Realistic weapons in Spy DNA: How deep does this rabbit hole go?

As we’ve been known to say on more than one occasion, we want Spy DNA combat to feel very realistic, and by extension this means that the weapons also need to work like you’d expect them to in real life.

On one hand, weapons need to work realistically, in the sense that they should have a range and damage specifications similar to the ones in real life. Sniper rifles are best used at ranges over 100 meters (and we’ll make sure there are maps big enough for that to matter), and handguns are a good choice for concealed weapons or closed-quarters combat, where you’d have difficulty wielding a long-barreled assault rifle.

If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that that’s a given, and a premise of our whole game, really. When we set out to build Spy DNA, we wanted to provide the player with as realistic a combat simulation as possible, while still making it a game.

The main implication is that the realism makes for a slightly different set of perks and challenges than a typical shooter. We want for the player to be able to use the common sense and knowledge of how things work in the real world to navigate the game. Basically, if you think doing something would get you (or the opponent) hurt or killed in the real world, it should be the same in Spy DNA. Case in point, head shots. Best to avoid them. Or land them on your enemies.

Just like the real deal (P25 dart pistol)

Just like the real deal (P25 dart pistol)

But on top of that, the weapons also need to look the part. If we gave our soldiers guns that look like they’d be hard to get through an ordinary doorway, or were too heavy to even lift, the realism and the immersion go out the window. Don’t get me wrong folks, there ain’t a thing in the world wrong with games that do that, but it’s just not where we chose to take Spy DNA.

The little screen on the back shows ammo levels and other useful info to the shooter

The little screen on the back shows ammo levels and other useful info to the shooter

So while designing the weapons, working together, Jason, Denis and I have been periodically taking a step back to check whether the weapon still looks usable, practical, and like something that you could imagine the military of 2075 using. You could overhear us having conversations about making sure that we don’t eject brass into the user’s face or hands, or make the shiny trim reveal the position of our sniper.

We put a lot of thought into the ammo feed position, grips, and how easy would it be to reload or unjam in a firefight, what accessories the owner may want to add and where, and so on. Denis put immense attention to detail into each weapon, and as a result we have game guns in which the sights align when you’re looking at them like you’d be aiming. The fact that it’s a 3rd person game where the player will most likely never see these little details doesn’t mean that we don’t pay attention to them.

Most weapons in our game will have a range of accessories/extensions such as scopes, sights, grips, bipods, and extended ammo clips that the player can choose to equip to add a touch of personalization to their kit.
If our Early Access really takes off, we should have the funds to make more customizable parts for the guns, including rare mods, color schemes, and accessories that can only be gained by completing certain missions.

Stay tuned for the announcement of our Greenlight campaign!

Behind the scenes: How are Spy DNA weapons made?

Hey everyone, and welcome to the second part of our introduction to the workflow for creating the assets. If you haven't read the post about who I am, you can check it out first. Today I wanted to talk about my process for creating the assault rifle for Spy DNA.

Conceptualizing the weapon

The first thing that needs to be done before any actual modeling is the concept. This phase of the project is quite important as it will set the dynamic of the work follows.

Another very important thing when creating a model that doesn't exist in real life is to make it appear functional.

Creating the concept for this weapon started with the basic choice of ammunition feed system. For this gun we chose a bullpup design, which means the clip feed is integrated in the stock.

The next thing that was to provide places for the attachments, such as scope, holo-sights, etc. This meant we would be using threaded rails on the gun for the actual attachments.

Modeling the weapon

So now that we have the concept, or the guidelines for our weapon we can proceed to the modeling phase. This is the phase in which we need to be careful on how our concept will come together. Also this is where we need to make our model scale be in line with a realistic model. The reason why this is important is because we want to make sure the weapon animates well in-game, and that the characters using it will look good doing so.

