I assume you know something about Super Robot Wars game series. If you don’t, it’s a series of turn-based strategy games that mixes multiple giant robot IPs together with a game original character and its plot as overall tying glue. The series is incredibly plastic, allowing multiple takes on the concept, sometimes dropping the whole strategy bit from in exchange for action or something else. The series started on the humble Game Boy in 1991, it itself was a spin-off from Bandai’s Compati Hero series.
Despite its age, the SRW series has never significantly changed its play mechanics. You can look at the footage from the first game in the series and recognise that modern games use almost the exact same kind of base system; player and AI have their own turns they move on a grid, and if an enemy is in the vicinity, an attack can be made, which leads into an animated encounter with the attacker’s theme playing in the background. This system has been iterated slowly but surely to take out jank from it. It is an archaic system by all means, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. The way the series tries to innovate itself is with flavour differences and additional systems, like Squad based play, where multiple units exist in a squad to move in a field. This became pretty much a necessary addition with 2nd SRW Alpha game due to the size of the roster. The roster, in fact, is the main pulling power of the series, as it brings back classic shows to be combined with new ones, making it an effective way for Bandai and Sunrise to market their favourite shows and for the staff to expose younger generations with older titles. For example, Steel Jeeg‘s entry in the aforementioned Alpha 2 game lead into Dynamic Pro producing a rewarmed remake for the original shows, Steel God Jeeg in 2007, while Bandai’s executives forced Alpha 3 to have Gundam SEED as one of the entries in the series to drive plastic model sales. This didn’t really work all that well for the game, as it made the deep-space scenario of the game bound to Earth.
With thirty years under its belt Super Robot Wars itself has spin-offs up the wazoo, with one of the most notable one being Original Generation sub-series, which crosses over the main game series’ original characters and robots with each other. A personal favourite with these spin-offs would be Another Century’s Episode, mostly because the first three games are some of the best games Fromsoftware has ever made. Most SRW spin-offs are not exactly high-quality titles. For example, SRW: Scramble Commander tried to take its usual strategy based-play and push it into 3D with some semi-realtime mechanics, but it is incredibly janky, sluggish, boring and looks like a bargain bin PlayStation 2 game. Most footage you’ll find for the game on Youtube also has been stretched sideways, because for whatever reason a lot of people think PS2 games were in widescreen.
Nevertheless, SRW as a series is extremely valuable as a marketing tool. The series’ popularity in Japan means you can’t really drop any series in and have it work. Crossing with other IPs is its bread and butter, and it makes money. The mobile game spin-off SRW X-Ω, or Cross-Omega, was devised as a way to bring SRW spin-off experience to the mobile phones while having a new series cross over almost every month. The number of new franchises Cross-Omega introduced to the SRW label include Muv-Luv Alternative, for example, while the mainline series has always steered away from adapting Visual Novel franchises. I can hear somebody mention SRW UX and Demonbane, and I’ll have to remind this person that they adapted Demonbane‘s animation, not the original work. Similarly, you can expect Muv-Luv Alternative to enter SRW through its animation adaptation, not through its original VN work.
Cross-Omega‘s cross-overs, however, were completely out there. Because it was a mobile game that lived in cross-over content in order to make sales, pretty much everything crossed over with everything else. For example, you had a crossover with a crossover when ACertain Magical Virtual-On made its entry Cross-Omega. If that sounds familiar, I have a review on the game. This lead into situations, like with this player, where you had an SRW original Granzon on the field with the Mega Zord from Power Rangers, Godzilla stomping around, supported by Bass from Mega Man and Accelerator piloting Specineff from the aforementioned A Certain Magical Virtual-On. However, from the linked footage you should already tell something about the game; it’s not very good. While it’s something special to see Muv-Luv Alternative‘s cast discuss and interact with the cast from King of Braves GaoGaiGar and Shin Getter Robo, it never saved the game from being an utter bore. You can claim that you’re there for the plot, but most western fans won’t understand a word because it’s all in Japanese.
