Weapon upgrade system designs and limitations

Weapon upgrade system designs and limitations

I’ve been contemplating on design of the weapon system and upgrades for a lot of time. I wanted the game to be based on skill but have a variety which would add to the replayability of the game at the same time. Here are the basic definitions i have decided on:

  • Game will contain about 30 weapons
  • Every weapon can be upgraded 4 times (levels 1-5)
  • Ship has two weapon slots available, you can freely switch between weapons in game
  • You can’t have same two weapons equipped
  • You eject the currently active weapon by picking up a new one that’s different

For example, you have Pulse Gun Level 1 equipped as active weapon and Biter Level 1 equipped as inactive. After blasting the enemy transport you come across Ripper and pick it up. Since you don’t have it equipped in any of slots, it will replace the active weapon and eject Pulse Gun Level 1. If you wanted to replace Biter, you could simply switch weapons to make Biter active and replace it by picking up Ripper. This will be a common occurence for adapting to the enemy types because of their vulnerability or resistance to certain type of damage (ballistic/explosive/energy/special against normal/armored/shielded types of enemies).

I could make things simpler in design and coding by simply omitting the part where the replaced weapon is ejected since there’s a small chance of picking it up by accident since it involves pressing a key while you hover over the weapon. However, two player mode requires that feature for the weapons to be interchangeable between players and that is a great way to improve cooperation, gameplay and combined firepower.

Due to some design limitations i had to make a hard choice that can affect the future gameplay on upgrading the equipped weapon and few solutions came to my mind.

1. You can only upgrade the weapon if you pick up the exact same weapon. That way, either equipped or not, the weapon in players possession is upgraded to the next level without any ejection which only happens when you are picking up a weapon you don’t have equipped on any of the slots. While challenging with high long-term impact on decision-making, you only have 6% chance of getting the same weapon from the transport which is slim to none and could severely hamper the player experience. If weapons had only one level the approach would be viable, but with total of 150 weapon levels it would only be frustrating.

2. Whenever you equip a weapon that is not equipped it is always at level 1, but when you upgrade any of the weapons on ship to level 2, the weapon you replace the level 2 weapon with will also be level 2. Basically, if we modify the first example a bit so the active weapon (Pulse Gun) is level 2 and inactive weapon (Biter) is level 1, when we pickup a Ripper instead of Pulse Gun it will automatically be upgraded to level 2. Opposite to first approach, it is less challenging and encourages experimentation, but it comes with a design problem which i’ll explain thoroughly.

When we picked up Biter it is upgraded to level 2 on the ship and Pulse Gun level 2 is ejected. This enables us to switch Biter to active weapon, pickup the level 2 Pulse Gun, eject the Biter, and then pick up the Biter again which will automatically be upgraded to level 2 now. While requiring a bit more speed to do it in a chaotic environment i would considering it cheating since you’re upgrading both weapons that way and that is certainly not something i plan to implement. As i noted in the introduction, i could simply disable the weapon previously equipped to be ejected, but that beats the idea of switching weapons between players which i find to be a great gameplay feature of a co-op mode.

Maybe i’ll disable the feature of ejecting only for single player mode for now.

3. Make weapons upgradeable only by picking up the same weapon as equipped, but increase the chance of spawning a weapon you already have

The maths on this one are simple, though a bit tedious to code. You have 25% of transport spawning active weapon, 25% of spawning inactive weapon and 50% chance of spawning a new weapon. This comes with a different kind of trade-of. Though 25% is a lot it may happen that you rarely run into a weapon you want to upgrade. On the other hand, you may always run into a weapon you already maxed out. This discourages experimentation since you will always want to hold on to your maxed out weapons, no matter how good or bad they are. There are no bad weapons per se, but holding on to weapons of the same type greatly decreases success.

4. Weapon upgrade pickups

Though not originally meant to be implemented, this could pose a good solution combined with approach 1 or 2. It is simply a kind of a joker card which levels up your active weapon without worrying if it’s the same one. If you pick it up, the active weapon gets upgraded and you just keep on blasting.

Which solution would YOU like to see implemented?

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