Mecha design; Hard corners and round cylinders

The reason why soda pop cans are cylinders has three main reasons; it lacks the weak corners of a cube, has the same silhouette as a cube and a sphere depending whether you’re looking from the side or above, and its manufacturing hits a sweet spot between the two aforementioned shapes. For a mecha design, while a recognisable silhouette is important, and the thematic motif whether or not you want your look robot to look industrial war machine or hand crafted master piece, you should keep your setting in mind whether or not to use cubic or cylindrical shapes.

It is much cheaper to build an object that is shaped like a cube. It is relatively fast, cheap and easy, and by standard your cube’s can deviate few degree. However, no matter what material a cube is made of, its weakest spot will always be the corners. You can have it on its flat side, but if you were to hit its corner, all the force from the impact would be on that tip. The corners, while not as weak, too are weak spots, as they are thinner in material than the rest of the cube. When metal is bent, it stretches. The stretching is dependent on the material and the angle. A very rough rule of thumb is that steel 1mm thick has to be 1mm shorther than its intended measures, as the material will stretch 1mm during bending. This stretching naturally wears and stresses the metal down, and it now being thinner, is weaker. This can be countered by having additional material welded into the corners inside the cube, but this extends production time and adds mass.

Of course you could weld the material together by its corners, but that would introduce heat and additional material. As the rule of thumb goes, when you heat metal up, it hardens, tempers. This might introduce a weak point. This is why you often see the weld seam to be in the middle of a side, because then the corners won’t become tempered by the heat. Then again, welding in itself is kind of intentional mistake whenever it is done. It would always be best to have any and all pieces as one whole, but manufacturing such objects is often extremely expensive and nigh impossible. Mechanical and chemical bonding are also good options to consider, e.g. airplanes’ surfaces are nowadays glued together with epoxy adhesive rather than riveted.

Cylindrical shapes on the other hand don’t have similar weak spots as such, as the whole thing can rolled from one sheet. A robot can weld a large cylinder together rather quickly from its ends. Nevertheless, by standard creating a cylinder shape is somewhat more expensive to manufacture than a cube due to the sheer amount of control the rollers must be under at all times. Unless the process has been automated to a high degree, and the general shape is simple to manufacture in proper fast steps, producing a cylinder can become stupidly expensive. The history of soda can design has allowed the shape and the manufacturing to be extremely efficient and automated, something that is not probably possible in a mecha setting for giant robot limbs and body shapes.

While G1 animation largely ignored the whole issue of corners, the fact is that most mecha designs realise that having hard corners is not a good idea and camfer them down. It might add complexity to the work scheduling and design, but its a small price compared to the benefits

No fiction really concentrates on these things really. Its all about the visual flavour of the design. Mazinger Z has a body based on round torso and cylinder limbs, because that’s what Go Nagai went for in a comic that was quick to work on. Gundam in general uses flat, cubic surfaces because that is industrially more sensible to work with. If you look at the difference between The Federation and Zeon Mobile Suits during One Year War or, you should see that, in rough terms, Zeon has a high number of machines with round and bulbous shapes in their MS, which all are rather expensive to manufacture, while Fed’s mass produced units like the GM are very much made cheaply with cubic shapes governing the limbs and body. Knowing OYW’s setting and its technological level, no MS production is fully automated. Building just one MS takes hundreds of people, of which part simply work to shape the sheets into their proper shapes before a welder prepares the parts for a welding robot to make the final seams, before another person comes in to check how the welding robot has fucked up this time and how he has to fix. We can safely assume that one of the many reasons why GM’s production cycle is much shorter than Zaku II’s due to the geometry of its armouring.

Another benefit in GM’s overall shape and silhouette is that it has a smaller profile than the Zaku II. Much like with real world tanks, the GM seems to have balance between mobility and armouring. It has less mass to move around compared to the Zaku II, though the Zeon MS most likely has better armouring overall. Nevertheless, its silhouette has more room of error what to hit. However, in a world where you have particle weapons able to pierce armouring like its was butter, GM’s silhouette offers less a target to hit. While MS designs would grow in size with time, and get all kinds of shapes to them, these considerations really aren’t an integral part of Gundam‘s base design idea. After all, in real world all Gundam designs have to adhere to the fact that the franchise is model kit driven first and foremost. This dictates everything from colours base faction design differences.

