HBS Dev Diary #14: The Nuts & Bolts of Heavy Metal (Part 2)

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The Nuts & Bolts of Heavy Metal, Part Two: Design & Deployment

Greetings, MechWarriors! Ryan Burrell, Lead Designer of BATTLETECH: Heavy Metal here again. Today I’m going to write about the thinking behind individual components of Heavy Metal, so prepare to really get your nerd on. If you’ve watched any of our live streams you’ll have heard some of this before, but there may be extra tidbits of interest!

As a preface, I’d encourage you to check out my previous post about the planning involved in kicking off Heavy Metal, and how we defined the design space that we’d be working in.

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


Making ‘Mechs Special
The main focus of Heavy Metal is its ‘Mechs. Because of this, any BattleMechs that shipped with this expansion needed to feel both powerful and special. In my previous post, I wrote about how the inspiration for these ‘Mechs’ special behaviors was drawn directly from TRO write-ups and the broader lore, so let’s dive into some of the specifics for each ‘Mech:

Flea
The Flea shares some DNA with everybody’s favorite scout ‘Mech, the Locust. While it isn’t as fast as its better-known cousin, it carries far more firepower. I really wanted to lean into the notion of the Flea’s namesake: a potentially deadly pest, especially if ignored. This led me to the idea of bundling the Flea with Targeting Baffles, which up the little monster’s defenses with a passive defense bonus. This helps to keep the Flea competitive with its faster and better-armored counterparts, and makes it surprisingly difficult to kill.


Assassin
The Assassin is my favorite ‘Mech in Heavy Metal, mostly because of its looks. Unfortunately, its stock weaponry is pretty low on the power curve, but the notion that the Assassin was designed to hunt down and kill smaller prey was really appealing to me. I decided to reinforce this concept in the Assassin’s Intercept System, a device that allows it to completely ignore a good hunk of the Evasion pips generated by lighter units.

It’d be against the Assassin’s nature to field a massive arsenal of weapons, and that hasn’t changed. But thanks to the Intercept System, our Assassin is incredibly effective at using the weapons it does have against smaller and more evasive targets.


Vulcan
Our game doesn’t have infantry, and it’s no secret that the AC/2 is one of the least-useful weapons in existence — that’s two strikes against the stock Vulcan being interesting to use. It also makes the job of cooking up a cool quirk a bit more difficult. Despite all of this, it was important to me that we give all of our new ‘Mechs the love that they deserve, including the oddly-equipped “scarecrow” that is the Vulcan.

In the end, we decided to lean into the things that the Vulcan seems to have been designed around: support weaponry and close-range combat. A simple way to do this was to extend the range of the Vulcan’s Support weapons, and so the Close Quarters Combat Suite was born. The Vulcan won’t ever be as resilient as the larger ‘Mechs it goes up against, so we made the CQC system give a substantial defensive boost against incoming melee attacks as well (a thing favored by heavier AI opponents).

In the player feedback we’ve been collecting regarding Heavy Metal’s new BattleMechs, the Vulcan has emerged as a dark horse favorite. I’m glad that we didn’t “punt” on this one, and I’m really happy with the uniqueness its special gear gives it.


Phoenix Hawk
There’s something about this ‘Mech that speaks of a gracefulness in combat, and it’s known for leading the charge at the head of lighter lances. It also has a pair of large, vent-like structures on its back that give it a very recognizable silhouette. I don’t believe that these vents were ever given a fictional purpose in the post-LAM days, but they presented us with a natural opportunity to build around.

We wanted the Phoenix Hawk to be at its best when constantly flanking its enemies, always repositioning to angle for a perfect shot. I had this picture in my head of those pylons operating like the thrust vectoring nozzles on modern jet fighters, allowing the PH to be extra-nimble, snapping off shots between jumps to devastating effect. Thus we arrive at the Phoenix Hawk’s Vectored Thrust Kit, which incentivizes jumping by boosting the PH’s maximum jump distance and gives it a bonus to damage upon landing.


Rifleman
I know that lots of folks like the old-school Rifleman, but in practice, I’ve always found it pretty underwhelming. Low armor, low speed, high heat, scant ammo… like the Vulcan, this was a ‘Mech that was best-suited to engaging enemy types that aren’t present in BATTLETECH (in this case, aircraft). If we were going to do it justice, we needed to give it a meaningful ability that’d make it feel rewarding to play with.

