This guide will hopefully show you how to get the most out of your AI pilots, i.e. the Three Stooges. It's not the last word in AI mech design, as I am sure there are more advanced strategies that could be employed, but this should help you get the most bang for your buck, with the least hassle.
How to Make Your AI Pilots Work for You
K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
This has to be your mantra when choosing and outfitting mechs for your AI pilots to use. Why? Because the term "Artificial Intelligence" is used very loosely here. They're dumb as a sack of hammers. If you've played for any time at all, or noticed the innumerable threads in discussion about it, you realize that. It's why you're here, reading this.
The "Intelligence" has been programmed with a few basic rules that include getting into optimal range for every weapon you give them, running through their assigned weapon groups in order, and not overheating.
They can't simply be given any mech that You would pilot, and expect to be able to use it. You have to tailor their load outs around these constraints.
Please note at this point: This is NOT a definitive, last-word guide on how to perfect the AI in this game. Nor is it about AI mods, such as TT_Rulez AI mod (although it will probably still apply, because those mods usually just add more behavioral rules; the basics still apply).
That said, the second disclaimer: you will have to babysit your AI lance mates all the time, regardless. Go here. Follow me. Shoot that. Stay there. That's not going to change. This guide is to help you make good mechs for them to pilot, do acceptable damage, and come back with all their parts. Remember, you are playing this game, not the AI. It's not designed for you to sit back and watch them win for you.
So, let's be blunt. Some of the most interesting, fun, and potent weapons in this game, i.e. LRM's, are also the hardest to use consistently and effectively. Between waiting for Target Lock, losing that Lock when the target steps behind a bush or rock, maps that often don't give you good opportunites for long-range fire, and the inability to use those high-tonnage weapons at all in brawling range, they're tough to get the absolute most out of.
So, how do you think three braindead morons are going to fare with them? I'll give you a hint. Not well.
First rule: Forget about LRM's on your AI-piloted mechs
Can it be done? Sure. If you go out of your way to specifically build a late-game lance with dedicated LRM boats and other mechs with TAG and such, it can be made functional. What a pain in the ASS, that only works on half or less of the maps.
Remember the first rule, which is forget about LRM's.
Second rule: Pretend Small Lasers and Machine Guns don't exist
Remember when I said the AI is programmed to get in optimal range for every weapon it carries? Guess what giving them a Small Laser or Machine Gun basically is? It's an order to fix bayonets and charge! Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!
This is not ideal. Don't do it.
Third rule: Limited weapons in limited groups. K.I.S.S.
The AI will do much better with hard-hitting larger weapons backed up by banks of Medium Lasers than it will with a bunch of random nonsense from all over the weapons list. Ideally, you will have one or two "big gunz," such as A/Cs, Heavy Rifles, PPC's, Large Pulse Lasers, etc., and then a bunch of Medium Lasers, and possibly, if you still have tons left over, an SRM. It's often worth leaving the SRM's off, though, for a few reasons.
Put the "big gunz" in the first and/or second Group, the ML's into groups 3 (and 4, split up, if you have a bunch of them). Remember, the AI looks at the total heat output of a Group to decide if it can fire it or not, so lumping all of your Medium Lasers into a single group can be a bad idea. Chain Fire won't help you here, the AI doesn't care. just the total heat output of the Group.
This should cause the AI to cycle through the "big gunz," and while they are recharging/reloading, start firing the lasers. This is where big, hard-hitting, slow weapons really shine, The Heavy Rifle is a favorite weapon of mine to put on Medium and Heavy mechs for the AI. It hits like a ton of bricks, and is slow enough that they'll cycle through all the other weapons too while it reloads. If you give your AI mechs A/C2 BF's, expect them to always be shooting those fast-firing weapons. You might as well skip other weapons. That's not 100% true, but it's close enough.
Heavy/Medium Rifles, PPC's, Large Lasers, and regular A/Cs (not Burst Fire) seem to work the best, especially if you can back them up with fast-firing Short Burst Medium Lasers in the later weapons Groups. You'll actually see the AI using it's weapons! What a novel concept!
