HBS Dev Diary #14: The Nuts & Bolts of Heavy Metal (Part 1)

HBS Dev Diary #14: The Nuts & Bolts of Heavy Metal (Part 1)

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The Nuts & Bolts of Heavy Metal, Part One: Preparation

Hey folks! I’m Ryan Burrell, Lead Designer of BATTLETECH: Heavy Metal and I’m here to provide insight on the overall design goals of this expansion and update. I’ll talk a bit about the process, reasoning, and path from initial concept to where we are today. There’s a lot to share. Surprise! Making a game — even “just” an expansion — is a LOT of work. So: buckle up, MechWarriors!

A huge thanks goes to Andrew McIntosh for editing these posts for both length and clarity!


In The Beginning…
Working well as a designer means having to strike a careful balance between goals and constraints. Pure creative desire, player needs and requests, risks inherent with change, business-level considerations — each of these factors needs to be taken into account.. This is especially true on a live product, where we want to be extra certain that our improvements don’t trample elements of the existing game that are already fun and rewarding.

Brainstorming for Heavy Metal started waaaaay back in mind-May 2019, which was before our final ship of Urban Warfare (and before the Unity 2018 upgrade for our 1.7 Update had been fully assessed). I mention this to provide context: it was a time where resources were constrained, and that didn’t appear likely to change anytime soon. Heck, I was still technically doing Urban Warfare map design at the time. Because of this, I knew that planning and up-front communication was extra-super-double-critical to making sure that Heavy Metal could release as a successful, satisfying update.

To that end, I formed an initial pre-planning strike team of myself, Lead UX Designer Erik Fleuter, and Principal Gameplay Engineer Brenton Malinski. Our goal was to kick the tires of what was feasible and start the ball rolling toward what would eventually become Heavy Metal.

We started this process by sitting down and establishing a set of three pillars by which to measure our work against:
  • Awesome ‘Mechs - ‘Mechs are the solid core of BATTLETECH that players (and us!) can’t get enough of. This meant that we needed to give our new ‘Mechs the hero treatment, and to do it at scale. The more new ‘Mechs the better, but they needed to feel new and unique, too.


  • New Toys - New ‘Mechs are awesome, but new weapons could create exciting avenues for improving our overall gameplay. This would allow us to make significant improvements to BATTLETECH’s tactical combat, and breathe new life into existing ‘Mech designs.


  • More Power - If done right, it’s always good to feel powerful when you’re facing your enemy on the battlefield. While combat is generally a great time, we knew there were some rough areas that could be shored up by empowering players with more tactical options. These involved being able to use force multipliers in combat to even the odds and addressing the diminishing returns of fielding lighter ‘Mechs in the late-game.
In addition to mapping out our high level design pillars, we also took steps to establish who our target audiences were, in order of priority:
  • Primary: Returning Players
    We wanted to provide awesome content and new combat capabilities to encourage previous players who’d quit to pick the game back up again, and to reward current players with fresh takes on the existing content.

  • Secondary: New Players
    Wherever possible, we wanted to create or refine content in a way that could also benefit new players. It’s unrealistic to expect a huge influx of new folks at any point past the initial release of a game, but we wanted to hone the experience for anyone who was new to BATTLETECH.

  • Tertiary: Modders
    This is a separate topic from the mod support work being done as part of the 1.8 update — we’re talking creation of new content and systems in this context. Fortunately, anything new we make is automatically added to the pool of tappable resources for modders (generally speaking), and where possible should be done with an eye toward being extensible.
Now, I want to be very clear that this list is NOT a statement about which player types we “like” the most. Instead, think of this list as a guidepost to compare our goals against. With a finite amount of time and resources at our disposal, not every expansion can hit everything — for everyone — at maximum effectiveness. I wish that they could, but sadly, that just isn’t the case.

A lot of credit goes to Erik for advocating these approaches, it really helped focus our efforts.