I haven’t talked what sort of play Cross-Omega had, because it’s a simple tower-defence game. You have few lanes the enemies keep coming in, and your robots defend a base ship. Most of the play comes from managing the team and making nice combinations of your favourite shows, but not only the battles themselves are short, but they are also boring to watch. I should keep saying things in the past tense, as Cross-Omegais being shut down on March 30th. I won’t even try to put up the writer persona for this one, I’m glad this series-leeching piece of shit will be removed. It wasn’t fun to play and it was a pain to see so many series making their first official entry to Super Robot Wars in such a pathetic and neutered manner. The game was full of predatory gacha practices, like the vast majority of mobile phone games out there, and even then what you got was mostly utter shit due to the game’s design being pulled from the laziest of meetings. All these shows, and Super Robot Wars overall, deserved the far better game. Instead, we got generic garbage that could’ve been any other IP out there.
Not that adapting Super Robot Wars play for mobile phones was difficult. SRW DD is still in action and a normal SRW play with a mobile twist to it. This is similar to how Langrisser and Fire Emblem took their basic play, modified the surrounding systems a little bit, and dropped them unto phones for gacha whales to make some profit for them. In practice, there was no reason why SRW‘s classic play could not have been adapted for Cross-Omega, but we can only surmise they wanted to push the entry down and try to appeal to the most common, to the lowest denominator for whatever audience out there. It was only after Fire Emblem Heroes and other outright tactical games made their mark and showcased that people aren’t dumb fucks that can’t understand how a thirty years olds mechanics work until DD became a synaptic spark in someone’s sorry ass. Not that SRW DD is any better, as its still a dumbed-down random chance gacha bullshit like any other mobile game, but at least you have something proper to play. While it most likely keeps some people employed, its existence is still that of a tumour, sapping away resources and ideas that could be put into the production of proper SRW games. Now all of this is going to be wasted, with only Youtube videos and some asset rips reminding that there were people putting their best effort into it.
The misunderstanding of what kind of genre mecha belongs to is slowly starting to ebb away. While North America still sustains people who consider it as nothing more as a toy commercial for children, that’s just one section of the overall genre. Transformers has very much seeped into the American culture as a defining example of what mecha is, even when it kind of bastardises the rest of the genre. The same can’t be said for Italian, French or Spain where shows like UFO Robot Grendizer and Space Warrior Baldios got localised and were relatively popular. Grendizer still gets seen as Goldorak is a pop-culture icon there, similarly how the Middle-East will gush over it. Then again, both of these shows are about space invaders coming to Earth with a special hero fighting a new monster on a weekly basis. By the 1990s, mecha was somewhat infamous of using stock footage over and over. If you’ve seen, say, New Mobile Report Gundam W, you’ve seen a certain Gundam Heavyarms shooting scene over and over to the point of it becoming somewhat ridiculous. In shows where you had relatively less budget and episodes’ animation quality might’ve wondered every which way, stock footage would stick out with its overall better animation quality. You might as well drop more money into the clip that gets used almost every episode.
I’d argue that the change in overall attitudes overall in the Western fandom that wasn’t into mecha in the mid-2000s. While Mobile Suit Gundam Seed was the first of many for a new generation of consumers due to the starting anime boom, to many its emphasis on interpersonal relationships juxtaposed with giant robots was something new. Within the genre itself, this has been done since the 1970s, with the original Mobile Suit Gundam itself garnering a significant female fanbase due to the aforementioned relationships. People love Char’s story, which sort of has undermined the rest of the Universal Century timeline. People can’t seem to give up Char and his character while ignoring other major characters and leaving their significance largely underdeveloped at best, almost completely ignored at worst. Code Geass‘ popularity could be argued to be a kind of breaking point, where I had multiple discussions in person, and read multiple arguments over whether or not the show counts as mecha, or whether or not it was drama. It has all hallmarks to be counted as mecha, from being future military drama to all the aforementioned bits, and foremost, it had giant humanoid war machines. While mecha doesn’t need to have war or conflict to be counted as one, them being sort of modern stories about knights or samurai is fitting due to their role as an external armour of the characters.