For the actual modeling I used 3ds Max, and basic polygon modeling techniques. The main goal here was to keep the design guidelines in mind and make it into a complete weapon. After a few different versions and going through a few failed designs I ended up with a base model that the team and myself were happy with.

Now that the basic shape was achieved it was time to add in the fine details like little screws, bolts, rivets, threads and the barrel threading. Once all of this is done, we basically have the high polygon count (high-poly) model for our game.

If you are curious as to how all this works, go ahead and check out my YouTube channel.

Getting the model game-ready

Once we have the high-poly model, we need to make a game-ready (low-poly) model. The process of creating a low-poly model of an existing high-poly model is called retopology.

This is one of the more time-consuming parts of the asset creation. Here you basically need to make the 3D model that can be used in the game engine. This means that you will have a polygon budget that will limit how much detail you can put in your model. If you aren't careful of your budget, you can end up putting a strain on the player's computer, and their framerate will drop, and nobody likes that.

This is how the low-poly model of the SR100 looks underneath the textures.

This is how the low-poly model of the SR100 looks underneath the textures.

For this project I did most of my retopology in 3ds Max, but I also used Topogun and 3d Coat. When you're done, you get a low-poly model that has the basic shape, but not the surface details of the high-poly model. Next, we'll need to unwrap it so we can apply textures.

Texturing the model

Once we have an unwrapped model, we can continue to the texturing phase. In this phase first we bake the surface details from the high poly to the game model. This way in the game the weapon will look as if it still had all the little screws, buckles, etc., even though the low-poly model has none of that. 

After this is done we go with the actual application of the materials. I used Substance Painter which is an application for texturing to do the textures for the weapon. With the model done, unwrapped and textured we have the finished model that will be used in the game.

What's next?

If you're still with me, then you were able to get a little taste of what it takes to create a game asset from start to finish.

As we make progress developing Spy DNA, we'll be making more posts like these, so you can look over our shoulders in a way. You will get to hear from the other team members, each talking about their aspects of creating this game.

So for today that would be all from me, and remember to come back and check on our progress often!

-- Denis Keman

Introducing Spy DNA 3D artist

This is a post written by our talented 3D artist Denis Keman. We'll be publishing a series of posts by Denis, which will cover his creative process, and provide insight into how game models are made.

Who am I ?

Hey everybody, my name is Denis Keman. I am a 3D modeler and a 3d generalist. My YouTube channel (Denis Keman - "very creative i know") is all about 3d modeling. I was lucky enough to get a chance to work on the upcoming game Spy DNA. I was hooked on this project because of the old “Jagged Alliance” feel that it had. Then I met the awesome team at Shy Snake Games and we just hit it off instantly. 

Now with that short intro out of the way, i would like to tell you a bit about my workflow. And what i use to do the things i do.

What do i use in my workflow ?

First things first, what you need to know is that 3D work is basically art. To understand it, you need to know the tools that were used. 

In the field of 3D modeling you have a wide array of different tools like Blender, Maya, Rhinoceros, Max etc. All of these are 3D modeling packages, and the one that I use is 3DS Max. I created the high poly and the low poly models in 3ds Max, and texturing was done with Substance Painter. 

If you are not a 3D modeler, you might ask what’s the difference between high and low poly model. Well it's basically two models with different levels of detail for the same thing. The idea is to get the high poly details onto the low poly model (the one you see in game). That way you get a good-looking model that doesn’t eat up all of your system resources when it’s rendered in-game. In order not to get too technical I will leave that for a future post.

The creative process

Getting from point A to point B is not always a straight line, especially in creative work. The first thing that needed to be modeled was the weapons that will be used in-game. The idea here wasn't to simply recreate an existing real-life weapon, but rather to design a unique one. 

The first custom design model was the P-15 handgun. This gun is compact, easy to conceal and carry around. That means that the frame in not bulky and has flowing lines. 

Another thing that i had to keep in mind was the fact that it didn't shoot conventional ammo. Instead it was shooting gun darts, which meant that the barrel had to be different from a conventional firearm. 

