A bit of preemptive explanation and philosophy
Why am I writing this? Because, in my experience, our community exhibits confusion in its understanding of what MechWarrior is and what that means for a successful MW video game. This confusion creates detrimental rifts amongst us... rifts which are not necessary or inevitable. There are also more than enough knee-**** reactions against ideas that are not properly understood to go around the solar system a few times. We fight over the wrong things and don't make any real progress towards an understanding of MW and the attendant proper expectations that such an understanding would give. If we're going to argue, (and I suspect we will continue to do so ) let's at least argue over the things that really constitute MechWarrior!
Having a shared, clear, concise, rationally defensible definition of what MW is and is not is a thing to be greatly desired that would allow us to use our mental "gunpowder" in moving MW forwards... instead of bickering over what MW is at it's foundation ( a bickering which has been going in in the community at large for a long time). It's impossible to build a sound structure on a fractured foundation, and I suspect that community expectations, as they really are and as they are perceived to be, play a large part in shaping what kind of MW game is built... and I would be rather interested to hear from the Developer on how their thinking about MW is affected, in their own words, by their perceptions of these community expectations ... hint, hint.
This post expresses "what MW is" and how, conceptually, to "do MW." If it's not already obvious, I'm not post-modern/relativistic in my form of thinking... for which I will not ever apologize. Truth is objective and absolute and must be or it's not truth. Words are objective and have intrinsic meanings that are expressed in their definitions (dictionary or given by the user of the word) and further clarified by the context they're used in. Meaningful communication is entirely possible even though it may be hard at times, if not at times very hard when someone is being unclear - for example, if they refuse to define what they mean and do not mean by the words they are using.
As for the (I suspect) inevitable reaction along the lines of "but you'll just cause division by stating an idea as an absolute truth" and "thinking and saying that you understand the objective truth of something is arrogant," and "but truth is subjective!" ... the first is ironic because it is an absolute truth statement, the second posits the objective truth that to hold to objective truth is is arrogant, and the last uses an objective truth claim to try and undermine the use of objective truth.
These sorts of responses towards the use of objectivity are the result of presuppositions and thinking that are inherently arrogant. These presuppositions and thinking say, for whatever reason, that the individual is supreme over everything and that the individual need not submit to anything outside of self... the individual need not even *think there is* a reality beyond self which they ought to pursue an understanding of - in fact, to do so might mean the individual would have to humble themselves and submit to that objective reality outside of themselves... that this kind of thinking usually comes wrapped in a skin of humility is jaw dropping! How ironic that the supposed pursuit of humility and safety for all has resulted in arrogance and anarchy. No, I don't think that relativists are necessarily aware of this inherent arrogance in the relativistic worldview nor do I think that people who engage in this kind of worldview/thinking do so because they're out to be some sort of jerks.
Oh... did I mention I don't care for relativism or post-modernism... or think that its conducive to genuine progress?
So, am I some sort of tyrant who thinks he's never wrong? No, I believe that due to the basic nature of man, our thinking can (not must) be faulty... which is one of the main reasons I've taken the time not only to compose this, but to post it too - first so that what I honestly believe is wrong might be seen a such by others, second so that any logical fallacies or missing premises in this post might be pointed out (yes, in this specific sense, I am open minded) so the concepts in this post might be worked towards perfection, and third that we as a 'Mech fans can do away with the unnecessary fault lines in our thinking about the foundational ideas that form the basis of our community.
Am I trying to turn people off to anything that's not a "perfect MW video game" or run people away who don't agree on what MW is or where to go and how to get that definition... or run people away who disagree on how to implement MW? ... NO, a thousand times, NO. It is my sincere hope that the current crop of MW video games will come out "right" in being faithful to the Battletech Lore and I honestly believe that doing so would make a great game that would be fun and rewarding for even those not familiar with the BTUniverse. I believe that such a game which would live on and be viable well beyond what any bean-counter would dare predict!
The Current MW projects
As far as MWO, AT:S, and the guys working on those projects... I think they and I share the same goal of making a successful MW video game that's true to the lore, and I think they're working darned hard to get to that goal. Where I might have the audacity to disagree with them ... I think it's better to fix something while it's being built than after it's already built and being used.
