The Gun Club

The Gun Club

Written by Dave Gamble on 9/27/2018 for RIFT  
More On: The Gun Club

When looking for games that really come alive in the VR environment, you seldom have to look much further than the latest racing, flying, or shooting game. In fact, the most satisfying VR games are often those that are analogues to physical world activities and involve interactions with physical equipment. This makes perfect sense, of course, because interacting with physical devices, especially those having knobs, levers, switches, handles, and other mechanical interfaces, is so much easier and natural when viewed in a 3D world and manipulated with VR touch controllers.

That having been said, the use of VR for these types of simulated activities is by no means a rock-solid guarantee of a satisfying or, for that matter, workable, solution. A great deal of thought and testing needs to go into the implementation to ensure that it is actually workable and at least passingly intuitive for people familiar with the real world equivalent.

As an example, consider Gun Club VR. There is certainly no shortage of weapon-based VR games on the market, but many of them are so carelessly designed that they are nearly, if not entirely, useless. Gun Club VR, which lies firmly on the must-have side of the continuum, exhibits excellent design through and through.

In addition to the excellent modeling of the actual operation of the weapons, the Gun Club also also demonstrates an extraordinarily good game design that makes it more than just a showroom for VR-based guns. The guns are very well modeled graphically and the physics models certainly seemed plausible to me, although I grant that I have never even touched most of the guns included, much less fired them.

Beyond a graphical style that believably mimics the actual world I inhabit, Gun Club also moves a bit closer to my own personal ethics when it comes to shooting games. I like that the targets in the game are exactly that: inanimate targets, as opposed to AI people. I’m not opposed to shooting at human (or human-like) characters in games as a matter of principle, it’s just that shooting at virtual humans nags at my innate humanitarian leanings after awhile. Looking at you, Far Cry 5, although in Far Cry 5, they were at least all really bad people. When given the choice, though, I will shoot at inanimate objects or hunt for game, which possibly explains why I spent so much of my time playing Far Cry 5 was spent hunting game or fishing. But I digress.

So, about the weapon modeling. You might think that modeling the handling of a gun would be pretty straightforward. It probably would be, if real life dictated that all you have to do is pick up a gun, point it in the general direction of a target and pull the trigger. With some exceptions, guns don’t really work that way. Consider the picking up of a gun. Where is it being picked up from? A table? A holster? A gun rack? All of these have to be considered.

How will it be held? The proper grip for a handgun is only passingly similar to the way a rifle is held. Even with a simple two-hand hold on a rifle you have to consider things like a rifle equipped with a scope, which has to be aimed by holding the gun up against your shoulder. Some guns, like shotguns, can be fired from the hip - this needs to be considered too.

What if you drop the gun? Will you be able to reach down far enough to pick it up?  A lot of thought has to go into these basic questions, and a whole lot is riding on developing good solutions for them.

Once that is all figured out, the next implementation to really get right is the reloading of the gun. This operation can be the make-or-break aspect of a gun game, and it is the one that is most commonly designed/implemented poorly. To add to the complexity of capturing the right motions and gripping from the VR touch controller, there is also the herculean task of the researching and modeling of the plethora of different ways reloading is implemented in the real world. It is most critical to get this part of it right in both the real world and in VR because there isn’t always time to be muddling through a reload when you need one the most; it is far more common to need to reload when you are in a firefight than it is when you’re just standing around jawing with your buddies.

When you add in the additional stress of being shot at, even an easy to reload gun can get hopelessly entangled in your flailing, adrenaline infused hands. A poor reload implementation is going to kill both your avatar and your enjoyment of the game.

Once you have a viable gun model, you need something of interest to shoot at with it. Targets can be just about anything, but the most common choices are inanimate targets, people, or used-to-be-people like zombies and monsters. All of these are workable, although inanimate objects tend to be stationary and completely benign and thus lacking the threat and/or challenge of a moving target. Low-challenge shooting is great for practice, but at some point you really want to measure yourself against a more aggressive and/or mobile target. This is yet another brilliant aspect of Gun Club VR: they found a way to make inanimate targets both threatening and challenging, and they did it in a way that makes it fun.

Having already defined three broad categories of critically important design aspects, let’s work our way through them to see how close Gun Club VR got to the three elusive targets.

Before that, however, let’s address another common failing in VR games: the menu system. There seems to be an irresistible temptation to make the game menus overly rich and frustratingly obtuse, thus pairing needless complexity with poor UI design in a manner almost guaranteed to frustrate the player before even getting to the actual game play. While complex VR menus can add a lot to the ambiance of the game, it is far more common for all of that glitz to just get in the way. While not minimalist by any stretch, the menus in in Gun Club do manage to add some ambiance without clogging up the works with meaningless activity or glitz. This actually hits the right note with people that have actually been to gun shops and firing ranges: these places tend to be brightly lit and welcoming, but very few are likely to ever be confused with a jewelry shop. In Gun Club, there is just enough menu bling to evoke the appropriate memories and emotions of folks that have actually been in a club or shooting range without making it difficult to get where you want to go. The minimalist industrial-grade furniture also reminded me very much of installations I worked in while in the military. The center piece is a big, no nonsense table that doubles as a place to set your gun while equipping it, and as the means for selecting which particular gun that you own to use for your next shoot.

