659 Intensive Questioning
Despite his appearance as some pirate princeling in dark and menacing armor, Ves acted like an eager pupil in front of the Skull Architect's sage advice. The man who pulled off the pirate look much better than many other mech designers had dropped his belligerent tone. For now.
"Boy, it is clear to me that you are unaccustomed to collaborate projects. Have you ever jointly designed a mech?"
"No, sir, not if you count out competition mechs designed in a matter of days or hours."
The Skull Architect scoffed on the other side of the low-quality comm channel. "Working together with other mech designers to design the best mechs your abilities can produce is a complicated song and dance. It takes trust and sincerity to design a mech that expresses multiple design philosophies without clashing against each other. Done well, and the end product can be the most rewarding mech design that has ever graced from your hands. Done poorly, and the design not only wasted your time, but might lead to a schism with your fellow designer."
"I shall take note of your warnings." Ves dutifully nodded, and he did mentally record the man's lessons. "I have not had the privilege of collaborating with another mech designer, but it is inevitably on my agenda."
"About that topic." The Skull Architect's face abruptly grinned. The man peered closer into the projector, magnifying his face and crowding out the skulls piled in the background. "We are kindred mech designers."
The statement along with the change in expression came out of the blue. Ves became floored for a few seconds. What did the Skull Architect mean by that?
Ves stayed silent, allowing for the other mech designer to explain.
"Our ethos, our willingness to pursue the mysteries of reality, our insatiable curiosity for the unknown, are we not alike?!" The Skull Architect listed out with a cackle. "Haha! Every mech designer that approached me did so with ulterior motives. FIne! I like ambitious mech designers! Yet when they finally demonstrate their designs to me, they are utterly consumed by petty thoughts and personal gains. It is the same for you!"
"Do not deny it, you whelp!" The man growled at him, before abruptly switching back to a grin."However, compared to those useless pieces of trash, you are from a cut above. Your design for the Leiner Grey has revealed much to me. I can read you like an open book. I must say that the motives I've sensed from your design is close to the ideal that mech designers your age should strive for. I can sense your hunger to transform the entire mech industry! You yearn to prove yourself at the highest level, is that right?"
"That is true." Ves nodded modestly. Even though he already knew that the Skull Architect could read a lot from his work, he felt awfully exposed right now. "The design philosophy that I've been forming goes contrary to many established conventions."
The Skull Architect smirked at Ves. "Your design philosophy.. very interesting. I have sensed an unfathomable depth underneath the surface that even I can't understand. A mech designer at your stage shouldn't be thinking so ambitiously. Yet you do not appear to be someone who adheres to the rules if they become inconvenient. Dangerous. Very dangerous."
A chill ran through his spine as Ves noted the underlying warning. The importance of a mech designer's design philosophy could not be overstated. It was literally the core of their beliefs on how mechs should look like. A critical flaw in someone's design philosophy might irreparably ruin their design careers because the flaws doomed all of their designs.
"Collaborate projects are an essential part of a mech designer's development." The Senior continued, having switched back to teaching mode. "They reveal shortcomings through contrast. They polish the strength of our design philosophies through collisions. They can result in a mech design that is greater than what we are able to design on our own. Let us consider the work you have submitted to me. Compare your Leiner Grey to mine as it was originally envisioned. Which design is better?"
Ves thought a lot on this topic himself, both as a way to judge his disparity with the Senior Mech Designer and also as a way to process the puzzles in his mind that had cropped up. The question of which design won over the other was actually a comparison between visions.
Senior Jimenez envisioned a landbound light skirmisher that stood head and shoulders above similar mech models in terms of performance. It had been designed to function as a high-powered killing machine that almost rivalled the power of custom mechs in the package of a standard product.
Right out of the box, the Leiner Grey had been designed to awe and overcome expectations. The ruinous demands put on the mech pilots be damned, this mech demanded the utmost in order to display its full potential!
"Your vision for your mech is.. extreme." He finally spoke when he saw that the Skull Architect was getting impatient. "It is not a direction which I'm inclined to take. While I like to pursue performance like any other mech designer, I believe the best mechs are those designed from a holistic perspective. A mech is not a closed system in itself. It is an ecosystem which includes the bare mech frame as well as the mech pilot and the support structure that services and repairs the mech. I design an ecosystem, not just a mech."
It was a convoluted way of saying that Ves looked beyond the technical and took note of demands outside this sphere.
The Skull Architect displayed no surprise at his answer. "Elaborate in your own words, please."
"A mech does not operate in isolation. Every movement, every attack, every tactical decision requires a human mind behind the controls. A mech can be defined as a large weapon platform that is largely directed by the human in its cockpit. To me, the mech pilot is an indispensable part of a mech, and should be taken into account from the start whenever I design my own mechs."
"That is an understandable perspective." The Skull Architect murmured. "A mech that is controlled by an AI or some other substitute is a bot. However, the fallacy that you are falling for is assuming you are able to model the reactions of a mech pilot. Your design is suffused by deep insights of a mech pilot's perspective. This can be a blessing, but it can also be a shackle. How can mechs seek to surpass their predecessors if they are not pushing the envelope!?"
The Skull Architect must have been referring to the Masteries that Ves had applied when putting his own spin on the Leiner Grey design. The first-hand insights of several mech pilots continued to exert its influence on almost every design choice.
