Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
A Hard Weapon Is Good to Find

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 12 Jul 2011 12:00
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There's the aftermath, too, such as how the enemy reacts to the hit. The Card Guards in the first Alice game won't even react to your stabs until they die, whereupon their entire torsos bisect. Oh, would have been nice to know I was making an effect, game. Compare that to the cannonball launcher from Serious Sam. It doesn't matter how many big lads are bearing down on you, it only takes moments after it's been fired to know that the situation just took a U-turn. And a smaller but still important part is the follow-through, which can be a sound and/or animation that makes the weapon seem to say "I'm ready for round two, big boy." For many guns an appropriate pump action or shell case ejection is like the sigh that follows the orgasm. What would the rifle in Resident Evil 4 be without Leon's little bolt-pulling animation after every shot? Or the Doom 2 double-barrel shotgun (again) without the cheeky little chock-clack of two fresh new shells being welcomed into that whorish chamber?

Please don't consider this a phallocentric topic (might be a bit late for that), I'm just trying to illustrate how many little details have to go into a satisfying moment-to-moment gameplay experience, many of which we don't even notice. Look at Fruit Ninja on the Iphone, which I once described as being akin to popping bubble wrap. It seems like a simple concept, just chopping up fruit, but play that game and try to count how many different processes go into a single bisected kiwi. There's the streak of the blade, a splatter animation, a juicy sound effect, a lingering juice decal on the backboard, the two spent halves dropping out of sight ... they all fire off together in such a brief moment you don't even acknowledge them, but you'd notice if any of them were to go away. Oh yes. They're what make it fun.

This has been at the forefront of my mind because of a hobby game I've been working on. A 2D one this time, using Game Maker, something more within the limits of my programming skill. The main character's primary weapon is a shotgun, so at first, I added a little black ball that spawned at the gun's barrel and flew across the screen. And it looked like absolute pants, like the ghost of a dung beetle fleeing from the protagonist's body odour. Here are all the things I had to add to less than half a second of gameplay before I was happy with it.

  • A calculated instant-hit rather than a moving bullet object, with a spark appearing where the shot hits.
  • A bit of debris bouncing off the spark when the shot hits a solid wall.
  • A one-pixel line leading from the gun to the hit spark for one frame only.
  • A shotgun blast sound effect like the explosive death cough of a killer android.
  • A muzzle flash, also illuminating part of the player's sprite.
  • A frame for the character sprite in which the entire gun is pushed backwards by recoil.
  • A spent shell object being ejected from the gun, marking the half-way point of the firing delay.
  • A "clack" sound effect marking the shell ejection.
  • A "plink" sound effect for when the spent shell object bounces off a solid surface.
  • Enemies exploding into sprays of blood that spawn two giblet objects going off in opposite directions, spawning and hitting solid surfaces with appropriate sound effects, created by searching freesound.org for foley recordings of someone sorting through a bucket of chicken giblets.
  • A steel brace added to my chair to prevent my hips reflexively thrusting forward every time I pressed the fire button - NNGH OH GOD

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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