Tanks are the best real world example of balance between silhouette and best of both worlds with shapes.

Thanks Wikipedia

The above PLA’s Type 99a has a showcase of three important bits; round shapes, flat shapes and angles. The design of the turret tapers at the front in order to direct bullets and other hits away from the front section. The same applies to the  front of the tank, where a hit in an angle has higher chances to bounce off. If you look at the GM above, its flat surface invite bullets to penetrate it. The humanoid form is not exactly the most bullet resisting shape, hence why some mecha design elongate the chest further forwards to create a sort of cone effect. The silhouette of the hull increases in size towards back for the same reason as the turret. While its side view might be rather flat, there’s nothing much that can be done there outside additional armouring, be reactive or just additional plating. You want to face your opponent face to face to offer them the smallest possible target with the best protection you can offer. Certain tanks can also lower their aim below the horizon, meaning they can stay behind a hill and offer even smaller target.

While tank battles and their function is not directly relatable to giant robots, a Realistic setting would take into notion the cost of designing and producing shapes that make a mecha. It’s alright to want to design a super sports car for more unrealistic setting, where cost of production is no issue, but a serious take on mecha warfare is required to recognise that shape must not only be dictated by use and utility, but also by material and cost. Tanks give some idea for good utility of industrially probable shapes, while fighter jets can be used as reference point for aerodynamics.

Makes you wonder how the hell did Kouji’s grandfather manage to build Mazinger Z in his basement.

How does all this affect the design you might have in your mind? Depending on your angle you take within the fiction, the overall governing surfaces are dictated by the intention. If they’re intended to be slow walking tanks, consider what direction is intended to be against the enemy fire and add proper slants or curved surfaces. Even if the angles around GM’s cockpit are laughably small, the fact that they are there gives some idea where the design was going. Sure, in reality it probably was just to conform to the humanoid shape, but we can assume the angles were calculated somewhat to encourage ricocheting. Zaku II armour seems to have designed under notion of heavy armour to withstand firepower overall, though as mentioned, particle beam weapons don’t really care unless you have a repelling surface. Consider the production angle as well; a highly mass-produced mecha wouldn’t necessarily have many separate armour segments and these segments would be whole pieces, like a car’s hood. Cars’ hoods and frames are designed to deform on impact, and rounder shapes are safer for this rather than straight surfaces with angles. There’s something on certain lines and shapes that are naturally “safer” to our sensibilities, be it from experience or otherwise, and often using decent logic and “what looks good” attitude with an intended function can yield a design that works well.

While you can completely ignore the realities of manufacturing and process of it, it would add a touch of realism if there is some consideration whether or not certain shapes and angles are probable within the fiction.

Three approaches in designing a mecha

The three approaches to mecha design this blog uses is based on their role and function within fiction rather than in-fiction. The first archetype is the Protagonist, a mecha that functions or acts like any human character and is treated as such within the narrative.

The Protagonist mecha as a character serves an integral role within the narrative. Initially they may seem like simple machines, like the eponymous Mazinger Z, yet they exhibit clear-cut human characteristics in actions and behaviour. Mazinger Z sunbathing in the original series Mazinger Z-series is this exact human-like behaviour the mechas are written with.

Here, the symbolic action of shaking hands is not represent the pilots themselves per se, but the relationship and role of the mechas

These type of mecha can also be explicit characters unto themselves, as it is with the The Transformers and Brave-series. These mecha are only separated from their human co-characters is their nature as giant mechanical beings. In cases like Beast Wars, there is no distinction between characters as such, all of them simply are the characters, but share the main characteristics of being human equivalent in different form.

The Protagonist has a unique role within the story. Not necessarily the main protagonist in itself, often sharing that role with another human character or another mecha. The same categories of heroes and villains apply to these as much as they apply to human characters.

In visual design, Protagonists more often than not share a humanoid body with strikingly human face. Heroman, by all intentions, shared all the previously mentioned points; a human-shaped mecha with human face and sits in a prominent role within the fiction as one of the main characters next to the main human protagonist.

