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Is Armor Configuration Really A Good Mechanic?

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Armor Configuration: They're using axes, so you choose hide; they're using proton beams, so you choose boson shields; they're shooting with flak guns, so you choose kevlar... etc. etc. Do you think this is really a good mechanic? In theory, what you're asking the player to do is to choose a damage minimization strategy if they themselves can configure their armor; and an attack strategy if the enemy either can do the same or comes in a variety of armor flavors. The latter I don't really mind, but I'm starting to wonder about the former. What the mechanic asks players to do is to plan in advance, yet I've never played a game where I had sufficient time or advanced knowledge to do so. It seems so different in the case of defending versus attacking. If I hit and do no / little damage, I'm not exactly in any immediate danger; but if I take damage, I'm that much closer to losing the fight, which usually means reloading. In most configuration cases I've experienced, I've had to stop, wonder why the hell I'm taking so much more damage than I expected, then go through the tedious process of rifling through inventory. In the worst (as in some space games) I've had to fly all the way back to a dock to reconfigure-- and that is if I can make it. I've heard it said that any choice you should automatically make in a game shouldn't really be a choice. Would you say this for armor configuration? If not, what's the best way you've seen this implemented (or idea you might want to share)?

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Do you think this is really a good mechanic?

I think that having a specific armour for a specific type of weapon is too restrictive. It takes what could be an interesting choice and removes the choice from the player.

If, instead, you have the armour effect different aspects of the gameplay, then it might be worth wile. For instance, if you have the armour effect your character's ability to perform other moves (like slowing down your attack rate, or reducing the speed at which you can dodge), then this becomes more interesting.

Instead of Hid armour only being good against axes, hide armour might not offer much protection, but it allows greater freedom of movement and does not slow various other abilities.

The other problem with just having a specific armour for a specific type of weapon is that it is a 1 dimensional problem/choice. This of course make it a no-brainer as to which choice you make. But if you can add in other dimensions/factors to consider, then the choice becomes more complex and interesting.

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Make it very explicit? A very heavy armor will protect me from all kinds of attacks, but if I need to run, or if I get knocked over -- I'm toast.

If I'm only wearing a vest I may take damage easily but at least I'll have a fighting or running chance.

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Make armor versatile for damage types, and give them less extreme positives and negatives:

"Trinium" armor protects against all damage types:
+ Lasers cause less damage, but more trauma/stun
+ Bullets are almost completely deflected, but can slip through cracks of armor
+ Does well to stop plasma, but takes considerable damage
+ Significantly hinders blunt melee attacks, but takes damage
+ Sharp melee attacks are stunted, but they can occasionally bypass the armor

This gives the player a choice, and the decision can be better or worse depending on what the enemy is equipped with, but not to the point of retreating.

Also, have you considered that wearing slightly wrong armor for a given situation may provide a more interesting experience? Being perfectly equipped isn't always a good thing for fun gameplay. If players are crying/dying because they made bad pre-fight decisions, you need to give them more options during the fight.

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Feedback is crucial.
Me and a friend of mine were doing a mod some years ago to make armors more valuable.

What we found out was three main issues.

  1. Playtesting. Lots of. Even with a very limited type damage types it was difficult to estimate the effectiveness of an armor type and in a specific level. It was even worse in our case since we had three "base armors" and a "super-armor" which could be plugged in the standard ones.
    Care must be taken in those cases in which the available weapons in the level are also likely to be "largerly absorbed" as the game will slowdown quite a bit.

  2. Feedback. Since the game displayed the armors the same, the attacker sometimes felt tricked. We needed a way to render the armor but the models didn't have a socket to attach.
    This was very exagerated in our test as some armor+shield combination were extremely effective against some damage types.

  3. Speed. The base game mechanic was too fast to support this kind of decisions. We tried slowing down time a bit but it obviously introduced more issues than it solved.
    Make sure your time scale is adeguate (especially when it comes to weapon switching) to take proper action. Having a long LOS would probably help as well, but there are many cases in which this cannot be guaranteed.


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I don't know whether it is good, but it is a bit closer to reality, and it gives the player an extra challenge.

For example, in the middle ages, you could wear chain mail which would give you near to 100% protection from slashing damage, such as swords. You would of course still get bruised a bit from the impact, but a sword won't normally be able to cut through chain mail.
On the other hand, chain mail offered little, if any, protection against an arrow, which would go straight through at least half of the time, if not more often.
Full plate offered good protection against arrows, which were able to penetrate the shell only at very short ranges (20-30 meters), and more often than not, the arrow would then stick in the padding beneath the plate, not in the knight. On the other hand, plate armour deforms on heavy impact and hinders both breathing and movement (even more than it already does normally). This makes it a bit less optimal if you expect to get bruised with swords, axes, and maces a lot. Also, the necessity to raise one's arms for fighting meant that the shells on the arms (and legs) were much, much thinner than on the body. This of course meant significantly worse protection in these locations.
Light armour, such as hardened leather, offered protection against swords nearly identical to plate armour at much lower cost, weight, and penalty (you can try and boil leather yourself if you want, it's not difficult). However, it would withstand at most one or two heavy hits before breaking, so it was at best an emergency solution, but definitively not what you would want to wear when planning for total carnage.