While I honestly believe that this world "belongs to the thinkers" because nobody acts but that they act because of an idea... it belongs to the thinkers by the means of those who act their ideas out... each in his place, acknowledging the other. Major Kudos to the guys at PGI and Mektek for putting their time ("free" and otherwise), work, livelihoods, money, and effort on the line to implement the idea of MechWarrior; and the same to those who created BattleTech (not just the tabletop, but the whole kettle of fish - novels, source, TT system, and all) and those who labor to not only maintain the idea of the BT lore but work to expand it as well.
Me? I'm just some dork with time on his hands who has fun systematizing various bits of supposedly dis-attached information. Where you see me pointing to my own posts and stuff it's not really for myself as much as it is for the support of the BTU and the MW video game community.
Otherwise, this post is very much about, in the end, getting the community "on to a page together" in pursuit of a true MechWarrior Game.
Or, in short: Come, let us reason together, so that we might achieve at the least an understanding of each other, even if we do not wind up agreeing.
The "legend" for this crazy "Map."
Well, now that I got all that off of my chest, I'm going to start at the most basic conceptual foundations and work upwards, along the way addressing some things I see cropping up in the MW community that have been bugging me. Most of the time I tend to use single paragraphs to express a single concept. Otherwise I break things into chunks so they're easier to understand. I like defining what I mean and do not mean by the words I use. Clarity is a virtue. Arbitrary decisions in game building are to be avoided if at all possible, and because of that I try to only express what already exists in the sources, and I'll happily produce those sources, which I try and use without distorting the context they are in. I *love* to see questions asked to make sure that an idea is understood before it's disputed. Straw men just suck.
On to the Heart of the matter!
"Way back when" some people decided it would be cool to "be" the MechWarrior themselves; and the most capable means they had at hand for suspending their disbelief for a bit of MW escapism were video games. This still applies to us today, in as far as there are still people who still understand what it is to "be" a MechWarrior and in that ... well, that's it's still, today, just as cool to simulate what it's like to be a MechWarrior in a video game format, maybe even more so due to the capabilities of gaming machines these days.
Speaking of disbelief, I think it helpful to point out that belief (disbelief is a kind of belief - the negative form) amounts to the acceptance/assent to some intellectually understood proposition (a statement that can be true or false).. so, "suspension of disbelief" simply means that a person can both understand what is going on in the game and accept what is going on in the game. What's the point of defining this? ... I think it will be helpful to keep this in mind when thinking about what a "Simulation" type game genre is.
The cornerstone of the foundation
Just what does "MechWarrior" mean, by definition and in the context that it is used in?
"Mech" - In this case shorthand for BattleMech, an upright walking armed and armored combat unit from the Battletech Universe/Lore.
"Warrior" A person that makes war, usually by the means of combat.
So, "MechWarrior" means someone that pilots the aforementioned armored combat unit called a BattleMech in armed conflict.
Obviously, what follows, of necessity, from this definition and the motivation for making the MW video games in the first place is that an MW video game is a game built to simulate what it is like to pilot a BattleMech in combat, in such a manner as to give the player just enough suspension of disbelief so that they can have a good time by mentally "escaping reality" into the BTUniverse for a little while.
If a game claims to be a MechWarrior game but doesn't follow the above definition and pursue the above goal, it's not a MW game. Yeah, there's my darned non-postmodern view on truth popping up. Don't worry, you'll get used to it, I do it a lot... or you may start frothing at the mouth and go insane. You have been warned (again).
Where can we validly go to to define the Battletech Universe, and from within that definition, what it is like to pilot a BattleMech in combat? There are three different sources that are usually appealed to.
First, there are the previous MechWarrior video games. Positively, these are useful as examples of how others have tried to implement what it is like to pilot a BTU BattleMech in video game format. However, as far as actually defining the BTUniverse (and within that what it is like to pilot a BattleMech) the previous MW video games are not very good.