American made in Japan

However, there is extremely wide variety of Protagonist mechas which toy with the concepts and ways to realise the main role. GaoGaigar, for example, in itself has no characters outside as it is an extension of Guy Shishioh; it less piloted as it is a giant piece of armour for Guy.

It must be mentioned that most Protagonist mechas are found in media aimed at younger audiences with healthy amounts of toys, and tend to have connections to the Super Robot side of mecha. This is not to degrade from the fiction itself, only an observation.

Naturally, the opposite of human-like characters would be the lack of humanity, as it tends to be the with the second archetype, the Machines.

The utilitarian approach to mecha design has always been there, though it gained most of its popularity in the 1980’s. While Mobile Suit Gundam certainly paved the way for Real Robot as a sub-genre, shows like Armored Trooper Votoms and FLAG have taken the concept to its more natural direction due to lack of needing to sell toys as much.

FLAG‘s HAVWC, High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier, is equipment.

Unlike with the Protagonists, a Machine has no nature to speak of. To make a blunt comparison, they are toasters. Their use is largely utilitarian. The form is made and designed for a purpose first and foremost, following the necessities over flavour.

The mechanical design is far more industrial as opposed to organic contours, than anything else among the Machines. Take Heroman above for an example. Most of its shapes are round to further accommodate its humanoid visual. While at a first glace HAVWC would fit this as well, its shapes are equivalent that of a car, lines made to increase aerodynamics. Heroman is not exactly an aerodynamic character, and its not supposed to. That is a tertiary concern at best. In order for it to be more aerodynamic in its forward position, it would require some sort of wind-breaking apparatus around its chest to lessen drag.

However, FLAG is an example of the more more adhered end, similar to Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01, which has been described as equivalent of mechanical pornography due to its attention detailed opening.

The Machine comes in many varieties, all of which share multiple characteristics. Mass production is one, where the mecha can be or is mass produced. Scopedogs are a dime in a dozen in Votoms and are easily replaceable. Round Vernian Vifam is another example of a show, where mechas are tools, and the cast goes through numerous units during the course of the show.

Valkyries from Macross, despite often gaining a prominent role as a single unit or a customised main character vehicle, are all from a production line of similar units. While later entries in the series have made an effort to give most characters their own unique snowflake Valkyrie, in the end all of them are more or less faceless machines that showcase no human characteristics, outside the genre-defining four limbed humanoid shape.

Specialist roles are not exactly uncommon among Machines. Full Metal Panic!’s Arm Slaves, while mostly consisting of non-unique units, the units used by the protagonist Sousuke Sagara deviate from this mould in form of Lambda Driver, which allows the pilot to turn their willpower into physical force. This specialist position, be it due to extra equipment, prototype role or simply because the mecha is a protagonist’s unit, is a common trope. This position does not change them into Protagonists per se, unless human characteristics are applied. It is not uncommon for people, fictional or not, humanise their devices to a large degree and treat them accordingly.

Vehicles technically fulfill this spot,

However, it’s not uncommon to see the the aforementioned archetypes mixed either.

The Hybrid approach takes characteristics from both sides of the fence in a happy mid-ground. Perhaps the most well-known examples of this would be the Evangelion units of Neon Genesis Evangelion. While treated as equipment and something that can be mass-produced, each EVA-unit exhibits overt human-like characteristics from in-universe and in their role. EVA-01 is effectively one of the main characters while still serving the role of a toaster. Its design goes for utilitarian, but only in terms how the EVA-unit itself allows this in-fiction. The base design idea was, after all, a monster barely controlled by humanity.

A some sort of purple mom bot

Another method to give mecha character is by keeping the core mechanics itself intact in terms of its role though the use of Artificial Intelligence. Jehuty from Konami’s Zone of the Enders series of games is exactly this.

Jehuty in itself has no conscience or awareness within fiction, no character to speak of. Its actions and behaviour are determined by its pilot and support AI, A.D.A. In principle, A.D.A. could be embed into whatever Orbital Frame would support the addition.

These three approaches are more or less starting points, more or less. While at first it may seem arbitrary to make a category of three, one of which is effectively just combining the first two, they serve their role in setting the proper mindset for design work. That is, the nature of the mecha rather than the end-visual the designer ends up making. That is up to the designer’s own style and research into the subject materials.

