Combat Frame Data: AS-03B Goblin

AS-03B Goblin

 AS-03B Goblin

Technical Data

Model Number: AS-03B
Code Name: Goblin
Classification: Mass production armored combat suit
Manufacturer: Colonial Defense License Design
Operator: Extrasolar Colony Defense
First Deployment: CY 81
Crew: 1 Pilot, 1 Goblin Combat AI
Height: 3.5 meters tall
Weight: Dry weight 6.8 metric tons, full weight 7.4 metric tons
Armor Type: palladium glass microalloy/carbon-titanium composite
Powerplant: cold fusion reactor, maximum output 880 KW
Propulsion: 2x rocket thrusters, 12,000 kg; top speed 340 kph; legs, top ground speed 120 kph
Sensors: radar, thermal, optical array mounted in head
Hand armaments: nanite rifle, 15 rounds per magazine; x1 monatomic edge gladius, blade length 0.8 meters
Optional ranged armaments: missile launcher, fires x1 Multiple Target Class Combat Frame Based Missile; Microwave Amplification via Stimulated Emission of Radiation (maser) cannon, output rated at 10 MW, graphene capacitor-fed (must be reloaded after each shot)
Special Equipment: ion field generator, radius 2 meters. Active camouflage cloak: conceals from visual and thermal sensors, impairs electrical-optical visual systems and gravitic sensors. 

General Notes

The AS-03B Goblin was a highly mobile 3-meter-tall armored suit equipped with jump jets for increased maneuverability. Its primary armament was a rifle firing projectiles which dispersed into a nanite swarm on impact. The nanite swarm converted all metallic and carbon-molecule material into replicas of itself. Every nanite in the swarm self-destructed after five seconds to avoid a “grey goo” scenario of eternally self-replicating nanites. 

In addition to their normal weapons, six of the forty Goblins organized into a standard Wild Hunt would be equipped with homing missile launchers, while another twelve were equipped with 10 MW maser cannons. The MTCCFB missiles provided added armor-penetration capability, while the masers proved extremely useful for disrupting the Ynzu control systems.

The typical Goblin also came equipped with an active camouflage cloak which masked all signatures, gravitic included, to allow it to close in with the enemy. Each AS-03B Goblin possessed an integral Goblin A.I. which would either assist a human pilot or pilot the suit itself under the direction of an Erlkoenig A.I. 

The Goblin A.I., while relatively weak and unintelligent on its own, was a cunning adversary that knew how to coordinate with its comrades and work as a team. An individual Goblin was surprisingly strong for its size and armament; working in concert, any number could hold the line against an equivalent number of top-of-the-line CY40-era combat frames.

Goblin Cloaked
Goblin with optical cloak (deactivated)

The future is over.


Combat Frame Data: The Dome

NHX-01A Dome
NHX-01A Dome

Technical Data

Model number: NHX-01A
Nickname: The Dome
Classification: transforming mobile artillery combat frame
Manufacturer: New Haven Colony
Operator: New Haven Colony
First deployment: CY 98
Crew: 1 pilot in central cockpit
Height: 12 meters
Weight: dry weight 99 metric tons, full weight 121 metric tons
Armor type: orihalcum alloy
Powerplant: cold fusion reactor, max output 2950 KW
Propulsion: gravity belt, top speed with maneuvering thrusters 60 kph; exo-thrusters: 4x 34,770 kg; top speed 850 kph; maneuvering thrusters 12, 180° turn time 0.61 seconds (central sphere rotating in belt), 1.20 seconds full body; 4x legs: top ground speed 150 kph
Sensors: radar, thermal, optical, gravimetric array mounted in main sphere; one-way orihalcum central screen
Fixed armaments: x4 plasma cannon, output rated at 1.80 MW, mounted in pairs on right and left pop-out turrets; x4 rail gun, fires 100 mm orihalcum sabots, mounted on right and left turrets opposite plasma cannons;  x2 3-tube missile launcher, mounted in top and bottom pop-out caps, x2 triple laser panels, concealed beneath hidden panels to the left and right of top missile pod

General Notes

One of the first planets surveyed for the UCP's Extrasolar Colonization Project, the world that would be named New Haven boasted a temperate climate, breathable air, and fertile soil. The one obstacle to human habitation was a layer of heavy metals and radioactives distributed globally by an ancient asteroid impact.

