I’m sure people have come up with snappier ways of saying it, but in this case I feel that clarity is key. It’s not just high alpha builds or front-loaded builds (King Crabs with SRMs and AC/20s have way higher alphas and the damage all hits at once) and it’s not just pinpoint builds (lasers are a pinpoint weapon). It’s the highest damage you can get from weapons that apply all the damage at once and don’t spread their damage over multiple components (with cERPPCs being the one exception due to their splash damage). So I use Pinpoint Front-Loaded Damage (PPFLD) as my label. This sort of build has been around since before even poptarting, in the form of Gauss K2’s and other such ground-pounders, but they were massively popularized by “poptarts”, and mechs designed to jump snipe make up the majority of useful PPFLD builds in the game. Since the first few patches after clans were introduced, the value and popularity of PPFLD builds have decreased immensely, but they do remain relevant.
- Gauss Rifle
- PPC/ER PPC/c-ER PPC
- Seeing crazy high numbers on the end-of-game screen is very satisfying of course, but that only paints part of the picture of your performance. A large piece of how effective you were is in how efficient that damage was – who cares if you did 100 damage to the armor of a mech’s torso if it got spread all over before that mech was double-legged? Many builds can give you high damage numbers at the expensive of that damage’s effectiveness (LRMs, SRMs, lasers, dakka), but PPFLD builds let you exercise precision in your damage. Which ultimately may not matter if you can’t aim, but if you hit the right mech in the right component, that’s 100% effective damage.
- Low exposure times come with the territory, making trading a breeze. You can have to stay exposed for over a second to do full damage with things like laser vomit (longer when you factor in movement time, reaction time, etc.), but PPFLD takes all the beam duration stuff out of the equation. Some mechs like the Dire Wolf are gonna spend a bit of time exposed no matter what during the trade due to their poor agility, but the limiting factor for exposure times on PPFLD builds is on your mech, not its weapons.
- It may not have the annoyance and cockpit shake of LRMs, but there is a certain psychological impact to getting hit with 35+ pinpoint damage in a critical component without returning fire. Basically, you can scare the enemy into taking cover, making it easier to shoot them when they come out of cover. The usefulness of this trait is a bit situational (doesn’t really work on groups), but hey, it’s nice to have.
- These builds are made for shielding and asymmetry. Since you don’t need to stare at the target to do damage, you can shield all day, only spending a fraction of your time snapping off a shot.
- Gauss Rifle charge times make snap-shots more difficult. You’ll have to pre-charge your Gauss Rifle(s) when in cover to poke, and sometimes you won’t get the chance to shoot your Gauss at all, depending on timing. This can be alleviated with practice (and UAVs) but the inability to use your full alpha in split second reaction shots is definitely felt.
- Heat and DPS are huge issues, particularly with PPC weapons (the heat nerf played a big role in their downfall), but even the ghost heat on the AC/20 can hinder your PPFLD potential and the jumpjet heat can further hurt your DPS. By the numbers, PPFLD weapons are some of the worst in terms of damage per heat for PPCs and damage per ton/slot for ballistics, but yeah, that’s balance for ya.
- Damage numbers just aren’t there. Even with 2 Gauss Rifles and 2 PPCs (the highest pinpoint alpha you can reasonably get), you’re only hitting 50 damage. A comparable Gauss Vomit build on a Dire Wolf has over half again that damage, and the issue is worse at lower tonnages, where a 35-point pinpoint Timber Wolf alpha gets compared to a 57-point Gauss Vomit build. There’s an argument to be made for efficiency of damage sure, but the difference isn’t thaaat big and the heat is generally better on the alternative.
- When trading, limit exposure time by whatever means necessary. Seriously, if you’re spending any more time exposed than is absolutely required, you’re screwing yourself over. Get the timing down, make sure your Gauss Rifle finishes charging right before you expose, and start decelerating as soon as you can (your throttle should be set to full reverse before you even fire – not speed, throttle – so that you’re starting to back up once you shoot).
