Dev Diary #15: Sharky's Machine

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HBS_Mazzoni

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Hey Mechwarriors! This is Marco Mazzoni, art director of BATTLETECH: Heavy Metal, here to share some insight on what it was like to create the Bull Shark, a brand new ‘Mech for an IP that’s already filled with hundreds of well established designs.

I know I’ve said it before, but Battletech has always held a very special place in my heart. As a kid, the mechanics of the gameplay didn’t really grab me, but reading through the novels and flipping through the TROs was an endless source of inspiration. Naturally, like many fans, I’ve always fantasized about crafting new ‘Mechs with distinct looks, unique loadouts and compelling backstories. While the Bull Shark is far from my first attempt at it, it’s definitely the one I’m most proud of so far.

Check out this 30 year old drawing I pulled from the archives. Talk about lostech, does anyone even know the stats of an arm missile?

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Also… 110 tons? Come on, there’s no way this thing is more than 20 soaking wet.

Technical ability aside, not much has changed. I still lay awake at night dreaming of the perfect ‘Mech and I would jump at the chance to make something official. Up to this point, designing the new Hatchetman was probably the highlight of my career, so when the opportunity presented itself to design our own HBS ‘Mech for the Heavy Metal expansion, I tried to play it cool but I was mentally high fiving the 10 year old me that dreamt up the fearsome “WARHEAD III”.

While Mitch was clear that this could be our own homegrown design, I really wanted to explore existing ‘Mechs first just to make sure we weren’t passing over a potential fan favorite. We came up with a list of desirable ‘Mechs that exist in our timeline that we didn’t already have PGI models for. The criteria was that it had to be an assault class (this is HEAVY METAL after all) and it had to be cool, because let's face it, no one is going to buy our latest expansion if the flagship ‘Mech is a Hoplite (yes, I know that’s probably someone’s favorite ‘Mech… fight me!) We even reached out to the Catalyst guys for some input which helped shorten the list. I generated some sketches based on our 2 top picks as well as 2 unique designs of my own.

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Pillager and Behemoth/Stone Rhino (left) both technically exist in this timeline but are super rare. The Goblin and Phobos (right) are my proposed new designs

Of this set, the original design that I had code named “Goblin” (named after the Italian horror/prog-rock band) was gaining the most traction around the studio. As we decided to move forward with that design, I started to solidify some of my personal goals for it.

There were a few specific things that I wanted this ‘Mech to do:
- Keep the Banshee company in the 95ton slot
- Boat some heavy ballistics because I love dakka (I also played competitive Mechwarrior Online for a while with ISENGRIM, so my instinct is always to go with those high mounts)
- Give it a unique silhouette without breaking our already established PGI aesthetic
- Hint at design elements from the [REDACTED] since this might be our only opportunity to fit that look into our current timeline...

I pulled together a reference sheet of elements from Alex Iglesias’s MWO designs to help ensure I keep the proportions and mechanical elements consistent with the ‘Mechs we already have.

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As you can probably tell from the “Warhead III”, I love giving mechs skull faces, so I’ll always have a soft spot for the Banshee

I made one more pass at the sketch before moving on to a 3D blockout. There are still some proportion and balance things I’m not happy with at this stage, but that will be much easier to address when I get into 3D.

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We hung up a large print of this image, complete with the name, in one of our meeting rooms and to this day I still catch myself calling this thing Goblin...

My favorite program right now for doing rough 3D blockouts is Oculus Medium. It’s not the easiest program to do hard surface design in (although some may remember that I did make the Hatchetman’s concept model in Medium), but it’s simple interface and the ability to quickly move around and scale the form really speeds up this part of the process for me.

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It ain’t pretty, but it’s good enough for the next step...

From there I take the blockout into Google Sketchup to solve all the new problems I just made for myself. This lets me really dig into the industrial design of the thing and make sure the design holds up from a technical perspective. I might not get another chance to make a new ‘Mech for Battletech, so I want to make sure every part works and holds up from every angle.

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Starting to take shape as I hammer out the forms

At this point I have just about everything in place. Since the initial sketch, it’s gotten bulkier to better fit the tonnage and as a result the code name “Goblin” started to feel far less fitting. Several names are being kicked around internally but nothing has stuck yet.

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I still miss those smaller mid-fins, but they just didn’t fit with what came next...

