The true worth of a mech designer lay not in their skills or experience, but in the quality of their designs.
One did not necessarily lead to the other.
Even if a mech designer possessed a genius-level intelligence and enjoyed extensive tutoring from renowned Masters, his products might still end up lackluster and without inspiration.
This often happened in high-pressure learning environments in the galactic center and the galactic rim. Their abundant wealth and population enabled many hopefuls to study mech design. Yet once they entered the ultra-competitive mech markets there, they instantly got swamped.
They learned in the most brutal fashion that to be a successful mech designer, they needed to be more than technically adept. They needed to have a sense of art and craftsmanship.
"Mech design is both a science and an art. Among two functionally similar designs, the one which resonates more with the people will always have an edge."
Artistic sense could be trained, but only up to a certain point. It was something which could never be defined or measured in hard numbers. What one person found beautiful, another person might think of it as trash.
The key to mech design was to design a mech that appealed to a broad audience. If that couldn't be done, then it should at least be attractive to its target audience.
To be nominated to win the award for Best Mech Design of the Year, a design had to possess more than technical prowess, though that was also indispensable.
The Crystal Lord design happened to be strong at both. The product line exhibited pretty good specs and possessed a clean and mostly faultless design.
However, the main qualities that pushed it into contention to win an award was its inexplicable effect at impacting both bystanders and mech pilots alike. The mech possessed a weight to it that could hardly be seen in other mechs besides those that possessed a very special history.
Many mech designers who witnessed the copies in person and mech pilots who tried out the virtual copies in online games all puzzled over what made the Crystal Lord so special. When they compared the Crystal Lord to the Blackbeak, they noticed the same qualities, but at a weaker level.
Clearly, the Crystal Lord was not a fluke, and its compelling allure must have been a deliberate design feature. As mech designers and mech pilots puzzled over the mystery, word of mouth spread far and wide, and even foreign markets showed interest in importing the remarkable mechs.
All of this had made the powerful and influential Bentheim Mech Court take note. Besides presiding over difficult disputes and contentions in the mech industry, they also recognized the works of brilliant mech designers who resided in the Bright Republic.
That the Crystal Lord had been acknowledged by the Court was already an enormous honor. Though it only fell into contention in the lowest grade of its awards, demand had already spiked once the news leaked out.
All of this thrust the LMC into a spotlight, but sadly the mech designer who shaped the remarkable design was many light-years away from the spotlight. While his company accepted more and more accolades, Ves was cooped up in his newly-assigned office to prepare to take up his new duties.
Despite having cut off his connections to the mech industry back, Ves found it rather strange that his achievements directly led to a promotion in the hollowed-out design department of the 6th Flagrant Vandals.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes as he took a break from his reading. "The Crystal Lord must be selling like hotcakes right now if word of it had managed to reach the Vandals."
Though Ves still felt a little bewildered about it since his accomplishments back home shouldn't have affected him like this, he decided to roll with the punches.
In preparation for the new tasks Professor Velten expected him to complete, Ves needed to get up to date with various protocols and technical data. The extra reading imposed on him didn't help so much because much of the true secrets of the three actively developed designs of the Flagrant Vandals remained enclosed inside impenetrable black boxes.
Though it annoyed him to be deprived of how certain key components worked, he slowly realized that it wasn't just a matter of secrecy. The professor also wanted to preserve his sanity. Spending the last couple of days trying to digest the new information already strained his mind somewhat, though his mental fortitude was a lot stronger than anyone realized.
"The so-called higher concepts don't seem so nebulous now that I think about it." He muttered. "The main reason why they are so dangerous is because they can potentially ruin someone's design philosophy."
From the brief instructions the professor had given him, Ves needed to be very prudent with what he read. Ves remembered what she said back then.
"The process of learning is one of the strengths of a civilized race. Each generation, the human race advances a little more because they learned from the mistakes of their predecessors. Yet we spend so much of our lifetime learning from others that we risk losing the ability to think for ourselves. There are lots of dangers involved with indiscriminate learning. Besides learning faulty information, you also risk narrowing your perspective on matters. Once this transfers to your developing design philosophy, you essentially become prematurely locked to someone else's stance on mechs."
Basically, Velten wanted Ves to study up so he could be of more use, but not go too far with his learning unless he wanted to destroy his ability to cope with the unknown and design mechs that could truly be called as his own work.
Ves knew she had a point, and as much as Ves wanted to dismiss the risks, he couldn't. Though he wouldn't get confused by the higher concepts, the danger to design philosophy and artistic vision remained as potent as ever. The more he learned, the more he agreed with the solutions of the original designers, and the less he tried to figure out alternative solutions.
Designing mechs eventually needed a hands-on approach. The more successful mech designers never reached their heights by relying on learning alone. They also applied their knowledge and tested the boundaries between what they knew and didn't know if it would be possible.