Another thing that I had to put into the design was a screen at the back of the gun for showing the shooter their ammo status, firing mode, etc. After going through a few design iterations I ended up with the design you see below.


Since this is the first blog post from me, I would like to cut it short here. I hope it was fun, and that you enjoyed a glimpse into my design process. You should also have a better idea of what the process behind making a game model looks like now. Next time we will go over how the creation process goes for a different weapon. 

And if you would like to see a more technical look at things, leave a comment down below. Depending on what you’d like to know, I will do my best to explain it. 

For any information about the game hit us up on twitter @ShySnakeGames. And don't forget to share this around so more people can hear about Spy DNA. Remember folks, sharing is caring.

So that would be it for now. I will see you all next time.
-- Denis Keman

Realistic damage models


This is part two of the Weapons series. Read Part One: Realistic weapon behaviors.

Warning: This article will be discussing damage to the characters and contain detailed  descriptions of wounds and their effects.

If you played any recent games that involve combat, you’d have noticed that they all use “hit points” to model damage. They may sometimes be called “health,” “vitality,” or “physical condition,” but the underlying logic is the same: You get a number representing how close a character is to death. As a character gets attacked, any damage they sustain gets subtracted from the available hit points, and once you reach zero, you die. Simple, and elegant, right?

Well, simple it may be, but this model is also completely unrealistic. It forces many weapons to be less useful than they should be; it takes away from the challenge of the game; and finally, it turns combat into a war of attrition where the player and enemy take turns shooting each other until everyone on one side is dead. All of these things are undesirable in a realistic game.

Life is full of complex balances and trade-offs, and a realistic game will seek to replicate that as closely as possible. So what is this going to look like when it comes to damage?


In most games, getting shot in the leg is a good thing. You take minimal damage and otherwise proceed unhindered. That would not work quite like that in real life.

No human has a hit point rating. When people get hurt in combat, they can’t just go on as if nothing happened until all their life points are gone. In a realistic setting, even if all you got was a flesh wound, you’d start to limp at a minimum, but if the bullet hit a bone, you may not be able to walk or even stand anymore.

To model this correctly in the game, our weapons won’t have any damage ratings. Instead they’ll be rated for the type of projectile they fire, and the energy with which the projectile leaves the barrel. From this we can calculate how much energy the projectile loses from air resistance on its way to the target.

If the target has armor, it will slow or stop the projectile. If the projectile is stopped, there may be no damage at all or some blunt damage depending on the armor type and energy involved. If the projectile did penetrate the armor, things will get bad for the target.

In the previous post we talked about accuracy and how hits are determined. So at this point we know: 

  1. where the target has been hit,

  2. with what kind of projectile,

  3. and with how much energy (how fast) the projectile hit.

From all this data we can generate a realistic wound by looking at the body part that’s been hit. The system looks at what organs or structures there are, and calculates how much damage has been caused based on the velocity of the projectile and its shape. It’s possible that the bullet will pass through-and-through, as is common with small-caliber armor piercing rounds. In that case it may hit additional objects.

So now we have calculated one or more wounds, e.g. a broken leg, or a damaged eye, a direct hit to the heart, or an arm flesh wound. Just reading this list, you can probably imagine how each of these would limit a character. Some injuries may have more complex outcomes, when they don’t drop the target outright, but limit the character's ability over time.

Depending on the severity of the wound, there will be periodic heal/die checks. Some wounds will be life-threatening, in which case we’ll calculate a survival chance, and check frequency rate. Passing the heal check doesn’t mean the wound is healed, only that it’s no longer life threatening and the character will survive. Medical aid will change the odds for each wound, improving the chance of survival. Medical aid can also reduce the frequency of survival checks, so in some cases it buys the time to get the character to a proper hospital.

Now that may sound scary, but it should make for a more nuanced and interesting gameplay. You’ll have more options for selecting the right kind of weapons for all members of your party, depending on both their talents and the objective.