It’s a very small logical leap to go from “anti-aircraft” as a core concept to “sniper extraordinaire.” With this in mind, I set about providing the Rifleman with the tools it would need to excel at extreme-range combat. Enter the Rangefinder Suite, which greatly reduces long-range attack penalties and extends the Rifleman’s default vision distance. Our Rifleman can strike farther than any other unit in the game, allowing it to rain fire on enemies well outside the range of a possible counterattack..

In playtesting, the Rifleman has proven itself a deadly threat on the battlefield. I'm personally very happy that we were able to uplift this old favorite, offset its weaknesses such that it actually feels as good as we wanted to imagine it was.

EXAMPLE MECH DOCUMENTATION PAGE:
index.php

https://forumcontent.paradoxplaza.com/public/514417/HBS_Rifleman_Spec_X.pdf


Archer
I mean… what can I even say about this one? It’s the Archer, we all know and love it. It knows what it is: a delivery mechanism for horrific swarms of missiles. But there are plenty of ‘Mechs in the game that can mount a lot of missiles, so we wanted to do something to solidify the Archer’s role as a top-of-the-line missile boat. To this end, we created the Archer’s Missilery Suite, a comprehensive electronics package dedicated to calculating missile firing solutions (note: “Missilery” is a semi-obscure term that refers to the study and application of missiles). The Archer gains improved LRM clustering and better impact damage from SRMs, a combination that is absolutely deadly on the battlefield.

Fun Fact: internal and external playtesting made us actually back off of our original values for the clustering boost, because Archers were shearing the limbs off of their targets left and right. This can still happen, obviously, but it’s far less common than it used to be. That said, a word of advice: do not trifle with an Archer in the field.


Warhammer & Marauder
These are our special ‘Mech kids for a variety of reasons, and they share a similar stock loadout. Because of this I’ve decided to talk about them together. The Warhammer and Marauder are iconic in their design, and are equally notable in BattleTech lore — these ‘Mechs, and the MechWarriors who pilot them, have played an important role in nearly every major engagement in early BT history. It’s also no secret that we wanted to launch with these in 1.0 but couldn’t, so having them as part of the free update just made sense.

“Free” doesn’t mean that we wanted to invest less in making these ‘Mechs cool, however. To be frank, neither the Warhammer nor the Marauder are particularly exceptional in terms of stock weaponry and performance. There was a lot of personal desire to make sure that these ‘Mechs lived up to their canonical reputations, and that they each brought something to the table that no other BattleMech does.

In terms of the Warhammer: we decided to double down on the ‘Mech’s long-barrel PPC persona by giving it Optimized Capacitors that substantially boost the damage output of its Energy weapons. This helps to make up for its relatively low armor values, and goes a long way toward justifying its reputation as a vicious brawler.

The Marauder was a bit more of a challenge. Originally we wanted to lean into the concept of targeting refinement by having it do more damage against targets that it had already attacked. This wound up proving difficult because we didn’t have the capability to create relationships between units on the field, and adding that capability would’ve required a staggering rewrite to our combat system, savegame data, testing plans, etc. Instead, we decided to take another route and build on the Marauder’s noteworthiness as a command ‘Mech that often leads heavier units. This led us to the Lance Command Module, a specialized computer system that improves its lance’s reaction to incoming fire.


Bull Shark
I’ll let Marco talk more about the concepting of this ‘Mech in his upcoming post, but I’ll talk briefly here about how it ended up with a massive Thumper Cannon on its back. Short story: we’d decided we were doing artillery, and really wanted a ‘Mech to come equipped with it. From a canonical perspective, it didn’t make sense to mount an artillery piece on any of our other ‘Mechs, but the Bull Shark presented us with a natural opportunity to do so. And in giving the Bull Shark an artillery piece, we strengthened our secondary goal of making it an amazingly awesome reward for the mini-campaign. Boom.


Annihilator
I personally feel that the Annihilator is one ugly beast, but its form matches its function, so I guess it works out. The interesting thing about this ‘Mech is how slow and fragile it is; it has to give up a lot to mount its incredible arsenal of weaponry, making it a serious glass cannon for an assault unit. It’s also the tallest ‘Mech in the game by a head, so we wanted to build this idea of a towering siege engine from which there is little hope of escape.

I cooked up the Annihilator’s Ballistic Siege Compensators as a way to triple-down on this notion. With this equipment in place, the Annihilator operates like a deployable weapons platform, magnifying its damage output through superior battlefield stability. Naturally, the Annihilator is also far harder to unsteady or knock down as a consequence.