The military turned to Earth-based think tank ISBC for a a solution. The Commission came up with a novel remedy for New Haven's contaminated soil. ISBC botanists engineered a saw grass-tobacco hybrid capable of rapid propagation that would leech the contaminants out of the ground. The colloquially named "copper grass" proved enormously successful, spreading across every continent and making the land habitable within twenty years.

Early colonists learned that the lifesaving grass was a two-edged sword. Though it made the soil arable for food crops, it also established a monoculture that choked out other plants. The light blue grass' near-total coverage of every landmass gave New Haven a distinct teal glow when viewed from passing ships.

The colony was on the brink of failure when a local chemist made a startling discovery. The copper grass not only drew heavy and radioactive metals through its roots, its metabolic processes actually refined the initially harmful materials into a new alloy with remarkable properties.

Dubbed "orihalcum" after the coveted metal from Earth myth, the new alloy featured high density and energy absorption abilities rivaling carbyne. It even proved capable of channeling and manipulating gravitons and immediately became a key component in gravity wave guides.

Owing to the colony's expected failure, the UCP never built a military base on New Haven, and the prairie ExSol was deemed too strategically insignificant to receive its own XSeeds. When UCN carrier patrols ceased following the Cristofo Colombo disaster, New Haven was left on its own.

To fortify themselves against the ever-present threat of Ynzu attack, the New Haven colonists fell back on their native resourcefulness. Using what they had--which was billions of acres of ore-bearing grass--they designed and built their own line of combat frames.

Orihalcum had teal coloration when unrefined, but the finished metal took on a rich orange luster after processing. The New Haven colonists fashioned this miracle alloy into ball turrets based on the planetary defense emplacements positioned around the colony. They then attached a set of four transforming legs/EM drives to a belt encircling the ball's equator. a pair o fold-out manipulator arms completed the turret's combat frame evolution. Pilots nicknamed their new CF the Dome.

Due to its origins as a defense turret, the Dome packed a weapons loadout to rival the XCD-103 Eisenpferd. The central ball's ability to rotate 360 degrees on its Z axis and up to 30 degrees on all other axes allowed its bristling array of weapons--most of which were themselves mounted on rotating turrets--to fire on almost any arc.

The Dome's standard armament included a pair of pop-out turrets hidden beneath panels in the CF's sides. Each turret mounted a pair of high-output plasma cannons on one side and a pair of rail guns on the other. Both turrets could freely rotate, allowing the plasma cannons and rail guns to fire fore and aft. The rail guns were designed to fire proprietary orihalcum sabots based on anti-armor weaponry. The alloy's energy manipulation properties actually weakened targets' molecular bonds on impact, surpassing even carbyne-tungsten rounds for penetration. A single direct hit to a critical system could incapacitate an XSeed.

Supplementing the Dome's main turrets were a dorsal and a ventral pop-up missile pod--each also on a rotating turret, and a retractable pair of triple laser arrays concealed beneath panels to the left and right of the upper missile pod. These weapons allowed the Dome to bypass ion fields and deliver surgical strikes to soften up targets.

The Dome's one drawback is its slow movement speed and relative lack of maneuverability. These shortcomings can be overcome by strategically deploying Domes in their intended mission role of mobile artillery-colony defense.

If the UCP brass knew of the Domes' existence, they would breathe a collective sigh of relief knowing that the orange globes are on their side.

Dome Transformation
Dome transformation diagram




In sharp contrast to PS2-era webcomics that have shambled on well past their expiry date, the wiser curators of another Gen Y nostalgia brand knew when their moment had passed.