Speaking of which,
Fourth rule: Plenty of heat sinks
The AI won't shoot something if it's going to overheat. It's often worth limiting the weapon selection to add extra heat sinks to their mech, because adding extra weapons doesn't help if they're never going to shoot them. This is especially true on all-energy chassis and chassis with nothing but energy and missiles. Skip a weapon or two (especially missiles) to make them run cooler. They'll perform better overall. Remember, the AI doesn't aim at specific locations, and it doesn't Alpha Strike. It cycles through the groups (so it will Alpha Strike if you put all the weapons in one group and have enough heat dissipation for it to shoot it, but that's not going to happen on anything over 50 tons), and spreads the damage out all over the enemy. Make sure it can shoot constantly by giving it lots of heat shedding ability.
Those are the big ones, as far as rules go. Let's recap:
Onto mech chassis selection and thoughts.
So, what makes a good AI mech chassis? A few things, really. I'll spell them out, and detail them after:
So, in more detail:
1. Hard Point types
Very simple. If you want to use a big AC or Rifle, or a PPC or Large Laser, well, you have to have a place to slot it on the mech. If all your mech has is places for missile and Medium Lasers (like an Archer), it's probably not a good AI mech. Kind of a "duh" moment, but one that needs to be said out loud.
2. Hard Point locations
This is important. Unlike the player (I love arm-mounted weapons), the AI doesn't take good advantage of being able to torso-twist on the run, look almost behind you, fire off some arm-mounted weapons, shoot almost straight up at annoying VTOL's, etc. Putting weapons in the arms of AI mechs, while often NECESSARY (due to limited chassis selection), is not IDEAL. It's fine to throw the Medium Lasers out in the arms, for example, but expect to lose them from time to time. Putting the "big gunz" in the arms is asking for trouble. It's not the end of the world, but expect to come home missing those weapons sometimes.
A good chassis has all of the heavy-hitters in the torsos, and the peripheral weapons, i.e. the Medium Lasers, in the arms. A great chassis has everything in the torsos. An acceptable chassis has a mix...maybe one big gun in an arm, the other in the torso (there are a lot of mechs that fit this description).
Empty arms means fewer weapons lost, more damage done, and cheaper repairs at the end (arms are cheap and fast to fix).
Side note: If you're running some complete overhaul mod that lets you put anything anywhere (boring, in my opinion), this section becomes stupidly easy. Put on the right weapons in the torsos, and boom, done.
3. Ammo storage
Remember last section when I said i'd touch on this? Here it is. I have a hard and fast rule about my AI-run mechs. No more than 5 tons of ammo, ever. 4 tons in the legs, and, IF you need another ton, put it in the head (if the head gets blown off, having ammo there hardly matters. I've never seen it happen).
Putting ammo in the torsos is a recipe for disaster. If you have so many ammo-hungry weapons you need more than 5 tons, or you can't put it in the legs (because they're filled with stupid Jump Jet slots), pick a different chassis. Use that one yourself...hopefully you're smart enough to know when you've taken too much damage to an ammo-storage location and compensate for that. The AI isn't.
A note on Jump Jets: they're worthless wasted tonnage for the AI. It doesn't help them, because they're too stupid to use them. Maybe if you are running a bunch of AI mods it might be worth it, but those same mods also have to modify the enemy AI so that they aren't just programmed to hit at certain intervals regardless of where their target is.
4. Bonus slots
It's cool, but not a requirement, to have bonus slots on a mech chassis. Never underestimate a Guardian ECM suite, and AMS system, or even just "free" critical space slots for Engine Heatsinks, that you can fill up with heat sinks that will last forever (barring the mech getting cored or something). ECM and AMS systems are big umbrellas that limit the amount of damage your mechs take. If you can find them, use them.
Skip Beagle Active Probes, though. Wasted tons on an AI mech.
Closing Thoughts and Examples
So, there you have the "wisdom" (a term lightly used) of my few hundred hours of playing this game, and also what I've gleaned from other people on the discussion boards and such. Will this make your AI team an unstoppable force to be feared and respected throughout the Inner Sphere?
No. Laughable as a very concept.
But it's really helped mine to go from a bunch of losers who spent their time looking down the barrels of their own guns and watching me do 2 times the damage of all three of them put together to a semi-useful group who, in the after action report, usually each do at least half of my own damage.
A definite improvement. They also come back with most of their parts still attached, since they aren't using a bunch of arm-mounted weapons and are actually killing the enemy before they take a ton of damage. I'm not sure I could ever really expect more out of the basic AI for this game.
