As a reputable mech simulator game, Iron Spirit only featured real mechs. The base designs sold in its virtual store could be bought in real life with almost the same performance. With such a vast and extensive database, the game needed some way of classifying its models in an easy-to-understand manner.
The BSBH Corporation eventually decided to adopt a 1 to 5 star rating at first, and later expanded the amount of stars with the introduction of even higher performing models. Many top-notch mech models hadn't been included in the game, for obvious reasons. No need to let your enemies study the weaknesses of your best models.
With a history of several hundreds of years of mech designs, there was plenty to go around even without including the most up-to-date models. Iron Spirit's lowest 1-star mech models used to plow the battlefield alongside Mack Liu, the mech pioneer and first ace pilot. These models were mostly slow, clumsy, inefficient and sometimes featured ridiculous appearances. When Ves looked at these clown-like models, he wondered if the designers got drunk too many times.
One such model had been loaded into the System's designer mode. The Fantasia 2R was actually the second iteration of a radical humanoid design. The Fantasia weighed light due to its slim and narrow design, allowing it to run faster and longer than the stockier models available at the time. The weight savings came at the cost of armor, firepower and engine performance.
For whatever reason, the designers shaped the Fantasia 2R in the form of a woman. Its concave torso, sloping breastplate, thin limbs and narrow head evoked the appearance of a supermodel in armor. The older 1R model already looked like a feminist's worst nightmare. The manufacturers doubled down by attaching hair-like sensor threads on the 2R's head. At the very least, it turned the model into a decent reconnaissance mech.
Since the Fantasia was such a light and thin mech, Ves had very little leeway in modifying its parts without destroying its good points. Ves could easily tinker with heavier models, shaving 10% of its weight without sacrificing too much of its defense, allowing the custom job to perform 2% better than its peers in standard combat scenarios.
Since he couldn't go for the route of subtraction, he instead needed to think of how to add something of value to the design. Unfortunately, the System only possessed one additional component in its database, allowing for no other options.
The Gemini twin rear ejection energy booster. The component did three things at once. First, it allowed a cockpit to eject from the back in case of emergencies. It also provided a fairly large amount of energy, allowing mechs to perform better or longer without resupply. Lastly, it could provide a large amount of straight-line acceleration with its boosters, though such an action wasted a lot of energy.
Normally such an option fitted perfectly with the Fantasia 2R's focus on speed. That was until Ves compared the size of the booster to the dimensions of the mech. The Gemini had been designed to accommodate the first heavy mechs in existence, the Megacrab, with its eight legs and twin cockpits for two pilots. Trying to affix the Gemini system to the Fantasia 2R would destroy the balance.
"This... dammit, I don't have any choice. I'm not good enough to mess with the more advanced settings. If only I had more assets."
Ves tinkered with the System's designer functionality. Surprisingly, he found it to be easy to make the modifications he wanted. The design tools responded to his thoughts, cutting back errors resulting from unsteady hands or faulty calculations. The designer's assistance to him was like adding wings to a tiger.
Despite his enjoyment, Ves found it hard to wrap up the day with a finished design. He closed down the program, ate some cheap noodles and cuddled with his new pet to sleep.
Ves wrestled with the problem for three entire days. He spent most of the time trying various spots in which to fit the hefty Gemini add-on to the thin and wispy Fantasia frame. From a total of seventeen attempts, he outright failed fifteen times, leaving only a single barely functional design. When he displayed it in all of its glory in front of him, he felt like finding a hole to burrow into. It looked ridiculous!
Ves had attached the Gemini to the rear of the frame. It sounded simple, but the Fantasia's various restrictions made it a tricky problem. The profile of the 2R's lower torso was so thin that the Gemini simply couldn't be attached to that location. He already tried to do so several times. Ves could either make his placement on the upper back or the lower waist. Since placing such a heavy add-on up so high would severely unbalance the Fantasia to the point of tipping it over if it simply stood still, Ves could only add them onto the Fantasia's waist.
It look obscene. Ves' cheeks practically burned themselves red as he beheld the model's mock-up. Its only saving grace was that the custom design had some viable points. Though the mech became heavier and less agile with the addition of such an uneven weight, its straight-line traveling speed and firepower rocketed upwards.
The pilot also enjoyed a massive increase in safety with the improved cockpit ejection system. It could eject both cockpits at once, one real and one decoy. This provided a marginal benefit in Iron Spirit, as a successful ejection lowered the cost recovering and repairing a defeated mech in the game.