However, as a genre, it is hard to penetrate. Unless you already have a preference for the style of storytelling the genre often employs, visuals or interest in mechanical stuff overall, you might find mecha somewhat boring, jarring, stupid and all the stuff you don’t want from a show. All you end up with are a bunch of stupid robots fighting and not caring about anything else. You need some kind of line thrown to you that would fish out your interest and to separate that from the big robot battles. Code Geass did this to many through the characters. Though nothing special on the large scale, Code Geass managed to tap certain aesthetics with studio Clamp’s character designs and a very specifically made story surrounding royalty, loyalty and betrayal. This, accompanied with larger than life characters with special powers who are given a chance to change their rotten fate. It pulled in people who were fans of Gundam and Clamp together, and while these two did have overlap, Code Geass managed to intertwine them even more. The fact that it was a new IP made it much easier to access as well. There was no need to watch hundreds of hours of shows to get into something or try to withstand older animation that some people have a hard time to deal with.
Now we finally get to the actual subject matter of this post. Super Robot Wars is a game series that embodies this impenetrable wall all the while throwing as many lines out there to hook someone in.
Super Robot Wars, henceforth SRW, is a long-running game series clocking at thirty-plus years now and hasn’t exactly changed in big meaningful ways during that time. Outside of spin-off titles, the mainline games have not meddled with the formula. Only tweaks, additions and modifications to the core strategy playing element have been made, or how the whole story progression could be done. Sometimes you’re locked to one route with multiple characters, sometimes multiple characters have their own route that crosses over, sometimes you have only one route and character. While the modern games in the series are largely easy games to play through on their Normal difficulty, earlier titles in the series are still notoriously difficult to the point of needing to use certain specific units because of how strong they were in stats and attacks. Often you’d find junk units that would always sit on the bench. It didn’t help that at its core SRW titles have very lax pacing, with older titles forcing the player to spend more time with the game simply because you couldn’t skip Battle Animations. That didn’t become a thing until SRW Alpha, and speeding up those animations of you wanted to watch them didn’t hit the curb until SRW Z. We’re talking games almost ten years apart from each other (well, closer to seven, but still). Sometimes the improvements come from necessity, with The 2nd SRW Alpha (or SRW Alpha 2 as it’s more commonly known) introducing a squad-based system due to the larger cast of characters. The third Alpha game would one of the biggest cast in the series’ history and is lovingly called a massive clusterfuck of tedium in terms of unit management, especially after an Event stage when the game resets all the squads and the player has to reassemble them from the scratch. Just before the GameBoy Advance SRW Original Generation games cold localised into English by Atlus, many people who couldn’t afford to import the games (or had ways to play imported games) spent lots of time watching other people’s captured footage of the attack animations. The attack animations are one of the things that pull people in, as they’re one of the last big 2D assets still done today, but also that the fans of the shows can easily recognise from where in the shows they’re taken from, with some attacks being behind special conditions.
