Welcome back to Community Outreach, the ongoing column where we learn more about the people that help keep BattleTech alive and swinging. To get the lowdown on MechWarrior Online’s renaissance (which you can read all about in my last piece), I sat down with the Cauldron’s Bear_cl4w and Krasnopesky to talk about where the group came from, how it’s evolved, and how they plan to take the reigns of a failing game and bring the fun back to MechWarrior Online.
This interview was conducted last month, so many of the things we’ve discussed have already come to pass. That said, you can get an idea of what’s to come in MechWarrior Online by reading what Bear_cl4w and Krasnopesky have to say. Enjoy.
Sarna: Who are you, and how would you describe the Cauldron to nobody who’s ever heard of it? And after that, when/how did you get into BattleTech and/or MechWarrior Online?
Bear_cl4w: I think we’ll just go with Bear_cl4w if that’s alright. As for the description of the Gulag I would say that it’s a group of people that have intimate knowledge of the inner workings of MWO. be it in the game’s mechanics, people who play at a highly competitive level, or people that have a history of figuring out how things work in MechWarrior Online. We’ve all come together for the sole purpose of making the game fun again.
How I got into MechWarrior/BattleTech was through MechAssault 1 and 2. Those were the first games I played that involved BattleTech. After I had gotten my fill of MechAssault 1 and 2, I had started to get into building computers in 2011 when my brother gave me his old laptop. From there I started to look for more games like MechAssault. That’s when I stumbled upon the goldmine that was the MechWarrior/MechCommander franchise. At this point, I was saving up to build my first PC. During that, I was using a wireless keyboard and mouse to play the old MechWarrior titles off of a laptop. I remember there would be times I would go days without sleep just playing MechWarrior 4 and MechCommander. I was really hooked on it.
Then rumors started up about MechWarrior Online in 2012, but I just didn’t have the hardware to run it. After I had saved enough money to upgrade my rig in 2015 I began to really play MWO. It was just like the days I found MechWarrior 4 and MechCommander. I would spend days up playing MWO. granted I wasn’t very good at the game, but it was a lot of fun at the time. My fondest memory was when the Clan Wave 1 ‘Mechs were being released for C-Bills and I had sold all of the ‘Mechs I owned at the time for a Kit Fox. My favorite build on that ‘Mech was a Gauss Rifle and 2 ER Small Lasers. It was pretty potato, but it was exciting.
After streaming MWO took off I started to dip my toes into competitive, and eventually I found myself at the top of the trash heap in teams like EmP and JGx. I’ve kept in contact with some people in EmP after I had gotten kicked out for not being up to par anymore. I still play other games with some of those people, and they stop by to chat about stuff on my streams sometimes. But as I got over the angry teenager phase I started to care less and less about being good at video games. and more so about having fun playing video games. This was one of the main reasons I started the Gulag/Cauldron stuff; to make the game fun again, not just for myself but for everyone playing it.
Sarna: What’s your favorite ‘Mech? The all-important question :)
Bear_cl4w: That’s a tough one. If I had to choose, it would have to be the Woodsman.
Sarna: Classy choice! When did the Gulag get started and how hard was it to finally get PGI to hand you the keys to the kingdom?
Bear_cl4w: The first Gulag started around January 2018 in response to when their recently hired balance guy had started to change the game to his liking and not in favor of the community. Back then, we were focused on a few subjects rather than looking at the whole game in its entirety: weapons and mobility, along with certain ‘Mechs that were heavily nerfed at the time were our main focus.
What disheartened us was the attitude that PGI had at the time–sort of the “we don’t want your help, we can do it ourselves” type. When we had finished our work and showed it to the community the feedback was generally positive. But again, the response from PGI… They saw it and told us, “Yeah we’ve discussed it internally,” and then nothing. Little did we know that at the time they were working on MechWarrior 5, which led to the maintenance mode for MWO. And that leads us to the place where we are now–the second attempt at helping PGI, but with PGI actually accepting help this time.
