Mecha Design: Selling toys

I’ve touched this on multiple occasions before, but I still need to give it a single, emphasizing post: most robot franchises are there to sell toys. Transformers being the most prominent example of this, with the cartoon and comics supporting the toyline rather being a separate entities based on the toyline. Both the comics and cartoons had to adhere what Hasbro had to say, which resulted in death of numerous characters while loads of new ones being introduced in one panel. Writers can often try to tackle these as challenges, and while that has been less successful at times, it has given birth to a very rich franchise, with Beast Wars still contesting the place for the best written entry overall.

With Transformers, a lot of the things that goes in the designs can work in the toys, and sometimes Hasbro mandates things. However, that being said, Japan still likes to design toys first and foremost based on gimmick ideas to implement in the shows themselves. This is rather clear in modern Kamen Rider, where the themes and gimmicks have been decided beforehand and designed based on these. Sometimes, the concepts can be to counter previous seasons’ concepts, or based on research on what kids may like. The usual stuff really, and this is part of the whole research part when designing something for purpose use; find what it needed and wanted, and then fill those.

But enough intro talk, let’s talk about a Super Sentai mecha first.

These photos are from I recommend giving it a look, there are a lot more there

Studio PLEX is a company that is under Bandai Namco holdings, and their main task really is to design and realise toys. GoTaurus above is one of their creations for Gingaman, and does exhibit a lot of their design ideas from the get go. I’m sure everyone can see how its transformation is essentially just to stand up. The reason this is of course; toys.

Most, if not all, Studio PLEX designs are not driven by technology, lore or the like, the things I’ve been praising with harsh bias all year around. The very core their designs are driven is to make the toy sturdy for kids to play with, and to look neat and accommodate all the necessary gimmicks. There are no flimsy bits to bob around, no sharp corners to speak of to pop one’s eye out. Real world concerns for child safety and sturdiness have driven the design, but that has not not impacted it. Certainly, GoTaurus may not have the most interesting design, and the relatively low production quality of the toys often can demerit it, yet ultimately the design is very eye pleasing due to the used colours and shapes.

The chains do seem a bit arbitrary, but they work in both modes

It is designed and build with intention. All the joints too are big and relatively heavy-duty compared to modern, more adult-oriented toys, where joints could be build from metal or have somewhat more complex design in a small build. Because the intent and use of Super Sentai toys is very different from what adults want to do with their toys, either just pose them on the shelf or hotglue them, there’s not much put into low-cost production and high sturdiness. At times, it feels it is the exact opposite, with high-cost productions with extreme detailing, but with even one hit or the like, the toy’s bust.

The A3 toyline of Tactical Surface Fighters from Muv-Luv Alternative is a good example how the toys were made with rather  high detail count and decent paint application, but everything else tended to be terrible.

This is, of course, because the TSFs were not designed to be toys in the first place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their toys need to be terrible. The joints were designed from ground up, and ended up being very loose. The used plastic is either too soft and has warped, or lacks toughness and breaks easily. All these combined make the A3 line very flimsy, and knowing how to repair broken bits is pretty much required. As the line went on, some of these issues were fixed, but in the end the A3 was a disappointment. The franchise moved on to the Plastic Model field, but even there the TSF models were costlier and of lower quality than competition, especially when compared to Gundam models. That may be a bit unfair comparison, considering what sort of gold mine Gunpla is for Bandai.

Speaking of Gundam, while the series is know for its giant robots and relatively good storytelling in general, it should be noted that it is very much driven by its model sales above all. Adults and kids alike find building their own toys fun, after all.

The one core thing that allows Bandai to roll out loads of different sort of varied designs like the above BG-011B Build Burning Gundam is the use of general use frames that you can slab armour on.

A generic frame, nothing specific

Bandai often reworks this frame. Certain series and eras themselves have a certain set frame, which may have an extra part to add a function or the like, but largely what makes the most difference in the model is its outside appearance. Part swapping is easy, as generally Bandai wants to make things modular within the series to a certain degree for their own benefit in mould reuse. It also makes kitbashing easier, when everything uses standardised parts.

Gundam as a franchise is freakish in the sense that it doesn’t serve the toys all the way, despite Bandai being the end-of-all being that dictates the final design. It allows the designers to work within the fiction, and this often results in a design that functions within pre-existing model limitations and fiction’s demands, as the paradigm in Gundam design emphasies using all three at the same time. Rarely you see a Gundam that could not be realised in model form, and even then it’s more common to see a modern redesign that makes them fit that box.

