Weapons of Awesome Power

Creating powerful combat and weaponry has always been something I’ve felt strongly about.  I’ve written a few times about it in the past.  Here’s an overview, or download the PAX Dev slides or rate weapons by clicking the links on the right.

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Guns Should be Easy

When you’re making a game, you’d think that creating a compelling gun would be easy… After all, guns are real, scary, dangerous things that you can hold in your hands, take to the gun range, record, and then BAM! recreate in the studio. A lot of novice game makers start with that assumption but the result is almost always disappointing.

The Escalation of Media

As time marched on from old film noir to modern-day adventures, weaponry has become the victim of inflation. Gunshots became cannon blasts and grenades moved towards mini-nukes. Since most gamers have had their expectations set by movies and TV, a realistic gun can seem disappointing if recreated realistically.

Pistol Montage

One of the best tools for truly understanding what makes a weapon feel impactful for the player is by comparing similar weapons from different games side-by-side. Here you can get a grasp for differences between:

  • The View Weapon
  • Muzzle effects
  • Environment effects
  • Enemy effects
  • The Audio Experience
  • Gameplay

Shotgun Montage

Shotguns are one of the most impactful weapon types in any game arsenal.  However, they also vary more than just about any other weapon type.

Machinegun Montage

For the purposes of this talk, I lumped together any automatic weapon, whether it is a submachine gun, assault rifle, or even a support machine gun. They tend to stand up against each other since each game has their own way of conveying the rhythm of the attacks, the effect on enemies, and the audioscape.

Muzzle Effects

The most gratifying muzzle effects in game weapons tend to have:

  • A white-hot core
  • A pleasing shape
  • Interesting motion and particles
  • Distinct world lighting
  • Screenshake (only when appropriate)

2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was incredible at these.

The Audio Experience

A great audio experience is critical to an impactful weapon and combat gameplay. A great weapon needs distinctive primary and secondary sound effects, savvy knowledge of loudness and priority (or even HDR audio) as well as a great interplay with the environment or world.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has some great audio to show.

Environmental Feedback

Great environmental feedback gives the player a strong sense of how they are affecting the world as well as giving them the satisfaction that they are leaving their mark. This includes:

  • Bullet impacts on walls and floor
  • Environment damage
  • Evidence of player activity (moved items, activated world items, blood, etc)

F.E.A.R. 2 has an exemplary demonstration of this.

Enemy Feedback

Registering the player’s attacks on an opponent is nearly as important as what the weapon does itself when it comes to delivering a feel to players. It’s critical to communicate to players when their attacks are hitting home versus when they are ineffective. This includes:

  • Bullet impacts on enemies
  • Pain animations or “bullet dance”
  • Death animations that are clear when they start
  • Avoiding the feeling that you are fighting a “bag of hit points”

Rage is full of incredible animated reactions from their characters: varied, fluid and satisfying.


As first-person shooter developers worked to deliver more bombastic experiences in the early 2000’s, there started to be a upsurge in blood and gore in games. Series such as Soldier of Fortune chose that as their “thing” and doubled down on it… Perhaps you could argue that it was almost pushing towards the point of comedy. But in the end, it was a strong stylistic choice and a vehicle to provide players a feeling of impact in the world.

For a while it appeared that this was where games were going, but in the ensuing ten years, there have been a great deal of fantastically powerful-feeling games that don’t resort to blood and gore. Blood will continue to be present in games but it’s important to understand that it isn’t the only way to achieve these goals.



One thought on “Weapons of Awesome Power”

  1. Fantastic set of examples to use for comparison – I like that you included the movie evolution for comparison as well.

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