First of all, they are derivative instead of foundational works as far as concerns the BTUniverse - they looked elsewhere to get their definition(s), and at times these places were not always the best choices. They are also to some extent built game play upon arbitrary assumptions and concepts that are not always consistent with each other from game to game... meaning that there is no valid reason to choose one idea from any game over another - we may as well flip a coin!
Second, there are the Battletech novels and the short stories and "in universe" lore in the various source books for the tabletop game of Battletech. This "story" source is the genesis for much of the BTUniverse lore/information and it is usually more consistent with itself. It can be helpful in knowing conceptually, what it is like to pilot a BattleMech in combat, because it is largely free of any limitations that the various game formats necessarily impose.
That said, because of the lack of strict restrictions due to format "fiat" characters and concepts creep in at places - a tool used by authors to achieve their desired outcomes and to otherwise embellish their stories - which means the story overrides all other considerations, so care must be used in deciding what concepts to use. There is also the problem that while this story source is good at giving the concepts of what it is like to pilot a BattleMech in combat, it does not give usable clear definitions in hard "black and white" of how these concepts work.
Third, there are the rules that make up the Battletech tabletop game. This system(1984) was released before the novels by two years(1986), and the novels, "fiat" excluded, have not contradicted what the TT system rules "aim at." This system was, as far someone who was not involved in the origination of BT can tell, the genesis of much of the mechanics that exist in the the BTUniverse.
The various rules that make up this system are usually "hard numbers in black and white" and they lay out a fairly comprehensive baseline for BattleMech behavior and performance, and also piloting duties; and as far as seems humanly possible they are not contradictory of each other - or the "story" source either. The downside of these rules that make up this system is that they sometimes do not indicate exactly what it is they are intended to emulate. They also at times make compromises specific to the tabletop turn-based gaming format. The form of the rules do not always work in a video game format - they require translation at times.
How to use the Foundation
It follows that if the aim is to define what it is like to pilot a BattleMech in combat in order to make a video game that one would have to look first to the TableTop system and see if any of the various rules explicitly or implicitly (by good and necessary consequence) tell us what those rules are aiming at, in concept - than look to the story source and see if this concept exists, and if it does, how it relates to the TT implementation. In other words, look to see what the implementations are "aimed at" and than fit those implementations into the video game format in a way that honors what they are aiming at.
Where there are concepts in the Story source, those which are necessary to achieve a MW game, that are not implemented in the TT source, one can look to the MW video games and see if these concepts had any in-game expression and use those translations for comparison as a help for making a new translation. Due to video games being built of and needing rules, the authority starts at the TT, than secondarily at the Story source, and finally the Video game translations of the first two sources. The form of the various TT rules, where they will not fit the video game format, do not need to be followed - what does need to be followed, once what each rule is conceptually aiming at is determined, is the raw, "hard" baseline data that the rule expresses. Random Number Generation phobics and those who think MW is of necessity "VS" the tabletop would do well re-read that last sentence before letting their knees **** out of joint.
Speaking of RNG, where the TT gives these they can be expressed as probabilities, and can otherwise be mathematically mapped out to provide raw hard data on the various capabilities of BattleMechs and/or the various weapons they mount. The RNG mechanic need not be used, but the data that it expresses is invaluable and irreplaceable and that data can be expressed in video game rules that do not take anything, skills or otherwise, away from the player that the player should be handling in a MW video game... nor does it necessarily render game play mysterious and nonsensical and player skill pointless. It all depends on how the Baseline Data from the RNG is handled.
Moving on, unintended or/and unpredictable game play consequences are undesirable. Fewer arbitrary game play decisions and more adherence to the already well known underlying gaming balance of the TT source is a positive thing. As for the balance of the gaming system that under girds the TT game and gross misunderstandings... using the aforementioned systemic balance does not mean that the Video Game implementation would remove player skill (quite the opposite actually), it does not mean that game play would be unpredictable or counter-intuitive, it does not mean that a person has to be a "Battletech Grognard" in order to play the game well, and it wouldn't make the combat such that it would break a person's suspension of disbelief.
