Interview: Khang Le, Hawken’s creative director

Posted on Jun 13 2012 - 2:00pm by Jeffrey L. Wilson

khang le Interview: Khang Le, Hawkens creative director 

Hawken, a mech action-sim that recently received $10 million in funding, is a free-to-play PC game that appeals to the inner pubescent boy who still dreams of piloting lumbering metal machines that rocket around bombed-out environments while delivering Macross-style missile swarm playloads.

Below is an interview that the crew conducted with Khang Le, Hawken creative director and co-founder of Adhesive Games. In it, you’ll learn about the inspiration behind the game, the challenges of moving to a free-to-play model, and other chunky bits of info. Enjoy.

What’s the story behind Hawken?
The team originally came from a game called Project Onset…. We could’ve all gone our separate ways and just worked at other game companies, but we had enough money to last another year. At the same time the Unreal Engine was available for public use. We only had one animator, so we decided against any human-based game. We love mech games and it was the best route to go to. It’s a niche market, so hopefully we’ll get the attention that we need without competing with the other big players out there.

What are the PC system requirements?
The good news is that originally the game was supposed to be shipped on Xbox (360). Consoles are what, 10-year-old technology now? So we’re shooting for that. Once we optimize it, it should run on very basic hardware. That’s the plan, to make sure that it can run on a low system. But on a high system with a bad ass video card, you can run it on maximum settings.

The game already feels complete. Why do we have to wait so long for it to come out (12-12-12)?
We’re very picky, but at the same time it came from bringing a console game to a free-to-play model. So the game has to change, right? There’s a lot of customization now that it’s free-to-play. Originally, we didn’t plan for customization. You got three mechs and that was it. It’s like a car–you can switch out your engine, upgrade this, change that, skill trees. The gameplay is set, but we’re creating more content.

One of the reasons why I wanted to make a mech game is because I suck at all of them. I see someone, I’m dead.

So what kind of gameplay can we expect?
More maps, more mechs, more polish. Optimization takes a long time to make sure it runs on low-end machines. Then there’s the whole backend. There’s a persistent server, so a player gets a very good experience. It costs a lot of money to support that. It’s a big thing to build.

What’s been your biggest challenge during the development cycle?
To grow the team and keeping it feeling creative and independent. Make sure people still feel they’re very much part of the project and not a small screw in a giant machine. That the quality stays consistent. We’re making sure everyone stays passionate–it’s easy to get lazy when you have some money.

How do you balance pay vs. non-pay?
The free-to-play model came out of Asia, right? There’s so much piracy going on there that free-to-play was the only way to go. Originally, when you shipped a game on CD, that was it. It was shipped. It cost so much to fix everything, so everything had to be perfect. With a free-to-play game you can launch it small and grow it, fix some bugs. It’s a very organic process. We know the fear of free-to-play is pay-to-win. I think there are games out there that do it well, like League of Legends, Tribes, and Team Fortress. We think of it as a restaurant. We all eat at the same restaurant. If you have money, valet. If you don’t, you walk a little farther. If you play, you may grind a little less longer. If you don’t, you’ll still get there eventually. There are some items that you can only get from playing. You can’t buy them all. So we reward the ones who play. We definitely want to make sure that both sides have a great experience.

What’s your favorite mech build?
One of the reasons why I wanted to make a mech game is because I suck at all of them. I see someone, I’m dead. What I like about mech games is that you get a chance to strategize and coordinate with your friends. It’s not so much about twitch, but there’s a lot of strategy involved. Since I’m not very good at shooting and aiming, I pick the heavy class. I maximize the armor, so I’m like a walking tank. I don’t even bother dodging; I just look at them and fire. You can become a lumbering mech or go the opposite direction. The player gets a range.

Highres Screenshot 00049 Interview: Khang Le, Hawkens creative director

Is Hawken purely multiplayer or is there a story?
It’s pure multiplayer. We have a 30 second live action teaser. We have a comic book coming out. A novel. They’re working on a film deal. The game itself is multiplayer, so it’s hard to have a story. But the comics and other transmedia items will tell why the mechs look a certain way.

Tell us about the controller.
The controller is pretty sick. It’s called Mech Fu. It’s like the Steel Battalion controller on crack, there’s just so many buttons! And its solid. You feel like you’re flying an airplane with its. It’s dual-wield controller, so our game designer Dave Nguyen is making sure it works. It supports stereoscopic 3D and three monitors. It’s a prototype, and I’m sure it will work with a variety of different games and not just ours.

Are you going to have an anime pop singer to perform the opening song?
[Laughs]It’s inspired by lots of Japanese anime. Ghost in the Shell, Akira, we love all that stuff. The city map is “post-apocalyptic Hello Kitty.” It’s very much industrial with cartoony signs. It’s very much like Japan, I guess.

What is the game world?
It takes place on a planet…where corporations go in and set up. Companies become more important than the planet. Over time there’s a virus that breaksout that makes resources very limited. People are fighting over what ever’s left. That’s the overall story, but we’re going to have the pilot’s story. It’s going to be a WWII, Saving Private Ryan point of view.

What can we expect in terms of environments?
Its very varied. We have a desert map we got an industrial, virus-infected map that are like the Borg from Star Trek. It’s not just a visuals. Some are more vertical, some are flat. Some have high visibility, some have low visibility.

For beginners, there’s a meter that ties to your side dash and hover. Make sure you don’t waste it. Don’t be impatient. Players are so impatient. They’ll boost into battle, and they’re there, they have no fuel. I’d recommend using the grenade launcher-shotghun combo. There’s one one-hit kill! Once you get 100,000 people playing it, they’re going to come up with some crazy-ass strategies we never thought of.

Whats behind the mech renaissance?
I’m not sure. I don’t think we can take credit for it, but we were one of the first to announce back in 2010/2011. MechWarrior has such a fan base. If we didn’t do it, someone else would have. We’re big fans of mech games and cant wait to play all of them.

Why the drought? It’s been a long time.
Mech games are so simulated that they’re too hardcore. The modern audience has a short attention span. When we were making Hawken, we said that we loved the feeling of driving a mech, but also Call of Duty and Duke Nukem. I don’t want a FPS with a mech skin, but at the same time, I don’t want to make it too difficult to play or too simulated. Hopefully, we’ll land somewhere in the middle.


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Jeffrey L. Wilson is the former Big Boss of Now retired, he spends his days as a man of leisure. Kinda.

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