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I have seen a mechanic which I call "armor points" in many games: Quake, Counter Strike, etc. Generally, while the player has these armor points, he takes less damage.

However, they act in a similar fashion that health points do: you lose them by taking said damage.

Why would you design such a feature? Is this just health 2.0, or am I missing something?

To me, armor only makes sense in, for example, RPG games, where it is a constant that determines your resistance. But I don't see why would it need to be reduceable during combat.

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Well, look at the Quake system.

In Quake, you have 3 different kinds of armor: Green, Yellow, and Red. With Green armor, the armor absorbs 1 point of damage for every point of damage the player takes. In that way, it acts like doubling health. However, consider the complexities of that situation.

If you have 10 health, and you pick up a 100 health powerup, you go back up to full 100 health. However, if you pick up 100 Green armor, you now effectively have... 20 health. Remember: you die when you run out of health, not armor.

Point #1: It can reward you for maintaining a state of high health.

Consider the same situation: you have 10 health. You come across 100 health, and then you come across a 50 health pickup. You still have 100 health. Joy.

However, if you have 10 health and come across 100 Green armor, and later get a 50 health pickup, you now have effectively 120 health.

Point #2: It provides a way of breaking the health cap, while still allowing the cap to exist and matter.

Now look at the Red armor. For every 6 damage you take, 5 goes to the Red armor, and 1 to you. Red armor comes in lots of 200. Even if you are at 10 health, you effectively have 60.

Point #3: Different grades of armor allow for different qualities of effects. Some can provide more of a reward in certain situations, while others are more situational rewards.

Thus leading into:

Point #4: It allows you to provide more rewards for player exploration. It's a different kind of reward from health, weapons, ammo, and other powerups.

Remember: Quake is not a modern-style hyper-linear FPS. It's more of an adventure game where you shoot people. Rewarding exploration is important, so you need a good set of viable powerups of different qualities. Armor is merely another quality to choose from.

This is why modern FPS games don't use it. They don't need it, since they're very linear games.

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+1 Agreed. Also, out of FPS games, armour is usually a way for the player to tolerate high-powered enemies (damage absorption). –  ashes999 Nov 12 '12 at 2:21
    
+1 Too. Figured I'd add in the mechanics for CS and BF3 as well. In CS, armor acts like mentioned; extra HP to an extent. However, there is also the helmet, which essentially allows you to take 1 bullet to the head without being instantly killed. BF3 has an armor-like perk that lowers the damage of incoming bullets, but is balanced by a bullet damage perk that can be put on guns. –  Orin MacGregor Nov 12 '12 at 13:01
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A lot of good answers, so here's one that restates the situation from a different perspective: Armor lets your health go above 100%. Many games which have armor also have special rare health items that raise your health total to 150 or 200, but generally speaking your health starts at 100, "Healthy," and can only go down from there. Medkits raise it back up to a maximum of 100.

Armor gives the player a chance to increase their combat readiness above their starting state. Having 100 health and armor that mitigates 100 damage gives you 200 effective health, but explains that additional damage-soaking ability in a way that makes sense in the fiction.

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Looking at it from the perspective of non-FPS games (say, RPGs or Roguelikes), you see that armour has two major purposes:

  • Damage absorption (player can tolerate high-damage enemies)
  • Gradation of difficulty

When you have many, many types of armour (like in RPGs), it provides a different gradation of difficulty -- as enemies get stronger, you can trade cash (which is abundant) for incremental armour updates. Beats grinding to level up lots.

In all cases, armour (especially powerful armour) provides damage absorption. If combined with a mechanic like destructable armour, this can create interesting tactical elements -- you search hard for high-powered armour, but it blows up on a horde of weak enemies.

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If game have mechanism that on eg. 50% health character gets some kind of debuff, having more armor or health is something different. And armor in good enough state can provide some kind of buff (eg. reducing damage by constant, improving mobility etc.)

Other aspect (more FPS oriented) is that armor protects only some part of body. So hitting unprotected part (eg. face) can go right to health where hitting torso goes first/partialy to armor.

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This is the point I was going to add... Having armor separate from health (whether your own, or that of creatures you're battling) allows the scenario where certain effects (e.g. poison) ignore armor, and others (e.g. EMP) affect only armor (or shield). –  LarsH Nov 12 '12 at 11:31
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Conceptually, the armor points are considered separate from health points purely to add another perceived element or resource in the game. Mathematically and mechanically speaking, yes, they are identical, but they convey to the player an understandable real-world separation between something that gives the player extra protection (e.g. armor) and something that increases the player's health (e.g. medicine).

It works out because it's expected that armor would wear out over time, or as it takes a beating from damage. Armor value that don't decrease from damage (such as those in RPG games as you mentioned), choose to remove the complication of armor deteriorating over time, probably in order to cut down on the number of elements and values the player needs to keep track of (since there are a lot more statistics and bufs in an RPG compared to an FPS).

Separating the armor from health also gives the option to tweak the damage values exerted on armor vs. health from various damage-dealing elements in the game, if such mechanics are desired.

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It can be a valid argument that this type of mechanic just replicates something that's already there, and as such is superfluous, and I've had a similar discussion with someone relating to ammo (the thrust of which was: beyond a certain level you may as well make ammo infinite as either way you're never going to run out anyway).

However, this does have implications beyond just raw mechanical function.

Armour, and indeed ammo beyond a certain level, serves an additional purpose. It's a form of payoff for the player; they defeat the boss, or find a secret area, or navigate a nasty trap, or whatever you have, and as payoff they get to stockpile up on extra goodies. So it's a risk/reward thing (even if the risk is not always optional) that operates on a psychological level as well as on a purely mechanical one.

Players like getting extra goodies. The specific case of armour that may be mechanically identical to extra health is just a variation on goodies that breaks the monotony of stuffing a map with extra health. Ammo you know the player is never going to use because they already have plenty - so what? It functions on that level as a reward so it does it's job.

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Great answer, something different :) –  jco Nov 12 '12 at 6:01
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When you separate armor and health, you not only add the option of getting more effective health-points, it also adds a new mechanic to work with.

In a shooter game like Unreal-Tournament, you would have ubiquitous health-pickups which heal for 20 points of health and your health is capped at 100. When you're at 100 health, the health-pickups become useless. But, you can effectively double your health by getting armor/shield powerups.

It's clear that this adds more variation and requires some more strategy by the player to keep health and armor at the highest level possible. It also gives map-designers more options to play with. If I recall correctly, armor was scarce in Unreal Tournament and also placed well hidden (hard to reach, you needed to go to areas outside of your usual walking path) or at very exposed areas where you risked to get gunned down before reaching it. So some map designers used it has high-skill/high-reward powerup. It's obvious that this only works with two types of power-ups (health alone wouldn't add this layer of complexity).

So armor isn't just health 2.0. It's a new resource which can be used for more variations in level-design and creates new gameplay strategies.

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