Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Good News and So-so News.... and the Game!

Good day!

Some good news, some not so good.

No word from Lee Madison yet. I am still pinging him with email but so far no luck.

That’s not as big a deal as it was a couple weeks back – our layout man is still recovering from pneumonia and some other issues, but he is doing his best to get back on his feet. Josh’s condition makes me think of that old maxim “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything”. We just have to be patient. I email him once a week to get the status on his health. I don’t even mention the TRO work, because that is a distant concern compared to him getting through his times of trouble. But he knows we’re here.

This delay gives me more time to mail off money via snail mail and PayPal. Several of you have chipped in recently, some of you in a very big way. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and promise to keep plugging away at this project.

My wife went to get her teeth cleaned today. We discovered that during the years since we left the Navy dental system, she’s developed a few cavities. Those will have to be fixed. However, she and I still have OUR health and we are working hard. So that will cause a bit of delay – mainly to saving for the printing and paying off commissions.

A New Design

During this down time, I have been tinkering with various machines and came across one that has not really been developed much since it first appeared. The Scorpion in most of its iterations has been a clumsy-looking machine and has a poor reputation among my fellow players. Even the original writeup for that machine all but called it a failure due to its clumsy gait and lack of internal space. Recent books have revised the look somewhat and the upgrades are considerable – my favorite is probably the LB-10X variant with the SRM-6 which appears in 3067. But I have issues with all these machines.

First, what is the point of even fielding the Scorpion if you are not going to play to the strengths of the quad design? For example, take that model I just mentioned, the SCP-12S. It moves 6/9/0 and has a light fusion engine. Moving at full speed and firing both weapons, this machine generates a whopping eight heat. Why does it have double heat sinks? And as any player can tell you, a fifty-five ton ‘Mech wearing armor appropriate for a forty-ton frame is just asking to be wiped out.

And really, can anyone see this thing running at sixty miles per hour?

I took a hard look at the concept of the quad and decided to see if I could play to its strengths better than what has come from the company so far. There are a few worth the mention.

First is its ability to go ‘hull down’ behind Level One terrain. Bipedal ‘Mechs enjoy a +1 bonus to cover and any hit on the full-body chart which strikes the legs is ignored. The Quad design goes this one better – since all its limbs are legs, that is four out of eight possible locations where a hit is ignored. The only portions that can take a hit are the head and the left, right and center torsos. And the Quad can still fire back!

The second is the stability of the design – any Piloting Skill Roll (PSR) to avoid a fall is taken at a –2, which is very good. For example, a Mechwarrior with a piloting skill of 4 would normally need to roll 4 or better. Now he needs only avoid rolling snake eyes.

I can understand the hull-down feature and make ready use of it regardless of the Scorpion’s warload, but what could you possibly do with a bonus to your PSR? They are only made when you are attempting to do something dangerous - or a bracket of heavy gunfire has smacked you really hard. The quad’s stability is great, but it doesn’t seem to be useful until you are in a desperate spot.

Well, as it happens, there is one weapon that forces a PSR if you fire it on the move – the heavy gauss rifle (HGR). This is normally not an issue because the HGR is found only in larger BattleMechs. There are PSR modifiers based on the size of the machine you are flying – Mediums are at a +1, Heavies are at 0, and Assaults grant a bonus of –1, which means you don’t normally see this type of weapon in anything smaller than a Heavy.

However, even with the penalty of +1, a medium quad ‘Mech could move and fire a heavy gauss rifle and the pilot would still enjoy a total bonus of –1 to his PSR. Not bad. All of this prompted me to tinker with the Scorpion to see if I could fit that huge bastard of a gun into the Scorpion’s modest 55-ton frame.

Well, I did it.

