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Metal Fatigue Interview
Courtesy of Psygnosis

Responses by: Jason Hough, Game Designer on Metal Fatigue

Q: What originally stimulated you to begin developing Metal Fatigue? How have the development ideas for it changed over time? Looking back, is there anything in the design process you would have done differently had you known what you know now?

We thought the industry needed a fresh approach to the RTS genre. The original concept for Metal Fatigue was based solely around the idea of robots that could re-configure themselves with various things they'd find in the game. This was also a good fit with an advanced animation system we developed on the last project. Eventually our love of real-time strategy games blended in with the idea of robots reconfiguring themselves and created what we have now.


If we'd known when we started the project that 3D acceleration would become so common, I think we would have started with the idea of a full 3D world. Originally the Robots, or Combots as we call them, were the only 3D object in the game. As development went on, and Psygnosis agreed to require a 3D accelerator, we were able to make the entire game 3D.

Q: In the design of Metal Fatigue, were there features of existing games that you specifically wanted to include or avoid? What single existing PC game should Metal Fatigue be most compared to? What annoys you most about most of what is out there in the real-time strategy genre? Would you say that Metal Fatigue is similar to action-strategy hybrids like Uprising and Battlezone or to more exclusively action-oriented games like the Mechwarrior series?

We knew that, at least within the RTS genre, we were introducing two major innovations: reconfigurable, amputating robots and the multi-layer battlefield. We retained some basic RTS elements, like tech trees and resource gathering, which we intentionally kept simple. The goal was to give players some comfortable, familiar systems that didn't require a big learning curve, so they could focus on the unique aspects of the game.

Asking what PC game should Metal Fatigue be compared to is a hard question. Let me just say the games that most influenced us were Total Annihilation, Myth and Herzog Zwei. For the art influence we watched a lot of anime, in particular, "Gundam".

What annoys us most of other RTS games? This is very subjective; things that may annoy us may really turn on other folks. All we can do is make the game that is most fun to us, and hope lots of gamers agree. For instance, we prefer spending more time on tactical and strategic combat, and we're not very fond of complex resource management systems. We don't like a lot of micromanagement. We also want gameplay to be intuitive. If you see a laser sword, it's obvious what it does just by looking at it. Same for vehicles - our vehicles are futuristic, but at a glance you can recognize what they do.

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Metal Fatigue is more similar to classic RTS games than to hybrids like Uprising or Battlezone, so by that definition it's not an action game. However, one of our goals was to convey the visual excitement of action games. You can see this best when watching the Combots move and fight. For instance, the Combots actually "look" up or down at targets and they have multiple attack animations as opposed to playing the same hack, hack, hack animation over and over again. As much as possible we wanted a battle between to Combots to look like something out of a 3D fighting game.

Q: What kind of background research on warfare went into the design of the game? Are you trying to make the elements of the game hyper-realistic in terms of resemblance to real combat situations? Would you claim that the real-world physics of weapons and vehicles in the game simulates closely that of the real thing?

I wouldn't say we're trying to make the game hyper-realistic, no. Our primary goal is to make the combat fun to both control and watch, and that there are plenty of strategies a player can come up with. As far as physics are concerned, our projectiles do follow a physics based model, and therefore can miss, overshoot, etc. This is so we can play around with attributes such as accuracy, and allow for different types of projectiles (homing missiles, lasers, artillery, etc.).

There are other examples: there's an advantage to high ground over low ground when using projectiles, mobile units accelerate when they begin to move and decelerate as they stop, etc. Adhering to real world physics is important for the sense of immersion and is another means to keep things intuitive too, but our overriding principle was to do what was the most fun.

Q: Is the 3D game engine for Metal Fatigue brand-new? What sets this engine apart from other state-of-the-art game engines around today?

Yes, we wrote the engine from the ground up and it was created specifically for Metal Fatigue. We support all the features that have become standard with today's engines - colored lighting, shadows, transparency, environment maps, etc. The engine runs natively under Glide, as well as supporting D3D and OpenGL. I think our animation system is what really sets the engine apart from others. The sheer amount of animation on the Combots, and the ability to blend those animations together to create new ones on the fly, really makes them come alive.

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Last Updated June 19th, 1999

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