It was around this point that our lead designer Ryan Burell proposed the idea of using our new ‘Mech as a platform for one of the weapons that he was working on, the Thumper Cannon. Admittedly, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea at first. My headcanon role for this ‘Mech until this point was what I was calling a “Ballistic Bastard”, something that would open up armor at range with UAC5’s then get close and finish off open components with LBX10s, but it should never stop plinking away with dakka.

This would be all well and good if we didn’t also have the Annihilator which basically does that exact same thing but bigger and badder. With that in mind, we still needed a gameplay hook for this thing and if we wanted to introduce the Thumper Cannon, we needed a unique ‘Mech to do it. Turns out there really wasn’t a better candidate than this ‘Mech. So within the span of one design meeting, I was convinced that I could make this thing work.

I designed the Thumper Cannon directly in the Sketchup model to ensure that it would feel fully integrated into the ‘Mech.

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Mirroring the 45° angles of the legs really helped the Thumper feel like an integral part of the ‘Mech

To project a sleek forward-facing predatory look, I put more emphasis on thick compound curved armor up front, while transitioning to more angular, less armored panels on the rear. Using a concept model instead of detailed 2D drawings allows me to quickly experiment with things like proportions and thickness of panels to ensure this thing can move without clipping into itself. One thing I think the PGI designed ‘Mechs do really well is to make the mechanical elements look like they can fit neatly under layers of heavy armor and still provide a proper range of motion, so it was important for me to maintain that quality bar here.

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I can also spin it around and make sure it looks great from every angle!

At this point I’m happy with the base model, so it’s time to send it off to our contract vehicle artist, Victoria Passariello to get it game ready. She’s already done amazing work with the Hatchetman and misc. vehicles and turrets that I’ve designed, so I know this ‘Mech is in good hands.

While Victoria was working on the high poly model, I started working out the texture treatment. Due to it’s mysterious origins I wanted this thing look more advanced than the rest of our ‘Mechs. To push that concept, I wanted to skip the major blemishes and battle scars that our other models have built into their base textures, and I gave it some prominent production markings to make it feel like it rolled off the assembly line directly into storage. It’s the ultimate barn find!

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Most of the stainless steel look will get covered by the paint scheme, but the production markings still sit on top.

Now my favorite part, paint schemes! Since each 'Mech gets 6 schemes, I always try to ensure that I cover as many styles as I can, from more classic panel fills with stripes that highlight the forms to more organic camo patches designed to obfuscate.

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For the proper Heavy Metal inspiration, I had to go full grimdark with the names

Around this time we got Victoria’s high poly model in and the whole studio was so pumped to see how it turned out!

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Just look at that handsome boy!

This was the point where we absolutely needed a more fitting name. We passed around a spreadsheet with options and we all seemed to gravitate towards big aggressive animal names. The shark theme came up several times which made sense given the sleek yet imposing forms and that giant dorsal cannon now turning into such a defining feature. Some of the options along that line were Hammerhead, Goblin Shark, Tiger Shark, Megalodon (cool, but doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue) and finally Bull Shark. We found that last one really stood out and described both the look and personality of this thing and so from that point on it was known as the Bull Shark!

When Victoria delivered the final textured low poly model with all of the paint schemes, she also sent a beautiful set of renders that some of us still use as desktop wallpapers.

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I can’t pick a favorite child, but just look at that Goblin skin…

Here’s a sped up process gif that shows how the Gobli...err Bull Shark went from a rough iPad sketch, to VR blockout to Sketchup concept model to final game ready model.

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I want to give a huge thanks to Mitch for trusting me with this thing and an even bigger thanks to all of the BATTLETECH fans for playing and sharing this passion!

Next time I’ll talk a bit about what went into bringing the rest of the Heavy Metal and 1.8 ‘Mechs to the game.
 

commuterzombie

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Really cool to see that insight into the design process. Now I just need the flashpoint to trigger so I can get my hands on one!
 

bloodydoves

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First off, that Pillager and Stone Rhino look pretty fantastic, Marco. Really impressive and I am legit sad we never got those.

Second, out of curiosity, there's a mech in BT already that the Bull Shark's torso reminds me of, the Pulverizer. Did you happen to take some design cues from the Pulverizer for the Goblin/Bull Shark? The torso and cockpit assembly looks pretty similar (which is good, it's a nice looking section).
 

HBS_Mazzoni

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Second, out of curiosity, there's a mech in BT already that the Bull Shark's torso reminds me of, the Pulverizer. Did you happen to take some design cues from the Pulverizer for the Goblin/Bull Shark? The torso and cockpit assembly looks pretty similar (which is good, it's a nice looking section).

