Hi! I’m Nathan Fouts, designer at Mommy’s Best Games, and someone who knows how to make video game guns.

Years ago I worked at Insomniac Games and was hired to program the weapons for Resistance: Fall of Man. But ‘cause I’m so nuts for game guns, I elbowed my way into the design room and wouldn’t stop talking about how to improve them. Eventually, the team let me do programming and design, and I got to make the alien weapons extra-crazy! Thank me at PAX West next month if you liked shooting through walls with the Augur or spiking aliens with the Hedgehog grenade.

At my indie studio, I created the “Gunstacker,” a mechanic that literally lets stack you guns one on top of the other,for my game Serious Sam DD XXL. (Shout out to Devolver for giving my game the best trailer ever.)

And now I’m “weaponizing barf” for my next big game Pig Eat Ball. It’s like Pac-Man meets Mario Odyssey, except you get fat and cute-barf on everything while finding secrets and solving puzzles.

I love making, using, and thinking about video game guns and I think the weapons in the 2016 version of Doom a could be improved!

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Interested in nitty-gritty design critiques?

Read on.

Okay, okay—so Doom 2016 was amazing. I loved it. Good action, good music, good graphics, amazing monsters. Good, good, good. Why complain?

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It could have been better!

Warning: There will be SPOILERS for Doom 2016.

WELCOME TO THE WEAPONS SHOP

Designing weapons for a game can go a lot of ways. There are simple questions developers can ask themselves, for example: Is the game realistically using real-world weapons? Do we have reloading? What about infinite ammo? Do we drop weapons? What kinds of enemies is the player fighting? How fast do the enemies move? Is every baddy’s gun a potential gun you can take?

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Even “obvious” things get confusing quickly.

For each game I like to ask: What are the weapons used for? “Well killings things, duh.”

But how? Are you strategic about it? Is the player expected to quickly drop a gun because it was low on ammo and they just needed another version of a machine gun to continue fighting? Or could each weapon be strategically useful in different situations?

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Doom lets players keep all the guns they find. You never need to drop any. It offers alt-fire and mods for each alt-fire for each gun. The design of the game suggests that these mods are strategically useful, but that’s mostly the case in just a few spots in certain levels. For instance, later on there’s a handful of spots where enemies could be picked off in the far distance with a scoped gun like the Heavy Assault Rifle.

I think the weapons mods could have further strengthened a core pillar of the game’s design: Kick demon ass, and when all hell breaks loose, let me choose to kick demon ass REALLY HARD.

WHAT THEY GOT RIGHT

There are several strokes of absolute genius in Doom 2016.

Note: I’m only talking about the weapon balance of the single-player campaign throughout. For a game like Doom, single-player guns are fun to do, because you mostly just have to worry about challenging and empowering the player.Balancing Multiplayer weapons is very different. It’s much tougher, because everything you “give” to a gun for a player to have fun with could be used against them by another player.

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Glory Kills

When an enemy is weakened, its body flashes. That prompts the player to rush in and hit the melee button to trigger a gory execution move. Dashing in is risky, even with flashing enemies staggered, but glory kills result in lots of ammo and health drops. Yes these are striking and strange at first, but the energy and visceral feeling they impart to the game is incredible. New Doom is actually pretty easy and forgiving in general, but the tight-rope walk the game does between “you’re almost dying” to “you just recovered from near death” is exhilarating and never gets old. The game is easier but also very fun because of this tension.

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BFG as Super Bomb

The BFG is now effectively a very strong bomb instead of just a big gun. This is interesting as it acts a lot like a super bomb from old shoot-em up games. The damage is very high, but not unlimited. By making it work this way, giving it a hotkey, and only giving you two or three shots with it, the BFG occupies your mind as a “last resort” sort of weapon.

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The Weapons - Chainsaw - Glory Kill Triangle

Most impressive is what I call the “triangle of tension” from the weapons. If you need ammo from enemies you can look and find it in the level, or you can chainsaw some enemies. And if you need health, you again can look around the level or you can wing a baddy then use a Glory Kill for extra health. This “regular weapons,” Chainsaw/ammo, Glory Kill/health dance that players do is akin to the kitchen work triangle.” You’re constantly bopping around among these three things as you play and strategize. The game is very good because of this.