Most modern uploads of older SRW titles is forced into widescreen, something that breaks the quality as the aspect ratio is now wrong
That fan bit is another key though. What aspects would SRW have to engage people who aren’t into mecha as a genre, or want to spend several hours in a strategy game that is either stupidly hard or nearly a walk in the park? The concoction of different robot shows crossing over in an official fanfic, often compensating for each other weaknesses while reinforcing the strong bits even more and having all these different characters and motifs meeting in a unified manner isn’t something that would interest most people outside the already established fandom, but modern times has proven how SRW can have something for anyone in these terms, if given a chance. While the series has been considered somewhat a significant staple in Japan to the point of influencing the animation media and series themselves, like how Mazinkaiser’s introduction in SRW F ultimately led into the creation of the retro robot OVA boom, the inclusion of Koutetsu Jeeg in SRW Alpha 2 raised newfound interest it to gain a retroactive sequel in Koutetsushin Jeeg and numerous similar shows directed at the adult market bloomed up now and then. This coincided with the drop in children’s robot shows, as the new generation of Japanese children and young people considered giant robots and mecha overall to be a thing of their parents. While shows like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann were massive successes across the board, it’s one of the few examples from the modern time when a mecha show shot through every genre fandoms and pulled people in, and that was 2007, thirteen years ago. Kill la Kill would replicate similar success, though it wasn’t mecha. SSSS.Gridman didn’t manage to gather the same audience, but that might’ve been because it was special effects live-action show, or tokusatsu, turned into a cartoon. Nevertheless, successful enough to get a sequel in SSSS.Dynazenon.
For the Western world, outside those GBA titles, SRW has been a series some people played because they were cool without understanding the context, as SRW games are stupid easy to learn with zero knowledge of Japanese. Because the systems, mechanics and hell even the menus haven’t changed much since the second game, you can skip from one game to another without prior knowledge what does what. It takes about a quarter of an hour to learn what does what. Some people enjoyed the text, sure. the GBA Original Generation titles had no licensed shows, just so-called Banpresto Original characters that are used as a glue to tie all the other shows together SRW, so in that manner, they provide a bastardization of SRW overall all the while showcasing how these games themselves kicked up a whole new level of fandom, equal to its humble cross-over origin. While you got the best gist what the games were like, that cross-over really is the salt of SRW.
These games later got a full-blown remake on the PS2 as Original Generations, retconning many things the GBA games set-up in the story, but never got localised in English. Later OGS titles would get an Asian English release, but this itself poses problems when you have non-canon versions in English and missing a few titles between those and the translated ones, not to mention the whole Lord of Elemental side games lacking any translations (outside the original Super Famicom game, but that’s canon to the Classic SRW timeline, not the modern OGS one)
With SRW being part of Bandai-Namco’s growing pains Southern Asia Ocean English releases, with the initial titles having terrifyingly bad English and translations that made little sense nor had any character to them, the three last Super Robot Wars titles, V, X and T, have been very successful games in terms of imports. I’ve heard rumours of those imports making more profits to BaNco than the Japanese releases, which tells you a lot about the import market. Because of the stupid amount of licenses and trademarks involved in each game (sans OG) it’s no wonder no company even attempted to properly localise the series before. Outside Japan, the licenses and trademarks are spread wide and trying to get some kind deal where everyone would get some profit just won’t happen. With importing being a completely viable and easy way to obtain games nowadays, Japan’s awakening to the import market like this has done only good for their sales. Dropping Steam versions of some of the newer titles has also allowed Steam users to enjoy the series if they got into it.
That’s the last point that has held SRW back. If you’re sitting down and playing it, you’re getting mechas from shows you probably don’t give a damn as a general consumer, characters and concepts that are unfamiliar and make no sense with the games themselves not even trying to open them up in-game, bombing you with more and more ludicrous stuff that only hard-core fans would understand and play that’s arguably two decades out of date. While Muv-Luv was called the ultimate otaku game by some contemporary reviewer, that title belongs to Super Robot Wars without any doubt. It’s not just mecha that SRW contains, but the whole Japanese otaku culture at large in a form that is presentable to the general consumers. There are numerous little things that reference or throw shade at in the Japanese popular culture, with one of the more known example being a thing between Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Misato Katsuragi and Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Amuro Ray. The two characters share voice actors in Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask respectively. In SRW Alpha, the two have certain specific scenes showcasing a slight romantic interest with each other which is played out as a direct reference to the voice actors’ roles. That one Tactics Ogre reference in Muv-Luv Alternative is baby tier fanaticism compared what SRW does due to the sheer amount of franchises and games being involved in this whole shebang.
