Friday, July 4, 2008

Interplay....Gunplay

Ever since I first started writing about interplay, I've been obsessed with it. As far as I'm concerned, the more interplay the better (as long as the game stays true to the established forms and functions). So I've been thinking about the shooting function in games. Whether the ammunition is infinite energy balls or wall piercing bullets suitable for modern warfare, the interplay of guns (or gunplay) is under investigation.

For the purposes of this investigation, I'm considering all projectile based attacks as guns. Naturally, this includes anything from a bow and arrow to Megaman/Samus' charge shot. As a critical-gamer I'm far more concerned with how a projectile/gun functions in a game than how it looks.

Because guns are such a destructive, accurate, and indirect weapon, games with projectiles have a hard time creating interplay. Without much interplay, it's even harder for such games to create deep gameplay experiences especially without resorting to using abstract mechanics. A few common unfortunate side effects of games with guns are...
  • head shot-head shot-reload
  • spaaaaam (hold the fire button and move around)
  • The FPS Shuffle: two players using any combination of crouching, jumping, and circle strafing while shooting each other until one dies.
  • Frequent check points because the enemies can easily kill the player quickly and from a distance because of the nature of guns.
  • Quick deaths and quick starts. In the multiplayer mode of games like Call of Duty 4, players can die and spawn back up in a few seconds creating fast action start-stop gameplay.
  • Automatic healing: when the player's health can be discretely chipped away from gun wielding enemies, many games have developed systems where the player can regain their health automatically.
There are several notable exceptions, which I will get to later. First, we must address the different types of projectiles. Generally, the projectiles in a game can either be weakened (less realistic) or deadly (more realistic) with rapid fire ability or a much slower, conservative fire rate.

BOLD entries feature deadly bullets.
Italasized entries feature weakened bullets.

Conservative Fire
  • Worms
  • Tank v. Tank
  • Neo*RPG
  • Smash Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Viewtiful Joe
  • Mario Kart
Rapid Fire
  • Geometry Wars
  • Contra
  • Gunstar Heros
  • Call of Duty series
  • Halo series
  • R-type
  • Ikaruga
  • Gears of War
  • Perfect Dark
  • Viewtiful Joe
  • Firepower 2000
  • Metal Gear Solid series

Both (Conservative/Rapid Fire)
  • Metroid
  • Mega Man
  • Team Fortress 2

In general, projectiles in games are not designed with a lot of interplay, especially if there are guns at work. A well aimed attack in many games will either eliminate the target or force it into a retreat. Unlike melee or hand to hand combat that can only exist in close quarters and from physical, forceful extensions, projectiles can be launched from great distances away from the target with the time from barrel to target ending in the blink of an eye. I wonder if it is even impossible to design a gun with a significant amount of interplay while stuck in a rigid real time play experience.

The Familiar Guns

Looking at first-person (or 3rd person) shooters, one can expect any such game to feature these weapons or weapons with the same functions. Pistol. SMG. Rifle (snipe). Rocket launcher. The pistol has a limited clip and each shot must be fired separately. Opponents can take advantage of the holes between shots and the frequent reloads to launch a counter attack. Keep in mind, that taking advantage of such holes in a pistol wielder's offense is not the same as interplay. Reload times are a natural drawback to using most firearms. However, attacking someone while they're reloading isn't a counter to being shot. If you're in the cross hairs of a pistol and the trigger is pulled, there is almost nothing you can do to avoid getting hit.

The SMG is like the pistol except that the bullets fire more rapidly and the fire button can simply be held down. These differences not only make it impossible for an opponent to move through any gaps in shots, but with such a gun, players don't have to coordinate aiming and firing as much compared to the pistol.

The snipe's long range abilities allow the attacker to position him/herself far away from the target. Virtually firing from safety, the targets has a harder time figuring out where the shots are coming from. The Halo developers put a white tracer line that briefly marks the path of a sniper shot so that players can figure out where the sniper is and hopefully react accordingly. In a game without tracers, even if the players do pin point the direction of the sniper attack, unless they have a sniper rifle as well, they can only take cover or die. The function of a snipe reduces the possible interaction between players even more than the SMG.

The rocket launcher's large explosion reduces the amount of aiming a player needs to destroy a target. Because the rockets usually fires rockets that travel far more slowly than bullets, opponents can move in close to the rocket launcher wielding players hoping that the explosion will take them both out. In some games, the rockets can be shot out of mid air. Even in these rare examples, the interplay is only 2 step.


Examples of Gunplay

It's a difficult design problem. If the guns aren't deadly enough in a game, they won't feel like guns. Yet, when they are deadly, there's less interplay and therefore, less to play around with for that particular function. As I said before there are some notable exceptions.


Mario's Fireballs
  • Remember that Mario's fireballs have interplay because they can only be aimed downward, only 2 shots can be fired at a time, and they bounce over the 1 brick size enemies.
  • Because the aiming is directly tied to Mario's vertical position and the direction he's facing, achieving a greater range of aim requires Mario to jump-shoot. However, the arc for jumping on an enemy is different from the arc of a jump-shoot attack. This difference creates opportunities for dynamically moving targets to counter Mario.
  • The fireballs have no effect on brick, metal, and fire objects including Buzzy Beetles, Bullet Bills, Bowser's fire blasts, and the fire balls that spring up from the ground.
Yoshi's Egg Toss (Super Mario World: Yoshi's Island)
  • Some surfaces reflect Yoshi's eggs, which levels the eggs up and gives Yoshi the ability to reclaim them.
  • Some enemies catch Yoshi's eggs and toss them back.