- Get your shielding game down pat, specifically your “alpha-twist” maneuvers. Yeah it’s a made up phrase, whatever. The idea is, as soon as your weapons have fired, you want to jerk your mouse away to shield, towards whichever side you want to shield (usually the side with weapons, but if you’ve got an IS XL, your focus should be on survival). It’s a lot harder/less effective to shield these days since the bad guys do so much damage that your shield side can be gone in like 1 or 2 hits, but losing your shield side usually means not losing your mech (again, notable exceptions include every IS mech with an XL engine, but even those usually have shield arms).
- You should usually be either hill-humping, corner-peaking, or jump-sniping. They should all be self-explanatory. If you’ve got low asym mounts, stick your guns (and cockpit) around a corner and shoot before backing off to safety, shielding as you pull out. If you’ve got high symmetrical mounts, stick your guns (and cockpit) over a ridge and shoot etc. And if you’ve got jumpjets you can poptart (more on that later). If your mech has more than one of these attributes, then you get to pick whichever tactic you feel is most suited to your situation. And on that note…
- Let’s talk about poptarting. First of all, definition time. Jump-sniping is any time that you use your jumpjets to clear cover, fire your guns, and fall back to the ground behind cover. Poptarting (strictly speaking) implies a subset of that tactic in which you go straight up and down. However, I’m gonna use “poptart” interchangeably with “jump-snipe” because exclusively (or even mainly) jumping up and down in your jump-sniping mech is dumb and colloquially everyone refers to jump-sniping as poptarting anyways. So yeah. For the purposes of this section, poptarting just means you’re shooting from mid-air using any of the many techniques. Now that I have you confused, let’s deal with the specifics.
- Up-and-down: This is the most basic and vanilla form of poptarting, you hold down your jumpjets, and as soon as your guns clear cover and you are able to fire, you release your jumpjets and shoot the bad guy. Easy enough to understand and put into action. Gets a little more complicated when you take into account jumpjet acceleration: that little bit of forward momentum you get when you activate your jumpjets, preventing you from actually going straight up and down. Since you don’t want to end up jumping on top of your cover into the open, you’ll usually want to start backing up very slowly before you jump to compensate, or even better, use the next method.
- Side-to-side: This is the more useful form of poptarting – you start running roughly parallel to the ridgeline or cover or whatever that you’re poptarting from behind of (the faster the better, but even just 20 KPH is better than straight up and down), and then you do all that stuff described in up-and-down. Makes it harder for the enemy to track you since they have to deal with 2 dimensions rather than just one.
- Big Engine Stomp Meta (BESM): This is a whole guide unto itself, but it deserves at least getting touched on here. This term (coined by Trevelyas) is the most accurate depiction I’ve heard of the rotation game that you see so often on maps like Caustic Valley, where people run around a focus point (usually counter-clockwise) in order to catch out stragglers and isolate enemy flanks. If you’re poptarting, you’re likely going to be heavily involved in any of these maneuvers, as the focus point is usually a piece of cover which you are able to jump over as you rotate, instead of relying on catching up to the other team to get a shot off. So basically, join the team in the rotation, but whenever you have the fuel, heat, and gumption, just hit your jumpjets to pop over the cover and hit whatever you see (…as long as it’s an enemy). You don’t even have to slow down.
- Partial Alphas: This is sort of a technique I guess…poptarts sometimes will have a mix of high-mounted and mid- or low-mounted weapons. A great example is the CTF-3D, its shoulder PPCs are very high, but the Gauss Rifle is at waist level. If you’re getting traded back on, you may just want to expose the smallest amount of your mech as possible while still doing damage (so in this example, just the PPCs) to drastically increase your chances of getting a free trade, which is like, the goal for any PPFLD mech. This is a judgment call though on whether you feel it’s necessary in a given situation. And of course, this also applies to hill-humping.