121 Vibrant

Ves completely forgot about the Festive Cloud Generator. The QuickForge system he used in Leemar didn't include the decorative component in its catalog. Even if it did, he didn't want to waste any time trying to incorporate a component with next to zero combat application.

"Even if it's useless, it still looks cool."

Local mech culture out here in the rim frowned upon a lack of professionalism. Mechs were vital weapons of war and their exterior should reflect their bloody purpose. That was why Vincent Ricklin's codpiece-sporting mech had been so widely derided.

Somehow, his frequent use of the Festive Cloud Generator got a pass. In most mockups, his mechs were usually displayed with the generator turned off. This made his mechs appear more sober than they actually were.

Only when a pilot bought the mech did they realize their mech emitted colored smoke from various parts of their mechs. Since the smoke only made them look cooler, hardly anyone complained.

Before he incorporated the generator, Ves first had to define his mech. An imaginary character called the Instructor acted as his inspiration. He thought about bestowing his variant with the same name.

"No, that won't work." He shook his head. "It not only sounds boring, it will give my customers the mistaken impression that it is a mech meant to be piloted by teachers instead of students."

How could he come up with a name that reflected the Instructor's values while making his mech attractive to the young?

The Instructor fed the flames of passion in his youth, using it to accomplish many feats. Though age has tempered the fire, it continued to kindle, ready to flare up when called to battle. The man was old in temperament but young in heart.

"Young Blood."

The name came out of nowhere, but it described the Instructor's drive. Even after achieving immortality, he never stopped advancing his swordsmanship.

Besides conforming nicely with his mental image, the name should also appeal to the target segment. As a business owner, Ves knew the importance of a good name. Great marketing began with an attractive product.

Many potential customers might only ever encounter his products when they stumble upon their names. Having a great name made it a little more likely that they clicked on it in order to learn more. From there, Ves could employ many other methods in order to increase his sales.

By mentioning blood, Ves was obliged to incorporate its color to his mech. He did it in an understated way by coating the Young Blood in a plain metallic color which was traditional to knights. He merely sneaked in a subtle reflective sheen in red.

In order to break up the monotonous appearance, Ves added golden decorative streaks around the torso. He was careful not to overdo it. The only part he spent more effort on was the variant's large, round shield. He painted a stylized lotus flower in yellow onto its surface.

Why a lotus? Ves imagined the Instructor loved to watch over the lotus flowers in the imperial palace's gardens. The flower stood for serenity, which might be a strange thing to include onto a shield meant to bash enemy mechs. Ves merely wanted to add something that looked good. The meaning wasn't important.

With this addition, Ves picked two different locations to include a Festive Cloud Generator. He attached a small-sized module to the shield. After rearranging its rim, Ves programmed the shield to emit a large quantity of yellow smoke whenever the Young Blood enhanced its shield bash.

By limiting the emission to the moment of impact, Ves was able to drastically reduce the size of the additional module. He did not want to go through another round of testing and simulation in order to properly integrate the generator.

He also installed a pair of cloud generators in the legs. Just like the shield, the generators only activated when the mech was about to perform a burst dash. He dyed the smoke in red this time in order to give his mech an impressive streak from behind.

After finishing the aesthetics of his design, Ves finally put down all of his work. "It's time to face the piper. Go ahead, System. Hit me with your report."

[Design Evaluation: Young Blood.]

Variant name: HPL-100S Young Blood

Base model: Hoplite HPL-100P

Original Manufacturer: Lindholm Armament Company

Weight Classification: Medium-Heavy

Recommended Role: Knight

Armor: A

Carrying Capacity: C-

Aesthetics: B

Endurance: A-

Energy Efficiency: B-

Flexibility: C+

Firepower: D

Integrity: B

Mobility: D-

Spotting: E

X-Factor: C

Deviance: 70%

Performance improvement: 23%

Cost efficiency: +7%

Overall evaluation: The Young Blood is an affordable variant that retains much of its durability while benefiting from increased flexibility. A comprehensive rework of all of its systems has raised many of its parameters. A largely coherent thread of X-Factor suffuses the entire design. This is all the more impressive when the inspiration to the X-Factor consists of a single mech designer's idle fantasy.

[You have received 100 Design Points for completing an original design with a performance improvement of over 10%.]

[You have received 500 Design Points for designing a mech with a moderate presence of X-Factor.]

"Yes!" Ves rose from his chair. "I succeeded! My X-Factor has reached a score of C!"

Though it fell short of the C+ that Ves had reached with the Marc Antony and the Unicorn, those mechs came about in very special circumstances. It wasn't easy for Ves to feel all fired up. He was content with finding the way to reach the range of Cs when working on routine designs.

The relatively high score also validated his assumption that the X-Factor was not limited to physical constraints. At least, up to this point. Ves still consciously limited his imagination to myths that were larger than men, but less than gods.

"I don't want to find out what will happen if I take the old Christian God as my inspiration. I really don't want to open that particular can of worms."

Ves also achieved a twenty percent performance improvement without making use of expensive gadgets. He only brought in a ready-made sword to replace the spear. This was an incredible milestone, and one that Ves expected to surpass in the future.

The 600 DP reward came at a very nice time. The three weeks of slogging and maintaining his focus handsomely paid off. Ves only lamented that he was only a couple of DP short of reaching 2000 DP.

"Come on System, don't be such a tease. I deserve a treat!"