And yet, the title of this post is that it’s not the best gateway, not that it isn’t one. The same reason people might stay with SRW is the same thing they found Code Geass interesting and captivating. SRW has to base itself on all these franchises, and the writing tries its hardest to be on the same level, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding. The series is filled with characters to the point of overflowing and their interactions and relationships are one of the pillars. You might find a character who is batshit insane and charismatic guy, who yells every attack in his rounded robot and want to see where his story goes. Maybe you’ll find a cute girl flying a transforming bike who fights dragons. Hell, maybe you’ll even grow to like this Shinn guy and his Destiny Gundam, the other characters seem to give him some good support and growth. All these little things lead into considering visiting the actual work itself now that you’ve familiarised with the work in an environment that might be more to your liking. The games are all about the robots fighting on the surface and neat as hell sprite work, but if the characters and the plot manage to grab you even a little bit, that’s when the gateway to Robotland opens. It just takes tons to get there, and if none of these elements really nab you, well that’s something that can’t be helped.
Super Robot Wars could be considered an institution in itself in Japanese gaming. Whilst it is not for everyone, it has made itself more and more approachable throughout the years with its play tuning and series selections. With the occasional surprise in there, like Tekkeman Blade in SRW J and the recent Battleship-slot entries, namely The Secret of Blue Water, Space Pirate Captain Harlock and most importantly, Space Battleship Yamato 2199, with the side mention of Linebarrels of Iron original comic version having an entry in SRW UX, many fan-perceived limitations and bans seem to have gone the way of the dodo and all doors are open what could enter next into the mainline games and have that full SRW treatment.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Whatever protection you have, you also need to consider
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.
Maintenance of course is easier if the mecha has a well-defined
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.
Video pinball is a genre that doesn’t have all that many actually good entries. For every decent one you have a handful of awful games, and the reasons vary between bad field design to awful physics. Often both. Some of them aim to emulate the real pinball games to meticulous degree, while some take more freedom to explore what is impossible to do with a physical steel ball, even thou what some of the pinball makers have been able to achieve is nothing short of amazing. For example, Gottlieb’s Black Hole managed to create two-field layout back in the day and was the priciest pinball machine when it came out, and the machine demands high amount of maintenance if Internet is to be believed. Then you have the likes of Bally’s Elektra with three fields, which is one of my personal favourites with its awesome subdued colours and atmosphere. To think a ‘simple’ thing like a pinball table is able to create a very moody atmosphere. Of course, who could forget the Orbitor 1 with its wildly behaving ball and breaks the damn laws of physics just for the fun of it. All these broke some levels of limitations what a pinball machine can do, and I am committing some sort of crime against humanity by not mentioning numerous, more important machines.
Things that video pinball can never replicate are things like the sound of the machine and the sounds while playing a pinball machine on-site, the illustrations on the backglass and the feeling of holding the sides of the machine in your hands, feeling the buttons just touching your fingertips. This is arcade at its best, and there’s nothing that can replace that. While pinballs have changed very little, there has been some video pinballs in arcades as well, where the table screen basically emulates an existing real pinball machine’s layout. While it’s nice to have a selection of tables in one machine, digital version of a real machine never can stand up to the challenge. A screen just won’t cut if it if the game hasn’t been designed for it. A lot of video pinball games suck ass as they try to emulate the real angle of the machines, but rarely that works, as you can weave back and forth, up and down with the real machine. A screen doesn’t allow you to do that.
I love pinball machines and I have a huge bias in their favour, even thou I am rather bad at them. That can be faulted due to the lack of proper machines in my home town, but there’s a nice collection of few machines near my current whereabouts. For that exact reason I have tried variety of video pinball games, and one of the NES games I used to play to death was Nintendo’s own Pinball. I agree with a lot of people that NAXAT Soft’s pinball games are the prime examples how a video pinball should be done, especially with Devil’s Crash/ MD, which not only has excellent physics and field designs, but one of most rocking main theme out there.
