Yet more MechWarriorage

Must flush thoughts of Middle-Eastern misery out of my mind.

I know: Yet another post about imaginary Internet robots!

This right here is the MechWarrior Online wiki's Hardpoints Table. All the basic stats for all of the 'Mechs in the game so far.

Also: Don't walk your BattleMech off a cliff.

This is not as easy as it sounds, especially if you're in a fast 'Mech; it's normal for high-speed light 'Mechs to suffer a few points of leg damage just by running across largely level ground. Cut the throttle when you're running downhill, or you'll leap out into the air and fall. (If you've got jump jets, you can of course use them to cushion your fall.)

One of the ways to destroy a 'Mech is by shooting off both of its legs. Thus far the legs do not actually detach from the 'Mech as blown-off arms do, but the effect of losing a leg on your locomotion is about what you'd expect; even super-fast 'Mechs drop to a top speed under 20km/h. But, for whatever reason, people tend not to shoot legs very much. So you can economise on armour there, if you're not a speedy light 'Mech, in which case skimping on leg armour is very false economy.

Winning by capturing the enemy base (in an "Assault" game, which is the only game mode that exists as I write this) gets you more money and experience points than winning by killing all of your enemies. So if the enemy team is no longer a threat, and you're a feasible distance from the enemy base at whatever your 'Mech's top speed is, head over there and start "capping". In random pick-up games the rest of your team may or may not respond to a chat suggestion that they cap rather than kill, but it's worth a try.

Oh, and while capping, don't shoot the complicated widget in the middle of the base area. Some newbies appear to think you have to blow that thing up, in case it is in league with a gazebo.

(The complicated widget also has an array of what look rather like nodding-donkey pumps. That's right - this whole war could be for oil!)

Many mechs come from the factory with too little armour, especially the small ones. The trial Atlas-K (which, once again, I implore new players to not use) has 608 of its maximum possible 614 points of armour, but the trial Commando-1B has only 128 points, of a maximum possible 178. The factory loadouts for the Commando 1D and 3A include only 96 points of armour, making them susceptible to damage from well-thrown baseballs, wind-blown leaves, and woodpeckers. (Two models of Jenner come with less than 130 points of armour, too. Their maximum is 238.)

If you die by a means other than suicide ("suicide" here means "wandering out of bounds, or shooting lasers and aborting shutdown until you explode from overheating"), and then quit out of the match rather than spectate on the rest of it, you'll get all - or at least almost all - of the money and XP rewards you'd get if you spectated until the end. The money and XP won't be awarded until the end of the match, which is also when 'Mech you were driving "unlocks" - the "in match" feature was added to deal with serial suiciders. I think you won't get any Kill Assist money and XP for kills that happen after you quit the match, but everything else, you'll still get. So you don't have to watch those two bozos in trial Atlases get pecked to death by high-speed 30-ton ducks, when you've seen it a hundred times before.

I'm not sure if there's a time or damage limit of any sort on Kill Assists, either. A light 'Mech that runs through the enemy team Small-Lasering multiple targets for almost no damage may, for this reason, reap many kill assists if those enemies get killed later.

Weapons do not penetrate water well, or in some cases at all; Streak SRMs fired from one light 'Mech at another when you're both waist-deep in the water will probably just splash down ahead of the target. They'll still work if the target is tall enough to give them an upward trajectory, though.

And, finally, you can't convert "Mech XP" into "General XP" for a model of 'Mech you no longer own. If you want to convert XP, make sure to do so before you sell the last 'Mech you own of that type. (With any luck the developers will change this in a patch, since it costs a little real-world money to convert XP, so all this limit really does is make it harder for players to spend money.)

MechTrivia, continued

Herewith, a few more tips for players of MechWarrior Online who are by some cruel turn of fate even worse at it than I am.

For the complete newbie: Yes, there is teamdamage in this game. You are not Friendly Fireproof.

For this reason, shooting guns at the start of the round when you're surrounded by close-packed teammates will make those teammates nervous. Shooting weapons that require ammunition is particularly unsettling. (A certain amount of celebratory gunfire occasionally breaks out at the end of a round.)