Gundam began to use transformations when the technology became cheap enough for it, and after Macross had made it popular. Looking at the current lineup of Gunpla, we can always see one or two models designed just around the shape changing gimmick. Thus, in a mainline Gundam show, the transformation has to work, toy accurate if possible. Because this mind set shifted only after later, mechas like Zeta Gundam had to come around its complex and nigh impossible transformation schemes (for toys) to the point of Bandai making a Zeta Model that, for in-universe reasons, had a simplified scheme. Namely, the MSZ-006 Zeta Gundam Wave Shooter Equipment Type. Nowadays, moel engineering and plastics have evolved to the point of pretty much anything is possible.

Though even when everything has become possible, it also has a cost. A simple design like with GoTaurus won’t cost too much to produce, but a more complex piece like a Zeta Gundam will due to complex mould needed. Considering the needs of the toy first yields a very much different design than considering the in-world or technological points. Toys, after all, exist.

Mecha design; Artisanal mecha

Visual representation of giant robots widely vary, and they can’t be put into two or three distinct categories due to the amount of that very variety itself. Industrial design is very simple to grasp, just look at war industry. However, organic design is not as simple as I’ve previously showcased with Dunbine, because Dunbine, while more organic than a Scopedog, is not exactly organic per se. Sure, it smooth lines, but that doesn’t exactly make itself organic. It’s more like a handcrafted work, a unique piece that a master craftsman designed. Dunbine’s not the most stellar example of this, as it really mixes this artisanal and industrial in a nice combination, so let’s look at a design that’s more to the point.


Escaflowne is a mecha that is without a doubt one of the better examples of handcrafted, artisanal mecha design. It’s ornate, smooth and royal in its design. Certain level of excessiveness is in there, and it being artisanal does not exclude means of war in there. Unlike some Five Star Stories mechas, which in reality have no sense of function, Escaflowne works in a nice balance.

If we want to get into the whole mecha thing, the best way to think of them really is as knights. In the end, a super robot story is about a person in armour, just in a more technical one. Especially when it comes to Japanese media. Fantasy mechas tend to emphasize this, as with Escaflowne above, and this really applies to all guymelefs in the series. None of them are organic, but neither are they industrial. You could say that artisanal is in-between the two extremes.

Nabbed this Scheherazade off from Pixiv. While not as ornate as Escaflowne, it is nonetheless an example of artisan craftsmanship in mecha, especially with its head. After all, knight armours, especially those of in high position, were designed to be visually striking, a tradition pretty much all mecha follow. An armoured knight has stuck to our global consciousness and many of these artisanal mechas derive their core designs from that idea

What then is the main difference between organic and artisanal in mecha? The main difference of course really is all about the nature of the beast. Iczer Robo and Iczer Sigma are grown in an artificial womb with mechanical built into them. They are, in essence, biomechanical from the get go and largely wear an armour, that may or may not be their outer skin. The jury’s out on the still. Artisanal on the other hand would be fully or at least mostly mechanical in its nature from the grounds up.

For Western mecha the artisanal approach rarely applies. They are made to be machines of war, and even when they are crafted carefully as unique pieces of craftsmanship, they tend to look militaristic and industrial as all hell. I remember someone telling me how Battletech’s mechs were unique pieces for each of the faction or family, which they keep in priced condition and such, much like Mortar Headds in Five Star Stories.

It is not the shape curve that determines what the style is. Industrial mechas can have bulbous, very round parts to the  and still be completely inudstrial. An organic on the other hand can have cutting straight lines to them just as well. It is the nature of the line and overall shape that ultimately determines the look. Think the difference between a bone claw and a metal claw. Artisanal claw would be somewhere between the two, and be more ornate.

Ornate is the keyword in all this. Mamoru Nagano’s design are perhaps most known for their elaborate designs and details.


While LED Mirage could be thrown into industrial design if we were to use just two categories. However, it doesn’t fit there completely because of its multitude of angles and complex natural shapes thrown into the mix. LED Mirage has a lot of numerous smooth curves to it, accented with harsh and sharp angles in combination to flat and curved surfaces. All this combines a very unique look and style that can’t be copied very easily at all, unlike say a Gundam design that’s somewhat genius in its simplicity. LED Mirage’s artisanal side is especially evident on the close-ups, which reveal further detail that’s painted on the Mortar Headd.