The edge video pinball has over the real machines is how approachable they are. It’s not just about the coins you’d lose into the real money as you try to figure what the hell is going on, but also the fact that you can get all comfortable in your favourite position and just play the game at your own pace without any worries or outside pressure. As such, it’s not too common for people who can’t get into pinball in the arcades may find the likes of Pokémon Pinball enjoyable.
Jupiter is a company that has handled a lot of different Nintendo games and were the ones to develop the Game Boy Camera. They are perhaps the most known for their Pokémon Pinball games.
I can’t really become to imagine who came up with making a Pokémon pinball game. Then again, everything can be turned into a pinball game so there. Describing the gameplay would be slightly redundant as everybody and their mother know the basics of pinball, but the Pokémon aspect give it a twist; by hitting certain pointers the player can enter either Catching mode or Evolving move, where they catch and evolve their Pokémon. Kinda obvious, but both of these play pinball’s strengths in where and how this is accomplished. In the Catching mode the ball needs to hit the bumpers six times to reveal the Pokémon, which the requires numbers of hits in order to be caught. Evolving mode requires the player to hit point markers to reveal EXP or Evolution stones, which need to be collected in order to either get big points or evolve selected Pokémon.
There’s two tables to choose from, both having their own gimmick. The Red Board is very traditional in design and plays like any other stock board out there, whereas the Blue Board has sort of magnetic pull gimmick in the middle of the table and requires the player to hit certain pointers to change the direction where the ball is going at times. The tables themselves are rather plain in appearance, with solid colours and very little to catch your attention. While this means that your eyes will be fixated on the ball more, it also means that game is rather lacklustre when it comes to visuals. It’s rather standard looking for a Game Boy Game, and thou the Pokémon do look neat and the few animations they have give them more than enough charm.
A double-edged strength for Pokémon Pinball is that you have all those Generation I Pokémon the catch, which is more or less hair pulling. On the other hand this means you will have a lot of different monsters to catch, but there’s a lot of chance here. What Pokémon comes out is determined by a random number generation based on what field you are in, which is selected through a slot machine. This means that you need to hit areas you haven’t gone through before and get monsters you haven’t caught yet, which might make you reset your game because you got that damn Pidgey for the seventh time in a row. There’s very little feeling of progress and at some point I found myself resetting the game every time a monster I already had caught appeared. I didn’t feel like wasting any more time with it.
As the fields’ layouts are higher than the Game Boy Colour’s screen, Jupiter opted a transition between the two halves of the stage. Generally speaking, there’s a split between developers where some have preferred this transition over scrolling field. To some the transition keeps the table steady and takes away unnecessary movement from the game. It emulates the non-moving nature of the table, or so I’ve heard it being described. Whether or not you like this up to you. The layouts work with this transition as they’re designed not put in any bullshit objects in the way, but the aiming can be tricky as you have to “remember” where the targets are.
The catching and evolving wouldn’t be anything to scoff at, but there’s two things Jupiter really didn’t manage to master at this point and it was the physics and field layouts. First and foremost the ball doesn’t behave like you’d expect it to, and it is entirely possible to cheat the ball out from the gutter by mashing the nudge buttons. Nudging isn’t essential either, and there’s three damn buttons for it, thou abusing them does make a difference. Far too often the ball doesn’t go where it is aimed at, and there are times when the ball is visibly hit upwards by the underside of the flippers, a thing I also has started abusing because it yields better and more accurate results. In the Red Table using a traditional layout, the game becomes rather dull chore as the non-realistic physic clashes with the layout. The flow isn’t really there and the smallness of both of the tables is a disservice. Blue Table on the other hand actually has an advantage due to its main gimmick, and the Blue Table seems attract more of my attention due to this. Also, it has superior Catching and Evolving modes’ music with a neat render of Mesaze Pokémon Master.
