Monty and Morgion 147: The Homefront

14Oct05 (Monthenor): Here we go with this year's MechMania comic. From the left, that's a presently un-goateed Boogieman, an unnamed teammate from last year who I guess I'll call Shady, and me. We were great monarchs, but not so much generals.

This is going to be an extremely abbreviated UIUC travelogue, as I didn't take many notes and am going to cut out all the explicitly illegal stuff.

Thursday, 06Oct2005: There was one rear-ending close call during construction in Illinois, but otherwise the trip went very smoothly for my car. The engine held up, the power inverter worked as it should, the iPod was spinning tunes...good trip. The day took a significant turn south after arriving in Urbana, though. We procured booze from our favorite Schnuck's and were settling in for a good drunk when Shady went to get one of our rooms switched.

Despite being a firmly ghetto establishment, our previous years at this Travelodge had been satisfactory...especially considering some of the other places UIUC groups have stayed. This was the first year that we'd gotten a second-floor room, however. It was like a whole other hotel. Our first room was one of the few without a balcony, a light bulb was missing, and there were some bugs in the bathroom. It also looked like it hadn't been cleaned in a week. I wasn't happy, but I didn't plan to be there much over the weekend so it didn't bug me too much. Shady went to complain and see about a room switch, and through her efforts we got moved to a room with a balcony.

Unfortunately, this room had no alarm clock and the shower was totally broken. "Spraying the ceiling" broken. Shady and Boogieman tag-teamed the front desk again and got us moved to a third room. It was still dirty, but all the components were there and in working order, which seemed like the most we'd get out of the second floor. Beer was then had by all.

Friday, 07Oct2005: I really wish I had taken better notes. Today starts with "HUNGOVER OMG" and doesn't really elaborate on anything. I was prepared to work the job fair pretty hard, but once I saw all the booths -- and especially how many dealth with "financial software" or "data analysis" -- I just wanted out of my polo shirt. I gave my resume to an unimpressed EA rep and wasted a little time being mean to the Google rep. That's a story for another time, a story I am trying hard not to inflate with each telling but damn that was fun.

Really, this entire day was spent waiting for MechMania to happen. When that glorious hour came, when the API was handed out and super-awesome tshirts distributed, lo, there was much rejoicing.

Saturday-Sunday, 08-09Oct2005: There are even less notes for these two days, gripped as I was by MechMania coding. "JESUS FUCK GAME IS AWESOME viz" is the only thing under Saturday, and it is wholly accurate. Unlike every other year, both the game itself and the pretty graphical client were done before the contest even started. For the entire duration we could watch our clients do battle in glorious 3D arenas with other teams. They used 2D anime-style sprites on top of 3D rendered terrain, which brings to mind Ragnarok Online except that this game was actually fun.

Each team had a castle which could produce Fighters, Archers, and Wizards. Archers killed Fighters dead, Wizards could fireball the slow-moving Archers, and Fighters were fast enough to run up and stab Wizards. Fighters were also the only unit that could pick up the little broken mech in the middle of the field. If you had more kills than your opponent after 4500 turns or if you got the mech into the enemy's castle, you won. It was fast, colorful, and reminiscent of rugby or football. The lingo that sprang up over our sleep-deprived day was a mash of football, Counter-Strike, and basketball terminology, where Fighters were "Runners", the mech was the "ball" or "package", and castles were "the hoop", "the hole", "the end zone", or "the site". We knew what we meant...most of the time.

Our team ended up with a strategy based on the kill-from-behind tactics of the legendary Captain Morgan offense in MechMania IV. Our one suicidal Fighter would grab the mech and then run to the outer wall, creep along it behind the enemy base, and then try to jump in from behind. A constant stream of Archers and Wizards would attempt to distract the enemy's forces long enough for this to happen. It was a pretty good tactic but first required us to get a hold of the mech. Since it ultimately fell down in the tournament, it's not actually a valid Captain Morgan...more like an Admiral Nelson.

We won our first tournament match handily. Admiral Nelson performed flawlessly and the battle was over quickly. Our second match didn't go so well...they had the ball covered too well and we couldn't get to the outer wall. Eventually they overwhelmed us and brought the mech in for the win.

Our third match was so bizarre that it absolutely had to be the basis for the comic. I had never tested Admiral Nelson on a map with walls, but I figured it wouldn't be too difficult because our Wizards loved to blow up walls anyway. This map had two walls running the length of the field, blocking us from the precious outer wall. Adimiral Nelson ran for the ball as usual, Wizards trailing behind and destroying the hated walls. He got to the mech just before the enemy was in range and started running which point one of our Wizards blew up the exact wall that needed blowing-up. Nelson escaped outside and worked his way around to the far wall, where for some reason there was also a one-block gap! The other team had a couple Archers nearby, so this most fortunate of Nelsons died with his goal still unfulfilled. The enemy team swarmed the mech with artillery and killed the rest of our extant units.

Then it got weird.

The other team had so many Archers and Wizards around the mech that none of their Fighters could find a way through. While they continued to amass an impotent army on the far side of the field, our castle stopped making guys altogether! We just sat there, accruing funds and kicking back in our thrones...hence, comic. This would have been great if we had been ahead on points, but when time ran out we lost by a pittance of kills, with enough money in the bank to build 16 units simultaneously. It was a rather ignoble loss and I can't wait to look through the code and find the problem.

This is the only MechMania where I actually want to play the game outside of the contest. It's that good. Watch for updates soon; the UIUC guys swear the code will be released within a week.

Monday, 10Oct2005: We stayed an extra night in Urbana so that everybody would be rested for the return trip. This was probably the best idea we'd ever had. The ride back was just as smooth as the trip there, barring my fascination with driving aimlessly around Madison. Boogieman can fall asleep in like two seconds and, while I'm jealous of this power, I would have to pass on it if it made me snore like he does. I was then gooed in the nose and crotch by an ornery frozen dairy dessert and tada! We're home.