Sunday 2 October 2016

The big list of ways to create varied weapons

When designing weapons, there are many ways of differentiating them and spicing them up. To help anyone who is working on that, I would today like to give a big list of weapon parameters that one can play with. Most can be applied to ranged, melee and special attacks, but obviously not all can be used for everything in every genre. I hope this list can be used as an aid, regardless of genre. Note that I only focus on gameplay here: graphics are also an important part of the feel of a weapon, but his post is entirely about gameplay.

I made most of this list a couple of years ago when I was thinking about creating an open world game with randomly generated enemies. As a first step I made a long list of weapon properties and side effects that could be combined to create attacks for those enemies. As with many of my game ideas I doubt I'll ever get around to actually making this game, but I figured this list might also be useful to others, so I've extended it into this blogpost.

Most of this list is inspired by what Ronimo designers Fabian and Jasper made for Awesomenauts. Awesomenauts currently has 27 characters, each with 3 different attacks. Each character also has 18 unique upgrades with several tiers each. In total that's over 1000 upgrades! Many are simple upgrades that modify things like damage, cooldown, stun or range, but some are very unique, like the ones that upgrade the "AI" of Leon's clone. I'm really impressed by the creativity that went into many of those and put many into this list.

This list is by no means complete: you can come up with new ideas and variations forever. If you feel I overlooked some cool things, then please post them below and I will add them.

Basic parameters

  • Melee, ranged or area: for example, is it a sword, a gun, or an area effect around the character?
  • Range: how far does the attack reach? Note that this is not only important for guns, but also for things like the length of a sword
  • Effect timing: how long after you pressed the attack button does the damage actually apply? In case of a large sword movement, it might take a second before the sword actually hits. This gives the opponent time to get away, but also gives the attack itself a more powerful and impactful feel.

How often you can hit

  • Attack speed / cooldown: how fast an attack can be repeated. The term "attack speed" is usually used for weapons that can be used several times per second, while "cooldown" is generally used for things that take several seconds before you can use them again.
  • Ammo: weapons might have a limited amount of bullets. If they run out, you need to pick up more bullets, switch to another weapon or wait for bullets to regenerate.
  • Ammo clips / reloading: even if you still have enough ammo, you might have to pause shooting once in a while to reload. Parameters are how often you can shoot before you need to reload, how long reloading takes and whether you can reload before the ammo clip is empty. A special variation here is the Active Reload made famous by Gears of War: if you press a button with a very specific timing, the reloading is super fast or might give you a small buff.
  • Mana: similar to ammo, but mana usually automatically regenerates over time and is shared between several weapons.
  • Interrupt immunity: can an enemy interrupt this attack through a counter-attack or stun, or will this attack always finish once started?


  • Charge by holding a button: the weapon doesn't fire until you let go of the button, and it charges as long as you keep it pressed. Charging might make you throw further, or deal more damage or have some other effect. An important choice here is whether you can still move while charging.
  • Other charges: the weapon gains strength in some other way. Maybe every time you hit an enemy with your basic attack your special attack grows stronger, or maybe it becomes stronger over time. Once you use the weapon the charge is usually lost and the weapon needs to be charged again.
  • Holding versus button bashing: when doing consecutive slashes or shots, do you need to hold the button pressed, or bash the button all the time? This will also influence the number of attacks per second: if a new attack doesn't start until you press again, there will usually be a couple of frames in between attacks even when the player presses the button really quickly.
  • Combo's: specific combinations of attacks or button presses create stronger or different attacks. To make this more challenging this usually requires a specific timing for the button presses, but it can also be as simple as every third hit being stronger.
  • Cross-weapon influences: in this case performing one attack adds an effect to the next usage of a different attack. For example, maybe after using your special skill the next gunshot is charged with stunning electricity.
  • Timing: when do you need to press the button? For example, do you do extra damage if you press again just when the last slash has its impact?

