRunner - Interview

What do you get when you mix the mechanics of a runner game, giant mechs, the studio that is so comfortable that it is making a Firefly MMO and one of the artists who worked on blockbuster movies such as Transformers, The Wolverine, Iron Man and More? You get MechRunner. We were fortunate enough to talk with Ben Lichius, who is the VP and Art Director of Spark Plug Games. We were also joined by John O'niell, President of Spark Plug Games.


As MechRunner has just hit its Kickstarter goal, we thought it would be a good chance to talk with a couple of members of the upcoming game's team. We have been covering the game a lot because - well, it looks like a blast. Seriously, stop by and take a look at it.


Chalgyr's Game Room:
I see that Spark Plug Games members have contributed to two of my all time favorite games, Robotech: Battlecry and Robotech: Invasion; was the Robotech / Macross universe a source of inspiration for MechRunner? What were some other sources of inspiration?
Ben:
Absolutely! John and I both worked on those games and when we started talking about what kind of mech game we wanted to make, we kept coming back to those - specifically Robotech: Battlecry. What we really liked was the fast paced action and the layered gameplay that you get with a mode-changing mech. We also really liked the arcade feel of the game - the quick decisions and piloting skills that were required of you as player.

Chalgyr's Game Room:
With the popularity of runners on mobile devices and your current release lineup shows the PC and the Sony consoles (Vita, PS3, and PS4) do you foresee a future where you bring MechRunner to the burgeoning mobile gaming market (Android / iOS / Windows Phone)?
John:
We definitely have plans to bring MechRunner to as many platforms as possible, and with the cross-platform access that Unity gives us, it’s really just a matter of time and balancing the experience so that it makes sense for each target device. We ultimately will release a version for new platforms once we’ve had a chance to spend time with the game on each of the target platforms and make sure the experience is tailored to take advantage of the strengths of the controls, input, visual fidelity, or other hardware features that will give gamers a new experience with MechRunner.

Chalgyr's Game Room:
As you are bringing some new features to the runner genre (transformable mechas, an intricate story, and weapon upgrades), have you considered working multiplayer, such as competitive time attack modes to cooperative multiplayer to MechRunner?
Ben:
We wanted to focus on the single player game initially, but we have some cool multiplayer ideas on the shelf that I’m excited to get to at some point. Most of them are competitive in nature but we’ve kicked the idea of co-op around too.

Chalgyr's Game Room:
According to the Kickstarter page (as well as the Story page at MechRunner.com), MechRunner is an alternative history game based on scientific findings in the impact zone where the Tunguska Event took place. The time period, altered by advanced technologies, takes place In the late 1940's; what sort of difficulties have you experienced with blending vintage designs with high technology? How did you overcome these difficulties?
Ben:
We used the historical events as a guideline, but ultimately, since we were telling an alternate version of history, we simply created a world we thought was plausible and cool over top of a 1940s world. We tried to stick to certain materials and make things look as “industrial” as we could but we didn’t set any stringent limits on how far advanced the technology could be. The best part about creating your own sandbox is playing in it, so we’re just trying to have fun with the world we’re making.

Chalgyr's Game Room:
What are some of the biggest struggles that you have had with bringing MechRunner to the market compared to some of the other products Spark Plug Games has released?
Ben:
A game like MechRunner has so much potential it can be a challenge to not chase after every cool thing you could do and instead focus on the cool things you should do. It’s an extra challenge when it’s your own IP as well since there’s no one there to tell you not to do something. So we had to work pretty hard to keep feature creep in check and spend our time working on the features that best supported the game we felt MechRunner should be... and hope that we get a chance to make more.

Chalgyr's Game Room:
On the flip side of that question, what have been some of the highlights of developing MechRunner?
Ben:
It’s exciting to watch a game like this come together. We were about to build off of our strengths as game developers and partner with amazingly talented and cool people like Josh Nizzi. Seeing Josh’s models actually running around on screen has been a real highlight for me. I’ve never played a game with mechs as detailed as this.

Chalgyr's Game Room:
Do you have any current plans to turn MechRunner into a franchise? Are there any plans to bring any DLC to the game in the near future?
Ben:
We’re hoping to do both of those things. As always, a lot is riding on the initial launch and how things go. When you self-publish, it’s hard to make long term plans unless you’ve got a lot of fan support or a proven brand. We’re just at the beginning of things now with MechRunner, but we hope that it can be the start of big things.

Chalgyr's Game Room:
Outside of the development work being done on MechRunner, are there any other priorities for Spark Plug Games this upcoming year?
John:
Our biggest priority is to keep having fun building these games and bring our other significant title out in 2014, which is Firefly Online.

Chalgyr's Game Room:
Finally, what particular games are you playing at the moment?
Ben:
Besides a lot of testing on MechRunner and our other project, Firefly Online, I find myself playing easy-in, easy-out mobile games either by myself or with my kids. On the consoles, I like sports games. Right now, it’s baseball season!
John:
I’m enjoying many of the new titles coming out on Vita at the moment, including Guacamelee! and Luftrausers.


Interview by Robert

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