You can see above that the detail here is not present is not included in the above. Nagano went through many revisions, some of which surely are lost to time by now. You can read all that at Gears Online.

As mentioned, these three classifications I’ve proposed don’t exclude each other. Often you can find elements of at least two different styles in a design, like in how Metal Gear Ray combines organic and industrial design together very well, but is not artisanal. To contrast to that, all the rest of main canon Metal Gears are outright industrial in their looks. Evangelion units and Iczer Robos share the same base idea of organic beings wearing an armour, which doesn’t exactly strike industrial in looks at first, but they are supposed to be form-fitting after all. Industrial mechas sometimes include artisanal effects to them, but generally machines of war don’t tend to do that. The most ornate spot a Gundam has, for example, is its V-fin, and the most crafted V-fin out of them sits on none other than RX-121-3C Gundam TR-1 Hyzenthlay.

It's less elaborate in-magazine
It’s less elaborate in-magazine

In the end, I would recommend reading further on all three aforementioned styles outside the mecha genre and from actual design literature for a better view of this. There is a fourth wild-card classification that I would like to coin out there, but that’ll be another entry.

Monthly Music: Giant mutated creature version

After you’ve lived more of less four months and then some in the midst of uncertainty, constant renovation buzz and the skull shattering clatter it produces on top of other things, you tend to get tired. Really, really tired. This has affected the quality and quantity of this blog rather visibly. But, I aim to persist. In the end, as long as I manage to produce something, even if it is sub-par, I can always aim for higher goals in the future. While I had high hopes for myself and for last month’s Three, I feel that it lacked certain something. Sure, I had planned the DVD-BD comparison to be nothing more than a bunch of pictures, but exhaustion is a bitch. I admit, my research and arguments have been lacking, the spirit has not been there and the heart has barely beaten. My drive is somewhat lacking.

That is the very reason why this month lacked two planned things; a new ARG podcast and that planned “pilot” of sorts for voiced blogging. Hell, I was intending to do one for this, but then I realised it’s worth jack shit if my throat is coarse and I can’t get a proper sound out of me. Thank you colder nights and no heating. But, at least I managed to throw out a TSF comparison entry, and the next one of the list would be one of the three; F-18, MiG-29 or F-5 Freedom Fighter. Then we’d be finished with the derivatives from image boards.

I counted the TSF entry as mecha design. While there are numerous matters I could touch upon, the basics are essentially out there. Now would be the time I start to go into more in-depth matters, like transforming mechas. However, that is a large topic with few entry points and should be a multi-part entry. For example, Super Sentai has its own approach to transformations and combinations, different from Transfromers and Brave series. Macross has its own, as does numerous other shows. Some just make it work, some want it to be show accurate and some just have them for the sake of being cool. I may end up purchasing few books before moving onwards these entries, because in-depth is in-depth. Most of those who have read those entries most likely already have noticed that they are not intended as guides how to design with a pen, but rather to work with the ideas and groundwork designs. That of course requires reading outside the robotics field and into industrial design as a whole.

The chosen music for the month has its relevancy. Going back to the roots and creating new from the base concepts. I’ve talked this before, and I’m pretty certain all I need to do is go back on writing about video game design. This may become rather forced thing to some extent, but there are loads of games to choose from when it comes to design, whatever design element we want to talk about. I do have a discussion surrounding the revamped Pokémon designs for the upcoming Sun and Moon, using Rattata as a case study. From there I guess games are the limit, and depending how my plans go, I may end up doing a review on something PS4 related this month.

I may drop Monthly Threes for the upcoming month, unless somebody has an idea for a theme or I come up with something worthwhile. Hell, maybe the whole mecha design thing could be one, comparing three iterations of some long running franchise like Gundam and discuss the main design elements that simply will not vanish. Call it a Gundam stereotype, if you will. Another would be to cover an obscure comic creator, Ken Kawasaki, but the information I have on him is… well, all I know is that he died in a motorcycle crash at a young age in the early 1990’s, with only two books collecting his works. Information is hard to come by, even in Japanese. Then again, perhaps it would be best to stray from these obscure, somewhat hardcore products of the orient for the time being altogether  and just concentrate on things that are on the surface and still relevant. Thou I still argue that even the obscure needs to be appreciated, at least by just one other person.