Take for example the small concealed pistol. There’s a reason they exist in real life, but in your typical game they are pretty much useless. With this system, they can be useful once more, provided you can avoid the armored parts of your target and hit a sensitive spot.

Same goes for armor and combat tactics. Do you bring heavy armor to the fight hoping to stop any rounds headed your way, or do you rather focus on not getting hit at all? Heavy armor will make you slower and more conspicuous, while light armor or none at all may increase your agility, but makes the consequences of getting shot much more serious.

As a result of balancing the objectives with risks, as the game goes on, every player will end up building a very unique party, best suited to their playing style.

That’s it for today. Our next post will deal with encumbrance and movement.


Realistic Weapon Behaviors

Here at Shy Snake, we have a focus on realism. Let us explain how that carries over to weapon design and balance.

The nuts and bolts

We start with the real properties of a weapon, the real basics such as how many rounds it holds. We don’t use “proxy” statistics such as bursts or taps. No weird logic that leaves you with a pistol holding 4 rounds while somehow being as accurate as a sniper rifle.

This means the weapons will have the same realistic controls you would expect in real life. Most will have a single-shot mode. Quite a few have a burst mode, or full-auto mode. You may remember our earlier post, in which we talked about timelines. In a timeline-based model, if a weapon has full-auto mode, it’s 100% up to you how long you want to hold that trigger: fire a short burst or rock’n’roll until you’re empty -- completely up to you.

Accuracy and chance to hit

Here we make a pretty dramatic break with most squad-based strategy games. Rather than using a basic “hit chance” with modifiers for range and possibly cover, we go in a different direction. Our system is based on CEP (Circular error probable).

While it may seem like a lot of fairly abstract math, in practice this concept is very simple to explain.

It goes like this: The player specifies an aim point for a character. The system then calculates based on skill, time spent aiming, situation, and weapon, where the shot actually goes. From there it determines hit or miss.

This also means things such as hit location fall out of the calculation naturally. A skilled shooter with a good rifle and time to aim should consistently miss by just a couple inches at most at normal ranges. That’s probably going to be both a hit AND hit something important. A less-skilled shooter panic firing a pistol is much less likely to hit what they aimed at, and may well be a hazard to those around them.

There are three primary factors that will determine where the shot actually goes.

  1. How well did the shooter do at pointing the weapon in the right direction? Based on their skill, the time they spent aiming, and conditions such as standing, kneeling, or prone.

  2. How accurate is the weapon? Does it put the round right where it’s aimed or does it vary widely on it’s own?

  3. How stable is the round once fired? Does it veer wildly off the intended trajectory?

At typical combat ranges the first is the dominant factor. It’s also where a lot of the gameplay balance for the various weapons happens. The powerful heavy weapons tend to be slow to aim and vice versa.

There's a reason the military carries assault rifles

There's a reason the military carries assault rifles

So just as in the real world, you wouldn’t want to use a sniper rifle to breach a room, just as little as you’d want to use a pistol for picking off an unaware target at long range. These curves are actually generated from the length, weight, and grip of the weapon, and are unique for each.

The player will have a wide range of options for servicing the enemy.

Recoil and burst or full auto fire

Once the player has aimed and begins to fire, the accuracy model continues to be important.

One thing almost all games get wrong, is that burst fire doesn’t affect the chance of the first and consecutive rounds fired hitting their target. In our system, once the first round is headed downrange, the recoil of the weapon is calculated against the shooters stance and ability. This degrades the aim of the weapon.

As a result the next shot will be less accurate; and each subsequent shot will be even less so, until you reach the point where the character’s ability to control the weapon will stabilize any further loss of accuracy. This means that low-recoil weapons are more desirable if you plan to throw lots of rounds downrange in a hurry.

For a look at how our game deals with damage and damage modeling, stay tuned. That’s a subject for another post.