Yes, you “own” guns, which correctly implies that you have to buy guns. You also have to equip them if you want to have any capabilities beyond that of the naked gun. There a a few dozen accessories, ranging from attachment rails, scopes, sound suppressors, extended round magazines, and other pieces/parts to help with accuracy, stability, and strength. As far as the guns themselves, there are roughly a dozen choices, although more get added periodically with game updates. To date, there is no sign of paid DLC involved. The guns do have prices assigned to them, though, so there is some in-game money making to be done before you can buy better/different guns and attachments. Fortunately, the game pays out pretty well and I never felt like I was caught in a vicious and/or boring grinding cycle.

The guns available to buy fall into categories based on usage type and era: there are pistols, small machine guns (SMGs), assault rifles (basically slightly bigger machine guns), shotguns, sniper rifles, and just recently announced for a future update, grenade launchers. Within each category, there may or may not be both contemporaneous and historical models.

Each gun, no matter what era it's from, is modeled to work as much like the real gun as possible, albeit within the constraints of today’s VR technology. If it is a gun that is fed ammo through a magazine, you reload it by removing the empty mag, grabbing a new one from your left hip, and slamming it into the gun. That isn't always as easy as it sounds.

If the gun is currently empty of a round in the chamber, which happens at the beginning of a round of shooting or if you fired the gun until it was empty, you must pull the charging handle/slide to chamber a round before you can fire. This is never as easy it sounds. Some of the older guns are especially fiddly - note that it can be a horribly poor choice to enter a highly dynamic shooting level with a bolt-action rifle.

The ostensibly routine act of reloading, or forgetting to, cost me a lot of points. Sometimes it was because I would forget to charge the gun at the beginning of a round. The other common case was shooting until the gun was empty. You soon learn to reload when there is a least one round left in the gun, or whenever there is a lull in the action.

This brings us to the meat of the game which is, not surprisingly, shooting. Gun Club is just what it sounds like: a club where like-minded people can come and shoot guns at targets in a well-regulated and comfortable location. In other words, you will be shooting at targets, not humans. That said, this is an especially modern gun club and even some of the ostensibly inert targets can move and shoot back. The types of targets available in the various themed ranges run the gamut from the pedestrian round bulls-eye targets up to mobile and threatening targets in the form of WWII soldiers or present day zombies. Sadly, the choices are mutually exclusive: I never did encounter a squad of WWII zombies.

I tend to concentrate primarily on the WWII themed range, myself. Not only are the targets drawn to look like WWII soldiers, so is the overall ambiance of the stage. If the targets weren’t so flat, you could easily imagine that you were in a Call of Duty game, albeit without the mobility. Most of the targets are of the pop-up type where a soldier-shaped target pops up and stands in place, then falls flat after a few seconds if you don’t manage to shoot it. A smaller number of the targets will also move forwards or sideways, and an even smaller number will be hidden behind a hostage. You aren’t supposed to shoot the hostages, of course, but I am telling you right now that you will. That is a testament to how immersive the game is, even with so-called inert targets. Sometimes you're so keyed up that you get a little too quick on the trigger and cringe just as you release a bullet towards a hostage.

You must also spread your attention around when there are a lot of targets up - some of those "inert" targets also shoot back. These levels also provided a lot of cover to duck behind without straying too far from the center point of the VR play area. That's a big plus!

As you progress to the higher levels, the setup of the ranges becomes both more sophisticated and more frenetic. You can get away with ham-handed reloading or poor aiming for the first few levels, when things are still relatively calm, but at some point you are going to have to really master a few things: reloading, remembering to yank the charging handle/slide, remain calm enough to not shoot hostages, and to concentrate on holding the gun correctly.

That last one is in reference to long guns, or guns with a lot of recoil. Those require a two-hand hold to operate efficiently. Trying to fire an AK-47 on full auto while holding the gun with just one hand is the recipe for utter failure - the gun is very quickly going to be pointed at the sky, and this ain’t duck hunting - it’s not going to do you any good. You need to learn to use your other hand to hold down the front of the gun. Luckily, all of this feels very natural, at least with the Oculus Touch controls. Having never tried it, I cannot make any such claims with Vive or other controllers.

I've never been a fan of zombies, so I only played a few rounds in there. As I am not a fan of the genre, I can't say whether or not they got this part nailed as well as they did with WWII, but I can say that it met my expectations: wave attacks by creepy dead folk. Wave attacks touch some inner stress trigger for me, so I do try to avoid them. For whatever it's worth, this one pressed it pretty hard.

Gun Club VR is a well-designed and incredibly fun VR shooting game. The sessions last only a few minutes at a time, but are compelling enough that you emerge from the battle sweating and emotionally drained. With just a little practice, the gun handling starts to feel natural and you come to grips with the motions required to reload quickly and accurately. The game design is such that you are frustrated with yourself if you have a bad round, not with the game itself. In fact, if you only score two or three stars out of a possible four, you will almost always try again, safe in the knowledge that if you are good enough, you will eventually get the full score.

Just about everything works perfectly in Gun Club VR. The length of the shooting rounds is just right - not too short, not too long. It is easy to earn the dough required to be new weapons, and there is a sandbox level that will let you test them all out on a closed range before buying to ensure that you don’t waste your efforts on buying a gun that you end up hating. Short of finding an actual gun shop/club that offers this kind of all-inclusive and profoundly satisfying shooting environment, Gun Club VR is the way to go.

 

Just about everything works perfectly in Gun Club VR. The length of the shooting rounds is just right - not too short, not too long. It is easy to earn the dough required to be new weapons, and there is a sandbox level that will let you test them all out on a closed range before buying to ensure that you don’t waste your efforts on buying a gun that you end up hating. Short of finding an actual gun shop/club that offers this kind of all-inclusive and profoundly satisfying shooting environment, Gun Club VR is the way to go.

Rating: 9 Excellent

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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