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.