Basic impact

  • Damage
  • Heal
  • DoT / HoT: Damage Over Time and Heal Over Time. These are controlled by a couple of parameters: how long it lasts, the total amount, and how often it applies (10 damage once per second isn't the same as 1 damage 10 times per second!). An extra setting is whether DoT stacks or not: if you get hit again while a previous DoT is still happening, do they add up or not? You can also have different DoT types: in Awesomenauts two poison DoTs don't stack, but a fire DoT and a poison DoT can happen simultaneously, so they do stack.
  • Stun: keeps you from doing anything for a time and interrupts whatever you were doing.
  • Microstun: this is a stun that is so short that it breaks your current attack, but doesn't keep you stunned. So you keep control, but if you are for example already charging an attack, then this charge is cancelled. In case of Awesomenauts, a good example of this can be found in Leon, who has microstun on his slash and can use that to turn off a Yuri's jetpack, causing the Yuri to fall to the ground, making him vulnerable for further melee attacks by Leon.
  • Slow: slows down movement and maybe jump height. Doesn't influence cooldowns or attack speed!
  • Silence: keeps you from using weapons and/or skills. Often this only influences special attacks and lets you keep doing your basic slash.
  • Snare: keeps you from moving, but allows you to still use weapons and skills.
  • Blind: for a while you can't see anything, or not far enough, or only right in front of you. In shooters this is often done with a flare grenade.
  • Knockback: an enemy is pushed away, often also a bit upwards into the air.
  • Throw: similar to knockback, but here you pick up an enemy and throw her away.
  • Crit: there is a certain chance that an attack is extra strong. Settings are the chance of the crit, and the amount of extra damage/effect. You can also implement rules that keep consecutive crits from happening, or that make sure that there is always at least one crit every N attacks. Have a look at these two blogposts for an analysis of designing crit chances.
  • Lifesteal: gain life yourself whenever you damage an opponent.

Note that many of these effects limit the player's control. Especially stun is really bad at this, but slow, silence, snare, blind and knockback all have such effects. When designing a single player game, these can be great fun: stunning an enemy is great and allows for mechanics in which you combat large groups of enemies without being overwhelmed. However, in an online multiplayer game like Awesomenauts, anything you do influences another human player. Being stunned for a long time is incredibly frustrating, and the same goes for snares and strong slows. All limitations are frustrating, and limitations on the player's movement even more so. Keep this in mind, and in general avoid designing situations where combos of these keep the player out of control for too long.

Projectile movement and count

For ranged attacks, the projectile you fire (or bullet, or magic fireball, or whatever) also has a number of its own properties:

  • Projectile speed: how fast the projectile moves makes a big difference for how dodgeable it is. If it moves pretty slowly compared to an enemy, you might even have to aim in front of her to be able to hit. The most extreme speed here is the instant hit, where the simulation doesn't consider it a projectile at all. This is the case for guns in most shooters. In the case of Awesomenauts, aiming is quite easy, but so is dodging. Using a sniper in an FPS, aiming for a headshot is pretty difficult, but if you aim correctly then the other player can't dodge at all. This greatly influences game feel.
  • Projectile size and shape: how big is the projectile, and is it square, rectangular, round or some other shape.
  • Homing: whether the projectile automatically changes its path to follow an opponent. You can tweak how quickly the projectile can rotate towards the enemy, but also how long it takes before the projectile starts homing after it was shot. Another setting is whether the projectile chooses its target only when shot or can alter its target during flight.
  • Arcs: some projectiles might not fly in a straight line. Grenades might be thrown in an arc, making aiming more complex but also allowing a projectile to be thrown over a wall.
  • Movement patterns: some weapons might move in strange patterns. For example, a waving sine movement could be applied.
  • Projectile count: you might shoot several projectiles at once. Important choices here are in what direction the different projectiles go (all somewhat forward, 360 degrees all around?) and whether all projectiles fire at the same time, or they come after each other in a series of shots.
  • Mines and bounces: what happens when a projectile hits the ground? Does it disappear, or explode with area of effect, or bounce away in another direction? Or does it stay on the ground like a mine, waiting to explode when an enemy is near? Also, if it does become a mine, is it a spider mine that jumps towards enemies that come near, or does it only attack who steps on it?
  • Detonation: when does the projectile explode? When it hits something, or when the player presses a button? The latter is mostly relevant in combination with area of effect and can be used with both mines and slow moving projectiles. Detonating a projectile by hand is a fun thing to do, but also often tends to somewhat slow down the game as the player watches every projectile fly.
  • Return to player: after a while or after a button press the projectile flies back towards the player. Might be used for a weapon that the player needs to retrieve before being able to use it again, or for a penetrating bullet that can hit enemies again on the way back.
  • Morphs: does the projectile change into something else at some point? Maybe if it hits a wall it bounces but becomes weaker, or if it flies long enough it grows, or if it flies through fire it gets an added damage over time fire effect?
  • Splits: whether the projectile can split into several separate projectiles. This can happen at a specific timing, or when hitting an opponent or wall. The newly spawned projectiles can also be more of the same projectile, or a different one altogether.

