Young, Dumb and Ready to Gun

In my younger years, I couldn’t purchase the next triple-a first person shooter [FPS] quick enough and most of the time I would purchase them without reading a single review. All it would take was a Michael Bay like game trailer with explosions and in-game footage of heavy firefights to convince me I needed to buy the advertised game.

What it took to sale a game to me in the mid to late 90s was fairly simple. To get me to spend a little money all you had to do was make sure the FPS was visually appealing, show that visually appealing aspect in a trailer and make sure when people/monsters died, they died with plenty of giblets (giblets in the video game world are the chunks of body parts that are the repercussion of you, the player, shooting a person/monster – see video below). It also didn’t hurt to be a FPS game with gun heavy box art that was conveniently positioned next to a triple-A shooter that had an “oh shit” trailer – it would get purchased merely by association.

My haphazard purchasing based off game trailers with a nice pair of fake tits (i.e. visually appealing) and triple-a marketing showmanship came to an abrupt end with the purchase of the now infamous Daikatana. Daikatana was John Romero’s personal baby. Coming off his successes with id Software and the likes of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, John Romero started his own development company  Ion Storm. Daikatana was supposed to be the first blockbuster game out of Ion Storm’s Dallas office (finally released in May 2000 after the initial plans of releasing Holidays 1997) and was meant to be their flagship, instead it was the torpedo that started their company to take on water. A marketing campaign started to tout the game as the second coming and journalist got caught up in the hype. For me, it was another potentially exciting shooter that I wanted to get my hands on and create giblets with. It ended up being the game that instigated a change in my buying habits. It was a dated looking game once it came out, the enemy and sidekick AI was horrid and frustrating (see video below) and the game just wasn’t any fun.

Looking back, Daikatana served a much greater purpose than just being a disappointment. It demonstrated to the gaming world, and especially to the reporters who worked in it, that hype could poison their industry too. It also sparked change to how the gaming  industry did their marketing and increased the appreciation of game critics amongst gamers. The most relatable change, however, was the one it had on me. I became a more sophisticated purchaser of CPU games and I also started to delve deeper into the video game world of critics, E3s and gaming publications. Daikatana, one of the hugest disappointments in video game history, made me a better PC gamer.

Soon after the Daikatana failure there was a shift in how games where presented to the potential gaming public. Commercials became smarter, funnier and better at capturing the attention of the young and old. The first game I noticed to market in a new and exciting way was Diablo II from Blizzard. Its commercials (see below) were more than just a Michael Bay trailer and the story aspects of the game were focused on creating interest without having to show giblets and death set to heavy metal music. Daikatana may have sucked more than Tonya Harding at the Olympics but at least it served a greater purpose in its failure.

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Pew! Pew! Lasers!: Enjoyable in-game weapons

You see the head of the opposing player’s avatar explode like a peanut butter, jelly and Black Cat sandwich. The body crumples to floor with a hilarious, yet accurate, ragdoll effect. Pwned*! But there is an emptiness after the kill. You feel somewhat disconnected from the shot and the corresponding avatars death. You are suffering from what I call Weapon Disassociation; the disconnect between your in-game weapon and its resulting impact on the environment and/or foe.

What makes a good in-game weapon? What cures you of weapon disassociation? In-game weapons need to effectively present appearance; sound associated with the weapon’s usage; and provide visually accurate/corresponding feedback when fired. Another aspect less important to being an effective in-game weapon is the correct correlation between the gun and the character using it; unless drastic dichotomy is the desired effect – Who wouldn’t like to see a smurf with a machine gun?

Machine Gun Smurf

The dichotomy works.

A FPS [First Person Shooter] relies heavily on its protagonist’s arsenal. If the player is left empty by the weapon and its feedback then no storyline, even if scripted by Tom Clancy, can save it. A first-rate (released in 1997) example of a weapon taking advantage of all of the aforementioned characteristics can be seen in Quake II’s, from Id Software, grenade launcher. It looks like a “fired from the hip” weapon capable of lobbing death grenades. It provides visual feedback that links well with the ammo being fired and the sound, oh the sound, is spot on for a grenade being plopped out of a tube. The resulting area of impact explosion is not spectacular but captures the desired effect with simplicity. Simplicity, that is how Quake II’s grenade launcher achieves success. Pthunk! Pthunk! Jump to the 1 minute mark below to see this success in action.

You want to hear, feel and see the impact of the weapon you fire and you want it to be believable unless, the desired effect is to be ridiculous – like the opposite of a Smurf with a machine gun. A fine example of a ridiculous in-game weapon comes from the PC classic Armed and Dangerous, created by Planet Moon Studios and released by LucasArts in 2003 – the Land Shark Gun (video below).

So to avoid weapon disassociation, a rocket launcher shouldn’t go ping! and a laser shouldn’t go bong! unless humor is the desired outcome. This all leads into next weeks A.D.D. approachable post, my top 10 in-game weapons.

*Pwn[ed] is a leetspeak term derived from the verb own, as meaning to appropriate or to conquer.