Tag Archives: rants

The Five Seven is Stupid

It’s true. The FN Five Seven1 is profoundly stupid. Too stupid to have a good time.

There’s nothing really good about it. If you hold one, you’ll notice that the grip is quite long. The better to accommodate the longish 5.7×27 mm rounds. It’s awkwardly long, and it’s fat at the back, narrowing at the front. So, vaguely egg shaped, if you were to look at it from the top. Nothing else is like that, and there’s a reason for that. They could have made it a long oval like a 1911. People like that. Or even something squarish like a Glock or USP. Both of which work well for people. But no.

The trigger is awful. Apparently you’re pulling the trigger bar across the whole Sahara desert. It’s mushy, gritty, and creepy. Nothing redeeming about it.

The slide release is weird. Like everything else about the gun, it’s plastic. Or polymer. Whatever. But it gives absolutely no feedback. It doesn’t feel like it’s a lever. You press on it, and it feels like a solid molded protrusion. Until you press down like it owes you money. And then it will release the slide. It’s too small. It really doesn’t do its one job.

The safety on the Five Seven is proof that a frame mounted safety can be done extremely stupidly. It’s directly above the trigger. You can reach it with the tip of your trigger finger. Or your weak hand thumb. No one else does this. It’s unintuitive. It’s easy to engage accidentally, and engagement isn’t even positive. If anything, it’s negative. It’s everything a safety shouldn’t be.

How does it shoot? Well, recalling the time I spent on a range renting one, it’s ok. The sucky trigger made me sad. The round has good paper punching ballistics. Very flat shooting. So, that’s a plus.

At least, as long as you’re made of money. It’s an expensive pistol that shoots expensive, hard to find ammo. Terminal performance of actual rounds that have seen service is atrocious. Maybe defensible in the P90 when you can riddle the bad guy’s face with 15 in a second, but not so good for a pistol. You get 20, though, so there’s that. It’s also very loud for what it is. So it’s a poor choice for the recoil-averse, even though there’s no recoil. That bang and flash will induce flinches anyway.

I think the biggest indictment of the Five Seven is that both Fishbreath2 and I should like it, and both of us don’t. At all. It’s a hipster gun that’s ultramodern and grew out of the last years of the cold war. It’s flat shooting. It should be our favorite thing since the 9 mm Luger round. But no. It’s a super expensive curiosity. It doesn’t really do anything well that you can’t get elsewhere.

Except, I guess, be the Ultimate Status Item for drug lords. It’s got that going for it.

  1. No, I’m not going to capitalize it the way the FNH Marketing department wants. That’s stupid too. 
  2. It really is a terrible piece of kit, and something I wanted to like. I just can’t bring myself to it. The controls are awful, and I am this blog’s resident AK shooter. -Fishbreath 

Tesla Motors: Ignoring Facts of Human-Machine Interaction Since 2014

Okay, I’ve had about enough of Tesla’s zombie legion of brainwashed fans reflexively and ignorantly defending them on autopilot grounds, so it’s time for a good old fashioned rant. I have two targets.

First: autopilot itself. Tesla’s autopilot is a nifty technological achievement. In its current state, though, it’s dangerous, and it disregards seventy years of research into how humans interact with machines. This book, on the specific topic of human reliability in transit systems, cites just over two hundred sources. In the world of trains, locomotive cabs usually feature a device called an alerter. If the driver doesn’t flip a switch or press a button every so often, the locomotive automatically stops.

The locomotive, actually, is a good analogue for the specific sort of cognitive load imposed by driving with an assisted cruise control system. If you read my Train Simulator review, you have some idea what I mean. For the benefit of you who did not read it, let me sum up.

Driving a car manually is a task with relatively evenly-distributed (low) difficulty. It takes constant attention to keep from hitting something or driving off the road. It may take more attention at times, but there’s a certain minimum cognitive load below which you can no longer drive a car. Sure, it’s no helicopter, but you do have to be paying at least a little bit of attention. This is materially different from driving a train or a semi-automatic car.