Who and where you hit

  • Friendly fire: whether you can hit your own teammates or not makes a big difference for the playstyle of the game.
  • Self-damage: weapons like rockets might damage yourself when they explode too near to you. An extreme example of this is Clunk's explode in Awesomenauts: he does massive damage to anyone near him, but also damages himself and can even kill himself this way. Another example is the famous rocket jump, where the knockback of the explosion of your own rocket allows you to jump higher.
  • Area of effect (AoE): normally an attack hits only one enemy, with AoE it can hit everyone in an area. AoE has several settings to play with: the size and shape of the area, and in some cases also the maximum number of opponents hit. A weapon can also be a combination: maybe the enemy that was hit gets 10 damage directly, and there's also an AoE effect that deals 5 damage to everyone near her. Be warned: area of effect can be very difficult to balance if the player sometimes faces many opponents, and sometimes only a few.
  • Penetrating: if you hit someone, does the bullet fly on and hit another target, or does it just end. Often seen variations to this are that a bullet has a maximum number of targets or deals decreased damage to consecutive targets. It might even change direction on hit, like with chain lightning.
  • Wall piercing: whether a weapon can shoot through walls or not. This makes a big difference to where an opponent will feel safe. In Awesomenauts only a couple of weapons can go through walls, and knowing whether there's an opponent in the field who has such a weapon is extremely important for successfully fleeing when low on health.

Buffing and debuffing

  • Buff: when you hit a teammate, she becomes stronger in some way. This can influence any parameter, like giving her a shield, increasing her health, reducing her cooldowns or increasing her damage output.
  • Debuff: this is an effect that makes an opponent weaker. This is the opposite of a buff and can again affect any aspect of the gameplay.
  • Cleanse: instantly removing the debuffs from a teammate.
  • CC immunity: this is a very specific type of buff that makes a player immune to things like stun, slow and snare, but doesn't make her immune to damage. "CC" stands for "Crowd Control", since such effects don't kill someone, but allow you to have some control over what others do.
  • Shield: another specific type of buff. A shield reduces damage you receive. This can be done in several ways: a percentage of damage can be removed, a fixed amount of damage per attack can be absorbed, or you can temporarily become invincible altogether. This makes a big difference: absorbing a fixed amount is weak against very strong attacks, but it also makes you invulnerable against weak attacks that are below the threshold, making this super effective against rapid fire of small bullets. A shield might also turn off once it has absorbed too much damage, allowing opponents to destroy the shield. Shields can then regenerate, turn on again after a cooldown, or be lost until picked up again.
  • Time bubble: slows down all time in an area, usually only for opponents. Everything takes longer, so movement is slower, bullets slow down and even cooldowns are longer. That makes this quite different from a normal slow, which only affects movement. This can also be inverted to make time go faster for teammates.
  • Invisibility: you can make yourself or a teammate invisible, or really hard to see. This is often frustrating for the enemy so it might be needed to limit how long you can be invisible or to give certain enemies a skill that allows them to see you even when invisible.
  • Phasing out: a weapon might make you disappear from the battlefield temporarily, making it impossible to receive or deal damage. It might also phase you out partially: maybe you can move through enemies temporarily, but you can still attack and receive damage.
  • Self (de)buff: all of these effects can also apply to yourself. They can be the main effect of a weapon, or a side effect. For example, maybe using some super powerful weapon drains your batteries and makes all other attacks have a longer cooldown for a while.

