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Metal Monsters: Mechs From Gundam to Pacific Rim

Steven Bogos | 12 Jul 2013 09:00
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It was the sheer complexity and attention to detail of MechWarrior that led to Capcom's Steel Battalion. Steel Battalion looked at MechWarrior's complex control scheme and thought: "how can we one-up those guys?" The answer was with a $200, dual-control-stick, forty-button controller. Several of those buttons were dedicated solely to the mech's start-up sequence, which had to be done at the beginning of every mission, as well as whenever your mech overheated in battle. On top of that, If you turned a corner too fast, your mech would actually fall over. Still not hardcore enough for you? If you took too long to eject from your mech when the game prompted you, your character would die, erasing all save data and forcing you to start over from the beginning of the game.

The role of the mech in games has moved away from the hardcore simulations of MechWarrior and Steel Battalion. Right now, all eyes are on Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall, a multiplayer-only title revolving around combat between free-running pilots, and agile mech suits called Titans. Titanfall is particularly interesting for mech fans because it seems to be a weird blend of East and West. The titans in Titanfall are very clearly based on the Japanese Gundam or Armored Core style of mech - humanoid, agile, and not gigantic, but the game itself is a very western-style first person shooter.

The role of the mech in games has moved away from the hardcore simulations of MechWarrior and Steel Battalion.

What we're looking at here is "infantry scale" mech combat, where the foot soldiers can still hold their own against the mechs. Titanfall's Titans are no longer the fearsome "ultimate battlefield vehicle" mechs have been in the past, but just another tool to be used by the troops. Just like the tanks in the Battlefield series, seeing a mech drop shouldn't make you think "the game is over, free kills for the enemy," but "how can I take this guy down?"

Respawn is headed by Jason West and Vince Zampella, who created the Call of Duty franchise and made Call of Duty games back when the series was redefining the FPS, rather than regurgitating it. If West and Zampella's track record is anything to go by, Titanfall should become one of the definitive multiplayer shooters of the next generation.

Guillermo del Toro, director of Pacific Rim, takes Titanfall's West/East fusion idea even further. Pacific Rim is a kaiju vs mecha film. Kaiju directly translates to "strange beast" in Japanese, but due to its usage in films such as Godzilla has come to mean "giant monster." Kaiju vs mecha is a very Japanese genre, and is the backbone for the wildly popular Super Sentai franchise (which was adapted into Power Rangers for the West). Del Toro's aim with his film is to provide Western-style big, beautiful, and sophisticated visuals that would satisfy the adult crowd, while introducing the Japanese kaiju and mecha genres to a new generation of children. It's an homage, love letter, and original property all in one, and it should be a nice change from the typical "super-brooding, super-dark, cynical summer movie," as del Toro himself puts it.

Now that you're pumped up talking about the history of mechs, it's time to let you in on a little secret. There is a private company in Japan (where else?) that manufactures a series of commercial mechs called the "Land Walker," which you can purchase for the low, low price of 36 million yen (that's around $360,000). The Land Walker seats one, moves at a neckbreaking 1.5 km/h, and sports two air guns that fire soft cushion balls. It's just over 3 meters tall, so you won't be crushing any houses with it, but can you imagine the envy of all your friends when you cruise down the street in your very own mech? The producer, Sakibara Kikai, hopes that mechs like the Land Walker will soon be used in paintball-style wargames.

So let's all take a moment to thank Gigantor creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama, for showing us the pure awesomeness that is giant humanoid robots, Yoshiyuki Tomino, for refining the genre into the mechs we know and love with Gundam, and even Activision, which, back when it wasn't pumping out yearly installments of Call of Duty, brought the genre to the West with MechWarrior. Here's hoping that the genre isn't going anywhere anytime soon. There's something immensely satisfying about being at the helm of building-sized robot with more firepower than an aircraft carrier.

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