Further 'Mechitude

Penny Arcade produced a mildly amusing thing for MechWarrior Online. It's OK, but it ain't no Vault 77.

(To which there does not seem to be any good way to link. Click that link, and lie about your age, and then click the link again, and then click from the final page it helpfully shows first back to the first page...)

More importantly, if you click a button on the MWO Penny Arcade page, you can get a free day of "Premium Time".

(If your browser pops up a malware warning when you go to mwomercs.com, by the way, it's probably a false positive not a false positive, but the problem has now been dealt with. The whole concept of the hyperlink seems to be disintegrating today.)

Premium Time gives you a 50% boost to all money and experience points earned over the premium period, but once you "activate" it in the game client, you can't de-activate it again. The timer ticks down to zero over the allotted time, whether you play the game or not.

The most sensible way to use the free 24 hours is therefore, clearly, to kit yourself out with intravenous feeding and a bucket to sit on and play non-stop for a straight day over the weekend. Or, indeed, during time when you're meant to be working, studying, sleeping, collecting your children from school, governing a nation, or what-have-you.

I haven't written about MWO for a couple of weeks. There've been some changes, the most important of which is the introduction of Electronic Countermeasures - ECM.

The 1.5-ton Guardian ECM unit can be installed on exactly four 'Mech variants, so far; one model each of Commando, Raven, Cicada and Atlas. In essence, it creates a 180-metre-radius bubble around the 'Mech it's on, in which no enemy can get a target lock, unless an enemy ECM-equipped 'Mech in the same range has switched their own ECM from the standard "disrupt" mode to "counter".

There's a bit more to it than that; here's a lengthy screed on the subject. (Here's the same thing on the official forums, which as mentioned above currently pop a malware warning for me, in Chrome.)

When ECM was new almost everybody used it, which is what happens whenever they introduce a new feature. This made it pretty much pointless to launch in a 'Mech that relied on long-range or Streak short-range missiles, because you'd almost never get a lock, even if you had your own ECM with which to counter one of the horde of enemy ones.

Now ECM is no longer new and exciting, and it's become normal for pick-up teams to contain only a couple of ECM 'Mechs out of eight players, or even none at all. LRM boats are now quite useful again, though no longer the relaxing play experience they used to be. And the Scourge of the StreakCat...

...has been ended, along with the massive dominance of the Jenner and to a lesser extent the three-Streak Commando in the light category.

It's still wise to run an ECM 'Mech in pick-up games, and it's not difficult to get into those, at the low end. A Commando-2D will only cost you 1.8 million C-Bills, and a Guardian unit is only 400,000 on top of that.

(You can also buy 'Mechs, but not equipment for them, with real money via the "Mech Credits" system. A Commando-2D costs 715 Mech Credits, which is not much. PGI are continuing their merciless war of attrition against their customers' wallets by currently offering a 20% bonus on all of their Mech Credit packages; the smallest $US6.95 one therefore now gives you 1500 MC. That's enough to buy a Commando-2D and a whole other different Commando variant too, to get you started on the efficiency unlock process which requires levelling three variants of a given 'Mech to get to the tasty Elite upgrades. Unlocking Elite also doubles the effectiveness of all of the Basic upgrades, though contrary to popular belief unlocking the final Master upgrade that gives you another module slot does not double the Elite upgrades. Mech Credits are also how you normally buy Premium Time; one day of Premium costs 250 MC, and there are other packages ranging from three to a whopping 360 days. The one-day price is no more than $US1.39 even if you buy the worst-value MC package that exists; 180 days is 13,500 MC, which you could just afford with the current 20%-boosted $US49.95 MC package. 360 days is 24,000 MC, eighty US dollars if you buy the best-value $US99.95 20%-boosted MC package.)

Man, that was a big parenthesis. Here's a palate-cleanser.

Behold, fellow MechWarriors, the Noisy Cricket!

"You might want to have something to do while you wait for your mech to cool down. I watch a stream and enjoy my coffee. Or wash the dishes."