Using the balance of the TT gaming system does not mean the FORM of the TT rules must be followed! Speaking of the form of the rules, there's a common line misused in opposition of virtually every part of the TT system on a regular basis... It goes along the lines of "(Insert thing being argued against here) ... but the Table Top game is turn-based, so (x) can not apply!" That the TT game is turn-based is not a thing of no consequence - but the problem is, virtually nobody goes on after having used this claim to actually demonstrate how their use of this claim is valid.
As far as I'm concerned, there's only one place in the TT system where this applies in any meaningful sense, and even there it's conceptually a minor problem - and that place would be the weapons recycle times IF and only IF the developers wish to give the various weapons differing recycle times - and it's easily enough solved when one realizes that the main mechanic in the TT system that balances how quickly you can fire weapons is how much heat they generate - this mechanic applies to all weapons - if you want to fire faster, make the weapon generate heat at the appropriately higher rate, and vise-versa for slower firing weapons: balance preserved.
As far as back end work in the VG format is concerned, it is also not necessary to go "overkill" in implementation where a simpler setup will achieve the same end game play results... for example, using a physics engine for "everything and the kitchen sink" where a simple set of rules would suffice to provide necessary game function and/or suspension of disbelief. No, physics engines are not a panacea... they're a tool that can be misused, just like any other. This community seems to have a love-crush on physics engines for ... everything!
Speaking of misused - "Simulation" does not denote that a game must have a massive overload of details which the player is required to track, manipulate, and master in order to play a "sim" type game. All that a game requires to be a simulation is that it properly portrays whatever is being imitated - so, thank your stars and garters that at the most basic level, BattleMech piloting is conceptually easy (think othello or pente or chinese checkers). The flip-side is that while the "ground level" is easy and inviting, the more a player pays attention and learns, the more reward they get out of the experience - it may be simple in concept and at the ground level, but there's a lot of reward to be had in return for experience and a bit of thinking and "legwork." A MW simulation is not a thing that should or would scare new players away or bore long time players.
Erecting the Structure
At the core of the structure to be erected on the source foundation is the experience of piloting a BattleMech in combat. In the overall sense, three concepts must be carefully defined and expressed very clearly and than properly implemented in the game in a form that comports with those concepts as they are defined to get the MechWarrior experience "in game."
The first is to determine what the MechWarrior has to do, how he interacts with the 'Mech to do it while in combat, and how combat conditions affect him. These things must, if the goal of the motivating idea for making an MW game is to be achieved, be given to the human player to do, if it is at all possible in the VG format, and if whatever controls (mechanical and otherwise) the player is using to interact with the software are capable. The whole motivation for MW is to get "as close as is possible" to piloting a BattleMech, because that's a cool thing!
The second is to determine what the BattleMech does and how capable it is of doing those things it has to do, be that moving around the battlefield, collecting sensory data, or handling the weapons mounted on it in order to track and hit targets while in combat, and how a BattleMech behaves in interaction with the combat environment... for example how it reacts to excess heat (internal or environmental), taking damage from incoming weapons fire, etc.
Third is to determine the "bench" or ideal and also the battle damaged performance of the various weapons a BattleMech carries, so that their performance can be correctly modeled in any 'Mech they are mounted in.
There are more things that are nearly as important these three that would be needed in order to fully implement a good MW game, but just these few already make for a large task - a task which due to it's centrality can not be fouled up without affecting nearly everything else.
What the 'Mech, the pilot, and weapons respectively do and don't do and how they interact and a few "whys"
I've listed the concepts first even though they don't give out hard numbers in order to clarify what the hard numbers (implementations) describe. By no means is this list comprehensive; I've just listed the most basic things that I can think of.
Getting around the battlefield
What the pilot does and can do: Via the neurohelmet he provides the lions share of balance input to the 'Mech to keep it upright and mobile on the battlefield (this is the main job of the neurohelmet); the pilot chooses where to go on the battlefield (left, right, back, forwards, via foot pedal controls and forwards/backwards mode switch), how fast to get there (throttles). The pilot controls when, how, and in what direction the 'Mech jumps (normally foot pedal controlled) if it has jump jets equipped. The pilot controls torso rotation (via mode switch). The pilot also works to control his 'Mech to avoid collisions - or to cause his 'Mech to collide with things if he so wishes.