The result is much slower than the original – but it has something no Scorpion ever had, and that is the ability to jump. It moves 4/6/4, has over 90% of maximum armor and carries a Streak-4 rack as a backup weapon. There are only two tons of gauss rifle reloads – eight shots in all – but I have seen what an AC20 can do mounted on a 4/6/0 Hunchback during our last game, and eight shots is plenty when you are close to your target. Best of all, the heavy gauss rifle has twice the range of the AC20…

I bumped the tonnage up to 70 to see what else could be done with this concept – the speed stayed the same, but the armor increased tremendously and I was able to fit two Streak-6 racks in there. I don’t think this is a radically better design, but the pilot would have his full bonus of –2. That counts for something, but there are quads out there of similar tonnage that have greater flexibility. I think that was lost when I focused on the heavy gauss rifle. And it runs nearly four million credits more than the medium version.

So we stick with the original chassis plus 5 tons to bring it up to the heavy class. A couple of these can command a whole mapsheet.

I am thinking of pulling a finished design from the Lyran section – this will cause no small amount of trouble as I have to modify everything to fit in the new machine. But the concept is a bit more useful than the Zeus PE, which is a ‘Mech designed for Periphery States and which, in any case, has not been successful for a number of reasons.

What is tipping the balance is that Eric Ou has agreed to illustrate this new ‘Mech. He has not done a quad before, so it will be a while before he can turn it out. He might not be able to pull it off, so I am crossing my fingers while I create the new writeup. If Eric can do this, we will see a very solid quad taking its place in the TRO, which is a good thing and a harbinger of things to come.

Somewhat Frustrating Game Day

I went across the water alone last Saturday. This time I went as far as Tacoma, where our GM hosted a game at the Game Matrix. On the one hand I was happy to see that we had eleven people turn up to play.

On the other hand, we had eleven people turn up to play.

As most BT players can tell you, things slow way the hell down in a game that exceeds four players to a side. To make matters worse, all of the High Rollers players chose to work with Free World League and Capellan ‘Mechs, leaving the more numerous and harder-hitting Davions to the players with less experience. The battle took place in 3028, with everyone piloting a Level One old-school design.

Five players were on our side, all deferring to Dan for the final call on critical moves. Six players on our opponent’s side, all endlessly discussing the potential for this move or that. At least they knew how to run their machines. But they had no ‘whip’, no one to keep them moving and the turns passing quickly. Ray tried to remedy that, with mixed results. But the truth is that we were the underdog and it took all our skill and experience to stay in the game.

So we had eight turns in six hours of play. Not enough to determine whether or not either side had the advantage – the pilot’s skills were average and this made for a lot of shots which required a ten or higher. We didn’t really begin dropping ‘Mechs until Turn Six. Our UrbanMechs were used to soften up and distract our foe, but they played very, very conservatively and so we didn’t see much close action with the big boys until they finally approached the edge of our city map on Turn Seven.

I had three ‘Mechs.

One was an Orion ON1-K with an AC/10, an LRM-15 and some smaller stuff.

The second was a Hunchback HBK-4G with an AC/20 and a couple of medium lasers.

The third ‘Mech was a Flea. Yes, a Flea. This one was the FLE-15 with a couple of medium lasers, two machine guns, two small lasers and a flamer.

To be honest, when I sent the Flea up to the front, I did not expect it to last very long. It dutifully dumped its machine gun ammo and buried itself in a building with a view. Then for the rest of the game it acted as a spotter for indirect LRM fire from our other ‘Mechs (Trebuchets, my Orion and a queer little Locust with two LRM-5 racks and so little armor that a fall could have destroyed it).

And the doughty Flea persevered.

Anything it could see, we could reach with our missiles and soon our opponents sent an Assassin to destroy it, approaching the Flea from behind. The building absorbed most of the resulting weapon fire and the Assassin pilot discovered to his chagrin that the FLE-15’s small lasers were rear-mounted and those arm-mounted medium lasers could flip! He got a face full of coherent light for his trouble and hastily backed off, grumbling good-naturedly about ‘that damned Flea’ for the rest of the game.