For further reading on expanded subjects, such as combiners, basic design tips, controls and similar, please visit the Robot Related Materials section.

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 greenflour5757.blog96.fc2.com/blog-category-53.html 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.

Suidobashi Heavy Industry vs Megabots Inc

So we finally had the long promised Giant Robot Duel. Seeing part of this blog’s thing is to comment on mecha designs, it’s only fitting to comment on real world giant robots.

While we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I can’t help but give some feedback on the outer appearance from the get-go.

Their first robot, Iron Glory MkII is outright dirty. This is certainly by choice and often fits the whole worn-out industrial look Megabots wanted to go, but in a publicity stunt like this, they could’ve cleaned it up a lot and tweaked it to simply be more eye pleasing. The earthy tones here give a look of something that was dug up from a hole somewhere. It also looks unbalanced. Without a doubt it’s designed to stay upright and move around without the height becoming an issue, but we’re talking about a fight here. It’s going to get pushed around, and any mass that’s outside the region directly above the tracks it has will sway it if push comes. As long as it stays as low as possible, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Those arms may be neat for target shooting, but as the video makes clear, this is a hand-to-hand battle, meaning they’re more or less useless.

 

Kuratas on the other hand is painted showy red, and during the pre-fight interview, we see its left hand constantly opening and closing. While useless, it does give off a certain attention to detail. While Megabots is traditional American dakka and looks the role, Kuratas follows rather unorthodox Japanese design. No legs to be seen here, Kuratas rolls on wheels. The clawed right arm could’ve used more red paint for sure, at least for its shoulder. The welding do look sturdy and up to standards.

Well, let’s get to the first fight.

Here we see how small the treads on Iron Glory MkII are. Kuratas’ design has spread the mass rather low while Iron Glory MkII decided to stand up and make itself a sitting target.  The blow Kuratas delivered easily tipped Iron Glory MkII over. This may have been prevented with the treads extending further back, or adding a pivoting action. Like with tanks that keep their turret to one direction while the lower body pivots on place. However, I doubt Iron Glory MkII would’ve had enough power for that otherwise. Kuratas seemed to be pretty good on straights, but that mass must be hard to direct to another direction without slowing down.

Furthermore, it looked like the cockpit for Iron Glory MkII was not designed to fall, and the pilots clearly got rather serious shock. There was no head support or harnesses to speak of. That’s dangerous, and anyone who wants to make their own mecha, please make sure whoever pilots it is secured in place and has the necessary shock absorbents around.

Iron Glory MkII was just a warm-up though. Its design has loads of problems that simply won’t work in a competitive fight. Megabots’ Eagle Prime was specifically designed to for this contest, and it shows.

Eagle Prime has twice the mass either Kuratas or its predecessor has. This alone makes it a bit harder to tip over. However, they stuck with the rising legs idea, meaning it’ll spread its mass again between low and very high points. However, it is stated to be bottom-heavy with 60% of its mass residing on the lower half. It also stands in the middle of the treads, making it much harder to topple over.

In terms of offensive, it’s right hand is an industrial claw that is more designed to crush than punch, but that’s not really important. The mass of the whole thing is enough to be worried about. It’s left hand’s cannon is useless, unless it manages to paint Kuratas’ to the point of  pilot being unable to see outside. A definitive upgrade, and another very American design.

Let’s not forget that is movement macros it has, but onward with the second fight.

The second round was more about the environment. Kuratas launched a drone that got knocked out of the air and Eagle Prime utilised the environment. This sort of slow-paced fighting isn’t exactly Kuratas’ strength, and in close combat they got stuck to each other. Most damage was done to Kuratas, not by Eagle Prime’s claw or shots, but with the barrels of the cannon. So, what’s the next most American choice of weapon after your guns fail?

I admit, I did not see Megabots going so far as to install a chainsaw. Because live ammunition is not an option here, might as well go straight in cut. Kurata’s plan in this second round was to blind Eagle Prime’s cameras, but as we already saw, cannons do jack shit. For whatever reason, neither Megabots or Suidobashi had well designed, accurate paint ball cannons with them.