Huh, that is interesting... somehow the Pulverizer flew under my radar until now, but I'd definitely agree there's some visual similarity there. Given that 'Mech's roots, I'd maybe even call that.. a family resemblance? ;)
 

Mordray

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I know this is about the Bull Shark... but damn! That Pillager looks so damned good! Finally a 100 I would feel compelled to deploy... why doesn't this exist in game? Why are you torturing me with the lack of a good 100 ton beast that just looks like it wants to "Rip and Tear!" it's way through everything...

Ok... that... yeah I think I'm better now. All said this was really cool to read. Seeing the different steps was awesome. Also... damned good work on the Hatchetman model that mech is my favorite, so much so I run a 55t custom as the ancestral mech.
 

bloodydoves

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Huh, that is interesting... somehow the Pulverizer flew under my radar until now, but I'd definitely agree there's some visual similarity there. Given that 'Mech's roots, I'd maybe even call that.. a family resemblance? ;)
I mean, having seen the Bull Shark and the Pulverizer, I seriously thought you had a picture up when doing your design and it was intentional all along. If it was a coincidence, then hey, it's an excellent one since they do sort of share looks and a little bit of a design. I like it, well done on the Bull Shark (even if I want the other three concepts you did more).

Speaking of that, would you be willing to tell us about the Phobos a little? What was your intention with that design? Looks like a heavily modified Marauder almost.
 

gh0s7

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Thank you for this Dev Diary, @HBS_Mazzoni! It's awesome, seeing/drooling over the progress this mech went through. Kudos to Victoria for a wonderful work too.
:thumbs-up emoji:

The "Goblin", "Void Killer", and "War Ghoul" paints are great; definitely using the Goblin colours in my next run... :p
 

Prussian Havoc

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Please allow me to add my thanks as well. :bow:

Your work and sense of BattleTech Artistry is phenomenal, Mr. Mazzoni. :deeper_bow:

HBS, BATTLETECH and our larger BattleTech Community are most fortunate to count you amongst our number. Pull up a chair, sit awhile and let us speak of Mechs, their Warriors as well as the stories and Art that sustain us all. :deepest_bow_of_all:
 

HBS_Mazzoni

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I know this is about the Bull Shark... but damn! That Pillager looks so damned good! Finally a 100 I would feel compelled to deploy... why doesn't this exist in game? Why are you torturing me with the lack of a good 100 ton beast that just looks like it wants to "Rip and Tear!" it's way through everything...

Haha, thanks! Yeah the Pillager was my runner-up for sure. At the end of the day though, we all agreed that adding another humanoid silhouette to the roster might not have the same impact as what we ended up with.

Speaking of that, would you be willing to tell us about the Phobos a little? What was your intention with that design? Looks like a heavily modified Marauder almost.

Sure, my intention was to go frankenmech with that one. I pushed more towards a high-end Cataphract with Timber Wolf parts, so the Marauder influence wouldn't be wrong. The name is also a bit of a nod to the Deimos, but besides a few superficial similarities that's as far as I wanted to go with that reference.

Thanks for the kind words folks! I'm always happy to talk mechs!
 

Prussian Havoc

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Great thread title by the way. Sharky’s Machine... my favorite Burt Reynolds movie. : )
 

Packrat

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Looking at it some more, I'd be cool if you designed more mechs. Both of the ones you made there look great.
 

Eelectrica

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Thanks for this DD. It's always interesting to get a look behind the curtain and seeing what happens to make the magic happen.

I haven't get a Bullshark in my new career game just yet, but look forward to giving it a go when I do.
Cheers.
 

Jamey

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Check out this 30 year old drawing I pulled from the archives. Talk about lostech, does anyone even know the stats of an arm missile?
My 30+ year old drawings were spaceships rather than Mechs. I didn't discover Battletech until after I was not drawing as much. I did make some Mechs out of legos. :)

it had to be cool, because let's face it, no one is going to buy our latest expansion if the flagship ‘Mech is a Hoplite
I could try to argue this point, but when you're right, you're right.

I'm still working on getting to the Bullshark, but I'm excited for it. I'm a sucker for big booms and lots of dakka. :)

I am curious if "Bull Shark" has entered the office lexicon to replace the more canonical BS. I feel like it would have with some companies that I have worked at over the years.
 

HBS_Mazzoni

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Why you gotta do the Hoplite dirty like that? The HOP-4B is a great mech!
Haha, well truth be told, I'd still love to redesign it. I still have plenty of love all those weird ugly mechs too!