[Two-thirds of your design's improvements is attributed to updating an outdated mech with modern techniques. The performance increase that can be traced to your own original solutions is significantly smaller. Remember, you must study hard, but the only way to reach the pinnacle is to walk your own road.]

He bent over his head in defeat. The System was heartless as ever. "It's true that I copied and pasted from many other sources. I shouldn't be too proud with my design."

After regaining some of his mood, he logged into Iron Spirit. Ves imported the design to Iron Spirit and started fabricating a copy in the game's virtual workshop. Due to his extensive familiarity with his own design, Ves had no trouble with building up the virtual mech, even while maintaining his concentration.

He imagined bringing an incarnation of the Instructor to life. "How will he react to coming into life in a virtual game simulation? Will he be happy to experience new things? Will be be sad that he will give up control over his own body? Perhaps he might find joy in guiding the young and eager pilots who enter his cockpit."

Unlike his previous inspirations, the Instructor was his sole creation. He became invested in its myth to the point of treating it like a living person.

For a time, the line between reality and fantasy seemed blurred.

Only when Ves finally finished the fabrication process did he wake from his fugue. "That's a little weird. What was I thinking?"

He spent less time fabricating the mech than he thought. It only took a full day instead of the two days he originally budgeted. Despite the expedited process, the game did not detect any faults when Ves finalized its build.

He didn't forget to add a gold label inside the cockpit before he did so. He configured the design settings so that it would turn into silver when he let Iron Spirit sell a duplicated copy of the variant. Ves did not want the gold label to proliferate too much.

Ves entered the market interface and set the prices to both the gold label and silver label mechs. Different from last time, he did not use the minimum possible floor price but instead added a small profit margin to both products.

It didn't matter to the gold label because only one existed, but it represented a fairly different positioning to the silver label mechs.

Basically, Ves thought his Young Blood was good enough to deserve such a price. It also made more sense to charge this much. If he continued to hold on to bargain bin pricing, then his customers would subconsciously assume his mechs only performed as good as all the other trash mechs in this price segment.

He still wanted to earn as much DP as possible. That hadn't changed at all. Ves merely followed good business sense by managing the perception of his products.

Just as he was about to release his variant to the virtual market, he paused.

"This isn't a casual product. This is my first public design since coming back from Leemar. There should be some fanfare involved with the debut of this design."

Ves turned away from the market interface and instead pulled up his comm. He placed a call to his mech broker.

"Ves?" Marcella yawned as she looked up from her digital paperwork. "Have you finished the rework?"

"No, I haven't started yet on updating the Marc Antony. I'm calling you because I want your help in publicizing my latest virtual design."

Ves sent over the Young Blood's spec sheet along with some other data. He briefly explained why he spent time on a virtual design to begin with. Of course, he only limited his reasons to familiarizing himself with the knight archetype and to follow the current market trend for practice mechs.

Marcella did not need to know about his need to earn Design Points.

"I see. While it isn't conventional, I can see how we can spin it in a positive direction. However, you should be aware that marketing your variant comes at a significant cost."

"How much? Give me an estimate, please."

The woman tapped her finger against her firm lips. "For a knight variant with this level of performance, it's best if you hold a local advertising campaign. You don't have the specs to attract a lot of customers outside the Republic. The only thing you have going for is sympathy for local entrepreneurs."

"How much?" Ves repeated, feeling a bit uneasy with the way Marcella prefaced her explanation.

"The short answer? Around twenty million credits for a week-long exposure campaign in Bentheim. Anything less will only get drowned by the bulk of other messages floating constantly in the air."

One week just to push out the name of his variant? "No. Can't you offer anything cheaper?"

"Well, you can also make use of Iron Spirit's internal advertising channels. Again, if you want to penetrate past the noise, you will need to put up a significant upfront investment, say five million credits a day."

No wonder Ves achieved nothing the last time he used the game's internal advertising function. He might as well be throwing money into an ocean.

"Ahem, if you aren't aware, my earnings won't be very much even if I sell thousands of virtual mechs." Ves patiently explained. "To say nothing of earning useless ingame gold currency. I don't see any reason why I should spend millions of credits on some overblown ads that will only last a week at most."

Marcella shrugged, as if she didn't care. "Advertising works a lot better than you think, but I can understand your reluctance. Considering your current finances, it's better if you hold off on any mass marketing."

"Do you have a more affordable alternative? I only need to put the word out for my design. It doesn't need to be anything fancy."

The mech broker paused for a bit. Her eyes brightened as she found a good solution. "I got it! You're a newsworthy mech designer, you know that? Do you know what that means? The news sites want to interview you!"

Ves hadn't thought of that at all. She had a point. As one of the three extremely rare winners of the Leemar Open Competition, the Republic should be curious about his story.

"Alright, that's a good idea, and also costs nothing on my end. I don't know the best news organizations, so can you arrange a couple of interviews on my behalf?"

"I can do that easily, but it's best you only pick one venue to do your interview. These news sites are rather attached to exclusivity. It's the only way they can one-up the competition. In exchange, the news sites will push the interview to a more prominent place on their pages and broadcasts."

Since Ves had no clue how the news industry worked, he followed her recommendation. She had never steered him wrong so far. "Alright Marcella. Let's go with an exclusive if you think that's best. Right now, I mainly want to establish my brand."

"I'll go make some calls and come back to you within a day. Goodbye!"

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