Only once have I been one-shot-killed in the first second of the game by some doofus in an assault 'Mech who spawned right behind my humble Commando. I've been winged plenty of times, though, often when there's no enemy even in sight, let alone near me.

If you're just shooting to see whether your weapons are in chain-fire or normal mode, you don't have to; in chain fire, a little highlight box thing runs down through each weapon group in the bottom-right display. In normal-fire mode, there's no animation there.

Slightly less obviously, you should not only refrain from shooting your teammates, but also avoid forcing them to shoot you. Do not, if you can help it, run your 'Mech between a friend and the enemy he's shooting at.

And, conversely, be alert for friends running into your firing line, and if you've already got a laser or something firing, yank your crosshair up or down to try to miss them.

Trial Atlas 'Mech

Chief among the teamdamage offenders in the early game are newbies driving the trial Atlas.

As I've said before: Do not do this. That 'Mech is not for you.

On the face of it, the trial Atlas (and other big trial 'Mechs with lots of weapon systems; they switch the trial 'Mechs around from time to time) seems like a great idea. Not only is the Atlas one of the archetypal BattleMechs and as big as 'Mechs get, but this particular model is well armed, heavily armoured, and of course free. In the hands of an experienced player, the stock AS7-K is a very dangerous opponent.

But it is sloooooow. Top speed 48.6 km/h.

I think that's the worst thing about it, for newbies. Mobility is immensely important when you're not sure what you're doing, and any 'Mech with a top speed under 50 km/h is likely to be difficult for an experienced player to use well in a lot of random pick-up games, let alone a newbie. The classic situation in which a fast 'Mech runs round and round a slower one shooting it in the back without even being shot back occurs frequently with trial Atlases.

(Real newbies will drive their slow trial 'Mech in a straight line shooting at someone way over there somewhere, and completely fail to notice that there's a scout 'Mech running at 25% throttle right behind them, shooting them in the back over and over and over without even having to steer.)

And to add insult to injury, the AS7-K's anaemic little engine actually isn't very little - it's of the lighter but larger "XL" type, which means it takes up space in the left and right torso. If any part of the engine receives a critical hit, the 'Mech explodes no matter how healthy the rest of it is. XL engines make it much easier for this to happen.

Engine specs

On the subject of engines, there are engines with different ratings, but the same weight.

There is very little reason to buy a 7-ton 160 engine when you could buy a 7-ton 170. Only if the higher-rated engine needs more heat sinks than you can cram into your 'Mech should you go with a lower-rated engine of the same weight. I was wrong about that, as per Itsacon's comment below. There is actually no reason besides price to get a lower-rated engine with the same tonnage.

Selling a 'Mech

And when you sell a 'Mech, you don't have to, and shouldn't, sell all the equipment in it (the optional "Item Value" checkbox). Only sell stuff you know you're never going to use, like spare engines if you've got a pile of one size, heat sinks if you've accumulated a zillion of them, and non-Streak SRMs and autocannons if, like me, your ping is lousy.

And finally, If you're overheating, slow down. The higher your throttle setting, the slower you cool off.

Baby boating

(Again with the MechWarrior Online. Get used to it, gentle reader; there will be more.)

If you want to play a "missile boat" in MechWarrior Online - which isn't very exciting, but is a solid way to contribute to your team and make money for yourself - you have the problem that missile boats are usually heavy or assault 'Mechs. So while you're learning, your half-baked missile 'Mech may cause MechWarrior Online's... less-than-perfect... matchmaker to add a fully perked and polished enemy heavy or assault 'Mech to the enemy team.

(This will also happen if you head out in the current trial Catapult, a 70-tonner with two LRM-15s and four medium lasers.)

MWO 'Mech customisation

The solution to this problem is The Light Missile Boat, which is mildly ridiculous but actually works pretty well, and will only be matched by another light 'Mech on the other team, with any luck. (Or by some newbie in the trial Atlas, which is often even better.)

One formula for a Light Missile Boat is:

One Raven RVN-2X, which has a missile hardpoint in its right torso and four energy hardpoints split between the left torso and right arm, and an Anti-Missile System slot in the left torso. (AMS is highly desirable for missile boats, which often find themselves copping a lot of counter-battery fire.)