Neo*RPG
  • Remember the chart of Neo*RPG's interplay?
  • By using a rock as a projectile and creating functions for the attack that match the form, a dynamic range of interplay resulted.
  • The rocks when thrown stay on the field. After this happens, they can be picked up by players or enemies for ammunition.
  • The rocks can bounce off of cave walls and hurt the player.
  • The rocks also slow down the path of the sliding white blocks.
  • When an enemy launches a rock at the player, the player can deflect it with their own rock, or reflect it with the shield.
Viewtiful Joe
  • The few enemies that do wield guns fire upon Joe with bullets that travel at incredible speeds. Fortunately, Joe has the power to slow down time. When he does, the bullet that was too fast for the naked eye becomes visible and punch-able. With a punch or a kick, Joe can send the bullet flying back at the enemy.
Ikaruga
  • Unlike in nearly every other top down shooter, the enemy bullets in Ikaruga are polarized into two colors of bullets that can be absorbed by the player. When the player absorbs these bullets, they build energy that's used to launch homing missiles that cut through solid level elements.
  • In the normal and hard difficult settings, when the enemies are destroyed they release an array of bullets at the player. Because these bullets can turn an already difficult situation into an extremely difficult one, player quickly learn to regulate their attacks. Fortunately, these bullets can still be absorbed (the primary function of Ikaruga).
Call of Duty 4
  • The martyrdom and last stand perks are interesting counters to being shot and "killed." With martyrdom, when you die, you automatically drop a live grenade. With last stand, you are given a few more seconds to live with a pistol in hand to try and make a difference. To counter martyrdom, opponents can grab the grenade and throw it away. To counter people with last stand, the opponents can simply shoot you again to finish you off or wait for your time to run out.
Gears of War
  • In some multiplayer modes, it's impossible to kill a player by only using bullets/projectiles. To get the kill, players must run over to the downed target and activate a finishing move. Meanwhile, the downed player can mash a button to try and get back on their feet faster.
  • Because Gears of War is a team based game, coordinating targets and taking advantage of players trying to finish off downed allies creates an unique and interesting push-and-pull style gameplay.
Team Fortress 2
  • Remember what I said earlier about how snipers reduce the amount of possible interaction and interplay between two players because of their removed presence and powerful ammunition? Team Fortress addressed this very issue with a sniper class design that is nothing short of genius.
  • Typically, snipers in shooters have extremely powerful ammo to try and empower the player. In games where head shots deliver high amounts of damage, head shots with a sniper rifle are usually 1 hit kills. In Halo, two shots to any part of a target's body with the snipe is deadly. And in COD4, the players don't have a lot of health to begin with making sniper fire very effective. Unfortunately, because the sniper ammo is more powerful than normal ammo snipers can be extremely dangerous in close range combat. Somehow, this doesn't quite fit the MO of a sniper.
  • In Team Fortress, the sniper bullets are weak until they are fully charged. To charge a shot, players must stay zoomed into the scope. This design choice allows the player to trade visibility for power. And if the player pops out of the zoomed scope mode for even a half second, the charge is lost.
  • To give the opponents a fighting chance, when a sniper is in scope mode a laser dot is projected out onto the surface/player where the sniper is aiming. Players can use the dot to determine that there's a sniper scoping a position and avoid the area. To go further, players can keep track of the laser sight and send their team mates to attack the sniper's position.
  • A sniper can conceal their laser sight by moving their aim out of way. However, because the sniper wants to stay zoomed in to retain power and their visibility is limited when zoomed in, if the sniper pulls their aim away from an area, opponents have a chance to slip through undetected.
Super Smash Brothers Melee
  • Projectiles in this game come in all shapes and sizes. From sausages, to lasers, to arrows, to bombs, to missiles, to swords, to hammers... Smash has it all.
  • If the projectile is a physical item, then it can be countered in a variety of ways. Players can stop it with any attack (assuming the projectile isn't an explosive), catch the item on the ground or in the air, or reflect it with their shields.
  • If the projectile is not a physical item, then it can be attacked, or reflected with the shield.
  • Projectile attacks can also be used to block projectile attacks.
  • Fox's reflector and Mario's cape can also reflect projectiles.
  • Moves like Captain Falcon's Raptor Boost has a few frames that allow Falcon to dodge through an oncoming projectile.


Without interplay, many first-person shooters become, in essence, repetitive exercise of "shoot the enemy in the head." Fortunately, many games have taken strides in the right direction. Perhaps async is needed to develop true gunplay in a videogame. I've got my sights on it.... the future that is.

2 comments:

Bryan said...

Didn't the Jedi Knight series have the ability to reflect different types of attacks using different methods? I think force powers could reflect projectiles while the lightsaber could reflect lasers.

KirbyKid said...

@ Bryan

I think you're right. I've never really played the series in depth, but I assume that most Star Wars games have laser-jedi reflections.

Good call.