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TitusVorenus's Avatar

04.21.2012 , 01:38 PM | #1
What follows is intended as a sober, mature discussion on the nature of Bioware's armor designs. This is not a QQ thread. This is not a "Ya screw Bioware they are teh sux!" thread. This is not a "I love WoW" thread. If you can't bother to take the time to read, then don't bother posting "TLDR" because it does not make you "cool".

Many of us--certainly what seems to be by all means a very large majority--are very disappointed with the designs for the PvP and PvE endgame armor sets. Almost all of them are ostentatious, with dramatic spikes or horns or other fluff and coming in a bewildering array of bright colors. In this respect, it seems clear that Bioware's design team--for all the other cool-looking things they've come up with--has overreached in their creativity, not necessarily out of malice but certainly, it seems, out of ignorance.

From another thread:

The whole draw of Star Wars, at least conceptually, was that it was specifically designed as a "lived-in universe" or a "used universe". Up to that point virtually all science fiction was depicted as clean and shiny and looking as if it had been built the day before, while the Star Wars universe is dirty and grungy and despite its futuristic nature holds an undeniable logic in its design. Contrast, for example, the various iterations of the Enterprise from Star Trek--which is invariably pretty and spotless--against the beat-up, grimey X-Wings and Y-Wings of the Rebel Alliance. Rebel troopers wear white on Hoth and green/brown on Endor because Hoth is white and Endor is green/brown; they're not catassing around in neon orange or yellow.

That's why these 1.2 designs--almost all of which are ludicrously over-the-top--are so jarring and seem so out of place: it's because they are out of place. The aesthetic is completely wrong, and the designers have really, really missed the mark here.
The exact terminology used by George Lucas--and whatever you feel about him, he is undeniably where the buck stops in regards to Star Wars-- was the "used future". The "used future", as this article explains, is

"...a future that was meant to be experienced as reality rather than fantasy. The Star Wars future was not showroom shiny but dented and rusty, as if it had hard use on the back roads on innumerable galaxies. Lucas told an interviewer during production in England that the Apollo casules may have looked brand new when they soared away, but it was clear when they returned that the interior was littered with candy wrappers, empty Tang cans, and other trash, just like the family station wagon."
The article goes on with this image of the Millenium Falcon--"What a piece of junk!"--and crumpled-up scrap metal, along with this excerpt from artist John Powers:

A flying saucer had never been a slum before. The immaculate silver sheen of the saucer was reinvented as a dingy Dumpster full of boiler parts, dirty dishes, and decomposing upholstery. Lucas’s visual program not only captured the stark utopian logic that girded modern urban planning, it surpassed it.
And, straight from Mr. Lucas himself:

“I was working very hard to keep everything nonsymmetrical. Nothing looks like it belongs with anything else.... It’s a very common thing in science fiction to see a set that has one influence. Everything matches. The chairs match the table, match the rug, match the design of the doors, match the door handle, match the lamps. I wanted it to look like one thing came from one part of the galaxy and another from another part of the galaxy.”

A man who--brilliantly--understood precisely what Mr. Lucas was going for was, of course, the legendary late Ralph McQuarrie--and it is obvious that he understood it from the very beginning, as the stunning slideshow on this page shows. As a separate article explains:

