In game after game, there they are: guns. Weapons are a common trope. They are a catalyst for action and an instrument for destruction. In-game guns and, well, guns are different. What do game developers know about the real deal?
Not every game developer who makes games with firearms has handled an actual weapon, just like not every film director who makes movies with guns has handled a real gun.
Kotaku reached out to some of the biggest names in game design to see what experience they have had with guns. The goal wasn't to pass judgment on those who have (or haven't) handled weapons, but rather to see if those experiences provide any insights into their games.
Of course, experience with actual firearms have impacted the work of some game designers, and haven't impact the work of others. Some designers have a great interest in weapons, while others are only interested in how they impact game design. Opinions vary person by person. And just because a game designer is known for shooters, that does not mean he or she is gun enthusiast.
Cliff Bleszinski, Epic Games (Gears of War series)
Nothing will teach you to respect a firearm faster than actually firing one. Basically, you have an explosion going off - in your hands. I usually opt for a lightweight gun when I go to the firing range, often a Glock. No matter how many times we've tried to do the "Lethal Weapon" smiley face on the targets we fail, even when we use the "Zombie" target sheets.
A couple of years ago I went to a Las Vegas indoor firing range with Jace Hall for his TV show and we were able to fire some fully automatic weapons. One quickly learns to switch to burst fire for those weapons because the kick means that within a second of firing full auto you're ventilating the ceiling. I learned to have ever more respect for our armed forces by handling real life weaponry.
Matias Myllyrinne, Remedy Entertainment (Alan Wake)
My experience with guns comes mainly from my time in the army. All 285 days of them – but who's counting right? Most Finns do their military service, while some opt for civil service helping in libraries and old people homes for example. I'm trained as military police and urban warfare and the guns I trained with are mostly useful for these roles.
Most conscript army weapons are simple and easy to use, as there is little time to practice and you are not relying on professionals to work them. Our country is small and relies on a conscript army system to maintain defensive capability. So, while most folks at Remedy don't own guns (bar some who go hunting every fall), we have an interesting set of military skills, based on the conscript system. Our CFO was a medic (I'd still prefer that he does the numbers, not my medical operation) our Art Director can command a 122mm heavy coastal artillery piece and our head of franchise development can shoot a 23mm. Russian AA gun, "Sergey".
I'm not really the military type. I like to question conventions and have a selective respect of authority, to put it diplomatically. Also, let's be clear that I hope to never have to fire a gun in anger. But I do enjoy shooting when the opportunity comes up. There is a zen like concentration that goes with whole process of shooting and the power they unleash can be exhilarating.
The weapon I know the best is the Sako Valmet RK62. I'm pretty sure I can still pull it apart and put it together in 60 seconds blindfolded. More a testament to repetition than anything else. The RK 62 is basically an improved AK47. The Israelis used it as foundation for their own Galil Assault rifle. The sights are much more accurate than the AK and the build quality is better. I really learned to appreciate it. Over distance, it is highly accurate and it is reliable in all weather. I've shot rounds of it in -20 centigrade to +25 centigrade weather and it always functions reliably. On automatic, it is basically inaccurate with the recoil kicking in, but when 30 guys in a line open up emptying a clip in 3 seconds flat it is quite a display of firepower. Trust me, when that happens you want to be pretty sure you are all in line and not running in front.
The RK62 carries a 7.62 mm round that tends to go through a lot of material like a hot knife through butter. So, unless you are Mel Gibson in a Hollywood flick, hiding behind a table is kind of useless. This is one reason it might not be the desired weapon of choice in urban areas. Hence, we were trained with pump-action shotguns and a 9mm side arm. The 9mm was a Belgian manufactured version of the Browning High Power. With fixed sights it was not terribly accurate. However, I think the point was more to be able to hit a door-sized target at 10 yards multiple times, rather than being Pistol Pete.
The light machine gun (KK 62), based on Czechoslovakian design, also used the same rounds as the RK-62 but came with plenty of ammo which it ate up hungrily. With a hypothetical fire rate of a thousand bullets a minute, the barrel would heat up no matter how cold the winter was. Shooting tracers at night on that was very visual, a remarkable fireworks display as the ricochets shot to the dark night sky. This is a gun you want to set up before shooting, best shot prone with a tripod unless you are doubling as John Rambo.
The Sako sniper rifle is a different kind of beats all together. While a lot of the other weapons I have shot are about fast firepower, the sniper rifle is more of a surgical instrument. The long 7.62mm cartridge packs a punch that'll knock a moose down and it is highly accurate. With a little bit of practice most folks will be able to squeeze off half a dozen shots into a card-sized area from 300 meters. With a scope and tripod, it is so consistent and simple. It is long, heavy and a pain to carry around though.
I fell privileged to have gotten to shoot a Suomi SMG before it was retired from service. This is a legendary WW2 era-weapon that was still in reserve use when I did my service. While revolutionary in its day and arguably one of the best sub machine guns of WW2, I could not hit a barn door with it. The banks of snow behind the target gave me an indication of where my bursts were going but I could not get it right. In my untrained hands, it was basically "spray and pray"... also the 9mm feels underpowered after the RK 62.