What the pilot does NOT or can not do: The pilot cannot control anything more than the most simple, rudimentary actions of the 'Mech by the means of the Neurohelmet... commands issued beyond balance inputs, while they are useful, are very basic. The pilot also can not not gather anything more than a minimal and somewhat crude sort of data of things beyond the 'Mechs balance from the neurohelmet - the "virtual mental reality" that neurohelmets can create is very weak and easily overwhelmed by other natural sensory inputs to the brain. Clan Enhanced Imaging and the few other technologies that address this in the BTU are at what amounts to the extreme fringe as far as capabilities, and are only balanced in the lore by their extreme negatives such as early death, mental breakdown, Megalomania, blinding headaches and pain, drug addiction to the necessary pain killers, and worse, under certain circumstances they can almost turn your brain into scrambled eggs!
What the 'Mech does and can do: it chooses (via programming, sensors, and sub-systems) where to put each individual footstep. It "watches" various sensor inputs and is programmed to avoid collisions with it's environment and other actors in that environment and will move its arms, legs, and torsos to try and avoid those possible collisions, in accordance with it's programming, if at all possible without causing the 'Mech to fall over... BattleMechs "work very hard" to not fall over and also to provide a stable firing platform, via programming that controls their gyroscopes and placement of limbs and torso rotation. While jumping, the 'Mech can rotate (via it's gyroscopic mechanism) and strafe (Jump Jet control surfaces), and it can work with its jets to try and land at a landing point if one is designated by the pilot (via the aiming reticule). It also falls over when it's gyroscope is destroyed; no questions asked.
What the 'Mech does NOT or can not do: it does not choose what direction to go in a "designate a point and click to go there" non-interactive piloting style; it can not move without a pilot; it does not, can not, and will not over-ride Pilot inputs; it is not "supremely capable" of always keeping it's balance. BattleMechs are specifically programmed to not choose where to go, because they are so large and capable of destruction. While 'mechs can rotate and strafe during jumps, they do not do so in a refined or tightly controlled and highly capable manner. 'Mechs are also not capable of sustained flight via jump jets. A 'Mech can not functionally get around a battlefield if its pilot does not have a working neurohelmet. 'Mechs are totally incapable of standing back up after a fall or moving around if they are without a functioning gyroscope.
What the pilot does and can do: Via the use of the main (and sometimes there's a secondary) joystick the pilot manipulates the placement of the reticule on his main HUD to indicate what is to be targeted; the pilot must also track with the reticule what he wishes to be targeted. The pilot, via the joystick and reticule, can, if they think their 'Mech will not be able to under whatever situation, do some extra "lead calculation." The plot controls what weapons are fired, their firing modes, what kinds of ammo that they fire, when they are fired and how long the 'Mechs targeting and tracking systems (computers, programming, sensors, physical structures) get to work on converging whatever weapons are fired onto the point indicated by the reticule.
The pilot also controls non-environmental heat-build up in their 'Mech, and the placement and/or movement and movement type relative to the target when firing. A very good pilot can use these factors to indirectly control weapons convergence - he essentially "thinks for" his 'Mech in order to achieve this - this is the "skill" that sets the good pilots apart from the bad, as far as gunnery is concerned. The pilot achieves physical combat by using the targeting reticule and joystick(s) to aim and triggers whatever movement type he has chosen with the appropriate trigger on the joystick(s). The pilot uses pressure sensitive surfaces on the joystick(s) to indicate to the 'Mech how tightly it should grip whatever makeshift club may be in use.
What the pilot does NOT or can not do: indicate a target with the reticule and than not have to track it with the reticule. The pilot does not (and indeed, can not) directly control weapons convergence. The pilot does not directly control the physical targeting of any weapon or group of weapons. The pilot does not (and, again, can not) "do," mentally or otherwise, beyond using the reticule to indicate targets and "thinking for his 'Mech," the targeting and tracking for his 'Mech. The pilot does not achieve reticule control via the use of eye-tracking systems. The pilot does not and can not directly control the flight of missile weapons, either individually or in groups.
