I have this rule about RTS design.
I’m not a game designer, but having played my fair share of strategy and tactics games, I’ve come to this conclusion: if your game removes a facet of the RTS experience (base building, for instance) it must include additional mechanics/game systems of at least comparable complexity and depth to account for this removal. Base building, for instance, provides the player with a large array of decisions related to production capacity, unit upgrade level, income and unit type availability, to say nothing of the spacial and temporal decision making involved in choosing which buildings to place, where, and when to construct them.
Base building is a core component of most classic (and, all internet whining on the subject to the contrary) modern real-time strategy games. Any game which would seek to minimize or remove this core aspect of the RTS genre, in my mind, needs to find ways to overcome the inherent mechanical simplification by giving the player more things to think about and do rather than build buildings. A game which fails to do this will feel sparse to the player, who will soon abandon it.
What does this have to do with AirMech?
But AirMech is in many ways similar to an RTS, and it distinguishes itself from the MOBA genre is important, though perhaps more subtle, ways.
Since the player’s list of tasks is geographically diverse (units and turrets are produced at command hubs that can be captured, and must be ferried around the map) and incredibly time-sensitive, the player must hurry themselves breathlessly around the map being economist, logistics manager and combatant by turns, and shirking any of these duties is detrimental to their overall game state.
Leave your build queue alone for too long, you’re depriving yourself of the support of the at times vital support of artillery, heavy tanks, or harass vehicles. Leave the front lines alone for too long, you’re leaving your units to be free money and levels for your opponent. Neglect your upgrades (which can only be applied at a structure, away from the frontlines) and you’re depriving yourself of tools to get yourself further ahead in the match.
I would go so far as to say, and I do not say this lightly, that AirMech is one of the most mechanically demanding strategy games I have ever played. It is not quite as frenetic as StarCraft 2 can be, but barring that I cannot think of a game that puts this sort of onus on the player to act and think quickly. Making poor choices in game is immensely punishing in a way I am pressed to describe in a way that’d be meaningful to my audience. Just pumping out whatever units you want is giving away money and experience to the enemy. paying attention to the wrong thing for too long can lose you critical momentum and map control.
This is NOT a comprehensive overview of the game. I have not touched at all on the game’s monetization model, which sells unit types and AirMech upgrades (and could easily be considered to give advantage to players who are willing to drop money on purchasing these things, which is potentially problematic though I personally don’t mind the model) but… I had to take a moment and share the admirably focused design of the core game experience, which I cannot help but appreciate.
I hope to follow up within the next couple of weeks with a more well composed introduction to the game as a whole, but I wanted to share these thoughts while they were fresh in my mind.