Most of the stories with that kind of 'combining' theme tend to also employ energy weapons, and possibly some equivalent 'energy shielding' as far as defense goes.
If you assume that the way such shielding works is that only damage potential that exceeds the 'shield rating' causes damage... single big hits(and single strong shields) become far more important than the agility of smaller units and ability to attack from multiple fronts. A strong shield won't even notice five different moderate attacks, but if you can combine those attacks into a single really big attack you'll do some damage.
Think of a game combat system where you have a flat damage reduction type protection. Five attacks at strength X do less damage against something with that kind of protection than one attack with strength 5X. The difference is more pronounced the closer the damage reduction gets to X(and for values of damage reduction >= X, you have to 'combine' to do any good).
Well, if we're looking at it as a game combat system, we can use any deus ex machina we like. If you look at most TV/Movie energy shield systems, especially in sci-fi conventions, shielding is usually measured in percentage capacities. Large attacks do more damage, but even small attacks reduce the efficacies of shields, and attacks only get through after the shield is gone, or if the shielding in one area collapses, and before total shield power is redistributed to fill in the gap. In that case, yes, a strong attack might get through and do some damage in an area, but overall you'd be much better off making multiple smaller undeflected attacks that eventually take down the whole shield. Factor in that most of the time, offense is not designed to completely annihilate the enemy, but merely to bring them into submission (most of the time targeted bombing, or even carpet bombing is preferred to nuclear bombing), and you don't usually want to resort to the crushing massive attack that overpowers defenses. Even the Death Star was brought down by a small targeted attack versus trying to blast through defenses, and a small targeted task force was employed to bring down shielding, rather than trying to crush through.
Realistically, flat damage reduction is a convenient shortcut for expedience, and fast calculating. I'll agree that 5 X strengths attacks might distribute damage more than a single 5X attack, but when you're examining standard 'energy shielding' that doesn't seem to matter too much. I want to know the rationalization for such a mechanic, not the management of the effects of it.
A lot of it depends on how realistic one is trying to make the physics(and tactics) in order to explain the world. Most of the instances of the 'combine to increase strength' I can think of are in shows where the typical result the heroes are focusing on is simply destroying the evil giant robot/monster/amoeba in one fell swoop, not disabling it with minimal damage in order to interrogate it/use it for their own purposes. The science of the mechanisms is also far fetched(and simplified enough) that expecting it to operate like game mechanics doesn't seem like a large stretch.
Star Wars and Star Trek have lots of 'the shields are at 60% and falling,' but you don't hear that much if at all in Voltron and Transformers from what I recall.
Also, while it's not exactly operating on the same principles, I can think of at least one Sci Fi shielding technology from a less 'hand wavey' than Voltron/Transformers source that operates on a very boolean system.
Shields from Dune. They either repel things away, or let them through, but never really receive direct damage. They work in a much different way than typical 'defensive shields,' in that they simply deflect away any physical attack moving faster than a certain speed, but allow anything slower to pass. They do not take any sort of damage from repelling things, and there's no overwhelming the shield by striking so fast that it just can't handle it, or to cut the effectiveness of the shields down. Admittedly, there is the fact that the beam weapons from Dune striking the shields from Dune equals the equivalent of a nuclear detonation(both at the source of the beam and at the source of the shield), but that's more of a Achilles heel than the 'our shields have taken too much damage, one more shot and they'll be down' that you're proposing.
The one fell swoop is akin to a tactical nuke. Incredibly effective, but should be a measure of last resort. And yet, they pull it out on almost every freaking episode. It loses impact after a while. Well, not military impact, but you know what I mean. Given how often they pull it out, it almost doesn't make sense to every have the separate pieces; they're almost always ineffectual. The all or nothing system is purely a Saturday morning cartoon principle. Except DragonBall, where it's the ever increasing ridiculous levels of individual power system.
Shields from dune are very much a different system, and such combinatory robots would make even less sense in that universe (especially as the universe promotes more 'organic' methodologies). I also think there's a certain deus ex handwaving going on there to make combat more interesting, and less 'biggest guns wins'. Face it, excepting extreme terrain, modern warfare has little hand-to-hand, which is again made an important element in Herbert's world through those shields.
Remember also that even if lots of attacks degrade the shield, the shield may be regenerating. I am remembering Star Wars here where the shield is shrinking, but because it is constantly renewing itself, one massive wave in unison or one massive attack is needed to break them completely and force the shields to be rebooted.