“Actual” Design Work
Now that we had some pillars and some players, we were ready to talk about lower-level ideas and constraints. We brainstormed what was feasible to add within our given constraints (art pipeline, flexibility of existing codebase, communication methods), and then compared against the pillars we’d established to come up with a priority list based on impact, relative to effort.

Of Bulwarked ‘Mechs...
At this point we knew that we were going to focus on the Reseen ‘Mechs, and our agreement allowing the use of MechWarrior Online’s models narrowed the field of which ones to include. We determined that we had the capacity to make 10 ‘Mechs, with the additional high-level goal of including the Marauder and the Warhammer in a free update. Part of our estimation also allowed for the creation of a brand new, non-MWO ‘Mech, and we felt that an in-house original would be a good addition to the lineup (our Art Director, Marco Mazzoni, will talk about that in a later Dev Diary).





The Heavy Metal lineup.
But how would we make these new ‘Mechs extra-awesome, befitting their legendary status from the broader BattleTech universe? Looking to our pillars, we determined that these ‘Mechs should feel unique and impactful, and that our players should be able to use them in new and interesting ways.

The first Technical Readout I ever read formed the core of my love for BattleTech over the years. The tales of unit deployments and the capabilities of their ‘Mechs; where they excelled, and what their oddities were; ill-fated missions and triumphant victories. It was all fantastic world-building, and I felt that if we could tap into that in Heavy Metal, we’d be giving our players something special. Using the lore as reference, we brainstormed ideas for what each ‘Mech’s “special sauce” would be — something drawn from BattleTech history that spoke to the ‘Mech’s strengths on the battlefield. These would end up manifesting as special, fixed equipment on each ‘Mech that would change its gameplay.

...And Precision Strikes
We also generally knew what sort of story was going to be told in the flashpoint campaign. What our Principal Writer, Andrew McIntosh, was working on had some… implications… for the kinds of things that we could include include vis a vis lore and weapons systems. This meshed well as an opportunity to really capitalize on the “Toys” + “Power” pillars, and allowed us to consider new weapon additions that could fundamentally impact gameplay.

I came up with an initial group of 15 weapons and pieces of equipment. The strike team then trimmed this down to a list of 8 that we felt would give a high amount of return on the effort needed to include them in the game. Particularly noteworthy examples include our first ever player-fieldable area-of-effect artillery (the ‘Mech Mortar, complete with ground targeting!) and the COIL class of energy beams.

Both of these systems were relatively high-risk asks since they were so fundamentally different, but we reasoned that what they would bring to the table in terms of the gameplay was worth the extra time we’d spend implementing them. As a bonus, the work on these could also yield some quality-of-life improvements for modders. Brenton played a huge role in this process by vetting our thoughts against the realities of the fickle C# gods, so hats off to him!

We documented some of our whiteboarding sessions as well; here’s a small peak behind the curtain (presented in no particular order):

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/K...27pD9YfsqcM2PiNbzu1A0iJnqFi5qlXfXjcrEocscJWCi

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/w...LUh9x068GMmh5TOHRAtJqYSWgSb7lXH9g0MFcOp4Ft7to

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/m...1LuM22EyEOJSQuj1cSQFhjTrxr_b7mPexgKOmeyU6BACQ

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/F...6HqHlilg4wluhf_gI3-XqKuXc3YaQRj20tGDJZflbGAng

Fun fact: before we settled on the name “Bull Shark,” it was called the “Goblin” - named for the Italian prog rock band, not the monster.

The title of this section was tongue-in-cheek, because good design work spans the gulf between those early high-level goals and the reality of the final product — it’s not just me going “Oh here’s a pitch for a cool ‘Mech or weapon!” but more about how that idea fits into the overall landscape.

Collaboration is the core of good game design. It’s rarely good to constrain your design process to a single person,sequestered away in the Holy Monastery of Game Design, dreaming up things fueled only by their ego or what they think is “neat”. The real quality of a design is derived from iteration, refinement, and the contributions of the rest of the team.

Which leads me to my next section...

