MechWarrior 101: A Newbie’s Guide to Not Sucking – Part 4 “Managing Heat & Damage”

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** This article was originally posted on August 19th at Big Stompy Robots with Guns . It has been re-published on this site by request. A big thanks to {QQ} RageQuit Mercs for the invitation! **

At this point we’ve covered the basics of piloting your ‘mech as well as basic gunnery, now we’re going delve into the subject of 

managing damage and heat. In case you’re wondering, that’s not a typo – you can manage incoming damage (to a degree) and doing so is  paramount to becoming a successful pilot, however first thing I want you to learn is good heat management; after all, there’s no point in trying to mitigate incoming damage if you’re just overheating in the face of the enemy. Remember – first we learn to walk. 


- Managing Heat -


It’s ironic really, because walking, like just about everything you do with your ‘mech, generates heat! Next time you start a match, take note of your heat value before you move; it will be set at a value which is considered nominal for that environment. Once you start to move, note the difference in your heat level – the faster you move, the more heat is generated. It can be hard to distinguish sometimes, exactly how much more heat 100% throttle generates vs. 85% throttle, but there is a difference I assure you. What’s more is, although it may seem to be a trivial matter, every single point of heat counts.

The lower portion of your HUD, just to the right of the mini-map provides you with a meter which displays your current heat level. Note that at 100%, your ‘mech will shut itself off in an attempt to preserve the integrity of the internals… your ‘mech can damage itself if you push it too hard, we’ll cover that in a bit.

In all, there are three basic factors that affect your overall heat at any given moment: your movement speed, your weapons fire and environmental factors…

Someone out there is probably grumbling that I didn’t mention ‘mech design and heat-sinks. I’ve omitted them from the list on purpose. Building for heat efficiency could (and probably will) be an entire article in and of itself, but the point of this series is to help you develop the basic skills you’ll need in order to develop as a MechWarrior. Whether you’re in a custom chassis or a Trial ‘mech, you have to learn to manage your heat. Failure to do so is failure, plain and simple.

So we begin with movement, which is simple enough on the surface; your control over heat generation translates directly to throttle control. The faster you move your ‘mech, the more heat it will generate. Don’t be afraid to back off your throttle, particularly in a heated battle, since even a few percentage points count. In fact, it’s often a good idea to back off the throttle just to stay within the vicinity of your team… unless you’re in an assault, then you need to hurry your ass up. Seriously, move it, everyone is waiting on you!

By far, the most significant contributor to your heat level will be your weapons – energy weapons run notoriously hot, though larger auto cannons and missile launchers aren’t the coolest running systems in the game either. Your primary means of controlling this aspect of heat generation is simple trigger discipline. While it may seem counter-intuitive to lay off the trigger in the middle of a fire-fight, sometimes delaying that shot is the difference between coring your enemy and taking a dirt-nap.

Let’s take a quick recap of the (damage dealing) weapons in-game and the amount of heat they generate per shot:

Small Laser
AC 2
Medium Laser
AC 5
LRM 10
Large Laser
LRM 15
ER Large Laser
AC 10
LRM 20
Small Pulse Laser
Med. Pulse Laser
AC 20
Large Pulse Laser
Gauss Rifle
Machine Gun

Developing a sense of which weapons can be fired at varying heat-levels is critical. Looking at the list above, it should be obvious that firing a Large Laser, a PPC or even an AC 20 would be a bad idea if you’re already sitting at 96% heat… but then that precludes an important ability that you, as the pilot, actively possess – override.

“Run hot or die”; it’s a saying that’s been around about as long as MechWarrior has been a thing – it’s even the name of one of the ongoing competitive tournaments currently associated with MWO. It’s stuck around because, well, it’s how you get it done, son! It stands to reason that, if many of the harder hitting weapons in the game generate the greatest amount of heat, when the proverbial fecal matter hits the oscillating device, you’re going to be running hot. This is exactly where the saying comes from – learning to ‘run hot’ (and more importantly, keep it running) is the hallmark of a good pilot, and that means overriding the shutdown procedure when you’re stuck-in.

As your ‘mech approaches 100% heat, Bitchin’ Betty will give you an audial warning: “heat level critical”. To accompany this, you’ll also be presented with a visual indicator; large red text will appear just under the scoreboard, warning you that you’re nearing overheat condition. Pressing the [O] (“oh”, not zero) key at this time will override the automatic shutdown of the ‘mech for 10 seconds – meaning that if you exceed 100% heat during that time, your ‘mech will keep running. Sounds good right? Well hold on their cowboy, because this one’s a double-edged sword to be certain.