Armor and damage types

Damage and armor can have specific types. Often this means that you deal less damage against opponents who have a procentual resistenance against certain attacks. Some variations on this are:

  • Elemental: a weapon might deal a certain type of damage (fire, ice, poison, etc) and an armor might give extra protection against certain types of damage. An extreme example of this can be found in Titan Quest, where there are many types of damage and all items can give all kinds of resistances. For example, a bow might give a subtle 2% extra fire resistance.
  • Opponent type: some weapons might be extra strong or extra weak against certain types of opponents. Maybe poison has no effect against mechanical enemies, or ice has no effect against the undead. An example in Awesomenauts is that most special skills are very weak against turrets to avoid lame outranging tactics.
  • Piercing: if a weapon is piercing, it ignores the armor of the opponent and does full damage.

These things not only serve to add variation to the weapons and upgrades in a game: they can also help in balancing. Especially armor types are great for this. If it turns out that one specific class is way too strong against one specific other class, but everything else in the game is quite fine, then it can be really difficult to find a way to fix the balance between those two classes without destroying all the rest of the balance. Armor types are a great way to fix this: make one of the two classes undead and make the weapons of the other weak against undead. To the player this might feel like a general rule that makes sense, while in fact it's an extremely specific nerf.

Own movement

A weapon or skill might also include movement of the player herself. This greatly changes the feel of a weapon and has a large tactical impact on when to use a weapon.

  • Dash: attacks that combine with fast movement in a certain direction. A dash can go through enemies or stop as soon as you touch someone. Also important is when the dash does damage: whenever it touches someone (like Froggy G's dash in Awesomenauts) or only at the beginning end/or end of the movement (like Vinnie & Spike's dive).
  • Jump: whenever you perform this attack, you also jump up. Like doing an upward punch or overcharging your jetpack.
  • Groundpound: attacks that can only be done downward to the ground from a point in the air.
  • Pull: pull yourself towards and enemy or pull an enemy towards you. Which it is makes a big difference: the first might put you in the middle of a group of enemies, while the latter might for example pull an enemy in range of your own turret.
  • Teleport: an attack can let you or an enemy teleport towards a position. Maybe you teleport towards the position of the bullet, or towards an object you left behind before, or towards your own position 5 seconds ago.
  • Swap position: swap position with an enemy or teammate.
  • Movement limitations: an attack can also limit movement. Maybe you become really slow while carrying a heavy gun, or maybe you turn into a turret and can't move at all for a while.


  • Chain: keeps an opponent chained to a certain point, but she has complete freedom within the range of the chain. This is a great variation to a snare, because it's much less frustrating to be limited to an area than to not be able to move at all. An opponent can also be chained to an object or another character, allowing you to drag someone along.
  • Weapons that add weaknesses: a great way to add more variation is to add special weaknesses to certain weapons. Maybe the player loses a bit of health whenever she shoots, or moves slower when holding a specific weapon. By adding weaknesses to a weapon you can make its strengths much more extreme without making a weapon instantly overpowered.
  • Summons: a weapon can also spawn a new AI character that can fight for you. If you do this, the summoned character can also have tons of upgrades, like Leon in Awesomenauts who can upgrade the AI of his clones to make them move around or attack. The character can be spawned near the player, or in the spot where a project hit something.
  • Transform: changes an enemy or teammate into something else. A famous example is the Warcraft spell that temporarily turns enemies into sheep that can't attack. The transformation might also be permanent: in Awesomenauts there's an upgrade that lets Genji morph normal droids into flying droids.
  • Vision: some weapons might let you see different things, like a scope on a sniper that let's you look far away, or heatvision, or a weapon that temporarily shows you invisible enemies.
  • Attack visibility: whether the enemy can see your attack coming, and how easily. A nearly invisible bullet is much harder to dodge than a big purple one. Also, if your attack has a clear charge animation then enemies can see it coming and have more time to dodge the attack.

That's it! I hope this list can help other game designers add variation to their weapons. At the very least I had fun making a list and have a nice reference now for my own game designs. ^_^

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