It Takes a Village to Make a ‘Mech (or a Weapon)
Over the course of a number of afternoon jam sessions, I created a proposal for our new ‘Mech behaviors and weapons to show the rest of the team. This was a very important step because it’s easy — even on smaller dev teams — to start charging up the hill before everyone else has a clear understanding of what’s going on. If you let that happen, the odds are good that you’ll find yourself months into development, with contributors who aren’t on the same page about what it is they’re supposed to be making.

Making new content is… complicated. There are lots of moving parts. See for yourself:


An example checklist that I created for making a ‘Mech via our pipeline.

( Here’s a PDF with even more detail: How To Create A BattleMech )
Without exaggerating, the creation of a single ‘Mech (even one that shares visuals from MWO) involves the consideration or contribution of at least a dozen people at various stages of the process. Animations and texturing, VFX, gameplay implementation, testing… there’s a lot going on to make sure that what gets delivered works well and is also fun, cool, and satisfying. Because of this, we held a kickoff meeting where a team member from each link in the chain was given the opportunity to bring up concerns or improvements to the proposal.

After working through the group’s feedback, we eventually reached a consensus. Drawing on the conclusions that we’d arrived at, we drafted a unified plan of attack for the project. The most important thing at this early stage of development was to ensure that everybody was synced on our overall goals, and on how our plans would meet them. As long as we were all operating on the same set of assumptions, we’d be able to adapt as a team when our plans would inevitably change.

This was critically important because no plan survives contact with actual game development. Here’s a fact: rarely is anything I design actually good the first time around. There’s always something that can be improved — and there always will be. I’m a smart guy and I’m good at my job, but I’m not omniscient, and despite a well-honed ability to view things from a player’s perspective, I’m still me at the end of the day — oversights and all.

Stay Tuned!
Thus endeth part the first. I hope that this has given you a glimpse into the planning portion of the design process for Heavy Metal, and impressed upon you how much effort is involved before any “actual work” is even done! In Part Two, I’ll get into the nitty gritty about the design of individual pieces of Heavy Metal, and also talk a little about our playtesting and iteration process.

Until next time, MechWarriors!

- Ryan (RedMenace)
 

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stjobe

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Wonderful peek into the nuts and bolts - and daily life - of my favourite game devs. Thank you!
 

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Excellent write up Ryan!

Well worth the effort and time it clearly must have taken to put it together for us. Thank you! :bow:


I liked to see that COIL Weapons were looked at for a chance to explode if destroyed. I really liked to see the actual whiteboard work ups. And I can’t wait for Part 2’s coverage of new BattleMech Playtesting and Iteration Process.

One question: I know it is still a work-in-progress, but were the HEAVY METAL Mechs playtested against Holly’s QUAD Mechs? Or was the QUAD’s Rule of Cool considered an unfair advantage? Inquiring minds want to know more? : )
 
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MeiSooHaityu

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Thanks for the write-up. It was a very cool read.
 

Ken-Sw

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Some of the pictures look a bit off. Forgot to mount the weapons on Warhammer and Rifleman ??
 

HBS_RedMenace

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One question: I know it is still a work-in-progress, but were the HEAVY METAL Mechs playtested against Holly’s QUAD Mechs? Or was the QUAD’s Rule of Cool considered an unfair advantage? Inquiring minds want to know more? : )
Such dark fantasies you imagine!

Some of the pictures look a bit off. Forgot to mount the weapons on Warhammer and Rifleman ??
The linked photos are the source MWO 'Mech concepts without weapons mounted; these were the ones that I put into our internal documentation.
 

HBS_RedMenace

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I liked to see that COIL Weapons were looked at for a chance to explode if destroyed.
Also: COIL weapons totally do explode if destroyed, just like the Gauss Rifle.
 

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Also: COIL weapons totally do explode if destroyed, just like the Gauss Rifle.
Now THAT is some very welcome news!