When a ‘mech goes above 100% heat, particularly if it either spikes very high, or stays over 100% heat for an extended period of time, it begins to take damage. In fact, this can even cause your ammunition to cook and detonate, and that will end your game pretty quick.

With this in mind, here are some things to avoid when using the override command

  • Alpha Strike: Unless you have an insanely heat efficient build (which would then beg the question – how’d you overheat in the first place?), avoid using your alpha during an override… in fact, exercising the utmost in trigger discipline until you’ve cooled a bit is wise.
  • Maximum Throttle: A bit more situational, but consider the impact your throttle has on heat when you’re overriding. Keeping it set at 100% throttle while overriding the shutdown in the caldera in caustic valley would be a pretty good way to cook some ammo… or your reactor.

Speaking of the caldera, the environment can have a significant effect on your heat management and, by extension, your performance. Of the current map-set, Caustic Valley is far and away the hottest – typically ‘mechs see a nominal heat value around 5% just standing still. That may not sound like a lot for an environment that’s supposedly blazing hot, but it really is, particularly when you understand what’s really taking place.

Your ‘mech is always trying to get back to 0% heat; the job of your heat-sinks is to get rid of excess heat and for all intents and purposes, all heat (that registers on the meter) is treated as excess. High ambient temperature doesn’t just add to the nominal value or increase the base amount of heat, it reduces the effectiveness of your heat-sinks!

Think about this the next time you’re looking at that 5% base-line on Caustic:

  • You have a reduced amount of overhead to play with – 5% standing still leaves you a 95% gap for weapons fire. Moving will raise your tempt somewhere around 7 – 10%, leaving you with 90 – 93%.
  • You will build heat faster – because your heat efficiency is reduced, hot weapons will run even hotter, causing you to climb that meter faster than normal.
  • Your ‘mech will take longer to cool down. No matter how heat efficient your ‘mech is, you’ll see a noticeable increase in the time it takes for your heat to dissipate.

Now, the caldera (or for those unfamiliar, the mouth of the “volcano” in the center of the Caustic Valley map) is even hotter. You’ll see ambient temps around 15% just standing still! Imagine the effect this has on your heat-sinks?! Next time you see someone blow themselves up fighting in the caldera, you’ll know why.

Obviously, this is just to get you thinking about your heat, but I also want provide you with a basic idea of the environments; Forest Colony and River City could be thought of as nominal, or normal maps with regards to temperature while Frozen City and Forest Colony Snow are colder and more forgiving with regards to weapons fire.


- Managing Damage -


Previously I stated that you can manage incoming damage. I think this is an excellent starting point for the entire topic of damage since learning to manage incoming damage will afford you more insight into how to apply damage more effectively later on.

In the lower-left portion of your HUD, you’ll notice a “paper-doll” interface element that looks a bit like a stick-man styled robot; this is your damage read-out. The left portion is used to indicate the status of your head, arms, legs and front torso segments. The right portion of the display indicates the status of your rear torso segments.

Color coding is used to indicate the overall condition of each area, and differentiates between the status of armor (the outline around each body location) within a given location, as well as the condition of the internal structure (the filled-blocks inside the outline {armor} for each location).

  • Brown indicates full health/ armor.
  • Yellow indicates the paint has been scratched.
  • Orange indicates the area has been damaged.
  • Red indicates significant damage.

(There are various shades in between these and they are displayed based upon the amount of health / armor remaining, but this gives you the basic gist of the readout.)

When an area has had its armor depleted, the outline surrounding that segment will disappear, leaving the internal structure exposed. As the structure takes damage, it too will use the same color-coding to indicate the status; if it is destroyed, the section will completely disappear from the readout.

So now that we have established a better understanding of how your ‘mech reports damage, let’s discuss how you can mitigate and/ or manage incoming damage to increase your survivability.

Cover ~

The first and simplest method of managing incoming damage is simply not to take it! Cover is your friend and using it properly can increase your overall survivability exponentially. Of course being able to utilize cover effectively means maintaining a heightened level of situational awareness – after all, you can’t avoid fire if you don’t know it’s coming.