Pull the engine out. Stick an LRM-15 or LRM-20 in the right torso, and an AMS and one or two tons of ammo in the left torso. Add lasers of your choice to the right arm and/or left torso. Sprinkle with LRM ammo to taste. Put heat sinks in the legs (I'm pretty sure MechWarrior Online does give you the correct cooling bonus if there are heat sinks in your legs and your legs are in water). Wind up the armour, putting plenty on the back, 'cos you're not going to be fast.

Now, add the biggest non-XL engine that still fits. Enjoy your new light 'Mech that's pretty much exactly half a Catapult.

My version of this 'Mech has an LRM 15, two Medium Pulse Lasers along with the AMS in the left torso, and a Standard Engine 140 for a not-too-horribly-bad 64.8 km/h top speed. I used to have an LRM-20, but the lighter missile rack allowed the heavier, more useful lasers. You can add even more stuff if you go for structure and armour upgrades and put in an XL engine, but this'll cost you a lot more for repairs.

(On a weight-per-missiles basis, by the way, the little LRM-5 is the best; it shoots five missiles and weighs two tons, 2.5 missiles per ton. The LRM-10 and LRM-20 both give you only two missiles per ton; if you can install two LRM-5s instead of one LRM-10, you probably should. The LRM-15 gives 2.142857143 missiles per ton.)

If you want to be tricky, you can save some weight by putting no armour at all on a Raven 2X's gunless left arm. It's probably a good idea to put all of your missile ammo in the right and centre torso, in that case.

If you go into battle with an un-armoured limb there's a very good chance it'll be blown off and then, with the standard auto-repair and auto-rearm settings, you'll have to pay to put a new un-armoured arm on your 'Mech, only to have it blown off again. If you turn off auto-repair, though, you can leave the arm as a stump, and make money faster.

(For this reason, less-honourable players who want to make money fast and don't much care about helping their team may go into battle in a "Zombie Wang", a Yen-Lo-Wang with a couple of medium lasers in the centre torso, no other armament, and no arms.)

As things stand, you also get a 75% ammunition reload for free at the end of every battle. You get this reload even if auto-rearm is turned off. So for economical missile-boating, just lay in more ammo than you really need when it's all full (for both LRMs and AMS). Now the free 75% reload will give you enough, and you can head back into battle without paying to re-arm.

In a continuation of MechWarrior Online's pleasing commitment to making different 'Mechs truly different, 'Mechs fire missiles in closely-spaced volleys according to the number of physical launch tubes present on that 'Mech. A Raven 2X has six tubes, so if you put an LRM-20 on it, it will fire four volleys (of six, six, six and two missiles, respectively) in quick succession. An LRM-15 will fire three volleys.

This isn't ideal - spacing out the missiles gives enemy Anti-Missile Systems more time to fire on them, and enemy pilots more time to duck behind cover - but it works well enough. Especially if you're missile-boating correctly, with more than one of you unloading on one target.

Apparently there's at least one 'Mech with a single missile launch tube, though I forget which one it is. Put an LRM-20 on that and it'll pee out the missiles as if it's got bladder stones.

UPDATE: Ah, here it is; it's the Raven 3L...

...whose single missile tube is meant to fire Narc Beacons, not explosives.

MechWarrioring, Online

MechWarrior Online screenshot

I've been spending entirely too much time playing MechWarrior Online.

If you've got a Windows PC with moderate graphics power, or something that can be tricked into acting like one, try it. It's free. And if you do not want to fight people from distant nations in a giant walking tank, I am not at all sure that I want to be friends with you.

(There will be a certain amount of BattleTech-y jargon in this post. I make no apologies, since all right-thinking people pored over Technical Readout: 3025 at the bus stop in 1987 as I did, memorising even the stupidest-looking 'Mechs, and thinking long and hard on the subject of internal-combustion Demolisher tanks only costing about 20% more than 25-ton scout 'Mechs. You are allowed to not have also played hundreds of hours of the unlicensed multiplayer-only tabletop-BattleTech knockoff Mechforce on the Amiga, but that's as far as I'm willing to go. Oh, and in case you care, the modern equivalent to Mechforce is MegaMek.)