I never met a BATTLETECH Malus I didn’t like and find most interesting. : )
 
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Checking in here and fitting this profile:

In addition to mapping out our high level design pillars, we also took steps to establish who our target audiences were, in order of priority:

  • Primary: Returning Players
  • We wanted to provide awesome content and new combat capabilities to encourage previous players who’d quit to pick the game back up again, and to reward current players with fresh takes on the existing content.
Hadn't played in ages, but just nabbed the season pass over on Fanatical. Whoop, whoop - it'll be quite a torrent of new content! A total of 15 new Mechs since I last played once Heavy Metal goes live as well as all the Flashpoints!
 

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That was one of the best "How the sausage is made, with extra Sauce!" reads i ever had. Thank you for that.
Can't wait for the seconds, can't wait for DLC/Patchday!
 

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Very interesting insight.
Many thanks for taking the time & trouble to explain in such detail.
:)
 

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This was critically important because no plan survives contact with actual game development. Here’s a fact: rarely is anything I design actually good the first time around. There’s always something that can be improved — and there always will be. I’m a smart guy and I’m good at my job, but I’m not omniscient, and despite a well-honed ability to view things from a player’s perspective, I’m still me at the end of the day — oversights and all.
That sounds remarkably like non-game development. :)

Thanks for the write up. It’s always interesting to get perspectives into how others manage software development.

Also, I’m a returning player who wants Awesome Mechs and New Toys. Even more so I want new stories. It sounds like this DLC will really deliver. :D
 

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Awesome!
Hey, @emmasterakia! How come this post isn't linked on the front page of the Paradox Forums? I regularly find myself missing important BATTLETECH threads on ly to see them weeks later. And while we're on it... how about a proper Paradox Wiki?
 

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The Nuts & Bolts of Heavy Metal, Part One: Preparation

Hey folks! I’m Ryan Burrell, Lead Designer of BATTLETECH: Heavy Metal and I’m here to provide insight on the overall design goals of this expansion and update. I’ll talk a bit about the process, reasoning, and path from initial concept to where we are today. There’s a lot to share. Surprise! Making a game — even “just” an expansion — is a LOT of work. So: buckle up, MechWarriors!

A huge thanks goes to Andrew McIntosh for editing these posts for both length and clarity!


In The Beginning…
Working well as a designer means having to strike a careful balance between goals and constraints. Pure creative desire, player needs and requests, risks inherent with change, business-level considerations — each of these factors needs to be taken into account.. This is especially true on a live product, where we want to be extra certain that our improvements don’t trample elements of the existing game that are already fun and rewarding.

Brainstorming for Heavy Metal started waaaaay back in mind-May 2019, which was before our final ship of Urban Warfare (and before the Unity 2018 upgrade for our 1.7 Update had been fully assessed). I mention this to provide context: it was a time where resources were constrained, and that didn’t appear likely to change anytime soon. Heck, I was still technically doing Urban Warfare map design at the time. Because of this, I knew that planning and up-front communication was extra-super-double-critical to making sure that Heavy Metal could release as a successful, satisfying update.

To that end, I formed an initial pre-planning strike team of myself, Lead UX Designer Erik Fleuter, and Principal Gameplay Engineer Brenton Malinski. Our goal was to kick the tires of what was feasible and start the ball rolling toward what would eventually become Heavy Metal.

We started this process by sitting down and establishing a set of three pillars by which to measure our work against:
  • Awesome ‘Mechs - ‘Mechs are the solid core of BATTLETECH that players (and us!) can’t get enough of. This meant that we needed to give our new ‘Mechs the hero treatment, and to do it at scale. The more new ‘Mechs the better, but they needed to feel new and unique, too.


  • New Toys - New ‘Mechs are awesome, but new weapons could create exciting avenues for improving our overall gameplay. This would allow us to make significant improvements to BATTLETECH’s tactical combat, and breathe new life into existing ‘Mech designs.


  • More Power - If done right, it’s always good to feel powerful when you’re facing your enemy on the battlefield. While combat is generally a great time, we knew there were some rough areas that could be shored up by empowering players with more tactical options. These involved being able to use force multipliers in combat to even the odds and addressing the diminishing returns of fielding lighter ‘Mechs in the late-game.
In addition to mapping out our high level design pillars, we also took steps to establish who our target audiences were, in order of priority:
  • Primary: Returning Players
    We wanted to provide awesome content and new combat capabilities to encourage previous players who’d quit to pick the game back up again, and to reward current players with fresh takes on the existing content.