The problem in using a chainsaw that was intended to cut stone is that you need to have it revved up at full speed before you can cut through. With low velocities like this, the blades simply get caught and rip pieces off rather than cutting them. On a more smoother surfaces, like the main body of Kuratas, the chainsaw mostly skims cross before hitting the shoulder.

With this, the American Megabots was announced the victor. Nothing really came out of this, outside all the money that went into production of these things, and some stupid fun. Kuratas never really had any chances against Eagle Prime, seeing it was few weight classes lower. Without some sort of puncturing weaponry or something else to mess with the opponent’s system, the sheer weight difference made it lost. Maybe having a high-yield flamethrower or a blowtorch of some sorts could’ve delivered victory by frying off the exposed electronics and piping, but that would’ve been too easy and not hand-to-hand combat. That’s why a close-combat torch might’ve been a good call.

Both designs of Kuratas and Eagle Prime do show us the reality of giant robots. We can’t have them walk around on two legs, because that is largely unfeasable. Strength and speed are all relative, and while all this may have seemed slow, there was large amount of power behind each hit. The plating on Kuratas was stripped right off rather easily by just one direct hit and some chainsawing, something we barely every see in fiction. An idea of having as unified armor as possible with no corners or holes for the enemy to have anything to latch on, might be a good idea overall. A smoother surface would also make bullets skim off easier if their angle is low enough.

The whole content probably was scripted to a degree, but hey, at least got to see metal turned to scraps.

Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; MiG-29OVT Fulcrum

While we’re probably going to discuss the base MiG-29 Lastochka one of these days, the main reason we’re going to have MiG-29OVT variation on the table today is because it had a significant antagonist role in Total Eclipse, and that I had the pictures readily available and didn’t want to do Active Eagle.

To save most of real world MiG-29’s history for Lastochka, I’ll shorten it here and see what we have on the OVT model. Which isn’t much, but we’ll get to that later. One of the major differences between the real fighter and the TSF is that all MiG-29 variants are known as Fulcrum in the NATO designation. The Soviets and Russian pilots adopted this name later on. NATO just adds a letter and a number after the designation to denote which variant we’re talking about.

The Fulcrum has a long history behind it. The fighter was developed in early 1970’s as a hi-performance, hi-manoeuvre light-weight fighter to tackle whatever the West was cooking against the Soviet nations. Indeed, it’s not rare to see enthusiasts to decree the Fulcrum to be an equal to Western fighters, especially due to it incorporating numerous technological advantages not in its Western contemporaries, the F-16 Fighting Falcon for example. The base model, Fulcrum-A, became operational in the mid-80’s and had a very high manoeuvrability. It could track ten targets at the same time with its cohere pulse Doppler radar at a range of 69km. Combined with a laser range finder and infra-red search and track, which all where linked to Helmet Mount Sight, made the base Fulcrum a very dangerous enemy in a close-in fight. It should also be noted that the Fulcrum has LERXs, or leading-edge extensions on its mid-mount swept wings. These small extensions improve and control airflow at high angles of attack.

The 29M and OVT are both Second Generation fighters and have enhancements everywhere, including evolution to the overall airframe in order to increase its thrust-to-weight ratio. As OVT is essentially just Fulcrum-M with thrust vectoring RD-133 engines, it shares all the same advanced avionics its brother does. To go slightly into the history of the Fulcrum-M, it’s development began in the mid-80’s with a new need for a frontline fighter that would be able to carry out multi-role missions. Due to shift in Soviet military strategy, the Fulcrum-M design saw constant updates and variants before it eventually split into MiG-29M and M2, denoting whether or not its a two-seater. It should be noted that the MiG-29M, despite sharing its name with its original variant, is completely redesigned version. External differences may be sparse, pretty much everything else was improved beyond the Fulcrum-A.

MiG-29OVT is more or less an acrobatic performer that mainly showcases the modern MiG-29’s capabilities rather than being a frontline fighter.

Remember to click for a larger version

In Muv-Luv Alternative‘s BETAverse, the Fulcrum is a given name to the advanced MiG-29. Based on MiG-29 Lastochka and shared technology gained via Project Prominence, the MiG-29OVT is an advanced variant that is supposedly able to go toe-to-toe with the American F-15 ACT Active Eagle. Changes from the earlier MiG-29 variants include upgraded avionics, improved Jump Units, Light by Light and redesigned shoulder blade vanes.

