Overthinking It: Thermal Clips in Mass Effect
Now that the Spoiler Warning crew have completed their playthrough of Mass Effect 3 I have gotten into a bit of a contemplative mood. I was watching Smudboy’s analysis of the entirety of Mass Effect 3 in regards to its faults and flaws, and though he didn’t touch on them directly (he might have in other videos I’ve yet to watch) it led me down the path of thinking about thermal clips.
I have a bit of history with the military, and either way stuff like this has a tendency to fascinate me. Now I will state up front that I largely understand the gameplay reasons for thermal clips, I just wish they had been better explained in-canon as well. And perhaps functioned more sensibly. So let’s dive into this mess and see how far ‘too far’ will take us.
Everyone who played the first Mass Effect probably remember that guns didn’t have ammo clips. Instead they contained a block of matter that got teeny, tiny bits sliced off and launched using mass effect fields so a bit the size of a grain of sand could impact like a slug. Naturally this created some heat from the friction, so guns needed to cool off after being fired, while they had virtually infinite ammunition.
This was fine in my book. It was annoying how firing a single shot with a sniper rifle tended to put you into cooldown mode immediately, but that was a way to achieve a certain pace in combat. Could it be improved? Most likely. So Bioware did what they did with most stuff that could use some improvement from Mass Effect 1: Throw it out the window and come up with something new (and not necessarily better). See: Inventory system, Mako, leveling system and even the conversation system when we got to Mass Effect 3. Enter the thermal clips.
They did have some justification for this, if I recall. Something about how the Geth had come up with a more efficient way of dispensing with the heat created from weaponry using disposable heat sinks (even though they didn’t use that in ME1, and it’s unclear how everyone else in the galaxy got a hold of this technology), and it got adopted as the galaxy standard. This does make some sense. It’s a neat idea, since having a way to instantly dispel all the heat in a gun has a lot of uses. I’d just go so far as to say it could have been implemented better.
See, the reason that heat is bad for weapons is that overheating has a tendency to deform the metal, so weapons can at best be inaccurate and at worst backfire. In the Norwegian army we used the MG-3 as the General Purpose Machinegun, and it was a beast. With 7.62 x 51 mm rounds, fired at a rate of up to 22 rounds a second, its barrel would get massively warm. The rule was that every 200 rounds the barrel would be popped out and laid aside to cool, while a new, cold barrel would be slid into place and firing could continue.
Because heat does indeed dissipate over time. Something the thermal clips seem to ignore completely. Okay, I understand that if you actually use it up to the limit, you kinda need to eject it to avoid damaging the weapon. There’s however no reason why the ejected clips can’t be picked up and put aside for later; when they’re cool again. Regular combat gloves and some special pouches to store the warm clips in would be all that’s needed. Combat gear has lots of pouches, belts and even a harness normally, so I’m sure they could find somewhere to attach them.
You’d likely not be picking up hot clips while you’re in combat anyway, unless you were really desperate, so by the time you were done they’d likely be cold enough to handle fairly safely. I mean, even if they’re designed to work like thermoses and contain the heat, that would also mean they wouldn’t get too hot on the outside, but why would you design them like that? The only reason would be if you had people who went over battlefields, collected the spent clips, and took them to special heat discharge units. If not they’d simply dissipate on their own, and quite quickly considering their size.
Which also makes me think that even while still attached to guns, the clips should slowly cool down. So if you ended a battle and had just one, two or like half of the ’rounds’ left on the clip, it would start ‘recharging’, as it were, so you could use it for more shots by the start of the next battle.
Though perhaps it’s not common etiquette for the soldiers themselves to collect cooled off clips. Maybe there actually are people who go over battlefields afterwards and collect everything they can find. This would both cut production costs and time, and explain why Shephard wouldn’t collect the spent clips herself. None of this is actually mentioned though, no matter how much I wish it was. So I have to resort to these overthinking sessions.
As a final note: If I was in charge of logistics on the Normandy, I would offer each soldier an old-style weapon as a backup just in case they run out of thermal clips on the battlefield. Or heck, maybe some of them actually prefer the old-style ones. For a game series that was supposed to be about choice, we weren’t given that much. Or even better, as a weapon manufacturer, I would have made weapons that could incorporate thermal clips for faster heat dissipation, but that could also function without them if need be.
I’m guessing the simple answer here is that the developers just didn’t put that much thought into it, and it’d probably be quite tricky to implement even if they did. But if you want to pay me to overthink your concepts, game developers, then feel free to contact me.