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Khang Le, signing postcards at the Anime Expo in Los Angeles

Adhesive Games, formed of team members of Project Offset, will release Hawken through a free-to-play model on December 12. It was announced yesterday that the game will support the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. The developer is currently putting the finishing touches on the garage where you customize your armored vehicle and is working on tutorials to train prospective pilots before they engage in combat on the virtual battlefield.

We met up with creative director Khang Le at the 2012 Anime Expo, taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center, to hear how story and gameplay reinforce each other in the gritty mech combat title.

We know that Hawken takes place in the near future in an offworld colony starving for natural resources. How would you further describe the game's backstory?

Khang Le: Hawken takes place on a planet called Illal. A corporation has been tasked with terraforming this planet, leading to strides in technological advancement and a lack of moral restrictions on development. As a result, a form of nanotechnology used to pull metals from beneath the planet's surface has slowly caused ecological destruction. Mechs were initially brought on to aid in construction, but over the years as the natural resources have dwindled, these mechs have been repurposed as war machines and the inhabitants are fighting over all that's left.

How is Adhesive Games looking to differentiate Hawken's mechs from what we might have seen before in gaming and animation?

We treat it very much like World War I, where regular automobiles were being modded to create makeshift tanks, which is actually how we build most of our assets. We're very inspired by the insectoid mech designs of Kow Yokoyama's Krieger series. In terms of the controls, we wanted a lumbering feel coupled with quick movements. That gives you the best of both worlds, something between the lurching of MechWarrior and the speed of Virtual-On.

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Fuel appears to be a critical resource to the Hawken pilots during combat. Is this limitation established in the lore tying in with the gameplay?

Controls are very much tied to fuel. The difference between a mech game and a first-person shooter is the importance of resource management, the concern over overheating and running out of fuel. Also, when you are damaged, your mech does not auto-heal. You actually have to hide away somewhere and repair your damage.

That is intended to give the game the feeling of a simulation, rather than an FPS with a mech skin. When you spot someone on the field, you have time to duck behind cover, choose your weapon and plan your strategy. In a six-on-six game there is a large amount of strategy involved.

When you mention that strategy plays an important role in versus gameplay, what then is the average expected length of a single play session for each of Hawken's game modes?

Deathmatch and team deathmatch last generally around 20 minutes. Siege mode can last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. The objective of siege mode is to destroy the other team's base by launching hovering battleships, and the enemy can take your battleship down and launch their own. All those elements in play are meant to give that mode a cinematic quality.

Recently you launched a live action trailer. Seeing as you are focused on development for the game title, who were you entrusting with production on the video?

We teamed up with a production company called DJ2 Entertainment. While we want to focus on the videogame instead of being sidetracked by other things, it's a priority for us to ensure that any media related to the property of Hawken be kept consistent. The live action trailer was made by Jerry O'Flaherty, the art director of Gears of War and a friend of the DJ2 guys. He is very good with compositing, and, in fact, a lot of the special effects in the trailer make use of game assets. It's very low budget, but he knows how to make it look high quality.

We spoke with Shadi Muklashy and Ali Bavarian of Paper Sound for a podcast episode late last year. Was there a feel that you wanted for the music of Hawken that you felt they would be particularly qualified in delivering?

Shadi is now working with us full-time, not only writing music but also doing UI. For the first trailer featuring his music we didn't want something obvious, like dubstep-electronic or a typical orchestral film score. I had told him that I wanted a combination of electronic and orchestrated, a sound like something between the Batman soundtrack and Blade Runner. It turned out perfectly.

A small development team has created Hawken and there is now a great amount of interest in the December release. What pointers could you share with us for game designers with ambitions of establishing their own independent studios?

There are lots of people who want to make a giant game, but lack the resources. In actuality, you should shoot for something below your bar and then polish it. Polish is very important, even more than novelty in many cases.

Making a game requires a solid team. Everyone should be well-rounded. If you drop a problem on them that they are not familiar with, they need to be able to adapt and learn what to do. That kind of flexibility in teamwork is very important. Technology is also an important consideration. We learned from Project Offset that building up new technology is very time-consuming, while using existing technology can save you time to focus more intently on the game.

Being creative within your limitations is also important. There are no facial animations in Hawken, so a single animator can handle our tasks. Science fiction for us is easier than depicting fantasy or real-world situations, because you can repeat a lot of assets without it looking strange. Mechs were a subject that worked, both for our passion and our logistics.

For further images from the 2012 Anime Expo, see our flickr photo set. Photos by Jeriaska