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Special Weapons Hotkeys

By mapping the two special weapons, the Chainsaw and the BFG to hotkeys, it establishes these weapons in your mind as tools to use in more strategic moments. The Chainsaw uses special ammo. You can carry a small amount of ammo, but fortunately it’s fairly plentiful. Same with the BFG—you can only hold a few rounds, but you can find more ammo if you look. You know then that you have a Chainsaw for getting ammo, and a BFG for taking out the biggest crowds, and you can get to them both quickly with the tap of a button.

Everything else complements the design very well: The intense, hard-driving soundtrack, the amazing graphics, the nasty monsters and gory kills, and the angry, violent animations.

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WHERE TO IMPROVE

I don’t think the alt-fires, for the weapons were that interesting or helpful.

I’m going to list weapons and then my suggestions on how to improve them.

IN GENERAL: There is a large “damage gap” between the BFG and the regular weapons that should be closed up. It shouldn’t be closed by the regular weapon shots. The damage for those were fine.

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Instead

  • the alt-fires should use more ammo,
  • thus making it more risky, but give the player more damage capabilities,
  • which would feel even more bad-ass.

Let’s look at the details...

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PISTOL: I never played with it unless I absolutely had to. The charge shot alt fire was a good idea, but the weapon never felt needed.

RECOMMENDATION: The charge shot could shoot at enemies directly or be shot into the ground like a mine to be tripped by enemies later.

RECOMMENDATION 2: Shooting a barrel with the pistol engages a combo timer. If you can shoot another barrel before the timer goes down (quickly), the second barrel’s explosion is twice as big, as is the third you shoot, etc. This would really empower the pistol and change how level setups feel.

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SHOTGUN: The basic shotgun felt pretty good. I never understood the alt-fires—Charged Burst and Explosive Shot—well enough to use them effectively. I think they needed to be more apparent and easier to read in terms of visual effect.

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RECOMMENDATION: The game needs a “wide shot.” A very wide shot. I find the most boring part of the game involves mopping up lots of little enemies. I would like an alt-fire that shoots out say 8-12 rounds at once, and is visibly readable as a SUPER WIDE shot. I’m talking “complete-field-of-vision-wide” or more. Like 110 to 150 degrees. So you could blow a lot of ammo, but knock down a lot of weak guys. The VFX would have to be very clear as to the arc of usefulness that you’re getting with this mod. To balance, it could need a charge, or have an insane kick-back, or both.

(Players searching for a wide shot might have tried the Plasma Cannon “Heat Mod,” which looked wide and had appropriate FX, but it felt virtually useless in terms of damage output.)


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SUPER SHOTGUN: I think this was a waste of a slot. It’s too slow to use, and it is not apparent what its strength is. Could have just been a shotgun upgrade.

RECOMMENDATION: Turn the weapon into a flamethrower (Note: they are doing something like this in Doom Eternal, so good on them!)

UPDATE - August 22, 5:45pm: Given many readers’ praise of the super shotgun, here are some added thoughts about the weapon: I played through the game on normal difficulty. I got the super shotgun early and saw it was more powerful, but much slower than the regular shotgun. At that point I stopped using it, as it’s not able to be modded traditionally. I understand now that the super shotgun can be upgraded into the strongest weapon in the game. Call it a lack of imagination on my part, but I never expected a shotgun to be more powerful than the rocket launcher or chaingun. And if a player can play through the entire game and miss the strongest weapon available, I’d call that a design problem that could use attention.

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HEAVY ASSAULT RIFLE: It’s pretty good and pretty useful. I used the zoomed-in Tactical Scope alt-fire some, and never was excited about the Micro Missiles.

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The “it goes through multiple targets” mod for the scope is really hard to read in a single-player FPS. It sounds good in theory but hard to make it clear and satisfying.