A Note On Naming
Because BattleTech walks that tightrope between hard and soft sci-fi (I’m looking at you, Phantom ‘Mech), I try to be really mindful of the names I give to things. Whatever a new weapon, component, or ability gets called needs to have one foot in pseudo-reality. Also: the name of a thing helps to inform what it is an how it behaves, so this isn’t a purely aesthetic choice.

Some things can have whimsy (a tattletale homing beacon called a Narc, anyone?) but generally I draw on more grounded technical or military terminology because that’s what seems to fit best with the tone of the BattleTech universe.


A Note On Special Equipment
The effects I talk about above could’ve been created via some sort of direct scripting instead of the “physical” pieces of equipment that each ‘Mech ended up getting assigned. Having something that takes up inventory — and can therefore be destroyed — presents interesting choices to the player during combat when fielding or facing these ‘Mechs. Likewise, having a piece of equipment in the loadout means that it must factor into the packing puzzle of building out a ‘Mech as well.

Broadly speaking, I wanted to avoid bonuses to hit with these special items since there are already a huge number of sources for improving hit chances: Gunnery skill, height advantage, arm-mounting, Precision Strike, TTS components, etc. Changing power and lethality was still important though, so most of our equipment deals with dishing out more damage or being better at handling incoming attacks.


Wrecking Stuff With New Weapons
In some ways, working on our new weapon systems was even more exciting than developing our new ‘Mechs. A single new ‘Mech can only make use of a limited number of weapon combos, but a new weapon system can be used on almost any BattleMech, for a far greater impact on the overall game (weapons don’t have the same amount of personality that a ‘Mech does, though ;) ).

Ultra ACs & LB-X
Ballistic weapons got some real love in this update. I wanted to keep standard ACs as a viable choice, but still have these new weapons behave differently.

UACs are pretty straightforward in their basic premise, but I wanted to push them more as min-max options. They’re heavier, are extremely damage efficient, generate substantial heat, and have horrific recoil. All of this translates in our game to a weapon that you have to invest in to use properly; it takes some planning around to get the most out of a UAC, but if you do, it’s worth it.

LB-X systems are known in lore for being able to fire different types of ammunition. This is something we’ve avoided in BATTLETECH for a variety of reasons, but mostly because we want the player to be focused on choices between weapon behaviors and not ammo types. I’ve generally felt that having LB-X weapons fire cluster rounds helps players better mentally “chunk” them in their mind, and it means that we can hone their behavior better. It also meshes extremely well with our inclusion of the stray shot mechanic in the Urban Warfare update, and can impact the choice of what angle shots are taken from because of incidental AoE damage.

If you’re a lorehound like I am, you’ll have taken note from our other marketing info that Heavy Metal will ship with UACs and the LB-X 2, 5, 10, and 20, and that some of these weapon systems are notably absent from our setting in 3025. Why did we include them? What could it mean?! You’ll have to play the Heavy Metal flashpoint campaign to find out :)

EXAMPLE WEAPON DOCUMENTATION PAGE:
index.php

https://forumcontent.paradoxplaza.com/public/514419/HBS_LBXAutocannon_Spec_X.pdf


Inferno Rack
Heat-dealing weapons are very powerful when used correctly. A long time ago, we decided that Flamers should have a built-in ammo supply on the reasoning that it’d help differentiate them from other weapon types and make them easier to balance. The Inferno Rack operates on a similar principle, but it uses a Missile hardpoint, has a greater range than a Flamer, and comes packed with more built-in ammunition. It’s also heavier and takes up more space, accordingly.

If you read my previous Dev Diary, you may remember that “unique” and “different” are a pair of the operative words from our design pillars. Weapon design is no exception, so the Inferno Rack needed something special to help set it apart from the standard Flamer. That key difference comes in the form of burning gel that causes stacking, recurring heat damage over the course of several turns.

What we ended up with is a new weapon system that has type-based similarities with the Flamer (both weapons deal heat and have fixed ammo counts), but is functionally very different on a tactical level (Flamers can fire when punching and are extremely short range, while Infernos stack heat but delay their most powerful effects, and are much more prone to missing).


Narc & TAG
These debuff weapons are the first of their kind in that they exist purely to make other weapons more effective. The bias of every human being with a soul playing a giant stompy robot game is to break stuff, so bringing a “weapon” that doesn’t inherently do that presents a really sharp opportunity cost for the player. This poses tricky challenges in their balancing, because they’re always competing against something that’s guaranteed to have an immediate impact in combat.

