Weapons of Awesome Power – 2009

Most games that have contemporary-style guns have a few standbys in their arsenal… Sure the fiction and exact models might be different, but the “staple” weapons appear again and again. Pistol, machinegun, shotgun… The interesting thing about this is that we can compare these weapons side-by-side, and through this method we can get insight into what makes a gun feel like the implement of destruction that we all want it to be.

I first wrote about these weapons and compared them in this article, but it became a point of interest for me. As games fall into genres and technology differences between games shrink, you can truly get a apples-to-apples comparison between them.

In this section of the site, I’d like to present a number of weapons and allow people to give their own sense of how they stack up against each other.


In each, I took shots of the weapon firing at a surface, and follow with shooting at a “common” opponent. The choice of a “common” opponent is arbitrary (and sometimes driven by convenience when I was capturing footage), but suffice it to say that I wanted to choose an enemy that the player was going to face frequently with a given weapon. A few of these weapons also have “upgrades” that make them more effective, but I wanted to provide feedback on how the weapon would be seen upon first picking it up… will the player be glad he did? Will he or she keep using it because it’s just awesome?

The quality of some of the footage isn’t awesome because of some incredibly dark areas in some of these games, but you should get the idea. I’ll continue to post better versions of these weapons as time progresses.


For each weapon, I examine several different elements that contribute to a sense of power:

  • Gun Visuals: This refers to the visual effect of the weapon’s muzzle flash and bullet trail, and the animation of the weapon itself firing. It is the first thing people think of when they consider how the gun looks and feels.
  • Sound Effects: Obviously this refers to the audio of the weapon, from the firing to the impact sounds, if appropriate. It can be tough to balance a sense of “power” in the sound without overdoing it, since the player may hear this same sound thousands of times… if it sounds like Zeus himself leveling mountains, you’ll quickly feel like you’re playing a cartoon.
  • Effect on Environment: This includes the visual impact of the bullet on a wall or floor, as well as environmental shifts such as lighting. It is important because the results of stray bullets reinforce the player’s sense of having an impact on their environment and that they have a potent weapon.
  • Effect on Opponent: A very important category, this refers to the visual impact on an enemy, and how the enemy reacts to being shot. This is critical to give the player feedback that he is successfully damaging the foe.
  • Combat Effectiveness: This is a highly subjective category that is mostly driven by the overarching goals of the game’s arsenal, but worth mentioning. When a weapon is inaccurate or ineffective, it may be such because of an overabundance of ammunition for it, or perhaps the fact that it is designed for certain situations or opponents. It doesn’t change the fact that a wussy weapon can be irritating and simply avoided by frustrated players.

This isn’t about making a stink and ranking one weapon over another, but I do believe there’s value in calling out specific guns that show better in some categories than others.  If this were truly about rating a weapon wholesale, it would only be fair to consider how appropriately it fits into the game’s fiction and compliments its entire arsenal… I might also have to be more fair considering the technical capabilities of each game’s engine, since some guns are over ten years old.

Instead, we can talk about their choices and speak briefly about whether they aid or hamper a sense of power.

Movie Pistols (Coming soon!)

More Power, Mister Scott!

To summarize, if you to give me that awesome feeling when I pick up a weapon in a shooter, these are the things I look for:

  • A nice sized, white-hot muzzle flash effect, with a small amount of lingering smoke. Not so much as to obscure what I’m shooting at, though.
  • Good localized world lighting emanating from my weapon.
  • A recoil animation that pulls back significantly, but doesn’t pull back so far that the muzzle flash isn’t pointed at the target.
  • A bit of screen shake for more powerful weapons.
  • Sound effects with a sharp attack and a nice tail (“echo”). If the weapon is automatic, make the tail enough that they blend the various shots together into a “growl”.
  • Wall impacts that impart a lot of dust (or sparks vs. metal) and loose nice, visible, unrealistic chunks of wall.
  • Impact decals that are at least the size of a fist, and more specifically can be seen up to 10 feet.
  • Enemy impacts marked with a significant splash of blood, a size that equals perhaps 1/3 of the body.
  • Enemy hit reactions whenever possible, and always with a shotgun. If it is possible to give the enemy’s body a jerk without disrupting his ability to act (see Half Life 2), use that.
  • An enemy that dies from a gunshot should not crumple straight to the ground, but be knocked back slightly from a pistol kill, and significantly from a shotgun kill.
  • An enemy’s death should be marked by a distinctive scream or other sound so that they know when the opponent is down, even if he continues to ragdoll upright for a period of time.
  • The more inaccuracy you impart on your gun, the more important the visibility of your hits need to be, so that the player doesn’t assume they are scoring hits when they are not. Regardless, avoid excessive inaccuracy in any gun to avoid frustration.