Then again, I have also planned to piss off people and discuss why games are or are not art, but from the arts’ perspective, not games’ as it usually is. This may seem a bit weird, as one could assume the two are largely exchangeable, and to some extent they are. The important difference between those two is that one observes whether or not games are art from the viewpoint of outside the game industry, while the other takes the viewpoint inside the industry. Without a doubt, the one that stands outside the industry is largely the majority, as that tends to include the common consumer who may just play the occasional slots. One of the points in art is that when it’s distilled to its very core aspect, it will always end up being more than what a game would be. We’ll discuss this more down the line, perhaps this would be great as the first voiceblog entry, with sources and such cited in-text.

The main reason why such discussion still needs to be had is because electronic games culture didn’t just pop into existence when you were a child. As I went through few months back with the penny arcades entries, the prototypical era for our current game culture is well over hundred years old or more.  While literature and music are largely clearly cut forms of media, movies have had about a hundred years to mature and gain what they are, though it could be argued that its roots in theatrical arts has given it its appreciation. The same should be applied to video games, and to understand what your PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendos are all about, we need to appreciate the history they stem from. I’m sure I will echo these in the future, it just may take some time.

As for now, go listen more of Shin Godzilla‘s soundtrack. I ended up picking it up myself, even when it has something like seven different variations of Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Decisive Battle’s drum beat.

Mecha design; manipulators

Consider your hand. You control all those 27 bones through muscles and tendons. The nerves give you feedback and send your commands down the like, commands that you are not even conscious of. Twist your hand, and you see it twisting. The large muscles come through the skin, but all the fine motion is lost unless we specifically look for it. It can grab and hold things in a wide variety of positions and ways, some that we don’t even know before someone else teaches that. These hands can build and destroy in equal amounts, they are our the tools of our creations.

Transferring that to a giant robot is a bit of a hassle.

Much like with a lot of other direct transfer elements with human body and giant robots, adapting hands 1:1 is an easy concept for sure. The idea of similar multi-use manipulator is attractive from the get go, but depending on the setting, human-like hands might not be the best option. A human-like hand requires far more parts, development, maintenance and simple tech than a say a pincer or more simple manipulator. Of course, the main argument for having a hand for a giant robot is its versatility, especially when it comes to weapons. However, that’s something that could be easily done with hardpoints where weapon is being mounted. We should also question how versatile does the hand of a giant mecha be, especially for a war machine.

Broadly speaking, all human-like hands with mecha follow the same basic idea, there isn’t much deviation. It’s either smooth or cubic. Using this example from a VF-19 serves as a good showcase.

VF-19 hand

While it looks complex, it’s more about the layered elements that make it look complex. Inner functions are of course barely thought, they’re not important. The fact that it looks like it could work and has plausible design elements, like the knuckle guard and fingers’ segments layer on top of each other when bent, is more than enough. Studio Nue has always preferred rounder elements to their design (sometimes dubbed as Bubble hands), especially with their older works. In Gundam, Sunrise and Bandai have preferred using more cubic hands, although exceptions are aplenty.

Gundam MS fed manipulator

The above generic Mobile Suit manipulator was designed for the models, but seeing how Bandai and Sunrise design their mechas models in mind nowadays, it’s a good example of a hand that’s more or less designed for wielding a gun and a beam sabre. It’s a bit more straightforward than VF-19’s, less well-rounded. The question of course is, if this hand is largely made for weapon carrying, why isn’t it designed as such?

The answer is, of course, because of Rule of Cool. When mechas are designed as characters, they’ve almost always given large amount of human characteristics in order to showcase dramatic events. Hands are no different in this. Beam sabre battles would be less dramatic and interesting if the manipulator would be specifically designed holder than a hand.

Controlling a hand like this has basically three options, direct 1:1 input, control macros or brain wave input. Variations and combinations do apply. While a “glove controller” would be idea, that’s pretty much what you do then with that arm. It’ dedicated for that arm, and the rest of the controls are either automatic or left other arm or legs. We discussed control macros previously, and this is most likely the best option overall, if brain wave scanning tech is not available in your setting.

Designing mecha’s hand really isn’t anything hard; just look at your own and mechanise it. Give it details for something to grab attention and some panels for easy access.

Giant robots don’t really have a need for similar level of sophistication when it comes to their hands, a simple grasping arm should be enough with some level of modification to suit the needed purpose. Hardpoints add a lot of versatility as well.