The first such thing I recall wasn't Voltron, but G-Force. You had one mother ship, and each team member had a separate little vessel. But in order to go all phoenix on the bad guys, all the team members had to be aboard - and that was explained as being dependent on the psionic potentials of the team members, not upon the technology alone.
From there, we really are try8ign to "No-Prize" explanations, but I'll take a stab at it...
First, there is a bit of the square/cube law going on - it should be cheaper to throw a shield around one large thing than five small things, as the one large thing has less surface area than the five smaller things added together.
Next - note that frequently in fiction, shields are not strongly localized. Protective power can be shunted from area to area - like on Star Trek they always threw all the power to the forward shields. So, the upper arm of your big robot can have more shielding than that of the individual vehicle, if the legs are bolstering it while they aren't getting hit themselves, but they'd lack the ability to do that if they were not connected.
This principle can work on attacks as well - while your robo-head isn't doing anything else, it's power can go into the arms or the BigHonkin' Ray Gun.
There's also the idea of multitasking - when you have five individual pilots acting independently, each of them has to do multiple tasks (steer, aim and fire guns, keep track of ammo, watch for incoming attacks, etc.). If you have five people controlling one machine, you can focus tasks - one pilots, another runs the weapon systems, and so on. There's teamwork in flying a squadron, but there's also teamwork in running a single machine.
Yeah, a lot of this jibes with my working theories. I missed the square/cube law, but that makes a fair amount of sense. I definitely admit for the transferrals of power, but again, then you are using up the available energies at a faster rate overall, unless you specifically balance against the square/cube. I did admit that there's definitely the potential that some of the involved participants are better at some things than they are at others, but working as one single unit loses you a lot of tactical ability in favor of strategically overpowering. I'm not sure if the loss of flexibility and the complications of engineering such a system outweigh the benefits of just mass producing/outfitting/training better individual units. Personally, I'd build the one large battleship and supplement with a bunch of smaller destroyers, no?
And the 'multitasking people problem' holds less so for Transformers. Couldn't you just build/program them to be better at the tasks they are weak at? I know given limited processing power you might still have some specialization, but you stand to lose a bunch of that as a single unit.
And you're right about "No-Prize". There's not necessarily a right or wrong answer, and ultimately it doesn't matter. But it's fun to bandy about.
It's DRM, actually. All the cool weapons features are there and usable without being locked together, but they won't operate without the secret key found in the other weapons. They just want to force you to collect them all!
Yeah, some sort of security system did occur to me. I mean, if you have _vastly_ superior technology, and you are in a long term struggle, you want to keep it out of enemy hands. The reality is that eventually the enemy will capture something, so by only keeping a piece here and a piece there, you can forestall the arms race. Even now we struggle to keep nuclear technology out of the hands of many nations.
It could be that there is no reason(tactically, strategically or scientifically) for it in the world.
The reason is cultural. Or to put it in other words, it's a Galaxy Quest situation. The designers of the system in question saw TV shows/heard tall tales or whatnot that operated like that. And it sounded neat. So that's how they built it.
2008-03-11 04:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Another take...
This is the same reason that all human-shaped robots have super-strength and durability, compared to a normal human. As opposed to in the real-world, where they tend to be pathetically weak and delicate.
2008-03-11 05:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Another take...
Maybe they were modeling super robots after Ultraman.
Edited at 2008-03-11 05:28 pm (UTC)
2008-03-11 05:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Another take...
Right, Ockham's Razor.
Edited at 2008-03-11 05:28 pm (UTC)
Awww... I thought "megamaid" was going to be a super-mermaid of some kind. Bummer.
Nope, a Spaceballs reference.
Ah, right. I remember that now.
The thing that always puzzled me about those things (Voltron in particular), was who controlled the assembled entity? If the whole "teamwork is good" thing is born out, then they were somehow operating the combined bot cooperatively. Can you imagine that? Seems super-awkward. They'd pretty much need some kind of telepathic gestalt to work in a remotely efficient manner, which they demonstrably did not have. And even if that's true, what, exactly, was the guy who formed the torso doing? Controlling Voltron's facial expressions?
If, on the other hand, only the guy in the head/torso segment was controlling the combined form, what were the others around for? Once the big robot was formed, they were basically just passengers in that case, so there's no good reason for the robot to be separated in the first place. After all, its not like they were EVER able to defeat the big enemy with the components unjoined. They ALWAYS fought it in parts, were outmatched, made Voltron, and kicked butt. Seems to me it would have been much more efficient to just do the Voltron thing right off, and end things quickly. Fire the other 3 largely useless guys and get the princess back in her pink dresses behind safe walls where she belongs as the heir to the throne, and leave Keith to do his business.