It's kind of like the last sword-fight in Rob Roy: He's only got to hit you once, fancy boy.

The tradeoffs for this thing are terrible, of course. Not only do you overheat and shut down after every shot (you could avoid this by chain-firing (this player has the same four ER-PPCs in two groups, the first of which is chained), but then heat would limit you to the same rate of fire you'd get from only two, or at most three, ER-PPCs. THe massive weight of the guns in this titchy 40-ton 'Mech also means you can only fit a tiny engine, which gives this oversized-scout-'Mech a top speed of fifty. And it doesn't have much armour, or, plainly, nearly enough heat sinks.

But, pew pew!

And the Public Relations Award goes to...

Given the recent plague of idiots who start a game of MechWarrior Online and immediately overheat themselves to death in return (I think) for the basic reward you get, win or lose, I have as previously mentioned been e-mailing the names of those players to support@mwomercs.com.

When the same dude showed up again, I sent another report, the text often just:

"NameOfDickhead", again.

I was pretty sure they wanted players to do this. They certainly haven't told us not to, to my knowledge.

Except for me, just now.

> Dan
> Nov 30 01:17 (PST)
> "CHIEOKURE NO KO", again, AND "skSniper", YET again. Both on my team
> in one game.
> You have told me, TWICE, that my suicide reports for "skSniper" have
> been "solved" - ticket numbers #56050 and #56059.
> This is apparently some strange definition of the word "solved" that
> I have not previously encountered.

Hello Dan,

This is Game Master Destined. I am one of the Game Masters addressing the Reported Players tickets, and all of the processed tickets go through me personally for filing and logging. I would like to clarify some information for you:

It is not our policy to disclose disciplinary actions taken against another user. This is the reason your tickets are marked as "solved" - because the report has been logged, investigated (fully) and we have moved on to the next tickets. I've noticed that you have an exorbitant amount of tickets (36, at this point in time), many of which are player reports and duplicate player reports - we are at the point now that I have to ask you to stop submitting tickets. We are aware of the situation, we have addressed it on the forums, and are taking actions against players as we speak. It takes time to investigate each report as we must go through logs and make a proper audit trail, contact the players, etc... and the more tickets we have to process, the longer it takes to build a report about each user.

Understand that, by submitting a ticket about a player, you are in no way guaranteeing that the actions you wish to be taken will be taken. We decide as a group of game masters and community representatives what should be done, and do not proceed without proof of grievances. Let me give you again the text we have been responding to you with:

"We will follow-up on this privately, thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Please note that, by receiving this notification, we are acknowledging your report and have started an investigation into the situation. Unless we have any further questions regarding your report, we require no other correspondence with you on this matter."

This is pretty clear to me. Every time you send us another ticket, you are slowing us down. I will be solving all of your tickets after logging them in our system. If you continue to contact us on this matter, I will consider it harassment and be forced to suspend your account.

This issue is now considered to be closed, and no further correspondence will be necessary on your part. Thank you for your understanding.

MechWarrior® Online™

So... yeah.

I have thus far given the MechWarrior Online people quite a lot more money, for this less-than-perfect beta, than I would have paid for a AAA retail game. I firmly intend to give them even more, if I run out of my current "Mech Credits".

I suggested to "Destined" that they might like to make more clear, via perhaps an official news post, what they want players to do and what they do not want them to do. And to be perhaps a little less ready to threaten to ban players who are only trying to help.

I shan't say much more here, because I fear I may say something intemperate, and get myself banned. Then I would be $US95.85 in the hole, not to mention all that time spent levelling up 'Mechs, and time spent promoting the game via near-obsessive blog posts to my not-insubstantial readership, and time spent reporting the abovementioned bad players.

In that case I would certainly never come back to the game, and I'd strongly advise anybody else to go with Hawken or Living Legends or even World of Tanks instead. Should you try MWO anyway, I would, if banned, certainly not advise you to buy any Mech Credits, lest this happen to you too.

And now, I'm going to get drunk and play some more MWO.

For as long as they let me.

Kind of like Indiana Jones with that Walther

I have three Commandos.