These take less maintenance and production costs would be lower too
These take less maintenance and production costs would be lower too

Of course, fiction doesn’t need to play by the rules of reality all that much, and if technology is advanced enough in a fiction to produce these things, why not? They could of course build better and simpler manipulators, but sometimes you do seek more complex solution for the sake of all the options it could give you. A gripping manipulator above doesn’t really offer many ways to grasp a thing.

Some franchises mix human-like hands with specifically designed manipulators, Muv-Luv popping to my mind foremost.

To be fair, this is complex for the sake of being complex, some of these steps could be dropped
To be fair, this is complex for the sake of being complex, some of these steps could be dropped. It’s a pretty good example of a very specific manipulator arm that works in junction of the main hand, something that I personally would like to see done more

Another one would Mobile Suit Z Gundam‘s The O with its assisting manipulators underneath its skirt. These manipulators question why would The O even need human-like hands, when the three-prong manipulator does everything they do. The answer to this is, of course, because the human design does not use that sort of hand. In a way, mecha in general should always be contrasted to armoured knights of legends, but that’s another topic.

Hands are ultimately something that Japanese inspired mecha design does. For giant robots, America has always preferred more built-in options. MegaBot’s Mark II is a good example of this.


American vision usually attached the weaponry onto a pre-fixed arm that may have some freedom of motion to it, but is always more dependent on the movements of the main body. Compare this to Suidobashi Heavy Industry’s Kuratas and the difference in approach is notable.

The idea of having this built-in approach and lack of manipulators is just as valid.  While it lessens on-the-fly options and puts some limitations, it eliminates loads of moving parts that would require maintenance. The most prominent film example of this sort of thing would be our good old friend, ED-209.

I should probably write a whole entry on ED-209.
I should probably write a whole entry on ED-209.

Unlike with mechas with arms and manipulators, you can see ED-209 guns are its arms with no manipulators, as it needs none. It’s a robust little connector that looks sturdy and serves only to take the beating from the cannon’s recoil and swivel enough to shoot whoever full of holes.

Keep an eye to hands you see in mecha films and shows. Take notice how they are portrayed and how they function. Rarely you will see them doing things outside the capabilities of human hands, and showcasing how they are actually controlled is even rarer. Sometimes they take advantage of what a machine hand can do, like how Gundam washes clothes by rotating its wrist 360-degrees in repetition.

Washing machine Gundam

Your giant robot’s controls

For the sake of simplicity, mecha controls can be divided into three category; control jokes, direct trace input and mental control. Often these are mixed and matched with each other to produce a more sensible and maybe even a more plausible way of controlling your giant robot, but in the end all of them are just as bullshit. The level of sophistication that’s gone in the design can always be appreciated, but in the end there’s nothing much else to it.

Joysticks or similar handles are likely the most common form of controls. You can find these from pretty much any Gundam outside G Gundam, in Muv-Luv’s TSFs, Macross and so on. These controls rely on the basic idea of any control jokes, and I’m sure most people have played some sort of flight simulator with a joystick to understand the basic functions. If not, get yourself two joystics, one for each hand, and boot up Descent in dual-stick control mode. That, or pick up Twin-Sticks for Virtual-On for some TSF gameplay.

Continue reading “Your giant robot’s controls”

Mecha design; 10 points to consider

I’ll be aiming to do a mecha design post once per month. These are nothing major in their nature, as mecha design is really just really industrial design applied for fictional machines. I’ll be tagging all posts as mecha-design, and I’ll go back and tag the old ones as well.

This time I’d like to introduce ten factors that may affect your mecha design, or at least something you should consider about while doodling. Most of these posts will mostly touch on bipedal mechs, but non-humanoid designs should also consider the points in this post.

1; Silhouette size and lowering

Mechas tend to be rather sizable objects. In most cases they are few stories high and making their visible silhouette as small as possible is something you need consider about. Kneeling down often lowers height and silhouette size. Sometimes a transformation is done to lower the mech down and drop its frontal silhouette as much as possible. Lowering your mecha is also important when utilizing large weaponry.

