BTA Developer Blog 3: Tanks For All The Fish
Welcome back to the BTA Developer Blog series, where I take a look at and explain various facets of BTA's design for your edification. Today I'm talking about tanks and why BTA's tanks are as they are. I'm covering a handful of topics here so strap in.
One of the most common complaints we receive here at BTA Headquarters is about tanks: "they're overpowered, I hate them, why are they so broken?!" My response has been and remains that tanks aren't broken, they just take a little learning to figure out how to deal with. This has always been true. BTA's tanks are more durable than new players expect coming from vanilla and are programmed to be clever about what side faces the player so that they attempt to shield their damaged locations, giving a false sense of, forgive me, "tankiness". Add to this that BTA's tanks largely are more dangerous too, and you get the frequent complaint that tanks are overpowered. So the question is, why are our tanks like this? The reason is fairly basic: I wanted tanks to be more threatening. In vanilla HBS BT, tanks are essentially jokes. There's none with really serious armor and only a couple that are even vaguely threatening (the Demolisher and Schrek are about it, the Gallant Urban from Urban Warfare too). In the base game, tanks are jokes that might as well not be there for all the threat they pose. I don't like that, tanks have certain advantages in-setting that should be reflected in BTA. Tanks don't dedicate tonnage to cockpits or gyros or anything like that, they have more space for armor and guns. They can be a real threat if ignored, so BTA reflects this. I believe we've succeeded at making tanks dangerous but manageable with attention. Sometimes, that means you need to focus them over the mechs. Paradoxically, although tanks often have a lot of armor, they are sometimes squishier than might be expected. Because they have limited locations to take hits on, good focused fire can often crush a tank, even one with heavy armor, faster than an equivalent mech. Because mechs have more locations, they spread damage a lot more than tanks do.
There is one other quirkiness to address concerning playable tanks that's a little harder to explain: tanks getting stuck a lot. So, this is a little mechanical-focused, but essentially tanks getting stuck is a matter of their movement profile definitions. Tanks have movement profiles (wheeled, tracked, hover) that define how their movement interacts with terrain such as trees, rough terrain, or elevation changes. These values can change how they move around. Notably, mechs have these definitions as well. With tanks, to keep them semi-accurate to how these kinds of vehicles actually behave, the definitions are more restrictive than mech equivalents. This makes sense: a tracked vehicle is gonna have a harder time with water than a mech will since feet are better at moving through water than tracks are. The consequence of this being realistic is that sometimes, tanks get spawned somewhere they can't move off of (this is most common with hovercraft, which cannot move through trees at all and often get spawned inside of a forest). The biggest culprit is usually elevation issues, tanks can only manage certain steepness of slopes and if they're spawned on top of a hill that's too steep, they can't get down. There isn't a great fix to this: if we open up their movement profiles then they start behaving unusually (tracked tanks speeding through water like hovers, for instance, or going up and down sheer cliffs). We could try to set it so they can go over most stuff but not everything, but the math is tricky and there's not a good way to test anything. Some folks have suggested the 1-hex jump jet solution: just give everything 1 jet so they can hop and it'll be fixed. Problem is that giving tanks jets is impossible, tanks don't have the concept of jumping in the files so I couldn't give them a JJ if I wanted to. There just isn't a great way to fix this. We've already fiddled with the movement profiles some, though I'll keep an eye on it going forward.
However, tanks have a flip-side, the player side. See, in BTA we added the ability for tanks to be fieldable by the player, taking them from menace to menacing. Notably though, there's a few quirks. First, only some tanks can be used either by purchase or salvage. Second, *no* tanks can be modified, they come stock and that's what you get. Why are these two things true? A bunch of reasons. Let's start with tank modification. Having a mechbay for tanks isn't available in BTA for two reasons: it both can't be done and I don't want it to be done anyway. Tank modification currently is actively unable to be done by anyone (BTA, RT, anyone). Now, there's talk that that might be changing eventually, which brings us to the second, more salient, point: it is not my design that tank modification should be possible. Player tanks are intended to be support units, not primary units. They're available to players as a change of pace and as a fun option to mix up their drop decks. I don't really intend for tanks to be the stars of the show. Further, allowing tank modification would require that tanks somehow have their canon building restrictions respected (example: non-ammo using energy weapons on tanks require enough standard heat sinks to be installed to totally neutralize the heat generated, that rule would need enforced somehow). How do we handle engines on tanks? Tanks don't work like mechs, where if you change the engine size the movement changes. Instead, tanks have their movement profiles hard-defined behind the scenes, you could just *remove* the engine and the tank would still be operational in-contract. That'd have to be enforced somehow. There's more, but I suspect the point has been made: enforcing tank build rules opens a really bad Pandora's Box that I'm not interested in opening for honestly minor gain. No thanks.
The second quirkiness of player tanks in BTA is that only some are available to the player. Why is this? Two-fold reasons. First, to make a tank playable in BTA requires a decent spot of work and I didn't want to do it for every tank for very minimal gain. Who's gonna actually want to field the Vedette Liao (2 Medium Lasers)? No one, that's who, why bother doing the work for something no one will use? There's a lot of tanks that, in all honesty, are fit for the OpFor but aren't interesting for players to command (Vedettes, Scorpions, J.Edgars, etc, these are just easy examples). It's fun to shoot Vedettes and watch them explode into flames. It's not as fun to drive the useless things and be a waste of 50 tons, so we just skipped the whole debate and saved people from wasting their time. This was a matter of smart use of effort and time. Second, like mentioned above, tanks are meant to be supporting units, not primary units. Tanks shouldn't be the stars of the show, but the supporting cast. They don't get prime billing in BTA and that's on purpose. To encourage this, the selection of tanks was largely centered on fire-support (direct and indirect alike) tanks or scouts, with only a small handful of main battle tanks such as the Manticore and Challenger. The majority of what's available are things like carriers or fast hovers, stuff meant to do a job, not be anchors of a combat line. Yeah tanks like the Devastator or Challenger are available but they're in the minority here as the goal was not to encourage 12 tank play but to encourage 8 mech/4 tank play. Moving artillery into tanks is sensible: it's what happens in-setting and that's for a reason. BTA reflects that by choice.
So there you go, BTA Tanks: a little quirky, a little weird, I think worth it and interesting. They can be difficult and frustrating but they're also fun to play with and change up the playstyle enough to be fun to work with. Give them a shot if you haven't already, just be aware of their weirdnesses.