Dealing with Bullies

In our backfield, I kept my other two ‘Mechs in reserve along with those of my fellow players, a sort of ‘layered defense’ meant to wear the enemy down so that when they reached towards the back, they encountered hard-hitting machines which were fresh. The enemy thought to pull an end run and take out my buddy’s paper-mache’ Locust with the LRMs. We’d hidden it in the rear, but the enemy Locust nearly nailed it anyway. Unfortunately for him, we’d seen him coming for three turns and so my Hunchback was right there when he took his shots. I cored that bully with a single ginormous autocannon shell to the center torso.

I mean really, our poor Locust had exactly sixteen points of armor - total. It was a popsicle-stick ‘Mech with toilet paper for protection. It was worse than a Hussar - a medium laser to the head would have gone internal. Who but a bully would attack a poor thing like that? It barely survived with a single point of internal structure left in the center torso (and kept lobbing missiles for the rest of the game).

The abrupt, violent end of the enemy Locust was startling and it got people’s attention. A ‘furball’ had developed a mapsheet away – when the Hunchback moved up the following turn to get into range, my friend Chris described it as "like watching cockroaches scatter when the lights come on". My pristine Hunchback had command of a large, conspicuously empty piece of urban territory when the game was called.

The Orion finally got some blood. After lobbing missiles for six rounds, I back-doored a Crusader and did severe damage. We got our wires crossed for a moment and the poor Crusader’s player was about to scratch his ‘Mech due to a critical hit to a full ammo bin when another player corrected him. I had announced a hit to his right rear torso, not the left - and so the successful hit stripped off armor instead.

*Sigh*. On such things do games turn… such a kill might have tipped the game in our favor, but it was not to be.

Meanwhile, my Orion took some light fire from a nearby JagerMech. I am sorry, but AC/5s and AC/2s do not inspire awe, even in pairs. I would have taken more damage from a kick. And speaking of kicks, the Flea successfully landed one to that enemy Crusader from the inside of a building as the much larger machine walked by. Sadly, the massive four points of damage did not go internal to the enemy’s leg, though a lot of players laughed at my hopeful query.

On the way to that final confrontation, the Orion had one hurdle to overcome – a Jenner had made it to the middle of our area but was so beaten up that his pilot attempted a ‘death from above’ on my unsuspecting Orion. The player missed it by one. The Jenner paid for its perfidy with a crippling smash into the ground, knocking the pilot out.

What was funny was that the next turn, my buddy Dan’s ‘Mech went for a healthy kick at that immobile Jenner, hoping to take it out of the game and tip the balance. He needed to avoid rolling snake eyes to hit. Naturally, Dan rolled snake eyes. The Jenner pilot needed a three to regain consciousness – he also rolled a 2 and snoozed on.

The game was supposed to run for 12 turns, but lasted only 8. After much back and forth discussion, all parties agreed on a draw. However, we got what we came for – a ripping good game as well as a chance to hang with our friends and meet new players. Well worth the trip and the money spent, and a lot closer to home than I have played in a very long time.

Catalyst Game Labs – the Story Continues

It looks like CGL is attempting to pay off as many freelancers as they can while they are still somewhat solvent. It is touch and go, and there is no sign that Mr. Coleman will step down from his position. Which, come to think of it, is presiding over the extinction of a perfectly good game company. You’d think he would be eager to vacate, but the news on the forums indicates otherwise. I don’t envy Randall Bills one bit. He has a tough row to hoe, and no one but the Lord to help him with it.

From the notes I have read, the business of not paying / late payment of freelancers has been going on from FASA to FanPro to Catalyst Game Labs. Hell, I heard about it back in 2007 when there was some question of being paid for my Union Class dropship display for GenCon 2007. I got paid, but other did not. It might have continued but for the discovery of so many missing funds.

I feel bad for most parties involved – most. I have no respect now for Mr. Coleman or Mr. Bills. To be honest, the appearance of our Technical Readout: 3063 may actually be the biggest BattleTech release of 2010. Not because it is worthy (though Lord knows we’re trying) but because there won’t be anything from the game company itself. I hope Topps lets them retain the license, but frankly, with their operating capital pretty much gone, I don’t see how InMediaRes (the parent company of CGL) can afford to keep it.