Of course, with each new caught and evolved Pokémon a new entry in your Pokédex opens, which can make people with obsessions go mad in trying to unlock all entries. I won’t even attempt to do that, I gave up on catching all the Pokémon during the third generation and haven’t regretted that decision. Goddamn battery dying on 100% save in my Silver…
The music in Pokémon Pinball is good and fitting. All the sound effects have found their home and Jupiter managed to replicate the feeling of the Pokémon games very well. There’s very little to say outside that they did their job well.
Pokémon Pinball is a rough on the edges and shows that Jupiter knew what they were doing and had some clear aims, but didn’t manage to achieve everything they wanted to do. Mediocre layout coupled with flawed physics make this a decent pinball game at best. Outside the catching and evolving, there’s very little do in Pokémon Pinball. However, this makes Pokémon very concentrated on the pure pinball experience with very little bells and whistles attached.
A year later Jupiter had finished their spiritual sequel to Pokémon Pinball in form of Super Robot Pinball. We can assume that this game runs on a modified engine of sorts from Pokémon Pinball, and soon it becomes clear that all that Pokémon Pinball lacked is found in here.
Super Robot Pinball takes the same idea of Pokémon Pinball and gives it a bit more spin. If you’ve played Pokémon Pinball, you’ll find yourself at home with this title.
The table layout has been improved in every aspect. While the initial layout has some similarities with the Red Table, it is more a training stage with gutters being a saving element and pointers easier to hit. The second table on the other hand gives few new twists and is more dangerous table and feels more mechanical due to the chosen colours and shapes. It is more challenging due to the smaller room to play in. of course, there’s more than two fields to play as, and as you progress to higher levels, the more challenging the fields and enemy robots will become. On the other hand, the selection of your robots also changes for the stronger. The layouts complexity also is upped a notch, but aiming is easier due to the improved physics and scrolling screen.
The basic gameplay remains relatively similar to Pokémon Pinball; fulfil a requirement to engage a battle and shoot your ball up the Scramble lane, in which you choose from randomly chosen robot. After this you can power it up on the main table or send the ball up the Battle lane, where a separate table for battling resides. The battling is far more involved than catching or evolving your Pokémon. With each hit the ball makes to the enemy unit, your robot attacks. Attacks are determined how many times you have lit attack counter by hitting the ball up the rightmost lane, while the leftmost lane is reserved for charging Spirit Commands. You activate a Spirit Command by hitting a bumper either side of the enemy unit. If your robot’s HP gets too low, the left lane open a new door to change the unit you have on the field.
All of the attacks the robots make have few frames of animation, and Level 3 attacks are modelled after traditional Super Robot Wars attack animations in look. These attacks also do huge amount of damage, so sometimes it’s better to hit the ball up the right lane and use Lv3 attacks in row. Other times you might want to juggle the ball on top of the enemy and use the Lv1 attack constantly to do minor damage, but keep the enemy from attacking. It’s actually pretty awesome.
The battles also have slight strategic element to them, as every robot has its own stats. Some have higher HP, some have higher dodge and so forth. This makes the selection of of your robot a bit more important than you’d initially expect, as you want to have something that can dish huge damage against an Angel from Evangelion, whereas you might want to use something more agile with mobile suits. Or do what I do most of the time and throw Dancouga on the field and spam the Lv.3 attack with high hopes I don’t screw around, as you can spin the ball around the field insanely fast.
You also have proper main boss battles, which you enter automatically after defeating a number of enemy units. These boss battles are played with your ball only, and every hit to the boss damages it a little but, but the damage can be jacked up by Powering Up the ball. The boss is able to freeze your flipper for a moment, and here the nudging becomes imperative, as the layout allows you to jump the ball over the gap between the flippers. Of course, the bosses have their own ball mode and roam around.
Jupiter took away one of the useless nudging buttons, and they’re far less abusable here, but strategically more important overall. I find myself controlling the overall path of the ball with nudging, rather than controlling the whole damn game just by mashing the buttons.