McQuarrie’s great achievement with his Star Wars designs, and his enduring legacy for all of science fiction, was his pioneering of the “used future” aesthetic. Whereas most previous sci-fi — from the borderline camp of Star Trek to the experimental visions of 2001: A Space Odyssey — featured environments that were scrubbed clean, brightly lit, often monochromatic, and generally antiseptic, McQuarrie’s “used future” designs for Star Wars imagined a lived-in galaxy that was gritty, dirty, and in advance states of decay. In short, the perfect home for ever more freaky forms of scum and villainy. And, yet because of his laser-focused attention to that Galaxy Far, Far Away’s grainy details, McQuarrie’s Star Wars concept art also possesses an element of surrealism. One famous design, showing prototype versions of C-3PO and R2-D2 against the craggy Jundland Wastes of Tatooine, best exemplifies his style: strongly geometric subjects rendered in muted colors against a flat, purposefully compressed backdrop. A McQuarrie Star Wars design looks like what would have resulted if Salvador Dali had sketched concepts for Universal’s 1936 Flash Gordon serial by way of Sergio Leone’s Old West.
McQuarrie's designs are not only starkly beautiful, but because they hold such a strong sense of "realism" it is immediately obvious what everything is when you see it. An X-Wing--a super-fantastical exaggeration of period jet fighter design design--could be nothing else than a starfighter. The Imperial Star Destroyer immediately says "battleship" because it was influenced by First World War battleships. Imperial uniforms are modeled after German designs from both World Wars; both the design and the heavy use of feldgrau (or "field-gray") obviously signifies them as "the bad guys", even if we're not consciously aware of it. As previously mentioned, Rebel soldiers wear white on Hoth because it is a snowy, icy environment and green/brown on Endor because it is a forested environment. Even stormtrooper armor has its own inherent logic: they're supposed to be scary, intimidating, and soulless. (It's worth pointing out that, though it's not obvious in the movies, stormtroopers are not actually the base footsoldiers of the Imperial Army--they're a separate organization, and supposed to represent an elite).

The upshot of all this is that, for all its fantastical nature, everything in Star Wars is firmly grounded in a form of reality, allowing us to accept them without a second thought because things just look the way they're "supposed" to. We can see ourselves piloting an X-Wing, or running around on a battlefield in stormtrooper armor.

But these designs from Bioware? What idiot is going to run around a battlefield filled with laser beams and walking tanks in bright yellow or orange--and not get exhausted because the armor is the size of a small car? How can a Jedi and a Sith (who, mind you, are almost always depicted wearing nothing more than simple robes) be expected to have a kinetic duel with each other when they can't see anything and they're worried about their oversized helmets falling off? We don't believe in the designs because the designs aren't believable.

incidentally, I will point out that we shouldn't be too harsh on Bioware, because they are only following industry precedent in making their designs ever more over-the-top and fanciful. Knights are always running around in full Gothic armor when they mostly looked like this. As a military historian and historical reenactor (I'll point out that you can trust me when I say that armor is already heavy enough as it is, it does not need to be made heavier for the sake of miscellaneous doodads), I always find it appalling and disappointing--especially because there are so many existing looks in the historical record which look so much better. Consider, for example, these two accurate depictionsof an elite, wealthy triarius and a younger, poorer hastatus from a Republican Roman legion (respectively). Don't they already look awesome? Do they really need to be made "moar 1337"?

But I digress.

I think what's most disappointing about these crazy designs is that so many other places in the game, Bioware nails it. All the starships look like they belong, from the high-tech prototype Agent ship to the beat-up Trooper one. From levels 1-49 Jedi and Sith run around in robes and Troopers run around in clean, efficient armor--contrasted with the more garish, but still clearly functional, armor of Bounty Hunters. We interact with Imperial NPC's wearing neofascist uniforms, and we fight Republic soldiers in sleek body armor.

But all that changes at level 50. Yes, we can now--thankfully--swap out mods (though not, of course, for ugly Recruit gear, which for many people who can't afford or don't want to grind warzones is the best armor they can get), but that is prohibitively expensive to do and it still does not excuse the appalling designs of the gear itself. Bioware's design team needs to get back to the nitty-gritty, not the ridiculous.

I said it before, and I will say it again:
We don't believe in the designs because the designs aren't believable.

Thank you for your time.
The Former Dalexeo Cobja of Starsider
Vorenus Faustus--Vanguard, Helm of Graush
Sygnus Faustus--Scoundrel, Helm of Graush
Vorbeck--Sniper, Ven Zallow