Is game weapon design just an inconvenience in the game development process? Just a small step that has to be taken so that we can get to awesome stuff like character design and level design?
Of course not!
Generally speaking, game asset design and game prop design are as integral and crucial to storytelling as any other element in the game. Many people even make a living just out of game weapon design.
Game is a superconscious medium of storytelling. Just like animation, there isn’t anything accidental in a game. Every single small thing has a purpose.
But, at the same time, gaming is a very unconscious experience too. Game art speaks to the player’s mind without them even noticing it.
So how does a weapon speak to a gamer? Why do you like some swords and axes and riffles in your favorite games so much and don’t like the others as much?
A case study in weapon design
Before we start, let’s consider an example: If you are a “God of War” fan like me and you’ve played the latest game, then you surely must remember the cut scene where Kratos finds “the blades of chaos” again.
The story delivers its harshest emotional punch to the nostalgic gamer in this scene. It’s the only moment when I was nearly in tears whilst playing the game.
I was amazed and baffled, seeing myself having this much of an emotional connection to a MacGuffin, a lifeless object that can’t speak or interact with other characters in any way.
At first, I thought it would be rather easy to attribute this emotional connection just to the nostalgia. Those blades were two of my oldest friends. It’s no wonder why the trophy you get in the game right after acquiring the blades is called “hello old friend”. There is a certain history behind wielding these weapons.
But soon after, when I started using them and I felt the sheer power in throwing those hellish things to my enemies, I noticed that there must be more to this than meets the eyes.
The developers and concept designers at Santa Monica studios had worked hard so they can get to this grand effect. The game weapon design of God of war, like many other aspects of that game, enjoys a superb level of attention to details.
So let’s take a look at five simple things that make some weapons so interesting and some others so irritating. What is the secret behind your favorite axes, swords, pistols, guns and rocket throwers in your favorite games and how studios like yours truly, Pixune, go about designing weapons in their games? Let’s see…
5 Things to remember in “Game Weapon Design
1.Starting with the story
Now when it comes to designing weapons, the first thing that comes to mind is the question of shape. This is, however, a rather inefficient place to start the process.
The consensus is that the designer should always start with the story. Remember, the weapons, in many games, are both the characters and the player’s closest friends. They are the objects the gamer will learn to trust the most and relies on them in various circumstances. So they have a role to play in telling the story, just like the dialogues, setting, etc.
In some games, like the god of war as mentioned above, the weapon can even be the emotional peak of the story.
Furthermore, the designer needs to know where exactly is this weapon gonna be used. Is this Diablo, Halo or Skyrim? Should the weapon be an ax? A pistol? A lightsaber? A sword?
If, for example, it’s an ax, where has it been forged in the fictional universe of the game? Does that area have a unique culture? Maybe a unique symbol? A flag? A motto that can be carved on its handle?
The story and history of the world should be leaking out of every particle of the weapon. No one remembers a vanilla weapon with no direct connections to the story and lore.
2. Paying attention to the psychology
It’s not just about world-building, though. The weapon can tell many things about the characters too. Consider the ax example:
- If the handle of an ax has a piece of cloth around it, it paints a more logical and forward-thinking warrior in mind.
- If, however, the handle has lots of thorns and rough edges, it would suggest a more barbaric or badass ax master.
- If the ax is new and shiny, then perhaps it has a young or inexperienced bearer.
- On the other hand, if it’s old and used and has broken shards of metal on its blade, it would suggest an older warrior.
- An ax that is used for hunting is very different from an imperial or elite ax that is used for killing peasants.
Little details that don’t necessarily come from the cultural subtext of the world, but rather the mind space of the characters, have unconscious psychological effects on gamers. They shape the way the players will view the characters and interact with the weapon in gameplay.
3. Treating the weapon like a living thing
Now let’s get to a more practical point: the biggest misconception in any kind of concept design, including game weapon design, is that the artist just designs a single instance of the object. You make a pistol, a sword or a gun and that’s the end of it.
In reality, the designer has to do a whole sheet of the concept in question. So there needs to be a variety of silhouettes. These silhouettes should embody both the soul and the shape of the weapon and should be a representative of the weapon’s status in various conditions in the gameplay.
Think of the artist as a police officer and the weapon as the suspect that has been arrested by him:
Each of these different individual designs is the shots the artist has taken from the weapon and all of these, together, will form a cohesive profile of it that can be used by 3D modelers and animators. So designing a weapon or any other complex object is no different to a character in this regard.
4. Using the shape language
The way the lines and curves are drawn for designing a weapon is like a hidden code. The general anatomy and shape of the weapon speak to us in a unique language.
Consider this: if the weapon is supposed to be a modern model, and it isn’t set in a fantasy setting, then the designer needs to try using lots of straight lines.
Why? You might ask. Well…because these kinds of weapons are supposed to be machine-made and manufactured in factories and therefore can’t afford to have too many human-made touches.
