The Mech Touch Chapter 120: Iterating
Ves approached his latest design process like a project. Gone were the days where he haphazardly designed a mech ad-hoc in week-long sessions. His improved skills gave him much more possibilities and opened his eyes to many factors he previously missed.
When he previously competed at Leemar, Ves had no time to double-check his work. The brutal time limits imposed by the rules forced him to follow his previous methodology of trusting his intuition that he got it right.
His latest project called for a cycle of design followed by testing and back to design. With his increased base of knowledge, he was able to wield the System's many mathematical models without acting like a caveman.
With every design choice, he could verify the results through rigorous testing. He could find better solutions and avoid mistakes as long as he spent enough time crunching the numbers.
Certainly, it took time. Despite the System's prodigious processing power, Ves could only draw a portion of its awesome capabilities. More than that, Ves might frequently resort to tweaking the models in order to simulate many different conditions.
He did not intend to lose sight of his initial goal. Before he began to design, he created a simple schedule.
"Let's see. Three weeks should be plenty of time to come up with a decent design. Any more than that and it's not worth the effort. I'll spend one week on shaping the design, and two weeks on refining it through modeling and simulations."
Ves also split the project up into different phases that corresponded to the parts he modified. He preferred to start from interior and work his way out, so the first phases dealt with the internal frame and the various internal components. Each time he finished modifying the relevant components, he'd test them vigorously until he became satisfied or ran out of time.
He'd go through each phase in this manner until he combed over every part of his design. At the end, he reserved a decent chunk of time to testing out his new mech in a holistic manner.
"Let's start with the internal frame."
The skeleton of the base model disproportionately favored the waist and legs. The Hoplite put an enormous amount of stress on the legs when it initiated its powerful dash.
Ves decided not to mess around too much with the internal frame. Any minor change he made here cascaded into a ton of follow-up effects. The basic design of the frame already worked okay. He merely updated the two-hundred year old design to modern standards and rigorously tested his changes. The frame's upper portion resisted heavy impacts a little better.
He turned to the core components next. He did not swap out any of the core parts, but trimmed their design in order to fit its current use. A real mech needed to be robust and last for years. A virtual mech only had to last a couple of team battles at most. The Hoplite offered a lot of redundancies at the cost of putting on a lot of weight.
Due to their self-contained nature, the modifications he made to the power reactor, engine and other parts required little time to test. Lindholm obviously licensed these components from specialist equipment manufacturers, so Ves found very few instances where he could optimize the design even further.
"Those manufacturers and research institutes make their living off licensing their products. They must have spent years in optimizing their builds."
The lack of faults prevented Ves from making gains without losses with regards to these components. Thus, he mainly exchanged robustness for reduced mass in a proportional relationship. Ves considered the tradeoffs he made to be worth the cost.
After that, he moved on to the next phase. He devoted a lot of time on reworking the internal layout of the mech from the ground up. With his Journeyman-level Mechanics and Apprentice-level Electrical Engineering, Ves chose to focus on increasing the mech's range of motion.
Among all mech types, the knight had the most restrictive range of movements. It didn't need anymore due to its plentiful armor and sluggish motions. This also made knights an ideal mech for trainee pilots to start with, because they didn't have to master many maneuvers in order to become proficient in piloting this type.
"The original Hoplite meanly uses its spear to thrust forward with incredible momentum. Lindholm didn't design the Hoplite to fare well at a closer range. They even included an augmented shield in order to knock back any mechs who came into knife fighting range."
This presented a big problem to any mech designer who wanted to turn the Hoplite into a sword wielder. The mech lacked the responsiveness and range of motion to keep up with a serious clash.
Ves did not wish to compete directly with more experienced designers who tackled the same problem. He only wished to transform the Hoplite into a proficient sword wielder while retaining much of the internal integrity of a knight.
He did not directly reference the old layout. Instead, he built up his own internal layout first before comparing it to the original version, spending a lot of time in the process. Due to the need to maintain a focused intent, Ves required frequent breaks in order to finish this boring hurdle.
When he finally finished his own layout, he compared the new one with the old. The differences were immense. He reconciled the two by adopting the best parts of both, and put the new scheme through a barrage of tests.
With each iteration of tests and tweaks, the resulting design scheme reached a new equilibrium. Ves succeeded in shaving off bits and pieces while keeping enough redundancies in place. The extra space allowed him to improve the range of motion of its arms.
At this point, Ves reached the halfway mark of his project schedule. He spent a significant amount of time doing tests, but gained better results than before.
Along the way, Ves frequently paused his work when he couldn't maintain his concentration. Since he cared deeply about imprinting the Instructor to his new design, Ves did not dare continue working when his mind started to fray.
In order to distract himself, Ves devoted the majority of his free time to tutoring his new employee. Carlos also worked hard in trying to understand the assembly process, but achieved little success so far.
"This mech is a nightmare!" Carlos moaned during an evening after work. "It's like someone stuffed two different mechs in a single frame!"
Ves took a sip of a can of beer. "The Marc Antony isn't pretty once you look past the armor. I did my best to simplify the mess, but there's only so much I could do at the time. I have some more ideas now. I'll try them out once I finish my current project."
"You're planning to update your only real product, right? I've been thinking about it while I've practiced fabricating it. Don't you think the missile launchers are kind of redundant? Even the Caesar Augustus rarely finds an opportunity to make effective use of it. There's not enough capacity or firepower behind the missiles to achieve anything meaningful alone."