Luckily, Bitchin’ Betty will try to help you out, at least with regards to missile fire. Anytime your ‘mech detects incoming missile fire, specifically targeted at your ‘mech, the HUD will flash a warning across the top of your screen. Additionally, Betty will give you an auditory cue. This would mark an excellent occasion to hug a hill, fall back, or otherwise “scrape off” the incoming fire.

I use this example because; at least in the case of incoming LRM’s, you are afforded the greatest amount of time to respond. Practicing using cover to avoid LRM fire will get you thinking actively about aspects such as firing arcs, fire lanes, etc. In time this will aid you in avoiding all manner fire – though it won’t prevent a good sniper from pinning you down should you get split off from your main force… but I digress.

Pay attention to the environments as you move through them. Make note of the types and sizes of potential cover-offerings around you. Sure those buildings clustered around the cave on forest colony won’t prevent a K2 from popping you with a few shots, (remember our discussion on weapons placement?) but they can certainly keep that Atlas from clobbering you with an AC 20! Use what you have available to the best of your ability; over time, you’ll see your general level of survivability increase as a result.

Ironically, Betty will warn you of incoming SRM’s as well, though you’ll have little to no time to react in a way that completely mitigates incoming damage; as with any fast moving, direct fire projectile, your only option is to aggregate the damage.


Aggregating Damage ~


In a nutshell, aggregating damage is the simple act of moving your ‘mech in such a way as to force incoming damage to spread around the ‘mech. I cannot count the number of times I’ve survived and/ or won a brawl with a better armed and armored opponent simply because I spread my damage around and they didn’t.

Consider the example of LRM’s again: this time, let’s assume there’s no cover immediately available and that the firing ‘mech has a solid lock on you. You’re going to be eating a few salvos as you *hopefully* move your butt towards cover. On your way, you need to do three things:

  • If you’re reasonably agile, turn your ‘mech left and right in a zig-zag pattern. This will increase the number of missiles which will fail to score a direct hit and instead impact the ground around you. Alternatively, it will spread a few of the missiles which might have struck one of your legs between the two of them – a one legged ‘mech is typically a dead ‘mech.
  • Use shields! If you happen to be in a chassis that has arms which do not mount weapons (certain variants of Cicada or Centurions for example), or you have a ridiculous amount of armor on your arms (Atlas!) use them as shields! Turn that side of your torso towards the incoming fire so that the arm takes the brunt of the damage.
  • Thrash around like you’re in a mosh-pit! Seriously. Swing your torso from side to side, forcing incoming damage to spread across your body, rather than allowing your enemy to put it where they want it – which is often your center-torso.

Hopefully that sounds really simple because, in reality it is. All we’re doing is using the sheer volume of armor – ALL our armor – to make the enemy have to put out more damage before chewing into our internals. Of course, there’s still one more option at your disposal if you’re in a group.


Use a Team-Mate ~


We’ve all had situations where a team-mate crossed our line of fire at the wrong moment – probably ate a round or two of friendly fire from us, and then skated out of view just as that LRM volley they were running from smashed into OUR chest. Good times right? Well, with the exception of crossing fire lanes, what if I told you people do this on purpose and even coordinated it with the guy taking the damage? Well, we do. You bet your lily-ass we do.

Let’s say one of my team-mates is in an Atlas D-DC. He’s a pretty damned valuable asset on the battlefield, but winds up eating a ton of sniper fire moving through a low-cover area. If he tells me about it – let’s say I am in a reasonably fast Dragon – I’m going to run to him, and put myself between the sniper fire and him. I am going to eat up his damage on purpose.

There are a number of reasons I’ll do this that extend way beyond “’cause he’s on my team”, not the least of which is that numbers (having more I mean) win games. Additionally, his ECM alone is more valuable than the paltry medium laser I’m likely to lose if that sniper rips an arm off (you didn’t think I was giving up a torso did you?). His (the Atlas) overt firepower is likely an order of magnitude greater than mine and lastly, it’s simply smart game-play. Not only am I aggregating damage across MY ‘mech, but WE are aggregating damage across TWO ‘mechs – now how much veritable armor do we have? Answer: a lot!

A word of warning however – while it’s possible to utilize this as a survival strategy in a pick-up group (PuG), it won’t win you many friends. This is best employed when you can communicate to your team-mates that you’re crossing his fire-lane, absorbing damage or need him to run interference for you. Simply ducking behind team-mates in a PuG is going to be seen as a d*ck-move on your behalf… just something to keep in mind. ;-)

You didn’t think we were done did you? Next up, Dealing Damage…

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