The Edge ExPlay Panel: gunfeel
What do I mean by ‘gunfeel’? Gunfeel is a term I’ve partly plagiarised from Edge’s long-time columnist Steven Poole. He was looking for a word to reflect our aesthetic response to games in the same sort of way that people who invent new types of biscuit or drink wine for a living think about the fundamental sensation of interacting with those consumables.
They have the term “mouthfeel” as a catch-all for the sort of sensory experiences you get when consuming a particularly heavily glazed Bourbon – things like texture, viscosity, density and the way the substance coats your mouth.
It seems to me that gunfeel is an equally important science for videogames. This is not because guns are fundamental in any way to our medium – although I think you’ll agree they are quite popular – but because guns in videogames represent a quantum of interaction. A single click. In fact, this piece might have been entitled ‘clickfeel’ but, I think, it’s with guns that the aesthetic of this interaction is thought about most frequently and most keenly.
id's classic firstperson shooter, Doom
Gunshots are – and this partly explains their ubiquity – the smallest possible interaction offering the largest amount of drama. And in a medium where your inputs are limited it’s no surprise that developers have gravitated towards games in which a single click can result in something like a demon’s heading blowing up.
But the study of gunfeel has repercussions for you whatever game you are making, whether or not it has guns in it. If you can understand how to make that single click, that most fundamental interaction with your world, feel delightful, you have already won half the battle.
This is something that is true of every fundamental interaction; I spoke recently to Markus “Notch” Persson, of Minecraft fame, and he said that making it “fun” to hit a block was the most important thing. Basic collision is also key: “If a first person shooter is not fun when you’re simply walking around,” he said, nothing else matters. “You’re not going to have a fun game.”
So who can we turn to discover the secrets of gunfeel? Surely there can be no greater masters of it than id Software and their extended family of FPS developers. Whatever else you might think of id’s games, they know how to make a demon’s head explode in a most satisfying manner.