In-game armor design myths busted
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
As you might already know, After Reset RPG is on the way to be the first hard sci-fi video game as opposed to most fast-food video game approaches designed for mainstream appeal. This imposes certain obligations and leads to realism in every part of our development. Finding ways to get these puzzle pieces to work together is often a difficult and time-consuming struggle. I'd like to show you some examples from popular games and myth-bust their flaws while sharing some information about our approach to hard sci-fi armor designs.
First of all, I'd like to warn you that after reading the lore below you likely won't be able to play most of the modern games or watch most of the TV-shows without non-stop facepalms. Perhaps there is something to be said for stylization in these works, but just as classic movies show heroes unloading thousands of rounds from their Ak-47 without ever reloading, we can’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of such oversights.
N.B. Here I'll show our hard sci-fi approach to armor design with U.G. Pacifier Body Armor (PBA). The screen above is the work in progress. It has recently past from engineering phase to product design phase (in our R&D process).
MYTH #1: BOOB ARMOR
Myth: The female body clearly differs from the opposing gender; therefore armor manufacturers produce special variants of armors for women of every breast size. Right?
Reality: Although there are some exceptions (Joan of Arc, Queen Boudicca, Artemisia, Grace O'Malley to name a few), a historical overview shows that very few women served in a military capacity before World War I, and most of those were non-combat medical or logistic duties. Although it's true that metal (particularly plate) armors from the Middle Ages were custom-made for the nobles who commissioned them, there simply wasn't a large supply for women and it was considered uncouth for a woman to wear armor. A knight's full-plate also weighs upwards of eighty pounds, and is difficult to walk around in even for very athletic men. Secondly, most women can fit comfortably into the same armor that men wear (or a size for men slightly taller), and modern Kevlar vests are unisex. Finally, form-fitting plate designs are very ineffective because this redirects the force of an impact right into the vital organs. Fantasy armors where the female body is exposed are even more ridiculous, but more on that in a second.
In After Reset RPG: Here I'll show our hard sci-fi approach to armor design with U.G. Pacifier Body Armor (PBA). As it’s predecessors from the Past Age (IBA, MTV, IOTV, SPCS, PASGT etc.) and the armor is unisex. For female characters with the requisite constitution we made a custom fit, realistic look for the armored female body. Forget it fellas. There's no Xena the "Warrior Princess" in AR RPG.
MYTH #2: FEMALE ARMOR OF MIGHTY NAKEDNESS
Myth: Female warriors prefer less armor so they can be more agile, right?
Reality: If you think a bra-and-thong counts as armor, I'm not sure what to say. CollegeHumor already busted this myth in a way I like, so I’ll be brief: the purpose of armor is to protect the five most vital organs (brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs) against specific weapons. Leather and metal armors are designed to deflect glancing melee attacks (but were still vulnerable to piercing weapons), while modern Kevlar can stop small caliber rounds in their tracks.
Historically it’s true that the Greek hoplites wore little to no armor (usually only a linen wrap covering the genitals and a bronze helm), they compensated with the aspis (a large round wooden shield gilded with bronze) and doru (long bronze spear). At the time, this made sense because iron and steel had not yet been discovered, and the large shield was the only means to protect warriors from volleys of arrows. As there was no armor that could turn or stop a direct thrust of sword or spear, and the shield already weighing seventy pounds, less is more for the purposes of mobility. However, these warriors are believed to be exclusively male, and the fighting style became obsolete after iron working.
In After Reset RPG: Once again, U.G. Pacifier Body Armor (PBA), as well as other armors you’ll find in the game, is unisex. It was designed to protect those crucial five human organs from energy weapon damage (since it is the most common type weapons in Underearth) and from some kinetic damage. With that PBA is considered light armor and its design tailored to the underground cities of the U.G. (Police Departments) and military bases (Military Police). Its weight and flexibility grant minimum movement restrictions for the wearer.
MYTH #3: BATTLE CLOAKS
Myth: A decent armor needs a good cloak. I mean, you'd get cold without one, right? Especially in space!
Reality: In all fairness, some cloaks were used defensively during the Renaissance, and the owner could wind it around his hand and provide some small protection from an enemy's rapier. In the Crusades it was also common for knights to wear cloaks over their armor to reflect sunlight and keep them cool in the desert. However, in battle the cloaks would be removed as they hinder movement. Nowadays, the cloaks on the "warriors" you'll me likely to see only on a tribesman of some isolated islands; but even so it would be just an accessory.