Their credibility is shot. Their finances are in a mess and unpaid freelancers are withholding the rights to many finished products. At least one game company that was working with them has bailed out and is looking elsewhere for a partner… it doesn’t look good from where I stand, and I am sure Topps officials know far more than I do about the situation. And then there is Uncle Sam and his IRS.

Well, anyway, that’s what’s going on with BattleTech and the TRO.

Thanks for stopping by.



Malcadon said...

A Scorpion with a BFGauss! That is one hell of a sniper!!! I like the sound of that! (I'm also one of the few fans of the classic Scorpion design)

I think the jump jets caught my attention more. When seeing a lance of jumping Scorpions its hard not to imagine a group of Tektites from Legend of Zelda (these 'tektites' must be from Soviet Russia, as they blast you!). LOL

Anonymous said...

Let me know if you need some link to images for Eric Ou to reference quads.


Steven Satak said...


I already sent him images of every single quad in existence (well, except for the blue and white flames, they are a little too organic for my tastes).

Thanks for the offer, though.


skiltao said...

No blue flame or white flame? Further evidence of your good taste, Steve. :) *tips hat*

Don't underestimate the power of the LCT-1E to simply annoy- I lost my first lance-on-lance match (many years ago) because a -1E whittled away at my patience.

Blasted said...

Could I beg you to increase the scorpion's weight by 5 ton? If you've an enforced PSR to make each turn, I think that the extra -1 will help, especially when you want to move around.

Steven Satak said...

That is a good idea and one I thought of myself - but had not yet implemented. You get credit! Good work! The total PSR bonus will then be -2.


Steven Satak said...

Okay, the Scorpion II is now a done deal.

60 tons makes it a Heavy 'Mech with a 0 modifier to the PSR - so the quad design gets its full -2 bonus.

Furthermore, it now has 99% armor covering. I kept the double heat sinks despite the obvious low thermal signature of this design (9 heat total while jumping and firing all weapons).

The reason is simple: the XL engine's extra crit slots means it will likely take a few hits before the machine goes under. Even with two engine hits, though, you can still jump and fire all weapons and not overheat in the least. That would be a total of 19 heat.

And the Scorpion II can dissipate 20.

Doug said...

An HGR on a 55 tonner... lord...

You could do the Zeus PE as a 'web enhancement' .PDF after the TRO comes out...

Dude! I have ALWAYS wanted to play with the LRM-5 Locust! That was the LCT-1M by the way.

Steven Satak said...

It's sixty tons now.

Yeah, even though the Zeus PE is a solid design and fits the fluff - or the fluff fits it - even the writeup admits it was a failure due mostly to the outbreak of the Civil War.

It was a limited design; probably only thirty examples exist. The majority are with the Outworlds Alliance. It failed not because it was a bad design - it is actually quite good and very flexible - but because it was meant for the Lyran Periphery Export Program.

Unfortunately, Defiance Industries was charged with making the endo steel frame and did not bother to create extras to feed into the repair supply stream.

Thus, there are repair parts for everything except the endo-steel skeleton. This is the only Zeus in existence which has one, so it's not like you can trip down to 'Mech-Mart and pick up an arm.

The lack of foundation repair parts is what doomed this machine. As the program was kicked off by Victor, it is assumed his sister quietly killed it with a few words in the right ears at Defiance.

We'll never really know. Suffice to say, the Scorpion II is more likely to be a success both in-universe and on the gaming table. The Zeus PE is just another footnote in history...


skiltao said...

D'oh! I named the wrong Locust.

Doug said...

Do I hear post TRO web release for the PE? If it is done, and not going in the TRO...

Steven Satak said...

Sure. I don't see that it can do any harm.

Sorry for the delay, but I was coming up with the experimental seventy-ton variant for the Scorpion. It is mentioned in the writeup, so I have to have a design for the Record Sheet Annex.

inrepose said...

Nice design. Looking forward to a model in the future :)