26 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 9 Commentary

The final test, in Chapter 9.

The end, already?  Sort of.  The plan I had when I started was to have shorter arcs, much like I had with Unruly.  The idea here is that readers get the story in smaller chunks that can be digested while still building towards what I have planned.  The first arc threatened to just keep going, but the goals I had for it were to introduce the characters and get them in the Academy as cadets.  Conflicts are set up.  But they're not quite cadets, despite Rhiannon's extensive explanation of how titles work in the military last chapter.  The obstacle course was mentioned in Chapter 5, so it was time to bring it in.

The obstacle course is the final test before being fully accepted at the Academy.  The students may have the academic marks to get in, but do they have what it takes to be officers?  Thus, daily physical training, constant testing, working the potential cadets to their limit.  All this comes from my take on what the Royal Military College in Kingston does.  Any errors are mine, not theirs.  What I saw was that RMC had an obstacle course that seemed to be important, so I built Chapter 9 around that idea.  Cadets who fail are discharged, honourably, and can still enlist or go to their alternate choice of university.  Some, but not all, universities in the Empire will save openings for students who can't hack being in the military; the Academy does try to get the best students, so qualifying for one will satisfy most universities.  The ones that aren't satisfied are even more stringent on academics.

The change in order came from me realizing that theta (Θ) comes far earlier in the Greek alphabet than I thought.  I needed the core cast to fret a bit, though.  The solution is to acknowledge the error and make it look deliberate.  Iota thus becomes a deliberate skipping of Theta, not a mistake.  It fit in with a plot thread that will wind through the next few arcs, one that has already started in "Roommates".  Sometimes, what looks like an error will lead to plot bunnies; this is what pantsing is all about, even when there is a plan of sorts in play.

Ric really is turning into the heart of the team.  This was not his original role when Mecha Academy was just a concept.  The role fits him, at least this version of him.  He's been the one to work to turn the squad into a team.  Ric is figuring that their score on the obstacle course isn't just how well they do on the course, but how well they act before, during, and after.  The Academy graduates officers, leaders, and anything he can do to show that he is both is going to be done.

The actual course is all from my imagination.  RMC's site showed a climbing wall, and with some inspiration from the first Phule's Company novel, by Robert Aspirin.  The course tested both individuals and squads; the idea is that officers are expected to lead by example and soldiers of all ranks are expected to work together towards a goal.  The course is faster if teammates help each other instead of working solely for themselves, but a slower teammate could hurt the squad overall.

The conflict between Dusty and Rhiannon still has a role to play.  Dusty doesn't want to be alone with Rhiannon.  It's not that Dusty's afraid of what Rhiannon might do; it's more that she doesn't want to be the reason Rhiannon fails.  If Rhiannon hurts herself, Dusty doesn't want to be near enough to be accused of foul play.  Despite the animosity, Dusty gets to pull Rhiannon up the climbing wall.  This scene came to mind back when I was writing Chapter 7, so I had a direction I wanted to go.  It's a definitive moment for Dusty.  Rhiannon isn't about to give her a break just yet.

The jogging across the finish line came about because I needed to end the chapter.  It is pure Ric to have the squad cross as a group.  Even Rhiannon couldn't dampen him here.  The end's in sight!  Time to show the brass what they can do as a team.  It made an impact, and it meant that Dusty couldn't be failed out for trailing them team.

Miyami's mystery just didn't work, not this early.  Dusty was the one to send her the notes.  Miyami's tablet didn't register Dusty's because Dusty hacked her own device.  Miyami's tablet worked properly, there was just no identifying data provided.  Welcome to the new mystery - why is Dusty's tablet that scrubbed?

That's not the only mystery.  Theta Squad becomes Fifth, but they're the only squad that remains together.  All the other squads were broken up.  Not everyone passed, so squads need to be consolidated, so why not add someone to Fifth?  Susanna would be happy to transfer in.  So why keep the team together, especially when two members are getting on each others' nerves.  Something is afoot.