In 08th MS Team we see a Gm Sniper kneeling down to stabilise the shot ans well as to minimize the effects of the recoil
In 08th MS Team we see a Gm Sniper kneeling down to stabilise the shot as well as to minimize the effects of the recoil

Minimizing the profile of your mecha is not too similar to tank warfare. Certain tanks can depress their cannons ten degrees, and these ten degrees allow them to climb a hill a little bit for further protection, minimizing their visible silhouette from enemy tanks other side of the hill. Having a weapon that can be shot around head height may be a good idea when it comes to shooting from cover. These can range from Guncannon’s shoulder cannons to TSF’s Type-87 Assault Cannon sitting on a pylon.

Speaking of size of your mecha, remember to put up some

2; Sensors

Giant robots are a good platform for all sorts of sensor clusters all around. Often these are not incorporated into the visuals of the mecha itself. For example, a 360-degree view requires multiple cameras and sensors to give that visual, for e.g. Gundam often have nothing else but their main camera, “eyes” and second camera in the back of their heads. It’s not too uncommon see a large camera cluster in a mech’s head, but rarely there’s anything that would resemble a sensor anywhere else. However, they are required to be there, and perhaps using certain kind of protective design for them can yield you relatively unique look. Of course, you can go more archaic and have a cockpit that doesn’t have a 360-degrees view. In case of cockpits with a glass dome, like in fighter jets, you may be able to go away with visible cameras altogether.

RX-78GP01-Fb's head doesn't have extra sensors outside the mentioned. You could have cameras on both sides just fine
RX-78GP01-Fb’s head doesn’t have extra sensors outside the mentioned. You could have cameras on both sides just fine, if you want to showcase sensors further

Having sensors also mean you need instruments in the cockpit to showcase them, from normal camera view to specialized views like IR. Mechas need a mix of instruments to show level of the horizon, energy levels and pressure levels and so on. Warfare units also require ammo count and damage charts visible alongside with numerous tactical views.

Speaking of cockpits, you need to think of

3; Cockpit placement

Where the cockpit is in your mecha changes its nature. Most popular places are in the middle of the chest and in the head. Chest area offers most protection as it is the centre of the mass while head gives smaller pin-point target and supposedly better view. Whatever the placement is, the cockpit needs to accommodate its pilot/s. Often you see cockpits that have a rather straight seat that reminds a fighter jet cockpit to an extent. Fighter cockpits are a good comparison point with mecha in general terms, but seeing how a mecha needs to be quick on its motions, the cockpit needs to have some sort of extra suspension to cushion the shocks. Be it sliding seat that dampens the trashing or suspend the whole cockpit somehow. Evangelion uses LCL to damped shocks and to protect the pilot, as well as give pure oxygen to the pilot. Life support system is important element a well, especially in space, and an emergency ejection system would be a nice thing to have, preferably with a powered armour of some sorts.

Of course, you can have your pilot suspended in a strange space without showing much. GaoGaiGar has a sort of direct interface system, where all Guy pretty much controls GaoGaiGar in 1:1 with those devices. Probably.
Of course, you can have your pilot suspended in a strange space without showing much. GaoGaiGar has a sort of direct interface system, where all Guy pretty much controls GaoGaiGar in 1:1 with those devices. Probably. We’ll talk about mecha control interfaces later

Speaking of shocks,

4; Joint reliance

Most mecha have basic metallic joints. Bandai has essentially engineered their designs to the point of replicating their functions in plastic. This is not all that impressing once you start reading on industrial designs and realise that you can design very intricate joints when you don’t need to actually give two shits about reality. Turn A Gundam has beautiful joints that are both well protected and function incredibly well.

However, in-universe you still need to give a reason why your mecha’s joints are not buckling and crackling under all the weight and strain. Having them sturdy material is one thing, something Gundam does almost every time. Another is to have biological component to it and design your mecha to be at least partially organic. Iczer-Robo is mostly an organic mecha, and thus its joints more or less look like pieces of armour. Underneath there is muscle and some sort of super strong skeletal structure underneath. EVA-units do this as well. You can also use artificial muscles that are made of complex composite materials, plastics and rubber to simulate functions of biological components while giving them better shock absorption. One example of this sort of artificial muscle structure can be found in TSFs.