Missiles incoming

MechWarrior Online is currently in open beta. It is not bugless, and right now the only game mode is eight-a-side team deathmatch on a small handful of maps, with a capture-the-base mechanic to avoid the "Where's Wally" problem in which the single survivor of one team goes and hides until his opponents quit in disgust.

But it doesn't crash very often, and stuff you earn in the beta will carry over into the full release, so it's well worth trying.

Because, again, it's free.

Sad 'Mech in snow

"Wait a minute," I hear you say, "this is actually an Allegedly Free Game, right? They want you to send them money if you want a 'Mech that can compete, don't they?"

Well, yes, Piranha Games would very much like you to whip out your credit card or PayPal account and pay for "MechWarrior Credits" ("MC"), which can be purchased in five tiers from $US6.95 for 1250 MCs (180 MCs per dollar) to $US99.95 for 25,000 MCs (250 credits per dollar). But you really can play, and play competitively, without spending a penny.

You can certainly play competitively without buying the first only-available-for-real-money "hero 'Mech", the "Yen-Lo-Wang" variant of the Centurion. That costs 3750 MCs, meaning you'd have to buy at least the $US29.95 6500-MC package (217 MCs per dollar), and its main selling point is that it multiplies all "normal" money, "C-Bills" you make in the game by 1.3. But that's about the only nice thing you can say about it.

I will digress about the "Wang", as everyone calls both it and anyone driving one, for a moment, because that 'Mech exemplifies an important piece of MechWarrior Online's design. (This may have debuted in some other MechWarrior game, by the way; I haven't played the last couple of them. I haven't played Crysis-based MechWarrior, Living Legends either.)

The Wang is not a very good 'Mech at all, because the only weapon "hardpoints" it has are two ballistic ones on the right arm, and two energy hardpoints in the centre torso. You only have two "slots" left over in any 'Mech's the centre torso after the gyro and engine, so you can't mount any big lasers or PPCs or whatever there. The best you can do is two Medium Lasers. Even a Medium Pulse Laser will take up both slots and leave you no room to install a second energy weapon.

Old-style tabletop BattleTech did not work like this. Per the original rules, you could strip any 'Mech down to the frame and rebuild it however you liked, provided it didn't end up overweight.

(Weight limits are one of the distinctive features of BattleTech. A "75-ton" 'Mech can be kitted out with less than 75 tons of gear if you're feeling perverse, but not so much as an ounce more. Since any 'Mech with hands can, per the original rules, also yank a two-ton tree out of the ground and whack another 'Mech with it, and since 'Mechs can operate on a variety of planets with different gravity strength, this makes no sense at all. But it's always been in the rules, and MechWarrior Online follows them.)

So by the old rules, you could take the LRMs off an Archer and put on lots of heat-sinks and lasers, or you could somehow cram an AC/20 into any scout 'Mech by downsizing the engine and stripping off armour and arm actuators, or you could stick jump jets on anything. You name it. The "fluff" may say that this 'Mech is prone to knee-joint problems and that one has especially fast torso twisting, but there was no actual difference in the game itself.

In MechWarrior Online, the hardpoints are fixed. If you buy the Catapult variant that has six missile hardpoints and nothing else, you will never be able to put a laser on it. And 'Mechs really do have different cockpit visibility, arm and torso movement ranges, and so on.

Which is why the Wang sucks. It comes with an AC/20, the heaviest-hitting gun in the game, on its right arm, but opponents with a clue will try to shoot that arm off any Wang they see. And if you're like me and playing from Australia, your 250-millisecond-ish ping time makes ballistic weapons very hard to use. Lasers and lock-on missiles (both long-range and Streak short range) work well enough, but even PPCs are hard to aim when the darn thing always goes off a quarter second after you press the button, and heavy autocannon are a huge pain.

The hardpoint system means Wang pilots are stuck with these problems, though. They can put two lighter autocannon in the right arm if they like, or even a couple of machine guns (which are almost harmless unless shooting a de-armoured location, in which case they become critical-hit monsters). But, to add insult to injury, the Wang's arms don't even have very wide movement arcs. So you almost get the restricted tracking of a torso-mount weapon, with the vulnerability of an arm-mount one.

