Game Design Snippet 5: The Particle Gun

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Game Design Snippet. This is at least partly due to me trying to develop a bunch of High Concepts for my Game Design class instead of turning them into Snippets here. In fact, several of those ideas that I end up not using in class will probably end up here.

Anyway, onto today’s fun toy idea: The Particle Gun!

When I was playing through Half Life Episode 2 the second time and listening to the commentary, the one commentary node that stood out was the off-hand mentioning that they have a new very neat particle system. In fact, I’ll let them explain it:

Click on the picture to make it bigger if you can’t read it.

Now some folks have been playing around with this new system in their mods. Garry, for example. Now while it’s nice that the level designers can now have custom water/fire/spark/blood/slime/butterfly/et cetera effects, it seems that so far I have yet to see someone point out the truly awesome opportunity that this opens up. I, of course, refer to The Particle Gun.

“So what is the Particle Gun?” you ask? Simply put, it is a weapon/toy similar to the Portal Gun or the Gravity Gun in that by itself it could substitute for a whole array of weapons and should probably made into a game/mod by itself. There are some examples of guns that use particles already: Flamethrowers, the Lightning Gun from Quake, the Portal Gun and so on. Each of those weapons fire one kind of particle in a particular way.

What the Particle Gun does is fire particles that are defined on-the-fly by the player.

Essentially, the gun would have a ton of alternate-fire modes for different kinds of particles. Let’s brainstorm a few right here:

1) Combustion particles would simply be “fire”. This effect is simple and has been done already.
2) Frost particles would stick to solid objects and lower their temperature for a variety of effects (mostly making things brittle so you can smash them, or freezing living beings for a short period of time) or creating ice by firing into water.
3) Mass and Anti-Mass particles would make things heavier and lighter respectively. This would open up a bunch of new possibilities for physics puzzles.
4) Tachyons would slow things down, making them move in slow motion or even stick things in place.
5) Wind particles would create a variety of atmospheric effects depending on the direction the gun is fired and the objects in the vicinity.
6) Fog would be a simple fog effect, though it could be upgraded to something nasty like Acid Fog.
7) Marbles would shoot out a constant stream of marbles that could be used like a slingshot or make enemies slip on the marbles on the floor.
8) Fairy Lights like in the Legend of Zelda games that heal people.
9) Lightning particles that can be used to power machinery.

As you can see, there’s a ton of potential just in the basic fire modes. To keep computers from having hernias from too many particles existing at once, there would need to be some pseudo-sciencey limitations on the gun such as

1) Only one kind of particle from the gun can exist at a time
2) If you switch modes, all of the particles you just shot disappear
3) This is because the particles are actually made from “Contrivium” and are “tuned” to different states. If you retune the gun, the particles instantly return to the Contrivium chamber in the gun.

Now in addition to the basic kinds of particles, the system would allow fine-tuning by the player. Various upgrades and components for the gun could be added and swapped around to create variations on the basic kinds of particles. For example: bigger particles, more of a kind out at a time, a thin stream, a wide stream, “grenades” of particles the shoot in a clump and then spread out, particle traps that are little transparent balls that burst when an enemy step on them, solid melee-weapons covered in particles and so on.

This system could also be used in a fantasy setting to create custom spells, psychic talents, super powers and so on. The sky is the limit!

All Game Design Snippets copyright (C) 2008 Matthew Mather. Source engine used for illustration.

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