To reflect the thrust-vectoring capabilities of the real world OVT, the TSF OVT now has added thrusters in the shoulders and hips. This supposedly gives it 3rd Generation level manoeuvrability. It carries Blade Motors from earlier MiG-29 variants in its arms and legs, as well as the A-97 Assault Gun. Being on the side of close-combat, Fulcrum pilots tend to favour brutish tactics and acute-angle attacks on the enemy. One might even assume that the Fulcrum showcases the changes in Soviet’s doctrine against BETA and human targets.

In terms of design, the MiG-29OVT shares more with its in-universe brethren than with the real fighter. It’s chunkier than blockier to keep in-tone with the rest of the MiG-29 series. Similarly, while the MiG-29 has rounded and smooth corners to it, the TSF design has opted to angularise itself in many cases, like with adding more corners to the wings and fins. There are surprising amount of included elements from the fighter in the TSF, albeit the TSF elements govern the overall look of the unit.

There would have been few points that the MiG-29 could have stood out overall. The fighters are unique in that their intakes and nozzles, indeed almost the whole department, resides under the fuselage. The pilot also sits very high in the cockpit. Neither these aspects carried into the MiG-29 line. However, perhaps the TSF elements again override the fighter design points in this case.

Mecha design: Straightened up A-6

To continue the theme of transforming mecha in a simple form, I’ve decided to take this chance to introduce another simple transformation, but one that isn’t a box and does alter its appearance quite a lot between its two forms. Furthermore, rather than choosing something that flies through the air, I’ve decided to pick one that makes some sense in its setting as well as is water bound; the A-6 Intruder, or the Tactical Surface Attacker Type 81, Wadatsumi.

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The unsung hero

Unlike Boxtron from one of the previous entries, A-6 Intruder requires some explanation about its role in-universe in Muv-Luv Unlimited/ Alternative. In a world where air superiority is not an option before a specialised enemy unit has been cleared off from the battlefield, an off-shoot branch has specialised on long-range combat and against enemy strains that are less armoured and smaller, but number in tens of thousands. The A-6 Intruder is the amphibious equivalent of A-10, another TSA. Both of them require to work in tandem, with Tactical Surface Fighters for effective warfare if they’re present. Furthermore, the A-6 has specialised in landing operations. These guys are the workhorse of things, able to take loads of damage and dish out about twice as much, reflecting the real world craft’s resilience. Effectively, they’re walking fortresses rising from the water and taking control of the beach, so the main force can move in.

If you were expecting a design comparison between this and the real life A-6, I’m not intending to do one due to the TSA effectively having no elements to go through. Well, outside the intakes that the 120mm guns were modelled after. The only real connections are the intention and relative role. The real world Grumman A-6 Intruder was a carrier-based attack craft that was designed around long-range and low-level tactical strikes. An interesting juxtapose is that the real world craft had no guns or internal bombing bay, whereas the TSA has nothing but build-in weapons. All the ordinance was mounted externally, and ranged from simple generic bombs to possibility of Mark 43 nuclear bomb. Fun fact, the A-6 delivered the most ordinance during Vietnam War than any other craft, including the B-52.

The design reflects the intended function. While not exactly apparent from its land mode, the whole transformation is made simple as possible while having interesting shapes to go around. Nevertheless, it still has some notably intricate, smaller form changing in its legs.

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How the feet are pulled in during submersible mode is rather interesting for the reason that it’s slightly over-engineered. The question whether or not you’d want sharp double-heels when you’re landing on a beach, or walk anywhere on the sea bottom where its muddy as hell,  is a good one and probably the only individual detail that I can complain about. If you disagree, you go walk on the beach with stilettos. Don’t ask why I’ve done that.

The transformation has four main elements that change form. The head, the arms, the legs and the crotch piece. Just like some older Transformers, what A-6 essentially does it that is stretches itself out, with some twisting and turning here and there. This transformation scheme is dependent on water, as its submersible mode wouldn’t function on land. Maybe is space. Luckily, we do have step-by-step CGs from the Visual novels themselves.

