Heavy Metal Machines is far from your average MOBA. There are no towers, no creeps and the thrill of a good chronosphere or a Blitzcrank hook is absent, replaced instead with gasoline fumes and the crunch of metal.
Heavy Metal Machines might be unfamiliar to those of you used to Smite or League of Legends. It’s an arena game at heart, with teams working together to deliver a bomb to the enemy base to score points. It’s a MOBA in spirit, but the team claim it takes inspiration from games like the Super Nintendo classic Rock and Roll Racing, and Blizzard’s smash hit Overwatch.
We spoke to game director Aly Lenzi after the challenges of making an online competitive game featuring vehicles, and what attracted Hoplon, one of the biggest game development studios in Brazil, to take a chance on a post-apocalyptic free-to-play drive ‘em up.
Start your engines
“The greatest challenge we had when designing a MOBA that uses vehicles is speed,” says Lenzi. “Most MOBAs nowadays rely on characters moving very slowly on the screen. League of Legends may take you a minute or two to cross the entire map only walking. Our game is much, much faster than that, so the greatest challenge was to mix the speed people want in a game of vehicles with the MOBA genre.”
The first step to add to the feeling of speed was to remove everything stationary or slow-moving, replacing it with things that you have to move. The bomb you tow to the enemy base is in constant movement, and has its own physics, letting savvy players slingshot it out from behind them or knock it clear by ramming it. The hope, says Lenzi, is that everything is dynamic, there’s always something happening.
Getting rid of so many “core” MOBA elements is bound to turn some players off. But they’re just more casualties in Hoplon’s war on the sedate, and Heavy Metal Machines isn’t designed to be satisfying in the same way as winning the safe lane or zoning out an enemy, but instead on the feeling you get from being good at driving, or winning a tough fight.
Overwatch’s combat is one of the big influences on Heavy Metal Machines. Cheers luv!
“We focused on making the game very fast-paced, and focused on action and targeting, like skillshots.” says Lenzi, mentioning that every weapon in the game is based on these “Our weapons are harder to hit than normal MOBAs. There’s no point and click action and our hope is that this’ll bring intense moments that made the need for stationary targets and creeps obsolete.”
If creeps are obsolete, so is farming. Games of Heavy Metal Machines can take 15-20 minutes, with each round contained within taking about four minutes. Each round starts with a brief period allowing you to purchase new weapons or upgrades for the godless killing machines strapped to your car. As players take out your enemies and head towards the end of the match, the plan is that the winning team will snowball their way to a glorious victory.
The quick pace will, again, seem alien to players used to the usual pace and style of MOBA titles, but Lenzi said that, after they decided to up to ante with speed, everything else had to follow suit. “The game puts a lot of pressure onto the player to play well, to show a lot of dexterity. In a match that would take 40 minutes, like an average MOBA does, it strains you a lot to keep playing at that level, so we needed to time the match to allow players bursts of skill instead of burning out players by asking them to apply the same level skill for 40 minutes.
It’s currently in Early Access on Steam, with an overall opinion of “mostly positive” with fans critiquing the lack of players and mouse controls, but otherwise being generally positive about the title. Lenzi has said that he, and Hoplon, are committed to the long haul. “Everyone here at the studio is a fan of competitive gaming. “ said Lenzi “Four years ago, we were looking at the market, looking at the MOBA genre. We wanted to be part of this movement that brings the video games and esports to the world.”
“If we get the success we want, we will support it for years to come, we’ll be adding new characters and levels, and even new game modes,” says Lenzi.
Rock and Roll racing is the second big inspiration
For now though, the team are currently digging in to polish everything up for the game to leave the Beta stage. There’s no date for this yet, but the team have a rough target of the end of the year. “ First, we need to tackle performance,” Lenzi says. “After that, we are planning on having a lot of maps and new levels to play, and focusing on competitive gaming, like ranked matches and tournaments.”
I was, admittedly, skeptical about how much variance we could see in a MOBA based around driving vehicles. I foolishly hadn’t considered how many vehicles there actually are in the real world though, and the team have said that showing how the real car feels is key, but they then distill it down so it can be shown simply.
“For example, take our monster truck. We watched Monster Truck Wars (a US TV show), we watched people driving monster trucks, and then we tried to translate that into the feeling a player has when driving a monster truck. In game terms, our monster truck is the only vehicle capable of trampling other vehicles. She can go over them. She can jump and do some crazy stunts in the air and then smash everyone on the ground.”
I ask the team about the most exciting part of the game for them, and I’m quickly sent a gif of a Russian player, showing the team’s current favourite moment of the game. “This Russian player did exactly what I think is the best thing in our game” said Lenzi “there are places in our level design where everything is very dangerous. There is magma. If you like slip, you die. The guy was using a Caterpillar vehicle, It’s a tractor. He managed to ram the full enemy team into a magma zone, kill everyone, and take the bomb alone and deliver it. It was very, very exciting to watch.”
These little moments of awesome are the key thing the game is aiming to capture. Trading the long battles of more traditional MOBA’s for lightning fast gameplay and a more tactile experience. The time are focusing their game design onto these little moments where players can feel like champions.
For Hoplon, “Grandes Momentos” are key to the game’s success. “We are focusing the game onto those moments.” says Lenzi “For example, delivering the bomb is one of those moments. We worked a lot for the delivery to feel good. The bomb explodes and the entire enemy team dies when you deliver the bomb, which is exciting if they are trying to stop you. They can try to ram into the bomb to stop it from entering the destruction line, so it’s very intense. That intensity is what we are aiming for. Delivering like small moments of very intense gameplay, it feels very good. It’s very important for us.”