OK, back to the "pay to win" problem, and why MechWarrior Online does not suffer from it, much.

You can buy some MCs with real money right at the outset, and buy your own 'Mech.

This isn't necessarily even very expensive; the cheapest 'Mech in the game so far is a Commando variant that goes for only 680 MC, giving you plenty of change from even the $US6.95 MC package.

(The most expensive 'Mech is an Atlas variant that costs 13.7 million C-bills, or 5480 MC. You'd need to buy at least the $US29.95 6500-MC package to buy it right off the bat. Oh, and you can't, at the moment at least, buy partially with C-Bills and partially with MC.)

Don't buy right away, though; maybe you won't even like the game! Instead, start out playing the "trial" 'Mechs, which are actually pretty good at the moment (they switch the trial 'Mechs around from time to time. The last batch weren't so great).

Do not jump into the trial Atlas and lumber around in befuddlement at your numerous weapons systems and limited speed and torso aiming envelope. Grab the trial Commando or Catapult, instead. The Commando is nippy and heavily armed for its size (it's exactly tall enough to headbutt an Atlas in the crotch); the Catapult has a simple and useful weapon loadout, and jump-jets, which may or may not reduce the amount of time a newbie spends grinding his face on the scenery.

Newbies do that because MechWarrior Online, like all other "proper" MechWarrior games, has separate controls for your legs and your torso and arms. Using the default keyboard and mouse controls (which work well), W and S change throttle setting, and A and D turn your legs left and right. The mouse moves your arms and torso. Arms - and any weapons on them - get to where you've moved quickly, then the torso - and any weapons on it - catches up.

Since many 'Mechs have a quite wide torso traverse - many can aim directly behind them with their arms - it is easy to lose track of what you're doing and flail around randomly while nudging the scenery and being torn to shreds by heartless opponents. Thus far the game also lacks any sort of interactive tutorial, too, so you have to learn to drive under fire.

(On the subject of shooting behind you, by the way, MechWarrior Online does not allow rear-facing weapons, because they couldn't figure out a way to make them useful and fun at the same time. There are also no 'Mech collisions in the game at the moment; they took out the collision code after seeing how often a 'Mech would be knocked down in one place then stand up somewhere very different. Collisions, and Death from Above, are promised to be reinstated once they've sorted this out.)

Anyway, pick a trial 'Mech, and play. This will earn you the in-game "C-Bills" money, but not experience points. But you don't have to pay to repair or re-arm a trial 'Mech either, and you get money even when you lose a game.

Which you will, a lot, because the match-maker at the moment doesn't seem to see any difference between a new player in a trial heavy 'Mech and a hugely experienced player in a fully tricked-out heavy 'Mech. In about 20 to 30 games, you'll be able to afford to buy your own light 'Mech.

MWO 'Mech customisation

Which is what I recommend you do. A nice fast light 'Mech is the closest to a conventional first-person shooter you can get in this game, zooming around behind enemies spotting targets for your long-range shooters and generally making a nuisance of yourself is a lot of fun, and a light 'Mech with no fancy upgrades doesn't cost much to repair even if you're utterly blown to bits.

Ferro-fibrous armour, endo-steel interior structure, Artemis missile fire control and the extremely expensive XL engines are all available as upgrades; if you still frequently do not survive a battle, it's best not to bother with any of them. (Especially the XL engine, the cheapest of which costs more than the biggest plain engine. XL engines have extra critical-hit locations in right and left torso; any hit to any of those locations detonates the engine and your 'Mech, making it impossible to turn a profit on that match.)

When you play with an "owned", non-Trial 'Mech, you earn "Mech XP" experience points that can be spent on minor upgrades - 7.5% better heat dissipation, 10% faster turning speed, that sort of thing - specific to that 'Mech variant:

MWO Pilot Lab

You can get the first eight upgrades by just saving up enough XP; you can only get the "Elite" and higher upgrades - and also double all of the basic-upgrade bonuses, which is rather nice - if you've bought all eight upgrades for three variants of that 'Mech model.