TAG is straightforward: a plain ol’ laser, it boosts Energy and Ballistic weapon damage against the now-acquired target for the lance. I set the baseline for this at a 10% boost, which proved to be decent in testing since those two categories scale high in single-point damage. It’s a decent choice to take instead of a lone Medium Laser, especially if the ‘Mech in question already runs hot.

Narc is a bit different, since it requires ammo and weighs a bit; you’re essentially making the choice between mounting a Narc vs. mounting an SRM6, and it can feel bad if your Narc shot misses. To make Narcs “worth the calories,” they provide a substantial missile damage increase and enjoy a significant to-hit bonus.

A fun side-effect of both of these is that if they miss and stray shot a target, that target gets the debuff instead! That wasn’t intentional in their design, but I’m happy to have it work that way.


Snub PPC
Of all the canonical weapons that we included in Heavy Metal, the SPPC probably differs the most from its source material. My rationale behind making this change is simple: a PPC that’s a ton lighter, but can’t shoot as far, isn’t sufficiently different from the base model to be worth including.Capitalizing on some of the fun we were having with the LB-X weapons, we decided, we decided to turn the SPPC into an Energy “shotgun,” and in so doing made it its own distinct weapon type.

The SPPC fires fewer projectiles than its LB-X counterparts, but each beam can apply the PPC’s Sensors Impaired debuff. This also allowed our VFX artist, Will Avery, to cook up some satisfyingly unique visuals that help set this weapon apart from the standard PPC. The SPPC really feels unique, and I think that it stands well on its own. As an added bonus, stray shots can apply Sensors Impaired to multiple targets at once!


COIL
The COIL weapons are our own invention, coming in alongside the Bull Shark as a from-scratch creation. It’s always daunting to try and add something new to a well-established universe like BattleTech, particularly one that can tonally lean toward hard, gritty sci-fi.

COIL weapons were inspired by the notion of kinetic batteries, which are a comparatively old technology that’s seen a recent resurgence in real-world higher-tech applications. They’re well-suited to the rapid build up and discharge of power, and we’ve fictionalized this as drawing from the movements of a ‘Mech’s gyros while it’s in motion.

The aim of the COIL system is to revitalize and extend the use of Light and Medium ‘Mechs, by tapping into the two combat advantages those ‘Mechs have over their behemoth brethren: speed and space. The tonnage, space, and damage multiplication are all a delicate balance of rewarding players for changing up their tactical play while disincentivizing their use on larger ‘Mechs. Their power-to-damage efficiency comes at the cost of high heat generation and rapid dispersal of the stored energy if not used very quickly (i.e. in the same turn they’re charged).

COIL beams aren’t 100% scientifically sound, but I’d argue that you could extend that statement to a large portion of canonical BattleTech :) We asked ourselves two questions in their creation: “Is it fun?” and “Does it fit?” After a great deal of playtesting, we believe that the answer to both questions is “yes.”


Mortar
What I lovingly refer to as our “‘Mech-scale grenade” is the purest expression of our power and force-multiplier goals.

Where the COIL is enjoyable because it‘s exotic and requires skill to use effectively, we made the Mortar appealing through raw power, and by allowing it to ignore most of the rules that govern BattleTech combat. Line of sight? Doesn’t care, hurl that shot into the darkness and let the gods sort it out! Evasion? You can’t evade an an artillery explosion. Gotta split your damage if you want to attack multiple targets? Nope, this deals the same amount* of damage to everything in the blast. Facing? Damage is taken from all sides.

This is a lot of awesome, but we had to be careful in how far we pushed this: if it became the Win Button then it wouldn’t be satisfying. It might be fun at first, but that fun would diminish over time because it requires no discernment in its use. This is a tactics game where everything should be part of a tactical choice, and that means limitations. This allows a skilled player to make the call between a merely OK time and the perfect time to use it.

Because of these considerations, we decided to make the Mortar an ability instead of a normal weapon — the player must make a choice between using it and firing the rest of their arsenal. Likewise, you can only fire it once, you can’t provide more ammo for it, and you can only mount one Mortar per ‘Mech. We decided that the guaranteed damage should be *variable, so there’s skill involved in reacting to a good-but-uncertain outcome of your attack. Lastly, we made sure that Mortars could never score head hits (they could for a while in testing, and geeeeez was that overpowered).

