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 Now that Ves came around to accepting this mixed blessing of an offer, he wanted to take maximum advantage of this opportunity.

Seniors rarely accommodated Apprentices when it came to designing mechs. The differences in ability and perspective were too vast. If they showed off their prowess too much, not only would the role of the junior mech designers be diminished to grunt workers polishing the design from the side, they might also be incalculably damaged by the exposure to advantaged techniques their minds couldn't comprehend!

Ves happened to be fairly resistant to the latter problem. He was like a Journeyman in that sense as his mind was strong enough to bear the exposure with minimal effects.

At least he thought so. Well, his previous flirting with trying to understand high technology worked well enough for him, he figured, so what was the harm?

Another reason why Seniors didn't let Apprentices take charge was because it was usually detrimental to their own advancement trajectory. Mech designers needed to learn how to design mechs and mech parts through their own efforts.

While this did not preclude any assistance from fellow mech designers, there was a difference between teamwork and handholding. The assistance of a Senior could easily turn into outright handholding as the latter fixed all of the mistakes of the former.

This was a very real risk with the current joint project. However, Ves did not plan to involve the Senior at all until the latter stages of the design phases where he completed taking all of the major conceptual decisions that defined his design.

If Ves made some mistakes at this juncture, it would be very inconvenient and time consuming to correct them. It would also break the integrity of his vision if he needed to reverse course due to a mistake.

Therefore, simply put, Ves needed to put on his very best performance. His fourth original design, after the Blackbeak, Crystal Lord and the Enduring Protector, needed to be a stellar mech even before Professor Ventag got his hands on the design!

To put it in another way, Ves intended to design his mech in a largely solo affair and deliver a feature-complete product that could immediately be brought to market after some testing. Instead of doing so, he would hand the design over to the Senior, who would make an extensive pass over the design and tweak and optimise it in a limited fashion.

The goal at this stage wasn't necessarily to add new features, but to improve and optimize the existing ones while working away at any flaws that didn't take too much effort to mitigate.

Such a method actually reminded him of the Superpublish function, which he had only used once some time ago to give his Crystal Lord some extra oomph.

It was too bad the Superpublish function came at a high price. In return for slightly elevating the quality and performance of his design by ten percent, it painfully prevented Ves from earning any DP on completing its design and selling its copies to the market.

Ves must have lost tens of thousands of DP from missing the earnings of selling the Crystal Lord model!

Even so, he did not regret the decision. Back then, the Crystal Lord needed to be of breakout quality in order to make a splash in the market. If not for designing a mech whose quality surpassed his current ability back then, it wouldn't have been such an enduring seller these days just when the LMC most needed a steady cash flow.

At this time, Ves did not have access to the System nor its Superpublish function. Instead, he had something even better. The formidable ability and experience of a Senior could potentially elevate the parameters of a design by much more than ten percent in some areas!

Best of all, Ves did not have to give up his right to claim the DP earnings from selling the mech, although he did wonder how the System would treat sales of mechs designed in collaboration. Would Ves be able to earn the full DP amount or only a proportion of his contribution?

No matter. Just like with credits, Ves was ready to accept a cut in his DP earnings so long as the mech became a major hit and much of NORA Consolidated existing customer base bought the new product in large quantities!

Professor Ventag saw Ves still deliberating on the choice of what kind of mech he wanted to design. In order to help the younger mech designer along, he provided some guidance.

"You should keep the current conditions of the mech market in mind. We are in the twilight of the current mech generation. The next generation will set upon us within five to ten years. What you need to do is to come up with a vision of a mech that will not only sell well in the current generation, but also in the next generation."

Ves looked up at that. Ventag may have some insider knowledge on this transition. "Do you know exactly when the MTA will introduce the next mech generation?"

"Nobody knows, least of all the MTA." Ventag shook his head. "The contents and timing of the introduction of new mech technologies, standards and regulations is a complex affair that involves many different interests in the galaxy. Both from within and without, the MTA is constantly being lobbied by every mech designer with a stake in what kind of standards the organization wishes to popularize and standardize. Each decision will make some influences a big winner while relegating many other influences to losers. Even now, negotiations are still very much ongoing, and until they end the new generation won't arrive."

In other words, it was anyone's guess on what the exact date would be. However, the general time frame of five to ten years was already sufficient enough to plan around.

"So if I want to design a good mech, I'll have to straddle between the generations, huh?"