This is made easier by "General XP", which can be spent on upgrades for any 'Mech. You can convert Mech XP into General XP one-for-one, but it costs 40 MC per thousand XP converted.

You don't have to convert any points, though. You can just play with each 'Mech variant until you've earned enough points with it to upgrade it fully.

The Elite upgrades aren't that amazing, either; the double bonus to the Basic upgrades is much more exciting, if you ask me. Elite offers you 33% faster shutting down and starting up, 15% better weapon "convergence" (accuracy of aiming at the crosshair), 5% faster weapon firing and a 10% higher top speed, but that'll cost you 21,500 experience points, versus 14,250 for all eight Basic upgrades.

And, importantly, there is no way to just buy these upgrades; you can buy Mech Credits and use them to shift Mech XP from one 'Mech to General XP you can spend on tweaking another, but you can't buy experience points.

(You can also only buy pilot upgrades with GXP, but none of those are must-haves either.)

As you may have gathered, I could keep rabbiting on about this game indefinitely. In future posts, I may.

Just go and play it. It's fun.

(And do feel free to send me some money so, despite all the above, I can buy some more MCs with which to shift my XP points around. And buy more 'Mech bays, slots for owned 'Mechs so you don't have to sell one before you can buy another. Papa needs a new BattleMech carport, people!)

Damn my impoverishing ethics! Damn them to hell!

From: Stephen Sprogis <>
Date: Wed, 5 Sep 2012 18:04:34 -0400
Subject: Extra money for you

Hi Dan,

   I see you would like to recieve some extra money, so I'd like to offer you $10 a day to display an ad banner for Virtual Pilot 3d. I'd be happy to pay you the first 3 days upfront via Paypal, and every Monday thereafter as long as we're in business. Let me know if you're interested.



I ditched Burst Media as my annoying-banner-ad provider on a while ago (they didn't close my account with no explanation, I QUIT, that's my story and I'm sticking to it). So just sticking a hard-coded banner at the top of every page and getting a no-muss-no-fuss seventy bucks a week for it doesn't seem like a bad idea at all.

(DealExtreme showed some interest in running a banner too, which would be a very natural fit for the site, but we had a lot of trouble communicating. Their banner-ad-buying person does not seem to be one of their English-understanding people. Perhaps when they complete their long voyage to the new and improved, which is now working fine in parallel with the old site, they'll have another go. If someone reading this is from DealExtreme, or anywhere else that is in honest business and would like to buy a simple whole-site ad on or this blog, talk to me!)

I'm not going to stick a static ad on my site if it's promoting a terrible piece of software, though. So I had a little look for reviews of this Virtual Pilot 3D thing, of which I'd never heard.

Those reviews seem oddly thin on the ground. Hit one in my Google search is a press release, hit two is, and hit three is a page on called, of all things, "Virtual Pilot 3D™ Scam", full of what seems to be machine-translated gibberish.

That weird European site also has a page called "Virtual Pilot 3D™ Is Not Flightgear", which explains:

...As previously noted, a division or segment of society Flightgear was a very special reason. The FG and the Virtual Pilot 3D™ There are major changes between.

Virtual Pilot 3D™ some outstanding features include:

* Enhanced plug and play system running smoothly.
* Very complex and require technical knowledge to start a game without having to perform a quick easy way. cetera.

Presumably this was also machine-translated from something else, but I think I get the gist. Why are they so enthusiastic about telling us their flight simulator isn't some other flight simulator?

Back to looking for reviews. The fourth hit is people discussing Virtual Pilot 3D on a flight-sim forum, one of whom points to the Wikipedia article for the free open-source flight simulator... FlightGear.

It would appear that the Virtual Pilot 3D people have, at time of writing, been unsuccessful in getting that Wikipedia article to not point out that their commercial product is a rebadged version of FlightGear.

You can't take Wikipedia as gospel about everything, though, and it doesn't have any sources for the specific claim that Virtual Pilot 3D, as opposed to other commercial flight-sims called "Flight Pro Sim, Pro Flight Simulator, etc", is a FlightGear rebadge job.

