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Tools of Destruction: creating the perfect shooter firearm

Watfen64 Sep 03, 2015. 3 comments

Shooters are a dime and dozen these days. Each and every one of them gives the player a chance to be let loose in a virtual environment and riddle hostile NPCs with lead, laser, plasma, electricity, and all kinds of ammunition imaginable. It’s a simple but addictive delight that can keep the player busy for hours on end, especially if said player had a really tough day and needs something satisfying to unwind.

In the case of shooters, that satisfaction mostly comes from wielding firearms that can make short work of your foes. But if those weapons look frail, sound muffled, and feel like shaking a limp hand, then obviously you’re going to have a pretty mundane and unexciting time.

Games are all about expression, and an excellent shooter has to allow the player to effectively express himself/herself by making him/her feel like an unstoppable force of nature. It sounds easy in theory, but in practice the attempt can backfire if the player can’t get the true satisfaction of blasting enemies to pieces.

That is why it is important to consider the issue of the firearm, the portable apparatus that can be the source of sweet (and graphic) shooter memories. When designed and built in a proper fashion, the gun can become a weapon of mass destruction that can potentially turn a good shooter into a great one.

I shall develop my argument by listing the four most important elements that can constitute a great firearm and, when combined, give the gun a unique and powerful identity of its own. For each element, I’m going to give you an example of a weapon/game that gets that particular aspect right.

1) Look

Gaming is an art form that relies heavily on its visual presentation to make a very good first impression. This means that anything that’s introduced and shown onscreen must give the player the positive feeling that he/she is in for one heck of an experience. That same philosophy can be applied to the weapons that the player will wield in a shooter. Size, build, design, and components are just some of the things that the developer has to take into consideration when crafting a gun and trying to make it look powerful and deadly.

The Harbinger G290 from Syndicate is a great example of a gun that looks the part. This massive multi-barrel minigun has the ability to rip enemies to shreds with just a few armor-piercing rounds, and the weapon’s chunky and meaty design certainly reinforces that fact. The rapidly rotating barrels, bright muzzle flash and daunting-looking recoil only add to the firearm’s lethal and destructive nature. When you combine all of these different characteristics, you end up with a gun that’s worthy of its foreboding name.

When playing a shooter, the player should feel like he/she is striking fear into the eyes of his/her virtual opponents, and one of the best ways to accomplish that feat is by giving the player access to weapons that look intimidating enough to give the player a good idea of the chaos he/she is about to cause in a matter of seconds. Looks can certainly kill, and gaming firearms are no exception.

2) Sound

Of course, a firearm shouldn’t just look the part: it must also get the audio aspect to a tee. Sound plays a key role in immersing the player into the game world, and providing sonorous weapons is one way of drawing and keeping the player’s attention. In fact, great-sounding firearms are more likely to be used by the player than poor-sounding ones, simply because the former does a much better job of replicating the thunderous and booming gunfire the player expects from a finely-crafted gun.

One game that nails the audio quality of its weapons is Black. Each and every weapon in the game, including the pistols, sounds like it packs a distinctly devastating and whopping punch when fired thanks to the way Criterion Games implemented its “choir of guns” concept. And that’s without mentioning the sleek-sounding reload and equip sound effects. Hearing such sounds is enough to send shivers down your spine if you happen to be on the wrong end of the gun.

An incredible soundscape has the ability to bring a game’s virtual world to life and keep the player invested into the experience. Shooters that feature larger-than-life weapons can achieve a similar effect by making their firearms sound like the judgement of the (gaming) gods. That way, the game can evoke the empowering feeling the player seeks from his/her playing experience.

3) Feel

Speaking of feeling, the third (and trickiest) element that makes or breaks a gaming firearm is how the gun in question feels in the hands of the player. Everything from the way enemies react to your bullets to the animation and handling of the gun can affect the way the firearm feels when it’s being used. In fact, the gun and the way it feels are very similar to each other: they’re all made of several components that work together to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts.

F.E.A.R.’s shotgun epitomizes the feeling of wielding an incredibly damaging boomstick. The recoil and stopping power combine to create a deadly tool that can send enemies flying into the air or, if they’re unlucky, dismember them in the bloodiest and most graphic way possible. The gun truly feels that powerful and, when combined with F.E.A.R.’s slow-mo mechanic and dazzling gunplay, can produce some of the most satisfying shootouts a player can get out of a shooter.

A shooter should waste no time making the player feel like an unstoppable killing machine, and this can be accomplished by making the guns feel appropriately lethal. Getting it right is no easy task due to the multifaceted nature of the gun’s feel and how it correlates with the actual components of the gun itself. But when tweaked properly, a firearm can become an incredibly memorable tool of destruction.

4) Special attribute

The fourth and final element that can potentially make the gaming firearm worth using is that “little something” that gives the gun a unique trait that piques the player’s interest. This can be anything from a weapon attachment to an alternate firing mode that compels the player to “let her rip”. Whatever it is, it must serve a gameplay purpose, and it must do so with flair and finesse. This characteristic can encompass the three elements I’ve previously listed, and alter the in-game situation to make it more engaging.

Take, for instance, the Seeker Rifle from Singularity . At its core, this long-range firearm is a neat-looking sniper rifle that happens to shoot explosive rounds. But the real delight comes from using the gun’s alternate firing mode, which allows the player to essentially steer his/her bullets. This changes the player’s combat approach, and turns the act of shooting enemies at a distance into an extremely empowering experience. In short, the Seeker Rifle is a blast to wield, all thanks to its special characteristics.

Giving the player access to a unique firearm is a great way of keeping things varied and interesting in the long term, especially if said firearm allows for more combat strategies and tactics. This is something that the developer has to keep in mind when designing a gun that’s out of the ordinary and/or possesses a noteworthy function. Such guns can potentially break the monotony that might arise in the playing experience.


So designing guns is one thing. Designing great guns is a whole different story. Since gaming firearms are made of several elements that affect their appeal to the player, the developer has to be extra careful with how he/she approaches each and every characteristic. All of the elements I’ve listed work together to create a lethal tool that can be the source of incredible gaming moments and become the go-to weapon for most players who wish to get the feeling of empowerment they expect from their games. That’s something a well-designed firearm can easily achieve.

Let me know what you think of the reasons I’ve listed above, and feel free to share your opinion with me or ask me questions! I’ll do my best to reply to your comments and messages.

NOTE: This article originally appeared on Gamasutra.

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