Piloting those two forms of transit requires so nearly zero input from the driver as to be indistinguishable therefrom. In both cases, the vehicle handles the moment-to-moment input required to keep itself from crashing into things1. The driver has no ongoing task to keep his mind focused. A quick sampling of Wikipedia articles on train crashes shows, broadly speaking, two sorts of accident which capture almost every incident: equipment failures causing derailment, and driver inattentiveness causing a train to run into another train2. In fact, the trend with trains is increasing computerization and automation, because—shocker—it turns out that humans are very bad at watching nothing happen with boring predictability for dozens or hundreds of hours, then leaping into action the moment something begins to go wrong. This article, by a self-proclaimed UI expert3 goes into great detail on the problem, using Google’s experience with testing self-driving cars as an example. The train industry knows it’s a problem, too, hence the use of the alerter system I mentioned earlier.

“Well then, you ought to love what Tesla is doing!” I hear you say. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re making intriguing products4, and the technology which goes into even the limited autopilot available to Tesla drivers is amazing stuff. That said, there’s a twofold problem.

First, no self-driving system—not even Google’s more advanced fleet of research vehicles—is perfect. Nor will they ever be. Computerizing a train is trivial in comparison. There’s very little control to be done, and even less at the train itself. (Mostly, it happens at the switching and signaling level, and nowadays that’s done from a centralized control room.) There are very few instances driving a train where you can see an obstacle soon enough to stop before hitting it, and very few instances where it’s worth stopping to avoid hitting the thing you might hit. Again, though, hitting a deer with a train is materially different than hitting a deer with a luxury sedan. More generally, there’s a lot more to hit with a car, a lot more of it is dangerous, and it’s a lot more difficult to tell into which category—dangerous or no—a certain piece of stuff falls.

Second, there’s a problem with both driver alertness systems and marketing. To the first point, requiring that you have your hands on the wheel is not enough. There’s a reason a locomotive alerter system requires a conscious action every minute or so. Without that constant requirement for cognition, the system turns into another thing you just forget about. To the second, calling something which clearly does not drive the car automatically an ‘autopilot’ is the height of stupidity5. Which brings me to the second rant I mentioned at the start of the article.

Tesla fans.

You see, whenever anyone says, “Maybe Tesla shouldn’t call their assisted driving system Autopilot, because that means something which pilots automatically,” an enormous gaggle of geeks push their glasses up their noses and say, “Actually…”6

I’m going to stop you right there, strawman7 in a Tesla polo. If your argument starts with “Actually” and hinges on quibbling over the definition of words, it’s a bad argument. Tesla Autopilot is not an autopilot. “What about airplane autopilots?” you may ask. “Those are pilot assistance devices. They don’t fly the airplane from start to finish.” Precisely. The pilot still has lots to do8, even to the point of changing speeds and headings by hand at times. More to the point, it’s almost impossible to hit another plane with a plane unless you’re actively trying9. Not so with cars. Cars exist in an environment where the obstacles are thick and ever-present. A dozing pilot is usually a recipe for egg on his face and a stiff reprimand. A dozing driver is a recipe for someone dying.

I also sometimes hear Tesla fans (and owners) saying, in effect, “Just pay attention like I do.” The hubris there is incredible. No, you are not unlike the rest of the human race. You suffer from the same attention deficit when monitoring a process which mostly works but sometimes fails catastrophically as does the remainder of the human race. It is overwhelmingly more likely that you overestimate your own capability than that you’re some specially talented attention-payer.

To quote Lenin, “What is to be done?” Fortunately, we have seventy years of research on this sort of thing to dip into. If your system is going to require occasional human intervention by design, it has to require conscious action on the same time scale on which intervention will be required. Trains can get away with a button to push every minute because things happen so slowly. Planes have very little to hit and lots to do even when the plane is flying itself. Cars have neither luxury. To safely drive an Autopilot-equipped car, you have to be paying attention all the time. Therefore, you have to be doing something all the time.

I say that thing ought to be steering. I’m fine with adaptive speed, and I’m also fine with all kinds of driver aids. Lane-keeping assist? Shake the wheel and display a warning if I’m doing something wrong. Automatic emergency braking? By all means. These are things computers are good at, and which humans can’t do: seeing a specific set of circumstances and reacting faster than humans. Until the day when a car can drive me from my house to my office with no input from me—a day further away than most people think—the only safe way for me, or anyone, to drive is to be forced to pay attention.

Update 04/21/17
I’m not usually one to revisit already-posted articles, but this is just too much. In this Ars Technica comment, a Tesla owner describes “multiple uncommanded braking events” since the last software update. In the very same post, he calls his Tesla “the best car I’ve ever owned”.

