Previously I was talking about how guns should be designed for shooting to feel satisfying. Now, we’ll talk about how the targets need to be designed for the shooting to feel satisfying as well.
First up, the environment should have some response when shot. Have brittle objects break, leave scorch marks and bullet holes on the walls, the whole works. It makes the map feels like an actual environment rather than just a static arena, and that helps immersion a lot. Hell, bring down a whole building or two, why not?
Of course, the damage created should be proportional to the gun’s damage and how powerful it appears. Having a tiny, rusty pistol that’s barely bigger than a banana shoot out a single shot with a pathetic “poof” and have that shot crumble a whole row of buildings breaks immersion and just seems weird. Besides, if a pathetic-looking shot is capable of doing that, what are you going to do if the player gets a rocket launcher that seems to be wielded by a half-giant to bring down Zeus himself? Have fun trying to scale up the environmental damage there.
And then, there’s shooting enemies. Enemies should be visibly affected by the shot when it does. It should be extremely clear to the player whether the shots are dealing damage or not. That way, if you want to set up a boss to be extremely powerful, just have it ignore everything the player throws at it and have none of the shots affecting it at all. The player, after seeing how shots that have enemies bleeding and yelling in pain does absolutely nothing to the boss, will know that a) the boss that are about to face is leagues above the mooks they were facing up till then, and b) if they don’t come up with something better they’re well and truly screwed. It conveys power in a more elegant and convincing manner than, say, having a side character constantly yapping about how powerful that boss is right before the boss fight.
And in multiplayer games, letting the player know how much damage they are dealing to the enemy is extremely crucial. It allows them to gauge whether to engage or not, and if they should keep fighting or just bail. Players need to know how much damage they are dealing at all times so that they can make sound judgements, and not conveying these information to the player just frustrates them as they have no clue how well they are doing and if they made the right strategic choice or not.
I will forever hold Loadout as the gold standard for player damage indication, mainly because of how well it portrays damage taken and the extent and variety of damage shown. Flesh being ripped off to the bone, flames clinging onto players and slowly scorching their skin, blood everywhere, the works. Hitting your enemy is something to be celebrated, so every shot that hits the mark should be a celebration, with your enemies’ blood replacing confetti and their screams being the music for the celebration dance.
And no, this isn’t just because gamers are violent nuts that won’t be satisfied until their in-game avatars are swimming in blood. It’s a very good way to convey to the player how much of an effect you are having on the enemies. Seeing shots break apart concrete tells player how powerful that shot is, since most people would have some sort of idea how tough concrete is. Seeing blood splatters and torn flesh gives players the impression that those shots really hurt, since they’ve all been injured before and have some idea of pain. That is, assuming they aren’t some ludicrously sheltered flower child.
And lastly, death. Once again, I’m going to hold Loadout as the gold standard here for its death animations. To quote what I’ve said before:
“Hell, one of my favourite moments is when I kill a guy with an explosive to his feet. The guy hopped around on one leg while his other leg is forcefully amputated below the knee by the explosion, finally fell and squirmed in his death throes in a pool of his own blood before he lay still.”
Death animations, gibs, and ragdolls represent the end of your struggle against who you are fighting. While you need the enemies to be in one piece and move in a controllable manner when they’re alive, upon death their character models are free to express the power of the guns the player is using. Have the models shatter, explode, disintegrate, fly across the air, melt, use those last fleeting moments to celebrate the player’s victory.
One of the best ways I’ve seen that showcases a gun’s power is to impale and enemy and pin them onto the wall with a long projectile. Painkiller’s Stake Gun and TF2’s Huntsman are rather well-known for this regard. Having a projectile pierce through an enemy’s body and nail them onto a wall is a great way to showcase the raw power of the projectile launcher the player is holding. Of course, having an explosive reduce enemies into a bunch of bloody gibs work really well too.
Aside from visual, sound is also very important. From TF2’s crisp and loud “DING” hitsound to the sound of Kleer Skeletons being forcefully disassembled, they serve as a method of informing the player that they hit their mark even when they are behind cover. This is especially important for projectile classes that does not always need line of sight to hit their target. Keeping the players guessing as to whether the shot hit or not isn’t fun.
Aside from that, a good hitsound adds to the impact of the shot as well. An explosion, a shattering noise, a wet, squelching burst, a sharp “TING”, a harsh ripping sound, it reflects the type of shots from the player and the physical properties of the body of the enemy hit. It completes the immersion and just like the visual effects, it conveys the impact and force behind the shot.
One of the first thing that came to mind when I though about hitsound was the sound enemies make when they blow up in Magicka. It sounds like what I imagine a body blowing up inside, a wet burst trailing off into a squelching sound at the end. Coupled with the burst of blood and gibs, it perfectly displays the power of the spells your tiny hooded avatar wields.
Now I’m actually curious about how accurate the sound is. I’ll probably test it with a chunk of ham and a firecracker if I can bear to blow up a perfectly nice piece of ham.
Thing is, you can have the best-designed gun in the world that has decades of effort poured into every detail, every animation and every sound it makes, but it will still feel weak and ineffective if none of the enemies have any sort of reaction to them. Designing how the enemies react to the players shooting them is just as important in making sure that the shooting feels good. After all, if the shot has no visible effect on anything, how does the player even know if he’s doing anything to the enemy?
As the most important part of the gameplay for most action games, shooting needs to feel good for the player to derive satisfaction. There is nothing more disappointing to the player than having a gun that feels like a peashooter and having zero noticeable effect on the enemies. It’s like watching a comedy show where none of the jokes are funny.