Thus, as much as Ves wanted to delve into the depths of the archives, he forced himself to pull away.
"I know enough about the three designs to get the gist of them all."
He mainly read up on the other two designs developed in-house by the Vandals. Both the Inheritor light skirmisher and the Akkara heavy cannoneer served vital purposes that underpinned many of the strategies employed by the Vandals. Ves needed to become as familiar to their nuances as he understood the Hellcat hybrid knight.
The Vandals heavily slanted towards spaceborn operations.
It was obvious that they designed the spaceborn Inheritor design to be fielded in large numbers. The mech excelled at raiding fleeing trade convoys, but was pretty much useless in many other situations.
The spaceborn Hellcat design served as the big brother of the Inheritor mechs. Larger, more powerful and exceedingly more expensive, the Vandals only needed a couple of them to stiffen up a company of Inheritor mechs.
As for the dual-purpose Akkara design, it provided the Vandals with a heavy amount of ranged firepower, albit in an immobile package. By sacrificing mobility, it was able to field a lot more firepower and armor than usual.
The Akkara basically served as the semi-mobile defense turrets of the Vandals, and was a very interesting design to Ves. Its unabashed simplicity should have made it an easy mech to design, but the truth was actually opposite as the design team responsible for its continuous development often slipped up due to the sheer amount of systems packed into the design.
"The Vandals aren't too interested in fielding ranged mechs."
Ves got the sense that the Vandals treated the Akkara as a necessity. All-melee mech regiments were particularly vulnerable to being kited to death by faster ranged mechs.
Almost every mech regiment of the Mech Corps developed their own spin on rifleman mechs. Not the Vandals. They cared so little about ranged warfare that they would rather resort to Vesian mechs stolen from their targets during their raids.
From his additional reading, Ves learned the reason why. The Vandals found excessive amounts of ranged weapons to be very destructive. This was good if they wanted to obliterate their opponents, but often times they wanted to preserve as much as they could in order to derive some value out of their spoils of war.
"Melee mechs can control their damage output much more precisely than their ranged counterparts."
He didn't forget about the fact that rifleman mechs caused the most amount of collateral damage out of all the different types. This was especially egregious in battles in space. An attack on a transport risked damaging its structural integrity. If the ship suffered too many attacks, it might break apart, spilling its cargo and often also ruined it all.
In that sense, almost every aspect of the Vandals was deliberately geared for raiding and raiding alone. Nothing about their mech usage suggested that they showed any interest in fighting pitched or defensive battles. They basically looked for the best way to bully a weaker adversary.
Before he went and liaised with the mech pilots about the Wolf Mother, Ves met up with Laida and Pierce in order to pick their brains. They worked extensively with the two designs and he could benefit from hearing from a different perspective.
The two other mech designers from his batch hadn't achieved anything remarkable during their time in their design teams. Unlike Ves, they hadn't been able to draw any attention to themselves. Their skills and accomplishments were too average to elicit any interests from their superiors.
This turned them rather bummed as they witnessed the sudden promotion of Ves. This made them rather cranky when Ves went up to them to hear what they had to say.
"The Inheritor design is a death trap." Laida spoke with frustration. "It's a design that kills more mech pilots than any standard spaceborn skirmisher design from the central database. It doesn't perform all that well and its armor is as thin as a datapad in some areas. Such a mech should have been abandoned at the start."
Ves did not expect such an outpouring of negativity. "Why do the Vandals place so much importance in it, then?"
"The only redeeming factors of the Inheritor are its price, ease of fabrication and speed. The most important goal of the Inheritor design was that it had to be easy to reproduce in a variety of circumstances. It tries to incorporate as little exotics and possible, and when it does require some, it would always be the cheapest or most abundantly available exotics that they could steal from the Vesians."
"So the Inheritor design is weak because that's the price the Vandals pay for the ability to fabricate them anywhere?"
"Exactly. Its many weaknesses aren't well-kept secrets. Frankly, any mech pilot would feel appalled by the lack of the robustness in its design. Even for a light mech, the Inheritor goes through extreme lengths to make them fast but affordable."
"Have you experienced the same shenanigans at the Akkara design team, Pierce?" Ves asked the other mech designer after he was done listening to Laida.
"We aren't suffering from the same problems. Not a lot of mech pilots specialize in heavy mechs, so there will always be a shortage of heavy mech pilots."
"What about the design itself? Does it exhibit any weaknesses?"
Pierce took his time to answer the question. "It's a work in progress. Every day, something changes, and not always for the better. From what I've experienced, the Vandals really don't like this big lump of a mech. I think they're even neglecting the design in some cases."
As Ves heard about the two mechs from his colleagues, his impression of their actual state worsened.
Understaffed design teams and combined with a lack of appreciation for all the effort put into the designs sounded really bad to him. He couldn't do anything about the staffing, so instead he focused on changing everyone's impression about these mechs.
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