If you needed further proof of the Tesla fan’s mindset, there it is.

  1. Whether by advanced computer systems and machine vision, or by the way flanged steel wheels on top of steel rails stay coupled in ordinary circumstances. 
  2. Sometimes, driver inattentiveness causes derailments, too, as when a driver fails to slow to the appropriate speed for a certain stretch of track. 
  3. I like his use of a topical top-level domain. We over here at .press salute you, sir! 
  4. Electric cars weren’t cool five years ago. Now they’re kind of cool10
  5. In a stroke of genius, Cadillac called a similar system ‘Super Cruise’. I’ll be frank with you: when a salesman is going down the list of options for your new Caddy, and he says, “Do you want to add Super Cruise?” your answer is definitely going to be, “Heck yes. What’s Super Cruise?” It just sounds that cool. Also, it has a better, though not quite ideal, solution to the driver attentiveness problem. There’s a little IR camera on the steering column which tracks your gaze and requires you to look at the road. 
  6. Yes, I realize that also describes me and this article. I also just fixed my glasses. 
  7. Never let it be said that our qualities do not include self-awareness and self-deprecation! 
  8. The occasional embarrassed dozing pilot story notwithstanding. 
  9. That’s why it’s always news on the exceedingly rare occasions when it happens, and frequently news when it doesn’t, but merely almost happens. 
  10. If poorly built, but Tesla say they’re working on that. 

On Iron Sights

While I’m slaying sacred cows, let’s talk about iron sights on rifles. Pistols are a topic for another time.

Should you “master” iron sights on rifles before moving to optics?

Hell no. Next question.

Iron sights are outmoded. Obsolescent. There are better choices right now, namely optics. For any given purpose, there is an optical sight that will perform better than iron sights on long guns.

Close range shooting? Red dot or low-power variable. Boom. Faster than irons.

Long range shooting? Get you some magnification. Make the targets bigger. Done. Better than irons.

Now, optics don’t magically make you a better shooter. They do take out one component of shooting: sight focus. Iron sights give you three focal planes at three different distances from your eye: the rear sight, the front sight, and the target. Your eye is physically capable of focusing on one plane at a time. So you acquire the target, then focus on your front sight. It’s not intuitive. It’s not easy, especially when your target isn’t easy to see. Then you have to align the front sight with the rear sight and the target. And then you have all of the other trigger control issues, steadying the rifle, dealing with recoil, etc.

With optics, the sights are in the same plane as the target. So you look at your target. That’s intuitive: you want to shoot that. Then you align the sights with the target. Which is a lot easier, because they’re in focus too. Same plane and all. You can see your sight (where the bullet is going, more or less) at the same time as you can see the thing you want to shoot. Then, trigger control time. Recoil management.

I’m always in favor of making my life easier. As is just about every other serious user. Choose a special forces unit, they use optics on their rifles. Most militaries of repute and with some ambition issue optics for all of their rifles. If rules allow optics, competitive shooters put optics on their rifles.

And they’re one I like to pick on, because they’ll do anything (at least, anything not prohibited by the rules) for an edge.

Optics are better. There basically isn’t a downside. Hell, most new rifles don’t even come with iron sights these days, whether they’re flat-top ARs or slick new hunting rifles. And do you know how hard it is to actually kill good optics?

Okay, now that I’ve said all that, let me preempt a few comments.

I’m not saying iron sights won’t work. They’ll do the job if you can and do. Optics will make your life easier.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t know how to use iron sights at all. They are on most pistols, after all. Plus they’re on all manner of old rifles, like an M1 Garand or the Lee-Enfield. And shooting old rifles is plenty of fun. But you’re probably not going to use those as your primary longarm. So focus on your primary. Which has an optic.

What about using iron sights as a way to “get better at shooting”? Well, if you can use iron sights, you can certainly use optics. True. And irons are way harder. Also true. My turn for a question: what is the goal?

If your goal is to get better with iron-sights, perhaps for an iron-sight competition like the National Matches, rock on. Mission is driving the gear train.