I am curious if "Bull Shark" has entered the office lexicon to replace the more canonical BS. I feel like it would have with some companies that I have worked at over the years.
Not yet, but it actually did come up as a concern when we were looking at names. I made sure we had that "K" in the "BSK" designation just to be sure though ;)

Great thread title by the way. Sharky’s Machine... my favorite Burt Reynolds movie. : )
It was that or go with a Jaws reference, but I figured the more obscure the better. I take my bad pun titles very seriously.
 

Jamey

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Not yet, but it actually did come up as a concern when we were looking at names. I made sure we had that "K" in the "BSK" designation just to be sure though ;)
That is some real Bull Shark. I’m disappointed at the office culture. :p
 

bloodydoves

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Sure, my intention was to go frankenmech with that one. I pushed more towards a high-end Cataphract with Timber Wolf parts, so the Marauder influence wouldn't be wrong. The name is also a bit of a nod to the Deimos, but besides a few superficial similarities that's as far as I wanted to go with that reference.
I was kinda wondering what the intended loadout for the Phobos was. See, I'm a modder for the game and I can add mechs to the game. I'm sorta curious what it carried to see if it fills an interesting role that isn't currently filled by anything. It's very pretty and I'd love to get a model for it. (Also, love the bright white paint job, I'm a big ComStar guy)
 

HBS_Mazzoni

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I was kinda wondering what the intended loadout for the Phobos was. See, I'm a modder for the game and I can add mechs to the game. I'm sorta curious what it carried to see if it fills an interesting role that isn't currently filled by anything. It's very pretty and I'd love to get a model for it. (Also, love the bright white paint job, I'm a big ComStar guy)

I don't recall the exact loadout, but I started with something like the attached PDF here. Similar to the Goblin, I wanted to push for balance in the build to help it stand out from the asymmetrical loadouts that are so common with IS mechs. This stage was more about form than function though, so the exact role was still very much in flux.
 

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  • PHB-05 Technical Readout.pdf
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Prussian Havoc

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I don't recall the exact loadout, but I started with something like the attached PDF here. Similar to the Goblin, I wanted to push for balance in the build to help it stand out from the asymmetrical loadouts that are so common with IS mechs. This stage was more about form than function though, so the exact role was still very much in flux.
An exciting and powerful TRO entry!

It would have been a very welcome addition to the BATTLETECH Pantheon of BattleMechs. Given the Deimos reference, Clan Snow Raven would have been very proud indeed. : )
 

VoodooLou_Kerensky

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Well I have to say I like the Thumper Cannon, since the Long Tom (Mech Version) was a long time favorite of mine, but something Ive always had to point out is that a Mortar (and Artillery for that matter) use the most basic of Computations for Aiming (getting the round where you want it) and any computer a Mech has can easily do the math for it.

Prior to the M-203 there was the M-79 Bloop Gun that fired 40mm 'Grenades' (that you cant throw), and while breech fed rather than dropped down a tube, does the same thing as a mortar, allows you to shoot and hit at targets that are behind cover using an arc trajectory instead of straight. Look at a M-79 it doesnt have a fancy sight like the M-32 and M-32A1 but a leaf and blade sight thats basically a bar that slides up and down 2 posts and the front iron sight. You move the bar up and down to adjust the range and line up the bar with the iron sight and put the round on target. A Mortar is just a larger version just like Artillery is larger than a mortar.

That being said, there are plenty of Mechs that are customized (and not just by the Clans) with weapons loadouts to fit the situation without being FrankenMechs. But then I guess stripping a KitFox of its equipment and armor, putting in the smallest engine I could and adding the Long Tom and 1 ton of ammo could be considered a FrankenMech, it was doable in Mech4 and TT and it became the Meta for NH/UA FFA's because of the massive amount of points it could generate by dropping rounds in Death Balls and letting the AoE do its thing. In TableTop you stayed behind cover and since all you need is for them to show up on senors and be in range. Ok so it takes the round a long time to get down range you can still easily compensate for movement which is why you still roll dice to see if ya hit, or learn the quirks of the weapon.

Sadly adding the Long Tom to the KitFox just looked like a big assed tube instead of an arm was the only cosmetic change, I always pictured it as having a Bandolier across its chest and it using the left hand to breech load the rounds. Havent used the Mods yet but now that the Thumpers in I might get the Mod just to bring back the [Mod edit: language] by putting it on the smallest Mech I can.

Great Work and Thanks for the Look Behind the Curtain on the Bull Sharks design evolution.
 
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