  • Secondary: New Players
    Wherever possible, we wanted to create or refine content in a way that could also benefit new players. It’s unrealistic to expect a huge influx of new folks at any point past the initial release of a game, but we wanted to hone the experience for anyone who was new to BATTLETECH.

  • Tertiary: Modders
    This is a separate topic from the mod support work being done as part of the 1.8 update — we’re talking creation of new content and systems in this context. Fortunately, anything new we make is automatically added to the pool of tappable resources for modders (generally speaking), and where possible should be done with an eye toward being extensible.
Now, I want to be very clear that this list is NOT a statement about which player types we “like” the most. Instead, think of this list as a guidepost to compare our goals against. With a finite amount of time and resources at our disposal, not every expansion can hit everything — for everyone — at maximum effectiveness. I wish that they could, but sadly, that just isn’t the case.

A lot of credit goes to Erik for advocating these approaches, it really helped focus our efforts.

“Actual” Design Work
Now that we had some pillars and some players, we were ready to talk about lower-level ideas and constraints. We brainstormed what was feasible to add within our given constraints (art pipeline, flexibility of existing codebase, communication methods), and then compared against the pillars we’d established to come up with a priority list based on impact, relative to effort.

Of Bulwarked ‘Mechs...
At this point we knew that we were going to focus on the Reseen ‘Mechs, and our agreement allowing the use of MechWarrior Online’s models narrowed the field of which ones to include. We determined that we had the capacity to make 10 ‘Mechs, with the additional high-level goal of including the Marauder and the Warhammer in a free update. Part of our estimation also allowed for the creation of a brand new, non-MWO ‘Mech, and we felt that an in-house original would be a good addition to the lineup (our Art Director, Marco Mazzoni, will talk about that in a later Dev Diary).





The Heavy Metal lineup.
But how would we make these new ‘Mechs extra-awesome, befitting their legendary status from the broader BattleTech universe? Looking to our pillars, we determined that these ‘Mechs should feel unique and impactful, and that our players should be able to use them in new and interesting ways.

The first Technical Readout I ever read formed the core of my love for BattleTech over the years. The tales of unit deployments and the capabilities of their ‘Mechs; where they excelled, and what their oddities were; ill-fated missions and triumphant victories. It was all fantastic world-building, and I felt that if we could tap into that in Heavy Metal, we’d be giving our players something special. Using the lore as reference, we brainstormed ideas for what each ‘Mech’s “special sauce” would be — something drawn from BattleTech history that spoke to the ‘Mech’s strengths on the battlefield. These would end up manifesting as special, fixed equipment on each ‘Mech that would change its gameplay.

...And Precision Strikes
We also generally knew what sort of story was going to be told in the flashpoint campaign. What our Principal Writer, Andrew McIntosh, was working on had some… implications… for the kinds of things that we could include include vis a vis lore and weapons systems. This meshed well as an opportunity to really capitalize on the “Toys” + “Power” pillars, and allowed us to consider new weapon additions that could fundamentally impact gameplay.

I came up with an initial group of 15 weapons and pieces of equipment. The strike team then trimmed this down to a list of 8 that we felt would give a high amount of return on the effort needed to include them in the game. Particularly noteworthy examples include our first ever player-fieldable area-of-effect artillery (the ‘Mech Mortar, complete with ground targeting!) and the COIL class of energy beams.

Both of these systems were relatively high-risk asks since they were so fundamentally different, but we reasoned that what they would bring to the table in terms of the gameplay was worth the extra time we’d spend implementing them. As a bonus, the work on these could also yield some quality-of-life improvements for modders. Brenton played a huge role in this process by vetting our thoughts against the realities of the fickle C# gods, so hats off to him!