On the big daddy front, the 12.7mm antiaircraft gun on top of a Sisu APC is about as big as it gets. However, the prospect of trying to down a plane armed with missiles with that thing is not exactly attractive. The bullets were made of some extremely hard metal and would go through almost anything, FWIW. However, I suspect in the real world it is much better for stopping a car than an airplane.
The most macho piece of equipment I got to train with was the AGS 17. A bunch of these east European bad boys were bought after the German reunification from East German stockpiles. It is a 30mm automatic grenade launcher. While this contraption weighs at a bulky 45 kg. and is noisy (opening the tripod can be heard a mile away) it is basically a machine gun that fires grenades. The concept is so over-the-top it is almost comical, if it wasn't for its lethal purpose. Yep, this is probably the only piece of kit that makes a machine gun seem like a peashooter.
Randy Pitchford (Brothers in Arms series, Borderlands)
We've got an arsenal of weapons — from authentic WW2 small arms to futuristic guns that inspired Borderlands to an actual Pulse Rifle from Aliens that fires .45 caliber ammunition.
We've got a gun range across the street from our studio. Colonel John Antal, Gearbox Software's military advisor and historian, takes groups of us as often as we want to shoot.
Colonel Antal actually trained me to fire a gun for the very first time in my life in 2003 when we were doing research for Brothers in Arms. Up until that point, I had only fired virtual weapons in video games.
That was pretty interesting in that I've been making first-person shooting games for my entire professional career as a game maker. In firing a real weapon, one thing that really stood out was what the sight picture actually looked like and felt like. It turns out that it is impossible to keep both the target and the sight in focus at the same time. To fire accurately, we learn to use a very blurry sight in order for us to be focused on our target down range.
At that point, no first person shooter video game ever respected what the sight picture actually looked like.
It sounds simple today, but the discovery that came from actually firing a real gun led us to want to change the way the sight picture looked in our video games. We were working on the very first Brothers in Arms game and we developed something that is now being copied by just about everyone making shooters.
Here is a screenshot (above) from the first Brothers in Arms game that illustrates that sight-picture innovation that only came from experience firing a weapon hands-on and thinking about what that experience was actually like.
John Romero (Doom and Quake series, now at Slipgate Ironworks)
I owned BB guns and .22s and stuff like that. But that was a long time ago, and I don't own any guns now. There are too many people getting shot and killed. It's too dangerous, especially if there's kids around. Actually, I'm afraid of guns. If there's a gun around, there is the possibility that someone's going to get killed or shot. I just do not want to be around them. Those are real. The ones that are in games are fake. They're fun.
Benson Russell (Uncharted series)
There are few specific criteria we use in selecting the weapons for the Uncharted universe. Obviously since our game is set in reality, we stick to using only real life guns as a basis for our characters' arsenal. This doesn't mean that we can't take some liberties with the art and the gameplay, but it does have to be believable in our universe. Also, our main character, Nathan Drake, can only carry one rifle style long gun, and one pistol style side arm at a given time. So when considering what type of weapons we want from a gameplay perspective we have to keep these points in mind and work within the boundaries they present. We have to think about the different combinations the player may prefer to use throughout the game, such as those who like to keep the power of a shotgun, yet don't want to sacrifice having a fully automatic weapon. This leads us to find weapons that satisfy a variety of different tastes in each weapon slot. To keep things differentiated and balanced, we usually make the pistol versions of the weapon type slightly weaker, which has the added benefit of adding a layer of strategy for the player.
Once we've come up with gameplay choices, then we have to pick what we want the weapon to look like visually. For the Uncharted universe, a big part of this comes down to picking weapons with a specific character or charm to them and ones that will fit within the story and the difficulty ramp of the game. For example, in Uncharted 1, we wanted the rag-tag group of pirates to have older, less high-tech style weapons like the AK-47 and the Makarov style pistol. When the private army of Roman and Navarro shows up, we wanted them to have upgraded, high-tech looking weapons like the M4 and the Desert Eagle style pistol. Overall we never try to pick a weapon that's very high-tech looking, like a FAMAS or Styr Aug because we feel it just doesn't sit well in the strong adventure style roots of the Uncharted universe.
We have a lot of weapon buffs in the office, so we all come up with suggestions and do a lot of research on different visual and gameplay styles on what we could potentially use in the game.
Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill, now at Tokyo developer Grasshopper Manufacture)
The sound of a real gun is loud and clumsy. The tone and timbre of the "pan, pan" when firing isn't cool. If you were to put those sounds into a game, the impact and strength of the effects would be lost. Therefore, you need to add sounds that aren't present in the real world in order to make it more dramatic. For example, by adding the sounds of the bullets going through the air, or the sound of metal being hit by a baseball bat.
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