TSF's joints do not conform to what normal human joints can do, and there's no reason to limit yourself in that manner. Mechanical joints can be more versatile when designed properly
TSF’s joints do not conform to what normal human joints can do, and there’s no reason to limit yourself in that manner. Mechanical joints can be more versatile when designed properly

Whatever you decide to do, remember that it all needs to have

5; Stable distribution

While the joints are there to keep your units standing and moving, one thing you need to consider in your design is how stable the design is. Mass is a bitch, and whatever design you have, it requires careful thinking how your mech will be able to stand up. Multiple legs are always an option, and e.g. Ligers from Zoids are very stable because of their four limbs and ability to shift their pose very widely. Bipedal mechs don’t really have this luxury, and this is why you need to consider how much mass can you pack, e.g. into backpacks of your units. If the centre of gravity is too far from the centre of you mecha, it needs to compensate it somehow, either leaning to an opposite direction, to have supports on the extended piece touch ground or opposite weights.

The sensor clusters come into play here as well, as those combined with automatic balancing system should keep the mecha straight without the pilot adjusting it manually. While many say that driving manual car is like piloting a mecha, driving an automatic is far closer analogue because a mecha requires large amounts of automated systems in order to have maximum efficiency. Our walking and running is mostly automated by subconscious, and automated systems streamline the operation to a similar level.

Aestivalis Ground Frame from Martian Successor Nadeshiko is a good example of good mass distribution. Note the large feet that are supposed to carry all the weight above and the additional drive system in them
Aestivalis Ground Frame from Martian Successor Nadeshiko is a good example of good mass distribution. Note the large feet that are supposed to carry all the weight above and the additional drive system in them

This applies in space scenarios as well, as a motion requires equal or higher countering motion to stop it. In Gundam you have AMBAC, or Active Mass Balance-Control. This system allows the Mobile Suits to shift their limbs and other points of mass to act out as intended. Similarly, your mecha may need some

6; Propulsion

Most mechas designed have some sort of propulsion system outside their limbs. Some have a secondary mode for wheeled drive, whereas others have thrusters to throw them around. Whereas AMBAC basically allows mecha to act in a zero-G, it can’t move unless something is pushing it forwards.

Attaching a variety of thrusters should allow your designed mecha to do some nice acrobatics. Larger thrusters allow jumps and flight, whereas smaller thrusters can be used to direct the unit better. For example, a small thruster on the front side of the left shoulder would push back at that point. With the help of other thrusters, it can do a faster turn or complete spin than what it would be able to do with just its basic joints. This effect is doubled in air and especially in space, where three-dimensional fighting requires additional abilities. Secondly, a propulsion system also allows your mecha to get on its feed faster and safer. Attitude control on any design is important, however it is realised.

Tallgeese has minor thrusters on its legs (just under the knee) and few bits elsewhere. The main thrusters are sitting on its back, hips and in the groin, moving at the centre of the mass more than at the extremeties
Tallgeese has minor thrusters on its legs (just under the knee) and few bits elsewhere. The main thrusters are sitting on its back, hips and in the groin, moving at the centre of the mass more than at the extremities

Positioning of your thrusters is important. To push the centre of the mass carefully requires thrusters in the main body of your mecha. Gundam W’s Leos are good examples of mechas with thrusters in their groins, as this is one of the best places to have a thruster to soften a landing.

Going overboard with the thrusters may be a bad idea, as your design still needs to get some

7; Power

Be it GN-Particles, G-Stone or any other form of bullshittium, no mecha will move without proper explanation how it gets its power. As a mechanical design at giant robot scale, limbs are very inefficient when it comes to power consumption. Whatever power source you have for them, it requires to be strong in order to move them at a reasonable rate. This can be a crux in your design overall, like it sometimes is in Gundam. Minovsky Particles allow large production of power that can be used in many ways and has some side effects. GN-Particles effectively are magic pixie dust that can be used to power things up as well as create anti-gravity.

Minovsky Ultracompact Reactor is the cornerstone that allowed Universal Century's technological evolution simply by giving enough power to do giant walking robots
Minovsky Ultracompact Reactor is the cornerstone that allowed Universal Century’s technological evolution simply by giving enough power to do giant walking robots

You also need to consider why these things are used just for your mecha. Are they hard to produce, do they require certain size that hasn’t been miniaturised, is it an alien tech that normal people don’t have their hands on or is it just power of the soul? Whatever it is, consider how well such energy source could be used in more conventional vehicles, or rather, how would a conventional vehicle act with such a source and where it would be located. Don’t forget about the lubrication and other fuel for thrusters and such, if needed.