In After Reset RPG: Some of you might have already noticed that our inventory screen has no slot for a cloak. Though your character has a Backpack or Rucksack slot, and there are some in-game cloaks that can be put in that slot (if the equipped armor doesn't block that slot at all). Some of them should provide some resistance to environmental damage (it gets very cold in the Great Desert at night, you know) but they will have an Agility penalty on character as well. However, I can assure you that there are no cloaks over high-tech armors worn by the sane inhabitants of the State of Eagle.
MYTH #4: SPIKES, HORNS, VALVES
Myth: The heavier spikes – the more I'm protected. Haven't you seen the recent Mad Max movie? Do you remember those deadly spiked porcupine cars? Awesome!
Reality: There are many reasons why there are no spikes, horns, tubes, and other decorating heresy on real life armors, even those made out of scraps. The best-case scenario is a reduction of armor effectiveness, but it is very possible to puncture or cut yourself just by moving. During the Middle Ages knights really worn some decorated accessories over the armor but they were worn for parade events and/or were made from fragile materials to be swiftly removed in combat. In modern warfare some armors may be painted and so forth, but any physical adornments will only weigh down or distract. Experienced soldiers know that reflections, noise, and hindered movement are all great ways to get yourself killed.
In After Reset RPG: There are no spikes, horns, valves, or near-useless sporting equipment used as armor for Underearth dwellers or survivors on the Surface. As you can see on U.G. Pacifier Body Armor (PBA), the design of armor is focused on physical and environmental protection. Effectiveness is the credo of most of the U.G.'s designs. Though, you'll definitely meet variants of "tire armor" among the Survivors. As a lot of tires from the Past Age are in usable condition by 132 A.R., they could grant decent protection from DYI melee weapons and are malleable for crafting purposes.
MYTH #5: SOLID-MADE METAL ARMORS
Myth: True battle armor must be made from solid, dense heavy metals. When a soldier in such armor moves, runs, jumps and make awesome acrobatic tricks, the metal simply bends and conforms to their body.
Reality: Full-plate armors are notoriously bulky and restrictive, and they absolutely do not bend at all. If they do become bent or displaced by an impact, the armor often becomes worthless and in some cases can only be removed by breaking it apart. A real person caged in such solid metal armor will not be able to walk very well yet alone run and jump. Also, modern-day alloys (for armor) are designed to be as lightweight as possible so that soldiers can carry more ammunition, gadgets, etc.
In After Reset RPG: As it is for the weapon design or for chem design, we studied the history of armor and discussed the topic with engineers and military specialists. We then work on prototype schematics that could theoretically be manufactured today (though the prototypes very expensive). We work out the proper materials based on real science, and always with an eye for functionality. Only after that do we reduce its cost according to technology projections and environmental changes resulting from the apocalypse in the After Reset setting.
The major protective components installed in the PBA armor vest are ceramic, wool with spongy nano-structure for protection from focused electromagnetic energy (laser) or directed charged particles (plasma). These soft and light components are filed with polyethylene glycol (PEG) mixed with nano-particles of silica to protect against penetrating mechanical injury. Standard exterior cover of the PBA is usually produced from cut resistant fabrics.
The PBA armor supports custom modifications and is compatible with MOLEE and GLICE systems. For more than 50 years PBA served the Underearth's Police Department (submitted to the UG's Social Corps) and Military Police (submitted to the UG's Military Corps). Around 120s A.R., when the rumors of possible returning on the Surface appeared, UG Army began to experiment on these armors for Ground Operations. After restoring research to that of the Past Age, Spongy Beryllium Plates (SBP) were selected as the fittest kinetic protection modes for the PBA. Being made from extremely lightweight (~0.9-1.1g/cm3) Be2B, Be4B and TiBe12 compos, the SBP grants extra kinetic protection for the spine, heart, spleen, kidney of the soldier with a ballistic efficiency over "1." Unfortunately, by 132 A.R. even modified PBA body armors lacked the sufficient capacity and popularity to replace medium and heavy armor sets for Ground Operations.
According to United Governments Intellectual Property Office (UGIPO), the Diamond Military Technologies (or DMA Technologies), a Helios-based armor manufacturing company, owns the patent for PBA armor and its modifications. While they are best known for their PBA body armor, by 132 A.R. they also produced reinforced materials for use on vehicles and buildings.
MYTH #6: BRUTAL GREAVES-BRACES ARMOR SETS
Myth: These brutal braces and grieves made from some leather or metal to protect from cold, weapons, bullets... besides, with them equipped I don't need any other armor and go topless to strut my muscular body in combat. I am so agile that I’ll be able to catch and parry all hits and bullets like Spartacus!
