The Kevuru Games team has told us how their Weapons Department approaches the creation of realistic weapons, explained why it is more difficult to model sci-fi than realistic weapons, and shared why artists themselves visit a shooting range and learn to shoot.
The game development company Kevuru Games has extensive experience in developing and creating weapons for numerous AAA games. Successful expertise, elaboration of the smallest details, and accurately hitting the target when generating and implementing ideas for clients make the Weapon Department of the company a strong and cohesive team ready to take on any challenges.
Lead Weapon Artist Ivan Dikhtyar tells how his department approaches the creation of weapons, how communication with customers takes place, why it is more difficult to model sci-fi than realistic weapons, and also why artists themselves visit a shooting range and learn to shoot.
Why Game Developers Pay So Much Attention to Weapons
In first-person shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield, the weapon is always in front of the player's face. The user throughout the game sees it in great detail, without blur, which makes the weapon one of the main visual elements of the gameplay.
But in third-person games, weapons play an equally important role – as a rule, they are clearly visible when aiming. Therefore, when creating any game with elements of a shooter, it is so important to model and texture it perfectly.
At the same time, computer hardware is becoming more powerful every year. Artists have a free hand – now you can pay more and more attention to detail and create more complex forms. In turn, this is exactly what shooter fans are waiting for – for weapons to be elaborate, realistic, and beautiful.
Weapons, along with other visual elements, immerse the player in the atmosphere of the game. Depending on the plot and genre, these can be retro pistols, weapons from the Second World War, modern models like AR-15 and AK, etc. When it comes to sci-fi, you need to develop a weapon concept from scratch – for example, a blaster, firing a laser.
How the Weapon Department Works in Gamedev Companies and the Features of the Team at Kevuru Games
Usually, the standard Weapon Department in a game dev company is a team of 3D artists. They receive concepts, references, and technical requirements from related departments – art directors and concept artists. And then, based on these materials, they are already developing a weapon model. This classic system of work may have its drawbacks since the concept of a weapon requires quite a lot of expertise – you need to understand how this type of weapon works and, based on the technical documentation of the client, understand how complex the concept should be. That is why our Weapon Department has its own concept artists, who work directly with weapons and can implement all ideas reliably and accurately. Thus, we provide a full cycle of weapon creation from concept, 2D, and 3D art to game development models and animation.
A beginner artist alone cannot create a weapon – this is too complex a genre. As a general rule, a person should get their hands on easier tasks first, such as modeling weapon attachments or environment props. When Juniors enter our department, they work in tandem with Senior specialists and thus quickly gain experience and become Middles.
Some guys from the team specialize in realistic weapons, others – in stylized ones. And some are interested in creating both the first and the second.
The artist who creates the weapon must understand all the stages of the pipeline: Highpoly, Lowpoly, UV, Baking, and Texturing. To help our employees grow, we run in-house corporate courses for artists and regularly host knowledge-sharing meetings.
A more specific requirement for weapon artists is an understanding of how the weapon works. This is important in order not to make mistakes in the little things – for example, to know and understand how a specific rifle is arranged and how it functions. And even if we are talking about the development of stylized weapons for sci-fi, they must be modeled logically and work according to the laws of physics. All this must be taken into account at the stage of creating a concept.
Challenges Weapon Department Specialists Face
Our portfolio contains enough commercial projects, including AAA and AA titles. We have experience with a wide range of time frames, from the colonization of America to the colonization of Mars. We created both historical muskets and modern weapons. We also worked on big games in the sci-fi genre – stylistically it is similar to Overwatch and Apex Legends.
In most cases, clients come to us with a fairly clear understanding of what kind of weapon they need. But there are also cases when customers do not have a definite vision. Then we offer our concept. If the client approves it, we take it to work, if not, we ask them to make a Reference Board.
For example, one of the clients showed us a selection of various models. In the pistol, they liked the drum, in the machine gun – the handle and buttstock. As a result, we assembled the concept of a stylized laser blaster from their references. The customer was satisfied.
Creating stylized weapon concepts is more difficult than working with realistic models. When we need to model, for example, a real rifle, we know in advance all its parameters down to millimeters, we have detailed drawings of all elements, like a Picatinny rail. We can take a clear reference and work on it.