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Here we see the submersible mode with its head extended from the main body. This seems to be the first step in the whole thing. Overall speaking, we do see that the A-6 is pretty nice overall, though you can see sections on the arms that have crevices. Nothing major going here yet.

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The second step is to extend the shoulder and hip joints beyond the main body. This is the first thing that leads to the rest of the breakdown, but to be completely honest, this and extending the head should one and the same step.

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Here we see the hands extending forwards. These scene where this particular transformation takes place happens during a battle against a Tactical Surface Fighter. Hence, the arms are coming to grab something in-front of it. In order for the 120mm cannons to face forwards (as in the top image), they are required to twist 180-degrees forwards. The main shoulder pieces that keep the arms and 120mm cannons connected to the main body are still flat.

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The last phase  is extending the crotch piece forwards, twisting the 120mm cannons forward while turning the shoulder pieces out and straightening the legs and feet. At this point the A-6 Intruder would be ready to land ashore.

This transformation sequence uses the exact same core idea as Boxtron. The initial shape is mostly dictated by its function as an amphibious weapons platform, which on the other hand does limit how the humanoid form stands up. Well, semi-humanoid, as the A-6 does away with most human proportions.

While the transformation is simple, the main difference with its initial starfish form and Boxtron is not the shape or the sequence, but that it contains third dimension. While Boxtron was strictly a two-dimensional, A-6 needs to rotate and extend sections in the third dimension in order to achieve complete form change. As mentioned, the scheme of designed to work under water and only under water and ultimately the whole design works around this. The thrust is kept to the same direction at all times and the only bit that would seem to have any control over direction is the crotch piece.

Nevertheless, the good old tuck-and-cover method is practised here as well with, well, everything really. The amphibious mode is streamlined in most parts and doesn’t exactly have any hard corners for the water or currents to drag on. The geometry is overall sound. Outside the feet, anything more complex would be redundant.

In-universe the A-6 Intruder isn’t exactly a showpiece, and its transformation gimmick does give it a higher cost, but it’s specialised role makes it shine. While we can debate whether or not the design itself is something to admire, the A-6 is nevertheless a good example of a purpose-designed form changing mecha.

Mecha design; From cube to humanoid

The previous post about mecha design was all about the basic ideas that yours truly tends to use when it comes to transforming or shape changing robots. As mentioned, they are not definitive and many would probably contest them, but they work just as well. However, all transforming mecha follow one essential thought pattern most of the time; from inhuman shape to humanoid shape. This shape can be whatever. Cars, planes, guns, dinosaurs, trains… pretty much everything has been turned into a robot. Hell, there used to be a saying on imageboards that the Japanese can transform anything into a mecha if they just want to. Of course, there are those that simply change utility shape between modes and never become humanoid. These are relatively rarer in scale of things, but the overall discussion follows the same pattern overall. You have a shape that you want to force into another.

The title of this post is misleading. The term that I should be using is cuboid. However, I am going to break any and all good language practices and keep mixing cube and cuboid to label any cuboid shapes. This would an example of marketing of sorts when you get down to it, as many companies want to use cube in a similar sense. Nintendo’s Game Cube being one, with it being a cuboid even when the Game Boy player is attached.

As with any matter like this, there is no one correct way to do anything. The examples here are simply just for the sake of examples and being as simple as possible. Expanding on basics and building on them is really the only way to get around.

The core idea is to take a cube and “spread” it to the similar breakdown as human would be, if we’d draw human with simple geometric shapes.

Continue reading “Mecha design; From cube to humanoid”

Three approaches to transforming mecha designs

Unfolding, folding, opening, twisting, turning, exposing areas and revealing hidden parts is basically what mecha transformation is all about. There is no one way to do it, and the sheer amount of examples there exists eclipses the scope I’m willing to work for free. To tackle transformation schemes in general requires part problem solving and part puzzle making in a nice balance, where a irregular shapes can be turned into e.g. a humanoid and vice versa. By first introducing this sort of base idea of categorizing transforming mechas into will give some foresight how I’ll tackle the subject down the line.

