The vehicles that are officially called Enhanced Exoskeletal Frames have been around since before the Cataclysm. Though, at the time, they were big, heavy and slow. They were the inevitable development for soldiers after the United States finally got their Exoskeleton frame developed and workin’. That particular project was the United Stats’ attempt at bein’ able to give their ground pounders more crap to carry, bigger guns and more ammo to blow stuff up with. Once they got the frame, they realized that the soldiers needed somethin’ to keep their asses alive when the enemy started throwing big crap at these guys in frames.
That ended up openin’ one hell of a can of worms right there. The tech gurus started to slap armor on the frames and exoskeletons to try to protect the soldiers. Unfortunately they ran into two problems. First, to protect the trooper from heavy fire, you need to give them the right types of armor to do it. Problem with that is putting enough armor to make it worthwhile. The second problem is that once you put enough armor to make the protection worthwhile you quickly find that you can’t put that much armor on the frames and expect them to work as you want ‘em to.
This, of course, ended up creating a snowball effect in tech development. To allow for better armor, the frame had to be made stronger. Instead of a battery pack for the power and primarily relyin’ on the soldier’s body to hold the thing upright, a fusion power plant was thrown on as well as an actual skeletal frame. This made the soldier able to move about pretty well despite the bulk of the suit, have armor to protect him from anythin’ but tanks an’ anti-tank weaponry. As an added bonus, the trooper could now carry bigger guns and more ammo than before.
[OOC Note: I do not see old frames having hand-held weapons. The hand is a very fine working mechanism, and although such a thing can be controlled via computers, any manipulation worth a damn would be all but impossible. So to reduce the tech required but still have big guns, I see the guns being built into the arms or as the arms…kinda like many of the BattleTech mechs. ‘hands’ would be limited to being vice-like claws or something that are meant to tear through armor instead of being finely tuned hands that can do anything other than pick up a club or something.]
As a civilian alternative, these chassis were built up, but they didn’t carry any of the weapons or armor that the military units had. Instead of guns, claws or somethin’ like that, these civvie suits carried big hydraulic vices. An’ just to let you know…these Power Loaders haven’t changed a whole hell of a lot since then. They haven’t needed to. Of course many use batteries to make ‘em go 'cause they are cheaper than a fusion or cold fusion power plant. Hell, some even work off of diesel, whatever gives the Loader it’s go-go juice for dirt cheap.
Anyway, the biggest problem that the military Frames had was that they were slow and were pretty vulnerable to a guy carryin’ an AT rocket RPG, or other armor killin’ weapon. Unfortunately, given the technology at the time, nobody could think of how to make these Frames better. After all, adding armor would give protection, but would make the frame slower than it already was. The only solution was to start runnin’ them in teams and platoons. That way they could cover each other’s asses.
It wasn’t until after the Cataclysm and construction on Angelus was well under way that someone got the bright idea to use some of the tech that was developed for cybernetics and bionics to develop a Neurological Linkage System. The way the early link systems worked was they put a cybernetic port on the back of your skull that linked directly to your brain. From that link, a high-speed computer was installed that worked to take the data from your brain and use that to work the frame. It worked very much like how someone with bionics does now…only on a much bigger scale.
This neural link revolutionized the way Mecha worked. Before, Mecha was pretty much just a walking tank, just slower. Despite this, Mecha could carry the heavy weapons of a tank, but could go where tanks couldn’t. Anyway, with the full blown development of the Neurological Linkage System, Mecha could now be given heavier armor, move faster, possessed a much better reaction time and be equipped with hands that were more than vice-grips or crushing devices.
The largest downsides to the Neurological Linkage System as a whole were the cost, the lengthy and complicated process of integrating a new pilot’s neural network into the Mecha and the fact that when the Mecha took damage, the pilot would also feel it. The issue with the cost was dealt with by increasing technology. As the tech became more common, it became easier to do it.
The problem dealing the integration of the neural network to the mecha, first started off in taking a bit of the pilot’s spinal cord and cloning it, then integrating that into the Mecha itself. The biggest problem with doing it that way is that if you lose a pilot, you also lose a suit of armor, until a new sample can be taken, cloned and then integrated. With time, the technology to clone, replace and integrate neural networking into the Mecha’s systems improved too.
The way it is right now, is that a genetically neutral, almost entirely electronic and integrated ‘nervous system’ runs through the Mecha. Because of its, more or less, neutral design, pretty much anyone can jump into a Mecha and at least use it. The neural link system is able to take anyone with the jack system now, which solves several problems at once: you don’t have to drop the cash, time and resources to get a new pilot synced, ‘cause you only have to do it once. You don’t have to worry about a pilot being incompatible with a system, because it works for every pilot. And lastly, you don’t have to worry about a pilot not having all of your suits up and running. As long as you have pilots, you are good to go.
