BLOG – Armor for Dummies and/or Game Developers
The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by Anna Jenelius, game designer and Senior QA Manager at Paradox Interactive. She tackles the issue of armor and offers tips and insightful feedback on points to consider when creating in-game armor. It was originally posted on Gamasutra!
Before I start, I would like to point out that of course I understand why you would want to design cool and sexy armor with distinctive silhouettes – and by all means, continue. Not all armor needs to be realistic. I’d also like to point out that many of the mentioned games below are personal favorites. Parts of the character design having room for improvement does by no means make the games themselves less good.
Properties of metal
Let’s look at the armor of Sarevok from Baldur’s Gate (BioWare, 1998). He certainly looks badass, which is nice. Another nice thing, however, is surviving. Those spikes are not going to kill anyone unless he has a very unconventional fighting style, meaning they will only make his armor heavier. Sure, people might think twice before even entering a fight with this guy – but if they decide to try their luck, Sarevok would find himself with easily ten kilograms of excess ballast just from the spikes. Back to the drawing board, Sarevok.
Critical areas of the body
The neck contains things that are really helpful if you enjoy breathing and pumping blood to your brain, and the heart, while already protected by a ribcage, is vital for keeping even the most heartless person alive. The heart can be reached not only from the front and back, but also from the sides. The armpits are therefore two more areas you really should try and cover as much as possible. Apart from this, the stomach is easy to hit and holds all sorts of stuff you need in order to not die. The groin is a good way to access the stomach from certain angles, and also holds a lot of blood. Note: The groin and the armpits are notoriously hard to protect due to their position on the body, especially if the enemy comes up close with a ballock dagger – but you should at least try.
The rest of the body in nice to keep intact as well – especially areas with large blood vessels going through them. However, a wound in for example the leg, while likely to get you into a bad position or in a worst-case scenario severe enough to lead to an amputation, is less likely to kill you instantly.
Now that we have sorted out that, let’s get to business. The first thing I would like you to consider is what the purpose of the armor you are designing is. Who is the person wearing it? Is he or she poor or wealthy, fond of stabbing people in the back or of using a claymore, a lowborn or a knight? What armor makes sense for a person like that to wear?
To show you what I mean, I would like you to look at my first example armor. This is Leliana from the Dragon Age series, clad in her armor from Inquisition (BioWare, 2014).
Let’s consider who Leliana is. She is a spymaster, and as such, one would expect her to be a person who moves about in the shadows. Even if she doesn’t do all the sneaking herself, her armor and clothes should indicate her choice of career (or not, if she wants to be truly sneaky). And indeed, the hood and mail do the trick. Fashionable as well as practical, they make a decent armor for a lady of her profession and rank. The problem, in this case, is further down. Of all places to wear heavy armor if you want to be able to move about without anyone noticing you, the feet is most likely the worst. Imagine trying to jump on someone while wearing skiing boots. Made of steel. Precisely. If you want to be sneaky, don’t wear heavy armor. If you want to wear heavy armor, choose parts that actually protect your vital body parts.
Use out of battle
Getting armor on and off
While you don’t want to waste the players’ time with hours of putting on and taking off armor parts, you could use it to create suspense: The friend was gone so the hero didn’t have time to put on a harness before the camp was attacked *gasp*. The full plate armor of a knight is hard to get on without someone to help you, which means that you probably won’t go for one if you don’t have servants, or helpful friends with a lot of spare time. Mail is easier but still forces you to strike interesting poses, as shown in this wonderful illustration from a medieval manuscript.
Deflection, not direction
Let’s go back to the topic of spiked armor. Apart from giving you +2 on pissing off the people you fight alongside, the spikes can actually make the armor more dangerous to the wearer than it would be without. As mentioned earlier, one of your armor’s purposes is to deflect weapons so that they slide off your body without doing any damage. Look at the picture above. In this case, a spike would actually catch the blade and direct it towards your arm rather than off it, greatly increasing the risk of wounds on what is the preferred hand for 70-90% of the population. This sounds like a pretty bad idea, in my opinion.
Boobs are soft
Now, let’s examine the armor of the Night Elf above (World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment, 2004). If I wanted to kill this lady, I would most likely try to thrust my sword into her face, neck, chest, stomach, or possibly groin. Of these, only the latter is protected what so ever. I do appreciate her attempt to protect her legs – which I do admit is a good idea if you plan to kick people repeatedly our counter kicks with your own legs – and the outside of her arms. The lower arm will after all be one of the parts closest to your enemy in melee combat. Still, I have to point this out:
Tight armor and layers
Looking at the Demon Hunter (Diablo III, Blizzard Entertainment, 2012) above, you will notice that while her shoulder pads and scarf increase in size with her armor level, her waistline does not. In this case, it looks like she keeps wearing only some sort of leather corset to protect her stomach, while strapping on enough excess metal on the rest of her body to build a spare suit of armor. Honestly, I would have advised her to trade the sexy female silhouette for actual protection. This would mean adding for example a gambeson and maybe also a mail under the harness, which would make her waistline several inches thicker.
This Tumblrer, while most likely not having this in mind while drawing the images (I’ll spare you the last two in the series), shows roughly how Commander Cullen’s (Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare, 2014) armor could look layer-by-layer. While you would most likely want the layer that looks like leather here to be padded to soften incoming blows, and the harness probably is too tight to actually move around in, it shows quite well how layers are put upon layers in heavy armor. This sadly means that you’ll have to choose between looking like an hourglass and surviving while fighting.
Speaking of the Demon Hunter… Have you ever seen a person in high heels run? Do modern female soldiers wear pumps? If your answers are yes and no in that order, I am pretty sure that you can figure out what I’m getting at here. If not, I do wonder who you are and where you are from. We have already established that the purpose of armor is to protect the wearer and also that not dying is nice. With this in mind, I am willing to bet that most women are ready to give up having a nice posture for a few hours if this means that they can actually move around properly and decrease the risk of getting maimed by their opponents.
This means that no woman with any sort of self-preservation would ever go into battle in high heels. If you want to design a character who’s a fashion victim to the extent that she would literally rather die than wear flats, be my guest. Just please don’t put them on otherwise sensible women. It simply makes no sense. Oh and that’s Fran from Final Fantasy XII (Square Enix, 2006) above.
One place where it could make sense for a lady to wear high heels is if she was to ride a horse, since some suggest that heels were originally designed for this purpose. However, this has hardly been common practice historically.
Bullets? Skip heavy armor
Finally, just like cannons once made hiding away in your castle ineffective, increasingly efficient guns make heavy plate armor less and less useful. Why would you strap 30 kg of armor to yourself into battle when you know that a single bullet could pierce it and kill you anyway? Long story short, better and better guns on the battlefields of history meant that soldiers started wearing uniforms rather than armor made of metal, since you might as well increase your agility when armor doesn’t help you anyway.