"That is my advice if you want to avoid designing a mech that will only be relevant for five to ten years. In general, the price categories of your mechs downgrade by one level after the transition to a new mech generation. For example, your Blackbeaks and Crystal Lords are both categorized as premium mechs. In the next generation, they become less attractive as their performance won't be able to keep up with the newer mechs that come out. Your LMC will be forced to discount them by at least twenty percent, pushing their prices down into midrange territory. Do you understand?"

Ves got the point. He also grappled with this issue several times. "A premium mech in this generation will only be able to sell for the same price as a midrange mech of the next generation. A lastgen midrange mech can only be sold for the price of a currentgen budget mech. A budget mech can only be sold for the price of a bargain bin mech."

Ventag chuckled. "What an odd term, but yes, the last decision you want to make is to go on to design a mech at the bottom price category. A cheap mech with a listed price of 3 million credits will quickly devalue to 2.5 million credits or less after the change to the new generation. While the drop in prices doesn't sound very steep at first, the profit margins of those mechs are razor-thin to begin with. When you only earn 50,000 credits per sale, a price drop of 500,000 credits plainly relegates your new mech design to the archives."

What Professor Ventag just described also came with another message. One that Ves was keenly aware of. "The other important point that I have to keep in mind is that my new design better feature a high profit margin, right?"

"Correct." The Senior nodded gently. "Certain products are more easily sold in high volumes. Yet high demand also attracts a lot of competition. The increased supply of mechs depresses everyone's profit margins as they seek to lower their prices in order to capture market share. In such a case, designing a mech in a highly-contested product category should only be left to the confident, capable and clever companies of a certain scale."

The requirements of this upcoming mech design bumped up even further. Ves not only needed to design a great mech that was worthy of Professor Ventag and NORA Consolidated's attention, but it also needed to make an ample amount of profit!

Considering an overall price drop of twenty percent in list prices whenever currentgen mechs turn into lastgen mechs, at a minimum his new design should offer a profit margin of forty percent to be an enduring seller across two generations!

Asking Ves to fulfill such difficult criteria would take every bit of effort. He would have to squeeze as much potential he accumulated and thereby design a mech that might very well push him over to Journeyman!

Only now did Ves realize that Professor Ventag's offer did not only serve the purpose of rewarding him and pushing him into his camp. Participating in the joint design project also served as a test of his abilities!

It was a shrewd decision. It made sense that Professor Ventag wanted to test what Ves was capable of first-hand. Records and archival data could only tell so much, especially when most of his designs were several years old and did not represent his current abilities.

If Ves came up short for this test, then Professor Ventag's expectations in him would inevitably diminish. Senator Tovar might also follow suit. Now that Ves joined their camp, it was imperative for him to keep building his relations with these powerful figures.

One day, Ves would be able to grow to a point where other people needed to look up to him for protection and favors, but until that time arrived, he needed to keep his head down and work towards his advancement.

"Can I think about it some more?" Ves asked. "I think I will need some time to contemplate on what type of mech I want to design and what my initial vision for the mech will be. I'd rather prefer to be by myself when I exercise my imagination."

He preferred the solace of quiet isolation when he came up with these ideas. As much as Professor Ventag's presence offered him a convenient source of information whenever he had questions, ultimately the joint project revolved around his design, not the Senior's design. Ves wanted to emphasize his ownership of the design in order to maintain the strength and purity of its X-Factor.

The professor nodded. "Take all the time you want. The project runs for six months, and it isn't unusual for mech designers to take months to deliberate on the archetypes and criteria their designs need to fulfill. Even so, don't waste your time trying to second-guess yourself all the time. If you are confident in your decision, just make it and move on. Perfect design concepts don't exist. Stupid ideas can result in brilliant innovative mech designs while clever ideas may end up producing garbage designs."

Basically, Professor Ventag warned Ves that it was the execution of the design process that really mattered. The initial concept and vision of a mech did not have to be as perfect or exceptional as possible in order to form the base of a bestselling mech.

As Ves exited the design studio, he slowly walked back to the lounge instead of his cabin. Before he knew it, he returned in Lord Javier's company.

"What did that mech designer want?" The noble asked.

"Design a new mech together."

"That's a big deal right?"

"Yeah. It's mostly up to me to determine what kind of mech I want to design."

Lord Javier didn't look very interested. Someone like him mainly piloted custom mechs tailored for his use. The mass-produced mech models marketed towards the private sector mainly couldn't keep up with his performance.

"So what are you planning to design?"

"I'm not sure yet." Ves admitted. "I'm trying to decide whether to go for something familiar or something new. An opportunity like this doesn't come every day, so I have to make a very careful decision on what to design."

When it came to the type of mechs he wanted to design, he already came up with two possible choices.

They were both spaceborn mechs.

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