If your goal is to get better with your optic-equipped hunting/defensive/competition rifle, you should probably be training with that. You know, the gun you’re actually going to use. Familiarize yourself with the quirks of your optic. Familiarity brings comfort. Remember, all of the other things you do when shooting are there. You still have to work on those. Optics are one of the few ways to reduce the complexity of the shooting problem.

Iron sights aren’t a thing you can work in isolation. You make the sight alignment problem more complicated, but you still have all of the other issues. For most of us, misses occur because of a combination of factors. We didn’t do just one thing wrong, we did a bunch of things wrong. Put them together, you get the (bad) result. If you’re very good, you can figure out all of the problems. More likely, you can figure out some of them, but not all of them.

You can get great at shooting with optics. You can probably even do it faster than with irons, because you have fewer difficulties.

What about durability?

Modern optics are extremely durable. And most shooters don’t abuse their weapons. The vast majority of optics will happily survive moving from gun safe to bag to car to range to car to safe with no issues at all. And if you abuse your optics, buy accordingly. My Aimpoint Comp M4, for example, is stupidly durable. Go google some “test videos” where people do dumb things like hit it with a hammer or set of explosives nearby. You can probably find a way to kill it, but your gun (and you) will be similarly out of action. So don’t worry about it.

On Training Guns

There’s a notion floating about the internet that to “Get Good” at shooting, one ought to shoot a gun that is difficult to shoot well. E.g. to learn follow through, you ought to shoot a flintlock rifle, as these have long lock times. In fact, you should shoot it offhand (read: standing), so that you don’t have good support to assist you.


What should you train with? The gun you use most, which is probably a gun you like. If you haven’t a gun, buy something modern and use that. If you buy a hunting rifle, for example, put the sort of glass you’d use in the field on it. If you buy a carbine, mount the red dot or variable power optic you’d want to use on it.

The notion in the opening assumes that you’re a very self-disciplined shooter, that you’re a good enough shooter to correctly understand how to apply the fundamentals in question (in the above example, follow through, but this could be whatever aspect of shooting you please), that you know how to self-diagnose your own errors, and that your other fundamentals are reasonably sound.

So yes, you need good follow through to shoot a flintlock rifle well. You also need good eyesight to use the small irons on a flintlock rifle, and good upper body strength and offhand shooting technique to properly hold the rifle steady. If you lack those other things, your shots will not hit the mark, and you won’t have any idea why.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but if I am honest with myself, or ask my subconcious, whom I cannot lie to, I’ll tell you that the above doesn’t describe me on my best days. If I fired a flintlock rifle as a training aid I would get incredibly frustrated at just about everything. And I’d have a bunch of convenient excuses for my poor shooting, presuming the frustration didn’t make me hurl the thing over the berm and take up golf.

No gun that has ever been called “hard to shoot well” is ever called that for one single thing. It is a collection of many factors. So you’re not isolating a single thing to work on. This isn’t the gym where you get to isolate muscle groups. You’ve got the whole thing. So did you miss with that Kentucky Rifle because it’s heavy and the gun wobbled a lot? Or was it because you couldn’t see the sights? Or because the trigger is heavy and gritty? Or because you didn’t follow through? Or maybe you flinched? See, it could be any one of those things. Or a combination of all of the above.

Self diagnosis is hard. It’s one of the reasons why training classes are so good. Because it’s a lot easier to see errors in others. And to be honest with what you see in others. It’s hard to be honest with yourself. There’s a gun that’s hard to shoot right there! And we like to lie to ourselves. A trained professional instructor will spot things we’re doing badly, and things we think we are doing well but aren’t.

Or you could set yourself up with a pretty good gun and not have excuses. You don’t need to spend a fortune. Just get something modern and solid. Example: I carry Glocks. I compete with Glocks. So guess what gun comes with me to class and to the range for practice? Yep: A Glock. Now, I don’t put a crazy race trigger in most of my Glocks, but I do like the factory “minus” or the TTI “minus” connectors. And I certainly don’t make myself miserable by putting in an NY2 trigger spring for a 12 lb trigger pull. My Glock 34, for example, has a few optimized controls that I like. And a factory minus connector. The pull was pretty good out of the box. I did my best to zero the sights from a bench. And then, at class, or when I’m practicing on my own, I know that errors are on me. Maybe my follow through needs work. Ok. No problem. I can work on that with the Glock, or any other gun. And as I do so, I’m going to be having fun.