"Alright System, does it make the cut?"
[Scanning design. Simulating performance. Completed. Do you wish to name the design?]
"Uhmm.. let's go with the Fantasia 2R-E. As in Rear End, since it already looks like the model's got a sizable rear end."
[Design Evaluation: Fantasia 2R-E.]
Variant name: Fantasia 2R-E
Base model: Fantasia 2R
Original Manufacturer: Kezia Armaments
Weight Classification: Medium-Light
Recommended Role: Sprinter/Harasser
Carrying Capacity: F
Energy Efficiency: C
Performance improvement: 4.5%
Overall evaluation: Horribly overweight for its intended purpose, the Fantasia 2R-E is nevertheless redeemed by its excess power and forward potential. Its improvement in open terrain and long-distance missions does not sufficiently outweigh its anemic flexibility and horrible performance in close-quarters combat. The model's only saving grace is its highly appealing appearance to a small sub-set of people.
[You have received 1 Design Point for completing an original design.]
[User, congratulations on completing the first part of the tutorial. The rewards have been sent to your inventory. For exceeding the requirements of the mission, you have also received a bonus.]
Ves sighed in relief. He had worked hard to get the two impractical things to fit together. While he succeeded on a fluke, he still managed to pull through. Now that he finished this ungodly mission, he could move on and forget this abomination of a mech. He wiped away the design and opened his inventory. Two gift-wrapped packages awaited his eager fingers. Ves quickly tapped both icons, letting them unbox together.
[You have received a virtual license for the following mech: Kezia Armaments Fantasia 2R.]
[You have received a virtual license for the following component: Maxodron Gemini twin rear ejection energy booster.]
"Really? Et tu, System? You're giving me the same stuff I've been torturing myself for three entire days?"
[You have received a new mission. Please read the details in the Missions page.]
Mission: Tutorial Part 2 - Your First Sale
Prerequisites: Completed Tutorial Part 1
You cannot call yourself a proper mech designer if your designs aren't sold and used. Please endeavor to sell a mech based on your first design to a legitimate customer.
Reward: 1000 Design Points
"I'm doomed. You're setting me up, System. Even if I can find someone stupid enough to buy the 2R-E, I still don't have the credits to purchase the raw materials. Iron Spirit doesn't let designers fabricate a virtual mech for free even if I possess the necessary licences."
[You have forgotten your bonus. Please look at the currency tab in your inventory.]
A red packet awaited Ves when he switched his view. He tapped it, causing the the virtual envelope to unfold into imaginary bills. It eventually landed into a neat stack with the total amount displayed on top.
[Congratulations for receiving 100,000 bright credits.]
Ves widened his eyes. It seemed exceeding the expectations of the system provided considerable rewards. With the sudden windfall, he had a lot more options to earn money now. While a hundred thousand credits might not let him purchase a license for another mech, he could still purchase plenty of cheap components such as armor plating, cooling systems, batteries and even weapons. He wouldn't be totally dependent on the vagaries of the System with such a hefty starting capital.
Before Ves could use his credits to good use, he first made sure to progress the mission. He uploaded the saved design of the 2R-E onto Iron Spirit's virtual workshop. Then he spent about ten thousand credits buying the cheap raw materials required to fabricate the design. While he could spend just as much to let the game fabricate the design automatically, Ves wanted to save every single credit so he went for manual assembly.
It took two days to fumble around the virtual workshop's 3d printer to print all the required parts with the right settings. He then took three more days fumbling around the assembler trying to put all the diverse and heavy parts together. Somehow, Ves felt a little closer to his first creation as he finally clicked the final part together. He even took some time and credits to paint the chassis purple and red.
"You're not the prettiest girl, but you're my first. Um, that sounds wrong." Ves shook his head. While trying to erase the unpleasant picture of mech-human romance from his mind, he quickly put the finished model onto the market.
Naturally, he didn't choose to sell the virtual mech for real credits, even though the market did allow for it. Practically all low tier mechs in Iron Spirit are sold in gold, the in-game currency that mech pilots earned when they won matches against their opponents. The market set a minimum price of 1600 gold, reflecting the cost of raw materials if Ves had paid for them in gold instead of bright credits.
"I'm not stupid enough to sell it at cost. Let's add a hundred gold. My labor's gotta be worth something."
Just after he finished with the lot, he also checked his user profile and chose to hide his real name. It wouldn't do for his future career in mech design to be tainted with the awful model. He casually set his nickname as Chasing Clouds, as a reference to his home planet and what he had been doing for the latter half of his life.
