Frames: Cost Effective?

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Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby JPRoth1980 » Sun Feb 09, 2014 12:01 am

Since Soren brought this up in the "Dark Side of Symbiosis" thread, I thought I would create a new thread to discuss things.

Soren wrote:Cost-effectiveness is part of that equation - frames are, in-universe, the most cost-effective option for doing what they do (largely policing and counterinsurgency warfare). If you remove cost as a variable, other options open up.


This... Amazes me. To be honest, I would expect the situation to be completely reversed: Frames are the "best," but far from the "cheapest."

From my own thoughts, the primary benefit of using a frame would be the intuitiveness of control (assuming some kind of Waldo control here, or negative feedback, etc.). We've had a lot of time walking on two legs and using our hands to do things, but far less using a tracked work vehicle, etc. However, I'm having trouble thinking that a frame would be more cost-effective than something like an MBT, which provides superior stability, armor, and arguably firepower.

Therefore, I ask two questions:

1: What makes frames so inexpensive, considering?

2: If cost was not an issue, what would be "better" than a frame?
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby milt69466 » Sun Feb 09, 2014 12:34 am

From the rule book:

When the Solar Union first formed, it began immediately resolving the challenges of interstellar commerce. While its transit gate system began to take shape, Solar Union engineers began devising ways to address its most obvious limitations: the exponential cost of sending increasing mass through the gate. Each human sent required enormous startup costs — food and shelter, in many cases air, and the comforts necessary for maintaining high morale.Their solution was to turn the mass of five people their associated materials into a machine and its operator capable of doing the work decreasing the effective mass by 17%.

Hope this helps
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby addking » Sun Feb 09, 2014 1:47 am

Also we've been told that you can basically run the 'muscle cylinders' off pretty much any kind of power source, so that's gotta be helpful for cost effectiveness. You use whatever's plentiful for the most part.
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby Red_Robot » Sun Feb 09, 2014 6:38 am

JPRoth1980 wrote:Therefore, I ask two questions:

1: What makes frames so inexpensive, considering?

2: If cost was not an issue, what would be "better" than a frame?


1.) I am going to say the biggest factor that makes frames inexpensive is their versatility. The Solar Union bases a lot of their policy on pragmatism and resource management. The mobile frame is a force multiplier that turns a single soldier into the equivalent of a platoon. A frame might not be the most efficient option in any specific situation, but it can fill such a variety of roles that it is often the "good enough" option. That makes it a must-have piece of equipment.

Also, in setting, frame technology and cylinder fluid are tried and true. Frames have been around for 240+ years. And that tech is likely going to be applied to a variety of roles. So even if we do have a Main Battle Tank in the Solar Calendar, it is likely to be some sort of mobile frame or hybrid, like the Japanese mecha Gunhed or Sagethe13th's Scorpion Tank. Added to this is the element that muscle cylinders sync up into a sort of neural network that allows them to react with reflexes. A frame is going to react in a way that coincides with the instincts of the pilot, and in a way that a "regular" vehicle just can't duplicate. This edge in reaction time is going to be an edge in combat effectiveness. This edge promotes survivability. Survivability cuts down on losses. Fewer losses results in lower costs because your equipment is more durable than another sort of vehicle.

2.) I would say things that would be better than a frame would be things that fill a role for which they are specifically designed. Examples that spring to mind would be things like an air superiority fighter or long range bomber, or naval vessel or submarine. Basically, war machines of the sort that are mostly beyond the scope of the game. In a dogfight between an attack fighter and a mobile frame, the fighter is likely to have the advantage because it is designed with fluid dynamics in mind and can likely generate greater speeds.

However, this is a place where we can blur the lines again. Imagine if you had a bleeding edge attack fighter that incorporates muscle cylinder tech into its control surfaces. The pilot could "feel" the tension in the wings and the speed of the air passing over the flaps. Does this make it a frame?