But even If it’s a sword and it’s meant to belong to an imperial soldier kind, the artist should imagine an assembly line of sort for producing these, because…well, it’s imperial for God’s sake. They can’t forge these things the way a blacksmith does it. They have to be produced in huge numbers.
The shape language of the design translates many unspoken things about the weapon into images. The shape and the geometry communicate the thought process of the designer and hence, that’s where the artist is expressing himself.
It’s often said that:
A single image speaks more than a thousand words.
That’s certainly true about the shape language of weapons in games. No matter how much lore and explanation the developers write about the weapon, it always comes back to those curves and lines and the way they connect. That’s how the gamer remembers the weapon.
5. Balance of ambition and practicality
Most people, when designing a concept art, go big and go for the effect. That’s good and can have some artistic values, but there should be a balance between that boldness and the practicality of the object.
For instance, if someone’s designing a pistol of any kind, no matter how outlandish and wired it might be, they should always consider where to place the ammo clip, how the ammo would fit in with the pistol design and how its mechanism will work in the actual game.
Alien blaster pistol in fallout 4. Think about the practicality of the design.
It’s easy to get carried away with too many ideas and forget that, in the end, a weapon is an object that is to be used in some form in the game, and it should come off as natural and practical.
A few other points to consider in game weapon design
- See references: see as many references in various sources as you can. Study weapons in other games, magazines, professional journals, movies, and documentaries. A game weapon designer should become a weapon expert before beginning the process of the design.
- Do the unexpected: everyone expects a rocket launcher to be a big and bombastic weapon. But what if there was a little pistol that made loud noises and created absolute mayhem? Or what if there was a kind of sprinkler that everyone considers to be harmless, but it was filled with acid and destroyed enemies efficiently? Doing the unexpected makes a weapon memorable and unique.
- Huge weapons: personally, I like big and huge weapons like rocket launchers. They make the player feel powerful and in control. So try to have them in your game, depending on the setting.
- Variety: give the gamer different choices. Give them free will. Let them play as they wish. Have a variety of different weapons at their disposal and let them choose the weapon they like and fits their style of playing the best. When I was playing Far Cry 5, I was surprised to find a bow and arrow in such a modern game that has snipers, rockets, etc. but after using them a couple of times, I was a fan. So a game weapon designer should give the player different weapons, each of them unique with its own benefits and disadvantages and let them shape the experience of the gaming by themselves.
- Special weapons: It’s always good to have a few special and peculiar weapons in the game. I mean the kind of weapons that can be used very rarely but the gamer will always be looking forward to using them. The weapons that are out of the setting and theme and the contrast makes them exciting.
It can be a modern weapon in a fantastic or historical setting. It can be an interdimensional weapon in a realistic setting. It can be an absurdly big weapon or a miniature one. Anything that strikes the player as odd and unique prevents the game from being boring.
- Ammo: Never forget about the ammo design. The kind of ammunition that after being shot has a beautiful animation of the destruction of the characters of props, and besides that, it has a good and memorable design itself, elevates the experience immensely.
Especially if the game is a side-scroll or a top-down mobile game and the player can see the ammunition clearly, this will be really important
Crucial steps of game weapon design
- Study: In this first step, the designer should have a thorough investigation of the weapon in question.They should ask the customer specifically about the details of the weapon, its firepower, firing rate, ammunition, etc. also, the designer should study the design of similar weapons in other games in this stage.
- Sketch: for each weapon, a few sketches are made so that both the designer and the customer can look into different ideas that can be implemented in the weapon later on. In this step, the customer can choose their favorite sketch and request revisions for it.
- Painting: The chosen weapon is painted with its customer-specified art style. In some cases, the ammo is painted in this step too.
- 3d modeling and animation: After those 3 steps, the design will be modeled in a 3d format (if needed), and the animators will do the rest.
Check us out
If you’re curious or interested in the process of game weapon design or wish to see more examples of different stages and the implementation of the philosophy of design as mentioned above, you can take a look at our portfolio. Here’s a link to the game weapon design page of Crazy Clowns.
In conclusion, the important things to consider in “game weapon design” are:
- The designer should start with the story.
- They should consider the history, practical use and the psychological effects of the weapon on the player’s mind.
- They should think about the shape language used in the design and treat the object as a living thing.
- They should Design every possible aspect of it from various angles in silhouette and maintain the balance between their artistic expressions and the reality of the design and its requirements.
Of course, there is not enough space in this short article to discuss the specific tricks that could be useful for different purposes, but after all, these tricks can be learned from experience and trial and error. What’s important is the philosophy behind the design which was, to some extent, discussed in this brief text, and we hope it was useful to you.
But before you leave, ask yourself: why indeed were the blades of chaos so freaking awesome in God of War? How did they employ these points to make them so effective and hard-hitting? And what other tricks do you think we’ve missed that should’ve been mentioned? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts with us.