That still left a major problem with the Mecha, now officially called Neurological Link Enhanced Exoskeletal Frames, the fact that when the Mecha took damage, the pilot felt it. Tryin’ to get around this wasn’t very successful. If one removed or reduced the neural network to the system, it slowed down or just didn’t work at all. Different methods were used to try and change this problem, but so far the best that has been done is just the reduction of the pain felt by the pilot. Part of this is due to the fact that the neural system is through a series of artificial couplings and the neural net that is runnin’ through the Armor itself is not organic. The end result is that it doesn’t hurt the pilot as much if he takes a hit, whereas before if the suit took a hit, he felt as if he were the one taking that hit. Another modification was in not having the neural systems be everywhere in the suit, only where it was needed, and the fact that the techies managed to get it to where if the suit took damage that penetrated its armor, only then would the pilot feel it. It ain’t perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was before.
Despite the drawbacks to Mecha, it is still above and beyond anythin’ else out there. Sure, you have tanks, mobile artillery, heavy missile platforms and other crap that all carry bigger guns, but they are slow. I mean, they are painfully slow. The other vehicles and systems out there can only operate, at best, a bit slower than the speed of the reflexes of their operators. When you get the big boys that have more than one crew member, the speed and ability to react actually drops.
Look at it like this: a Mecha is runnin’ circles, literally, around a tank. Not only can the Mecha do this while the tank is haulin’ balls, but it can do it without tripping or whatever. Sure, the turret can spin around faster than the Mecha can run around the tank. Sure, the turret can track the Mecha to match its traverse speed with the Mecha so the gunner can get a good shot off. What the turret can’t do is react quick enough when the Mecha decides to suddenly start runnin’ the other way, do a jump or otherwise leave the gunner’s targeting LOS. Also, tanks can’t dodge for shit. Only thing they can do is weave and pull hard-line maneuvers and pray that whoever’s shootin’ at ‘em will miss.
Basically, a Mecha carries about the firepower of your average MBT and what it may lack in armor, or even armament, it more than makes up for in speed, maneuverability and versatility. Shit…here I am sounding like some propaganda vid tryin’ to sell you Mecha.
Speakin’ of maneuverability and versatility though, most Mecha now are equipped to fly. Those that aren’t at least have jump-jets, Ground Effects Systems or something like that. It is the rare suit of armor that can’t fly or skim along the ground at high speed. This is important, because the biggest threat to a tank is not another tank, but helicopters and assault fighters. Mecha ain’t, because most of ‘em can fly, jump and/or are maneuverable enough to fight back.
The reason why I bring up that fact is because with the creation of Mecha, most of the more advanced militaries use ‘em instead of or along side tanks and other ground armor. Some even have incorporated them into their Air Corps. Because Mecha is usually produced by private companies, a lot of the large corporations and mega-corporations have a few squads of Mecha to serve as their security. They are small enough to fit in many corridors (not that it matters too much. Most companies that have Mecha security have their halls big enough to accommodate their own security.
This kinda stuff is important to keep in mind, because this means that the high-end militaries of the world ain’t the only guys with Mecha runnin’ around. It should be noted though, that these private suits ain’t as good as the military stuff because the local governments won’t let ‘em have it. Though with the way some corps are acting, I wonder how long it will be before some just say ‘fuck it’ and make what they want and establish themselves as their own nation or something.
Besides corporations, mercenaries and some private individuals that have Mecha, there are also criminals that have ‘em too. Most notorious of these are your pirates. Yeah, pirates. You could consider me an unofficial expert on that. Anyway, because Mecha are smaller than most aircraft, carry the firepower of a tank and are as hard as most light armor, they are great for carrier actions. They hit harder than most birds and they can take as good or better than they give…unlike most birds. Because most Mecha can fly or skim along the surface of the water, pirates use ‘em to attack whoever it is they are gunnin’ for.
Y’see, pirates are opportunist at best and downright thugs at worst. Either way, they go for what works. And Mecha launched from boats to hit other boats, ports or what have you…almost like Snakes on a Plane…work. Pirates, even with third generation Mecha and systems that are no match for any competent Navy, not only make their hits, they do it well and are consistently successful. Most ships can’t afford to keep Mecha of their own to counter, or if they do, they aren’t enough to deal with the pirates’ suits. For pirates, the fact that the suits hit hard, move fast, can take good punishment and can fly are some of the benefits. Because the Mecha have hands, that means they can carry shit. Basic attack plan is this: fly in fast, hit hard, grab as much crap as you can and leave faster than you came in. Some crews actually equip their Mecha with disposable one or two shot weapons so the hands are freed to carry larger and heavier loads. In short, despite whatever issues there are with Mecha, the end result is that they work, and they work well. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t see the popularity that they do.
Now you got me talkin’ all about popularity, and that brings me to another facet of Mecha that you may or may not know about. Arena Combat, Aces and the Supreme Ten…but that’s a story for some other time.