The only way such an endeavor could ever work is if the devs themselves are ready to accept the community’s help moving forward. And now we’re in that situation. Before I started the most recent iteration, what had inspired me to give it another try was the podcast that Matt and Daeron did basically asking the community for help to fix the game and make it fun again. That was sort of the signal for me to reassemble the Gulag as it was previously called before we changed its name to the Cauldron.
Sarna: Why the Gulag? Like, where’d that name come from? And why the Cauldron afterward?
Bear_cl4w: I chose the name Gulag in reference to the free labor we were giving PGI. The name sort of stuck until recently a few forum posts popped up about the name. Not the word itself but its history. So we sort of had to lose the edgy name. Especially working in such an environment with PGI staff.
Sarna: How much would you attribute the Cauldron’s success and recent inroads to Matt and Daeron?
Bear_cl4w: They’ve been pretty critical, as they are sort of the people in constant communication with us about internal stuff. And they working their asses off trying to keep up with things happening in MechWarrior 5 and MWO.
[JGx] Krasnopesky: Daeron I would say is a big part of why it has happened
Bear_cl4w: I agree. Daeron is a familiar face in the community due to his ties with NGNG and his recent hiring with PGI, but it was less about the individual and more about the message–they were asking us for help.
[JGx] Krasnopesky: The old guard of PGI being mostly gone also assisted that too
Bear_cl4w: Yes, most of them that were involved in the past, are busy with MechWarrior 5. So the MWO division was a bit short-handed when they were tasked with the objective of making MWO fun again. I guess if you would like to call it divine intervention or a stroke of luck. I had reached out to Daeron about bringing back the Gulag/Cauldron to help them, and one thing sort of led to another. Granted some attitudes and perspectives had to be focused or changed to fit PGI’s agenda better–their agenda being making the game fun for everyone, not just one particular group.
March patch being an exception to our work.
[JGx] Krasnopesky: March patch was done by PGI and not us.
Bear_cl4w: As you’ve seen in April our work has almost resuscitated the game. The best part is that April is not the only patch we’re planning.
The Cauldron has been sort of set to high gear. Rather than tackling one part of the game, we intend to re-balance as much as we are able to. Or as much as PGI currently can do.
I think that’s the craziest part. we weren’t just handed the keys to the castle. We are actively working with PGI to bring it back to a good state.
Sarna: I’ve seen some of the spreadsheets posted to Reddit from you guys, and it’s a lot of work you’re doing. How does the integration with PGI work? Like, do they just hand you the data and say “go nuts” or is there more of a back and forth? And what’s the plan for future patches? How wild are we going to get with changing the way MWO is currently?
Bear_cl4w: It’s more of a back and forth to be honest in terms of how our work is processed. It starts with conversations in the Cauldron about, say, a particular topic like weapons or mobility stats. People there propose sheets of values. and we go through them as a group and discuss what needs or doesn’t need to be changed. Once we’ve done that our spreadsheet wizard packs things into an XML to an MDF and they are sent over to PGI so their engineers can input that data. Don’t quote me on that because I barely know how all of that works.
As to how wild we are going to get? The only limitation is how many resources PGI (MWO division) has internally.
Internally, the Cauldron is going about it as strategically as possible. For example, our April patch was the big weapons pass and some light quirk changes, and for May, there is a map rework coming from the recently added map guy PGI hired, AKA Francois. But after every big step, there will be an iteration on the previous step. So for May, it’s a big mobility step, small weapon iteration,and some more light quirk work.
Sarna: So nothing huge like format changes or GUI changes? And by format, I mean changes from variations on team deathmatch to something more persistent so there’s more time spent playing than waiting for matches?
[JGx] Krasnopesky: No. That requires engineers.
Bear_cl4w: Without engineers that do UI we can’t really do that yet. Again, we are working within the confines of the MWO division’s capabilities. Currently, they have a map guy, operations manager, community manager, and a ‘Mech model and scale guy, and a handful of engineers they bug from MW5 when they need stuff.
Sarna: Gotcha. So we might get a rescale, some map changes, maybe a new map if we’re lucky, but fundamental changes aren’t going to happen. A shame, since to me, MWO would really benefit from some fundamental changes.