One is the standard lame Streak Commando with three SSRM-2s and no other weapons. It gets kills.

One is slighly less cheesy, with two Streak-2s and two Small Lasers. It gets kills too, and doesn't become harmless when the missiles run out.

The third, by far the fastest, has an Anti-Missile System and two Small Pulse Lasers. It never kills anyone. It floats like a butterfly and stings like one too.

So no shit, there I was, in Frozen City, doing figure-8s around a Catapult and a Cataphract. I was poking them gently with my two tiny guns and preventing them from getting anything more useful done.

One of them blew my leg off.

What that does in MechWarrior Online at the moment is not actually cause your 'Mech's leg to fly off, and not even cause you to fall down, because knockdown was taken out of the game when they launched the open beta, having caused too many problems with 'Mechs getting back up in places strangely distant from where they fell over.

Rather, losing a leg just drops your speed to zero, and restricts your top speed - I think very severely if all of the leg's internal structure is gone, and by less if some of it remains.

My Commando was suffering the lowest level of speed-reduction, which only halves your speed - meaning I could actually still do 67 kilometres per hour once I accelerated again.

That's not what happens when a light 'Mech gets "legged", though. What happens is, other 'Mechs take advantage of its sudden immobility to hit it with everything they've got, blowing off the other leg and thereby killing it, or just killing by demolishing some other important component, like the engine or cockpit.

Not going to go down without a fight, I whipped the crosshair around to the exact middle of the Catapult's body, and fired one Small Pulse Laser shot.

The Catapult is sort of Marauder-shaped; its cockpit is at the front of its vaguely egg-ish body.

Critical hit to cockpit. Shower of sparks, Catapult dead.

Not believing my luck, I whipped around the other way and shot the Cataphract right in the middle of his body.

The Cataphract has more of a standard biped layout; its cockpit is not in the middle of its body.

The middle of its body is the centre-torso location, behind which is the engine.

This guy's centre-torso armour was already gone.

Critical hit to engine. Shower of sparks, Cataphract dead.

Other people took a while to finish off the last enemy Atlas, everybody being slightly distracted by quite a lot of chat conversation about WTF just happened, and whether or not this qualified me to be King of Israel.

When I came out of the game and my 'Mech was repaired, my bank balance started with "1337"

[Explanation of the title.]

"Please continue to run in a straight line."

Here's some more of the No Guts No Galaxy MechWarrior Online team, including the inimitable BB Wolfe... who sometimes phones it in just a little bit.

I have played a lot of MechWarrior Online. I'm currently getting to Master in both Commandos and Atlases, which may be a diagnosable disorder.

My USB hamburger pedal no longer macro-types "Please stick together, or we will die." Even pick-up game groups are pretty good at sticking together now. Instead, it says "Report this to support@mwomercs.com.", because of all the fun I and other players have had with "skSniper" or "Duke Nukem" or "Titanstahl", to name just a few of the more famous heat-suiciders.

When you start a game with one or if you're especially lucky two of those guys, they will commit suicide by overheating in the first 30 seconds of the game. Apparently you still get a participation reward or something, at the end of the match, for doing this. Or they've just left their bots running to do this automatically and haven't noticed that they're not making any money any more.

Either way, all you can do about it at this point, besides harsh language in chat, is report the offender to support@mwomercs.com, with a screenshot if you're especially diligent. The developers' banhammer appears to be rather inflatable and squeaky, but this game is still a beta, so I'm not especially cross about it.

There are also "AFK farmers", who don't commit suicide, but don't do anything else, either. Again, there are some players who are famous for this, but random people do it as well. Since they may be away for a perfectly kosher reason like changing a nappy or answering the phone, you shouldn't report them unless you see them do it over and over.

(In my 2-ER PPC Atlas, which is something of a challenge to operate with Australian ping times, I once deliberately shot a guy on my own team in the back. I did this because he would not stop shooting at the last away-from-keyboard baddie, while we were trying to capture the enemy base, for larger rewards. It worked; he turned around and shot at me instead, and a few seconds later we got a cap win. And, with any luck, he was Enlightened.)