I like shooting my Glocks. They’re fun to shoot. They fit me well. And I’m also quite used to the characteristics of them. All that practice means that they’re very familiar. And, given all the training, I know what I can do with them. Which means there’s nothing more comforting on my hip than the Glock 34 that I took to class. And with that on my hip in class, and sights zeroed beforehand, I knew that any screwups are on me. Could I make it easier to shoot? Sure. But I could also make life suck for myself. And I didn’t. I could have been dumb and taken a brace of flintlock pistols to a class, but I didn’t.

If you like shooting weird and exotic things, knock yourself out. But don’t feel that you have to. Or that its optimal. Truth be told, focusing on one quality platform is almost certainly the optimal route if you want to minimize the time taken. But “minimize” is a relative term. It’s gonna take a lot of shooting to make USPSA Grandmaster Class. So do it on a platform you love.

Also, if you want to occasionally pick up something else, and enjoy shooting it for it’s own sake, feel free. Feel free to enjoy it for its own sake, and don’t feel like it has to be your training tool.

We often remark that it’s the shooter, not the tool, to discourage newer shooters from chasing every gadget under the sun in a vain effort to make up for skill. Well, just like a new Blastomatic 2000 won’t magically make you a better shooter overnight, it won’t make your practice better overnight either. You still have to put in the work, and focus.

Want to make it faster? The right answer is training with a good instructor. Bad equipment will just make you take up golf.

The EDC X9 Is Stupid

Wilson Combat’s new EDC X9 is stupid.

There, I said it!

This isn’t to say it’s a bad gun, or that you’re stupid for wanting one ‘just cause’. That’s fine. This is America1. A free country. And you can buy whatever you like with your hard-earned money. I won’t stop you. It’s a nifty design from an engineering perspective.

But selling stuff isn’t just about engineering. It’s also about marketing. So let’s review what we know about the EDC X9 and then put on our business-guy hats.

The EDC X9 is a double-stack 1911 design (a ‘2011’), that comes with 15 round magazines derived from those in the Walther PPQ M2. It has an aluminum frame and weighs a bit over 29 oz. empty. The trigger pull should be between 3.5 and 4.5 lbs. And the pistol costs just shy of $2,900.

Now, a double stack 1911 screams competition. That’s where those pistols live. They are most popular in the Limited and Open divisions of USPSA (and IPSC, the parent organization). They’re very popular because you can combine a great trigger with a lot of ammo and plenty of weight. Other popular limited guns include the Glock 35 and the CZ-75 family (including derivatives made by EAA and Tanfoglio). Let’s see how the EDC X9 compares with them.

Caliber: The EDC X9 is chambered in 9 mm. Nearly all serious Limited guns are chambered in .40, to take advantage of Major Power Factor scoring, which is lower score penalties for hits outside the A-Zone of the IPSC target. This lower penalty is pretty significant, and as a result most serious competitors make Major, usually by going with a .40 gun, since it’s easy to make power factor in .40.

Magazines: Magazine length in Limited must not exceed the 140 mm gauge. In this length, a 2011 can fit 20 rounds of .40. Stock full-size .40 Glock magazines hold 15 rounds, and can be combined with an extender to also hold 20 rounds of .40 while staying under the 140 mm length limit. On a PPQ M2, you’re looking at 18 rounds of .40 with the basepad extensions, which is what we could compete with in an EDC X40, if there was such a thing. A little less than ideal.

Size/Sight Radius: Competitors don’t have to bother with concealment, so they tend to go for full size or long slide pistols. The EDC X9 is a compact. Less slide to work with. Less sight radius.

Further, at the price point you’re looking at for an EDC X9, you’re also looking at semicustom 2011s from guys like Brazos. They’ll be able to set up a gun the way you like. Want specific trigger tuning? You got it. Want a superlight slide and a superheavy frame/barrel/guiderod? No problem. Big mag funnel? But of course. The EDC X9 is a pretty specific package, and they don’t have the same kind of options as the hardcore 2011 builders. Entry level open guns are also price competitive with the EDC X9, not to mention ridiculous custom packages for Glocks and CZs. And practice ammo.