Bear_cl4w: As to the changes, we are getting some significant stuff this year. and we’ll push for as much as we ourselves and PGI can do. Our intended path is weapons, agility, quirks, rescale, skill tree. And thanks to Francois (map guy) we are getting some really nice reworks of certain maps that are NASCAR prone.
Sarna: With the coming agility changes, what will that entail? Big ‘Mechs get faster, little ‘Mechs get slower, or is it more refined than that?
Bear_cl4w: It’s going to be an overall mobility pass for most ‘Mechs. Some ‘Mechs throughout the weight classes have been left alone to create a baseline. We won’t be increasing the speed you move at necessarily. Our main focuses were how fast you can look around, accelerate, decelerate, and increase the range of motion in terms of looking up and down. Not to an insane amount mind you, just enough to mitigate certain play styles, such as leg humping and hiding behind your opponent because he can’t turn around in time to shoot back.
Sarna: Ah, that’d be nice! I often find myself giving even medium ‘Mechs a few mobility skills just to improve their torso twist and acceleration or deceleration, as well as torso pitch because I hate being vertical-locked on a Vapor Eagle.
Bear_cl4w: This is our proposition so far. What you’ll notice there is the 20-25 tonners aren’t getting any smaller, as they were used as a baseline for the others. Those ‘Mechs are mainly used to leg hump and take advantage of other ‘Mechs with less agility.
Sarna: Wow, the Firestarter and Jenner might be usable again. Pretty much everything is getting smaller. What’s the expectation when every mech is smaller? Longer matches because everything is harder to hit?
[JGx] Krasnopesky: Yes. Not just harder to hit; particular components are harder to isolate, so you can still hit the ‘Mech, but it is harder to hold a laser burn on the CT as an example.
Sarna: Okay, let’s talk quirks. I get that quirks are a bit of a necessary evil to make some ‘Mechs even remotely usable, but there are some pretty wild swings in quirks even among different versions of the same chassis. The Quickdraw is the best example I can think of. The IV4 has insanely good quirks, while the rest of the Quickdraws get not even half of what the IV4 does.
As someone who’d love to main a Quickdraw as my heavy, what love might be coming to quirks in future patches?
[JGx] Krasnopesky: Boosting defensive quirks of a lot of Mechs. Quickdraws will be brought up to be more in line with the IV4 for example. Overall looking at increasing defensive quirks and removing some now unneeded offensive quirks (as a result of the weapon balance pass).
Also looking to introduce some ‘flavor’ quirks to make really bad Mechs interesting
Sarna: I would love flavor quirks. Sort of like the Vapor Eagle’s jump jet boosting quirk, right?
[JGx] Krasnopesky: Yep, and other stuff like that. Ammo quirks for Urbies, so they can actually run an AC/20 build without being terrible.
Sarna: Any plans for the skill tree? This is perhaps the least well-received change that was ever made in MWO, and one that often gets in the way of player progression–especially in terms of C-bill cost.
Bear_cl4w: Our proposition for the skill tree is a simpler version of what we have currently. Basically, we’re planning on trimming it down by about half. But this requires engineers on PGI’s side. So when will this happen? We don’t know yet.
Sarna: Simpler is certainly better. In a perfect world, what would you want to have done to MWO that you haven’t already discussed as an upcoming/planned/hoped-for change?
Bear_cl4w: A jump to Unreal Engine 4 from Cryengine. But from what I’ve heard, that would be a nightmare to do. One other pipe dream I’ve had for a while is a redone Solaris with actual free-for-all. Like it was done in ‘MechWarrior 4: Mercs. Along with our favorite Solaris caster Duncan Fisher.
Sarna: God that’d be perfect. And get George back in to do Duncan Fisher voices too!
Bear_cl4w: The simplicities and nuance of MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries still amaze me to this day. From UI to voice-over work, just top to bottom. There is so much to learn from the older games. I love sitting down for a few hours and playing the older games and just saying out loud, “Goddammit I wish this was in MechWarrior Online.”
Thanks to both Bear_cl4w and Krasnopesky for speaking so candidly about MechWarrior Online. June’s patch should be coming later this month, and in the meantime, you can earn a free Javelin-11A and Arctic Cheetah-E by taking part in the new free ‘Mech giveaway.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.