As far as other normal beta problems go - crashes and other weirdness that make the game unplayable - MechWarrior Online is pretty darn good. Crash-to-desktops happen, but not very often; in each 16-player match it's not unusual to see one person disconnect randomly, but it doesn't happen all the time.

Other show-stopping bugs are really rare. The dreaded 4-frame-per-second problem does still come up, but I think I've gone at least fifty games between incidents of it. (What exactly the problem is, I'm not sure. If you look away from the middle of the map and other 'Mechs, you get full frame rate; turn back and everything goes to hell. Restarting the game always fixes it, for me at least.)

There was also one start where my screen was stuck in the pale yellow-orange startup-effect colour with no heads-up displays working. I've heard others complain about that too, but it's only happened to me once. And one other time I started and got normal colours, but no map or other displays, and my torso was stuck in the maximum-left position.

But generally speaking, the game works. And the farming/griefing dickheads haven't ruined it, though they really are trying.

If you've not given MechWarrior Online a go, and you have a Windows PC [EDIT: Per comment below, a Windows 7 or later PC], try it out. You really can play, and play well, without paying a penny.

Peace breaks out in Caustic Valley

Yep, 'Mechs again.

Me: Three-Streak-SRM-2 Commando, which is a surprisingly dangerous build now that the most recent patch has made Streaks both more accurate and more damaging. My 6-Streak Commando now consistently gets more kills per match than my 40-LRM Awesome.

Him: A Catapult with a lot of LRMs.

The scene: My side's base in Caustic Valley, where after finding myself the last alive on my team and facing an enemy medium and two heavies capturing our base, I have been running in frantic circles, managing heat, shooting big 'Mechs in the back, and being highly successful. Two enemy big boys dead, and my total kill count is four. (From, I remind you, the smallest 'Mech in the game. With, because I'm in Australia, also easily the worst ping.)

But the Catapult remains, 65 tons to my 25, and has 95% health.

I have about 12 missiles left.

I fire them all, bringing him down to 87% or something, and then park myself in front of him and await the inevitable.

Nothing happens.

It turns out he's a Catapult with a lot of Long-Range Missiles and... nothing else.

No close-range armament at all.

You can shoot LRMs at targets closer than 180 metres in MechWarrior Online, but they don't arm before they hit the target, and bounce off harmlessly.

He could try to move a couple of hundred metres away from me so his missiles would work, but I'm more than twice as fast as him; he'd never manage to escape my affectionate, cat-like rubbing on his legs.

I could bolt for the enemy base and try to capture it, probably without dying to his missiles on the way, but there's no way I'd get there before he captured our base by just staying where he was.

So we just stood there and stared at each other, while the match's 15-minute timer ran out.

I was pretty sure that when the timer ran out the other team would win (either because they'd partially captured our base, or because they had more tonnage still alive), but they wouldn't get a capture win, worth more to them than an ordinary military one.

There was some conversation in the chat, mostly about the effectiveness of the Streak-Commando, the foolishness of not fitting even one Small Laser or SRM of some sort to supplement your long-range armament, and other amusing situations people had encountered in this game.

At one point someone called me gay, but this did not impress the other spectators. Who, as I pointed out to the you're-so-gay guy, could just quit the match and not miss out on any money or XP.

As the last several seconds ticked away, we bowed to each other, and said our farewells.

My side did lose, but this was still the most fun I've had so far in this game.

"Bug-zapper engaged."

All the serious MechWarrior Online players use voice chat to coordinate their team. The game has some kind of voice-chat thing built in, but I don't think anybody uses it, because the obvious feature of just making an ad-hoc chat group out of everybody on the team that has a microphone does not exist.

There is a much better reason to use voice chat, though.

It allows you to have a Bitching Betty voice actor actually playing on your team.

(She's in the red Gaussapult. She's also not the one who'll actually be doing the onboard-computer voice, when it returns to the game; they've apparently retained the services of Carole Ruggier again.)

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.