Paradoxically, knowing when to dial it back has made Matthew and Michael Chapman's sporadic release of new material a delightful surprise.

Here's "No-stalgia" the latest from Homestar Runner universe emo band Sloshy. You'll find the subject matter couldn't be more timely.

Why people need to leave dead franchises

Don't Give Money to People Who Hate You - Brian Niemeier


Fixing Frank

As a follow up to yesterday's postmortem on Penny Arcade, I thought I'd address some of the comments about how the comic lost its way by showing how it could be fixed.

Comics being a visual medium that capitalizes on a picture speaking a thousand words, the best way to explain what I mean is to show you an example.

Luckily, PA produced a comic that embodies the strip's besetting vices.

Penny Arcade Frank

To preempt comments about PA's woeful slide in art quality, yes, this strip predates Mike Krahulik's ill-advised departure from his cleaner Stephen Silver-inspired style to ape John Kricfalusi.

Let's leave the art issue aside since a) I'm an author and editor, so addressing the dialogue is more my line, and b) the new art's demerits are self-evident.

Back to the example strip above. It's built on a solid chassis. Tycho's word economy has always been one of his greatest strengths, in that he favors strong verbs and nouns over weaker words with lots of modifiers. It's deceptively high-density. That's why his dialogue packs a punch.

Bonus points: Naming all three clerks a variant of "Bob" is a delightfully subtle joke that manages to be a play on words and a sight gag at the same time.

In the minus column, this strip is much wordier than it needs to be. We get the premise of "Vietnam vet with a screw loose managing a Game Stop" in the first panel. The multiplication of Frank's high-density epithets feels redundant. It also oversells his character and lowers him from an archetype to a caricature.

Time for a peek under the hood. Most jokes in the Western tradition follow an A, A, B structure consisting of a framing device, a narrative in the context of the frame, and a punchline that typically employs a semantic shift to deviate from the established frame. In three-panel comics, each panel customarily presents one of these elements, proceeding in order.

A Penny Arcade strip, in contrast, usually puts the punchline in panel 2 and leaves panel 3 for a reaction to the joke.

That's where this strip breaks down. The third panel isn't a reaction to what happened before. Frank launches into a non-sequitur stuffed with crazed vet tropes that come off as redundant and too on-the-nose. This is where he becomes a caricature. Honestly, you don't need it at all.

The other oddity in this strip, even for Penny Arcade, is that the setup and the punchline are reversed. Frank delivers the joke in panel 1, and the framing isn't provided until panel 2.

In joke structure terms, you'd diagram this script as: B, A, ?

OK, there's nothing less funny than analyzing humor, so let's have another visual aid. I took the liberty of editing the comic. Here's what emerged:

Penny Arcade Frank edit

Not every PA comic has its setup and punchline reversed, but you can apply this reverse Chekhov's razor to almost every strip.

Behold the power of editing! Make it work for you.


Web Comics Autopsy: Penny Arcade

Penny Arcade

Pop culture trends come in cycles. A new property shows up on the scene, gains traction, and explodes in popularity. Entropy always gets a vote, though, and the IP holders inevitably turn to milking the brand. A consequent decline in quality follows, and the brand--sometimes the whole genre--goes moribund.

The web comics fad of the early aughts gives us a fascinating case study in the rise and fall of an entire medium. 

While sticklers can point to primitive examples of web comics from the early 90s or even the 80s, those precursors are analogous to Pong played on oscilloscopes. Web comics as we think of them now didn't get a foothold until 1997 when outfits like Big Panda offered hosting to hundreds of digital comics creators.

That web comics didn't start their rise until that year will have significance to frequent readers of this blog.

By the year 2000, you had print comics industry wonks like Scott McCloud waxing utopian about the "infinite canvas". In retrospect, the notion of artists posting free comic strips to dedicated web sites and thriving off tee shirt sales seems cockeyed. That kind of wishful thinking will be familiar to newpub authors who remember big indies' lauding of Amazon as our liberator from oldpub's chains.

