Pondering on a way to measure build effectiveness — The build test track

In the past few weeks I found myself using the training grounds more and more. This is partly because I play more in the group queue than the solo queue and I have less time to build and check out silly builds as a result.

As I kept using the training grounds, I unconsciously started to standardize my testing procedures. First, I started picking the Forest Colony only. In Forest Colony you start with a Commando right in front of you, therefore no time is wasted when moving around. The targets are also laid out in such a way that you can keep shooting while making your way to the other end of the map. Perfect. After the Commando you have a Cicada at about 500m range and then a Catapult facing you sideways about 500m further. After the Catapult there's an Atlas on the right side on land. By the time you get here you're already heat capped with most builds, so it takes some time to bring the Atlas down. After the Atlas you have a Jenner and a Centurion on the path leading to the tunnel. Lastly, there's a Cataphract and an Awesome up on the rocks on the other side of the map. That's 8 'Mechs (2 lights, 2 mediums, 2 heavies, 2 assaults) you have to take care of.

I slowly realized that this layout is actually pretty great at benchmarking loadouts, especially different builds for the same 'Mech. Then I started making rules like a specific route, engagement rules and such. In the end, I could finally notice some differences between different 'Mechs, quirks and builds.

In the end, I have something akin to a "Top Gear test track". You load the map, follow the rules and measure how long it takes you to the other end and note the time when you kill the Awesome. Obviously this test track is all about range, damage application and heat efficiency. It won't test how survivable your 'Mech is, how good it is at peeking or using cover and such. This is all about pure killing efficiency and damage potential.

Since you're constrained by time and the route you must take, you must strike a good balance between firepower/mobility/heat efficiency to achieve the best time. Shutdowns must be avoided and the ammo must be sufficient to kill 8 'Mechs. Therefore I feel this test track is a good indication of your 'Mechs' capabilities under optimal conditions. Whether ff you can achieve those optimal conditions in a live match is a question for you as a pilot and the circumstances of the match.

Here's the route I have developed:

Blue dots represents target 'Mech locations

There are additional rules other than the route though. Here they are:
  • You must not pass a 'Mech before killing it. If you can't kill the 'mech while on the move, you can stop in front of it to take it out.
  • No hugging with the SRMs to focus damage. You must leave at least 50m between you and the target.
  • Special rule for the target Catapult: You must kill it by legging. It's hard to focus down the legs from range, so you're going to need a steady aim and a precise weapon.
  • Special rule for the target Atlas: You must take out the right torso (ballistic torso) first and then the CT. This will push your heat and ammunition reserves to their limits. Laser 'Mechs will struggle, while brawlers will have the advantage here. If the Atlas has an ammo explosion (happens occasionally) you must restart the run.
  • Special rule for LRM boats: You must kill the Catapult in any way. No legging is required.
  • No modules.
  • No headshots.
  • Only frontal shots.
  • No taking shortcuts. See the video below for the route.

With these rules finalized, I set out to test and compare random 'Mechs and builds. Here are the results:
  • SCR with 4xSL+2xLPL: 2:41. My standard SCR build. Cool and punchy.
  • SCR with 4xML+3xASRM6: 2:49. This build has a great alpha, but as soon as you hit the heat limit it becomes very painful to keep firing. Major difficulties taking down the Atlas and the Awesome.
  • HBK-4SP with 4xML+2xASRM6: 3:05. I thought this would be comparable, but the 4SP is also unbearably hot due to the sacrifices a STD build needs.
  • WVR-6R with 2xAC5+ML: 1:59. The quirked AC5s are just devastating. I reckon you can pull off even better numbers with a 1N.
  • TBR with 4xML+2xMPL+3xASRM6: 2:35. This is my CW facemelter build. It runs pretty hot, but it can also two-shot pretty much anything.
  • TBR-C with 4xSL+3xML+3xLRM15: 2:49. This is my troll/pug damage farmer build. I just included it to see how an LRM build does on the map.
  • ON-1K with 2xML+AC20+2xASRM4: 2:29. This one, although still hot, did surprisingly better than the TBR.
  • AS-7D with 4xASRM6+AC20; 2:36. One-shots pretty much anything at close range. It loses lots of time during heat management.
  • KGC-000 with 2xAC20+2xMPL: 2:32. Although significantly slower than the Atlas, it makes up for it by outcooling it.
  • WHK with 4xLPL: 2:26. No surprises here, the WHK is heat efficient, mobile and a hard hitter.
  • FS-9S with 5xMPL: 2:35. It takes effort to hit the heat cap with this thing (due to -30% MPL heat), but when you do it's very hard to cool down.
  • LCT-1E with 6xSPL: 2:35. The 1E with SPLs matches the FS, but don't forget range is not a big diferentiator on this map. Still, the damage output is almost the same under optimal conditions.
Looking at the results, it's safe to say that weight classes don't differ from each other much. Assaults are slow, but they make up for it by outcooling and outpowering the smaller 'Mechs. Lights on the other hand lose a lot of time to heat management, but they get some seconds back due to their speed. Ballistics and especially quirked ballistic 'Mechs breeze through the level.

Is it really a good "'Mech benchmark"?

After the test, I felt like this is not a good tool to compare different 'Mechs. There are so many variables that don't involve firepower and speed (hardpoint locations, hitboxes, mobility quirks) that are not represented in this test. This is just a different form of spreadsheet warrioring. That's why reviews, opinions and especially first-hand experiences are still important when comparing 'Mechs.

However, I do think this is still a good tool to compare similar loadouts. If you want to find out if the switch to an MPL over an ML affected your heat adversely, or if Artemis is worth it for your current build you can always run the test track quickly and compare the time difference.
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About Rak

I'm an engineer who likes to write extremely long articles about games that border simulation and mainstream.
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