Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Aesthetically pleasing weapons

I’ve been watching big battleships shoot each other. It’s what I do for a job. cool huh? The interesting bit is that despite doing a future-tech sci-fi war game, I find that the images and footage that is most appropriate is WW2. There is a darned good reason that so many good games are set in WW2, and this is it:

WW2 had the best looking weapons.

Now it’s true that napoleonic wars had some darned colorful outfits, but the guns took ages to load and mostly missed anyway. And fast forwarding to the modern day, we have all sorts of gizmos, mostly with American military ACRON-YMS, but the problem is they don’t lend themselves to gameplay. The overhead night vision gunship scene in Call of Duty 4 was very cool, but hardly challenging. Modern weapons, especially in fighter planes amount to a pilot or gunner just pressing a button saying ‘yup shoot that guy so far away I can’t even see him’. Computers are having all the fun in modern combat.

The whole range thing is a total nightmare. Being able to blow up an enemy base from 500 miles away may make strategic sense, but it really screws up your graphics engine if you want the player to see what the hell is going on. And the destructive capability of weapons also acts as a pain. Any sensible futuristic weapon deployed in space is likely to at least have nuclear-missile level explodiness, yet that will obliterate everything for miles. This is not good gameplay fun.

So I find myself, like so many game designers, looking at battles between ships in the pacific and atlantic from 1939-45 and taking inspiration from that. Firing broadsides at ships where you can look out the window and see them explode. It’s not just everyone copying the battles from Star Wars, it’s everyone coming to the same conclusion, which is that in terms of visual entertainment, if you move beyond the technology of WW2, it becomes difficult to feel ‘involved’ in the conflict.

So yup, I know that GSB’s battles make no sense. There is no sound in space, and no friction, and you can shoot for probably 2,000 miles without missing ever, and most spaceships would be best crewed by AI and robot anyway, but this would all make for a sucky game. We can invent all kind of pseudo scientific technobable to justify why we have to fly within 500 meters of the enemy spaceship to shove a torpedo up his exhaust port, and we will continue to do so. Because games are about having fun. Especially fun with spaceships going zap.

9 thoughts on Aesthetically pleasing weapons

  1. I love this game. It’s like chess that manifests in all that is great about science fiction warfare. I look forward to what’s in store for this franchise in the future. Keep up the great work!

  2. Pfft. Realism is great so long as it enhances the fun.

    But yah, it’s like flying games. I love Il2-Sturmovik, but things like Lock-On require far too much effort and you end up feeling just entirely removed from most encounters.

  3. You are right and wrong. Sorry.

    The way that I look at GSB is from the point of view of a MOO2 veteran. I still play it. And not for the quality that is the game.

    I just want to get into the big, multi-ship battles that I ran One Turn At A Time.

    Some of the weapons were just so over the top that I laughed.

    You know, when you destroyed a whole planet with that beam that took forever fire.

    Then when you used it in ship to ship combat. Sometimes it didn’t kill the other ship?

    That reminds me of the Traveller series of PnP games. Ever play Azhanti High Lighting?

    Those were beams that ran down the center of the ship. If they hit, dead. If they missed, fighters incoming.

    Just like those tank destroyers. That didn’t have turrets. One hit dead, but open to, in many cases, small arms fire.

    Until later. Then armored beasts that had to turn to hit the target. But still anti-tank rounds killed them because they were essentially glass cannons.

    Sorry. Drunk again.

    Love you man…

  4. The best thing about the WWII era combat is how up close and personal it was. Dog fighting was still very much close range, skill-based combat… fleet battles were epic and up close too. They did not have the optics and radar and satellite images we have today so they had to get the target in their sights and fire away. People favor this sort of up-close and personal combat much in the same way that people found gladiator combat exciting. Weapons deflecting off of shields, striking and damaging armor and the sounds that went with it… all good, all very presentable. GSB doesn’t have to make sense from a dry “lets look at the facts sort of way”. The players just need to feel like they orcastrated the action, took ownership of the fleet, tweeked the ships and personalized them to suite their own style etc. What would make the game more visually appealing to a lot of players is the ability to actually tweak the look of the ships… be it color choice, insignia, colors of the lasers etc. I’m not just talking about modding… I’m talking about the basics. If a guy wants to have a fleet of Red Federation ships that feature his choice of insignia and fire red lasers and red missles… he should!

  5. Cliffski, I like your manifesto on this subject. It touches upon my own feelings as well.

  6. I submit that Dan Simmons space combat scenes from the Hyperion series would manage to make very entertaining gameplay, although very different from GSB. But they would be awesome, and fun, whilst still taking into account the ranges involved.

    Great reading, highly recommend it. Although most of the good stuff is in the Endymion book (aka, the second two books in the series).

  7. While I enjoy GSB and wouldn’t have this game any other way, I disagree that a “realistic” space battle game wouldn’t be as interesting. In fact, I can’t even think of a game that attempts to be mostly realistic so it’s hard to say that is there was one, it would be bad.

    As I understand it, that kind of game would just more difficult to develop. Using WWII as a inspiration makes things easy because you already have a real-world tested system that’s balanced and is easy to visualize. If one were to make a “realistic” space game, one would have to create a lot more from scratch. This kind of game would require first figuring out what “realistic” means and then creating a lot of this content from scratch. Then you’d need to make sure that these new technologies worked in battle and were balanced. On top of that you’d also need to make sure that the player in in a position that’s interesting to play and a position that’s playable. Even if you say that most ships are run by AI, then maybe the player could BE the AI.

    Basically what I’m saying is that WWII is an easy starting point as it already went though years of “development testing” where all the unbalanced units quickly stopped being produced.

    I could go on, but I think I got most of my point across.

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