A mech (or Mecha, Meka, etc.) refers to a piloted, robotic machine in the science fiction world. As part of both my DIGC335 artefact and my DIGC310 board game, and for these subjects I am planning on creating a board* game which features a mech as its main game piece. As such, I have been researching mechs, their history, what makes a mech a mech, and how practical it is to use a mech over an autonomous robot.
*Phrase used loosely
So, where did the concept of a mech come from? As far back as the 1800’s there have been mentions of large, mechanical walking constructs, such as in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, which features large, tripod robots piloted by aliens on the inside. However, where it really gained steam is from Japan. Tetsujin 28-go (Which translates to Iron Man No. 28) a Manga series about a boy and his giant robot, is the first instance in Japanese mainstream culture of a story about a giant robot. However, the Tetsujin robot was controlled externally, and so doesn’t entirely fit withing the mecha realm. Mazinger Z was the first humanoid robot to be piloted internally. As such, I began to draw a line on what was considered a mech.
With this considered, I have made the distinction that a mech is:
- A machine
- Piloted/able from inside
- With humanoid characteristics (legs, arms, or limbs to that degree).
These distinctions rule out popular mechanations like tanks, space ships, Transformers and other vehicles. There is also a sense of scale involved, as often forums do not consider Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit a mech, ut would consider the larger Hulkbuster a mech. This still leaves the definition open to a range of different style mechs.
Now, why would you choose a mech over a remotely piloted robot? Surely it’s safer to be outside of the robot, especially when there’s going to be fighting involved? Well, I think Blizzard’s explanation of D.Va and her MEKA reason it well. Hana Song is a professional StarCraft player from Korea, when the world is struck by a robot army in a war known as the Omnic Crisis. Korea attempts to build robots to fight them, but discovers that gamers like Hanna are actually faster at reacting than the computers they can design. Human interaction and their abilities to solve problems on the fly is an excellent reason to choose a mech over just a fighting robot.
It also might be out of necessity, where an AI is either not viable or obtainable. And it’s almost certainly cheaper and less work for computer scientists to figure out what programming a robot soldier would need.
Now, for my Artefact, I am choosing to go with a more thrown-together-due-to-necessity style mech, with a kind of junkyard, more “dieselpunk” aesthetic, but still mixed into the science fiction realm of running on batteries and computers. Think slightly less militarised Titanfall mechs.
I’ll be looking further into how to bring this aesthetic to life, but also include the deeper history of giant fighting robots into my artefact game.