As promised, here are some more highlights from my Question-and-Answer thread on the Choice of Games forums, regarding the story, characters and setting of my upcoming interactive fiction, Mecha Ace.
What is gained by making the war machines humanoid? Doesn’t the humanoid form introduce inefficiencies that will lead to the downfall of whichever army is the last to ditch its sentimental attachment to bipedalism?
I’m actually glad you asked this one. The main reason for this is the introduction of orbital bombardment to the future battlescape. While combat armatures do have a much higher target profile than say, a main battle tank, they also have the advantage of being able to take to the sky quickly, “jumping” with their legs, and then staying in the air on thrusters. This means they can go from holding position on the ground to moving quickly in the air at a moment’s notice, something which is very useful when there are ships in orbit trying to take out enemy troop formations. Likewise, unlike MBTs, combat armatures have a lot more movement options in certain terrain, especially urban areas (a combat armature can hop over rubble and other large obstacles), mountainous regions and forests.
In addition, unlike aircraft, which need to be based in vulnerable servicing installations (airfields) and cannot act independently for prolonged periods of time due to fuel limitations and pilot fatigue, combat armature units can simply shut down all but essential systems and allow their pilots to rest when out of immediate danger. This sort of thing allows combat armatures to take and *hold* territory for prolonged periods of time. The fact that their overpowered reactors make them capable of exiting most planetary grav-wells mean that combat armatures fighting in a ground campaign can be based on mobile and well-defended carriers in orbit (which can’t enter atmosphere).
Thirdly, there is the fact that a humanoid combat armature has a distinct advantage over traditional space-borne fighters: namely, prehensile limbs which allow a combat armature to attack or defend in one direction, while accelerating or decelerating in another. In addition, the amount of thrust required to move one or two limbs carrying weaponry (which, also unlike a starfighter’s armament, can be swapped out on the fly) into position is a lot lower than that required to re-orient an entire spacecraft. Lastly, there is the fact that by retracting or extending these limbs (and therefore, the vernier thrusters attached to them), a skilled pilot can manage more precise manoeuvres than with fixed manoeuvring thrusters.
Lastly, there is the question of size and the need for a pilot. Combat armatures are the size they are due to one of the setting’s primary technologies: the Inertial Canceller Field Generator (ICFG), a device capable of negating inertial forces in a small area. These are needed to protect combat armature’s pilots and the delicate electronics of its flight computer (as opposed to the more robust, and more primitive computers in unprotected missile warheads) from the crushing (up to 950 gs) inertial forces of high-acceleration space combat. However, hardware limits have made it impossible for an ICF to be generated to cover any volume less than about 125 (5x5x5) cubic metres. As a result, combat armatures have their internal ICFs packed with the “squishy” flight computer and cockpit, and the more robust portions (especially the thrusters, which ICFs tend to wreak havoc with) outside. The inclusion of a pilot was simply due to the fact that with FTL communication being highly expensive and resource-intensive, having a pilot in the chair was the only way to have a human brain with a reasonable reaction time ready, even if combat was taking place light-seconds, or even light-minutes away from the mothership.
It is for these reasons, especially their ability to act as armour, air support, infantry and starfighter, that humanoid combat armatures have remained a key part of humanity’s war-making arsenal.
And yeah, also because they look awesome.
How long will the free (demo) be?
It’ll go until near the end of the third “episode” (out of nine episodes and three interludes), roughly 25 000 (out of 230 000) words in.
What’s the difference in your structure between “episode” and “interlude?”
Episodes are mostly fast-paced action-centric sequences, with set objectives and direction. Most are spent in the cockpit, in combat, with the lives of the player character and his/her lance-mates in very real danger.
Interludes are more like breather sequences. Though the plot still moves forward in interludes, you will have the chance to wander around and interact with both the setting and NPCs more freely.
That isn’t to say that interludes are entirely safe, or that episodes are spent entirely in combat, but the former definitely favours combat, and the latter definitely favours character interaction.
Mecha Ace comes out for iOS, Android and Chrome Webstore on June 13th.