There’s also a neat scene when you launch the ball; there’s a race timer with three light ticks, and if you time the launch just as the light hits green, the ball will be powered up and launch with greater speed.
The game gets very hectic and has higher pace than Pokémon Pinball. It is not easier, but it is easier to get your ball where it needs to go thanks to the revamped ball physics and layout. It’s not a night and day difference in the physics, but it is highly notable. Because of this the game feels far more fair, and as the battling is more involved than than just hitting the enemy, it’s more enjoyable. The physics alone make this a better game over Pokémon Pinball.
One problem with Super Robot Spirits is the Missions. You gain a new mission by hitting the ball into a Mission pointer, where you are given one random mission out of around twenty. The thing is that these missions are described in the manual and there’s no real indications in the game itself what they require you to hit. Without the manual you’re kinda screwed, but the Missions aren’t really there to add anything but the bread and butter of real pinball machines; scoring.
However, with all the good there’s some bad. In traditional Super Robot Wars spirit, every unit has their respective series’ theme playing in the background. Some of these are fitting, while some make you turn the volume down. Actually, the devs managed to insert so much sound in the game that you’d might want to do that anyway. Every target makes their own sound, and you’ll notice that the game is just as noisy as a real pinball machine, just more irritating. The music itself is not bad, but the constant barrage of blings and blongs makes me want to punch an otter. Too bad Dancouga doesn’t have Ai yo Faraway, that would have made everything acceptable. If you’re wondering if I’m one of those bastards that want Rhythm Emotion and Just Communication for every Gundam Wing iteration, you’d be right, thou I enjoy other themes too.
As such, God Bless the Library mode, the Pokédex of this game. In he Library you can check an entry for the robot, as well as listen to its theme and check its attack animations. There’s 41 Super Robots unlock, whereas the Enemy side has 61. These entries are unlocked as you use your a new robot from the random selection wheel, and when you defeat and enemy unit. Simple and effective.
However, due to the pace of the game and higher chances of getting new units as you advance in the game, there’s a genuine feeling of progress in Super Robot Pinball. This above all is what makes this game stand out over Pokémon Pinball, where it was an OK game at best, Super Robot Pinball is a damn good portable pinball game, perhaps one of the best there is. Super Robot Pinball is very balanced game overall and it’s a shame that it never could see a Western release. I hope for a 3DS eShop release at some point, but I’m not having my hopes up.
The comparison between the two pinball games is rather huge, in the end. In comparison to Super Robot Pinball, Pokémon Pinball may end up look like a bare bones release. There was just one year between the two, and that one year shows. I’ve yet to try my hands on Pokémon Pinball Ruby & Sapphire, but perhaps sometime in the future I’ll visit it. However, due to the simplicity and methodical approach Pokémon Pinball has, I can see it more approachable pinball game than Super Robot Pinball, but making the step from there is very easy to make. Whether or not these games will lead anyone into the arcades and give the actual machines a go is another matter, especially with Pokémon Pinball and its questionable physics.
I recognize that Pokémon Pinball is well loved game and some will take an issue me panning on it to the extent have, and that there is just many people turned off because of giant robots as there people who don’t really want to play a Pokémon game. Then there’s those who will play a good game regardless of what theme it carries.
Would I recommend one of the two over the other? Yes, from purely quality standpoint Super Robot Pinball is the superior game from the two. I also do not doubt that people will get enjoyment from either game, and Pokémon Pinball is more readily available than Super Robot Pinball, unless you want to resort in emulation. SRPinball works a good replacement for Pokémon Pinball, but the same can’t be said vice versa. Both have their unique points that the other lacks, but SRPinball has more going for it and is ultimately the more satisfying product. I would go as far as saying that whatever Pokémon Pinball did, Super Robo Pinball made it better; it made Pokémon Pinball obsolete.