The Mech Touch - Chapter 49: Modular Armor
Working with modular armor posed unique challenges to the mech designer.
To visualize the problems the designer faced, imagine being handed a square or rectangular piece of paper. If you were told to make a cylinder out of the paper, you could easily bend it in a a way so that one end of the paper touched the other end. What resulted was a pretty good cylinder with a cutout in the same of a circle.
What if instead of a big piece of paper, you got handed some cardboard instead. And not just one piece, but many smaller pieces that you weren't allowed to bend. With a bit of tape, you could approach the shape of a cylinder with square pieces of cardboard, but the cross section wouldn't look as smooth as a circle anymore. It would look like a many-sided shape that only approximated a circle.
The same concept applied to working with modular armor as opposed to conventional armor. Modern 3D printers and armor fabricators could miraculously produce armor plates in virtually any complex shape. It could mold something as thick as an entire chest plate to something as delicate as the armor around a mech's fingers. A lot of this flexibility was lost when working with modular armor. Even the most masterful designs always left out gaps and other inefficiencies.
Having purchased the Octagon medium mech together with the FlexiPlate and the SquarePlate, Ves left the game and loaded the designs into the Mech Designer System. Though Iron Spirit or his own terminal's design interface featured plenty of tools and aids, the System offered the best assistance by far.
If Ves had to guess, the Designer module of the System was at least two hundred years ahead of the most advanced design software on the market. He possessed a devastating advantage against his competitors and he'd be a fool to neglect its many tools.
"Oh wait, before I start designing, its best if I spend all my remaining DP." Ves reminded himself as he remembered he still possessed around 900 DP.
What he found perplexing was that he earned more DP from selling his virtual mechs than his real mechs. The virtual version of his Marc Antony rewarded him with a fixed amount of 25 DP, while the real version was dependent on the total sales volume, which meant an average of 28 DP. However, it was a lot easier to sell a virtual mech than a real mech. Ves foresaw that he would be selling a lot more virtual mechs while his real mech sales volume remained in the double digits.
Did the System burp when it calculated the DP rewards for his virtual mechs? Whatever was the case, Ves eagerly planned to make use of its generosity.
He opened the Skill Tree again with glee. As he could expect an uptick of DP once he put up a couple of new designs for sale, he wasn't stingy with his current reserve. He looked down the list and found a sub-skill he had been eyeing for a while.
[Mediumweight Armor Optimization II]: 600 DP
As he bought it, the influx of knowledge he received blacked him out for a moment. This time the knowledge dealt more with details and nuances, which caused Ves to forcefully memorize a whole bag of new tricks. It definitely paid off already, as by the time he woke up he became a lot more confident in working with his new armor licenses.
Curious about his current state, Ves called up his Status again.
Name: Ves Larkinson
Profession: Novice Mech Designer
Design Points: 304
Neural Aptitude: F
[Assembly]: Apprentice - [3D Printer Proficiency II] [Assembler Proficiency II]
[Computer Science]: Incompetent
[Electrical Engineering]: Novice
[Mechanics]: Apprentice - [Jury Rigging II] [Speed Tuning I]
[Physics]: Novice - [Lightweight Armor Optimization I] [Mediumweight Armor Optimization II]
Evaluation: An ugly carp about to leap the retarded dragon gate.
Despite the System's harsh standards, Ves recognized he was approaching the upper limit of a novice mech designer. The System hadn't told him the criteria for promotion, but from his own knowledge of how mech designers were ranked, he'd probably break through if he raised a main skill from Apprentice to Journeyman level.
"It's a bit too early for me to advance my rank." Ves remarked as he still planned to allocate his upcoming DP on other skills. Picking up Speed Tuning II was inexpensive at 400 DP. Apprentice level Physics was a bit more expensive at 1000 DP, but it shored up his foundation nicely and could help him out a lot when designing armor schemes.
After that, he'd have save 2000 DP and pick a main skill to upgrade. Ves leaned towards mechanics as that was his main strength, but considering his recent shift in focus perhaps Physics or Metallurgy might be a better choice.
In any case, Ves could revisit the decision later when he actually had DP to spend.
Ves missed the System's Designer suite. When Ves worked on the mechs in the Young Tigers Exhibition, he was forced to use regular software to design the Drake in the qualifiers. He felt cramped and handicapped and felt certain he made far more mistakes than he ought to. The System's interface provided many more advantages. Perhaps too much.
