Saturday, 29 August 2009

Yippee Kay Yay Bloggers!

Well this is starting to another good weekend for me, if for entirely different reasons this time. For a start it is the British August Bank Holiday, so it is a three day weekend, and I like three day weekends, as they feel more like a weekend is suppose to.
I'm sure I remember as a child seeing Tomorrows World where it was predicted that by the year 2000, we would all be working a four day week and have more leisure time. Yeah right...

So, I went and had my hair done this morning and I think my hair is looking good. Then I spent the afternoon tweaking a bunch of battlemech designs in a program called HM Pro, which is a most excellent product.

I'm going through and making sure that all the mechs that I'm likely to use with the players are all equally efficient in their balance of weapons, armour and heat sinks.

I'm currently working towards setting up a campaign game to generate scenarios for BattleTech. I like scenarios that are generated from a battle having consequences, because one of the main problems is that certain strategies become more optimum when you know that the results do not affect the next game.

As an aside to this I've been following a thread on the Classic BattleTech forums about medium lasers, which started off quite well, but kind of went around in circles.

It seems that no one want to admit that there might be game balance issues with BattleTech, from the statistics that some of the weapons have. I can kind of respect TPTB for not wanting to address these issues. Afterall the game has been around for 25 years, and a lot of people enjoy playing the game as is. More power to them, is what I say.

However, I'm a game designer, and have more that a token interest in BattleTech, as I once wrote for FASA and designed some mechs for the game.

I'm also in the very privileged position of not having to make a real living at this hobby, I have a full-time job that does that for me. This does give me the luxury to stand back and look at things from an outside perspective. So a cliff note history of BattleTech is probably in order now.

The game was first released back in 1984, and was called BattleDroids, which Lucas Film took exception to, so the second edition was called BattleTech.

Now the original games premise was that things made in the past were better than things made in the future setting that the game took place. There was a very strong Mad Max feel, and civilisation was on the brink of darkness. This was later changed when the game took off and they realised that the setting really didn't leave much room for future growth. Now, the thing that the game was, in the 1980s anyway, very much a glorified beer & pretzel game, good for picking up and getting on with some action.

Since then the game has grown and this observation is no longer the case.

The trouble is that FASA, god bless their little cotton socks, weren't the best people in the world at play-testing their games, and game balance appears not to have been tested to destruction, which is what you really need to do when designing a game. Certainly Steve Jackson of the company that bears his name argues so, and I would agree strongly with him on this.

The best people to have on a play-test team are those players who will mini-max designs to within an inch of their lives, and having some munchkin players to really beat the crap out of your work, will ultimately keep the designer honest. I've been there and had it done to me, it's a horrible feeling to have your baby pulled to shreds, but like any crucible, what comes out is pure gold. BattleTech appears to have missed out going through this process.

Back in the day I was almost hired by FASA to work for them full time, but in the end I ended up only doing one contract for them.

Unfortunately, my circumstances changed, and it would have been hard for them to justify a Green card to allow me to come over from England to work in Chicago. It would have been nice though. Anyway, my group of friends had done a lot of mini-maxing munchkinisation of BattleTech, in our own time, and given the opportunity back then, some of the things that are still present now might have been different. 

As I said, I can see why the current owners of the franchise didn't rewrite the rules more for the current edition. It doesn't fit their profile, and it would have caused ructions amongst the die hard fans of the game.

However, I'm a free fan, and happy to take CGL at their word when they tell me that what I do on my table is up to me. So in future posts I will be talking about the things that I do that make the game better for me.

Feel free to try, or not, as the case may be.

Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.


  1. I will say I agree there are some problems with BattleTech Medium Lasers and I have actually verified this myself with my own 'Mech Design experiments, however the problem isn't so much having the weapon itself but rather having a LOT of it. The BV for 1 ML is pretty close, but once you have 6 or more the BV rating for the weapons is much lower than their actual power.

    That said, for official BattleMech designs I don't really ever see this become a problem. It is all custom 'Mech design. The only real way I can see to fix it is to have some sort of scaling BV rating for the ML when you mount more than, say, 4 of them.

  2. Ah, I see where you are coming from, but let me turn it around for you. If you assume that the BV system is reasonable, and not everyone agrees on this, then the results from using the BV system should produce reasonable result.

    From this position we arrive at either the BV is broken and needs fixing, or that the medium laser doesn't fit the parameters of the BV system. If we can show that most of the other weapons fit, then the evidence will suggest that the weapon is broken. If the evidence suggest that BV doesn't work for lots of things, then the BV system needs fixing.

    My understanding is that the arguments for this can, and do, go to and fro on this one. I'm a fix one variable at a time kind of person, and I would choose to fix the easiest thing first. In this case the medium lasers and autocannons.

  3. The problem I outline actually isn't actually unique to the Medium Laser though. It is also true for both SRM's and Streak SRM's.

    Ultimately the problem with Battle Value systems is that they are always an abstraction of how powerful any single unit (or weapon) is under every possible given condition. This ultimately means that in some situations the BV will be higher than how useful the unit actually is (for example, an Archer BattleMech fighting in a city) while in other situations it will be much lower than the unit's actual value (Hunchback, again fighting in a city).

    As far as Battle Value currently goes it is a decent measure of how effective something is in combat. Far from perfect, but that is true for any game system that tries to pin an exact numeric value on how good any specific unit is.

    This is actually why I prefer having tonnage limits or the like to BV. It is useful to glance over the BV to ensure things aren't too far out of line, but usually you can be off by a couple hundred (or even a couple thousand for larger games) and still have a ballanced game.

  4. PiP: Thanks for the fresh slice of FASA history, I enjoyed it very much. One of our local group (Bones) was a FASA employee during that last year or two, and he has some interesting stories as well.

    Kit writes> Ultimately the problem with Battle Value systems is that they are always an abstraction of how powerful any single unit (or weapon) is under every possible given condition. This ultimately means that in some situations the BV will be higher than how useful the unit actually is ...

    I agree completely. Battle Value is effectively a rule that defines one way to balance the game. As such it is neither right nor wrong, it just is. That doesn't mean there isn't a different way to balance the game that's might be better in some aspects (like multiple Medium lasers). My pet project for a better battle value continues, is rather slowly.

    PiP and Kit: I've added you both to my blogroll, and I'll put up a post about your blogs when I get caught up on some other things.