I'm sure there will be differing opinions from people who consider themselves "experts" at this game, but, frankly, it's a game. I want to have my teammates be competent without having to have a PhD in their AI coding or how to build the exact right mech for each member. I have better things to do with my time, like actually play.
So, use this information as you see fit. If you follow it, you'll likely see a marked increase in the usefulness of your Stooges, both in damage output and survival. If you want to delve deeper, experiment with other things, get down right into the nuts and bolts, DO IT. It's your game, have fun with it. Enjoy.
Now, as a final bit, one last rule and a couple examples.
Last Rule: Maximum armor
This should go without saying, but for any mech you use (either for the AI or yourself), it's really helpful to do a few steps in the Mechlab:
Remember that it's better to have the extra armor than tack on one more weapon that the AI probably isn't going to use anyway. As far as torso armor, I usually do a 75/25 split between front and back, or somewhere close. 80/20 is ok too. Remember, they're stupid, and the enemy WILL get behind them, usually with something hideous like a Javelin with a pair of SRM-6's. Have some armor on their asses.
So, what are some of my favorite AI-piloted mech chassis?
For Light mechs, the aforementioned Javelin is a good one, although the one with 4 Medium Lasers has more amour, heat dissipation, and staying power. The Wolfhound can also be a real winner...max armor, all lasers, decent speed. Even with the Large Laser in the arm. On the other hand, I've had bad luck with things like Jenners. They usually come home missing at least one arm, and thus half their weapons. Panthers are hit or miss...they're slow with a big gun, so the other lance mates usually outpace them and draw away the enemy attention, meaning they usually come home with all their parts, but also don't end up doing as much damage as everyone else.
On the Medium side, well, most of them have the problem of having the biggest boom stick arm-mounted, and usually being a bit slow on top of that. Or they are absolute missile boats, i.e. the Kintaro, Trebuchet, and Dervish. Lackluster at best. Oddly, the much-maligned Shadow Hawk can prove to be a winner, if you get the Variant that has extra hard points. It can field a decent torso-mounted AC or Rifle, a pair of Medium Lasers in the arms, and tack on an SRM rack in the torso. Or skip the SRM's and put a Heavy Rifle on it. Big badda-boom. Compare that to, say, a Wolverine, which has basically the same weapons, but the big gun is in the arm. I prefer that as a player, but not for an AI mech.
With the Lights and the Mediums, you tend to be making the best of a bad situation. Most of the chassis just don't pan out well for the rules I've laid out. Some do, or specific variants will, but if you don't have access to those (and you might not in the early parts of a game), just do the best you can do with what you have.
The Heavy mechs are where this really starts to come into play. If you read my other guide, you might remember I hate 60-ton 80KPH mechs, for myself to pilot.
I'm here to tell you, one of the very best AI mechs I have found is exactly in this category. The Champion.
Ugly as sin. Like a wingless airplane with legs and winches for hands. Terrible weapon placement for my preferences as a player. But...damn. For the AI? Each of the variants (1N, 2N, 1N2) can mount a Heavy Rifle (up to 23 damage at range and speed each shot), 4 tons of ammo for it in the legs, and 4 Medium Lasers, all in the torsos. Plus, the 2N and 1N2 save a ton or two of armor by using Ferro-Fibrous, so have an extra Heat Sink or two. Max armor, and they can keep up with everything I'm piloting.
These things were always putting out at least half my damage each, every mission, and never coming back worse off than missing an empty arm. They were by bread-and-butter AI mechs for many, many hours of my playthroughs. I had trouble giving them up even when tonnage creep started and I was getting bigger mechs. I'd find myself picking the mech I wanted to pilot, then slotting in three Champions, and going in 50+ tons light sometimes, just because I knew we could get the job done.
As opposed to bringing a Dragon, Rifleman, or Victor or something and losing valuable weapons and firepower halfway through a mission.
The Champion is the "Prototype Example" of the AI mech strategy I laid out in this guide. Sort of the gold standard I judge other AI mechs by. Fortunately a lot of the Heavy and Assault mechs follow a similar pattern, with big A/C's and such in the torsos. Some do not. I'm looking at You, Warhammer, Marauder, King Crab, etc. Those are mechs I can pilot competently, but I keep them out of the hands of idiots.
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