"I'm getting dependent on the System." Ves admitted to himself in a tone that spoke of no regrets. "I'm short on time and even more lacking in money. I'd rather hug this thick thigh than to crawl in the mud trying to find the exit to hell on my own."
With the manner in which he upgraded his many skills, it wasn't easy for him to forget what the System forced in his mind. If Ves somehow got separated from the System, he still had his upgraded skills to rely on. He'd get the hang of designing mechs without the extra aids.
In any case, Ves shoved away all distractions and focused on his upcoming design. He loaded the quirky mech designed by the Globe-Elstar Corporation and sat back to view its intricate design before doing anything else. He wanted to get into the head of the original designer and figure out why he designed this risky model.
"This mech excels in urban combat. The denser the streets, the better it's able to run circles around its opponent."
Ves looked up the history of the Globe-Elstar Corporation and guessed right. When the company was still in operation, its headquarters was based in one of the Greater United Terran Confederation's major port Systems. Designing a mech suited for urban combat was an acute priority at the time.
Though the historical files was short on details regarding the developers of the Octagon, Ves nonetheless inferred that the mech was a job commissioned directly by the Terrans as part of a broad push to develop new specialized mechs. The Octagon enjoyed limited success but never really caught on. The concept was too radical and few mech pilots accepted the innovation. Agility-focused mechs started to really gain their stride in later generations, in part because the Octagon and a few other models paved the way beforehand.
Ves then looked at the mech's combat footage in both historical recordings and replays from the game. The pilots in the historical recordings piloted the mech conservatively, making calculated risks only after they meticulously positioned themselves.
As for the players who chose this particular 2-star mech to enter the arena, they behaved much more aggressively, leveraging their superior mobility to actively seek out enemies to hunt as long as the map featured complex environmental obstacles.
"The Octagon is a hunter." He concluded after several hours of spectating.
The mech fared better when being jumped on than others, but it excelled when it took the initiative. Pilots who cared about their lives behaved like ambush predators, while pilots who had nothing to lose acted as pursuit predators. The pilots could switch between the two whenever the situation called for a change.
As a pioneering urban combat mech, the Octagon distinguished itself in several ways.
Besides its amazing agility and flexibility, it possessed outstanding endurance. Urban combat was gruelling, and could drag on for weeks if the commanders in the field avoided collateral damage. The mech cleverly incorporated a bevy of fuel type energy cells on its back that fed the mech's robust power reactor that in turn spun the over-engineered engines.
These engines provided plenty of power to the Octagon's limbs with minimal latency. That meant that the usual sluggishness and delays inherent in any other mech movements were minimized to the point of being nonexistent. At the time, that was fairly impressive and not that easy to achieve. However, the experimental engine was also sensitive to shock damage, which made the mech easy to disable if it endured excessive force in its waist area.
"That should be the main reason why this mech hadn't caught on. It kind of negates the point of making a mech for urban combat if it can't last the whole campaign."
The other major downside to the Octagon was that its carrying capacity was light and limited. Balance and weight issues limited the mech from wielding most two-handed weapons. Even a shield affected the mech in a dramatic fashion. This forced the mech to choose from one-handed weapons like knives, pistols and submachine guns.
Laser rifles might provide a viable alternative if it wasn't for one thing. Though certain laser rifle models kept down their weight, the energy these rifles guzzled in a short amount of time surpassed the Octagon's power reactor's output. This highlighted the disadvantage of incorporating fuel injected power reactors. They provided a lot more energy over a longer period, but were incapable of generating high amounts of power at a snapshot.
"The Octagon's weapon loadout is already pretty thin. I have to be careful not to pile on too much weight."
With the information at hand, Ves developed a pretty good picture of the Octagon. Now was the point where he came up with his own vision of the mech.
Ves pictured a ruined city. Smoke rose from the tallest wrecks while fires burned from the hulks of fallen mechs. With streets chock full of debris from vehicles and nearby buildings, the darkened silhouette of the Octagon straggled between two molten piles of slag that used to be a pair of mechs. It scrambled behind a pile of garbage and waited for its pursuers to arrive.
A light skirmisher passed by the Octagon's hiding spot, oblivious of the dangers nearby in its haste. The Octagon jumped forward and thrust its spear at the unprotected back of the skirmisher. The incredible momentum behind the blow shattered through the thin armor and pierced the cockpit.