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Armor Configuration: They're using axes, so you choose hide; they're using proton beams, so you choose boson shields; they're shooting with flak guns, so you choose kevlar... etc. etc.

Do you think this is really a good mechanic?

No. In fact, it worries me a little that so many gameplay mechanics essentially come down to this. If the opponent chose Rock, we choose Paper. If they chose Paper, we choose Scissors. Etc.

Simply matching one aspect to another doesn't seem to be sufficient to me, because you always have a dominant strategy. Given knowledge of what they're using, you know exactly what you should use in response. Given no knowledge, you pick whatever is best on average, and change to a better configuration when possible.

Quote:
I've heard it said that any choice you should automatically make in a game shouldn't really be a choice. Would you say this for armor configuration?

I'd agree. I think the answer is to make it a 'real' choice, which carries more than the trivial consequences of just how much damage you take per hit. Your choice of defence should affect other qualities: your ability to attack, your evasion speed, your capability for stealth, your carrying capacity, your finances, your capability to repair or reuse that type of defense, the variance of defence quality it bestows upon you, effects on reputation by choosing to use it, etc. I generally think that for these systems to be worthwhile, there need to be enough different factors that it's impractical to calculate any sort of dominant strategy (or to put it another way, that any chosen strategy can be demonstrated to have certain flaws).

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Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
Armor Configuration: They're using axes, so you choose hide; they're using proton beams, so you choose boson shields; they're shooting with flak guns, so you choose kevlar... etc. etc.

Do you think this is really a good mechanic? In theory, what you're asking the player to do is to choose a damage minimization strategy if they themselves can configure their armor; and an attack strategy if the enemy either can do the same or comes in a variety of armor flavors.
No, because it favors the AI too greatly. The AI is able to make these types of instant decisions, can be able to assign individuals (versus large pre-organized groups, e.g. CTRL-1, CTRL-2, etc.) to combat those which it is most effective against, and because it simplifies the mechanics of combat too far. You choose hide armor against axes; a semi intelligent person is going to recognize that hey, my axe doesn't work against their armor - I'll start swinging at their exposed arms. Or, as mentioned later, the deficiencies in your choice aren't presented well enough in terms of movement restrictions, etc.

(I have a similar problem with unit level abilities which require you to manually invoke them. That's well and good with a group of the same unit, but if you've played Warcraft III the computer has no problem invoking the special abilities of all of its units without slowing down... and my guys are dead long before I get the chance. :))

=== Edit ===

Forgot to list my idea of a better system: resistances. The hide armor grants you a percentage of resistance to slashing damage, and provides a penalty for crushing damage. The idea of resistances allows you to fine tune the amount of damage resisted, provides a mechanism for balancing the benefits, and allows 100 axeman to still take out 25 horsemen without too many losses. It's similar in idea, but not an absolute.

More difficult to balance is armor absorption. Hide armor absorbs 1 point of damage (all damage types). Plate armor absorbs 5 points. Gives you the benefit of upgrading armor, without the added complexity of determining what type of weaponry your opponent is using.

No, these don't correlate well to their real life counterparts. Then again, it's a game, right? :)

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It depends on the game, doesn't it? In some types of game, you may have enough information in advance to make a meaningful choice. But then again, there has to be some kind of tradeoff, so it's not a simple "they're using laser, so I'll use energy shields".
Perhaps each defense type should have some secondary effect (positive and negative) as well? Something that ties into your chosen tactics as well.
Say, energy shields interfere with your own shooting as well, or generate a humming noise making stealth impossible. But on the plus side, they may... I don't know, offer some protection from environment hazards as well?

Armor might slow you down, making assaults trickier to pull off, but offer protection in melee as well as against bullets.

It becomes a bit more interesting if your choice has to balance both "what is best at negating their weapons", and "what plays well with the tactics I'm going to rely on".

But once again, it only makes sense if you have a good idea in advance of what damage types you'll be exposed to.

As you said, if it's an automatic choice, you might as well remove it entirely.

[Edited by - Spoonbender on August 13, 2008 8:14:14 AM]

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I don't have a problem with it if its part of an over all combat mechanic. The approach I personally favour is damage tables rather then point based damage. A laser might do Level 10 Heat Based Damage, and the semi conductive hull of my ship has level 5 heat resistance so if I get hit there would be a roll on the level 5 heat based damage table. That might cause power systems to overload, parts of the hull to melt, etc..

But armour should really be the last line of defence. There should be the ability to counter and avoid before hand. That way I can be more flexible and creative in my design. Do I include an auto firing rail gun to shoot down missiles and light fighters? A Stealth field to allow for hit and run attacks, or just buy the toughest armour I can find.

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