Saturday, January 24, 2015


Protection from external harm has been an integral part of warfare from the bronze age to the modern era.  And while it has been marginalized (with the exception of helmets) for the last several centuries, recent advancements in light, yet resilient alloys, have allowed for a slow resurgence of personal protection in the form of tactical vests.  Video games too feel like they have been taking armor into consideration more and more recently.  Unlike movies and TV wherein armor has been (and still is for the most part) purely cosmetic, video games have had a much wider number of interpretations.

Obviously there are a lot of games that have embraced the one-hit-kill model (side scrolling shooters are especially known for this).  On the other extreme there are hardcore tank simulations.  Titles like War Thunder and World of Tanks embrace realism to such a degree that a successful hit against an enemy tank would be difficult to ascertain if not for the aid of onscreen text.  Granted this is true to real life in that during World War 2 the term "knocked out" was used to refer to tank kills in lieu of other words like "destroyed" or "neutralized".  An apt choice of words since depending on the fate of of the crew inside, a knocked out tank might return to action after being hit or at the very least be salvaged later.  Oftentimes, externally, the damage would be difficult to notice by the the untrained eye because it might consist of little more than a fist sized hole someplace on the hull or turret.  Every once in a while a damaged tank might cook-off its ammunition or fuel resulting in a dramatically fiery end.  However, with the introduction of explosive reactive armor and anti-personnel mines attached to the outside of the vehicle, a tank successfully repulsing an attack might very well look more visually impressive than one failing to do so.

Moving from vehicular armor to personal protection let me highlight some of the more creative takes in video games.  Ghosts and Goblins has suits of plate steel bursting off the main character whenever he gets hit forcing him to make due in his boxer shorts.  Gladiator has a similar concept except the mechanic tracks the effect to specific parts of the main character's body rather than the whole suit.  Silly as it is, I have to admit I prefer this system to the bland abstract damage reduction system that most RPGs use.

One other interpretation of armor that I'd like to briefly touch on is in the form of an alternative to the bog standard health meter.  Rather than a traditional life bar, games such as Mark of Kri or El Shaddai have bits and pieces of armor break off whenever the wearer takes damage.  In this way it acts as an elegant method of representing HUD elements that would otherwise hog up valuable screen real estate.  Again, this has no bearing on how real body armor works, but I happen to like this system all the same.  The Darknuts from The Legend of Zelda in particular have to be the quintessential example of this mechanic from a gameplay standpoint.  Stripping away the armor of these powerful adversaries makes them more vulnerable, but in doing so they become faster and more aggressive having been freed of their protective burden.
On a final note the survival horror genre could defiantly get some mileage out of more detailed representations of armor.  Just imagine Issac Clark struggling to keep those long pointed necromorph talons from burrowing through the gaps in that RIG he always wears.  After all, even in a futuristic sci-fi setting I can still see suits of armor having vulnerabilities in places like the visor, armpits or knee and elbow joints.  

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