What the 'Mech does and can do: It does the actual physical aiming of whatever weapons are being fired. It, via sensors, computers, and programming calculates the lead for each weapon being fired so that it can hit the target indicated - under most conditions, 'Mech's T&T sensors, computers, and programming are far more capable of calculating this lead than their pilots. This is due to the fact that the 'Mech's various systems that are involved are crunching a titanic amount of information and deciding what to do with it, very quickly in order to get the desired effect - far more than a pilot can handle. The 'Mech indicates to it's pilot the "quality" of targeting lock - this is normally achieved via color coding the reticule and audible tones. Nowhere in the lore have I seen anything to indicate "dancing" reticules or reticules that change size or shape - the reticule is first and foremost a means used to indicate targets - changing it in the middle of battle in ways that impair this ability goes against its main purpose.
In physical combat it does the majority of choosing the actual physical movements necessary in order to achieve what the pilot wants. The 'Mech's T&T (this is mainly the job of the battle computer) systems will use sensor inputs and programming to try and "track" whatever is being indicated with the reticule in order to achieve higher "hit rates." The 'Mech tracks with it's T&T systems all sensor contacts, their IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) codes if present, and streamlines this information into a simple synthesized display with visual cues (usually in the form of graphic indicators) and audible alerts for it's pilot. The 'Mech can not concentrate all of its weapons fire into a single segment of a non-immobile target (which is borne out by the lore all OVER the place).
What the 'Mech does NOT and can not do: It does not and can not choose a target. They are specifically built and programmed such that this can not happen. This is because they carry so much destructive power. Because of this they can not trigger their own weapons (or commit physical combat); nor can they target and/or track anything with their weapons that the pilot is not indicating with the reticule.
Some of the Implementations of these concepts in the Table Top system
The various piloting concepts are expressed in the system by the Piloting Skill Rolls (these are listed in the tables) - and there are a lot of them - these outline how capable the 'Mech is (what can make a 'Mech go off balance and what can't) - and the rolls that the player makes for the pilot indicate how capable a pilot is of handling these situations... in fact, they give us hard information on what is considered "green" to what is considered "elite" as far as piloting skill.
In combat, the to-hit numbers show us how capable the 'Mechs are at hitting what is being indicated as a target under varying conditions. The advanced Tactical Operations hit-location tables show us how capable 'Mechs are at converging their weapons fire under varying conditions. The modifiers that each individual weapon has shows us how capable the weapons are themselves... which is NOT the same thing as how well the 'Mech can handle them. The advanced determining critical hit rules lays out a way to handle penetrating hits and equipment/weapons damage relative to how each weapon does it's damage. The Expanded critical damage system gives a way to model varying damage to internals from a critical hit. The rules in Tactical Operations on extreme and LOS ranged shots handle shooting things beyond the normal battlefield rating for a weapon system.
The advanced firing rules give compelling options for MechWarriors to pull of some pretty cool shots. The called shots rules in TO give a way to somewhat control weapons convergence; and when combined with the data dumped from the advanced and normal hit locations tables they can show us just how capable a 'Mech is of converging it's weapons - in hard numbers. The glancing/direct blow and altered energy weapons damage rules map out a more believable damage setup for the weapons. The linking weapons rules give an outline of how well a 'Mech can hit with multiple weapons that are all fired at a single instant. The opportunity fire rule shows how well 'Mechs can handle "snap shots" where their T&T systems don't get "enough time" to get a good firing fix. The opportunity fire: firing on the move shows how well 'Mechs can do these "snap shots" while moving.
And so on... The underlying balance of the TT system is pretty comprehensive and the data gleaned from it can be extremely useful in outlining in hard numbers how capable BattleMechs are.
And I think that for the moment... this will do.
*Goes looking for his nomex flame-proof suit*
EDIT: A few online usable places with "canon" source that I've referenced:
http://www.sarna.net...Mech_Technology - This references to "TechManual" and "Classic BattleTech Companion"
http://bg.battletech.com/?page_id=197 - This is the main tabletop website writeup on BattleMech Technology.
Not viewable online but also Total Warfare and Tactical Operations are sources used, along with about 9/10ths of the novels.
Edited by Pht, 04 February 2012 - 04:36 PM.