The end result of all of this is a weapon system that you need to build your lance and its tactics around. Drawing your enemies in, grouping them up, and waiting for the most opportune time to deploy your Mortar is fun and effective, but it requires a commitment on the part of the player.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
WHEW. That was a lot. TL;DR: a ton of thought and playtesting went into the new stuff in Heavy Metal. I hope you found this post insightful (if long), and gained a better understanding of the thought process behind the designs of the new goodies.

But! I’m not done yet. I’ve got one more post coming that talks about some of the work that went into the rebalancing and distribution of existing content for the free part of the 1.8 update. It will be much shorter. Probably.

Until next time, MechWarriors!

- Ryan (RedMenace)
 

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Prussian Havoc

Stephen "Prussian Havoc" Stroble
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Great rundown on all the new Mechs and Weapons, very insightful and authoritative. Excellent job! : )

Of course you saved the best for last...

...But! I’m not done yet. I’ve got one more post coming that talks about some of the work that went into the rebalancing and distribution of existing content for the free part of the 1.8 update. It will be much shorter. Probably.

Until next time, MechWarriors!

- Ryan (RedMenace)
I can’t wait for Part Three!

For me the rebalancing and distribution of existing content just might prove the most interesting. Thanks again. Great job!
 

Prussian Havoc

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@HBS_RedMenace, these Dev Diaries are great pieces and really serve to highlight both the game and the upcoming HEAVY METAL DLC.

But they don’t seem to be hitting the Paradox Front Page! :shrug:

Maybe our very own @MissDeliana could help us out with that. : )
 

Jamey

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I’m most intrigued by the Inferno, NARC, and TAG. I feel like I have a good feel for when I’d use the other weapons, but these will take some trial and error.


I know that lots of folks like the old-school Rifleman, but in practice, I’ve always found it pretty underwhelming. Low armor, low speed, high heat, scant ammo…
It’s not rational. It’s a Rifleman.
 

Havamal

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Tag...
Narc...
A fun side-effect of both of these is that if they miss and stray shot a target, that target gets the debuff instead! That wasn’t intentional in their design, but I’m happy to have it work that way.

Hell yeah!
 

Jamey

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Still not sure how to feel about the LB-X and SNPPC implementation. A lot's going to depend on the precise clustering mechanic.
I’ll see how much I use them, but I like that they are so different from the other ACs and Energy weapons.
 

Prussian Havoc

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FC81619B-8B0B-48CD-8F0C-DA447C6EE600.jpeg


Until I read that, the SNPPC was the least interesting weapon to me. But being able to DRASTICALLY lower a mechs hit chance WOW.
“DRASTICALLY lower”?

I hadn’t thought of that before... hmm. A few SNPPC’s and you can really impact an opponent’s options, to a degree shaping his likely course of action. SUCH FUN!
 

gh0s7

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Indeed, I hadn't given much thought to the Snub being sort-of replaced with Shotgun, but potentially getting five (5!) Sensor Impaired on one mech with just one action... :eek:

I'm also quite eager to be finally finding a very good way of using the Raven, by giving it a NARC and bringing a pair of LRM boats, especially to 'Base Missions. :D

Thanks for the DD, really looking forward to HM!
 

BalordaZul

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First off love the write up!

The SPPC fires fewer projectiles than its LB-X counterparts, but each beam can apply the PPC’s Sensors Impaired debuff.

I just want to double check something. I always thought the you were either Sensors Impaired or not and that the game mechanism does not have a stacking element to it right? I have had the AI sensor lock the same mech several times in a turn and just took it for dumb AI.
 

Jade_Rook

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They allowed it to stack starting in... 1.5? Maybe earlier? I remember challenges to see how many stacks people could get at the same time. You have to mouse over the status to see what the total modifier will be.

Allowing a single Snub PPC to impart 5 stacks on a single target seems imbalanced. Could it be limited to once per target per weapon?
 

MarkDey

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I just want to double check something. I always thought the you were either Sensors Impaired or not and that the game mechanism does not have a stacking element to it right? I have had the AI sensor lock the same mech several times in a turn and just took it for dumb AI.

I'm not sure if Sensor Lock stacks the debuff, but I know that I've been hit by 4 PPCs in a turn and each stacked a debuff on that 'mech.


I do have a question though. For the LBX and Ultra and SPPC weapons, which clustering mechanic do they use? I mean, do they act like LRMs and can never hit the head twice? Or do they act like SRMs and MGs and each shot is a fresh to-hit roll where each weapon could hit the head multiple times?