[MUD-Dev] On tanks...

J C Lawrence claw at under.engr.sgi.com
Mon May 11 11:08:39 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

There's the guts of several good games bured in there:


Masamune Shirow on Tanks

...with a little help from Toren Smith.

Around the world, most people associate tanks with the military.
However, a vast range of police tanks are employed in Europe, Africa,
Asia, and Central and South America. Even the famous Texas Rangers use
armoured cars. I'm sure many readers have seen television footage of the
armoured car (SWAT equipment) in action. When police arm themselves
with such heavy weaponry, they usually plan to use it against the
masses; its very appearance conjures images of civil unrest and
political instability. I've seen shots of tanks crashing into an embassy
to drive out terrorists but, to be frank, it struck me as a pretty
reckless thing to do.

Seen from that perspective, the world of Dominion must seem like an
unsettling place, one where people live side-by-side with the fear of
sudden death - a world much like Europe in the days of the Black Death.
In such dark days, one can turn for hope only to the people themselves,
warped by the age they live in, to be sure, but still trying to live
their lives to the fullest... No, on second thought, maybe there's no hope
even there. When you think about it, anyone who can walk around with a
smile on their face in a place like that must be a little strange.

The Tank Police in Dominion are basically a SWAT unit. They don't get
involved in investigations. When possible, they make arrests, but by
intent they are only called outfor situations in which persuasion or
arrest by ordinary police is impossible. Their real work is to protect
the populace and to "drive out crime".

The reason they often seem so excessive is because I haven't portrayed
the criminals they have to go up against. Criminals steal people's lives
away with bullets, for their own casual convenience; they steal the
savings others have painfully built for themselves over long years; to
satisfy their own animal needs they will defile the families that are
another man's greatest love. I suppose there's something to be said for
depicting such villains, and getting the satisfaction of showing them
being killed or otherwise getting their just desserts. I won't deny the
validity of that basic plot (indeed, the writers of "cop shows" seem to
specialise in little else), but I guess I'm just not that kind of guy.
The Tank Police in Dominion are a little warped... the product of
officialdom's paranoia, wrapped in an armour of hypocricy.

If only a single "Bonaparte" were to be left on the face of a barren
wasteland planet, that by itself would allow one to extrapolate much about
what kind of civilisation had once ruled there before the Fall.

People who know their tanks usually count Leonardo Da Vinci's armoured
landship as the first of the breed, but the first tank used in combat
was an armoured horse-drawn wagon employed during a Protestant rebellion
in Bohemia. Apparently this tank closely resembled the Roman chariots
made famous in the film Ben Hur. Though it was little more than an
armour-plated farm wagon, its performance on the battlefield was
spectacular. Tanks were also described in the works of Jules Verne and
HG Wells, but the first modern tanks did not appear until 15th September
1916, when they joined the arsenals stalemated on the Western front in
World War 1.

Nowadays, war is no longer simply a killing affair; we rate weapons in
terms of combat strength indicators, replacement costs and such. As a
result, we civilians now have the good fortune of participating in the
new, improved model of war. In an age of economic conflict and ultra
direct trade - even of drug wars for some people - we are all
participants in a global Cold War that sometimes drives people to their
deaths without shedding a drop of blood. We have become combatants
simply by virtue of being born. Yet it's fascinating that, in a world
like this, the old principle of "sword and shield" remains as effective
as ever.

Speaking of swords and shields, it's time we address a subject that
brings tears to the eyes of any true tank lover: the anti-tank missile.
It's absolutely infuriating to think that one of those inexpensive
little weapons can so easily turn a million-dollar tank into shredded

Simply adding armour and increasing size until your tank is a virtual
land-going battleship does not work. Hitler's experimental "Maus" tank,
built in the closing days of WWII, proved that particular point. The
Maus weighed 180 tons, towered six metres high and had frontal armour a
foot thick. But it had a top speed of only 20kph (compared to the 80kph
for a modern Abrams), and was so heavy that merely driving it down the
street was enough to crush pavements and topple buildings. This monster
was designed by none other than Herr Doktor Porsche.

So instead we move to the opposite extreme, and produce the "mini-tank",
able to use every building and wall in the city as extra armour. These
are the tactics of the mini-tank, and they could have come straight from
a SWAT handbook:

o  The minute you show yourself is the minute you get shot.
o  Always have someone covering you.
o  Move only when the enemy can't attack.
o  So long as your under fire, stay in the shelter of the closest bit of
   effective cover.

That's the way the mini-tanks in Dominion are designed to fight. In
fact, a kind of combat vehicle that springs from the same concept - the
combination of a light vehicle and heavy firepower - is already in use
today: put a missile launcher on a jeep, have it pop in and out like a
gopher. And if it gets blown away, no big loss - it's cheap.

I don't like bloodshed. With the incredible destructive capabilities of
modern offensive weaponry, the best defence is never getting hit in the
first place. If opponents are equipped with the same sensory array and
the same range, then the smaller the tank, the harder it is to hit and
the easier to conceal.

In the final analysis, tanks overwhelm us with their sheer looks; the
authority they bear is enough to tilt the balance of power all by
itself. Tanks can easily become as symbol of mammoth power. Too cold to
hate they crush the dreams of others, but rarely create their own.

"If you think you can defeat me, just you go ahead and try, you
pathetic fools! Nyahahahaha!!" Now that's the kind of nefarious
foolishness that lies behind the real appeal of tanks. But day, when
anti-tank helicopters are slaughtering the old kings of the battlefield
at a kill rate of 16-to-1 or more, the laughs tend to ring a bit
hollow... and we can take a more level-headed view.

Mini-tank Bonaparte is a perfect example of a tank based on just such
laughter. If power is the main text of armour, then laughter is the
subtext, something I find easier to digest not being a tank fanatic
myself... you might look at my affection for tanks in that way.

I'm not just talking tanks. I'm fond of foolish inventions, of
impenetrably complex machine built for unclear purposes, of intricate
mechanisms, of infernal devices. As with mountain climbing, I find the
route to the top at least as interesting as the final destination.

Far more than birth or death I find the question of how to live, how to
go on from here, to be the most interesting thing (although to be more
precise we should say "how to age" instead of "how to live").

Personally, I prefer Da Vinci's unworkable airplane modelled on the
wings of birds to some curvaceous flying machine that can only take wing
with the help of some fussy scientific theory. Da Vinci's machine was
more honest, and if I had to choose which of the two should be able to
fly... well, Da Vinci's seems more human.

Nor, for that matter, can I see anything to be gained from me turning
into an "armoured fighting vehicle" kind of creator, armour-plated on
the latest hot theories.

Tanks are empty until a human climbs inside. That is both a limitation
on them and an assurance of safety. It's astonishing to think that
people were able to bring such a tool into existence, springing fulborn
from their minds like Athena from the brow of Zeus. I just hope they
won't be used in the future...

[Blagged from some Manga Mania articles, and the Dominion trade paperback
published by Dark Horse. Credits to Masamune Shirow, Toren Smith, Studio
Proteus, Dark Horse, Manga Entertainment etc. - Matt]

J C Lawrence                               Internet: claw at null.net
(Contractor)                               Internet: coder at ibm.net
---------(*)                     Internet: claw at under.engr.sgi.com
...Honourary Member of Clan McFud -- Teamer's Avenging Monolith...

MUD-Dev: Advancing an unrealised future.

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