In the case of a stylized or sci-fi weapon, all these details need to be developed independently, especially if initially the customer only has a general concept and blockout. For example, a weapon has a specific magazine loading – you need to figure out how the magazine with cartridges is inserted, how it is attached and snapped off, etc. At the same time, visually, all this should correspond to the general style of the weapon.
Let's look at such a development using the example of a post-apocalyptic grenade launcher, consisting of various elements of everyday use.
We have a concept of our team:
As you can see, we have a lot of everyday elements, that is, in addition to the concept itself, we need to find good references and accurately model certain objects. And the most important thing is to combine them logically, and also to check their functionality. We do all this on a 3D concept. The main thing is to understand how objects are attached to each other, and what meaning they carry. That is, you need to think through every little thing. And also how the shot will be fired. This takes a lot of time.
How the Process of Creating Weapons is Technically Arranged
It all starts with concepts or client references. Let's say the task is to make Kriss Vector. Before starting work, we discuss the details with the customer — for example, what kind of wear this model will have. Then we develop the detailed blockout.
We work in Fusion 360 – this is one of the best tools among CAD programs. It is convenient to create hard-surface models there, as Fusion 360 simulates the work of a weapon lathe, observing all the correct degrees of work of the cutter. Thanks to this tool, we complete the task about twice as fast as if we used standard packages.
After agreeing with the client on the proportions of the model, we put it into ZBrush or Blender. There we impose chamfers – soft transitions between planes, bring some elements to the ideal, and also make chips or crumples if the concept initially requires it. Then we show the finished high poly to the customer.
Lowpoly + UV
The next step is to create the Lowpoly and UVs. Artists work with software that is convenient for them – most often it is 3ds Max, Maya, or Blender. For UVs, we use UV Layout or RizomUV. Then we assemble the model in the software specified in the technical documentation of the client, and there we assign anti-aliasing groups for further baking of the model.
Most likely, the client has a well-honed pipeline, and we must hand over and customize the weapon model, guided by their technical requirements for this project.
We bake the Normal map and the Ambient Occlusion map in the Marmoset Toolbag.
Finally, we put our model in Adobe Substance 3D Painter and work on creating textures there. Then we unload them for a specific engine that the customer uses – for example, Unity or Unreal Engine.
The number of approvals with the client usually depends on the complexity of the weapon and the need to optimize it for a specific project. If this is a complex project, then we approve the work at each of the intermediate stages: Blockout, Highpoly, Lowpoly, UV, Baking, and Texturing.
And in cases with simpler projects, customers themselves often say “We’ve given you the number of polygons and expectations for textures, so we’re waiting for the final version.” Then it remains to coordinate only the stages of Highpoly and Texturing.
Where to Look for Weapon Artist Inspiration: Tips and Lifehacks
I’ve already mentioned that a weapon artist must have a good understanding of how the weapons they create work. The key task is to model the correct geometric model with clearly defined contours, shapes, and technical features. To do this, it is not enough to take one single image and make, for example, a rifle based on it. In the long term, we will get an incorrect model with the wrong width, missing elements, etc.
But even with several images and different angles, things are not enough. A professional artist must understand the features of a particular type of weapon, if possible, hold it in their hands, and feel the ergonomics. It is useful to learn how to disassemble and assemble weapons, install a sound moderator and canopies on the Picatinny rail, etc.
To do this, the guys from our team often visit shooting galleries and weapon shops, examine structural elements, and practice shooting. Even Airsoft models are quite suitable for training because their principle of operation is the same as in real combat machines, rifles, and machine guns.
If it is not possible to study weapons live, we use the World of Guns application, where all models are detailed and have clearly defined characteristics.
We recommend junior specialists practice as much as possible. It is better to start with attachments, such as a flashlight, fire transfer handles, a bipod, and a laser pointer. They have a minimum of design features and fairly simple shapes, and therefore they are easier to model and texture.
An expert in creating 3D weapon models is distinguished by love and attention to detail. Therefore, it is important to study the properties of the materials of which the weapon is made, to highlight the places where corrosion and scuffs form, and so on. Without enough texture detail, the model will look plastic or cartoony. And vice versa, if the artists feel the material and get acquainted with the design, structure, and proportions, then the result will be realistic and satisfy the expectations of the most demanding clients and players.