Much like Three approaches in mecha design (which will be rewritten at some point this year,) I tend to employ a similar template for transforming mechas specifically. These three are not necessarily connected to the three initial approaches as some sort of rule, but they do work under them if you’d wish to make a transforming mecha. These might help you to lock down your approach better. This post can barely scratch the surface of it all with the given limit I’ve set to myself.

The three approaches in transforming mecha design are Fantastic, Toyetic and Realistic. As with previous, there are overlapping elements with each of the three and can be even split into sub-categories if necessary. Examples of Fantastic transforming robots are all the outright impossible ones in any form outside animation and movies. Getter Robo and Gurren Lagann are probably the best examples, where thing just fall into their place and morph into new shapes. Mass shifting is nothing short of expected and even mandatory.

Continue reading “Three approaches to transforming mecha designs”

Music of the month; Lilia ~Winter Version~

Let’s dedicate this post to the changes that I need to make things viable again and what that means for my own time use and this blog. First, I won’t be dropping the two posts per week pace, that’s something I won’t back out on, unless something significant keeps me from doing it. The reason for this is that realistically I can’t make a living in my current profession. Craftsmen are not valued to any significant extent and their craft or skills are face the same end. The same tends to go towards designers across the board, and if you can’t make the right connections, there’s not much you can do. As such, I’ve taken a drastic decision to re-educate myself for a profession where I can utilise my previous experiences. To what exactly is something I will leave for the time being.

This means I don’t have much time in my hands. The aim is to go through three to four years of studies in one. That is stupidly fast pace, which requests me to concentrate my efforts and resources elsewhere. However, the nature of this blog won’t change too much if any because of this. Rather, I expect it to add further depth as I get more familiar with certain aspects of… well, that’s the open bit for you.

This is also the reason why there has been no new podcast for some time now. Not only the translator staff is busy at their own with both Muv-Luv related matters but also with their personal stuff. Juggling the schedules together has become exponentially more difficult, and sudden changes in what happens and when will become a daily thing to yours truly, at least. ARG is not killed, it’s just biding its time. The same thing really applies to the idea of my voice blogs, as I noticed that producing those in the way I’d like them to takes about four times longer than just writing. Maybe I should just do a stream of thought without a script, but how that would come together nobody knows.

Winter’s arrived here, meaning that while snow is still a scarce, cold weather has arrived and things slow down to take things with certain sure and safe pace. It also means Schwarzesmarken‘s second VN has been released, which means I can read both VNs in one go and watch the animated series. I’ve pushed the whole review thing back for almost a year now because I want to have a proper perspective on both of them without being influenced by hype or other views. Needless to say, both the VN and animation needs to stand on their own two feet, and comparisons between the two can be made. However, it should be noted that the two were made based on the Light Novels, which essentially served as a base script more than anything else. The animation changes things around to fit in the allotted time, while the VN has a lot more time and space just to dwell into things. That’s just the nature of the mediums.

There was no Monthly Three last month  as those take a lot of reading and planning. It may not seem like that, but they really take their sweet time to come together, and I usually plan all three parts in one go. Exceptions happen, of course. The same applies to the whole mecha design things. I do intend to write a TSF comparison this month, which will also serve as the month’s mecha design post. I haven’t decided which one, I need to check what images I have in stash and what I can get. However, for the time being, I do not intend to force myself to do a Monthly Three, unless a subject pops up towards me. Of course, I could use that for the mecha design stuff. Speaking of mecha posts, the post Three Different Approaches in mecha design will get a complete rewrite at some point in the future, and the old one will be replaced with that. However, I will archive that older version for future.

I will most likely insert few personal posts about games on smart phones. This is because my old Nokia finally went bust and I had to purchase a new one. This post, or posts if I end up making multiple, will be observations about mobile gaming in contrast to e.g. handheld console gaming.

I admit that lately this blog has not been up to the standard I’d like to think it has stayed at for a long time now. A lot of news and events that I wanted to write about have come and gone, but my time and simple stamina have been used to a more pressing matters. As said, if I were paid to write, I’d take this more seriously. This is more or less a hobby. Sometimes it stresses, sometimes it feel almost cathartic.

For now, I’ll have to leave you with this, despite it leaving me with a lacklustre feeling. I need to fix my tyres, somebody had slashed them the other night along with seven other’s.

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.

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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