The height of the climbing wall resulted in a change.  Originally, the mecha were meant to be the tall weapons of war as seen in many anime, like the Gundam franchise, or even in BattleTech.  But I had changed my mind on the size of the mecha, reducing it so that they were more like overgrown powered armour.  So, the height of the climbing wall wasn't the height of the Centurion any more.  I wound up having to change the description of the wall to three times the height of a Centurion on the fly.  Centurions don't have size control circuitry.

The first arc, "Roommates", did what I wanted.  I wanted the conflict between Dusty and Rhiannon out there.  I wanted Miyami's secret known to the audience, though it hasn't really become an issue yet.  I wanted Ric and Lars to have to deal with being in the middle.  Ric really stepped up to be the peacekeeper, which I didn't expect.  Lars is going with the flow, which got him a girlfriend that he's not sure he wants.  Not that Susanna gave him time to decide.  The setting is forming; the idea here is to get the Academy concrete enough that I can build out from there.  There is a universe beyond it that still is coming together, thanks to the nature of the Academy.  Some of it will appear in the coming arc.

What I never expected to figure out is how the cast drinks their coffee.  It's such a minor detail, but it's one that kept coming up.  Ric was the first, being fueled entirely by caffeine.  He takes his with a cream and two sugar.  Because Ric is the one to make the coffee for the squad, the rest of the team's preferences came up.  Dusty doesn't drink coffee, she prefers her tea black.  Lars takes his coffee the same way.  Rhiannon prefers a double-double.  Miyami isn't quite used to the taste of coffee, so goes for a triple-triple.  For a later arc, I needed to stop and work out what sort of clubs and teams the main cast would go for; fortunately, by then, I knew the cast better.  That's the thing about pantsing; a missing details is easier to work out on the spot.  Details like how someone takes their coffee is minor, but it's a way to distinguish characters.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "By Your Leave" Chapter 1, "Going Off Campus".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In , comic book adaptations and costumes.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama.

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't remembered the obstacle course. It flowed well, though I was a bit surprised that it seemed to be largely physical, not incorporating any of the earlier things they had learned, like the rifle training. Then again, an aspect was probably teamwork, the rope being at the top of the wall being a really good indicator of that. Dusty helping Rhiannon worked well too in the context of that section, more on that later.

    Incidentally, Rhiannon never tackled the rope swing with the pool. Lars went across, then Miyami, then the rope came back to Ric, then Rhiannon said "I'm going to check on the next obstacle" and she just got a thumbs up as Dusty was given the rope. Guess she cheated. ^.^ Also randomly, "Ric gout out".

    A couple things I had a harder time parsing:
    1) In part the cereal question from the last entry, like if it was that important that even the others getting it might have given pause, why didn't Rhiannon make sure to never run out? However, we could write it off as birthday distraction. But that brings me to:
    2) Why did that even happen there? Things were settling down, everyone had been given some time alone -- then that incident blew everything up. Only to immediately say "two weeks passed". Why not save it to end the episode? Dusty and Rhiannon are grudgingly getting along, even helping out with the course, and then we hit the massive incident, made all the worse by the fact that they thought they'd be getting separate assignments soon anyway. No one even brought up the cereal again.
    3) It's actually not all that clear that only this squad was staying together, and further that it's unusual. We get that about "a third" are asking about new bedrooms, and presumably a bunch of others are gone, but other squads could have been kept together too. Or if not, maybe they hadn't showed the same amount of teamwork, crossing the finish line together. What would be more suspicious lines of inquiry in my mind (which aren't pursued?) are whether Haag gave any assurances that there would be reassignments after the course (no?), or why Theta squad can't change rooms now that there's whole sections who flunked (not raised?).

    Dusty sending the file was nicely deflected at the time given her emotional state, as it was the thing that made me discount her then. But it makes sense, and Dusty is pretty observant. Related, that conversation went well, though Miyami does seem a bit naive in seeing the distinction (maybe that goes to why I see her as the weak link of the squad too).

    I still very much shrug at the coffee, but it is good to have details on the individual characters that can be used, so getting to know the cast is handy given what you say is coming. Should be interesting.