Okay. Suppose you’re not looking for the ultimate competition gun. Suppose you want a really good trigger. Maybe for carry. Maybe for more casual competition. Whatever. Well, you can get much better mag availability, and save a lot of money by looking elsewhere and having some modifications done. If you like striker fired guns, you can get some really great triggers in them if you know where to look. For example, if you start with a Glock, or have one lying around, talk to DK Custom Triggers for a phenomenal trigger kit. Professionally tuned, and serious competitors love these triggers. If you like HKs or SIGs (striker or hammer fired), contact Gray Guns. Get an awesome trigger. If you like hammer fired guns, CZ Custom also sets up some fantastic triggers in their guns. And if you’re heart is set on a real Single Action trigger, take a long, hard look at the SIG P226 Legion SAO. You’ll really like the trigger.

Any of those options will come in significantly cheaper than the EDC X9. They’ll have really good triggers. You’ll be able to afford a whole bunch of ammo to get to know your new blaster better. And some professional instruction so you don’t practice bad habits.

And yes, I know EDC is probably intended to stand for Every Day Carry. Very unwise. Get in a shooting, that gun is going to spend some time in an evidence locker. Are you going to want your $2,900 blaster to sit in an evidence locker for a while? Didn’t think so. You’ll carry something cheaper. And I’m not even talking about all those people who think something a bit bigger than a Glock 19 is ‘too much gun for carry’. And all of the above applies if you’re looking for a carry gun with a great trigger too. You can get a pair of matching, tuned pistols from the list above for less than $2,900.

So, whatever you’re looking for, the EDC X9 is suboptimal. Unless you just think it’s cool. Then go for it. Also, feel free to show off that you have more money than sense.

[Editor’s note (11/2020): okay, Internet randos, I spend an awful lot of time cleaning up garbage comments on this post. So, since most of you land here from God knows where, get fired up, and start mashing your keyboards to bang out yet another rage-fueled diatribe like so many before you whose comments I also unceremoniously deleted, I’d like to direct you to our comment policy: you are permitted to be at most one of rude and wrong. We, being the people who go to the effort of running this place, are allowed to be both. Take a look at the existing comments, remember that I’m a lot less patient about this post now than I was a few years ago when I allowed them, and save yourself the trouble of slaving over that assault on English and reason for an hour and so save me the trouble of sending it immediately to the trash can. -Fishbreath (i.e., not the author of this piece, but still fed up with its readership)]

  1. Thanks to The Internet, you might be reading this from someplace that isn’t the United States of America. If this is the case, I’m deeply sorry. 

NATO Rants

Unlike a lot of my other posts, this will not be from the perspective of my fictional country, Borgundy. This is Parvusimperator the American talking. -Ed

During the Cold War, NATO was a damned good idea. A more permanent alliance. Get interoperability right before war begins. Get joint exercises done. Get experience working together. Get units (especially American units) forward based, where they can be ready for trouble.

All well and good. But the Soviet Union is no more.

So what do we think of Russia? Well, Putin likes his saber rattling and his little wars. Well and good.

And most of Western Europe does not like defense spending. Fine. Neither do I. I’d rather pay less taxes, personally.

Here’s what I hate. Freeloaders. And that’s what the vast majority of NATO members are. FREELOADERS.

To hell with defense welfare. Germany and Italy and the rest can sure afford two stupid percent of GDP per annum on defense.

We shouldn’t have to support you all. We oughtn’t have to support you all. We increasingly can’t afford to support you all.

Finally I can write what I’ve wanted to say for years. Pull your damned weight or we’ll leave.

It’s simple, really. If Russia is worth losing sleep over, then spending 2% GDP per year is something that’s worthwhile. And if they aren’t a threat, if y’all have got this, then fine. We’ll take our army and go home. And you shouldn’t have a problem with that, right?

You don’t need our armed forces. No, the Libya intervention went fine without us. We were called for help purely for sentimental reasons. Serbia wouldn’t have been any trouble at all. And those Russian tanks, they’re rusted out. Going nowhere. Probably not even loaded with ammunition.

Don’t like the 2% GDP per year target? Okay, fine. That’s just the median level of spending from the end of the Cold War until 2003. It’s not enough, good point. Name some other benchmark and meet it. Any way you cut it, our European allies are a bunch of useless freeloaders, who couldn’t stop a paper brigade of dummy tanks. ISAF sucked in the ‘Stan against a bunch of underequipped terrorist scum. They’ll do worse against an actual army with materiel.