I think it would be an interesting exercise to put these questions to the test in a game situation. Build one side of vehicular tanks (at 7p scale...no Tank Police Bonaparte's here) that have superior load capacity but no muscle cylinders (six systems, maybe even eight, but no white dice) versus a company of mobile frames equal in unit size. The tanks can potentially have lots of armor and lots of guns, but they will lack the versatility of a frame in the clutch. Plus the tanks must specifically have a system to perform an action. The only exception to that might be that tanks can use green dice for HtH attacks.
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby Foghammer » Sun Feb 09, 2014 1:38 pm

I am surprised that no one has considered that the best way to take out a target might not be a frame, but a single, well-placed warhead. Wouldn't that be smaller than a frame by a wide margin, and I would suspect they would be significantly cheaper, but I have no real knowledge of the cost of these things.

Assuming the frames we are talking about aren't hurdy gurdy things and are built for combat, not regular labor. I also have a suspicion that military grade frames would be more expensive than civilian models, even if the game treats them as very similar in structure.
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby FrostCollar » Sun Feb 09, 2014 6:02 pm

Foghammer wrote:I am surprised that no one has considered that the best way to take out a target might not be a frame, but a single, well-placed warhead. Wouldn't that be smaller than a frame by a wide margin, and I would suspect they would be significantly cheaper, but I have no real knowledge of the cost of these things.

Well here are my thoughts on this:
  • Frames are powered by muscle cylinders and whatever they're using to get power for them instead of something like a gas turbine for a MBT, potentially giving them a smaller heat signature than a conventional vehicle. They might be harder to target with guided munitions than other vehicles.
  • I like to think that shield generators/active defense systems/etc. are quite common in this setting but are too large for infantry to use, making Frames far more survivable than a comparable group of troops.
  • Frames are far more agile and quicker to react than any other vehicle type and are far more capable of using cover. I think it would be relatively hard to hit a frame with something like a tripod-mounted recoilless rifle or whatever weapon type we're thinking of here.
  • Frames are cheaper partially because they are multi-purpose and partially because piloting skills seem so widespread. You can have your specially trained missile squad, mortar squad, and the near-suicide sticky bomb/blowtorch/plasma bayonet/whatever squad, or you can have one frame that can perform all three roles and be more survivable to boot.
  • Since frame-sized weaponry is apparently common I think infantry would take appalling casualties versus the weapons of this setting unless they had something like powered armor, but if they had that - why not just buy some frames instead?
  • Frames have a variety of non-combat uses. If your military garrison has to transport goods, demolish a building in a controlled manner and clear the debris, build a bridge, save a family from a flooded valley, a frame or three will serve them far better than a tank.
  • Skirmishes in this setting seem to take place in many unpredictable areas. A frame seems far easier to move into position than a missile squad, and a truck carrying troops seems far easier to target than a frame because the truck can't dive to the side or do any of those fancy movements a frame can.
  • People and their food, medical supplies, air, and more are expensive. The savings in supplies that you would have from deploying one pilot instead of a ten man infantry squad seems significant.
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby Ryujin » Mon Feb 10, 2014 10:36 am

This was already discussed previously at length. tl;dr version: due to the technologies involved, in-universe it's actually easier & cheaper to build, maintain & operate a truck on legs than a truck on wheels, even with a hillbilly-tier educational and industrial base. On that note, it's perfectly plausible that one of these things could be built in a cave, with a box of scraps.

With regards to the wheeled Peach truck on page 5 of the rulebook (not that you can see the wheels), it's supposed to keep the peaches from excessive bruising due to the smoother ride, but it's actually a display of ostentatiousness by the highly influential Peach Haulers' Union (imagine the freight costs, even if it was shipped from Earth in a knocked-down condition).

I swear, this very subject also always comes up whenever VOTOMS is being discussed.
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby Xero010 » Mon Feb 10, 2014 10:49 am

You also have to take into account the universality of frame parts and how durbale they are in general. On average, I'm guessing it takes a lot of fire power to put a frame down beyond the point of repair. But many frames, like the Chub and Commissar have parts that are so easy to find that repairing them is a snap.
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby Foghammer » Mon Feb 10, 2014 6:30 pm

FrostCollar wrote:I like to think that shield generators/active defense systems/etc. are quite common in this setting but are too large for infantry to use, making Frames far more survivable than a comparable group of troops.