It comes off as laughably naive in this day of Big Tech censorship and rampant deplatforming, but a stock character of every aughts tech blog and combox was the technocrat who'd mount his soapbox and declare the internet the solution to every problem imaginable. Always lost amid the grandiose promises of technological progress was the unchanging, fallen state of Man.

Not even tech-savvy whiz kids can dodge the Gods of the Copybook Headings. By the middle of the last decade, the web comics bubble had burst--a victim of ascendant social media and changing consumer tastes.

Sometimes, though, a property gets enough going for it to weather its industry's collapse. If you can attract a big enough fan base for Brand X, you'll stay afloat when the hangers-on who chased the Brand X-fueled trend fall away.

In the web comics scene, Penny Arcade stands as the exemplar of that rule. Created by then-roommates Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, PA spearheaded the video gaming subgenre that took web comics by storm in the low 90s and early aughts. Contra public perception of PA's closest competitors, writer Holkins wasn't dragged to fame on artist Krahulik's coattails. His distinctive wordsmithing and daily blog posts proved essential to the comic's "it" factor.

Comics are a visual medium, and to its credit, Penny Arcade could trenchantly get its point across without a single line of dialogue.

Penny Arcade Mega Man 9
The single greatest web comic strip ever produced.

It takes more than a competent artist to pull off that trick. You need a solid writer informing the visuals.

Those visuals started out pretty crude, as the PA duo readily admit.

First Penny Arcade 1998

But to paraphrase George Carlin's character in Bill & Ted, they did get better.

Penny Arcade remake 2013

And bigger. Throughout the aughts, PA grew to become the top web comic in the world. Under the capable guidance of business manager Robert Khoo, Krahulik and Holkins expanded their operation to spinoff comics, print books, a clothing line, an abortive video game series, a charity, and most notably, an international convention franchise.

Being two pretty typical Gen Xers with a massive platform and faulty brain-to-mouth filters--mainly referring to Krahulik here--based in Seattle, it was inevitable that the pair would run afoul of the Death Cult.

It's a further testament to PA's resilience that they've endured not one, not two, but multiple witch hunts that would have buried lesser enterprises.

The pressure brought to bear on Holkins and Krahulik by hysterical fanatics may have taken a toll, though, as they've taken to publicly holding forth on their preferred brands and dosages of SSRIs.

Neither the manufactured controversies nor the creators' personal challenges were what led to my parting of the ways with Penny Arcade. The site gradually went from a thrice-weekly must-read to an occasional side trip over the course of the aughts, mainly owing to PA entering the corporate IP Milking Phase.

In due justice, PA's decreased focus on the comic in favor of their more lucrative business projects wasn't the creators' fault. It was the logical result of socioeconomic changes sweeping the industry back then. Free comics uploads simply didn't convert to enough shirt and mug sales to make a living.

What can be laid at the creators' feet--particularly Krahulik's--was the art and subject matter's rapid drift into self-indulgence. There was a long stretch from about 2004-2005 when two out of the three weekly strips would be based on World of Warcraft. That was uninteresting enough to someone who didn't play WoW. Even worse, the strips started relying on WoW inside baseball for their humor value.

Frankly, and there's no beating around the bush here, PA's once crisp art degenerated into vomit thanks to Krahulik's imitation of Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi.

PA Vomit

Still, the honored axiom, "Hate the game, not the player," applies. Krahulik and Holkins achieved remarkable success in the cutthroat entertainment industry and have maintained that success despite their market sector collapsing around them. No less impressively, they remain surprisingly resistant to the Death Cult despite their prominence in the Pop Cult.

For now, Penny Arcade continues as the coelacanth of web comics--a living record of what is now internet prehistory, when creators and consumers alike could tell jokes without losing their jobs.