So let's take another tack.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun covers pretty much everything worth knowing about PC gaming. When some oddball game comes up for $2.49 on Steam and I've no idea what it is, Rock, Paper, Shotgun almost always has a review.

They also have a regular column, The Flare Path, about military strategy games and flight-sims. I wonder...

Well, that was easy. The Flare Path for the 24th of August is, entertainingly, titled "Don't Buy VirtualPilot3D".

My name is Tim Stone. I've been a flight simmer for thirty years, and a flight sim critic for 4369 days, 9 hours, and 37 minutes. In all that time I don't think I've ever loathed a piece of software as passionately as I loathe the game you are currently thinking about buying. If you can spare a moment I'll explain why.

Oh, my.

The Virtual Pilot 3D people didn't just copy FlightGear; they also ripped off demo videos and images from completely different flight-sims, and photos from real life, presenting them all as being from Virtual Pilot 3D.

VP3D pinched picture

Picture allegedly of Virtual Pilot 3D.

NASA flight simulator

Picture definitely on a NASA site.

And then, there's this...

Fake testimonial

...oh, just read it, it's funny.

This isn't the worst case of game "authors" ripping things off from other people and hoping no-one will notice. The worst case would be the point-and-click adventure game Limbo of the Lost, which also scored coverage on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and even has its own wiki. (The wiki is largely devoted to tracing the illegally-copied sources for every component of Limbo of the Lost, including little-known indie oddities like Thief 3 and Oblivion.)

But gee, the Virtual Pilot 3D guys really are trying for the game-scam gold medal, aren't they?

Well, there goes my ten bucks a day. It's normal for annoying Web banner ads to sometimes be for scammy products, but deliberately running a constant ad for known scam-software exceeds the limits of even my highly elastic ethics. If the guy was offering me a thousand dollars a day, then since he's not actually selling fake antivirus software or botnet infectors or something (as far as we know...), I'd run the ad, take the money, kick half of it back to local charities and sleep the sleep of the just. But I doubt I'd be able to haggle him up that far.

So, until Sir Dolly Santos of the East Umbopoland Embassy To Nigeria comes through with that $US57,144,000 he promised me after I wired him $500, readers are still cordially invited to reward me for my honesty concerning Virtual Pilot 3D by making a small donation.

No, wait. Make it a large one.

Primordial mouse-mats

Eleven years, ten months and 25 days ago, I reviewed the original Everglide mouse mats.

Everglide mouse mats

Everglide's "Attack Pads" were the first hard-plastic mouse "pads" to achieve any commercial success. The concept of a mouse mat that you actually paid money for was a bit ridiculous at the time, but since most people were still using opto-mechanical mice then, a hard mat with a textured surface actually did help accuracy a bit, and reduced gunking-up of the little rollers a lot.

All-surface optical mice have been the standard for years now, but a lot of gamers are still picky about their mouse-mat, to get exactly the right amount of friction. Or just to get something that doesn't wear out after a year of StarCraft/Team Fortress. The original polypropylene polyethylene Attack Pads lasted bloody forever; five years of frequent use will smooth 'em out a fair bit, but they're still not what you'd call fragile.

Black Everglide mouse mats

The black Everglide mats still work fine with optical mice. Actually, modern opticals may be fine on the translucent-white Everglide mats as well, but don't quote me on that.

The Everglide mats spawned many descendants, and even some mildly hilarious drama. And now, the other day, I got an e-mail from a nice lady who worked for the company that actually manufactured the Everglide mats back in 1998.

(Well, she says that's who she is. If this is some sort of scam, it's targeting a pretty darn narrow niche.)

She's got "about 200" original black mats, of the type Everglide themselves haven't sold for ages, and she's selling them cheap on eBay.

Apparently these mats are all slightly irregular, but perfectly usable. The problems are restricted to "a few uneven edges here and there along with some misprints". (Any small imperfections in these products really are evidence of their hand-crafted nature; the bevelled edges of the early Everglides were routed by hand.)