With that chore done, Ves threw the mission to the back of his mind and went to Mech section of the market, choosing to browse all the custom variants of the Fantasia 2R. If he wanted to design a competitive but affordable Fantasia model, he needed to do his research on what market already offered. He could then tailor a list of requirements and scour the market for fitting components.
Ves fell into the zone. With the pressure of imminent bankruptcy abated, he fell into the enthusiasm of starting his career in mech designing. Even if designing virtual mechs for a video game didn't bestow him with the qualifications of a real mech designer, he could still use the experience to polish his basic skills. Once he built up a few online sales, he could purchase better licenses and design variants that performed good enough for players to spend actual money for his products.
Still, it remained challenging to meet his next interest payment if he kept playing with virtual mechs. He needed to earn enough credits to fund the operations of his real mech boutique. If the expensive fixed cost of purchasing licences was left out, then he could easily make the deadline. But reality wasn't so kind.
"The virtual licences I have now only apply to in-game designs. There's no way I can afford a legitimate production licence of a decent mech."
The terms of such licences came with exceeding costs and conditions. Not only did Ves had to pay a high price for the privilege of fabricating another company's property, he also had to give the original owners a cut of his earnings. These firms were still milking their intellectual property for all their worth.
Added with the cost of raw materials, Ves didn't have much leeway left into making a profit. "It's impossible to make it without the help of the System. I hope the 2R-E's gonna sell sometime soon, because I have a feeling I'm going to need all the design points I can get."
Lucky then sauntered over and meowed at Ves.
"What's up buddy?"
The cat tugged at Ves' pants and tried to lead him outside. Curious, Ves followed the mischievous cat outside and came across something sparkling behind the weeds. Ves picked it up, revealing a green gemstone. Upon realizing what it was, he hurriedly dropped it down.
"Even if you're a machine, I'm still not touching your crap." Ves told the seemingly grinning cat.
[Emerald of Minor Armor]
Increases the durability of a mech's armor plates by 0.5% when installed.
This looked pretty impressive. Despite the paltry improvement, it hadn't cost Ves anything but time. If he kept feeding Lucky the same cheap ore, he could end up with a pile of emeralds. If they all had the same effect, they might achieve an incredible effect if they could stack.
"System, if I have two of the same gems, do their benefits stack?"
[Of course not. A mech can only benefit from a limited amount of gems. Gemstones that provide the same effects do not provide more benefits when put into the same mech.]
Every time the System hinted at something amazing, it turned out to be a piece of coal.
"I need to feed my cat something better." Ves muttered and resolved to order something better and have it delivered to his workshop tomorrow.
Unknown to Ves, on the other side of Cloudy Curtain, a certain twelve-year old potentate sat down in a fully-enclosed simulator. He had just finished school and rented a sim pod from the local gaming center downtown.
Joshua avidly played Iron Spirit ever since he recently finished his basic lessons on mech piloting. It hardly turned him into a qualified pilot, but it allowed him to pass the minimum requirements to finally play the game.
Calling himself Shifter66 in the game, he enjoyed piloting faster mechs. There was something about running in a multi-ton machine that charmed him. Playing the heavier mechs bored him to tears. He preferred to be quick on his feet, pestering enemies and dodging shots rather than slugging it out in a head-on collision.
As a twelve-year old, he couldn't lay any claim to greatness, but he thought he possessed a solid foundation in piloting the simplest of 1-star mechs. He played a couple of hundred matches, and while he lost most of them, he still managed to put together a few thousand gold for a new purchase.
When Joshua visited the game's online market, he somehow wavered his attention to a line of feminine models. A young man like him already started to pay some attention to the girls in his school. He channeled that energy to the graceful models on display. He picked a random direction to explore further, coming upon the old but still fairly popular Fantasia series.
While the boy only halfheartedly inspected the models, he made an abrupt stop once the random selection displayed a highly unusual variant. Joshua held out his palm, freezing the image and allowing him to look at the model in greater detail.
Base Model: Fantasia 2R
Purchase price: 1700 gold
"She looks perfect!"
A more demanding mech pilot might comment that the mech looked horribly out of balance. Any sane pilot might also complain that the added weight of the variant's rear addition served to slow it down to the point of making the mech useless in any short-distance engagements.
Joshua on the other hand kept his eyes glued to the rear end. "I gotta have it!"
And so Ves' first mech got sold.