Ves had no cause to doubt the wisdom gained from them. To hear the Skull Architect question their usefulness was insulting.
However, he also knew what the Skull Architect was trying to say. The man attempted to warn Ves that he might have become too smitten in his gains from his Mastery.
A mech pilot and a mech designer occupied two very different kinds of professions. A good mech pilot might not always be the best mech designer, and vica versa.
"I.. appreciate the inquiry. You have given me some food for thought." Ves eventually answered. "My conviction hasn't changed, though. We design mechs to supply the mech markets and serve the needs of mech pilots. Calibrating our designs to take into account our target market is a fundamental necessity."
"The mech market is not perfect!" The Skull Architect suddenly roared, fury suffusing his very expression! "It is a heavily-regulated puppet show where the mech manufacturers with the biggest pockets muscle out better designs through abusing their superior market power! The overwhelming majority of the mech markets in the galaxy is dominated by the same trans-galactic enterprises that are virtually impregnable in the galactic center!"
To Ves' dismay, the man was just starting with his rant. "Your faith in the so-called mech market is wholly misplaced. You rely too much on the assumption that demand is fueled by humans who can be trusted to act rationally. That is a complete LIE! The market is OVERFLOWING with IDIOTS and IMBECILES who chase after the SHINIEST TOY instead of sound and proper products! The ugly TRUTH is that mech buyers have NO IDEA what they really WANT! If I had my way, each person who buys a mech ought to LEAVE THEIR PURCHASING DECISIONS TO A PREPROGRAMMED AI! THIS WILL ALWAYS RESULT IN THE MOST OPTIMAL AND MOST RATIONAL MECH SELECTION IN NINETY-NINE OUT OF A HUNDRED CASES!"
"THE SECOND FAULT YOU ARE OVERLOOKING IS THAT THE MECH MARKET IS MYOPIC IN SCOPE AND ALWAYS FAILS IN PREDICTING FUTURE TRENDS! EARLIER I SAID THAT MECH MARKETS ARE POPULATED BY ORANG-UTANGS WHO DON'T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A LIGHT SKIRMISHER AND A HEAVY ARTILLERY MECH. THIS GOES DOUBLE FOR NEW MECH TYPES AND RADICAL INNOVATIONS!"
"Ah, you haven't looked at the market that way, haven't you, boy? THEN OPEN YOUR EYES! Think about assassin mechs! Those stealthy mechs have long been dismissed in the early days because of their COMPLETE lack of armor and their PRIMITIVE implementation of stealth technology. Their stealth barely lasts a minute and they can't suppress alternative ways of spotting mechs such as gravitic sensors. HOWEVER, those who kept developing assassin mechs never gave up, and through the hard work and constant accumulation over several generations, they have FINALLY cracked the code and SUCCEEDED in developing principles to design VIABLE STEALTH MECHS over the decades-long protests of the rest of the mech industry and the stupid consumers who think they know best!"
"The advantages these PIONEERS have built over many years of research and design work have PAID OFF for them in spades! Some of them have gained an immeasurable advantage in this field and they succeeded in transforming their HEADSTART into an ENDURING position of leadership!"
"However, for each success story, there are THOUSANDS if not MILLIONS of outright FAILURES. There are research directions that sound incredibly promising and ambitious, but NEVER see the light of day because their mech designers are INCOMPETENT. However, there are also mech designers who pursue a WORTHY GOAL that if successful, can transform the entire MECH LANDSCAPE! These brave souls require SUPPORT and INVESTMENT, not RIDICULE or PREMATURE CONDEMNATION! MANY GREAT IDEAS ARE SUPPRESSED BY CLOSE-MINDED IDIOTS, WHILE MANY AWFUL IDEAS RECEIVE ENTIRE SHIPMENTS OF MONEY BECAUSE THEIR MECH DESIGNERS ARE BORN WITH SILVER SPOONS IN THEIR MOUTHS!"
"That said, the latter is more of an exception than the rule, because by far the entire mech industry is a SNAIL in terms of innovation! There is no APPETITE for risk-taking and the DRIVE to design radically better mechs is ACTIVELY SUPPRESSED by the tyrannical know-it-alls of the MTA! COUNTLESS VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL MECH DESIGNS ARE PUBLISHED EACH YEAR, AND ALL OF THEM PERFORM NO BETTER THAN THEIR CLOSEST EQUIVALENT! THE FORCES OF INERTIA IS TOO STRONG IN THE MECH INDUSTRY, AND THE UNNECESSARILY HIGH STANDARDS OF VALIDATION BY THE MTA IS TO BLAME! BY RAISING THE QUALITY BAR TOO HIGH, THEY ARE ACTIVELY STRANGLING TOO MANY RADICAL NEW MECH CONCEPTS IN THEIR CRADLE BEFORE THEY CAN BE TESTED ON THE MARKET!"
"APPRENTICE MECH DESIGNER VES LARKINSON!"
Ves practically jumped out of his skin."Y-Y-Yes, sir!?"
"Tell me," The man leaned closer to the sensor capturing his projection until his entire sneering face filled up the projection. "Do you still trust the sanctity of the mech market after hearing what I said?"
The rant put Ves on the back foot. He barely followed the threads espoused by the Skull Architect as he vented his biases against the entities he developed grudges against. Ves had never cast his thoughts that deep, and to ask for his opinion immediately after hearing them for the first time was like asking him to design a complete production mech after his first day of attending his mech design classes!