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Saturday, 31 January 2009

About nailguns.

So I got into the beta for quake live. Which is nice. I played quake 3 to death when it came out, but I never got the team arena expansion, what with it being a little lacking in content and all. But being a part of quake live, I've finally gotten a chance to see the only interesting-looking part: the new weapons.

The proximity mine launcher does what it sounds like. But it's only useful for speculatively mining areas of the map. I suspect you'll almost always be better served by hunting people down with a real gun.

The chaingun is what you'd expect - high RoF hitscan weapon with a spread. Rate of fire ramps up to the maximum relatively slowly as you hold the fire button down. You get into the habbit of starting to fire when you hear a combat, before you see it, so it's firing at full speed sooner. And the spread makes it more like a fully automatic shotgun than an alt plasma gun. Fun in context, but nothing terribly unique.

The nailgun though is a real prize - a weapon not quite like anything else I've used before. It really impressed me. It's like the UT flak cannon (primary) - fires a hail of nails that do massive damage if they all hit. But that doesn't do it justice.

First of all the nails are quite tightly packed and don't seem to spread that much in flight. They fly fairly slowly - there's a very noticable travel time for the projectiles. You always have to lead the target if there's any kind of lateral motion going on. The small spread makes it great fired down tight corridors though. What was most interesting to me is that it doesn't just fire a spray of projectiles like traditional shotgun weapons, it fires a cloud.

When you get a solid hit, you hear a succession of "shunkshunkshunk" as the nails slam into them in succession. While the railgun projects a line of damage, and the rocket launcher creates AoE damage where it hits, the nailgun launches a moving AoE.

One of the reasons the rocket launcher is such a great FPS weapon is that there's so many variables involved in each shot., all depending on the skill of the firer, the target and the situation. Travel time for the rocket means you need to lead the target proportionally to the distance. Direct hits cause the most damage, but are the hardest to pull off. Catching someone in the blast is easiest if they're against a surface, especially if you have the high ground, but does less damage. It's easy to clip someone for a little damage, but satisfyingly lethal hits are also possible. For any given shot the skills of the firer and the defender have all had an impact on how much damage was done

On the other hand is a very binary weapon. Was your cursor over the enemy when you clicked: yes/no? This weapon rewards skill and punishes ineptitude like no other. If you're good enough you do 100% damage. If you're not, 0%.

QL's nailgun is like the rocket launcher. The tightly packed cloud means that it's probably a one-shot kill with a perfect hit, but the difficulty of a perfect hit degrades rapidly with distance because of the travel time. Like direct hits with the rocket launcher. More frequently you'll clip someone with the nails, or hit them with the front runners of the cloud before they step out of the way of the rest. Lateral motion is the best defence against the nailgun.

The flak cannon is great point-blank, but because of the spread it's useless at medium range or longer. They could up the damage or number of projectiles, or tighten the spread, but then it would be too strong at short range. In its own way it's nearly as binary as the railgun, but weighted towards situation rather than skill.

The genius of the cloud is that it allows the nailgun to be overpowered in its ideal situation - at close range or against a target moving along the same line as you - without being either overpowered or useless at longer ranges. It retains its full potential in a wide variety of situations, but there's a sliding scale where the less ideal the situation, the more skill is required to make the most of it. And so, like the rocket launcher, using movement and tactics to create that ideal situation becaomes a part of the skill in using the weapon.

Unfortunately it only appears in a couple of maps. And I've not seen anything like it in later games. Shame.

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