Reality: Although soldiers need all of their limbs to be combat efficient, the arms and legs are typically the least protected parts of the body from any historical or modern timer period. Any armor that protects these limbs typically hinders movement and simply makes easier to hit, and dodging bullets is far superior to any armor.
Needless to say, this armor simply doesn’t cover any of the vital organs and leaves you totally exposed.
In After Reset RPG: As it is true for reality, our hard sci-fi video game treats greaves and braces as accessories rather than battle-kits. Some of them provide very slight evasion bonus, but the majority are either for fun or for slight skill boosts. They are certainly not a substitute for armor.
MYTH #7: TRUE SOLDIERS DON’T POO
Myth: If a solider is equipped with a suitably advanced full body armor he/she doesn't need to answer to the nature call any more.
Reality: Actually, some space suits do have waste removal systems, but those are not combat suits. In practice it is common for soldiers to defecate as normal people, you know, and soldiers want to be able to get out of their gear quickly in any case. Any armor requiring more then a few minutes to put on or take off would be extremely undesirable, and most modern video games seem to ignore this completely. It is often looks even impossible to imagine how the character or an NPC get in that thing.
In After Reset RPG: We keep that nature-call factor under consideration when we design hard sci-fi armors for After Reset setting. For example, the NBC suit you can already put on in the current game build has built in portable Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS).
MYTH #8: FANCY CAMO PAINTS
Myth: Camouflage can be functional and still look cool, right?
Reality: No. Camouflage is designed to do one thing and one thing only - to disrupt the silhouette of the person wearing it so that they blend in with the combat environment through crypsis (to obfuscate) or mimesis (imitation). In nature, very few animals have bright colorings for this very reason. They tend to have mostly dull brown and green hues, with some exceptions for desert or winter environments. Without exception, camouflage is designed to be as unremarkable as possible.
For more information, check out the Alfred Yarbus experiments or in-game lore.
In After Reset RPG: Originally, we designed the MCU Desert uniform for the U.G. Army, and it's camo painting, we spent about a month to do it properly. It's so realistic that the player may have trouble seeing their character on screen, and we decided to give it another pass from a lore and technological/gameplay viewpoint. We then weighed that against a fictional assessment of the technological superiority of the U.G. Armed Forces (by 132 A.R.) combined with a relative threat-assessment of the Incorporeals and surface dwellers to get our final result.
MYTH #9: THE MORE POCKETS AND GEAR THE BETTER
Myth: Gotta have a holster for your iPhone, ropes, spare mags, flashlights… the list goes on. Anything you wear increases your protection, right?
Reality: Using MOLLE/ALICE systems real life soldiers only wear the minimum of gear required to complete a specific mission. Anything extra just weighs you down and is better left behind. Fatigue is a real problem on the battlefield, and you need to be able to run and fight in what you’re wearing. They are not Mr. Handy, they are specified tools of warfare. Even if some of the gear deflected a bullet, the ricochet would still likely cause serious injury. So, more gear does not equal more protection.
In After Reset RPG: During the development of the armors and other protective gears for various fractions we consider the relevant purpose and assignment of each gear we worked on. That means that each element on the armor you'll see on the game's characters was put there with some realistic and specific purpose. Before we add these new composites to the game, we give them the Trial of Curiosity (as we call it), and our testers ask: "What is that? What it is for? What it is made from? Why this is right here? How much does it cost? How does it work?"
If we can't answer these questions, we go back to the drawing and engineering board.
MYTH #10: HELMETS ARE FOR PUSSIES
Myth: More visibility is good, right?
Reality: The body cannot survive without the brain, so putting on a fifty-pound armor and then going into battle without a helmet is quite insane. The issue boils down to development costs and the fact that (for story purposes) you often want a character’s face to be visible so you can distinguish them. I personally dig modern shemaghs and find them very practical.
In After Reset RPG: It is up to you whether you want to wear headgear or not, but there simply isn’t a good combat-relevant reason not to wear them.
After sharing my thoughts about these popular myths, I want to be clear that I’m not trying to belittle the work of all the developers, artists, and writers who worked on the games mentioned or shown in the screenshots. Their hands are often tied and the final results the responsibly of the producers, directors, and CEOs who funded the game. Also, you could simply group them as a stylized sub-genre of sci-fi that doesn't seek to achieve realism. However, I certainly appreciate games that go the extra mile.
I just want to show how hard we're working on the lore and detail in the After Reset setting to make it special and unique. We're pouring our heart and soul into the creation of every prop or in-game item, even if it takes us three times as long to do it. As one guy (Morrandir) wrote on RPGWatch: we are on a mission to show that a great and realistic RPG can still be made on an Indie budget.
Happy New Year and may the Force be with you!