Not to sound rude, but I think this is the only point on your list that is actually relevant to the warhead comment you quoted me on. The rest would be more appropriate points against using tanks or infantry or whatever. And I would also think that active defense systems/shield generators would not be common. My understanding in some of the discussions that have been held regarding tech is that energy shielding and the like are still a little "well, theoretically..." and making one large enough to be protecting an entire structure [or group of structures] would be prohibitively expensive to operate. If cost effectiveness is the question, I don't think shielding takes any priority when things that are not frames are not taking priority either. Also, there are supersonic missiles that current anti-missile systems have difficulty tracking and neutralizing, and Russia is developing one that is about twice as fast as the fastest one made (the Brahmos-II).

I can't find data on the blast radius or predicted structural damage caused by commonly used missiles (not even sure that's information they let float around) but the price of a single missile seems to be in the $1.5-2M range. By comparison, a new F-22 cost $150M in 2009, and the F-35 runs anywhere from $153M to nearly $200M while the M1 Abrams MBT is estimated to have cost $8.58M (adjusted for inflation, bearing in mind that the M1 was produced in the 80s and is only recently being redeveloped).

If frames can be cobbled together in a cave with scraps (love that reference, btw) then we're still probably talking about a few thousand dollars worth of parts. Targets like that are definitely not going to be worth firing your $1.5M missile at, even if they've been assembled by the dozens. What we have to figure on, then is whether a target is worth $1.5M. (We really need a character for "peaches.") If you say that a single military-grade mobile frame costs as little as $150,000 (a ridiculously low figure IMO, based on the cost of other equipment above, even if we're pretending there's no inherent difference between Fony's Mk I and a standard chub) then one has to weigh the cost of sending a single missile to wipe out as few as 10 mobile frames (for cost effectiveness; anything more than 10 is "icing" as they say) or sending an equivalent force and hoping your pilots and tech are better. I'm going to say that my pilots lives are more valuable and there's less risk of failure in the missile.

All of these costs (except for my figure of mobile frame costs) were pulled from Wikipedia. Also, I don't know what kind of damage missiles REALLY cause (I mean, does seeing a satellite photo REALLY tell you anything except that "that one is bigger than that one"...?). I know you don't fire cruise missiles to deal with infantry or opposing armor, so I assume they are meant to cause damage on a much larger scale, and therefore my extrapolated example. And I forgot to figure the cost of training a pilot for a frame. Anyway, I'm not a military expert, but maybe in trying to put numbers into my point will bring someone who knows what they're talking about in to correct me.
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby gusindor » Mon Feb 10, 2014 9:14 pm

Foghammer wrote:I know you don't fire cruise missiles to deal with infantry or opposing armor, so I assume they are meant to cause damage on a much larger scale, and therefore my extrapolated example.

That pretty much sums it up.
I'm not a military buff so I can't comment on your numbers, but it seems to me that missiles powerful enough to take out a frame could do some serious collateral damage, especially if they're aimed from a location safely away from the fighting, which probably has only satellite images, radar etc. to go on. Modern-day drone and missile strikes are often criticized for civilians getting caught in the crossfire, and it's been stated in another thread that they're not much better in the SC. For the right amount of accuracy, you'd need somebody closer to the battlefield calling the shots. And since that person is going to be a clear target for the enemy, you put them in a frame so they don't die as much.

It's also because this game is about mechs, not missiles. If you want to do long-distance missile strikes, I recommend Battleship.
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Re: Frames: Cost Effective?

Postby Red_Robot » Tue Feb 11, 2014 11:27 pm

Comparing warheads and frames is a bit of an apples and oranges situation. A warhead is a munition. A mobile frame is a form of military transport/armored cavalry. Warheads are very good at blowing stuff up. That's why frames carry them.

What warheads aren't good at is holding ground after you've blown stuff up. The deadliest cruise missile in the world still can't compete with troops on the ground for holding territory and policing populations. So that's why the militaries of the Solar Calendar field mobile frames.

Is a missile more efficient manner of delivering a warhead at long range? Probably. But then it's blown up. But, a frame armed with missiles, or Single Shot Rockets, or long range ramjet artillery shells, or shoulder fired RPGs, can deliver a munitions payload and then carry out further objectives in a mission.
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