Secrets of Great Game Design: Weapons and Tools

Ringtail Studios Weapons

As artists, modelers, and co-developers we’ve learnt a lot about the artistic side of game design. There are so many aspects of game design that covering even a fraction in one article would be impossible. Instead, we’ve decided to tackle a few of these elements one at a time. And where better to start than in the tools we put in our players hands. We’ll touch on more than weapons as well, as many games don’t have violent conflict, but for the most part, we’ll set our sights on weapons that aim to take out our players’ enemies.

So, when it comes to designing and creating the tools in your players hands, what’s a few things to keep in mind? There’s a few obvious ones, they have to look and feel cool. They must be fit for purpose and they often must reflect the character or faction they represent. In our own internal competitions, like the ‘Defender Turret’, we have clear set rules for what the weapon or machine must be used for. This is because its purpose and character define its look and feel.

 

Why are Weapons Important?

Weapons, and tools by extension, are reflections of our characters. Our noble knight uses a regal shield and sword. This represents both defence and offence, the character is as much a protector as an attacker. That tells us who they are and how they are different from the great-axe wielding warrior who clearly has no time for defence.

John Wick, for a more contemporary example, is slick and stylish. But he’s also brutally efficient. His weapons reflect that, they are clean and simple but often heavily modified. They speak of a killer who has done this so many times that he has customised every element of his work to his preference. He treats killing almost like an electrician treats wiring a plug. And his efficiency is shown outside his iconic pistol, his use of any object or item nearby tells us of his lethality even when ‘unarmed’.

We’ve talked before about meeting AAA standards for 3D characters and we will always double down that characterisation is absolutely integral for a successful project. Even single-lane shooters need some kind of character to feel for or root for. And the characters we come to know, love, and hate, define our investment in the game and its narrative.

 

What to Consider When Designing a Weapon

The points made so far are for weapons and tools fit for a single character or archetype. Instead, how do you go about designing a weapon for a group of players or a faction?

Narrative always holds a place of attention, whether that be a singular character’s narrative or the larger narrative at play. Like our work on Generation Zero, every weapon and item designed has a story behind it. If we are designing for the machines, we are looking at more advanced technology than is available to the players. But the machines are still limited by the late 1970’s timeframe. This serves the narrative of being advanced and more efficient than any player item but still bound by the story we live in.

Alternatively, the players weapons and gear are designed with a scavenging mentality. The weapons created by our artists and modelers are a hodgepodge of scavenged and gathered parts. In many places, our artists took existing objects from the game and cannibalised them to create new items. A great example of this is using a destroyed machine’s head as the sensor, the flamethrower from another, and then attach it to a horizontal bike wheel. And just like that, you have an automatic sentry turret that is portable! The key, which our artists cannot stress enough, is that weapons are a fantastic avenue for characterisation and storytelling.

Not every gun and knife needs to tell a story, most modern shooters don’t do it. But for many other titles, weapons and tools serve as insights into a character. Need an easy way to make a villain look cruel and unforgiving? Give them a weapon that reflects it! A foul stalking archer that hunts the player could use barbed and hooked arrows and plenty of gruesome traps that rely on the player’s kinder instincts.

To summarise, consider your character or user of the weapon or tool. Consider your world and your narrative. And always think about what the weapon might say about the one who wields it. Keep an eye on our blogs for more insights into game design, co-development, and art outsourcing services!

If you’d like to add some high quality 3D services to your project, we’d love to hear from you. Whether you need art, animation, or co-development services, we can provide stellar results at any level. And if you’d like to consider a career in the gaming industry, check out our career page!