Were it up to me, I think y’all should have a year to get your act together. And then, since we all know you won’t, we’ll take our stuff and move it elsewhere. Maybe back to the States. Maybe to Korea and Japan. They actually spend money on defense. Make the pivot to Asia real.

And I would then hand Vladimir Putin a ceremonial blank check. He’s your problem now, useless socialists.

Fishbreath Plays: MechWarrior Online

The Battletech Kickstarter kicked me back into playing some MechWarrior Online. I ought to note that, on the whole, I like it. I don’t think it quite hits the heights that previous MechWarrior games hit, but it’s a perfectly serviceable stompy robots game in terms of gameplay. That isn’t what this post is about, though.

No, this post is a rant.

Let’s talk about the grind. Oh, the grind. That necessary evil in free-to-play games, right? Yes, but this one is particularly egregious. Fans of the game may try and tell you it’s less grindy than World of Tanks, say, or World of Warships. They are lying to you. Let us be perfectly clear. There is precisely one type of player for whom MechWarrior Online is less grindy than the Wargaming.net games: high-level competitive players. World of [insert vehicle] does indeed require more out of you than MechWarrior Online does if you want to experience what counts as the endgame. I would posit that these players, though, make up such a tiny proportion of the playerbase that their opinions are basically meaningless. Let’s get down to brass tacks with a comparison.

I’m a fairly casual player in World of Warships, and a fairly casual player in MechWarrior Online. As such, my goal in the former is to have a couple of historical Second World War vessels, which occupy (generally) the top half of the tech trees. I need to get to about tiers 4-6. I average about a thousand experience per game, or more if I’m playing primarily for first-win-of-the-day. To go from tier 5 to tier 6 costs about 30,000 experience, which comes to about 30 games. (Going from tier 1 to tier 5 is about that difficult too, if I recall correctly.) It takes me about 60 games—certainly, no more than 75 on a bad streak, and no more than 100 on a horrid streak. So far, I’ve never had to grind for money; in the course of getting through my 60-100 games to hit the next tier, I’ve made enough to buy my way up.

In MechWarrior Online, as a fairly casual player, my goal is to build up a stable of mechs of various sizes and roles I can switch between as the mood strikes me. There are two obstacles here. First, earnings: I make about 80,000-100,000 c-bills per match in MechWarrior Online. A single light mech chassis costs about 2,000,000 c-bills. (A little less for 20-ton mechs, a little more for 35-ton mechs, a whole lot more for mechs which can mount ECM—note that ECM capability usually makes a given mech variant the most desirable of its chassis.) A medium mech costs about 3,750,000 c-bills. You’ll spend between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 for a heavy, and 7,500,000 to 10,000,000 for an assault.

You begin to see the magnitude of the problem. Buying a light, a medium, a heavy, and an assault chassis takes nearly 20 million c-bills and a shade under 200 games. Outfitting a mech can sometimes double that cost, especially if you don’t have a bunch of weapons and equipment sitting around your mech lab, if you’re a new player. We’re already up to about a 400-game grind to buy and outfit four individual mechs. That’s a big time sink.

It also isn’t the end of it. When you buy a mech, you unlock skill trees for that mech. Consider this: I earn about 800xp per match. If I don’t sink about 30,000 experience into each variant, that variant is between 10% and 50% worse in a variety of extremely important performance measures (speed, heat capacity, turn rate, and more) than someone else’s copy of that variant who has done the grind. That’s a 40-game grind in each mech after you’ve acquired it. I’ll grant you, that comes out to less than you need to acquire the mechs (a mere 160 games), but that isn’t the whole story.

You see, the mech skill trees come in three tiers. To unlock each tier, you need to finish the tier beneath it… on three separate variants of a given chassis. So, you don’t need 400 games and 40,000,000 c-bills to buy and outfit four mechs. You need 120,000,000 c-bills and 1200 games to grind out the requisite twelve variants to avoid being a gigantic drag on your team. More than 400 of those games will be played in mechs that are arbitrarily handicapped in an attempt to get you to buy premium time.

So no, Wargaming.net’s games are not more grindy than MechWarrior Online for the average player. Basically, if you don’t get summers off, you’re going to have to spend money if you want to fill out your mech stable, and a lot of money, at that. I leave gawking at the prices as a trivial exercise for the reader.