RECOMMENDATION: How about a new “enemy-penetrating” mod that works like this: Small enemies that are shot with the same bullet all pause for a special one second “freeze,” and the last smoke trails from those shots hang around for an extra long time too. That way, as you strafe around, you’d see a trail of enemies in front, frozen in mid air/movement with this cool death streak running through them.

RECOMMENDATION 2: How about a “lava mod” that makes it so that if you keep shooting the same spot on an enemy, a burning lava blob starts to grow there, and it does damage over time, in addition to each shot.

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ROCKET LAUNCHER: The basic fire feels good.

The “lock on” mod was okay.

The “detonate next to a target” mod is dumb for single player. I hate weapons that are clearly “fun in multiplayer” taking up space in my Single player game.

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RECOMMENDATION: An alt-fire that lets you shoot 10 rockets, every half second, as long as you have the trigger down, before a possible cool down. Basically rocket “auto-fire.” Probably could use some kick back. If a player wants to let this rip, let ‘em!


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GAUSS CANNON: It was pretty good in its regular mode.

With the Precision Bolt mod, it became the Quake 3 railgun and was fine.

The Siege mod, which allows you to shoot a stronger shot, but requires you to stand still like a tank sounds good in theory but could have been much better.

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RECOMMENDATION: This gun needs a charge mod, like Siege mod, but it should have worked like this: You can continue to charge it, adding “regular shot” ammos into the charge, up to as much ammo as you have. If you have the ability to shoot 10 shots, for instance, you should be allowed to charge and burn all that ammo in one mega shot, if you charge it for that long. And that mega shot should tear through everything possible, rail gun style, with all that damage. The regular Siege mod only used double ammo (and presumably double damage). This would have the capability to go way beyond that.


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PLASMA CANNON: Shoots fast, but feels pretty weak.

None of the mods felt strong enough to be useful.

RECOMMENDATION: A better mod would have been a “toothpaste laser”, a la the Raiden series, that you can swing around over a long distance, burning through multiple enemies.

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RECOMMENDATION 2: For all the annoying quick-running, hopping Imps in the game, I would love a homing shot mod that does some actual damage, but burns ammo twice as fast. This could have let you handle enemies like the Summoner, which the stun bomb mod was good for, but had more fun doing it.


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CHAINGUN: This was good.

Mobile Turret is the best mod in the game. You hold down the mod button, and the gun transforms and can suddenly shoot extremely as fast. The downside is it can overheat easily. It feels absolutely incredible to say “screw it” and open up, shooting basically at double speed. If you overheat it, it’s your fault. But you have the option to pour out your ammo as fast as possible.

RECOMMENDATION: The mobile turret is amazing. All weapons in the game need a “something huge is coming, I want to burn up my ammo against it” option.

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Why Make These Changes

The enemies in the game have some cool artificial intelligence to get around the environment quickly, but aside from the Pinkies, which are shielded from the front and you have to dodge and shoot in the tail, encounters don’t require much strategy. The enemies are mostly bullet sponges that you need dodge, corral, and deal out pain to destroy. This is a design sensibility opposed to games with a rock-paper-scissors-style weapon design that requires certain weapons for only certain enemies.

The absolute most exciting moments of the game are when you are measuring the danger of the room and strategically deciding which ammo and weapons to use as big fights escalate. Seeing two Mancubi lumbering down a hallway, it feels amazing to switch to the Chaingun and open with the Mobile Turret mod, and just melt them down. I would like the option to charge up the Gauss Cannon more and more, when I see three Mancubi and a Hell Knight, and really tear into them. I want to save my BFG for even bigger fights. The game would benefit from more options that allow the player the choice to do serious damage and spend more ammo, all of which would make you feel even cooler.

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P.S. Seeing the gameplay footage for Doom Eternal, I love the grappling hook addition! I’m a fan of grappling hooks in games, and believe-it-or-not, I actually had a working grappling hook prototype in Resistance Fall of Man. Alas, it was cut very near the end of production.

When he’s not baking pies, Nathan is hand-making freaky action games for aging gamers like himself. Come wax nostalgic with him @MommysBestGames.