Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 7:00PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Call of Duty, FPS, Ikaruga, Neo*RPG, Shooter, Super Mario Bros., Super Smash Brothers

Ever since I first started writing about interplay, I've been obsessed with it. As far as I'm concerned, the more interplay the better (as long as the game stays true to the established forms and functions). So I've been thinking about the shooting function in games. Whether the ammunition is infinite energy balls or wall piercing bullets suitable for modern warfare, the interplay of guns (or gunplay) is under investigation.

For the purposes of this investigation, I'm considering all projectile based attacks as guns. Naturally, this includes anything from a bow and arrow to Megaman/Samus' charge shot. As a critical-gamer I'm far more concerned with how a projectile/gun functions in a game than how it looks.

Because guns are such a destructive, accurate, and indirect weapon, games with projectiles have a hard time creating interplay. Without much interplay, it's even harder for such games to create deep gameplay experiences especially without resorting to using abstract mechanics. A few common unfortunate side effects of games with guns are...

There are several notable exceptions, which I will get to later. First, we must address the different types of projectiles. Generally, the projectiles in a game can either be weakened (less realistic) or deadly (more realistic) with rapid fire ability or a much slower, conservative fire rate.



BOLD entries feature deadly bullets.
Italasized entries feature weakened bullets.

Conservative Fire

Rapid Fire


Both (Conservative/Rapid Fire)

In general, projectiles in games are not designed with a lot of interplay, especially if there are guns at work. A well aimed attack in many games will either eliminate the target or force it into a retreat. Unlike melee or hand to hand combat that can only exist in close quarters and from physical, forceful extensions, projectiles can be launched from great distances away from the target with the time from barrel to target ending in the blink of an eye. I wonder if it is even impossible to design a gun with a significant amount of interplay while stuck in a rigid real time play experience.



The Familiar Guns

Looking at first-person (or 3rd person) shooters, one can expect any such game to feature these weapons or weapons with the same functions. Pistol. SMG. Rifle (snipe). Rocket launcher. The pistol has a limited clip and each shot must be fired separately. Opponents can take advantage of the holes between shots and the frequent reloads to launch a counter attack. Keep in mind, that taking advantage of such holes in a pistol wielder's offense is not the same as interplay. Reload times are a natural drawback to using most firearms. However, attacking someone while they're reloading isn't a counter to being shot. If you're in the cross hairs of a pistol and the trigger is pulled, there is almost nothing you can do to avoid getting hit.


The SMG is like the pistol except that the bullets fire more rapidly and the fire button can simply be held down. These differences not only make it impossible for an opponent to move through any gaps in shots, but with such a gun, players don't have to coordinate aiming and firing as much compared to the pistol.

The snipe's long range abilities allow the attacker to position him/herself far away from the target. Virtually firing from safety, the targets has a harder time figuring out where the shots are coming from. The Halo developers put a white tracer line that briefly marks the path of a sniper shot so that players can figure out where the sniper is and hopefully react accordingly. In a game without tracers, even if the players do pin point the direction of the sniper attack, unless they have a sniper rifle as well, they can only take cover or die. The function of a snipe reduces the possible interaction between players even more than the SMG.

The rocket launcher's large explosion reduces the amount of aiming a player needs to destroy a target. Because the rockets usually fires rockets that travel far more slowly than bullets, opponents can move in close to the rocket launcher wielding players hoping that the explosion will take them both out. In some games, the rockets can be shot out of mid air. Even in these rare examples, the interplay is only 2 step.


Examples of Gunplay

It's a difficult design problem. If the guns aren't deadly enough in a game, they won't feel like guns. Yet, when they are deadly, there's less interplay and therefore, less to play around with for that particular function. As I said before there are some notable exceptions.


Mario's Fireballs

Yoshi's Egg Toss (Super Mario World: Yoshi's Island)


Viewtiful Joe


Call of Duty 4

Gears of War

Team Fortress 2

Super Smash Brothers Melee


Without interplay, many first-person shooters become, in essence, repetitive exercise of "shoot the enemy in the head." Fortunately, many games have taken strides in the right direction. Perhaps async is needed to develop true gunplay in a videogame. I've got my sights on it.... the future that is.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
See website for complete article licensing information.