Making classic cyberpunk is like making a good burger; if it’s lacking grease, you made it wrong. Thus, it was quite refreshing when Whalenought Studios announced Mechajammer: a sleazy RPG inspired by 80s films and tabletop rulesets.
It might sound weird to mix nerdy rules with a grimy aesthetic, but it fits well if you’re a sucker for old school RPGs. So much so that it won an award from PC Gamer’s 2021 Best of E3.
- Crashing into Hell: Mechajammer takes place in a dystopic colony located in an offworld jungle, filled with desperate people. To fit with that desperation, Combat takes a “simultaneous turn-based” approach that gives it a madcap-frenzy.
- Like plenty of RPGs, you’re given a wide variety of mechanics and skills to face multiple issues. For instance, we were able to persuade vagrants to fight for us instead of getting our own hands dirty in the game’s preview.
- This freedom is both a blessing and curse, letting you explore to your heart's content. But that also means it's easy to get lost if you’re not paying attention.
- Building You: One of Mechajammer’s most distinct systems is its character creator. Rather than simply putting points in stats, you instead put extra dice into the rolls alongside the modifiers that come from your character’s life story.
- If a skill doesn’t have a die, you only have a ⅙ chance to succeed. It’s not just a cool way to approach tabletop mechanics, it helps give Mechajammer its unique qualities.
- For the Classic Fans: While Mechajammer’s rule-intensive and hands-off approach to gaming might be overwhelming to some, it’s a perfect fit for people who missed the more complex approach of games like Fallout 1 and Baldur's Gate.
Considering how vast Mechajammer is for a small team, we were curious to see how that came about. We talked to co-founder Hannah Williams from Whalenought Studios about the design behind Mechajammer, its inspirations, and its future.
Starting in the Past: Whalenought’s previous title was Serpent in the Staglands, a fantasy game with RTS elements in a Transylvanian-inspired setting, radically different from Mechajammer’s world of grimy jungle colonies.
“After we launched it, we were excited to develop something more turn-based while keeping [SitS’s] chaos in mind, so it was a sort of stepping stone to get to that simultaneous turn-based model we have now.” Williams told us.
Loving the Dice, Loving the Grime: Tabletop gaming is a clear inspiration for the Whalenought team and that continues in Mechajammer, with a touch of 80s filmography like Escape from New York and RPGs like Grandia.
“Our goal as digital dungeon masters are to give the player as much agency as possible, to clearly lay out a set of consistent tools they’ll have to interact with, and then let them discover how the world works”
Mechajammer’s griminess permeates the game’s style, mixing low poly art with old school spritework. The reason for it is straightword: abstraction.
“low-poly, small texture art allows the player to use their imagination and make the world and the story their own” Williams pointed out. “Those restrictions seem to have been solidified as a medium of its own”.
Going Big: Even though the Whalenought team is small, they took on the challenge to make a sandbox.
One of the reasons for that is cool vehicles. “The open world in Mechajammer was non-negotiable, because otherwise where would you go on your motorcycle? So we made it work.” This is true even with a certain pandemic messing with game developers.
While other developers dealt with COVID-caused turbulence, Whalenought’s development is predominantly done at home. This made it less difficult to continue developing the game. “We spent a lot more time at home in general though, like everyone else. Our two cats enjoyed this.”
Life after Launch: However, launch won’t be the end of Mechajammer, though Williams kept that a surprise.
“We’re planning some neat content additions after the release, but can’t go into any details yet!” Suffice to say, we’ll be curious to see what the world of Mechajammer brings us during (and after) its release.