To be honest, Ves did not like the shoulder launchers either. They added unnecessary bulk for just two salvos worth of missiles. The mounts were troublesome to detach and even harder to put them back.
Yet Ves never considered removing them entirely. His ongoing work on the Hoplite variant gave him a better appreciation of the knight class. He gained a better understanding of what Jason Kozlowski wanted to achieve when he initially came up with the design.
"The missile launchers are an essential part of the Caesar Augustus series. There are many hybrid knights that combine laser cannons with swords and shields, but very few of them dare to add a third weapon to the mix. The launchers can hold a variety of missile types and add much-needed flexibility to an inflexible mech."
"Inflexible is an understatement. The Caesar Augustus is as stiff as a board."
"It never tries to excel in this aspect in the first place. The Caesar Augustus is still a capable knight up close. Any mech pilot that has received advanced knight training should be capable of working around its weaknesses."
An advanced mech required an advanced mech pilot to make full use out of its capabilities. The normal rank-and-file pilots did not normally touch sophisticated models like the Caesar Augustus. The Marc Antony was basically the bargain bin version, but it still retained much of the advanced characteristics that made it difficult to master.
"I doubt most advanced pilots even care about the missile launchers."
Carlos had a point, but Ves still insisted on the missile launchers. Removing them turned his variant into a regular hybrid knight that competed directly against a large number of mature designs.
The next day, Ves went back to work. He finished the insides of the mech. Now he had to work on the most important part of a knight.
The Hoplite is similar to the Caesar Augustus in that both designs are clad in as much armor as possible. If they carried anything more, then they'd lose too much speed to be of any use when dodging enemy fire.
His main goal in redesigning the armor scheme was to compliment his previous work. He had to accommodate the mech's increased range of motion without compromising its defense.
First, Ves stripped off the old armor scheme and designed the broad strokes of the new one. His knowledge in metallurgy allowed him to leverage the properties of the alloys used in the Hoplite's armor system in a modern fashion.
"Too bad the old armor has already benefited from armor compression. The only thing I can do is apply the existing formula to any existing plates."
With the help of Medium Armor Optimization II, he refined the sketch into a precise shape. Once he started modeling his work, he realized the true value of this sub-skill. It did not merely give him better ideas on how to shape a mech's armor.
No, the true worth of the Armor Optimization skills was to help him understand the more advanced simulations. More than that, he could also fine-tune the mathematical models to achieve a preferred outcome. Furthermore, he saved quite a bit of time by skipping redundant calculations and combining several models together.
Ves made full use of the extra time he bought by refining the armor incrementally. The improvements were marginal but welcome. More than that, he caught two minor flaws and eliminated them before they could act as potential weak points.
The end product deviated quite a bit from the base model's armor scheme. Ves basically broke up the largest, stiffest portions of the armor in favor of smaller segmented plates. This increased the armor's flexibility at the affected part without giving up too much defence.
To offset the vulnerabilities that came with the increased amount of moving parts, Ves thickened many critical sections. He kept this to a minimum by modeling the result of every potential reinforcement. He decisively rolled back the changes when it hardly brought any benefits.
Now that he finished redesigning the frame of the mech, Ves turned to his variant's equipment. He left the Imperial Sword alone, since he lacked the expertise to know what he was doing. He was already satisfied with its current specifications.
As for the shield, Ves saw an opportunity to increase the reliability of its active systems. The number one complaint the Hoplite received was that the augments often malfunctioned when put under pressure.
"It's a two-hundred year old experiment. Even if I'm not allowed to use more modern components, I can still see plenty of ways to strengthen the augments."
It wasn't as if Lindholm knew any better. Two-hundred years of progress in the Age of Mechs hadn't birthed a technological revolution. Only a couple of high-end inventions caused a stir. The lower-end technologies only received incremental improvements.
Iron Spirit did not allow Ves to introduce any innovations that broke the 3-star limit. Much like he did elsewhere, he only implemented optimizations that could still have been achieved two-hundred years ago.
Naturally, he didn't limit himself to replicating the obvious. He sought to refine the augments even further by building an improved shock absorbing shell around the fragile components. It took a lot finicking and testing before Ves tentatively accepted the latest iteration as the best he could do.
"Only a specialist or a much more experienced mech designer can do better."
Now that he finished going over the sword and shield, Ves put the entire package through a myriad of simulations. He measured its performance in a variety of environments such as deserts and snow plains. He simulated combat against a host of different mechs. He tested how the mech fared in a duel as well as in a large-scale battle.
Though the simulations had their limits, they all proved useful in catching weaknesses that only showed up under very specific circumstances.
For example, in an extremely hot environment, the mech channeled an excessive amount of heat through a specific spot near the mech's arm joints. This degraded the performance of the arms and increased its susceptibility to heat-based damage such as lasers. Ves modified the internal structure and the armor plating at those sections in order to plug the leaks.
After pushing through thousands of near-identical simulations, Ves finally had enough and called it a day. "I'm almost at the end of my three week deadline. It should be about time to wrap up this design."
Ves was very proud of his design so far. The variant exceeded the original Hoplite in many aspects. Its specs easily reached the standard of what an Apprentice Mech Designer should achieve.
If he approached the project in a casual manner, then the resulting design might only be eighty percent as good. Though he needed to spend a lot of time to achieve that extra twenty percent performance boost, it was well worth the time.
Now he only needed to put the finishing touches to his design.
"Wait a minute. I think I forgot something." Ves suddenly halted. He stood still for several minutes until he realized he forgot an old friend. "How could I forget about the Festive Cloud Generator?!"