After brutally pulling out the blooded spear, the Octagon swept sideways as it dodged a couple of rapid ballistic rifle shots. The Octagon spun like a top and used the terrain to its advantage. Though it received plenty of hits, only a couple of square armor plating fell of its frame. Even though the exhausted Octagon's armor looked half-empty with lots of square holes in it, the speed in which it burst through the bullet barrage allowed the nimble mech to stab its spear against the rifle, destroying it with one firm blow.
The rifleman mech didn't panic and let go, drawing a short sword from its hips with its other hand. The Octagon, having put most of its forward momentum in that spear thrust, let go of its weapon as well and entered the rifleman's reach without even withdrawing its own backup weapons.
Instead, in a feat of amazing piloting, it ducked when the sword swiped at it and reached the rifleman's side. With the flank wide open, the rifleman could only allow the Octagon to kick to the side, dealing critical damage to its knee joint. The loss of balance that resulted from the blow left it unable to leverage its sword. This gave the Octagon enough time to retrieve a heated knife who stabbed it in the back.
The two mechs fell, both pilots downed within a minute. The Octagon left the battlefield without a word and dived deeper into the fallen city, hunting and seeking more prey to devour.
Ves emerged from the vision with a bright light in his eyes. With the information he gathered so far, he envisioned an idea how to shape his own variant. His first spin on the Octagon would be an overall enhancement of the base model. He wanted to retain the savage nature of the Octagon and preserve its hunting instincts. While the mech excellent in energy efficiency, its armor could not keep up. Therefore Ves needed to redesign the Octagon's armor scheme and somehow make a comprehensive improvement while not impacting the mech's speed and agility too much.
Ves stripped the Octagon's standard armor and started from scratch. The mech's internals looked skinny and lighter than a normal medium mech. It bordered the weight class of a light mech. With his upgraded Medium Armor Optimization II, Ves developed several prospective armor schemes in which to clad the naked Octagon frame.
If he maximized the number of larger plates, Ves was able to offer a great amount of protection. However, use of too many oversized plates also increased the gaps in the armor as he was forced to make it less form-fitting.
Using smaller plates allowed Ves to conform the armor closer to the internal frame. While this increased the variant's mobility, a bunch of smaller plates plainly offered less overall protection than a single large plate.
He therefore spent roughly a day to draft an armor scheme that fell in between. Using his enhanced skill, he cleverly employed the SquarePlate at subtle angles, never letting a single surface lay completely flat. This introduced a slightly disorienting pattern to the mech. The different angles allowed the mech to ablate incoming damage a little better. However, it risked pooling damage towards the troughs of the armor surface.
To solve this hidden problem, Ves added extra armor underneath the SquarePlate layers. He enhanced critical portions of the square-like wireframe that held the plates together with FlexiPlate. The bendable armor could be formed in such a way to squeeze between any contours, making it trivially easy to design airtight fits that added a layer of protection between the top armor and the internals. The FlexiPlate's amazing shock absorption also gave the new variant more resistance to damage that resulted from employing tight turns and risky falls.
The System's tools helped ease the delicate design work, but since it involved making on-the-spot judgements, Ves had his share of heavy lifting. It took two days to come up with a two-layered structure where thin layers of FlexiPlate cushioned the heavier layers of SquarePlate. It took longer than he thought due to the added challenge in maintaining a single vision for his new variant.
Without enhancing his concentration and endurance, it remained a chore for him to keep his intent sharp. As the X-Factor was his only real specialty so far, Ves could not skip such a small but useful advantage. He wanted to improve his ability to impart the X-Factor in his mechs. What would a mech look like if it achieved an A+ rating for the X-Factor?
"The galaxy will shift when that happens." Ves jokingly thought. "It would be the birth of a god."
Still, Ves thought it was unlikely for such a fantasy to come to life. Despite being half-convinced that mechs do possess the capability to exhibit signs of life, he doubted it reached the extent imagined in apocalyptic scenarios.
His best result achieved a C- score. The budding designer hoped he could break past his record with his new Octagon variant. After affirming his motivation, Ves dove into his work once more and refined the armor scheme again. The armor he produced so far was a little on the heavy side and he hadn't even designed the fittings for the joints.
Step by step, the shape of a prowler came into existence.
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