All this of course needs to have

8; Protection

Outside superweapons, mechas are large targets. Having a mixed amount of protective systems in your design is a good idea. These range from such simple things as wielding a shield to anti-personal weaponry to active anti-missile targeting systems. There are designs that are naked in this sense, but often they have sturdy armour to compensate, are fast enough to dodge things or have some sort of beam shields surrounding them. Depending on the role of the mecha you’ve designed, you might want to give their design some level of visible protection, even if it ends up being active layer that blows outwards.

These elements can be also made into weaponry or assist in other ways. TSFs’ Type-92 Multipurpose Supplemental Armour, i.e. shields, have a top part that can turn 90-degrees and contains hexagonal reactive armour plating, which can be punched into a BETA’s face and explode it. Sometimes shield have serrated edges to cut things, or house missiles or beam sabres. Spaced armour can be another option.

Frame Arms line of models has this pretty in there. Cannons are set high, and both arms are mostly for shielding. Legs have extra plating as well, and those plates drop down to add more support. The shields have notches in them where the cannons can rest for more stability, and the slightly smaller top allow the head to see through them when pushed together. note that the chest is also angled to direct incoming projectiles away from the cockpit
Frame Arms line of models has this pretty in there. Cannons are set high, and both arms are mostly for shielding. Legs have extra plating as well, and those plates drop down to add more support. The shields have notches in them where the cannons can rest for more stability, and the slightly smaller top allow the head to see through them when pushed together. note that the chest is also angled to direct incoming projectiles away from the cockpit

Whatever protection you have, you also need to consider

9; Maintenance

This isn’t a huge concern in fiction, unless you are aiming to some level of realism. Having the most complex design may not be the best of idea, as the more complex something becomes, the harder it is to maintain.

Consider old cars. They are rather straight in their approach how they can be fixed, there’s not much high technology in their engines or other systems. They are rather simple things to drive. Modern cars on the other hand have a large amount of tech thrown into them that a normal street walking mook can’t even lift the engine cover off anymore.

The same applies to mecha. The more complex systems, the more time and effort it will take to maintain it. Shape may not necessarily make the maintenance harder, but production of spare parts and the like may be affected. Thus, considering in-universe how certain elements are used and developed may be necessary. Armour panel lining may also showcase maintenance access hatches and the like, which you may have in your design. It’s been a fashion for some time just to fill the surface with all sorts of lines and have them lit up, even thou there’s absolutely no goddamn reason to have them.

Fictional schematics are mostly bullshit, but you might want to consider what goes under the surface at some point. It may make a good design point and even better storypoint.
Fictional schematics are mostly bullshit, but you might want to consider what goes under the surface at some point. It may make a good design point and even better plot point. Notice the landing gear

Maintenance of course is easier if the mecha has a well-defined

10; Role

Have a clear role in mind for the mecha. To use a real world example, the F-35 Lightning II was to be a multi-purpose fighter, but it really sucks in every field. It can’t turn well enough, it can’t climb, it can’t run away, it’s special shape and coating doesn’t make it all that stealthy, it’s heavy as hell, its thrust-to-weight ratio is lower because of this and the 20 tons of thrust puts an extreme stress on the engine components. Its fundamental design flaws keeps it being better than last generation of fighters. I love the TSF design, but the real fighter is slightly too fat for my taste.

The same applies to mecha design. Having too many elements to cover on one design will make it a clusterfuck and an eyesore. A transformation elements may give it an edge, but only if the transformation is smooth and well thought out, and we’re not going to touch transforming mecha designs anytime soon, because people have hang me from my balls when they hear me saying how Macross has essentially milked the exact same transformation scheme for thirty years now with slight changes here and there.

Fast mechas tend to have aerodynamic shape, supporting mechas have big guns and defensive ones are fat in armour. It’s like basic rock-paper-scissors. Role should be your starting point with the basic idea what you want, because all design ultimately stems from a need, to find something that fulfils a needed niche.

This is something that needs to be emphasized; a good mecha is design starts from an idea of something. A character like robot, a hero, a villain, the sniper or the like. These starting points give you a direction you to go, and when you have its role clear, then you can start thinking of the details.

Ialdabaoth is a close combat martial arts mecha. To define role, you most likely need to apply something like one of the three approaches in mecha design I tend to employ
Ialdabaoth is a close combat martial arts mecha. To define role, you most likely need to apply something like one of the three approaches in mecha design I tend to employ