There’s something viscerally rewarding about using machine guns. From the earliest days of humanity, when cavemen put down their spears and picked up .30 calibres, mankind has enjoyed the thundering of automatic gunfire. When Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca and had Atahualpa executed, it was thanks to his trusty Thompson submachine gun. And of course, we all remember learning about how Joan of Arc defeated the Pilgrims at the Battle of Plymouth Rock in 1374 with her trusty Browning Automatic Rifle. Historical references aside, it’s important to understand that humanity has had a long love affair with the machine gun. It only makes sense that by the year 3050, that love has only become more intense, and probably a little creepy.
To put it bluntly; the machine gun in Mechwarrior Online is broken. Now, this doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, and I'd be the first to tell you there’s something hilarious about packing a mech with machine guns and running into the opposing forces. Unfortunately, it’s necessary to divorce fun from functional and hopefully find a place for the machine gun on the battlefields of MWO. So what’s the issue?
Risk vs. Reward
As with any weapon you choose to put on your mech, it’s a question of risk vs. reward. There’s an opportunity cost in filling a mech’s slot with a particular weapon. Hopefully, this is something that the player has considered when creating his mech. Let’s say for argument’s sake that the player doesn’t do that, and instead just slaps on whatever might fit, which in many cases these days are heavy energy weapons. So often, thanks to a lack of viable small tonnage ballistics weapons in the game, some players might be tempted to fill empty ballistics slots with machine guns, drop some ammo into the legs, and run into battle. Three to five minutes later, the (hopefully wiser) player heads back to the mech lab to fix his abomination by ripping the machine guns back out.
PGI has attempted to find a unique place for the machine gun in the Mechwarrior Online armory by reworking them into “crit seekers”, with an increased chance of knocking out weapons and ammo. Following the infamous machine gun tweak patch, machine guns were actually quite adept at destroying internal components. Unfortunately, their effectiveness was due to a bug where they were working with an 80% crit rate. Shortly after discovery, the machine guns were nerfed back into uselessness.
What did we learn? Even with a huge unintended advantage in the area where PGI intended the weapons to perform well, most players didn’t bother with the machine guns. They still did far too little damage at too short of a range, all while requiring ammo that turns your battlemech into a firework should you stub your toe on a map’s geometry. We know there is a reworking of the crit system somewhere over the horizon, but as it stands the machine gun is a weapon without a use.
How do we fix it?
As with my previous article on the flamers, I want to make an effort to create a unique experience for a weapon that deserves a place in the fight. Sure, it would be easy to just say “triple the damage of the machine gun” and call this an article, but I think we can do better. While a straight up damage increase would be welcomed (and consistent with the DPS boosts that other weapons got in translation to MWO), they’re a unique enough concept that a special mechanic is called for.
The best part of using machine guns in MWO is the look and sound of rounds peppering against an opposing mech. Any serious rework of the machine gun for viable use should encourage putting rounds into a target, and continuing to do so for as long as possible.
The new machine guns would start at the current .04 damage (.4 DPS) at the moment that the first round hit your target. From that point on, the longer you are able to keep the machine gun hitting the target the more damage you do. If we arbitrarily set the damage to increase by 140% each second of hitting a target, after six seconds of continual fire, a single machine gun would output ~.192 damage per shot with a DPS of ~2.151 - which would place it roughly at the same strength as a Large Laser. This is a significant damage increase at that sixth second and then beyond as the damage would stay capped out until your target is dead or you stop hitting it. Multiple MGs would be independent on this system.
For those who are already screaming that this is overpowered, let me explain how it's actually quite reasonable. The hysterical fits of laughter that usually follow a realization that your target is fitted with machine guns will be replaced with the need to either get moving out of range or kill the opponent before your mech gets chipped apart by continual fire. That being said, there are plenty of opportunities for someone on the receiving end of this fire to break the compounding damage. He or she can move out of the still pathetic 90 (180 total ) meter range, find cover, get out of the attacking mech's firing arc, or simply kill the attacking mech to prevent an untimely machine gun related death. Most brawls between two mechs don’t last more than ten seconds and there is a significant risk involved in continually facing your target in order to keep the machine gun fire on target. As it should be, this is a trade-off between damage output and protecting yourself from incoming fire.
It is important that any attempt to make machine guns viable should include encouragement for the player to use it in a 'fun' way that will also help fill a major hole in the MWO armory. Finally, we will have a viable ballistics weapon below six tons. I think a unique system like the one above could bring a bit of flavor to a brawler metagame that seems to be dominated by a few very popular weapons.