They're only $US10.95 delivered within the USA, which strikes me as a perfectly acceptable price for a shiny new piece of gaming history that'll last for years of heavy use, even if you do have to pare off a rough bit on the edge somewhere.

(No international shipping, unfortunately. You could try contacting the seller via their eBay store if you're outside the USA and desperate to buy.)

Pew pew pew! ZAP! Whoosh! Ka-BOOM!

You know when you read a review of a game that says that one part of the game, say the battles between spaceships, looks great and is tons of fun, but the rest of the game is kind of boring?

Gratuitous Space Battles is that part of that game, without anything else.

(And before I say anything else, note that there's a free demo.)

You pick a fighter, frigate or cruiser hull for each of your vessels...

Gratuitous Space Battles ship design kit them out with weapons and shields and engines and so on, you deploy an armada of ships of different sorts (or all of the same sort, if you like), and then you give them all orders. Concentrate all fire, prefer to shoot enemies that're already wounded, shoot this kind of ship over that kind, protect this ship of ours, protect any ship of ours that's damaged, stop at this range from the enemy and plink with your long-range missiles rather than charging into beam range, et cetera et cetera.

And then you click the "Fight" button, and sit back and watch.

For the actual battle - which is fought on a 2D battlefield, though ships can go over and under each other - you're a pure spectator. GSB is like a tower defense game, in that regard. (Many tower-defense games let you build new towers during a battle, though; GSB does not.)

You can speed up and slow down the battle, and you can zoom in and out. From a distance, the action looks like this:

Gratuitous Space Battles wide view

(In this battle, I'm employing the Unsporting Crowd of Torpedo Frigates strategy. I'm also playing at full resolution on my huge monitor, so the full-sized screenshot is 2560 by 1600 pixels and rather a lot of kilobytes.)

Zoom in, and you can see...

Gratuitous Space Battles zoomed in

...each individual weapon shot, repair drones patching flaming holes in hulls, and fighters weaving around the capital ships. (Full-sized screenshot here.)

When you win a battle you earn "honor" with which to unlock new hulls, equipment and the three whole alien races besides the one you start with, the Federation. (The big Federation ships, rather delightfully, all look like a hybrid of a Starfleet vessel and a Battlestar.)

It's all a lot of fun, and should become even more fun as the game expands. Cliff Harris, the indie developer of GSB and a few other games, is actively patching bugs and adding stuff, and GSB is also very moddable. Fans have already, according to the ancient tradition of the first few mods for any game, created a few rough-and-ready super-battleships by just adding more module mounting points to existing hulls. Some proper high-quality mods with all-new graphics, like unto the Babylon Project mod for Weird Worlds, should be arriving soon.

So try the free demo and see what you think. The full game takes into account what you've done in the demo, by the way, so you won't have to play the tutorial level again if you don't want to, and get to keep whatever honor you earned.

(GSB is Windows-only at this point, but because it's not a very demanding game it generally works fine on other OSes if you play it in an emulator.)

Gratuitous Space Battles is $US22.99 from the developer, or only $US20.69 on Steam.

Note that there's a graphical glitch in GSB that affects people who're using an unusually high horizontal screen resolution (so, one giant monitor, or a row of smaller ones). It...

Gratuitous Space Battles screen glitch

...turns a column of screen to the right into stripey repeats of the last correctly-drawn column of pixels.

I think this was meant to be fixed in the recent patch, but it doesn't seem to have been. No problem, though; just go to the options and disable "Gratuitous Shaders", and with very little eye-candy reduction, the whole screen will draw properly again.

More stuff blowing up real good

A guy who glories in the name "Spaz" has been producing neat Supreme Commander videos for some time now. He did one for each faction in the game - prominently featuring the nifty extra units of the BlackOps Unleashed Unit Pack mod - and then promised a great big battle at the end, to be released in January this year.

That didn't happen, so I assumed he'd given up on the project. But whaddayaknow, here's the last one!

If you've liked my previous SupCom Eye Candy posts, you'll know to not even sully your brain with the YouTube versions, but go directly to the full AVI downloads. Here's one for the last instalment, and this forum post has umpteen links.

The HD downloads total 294Mb for the first four videos, and 356Mb for the last one all by itself.