We documented some of our whiteboarding sessions as well; here’s a small peak behind the curtain (presented in no particular order):

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/K...27pD9YfsqcM2PiNbzu1A0iJnqFi5qlXfXjcrEocscJWCi

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/w...LUh9x068GMmh5TOHRAtJqYSWgSb7lXH9g0MFcOp4Ft7to

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/m...1LuM22EyEOJSQuj1cSQFhjTrxr_b7mPexgKOmeyU6BACQ

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/F...6HqHlilg4wluhf_gI3-XqKuXc3YaQRj20tGDJZflbGAng

Fun fact: before we settled on the name “Bull Shark,” it was called the “Goblin” - named for the Italian prog rock band, not the monster.

The title of this section was tongue-in-cheek, because good design work spans the gulf between those early high-level goals and the reality of the final product — it’s not just me going “Oh here’s a pitch for a cool ‘Mech or weapon!” but more about how that idea fits into the overall landscape.

Collaboration is the core of good game design. It’s rarely good to constrain your design process to a single person,sequestered away in the Holy Monastery of Game Design, dreaming up things fueled only by their ego or what they think is “neat”. The real quality of a design is derived from iteration, refinement, and the contributions of the rest of the team.

Which leads me to my next section...

It Takes a Village to Make a ‘Mech (or a Weapon)
Over the course of a number of afternoon jam sessions, I created a proposal for our new ‘Mech behaviors and weapons to show the rest of the team. This was a very important step because it’s easy — even on smaller dev teams — to start charging up the hill before everyone else has a clear understanding of what’s going on. If you let that happen, the odds are good that you’ll find yourself months into development, with contributors who aren’t on the same page about what it is they’re supposed to be making.

Making new content is… complicated. There are lots of moving parts. See for yourself:


An example checklist that I created for making a ‘Mech via our pipeline.

( Here’s a PDF with even more detail: How To Create A BattleMech )
Without exaggerating, the creation of a single ‘Mech (even one that shares visuals from MWO) involves the consideration or contribution of at least a dozen people at various stages of the process. Animations and texturing, VFX, gameplay implementation, testing… there’s a lot going on to make sure that what gets delivered works well and is also fun, cool, and satisfying. Because of this, we held a kickoff meeting where a team member from each link in the chain was given the opportunity to bring up concerns or improvements to the proposal.

After working through the group’s feedback, we eventually reached a consensus. Drawing on the conclusions that we’d arrived at, we drafted a unified plan of attack for the project. The most important thing at this early stage of development was to ensure that everybody was synced on our overall goals, and on how our plans would meet them. As long as we were all operating on the same set of assumptions, we’d be able to adapt as a team when our plans would inevitably change.

This was critically important because no plan survives contact with actual game development. Here’s a fact: rarely is anything I design actually good the first time around. There’s always something that can be improved — and there always will be. I’m a smart guy and I’m good at my job, but I’m not omniscient, and despite a well-honed ability to view things from a player’s perspective, I’m still me at the end of the day — oversights and all.

Stay Tuned!
Thus endeth part the first. I hope that this has given you a glimpse into the planning portion of the design process for Heavy Metal, and impressed upon you how much effort is involved before any “actual work” is even done! In Part Two, I’ll get into the nitty gritty about the design of individual pieces of Heavy Metal, and also talk a little about our playtesting and iteration process.

Until next time, MechWarriors!

- Ryan (RedMenace)
Hang on, do you honestly expect me to believe that there are people out there who have willingly GIVEN UP on this spectacular game?!?!
 

matemat

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Fun fact: before we settled on the name “Bull Shark,” it was called the “Goblin” - named for the Italian prog rock band, not the monster.
Haha, nice! Although Bull Shark is maybe a more fitting name to the mech, I'd still like to see a Goblin mech :D
 

Havamal

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:D Battletech Goblin;
product_47610.jpg



Though, there is a Scorpion tank and a Scorpion mech so precedent is that it's perfectly fine to have a Goblin tank and a Goblin mech
 

Prussian Havoc

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