Profiles in Gonzo Guns: Morph-O-Ray
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Mommy's Best Games is releasing Serious Sam Double D XXL on XBLA Feb 20th and there's lots of "gonzo" guns. Before the release, I wanted to dissect what makes crazy guns fun in other games. I hope more games consider gonzo guns as they often push designs in new directions.
Ratchet and Clank is a third-person action-platformer featuring a furry alien and his robot sidekick traveling about the galaxy fighting bad guys. The series began on the Playstation 2 in 2002 and continues to this day pleasing fans on Sony portables and the PS3.
The Morph-o-Ray is a great, gonzo gun because it turns dangerous, disgusting aliens into harmless, hilarious chickens.
Concept: Player character Rachet fires a swirling, colored stream of energy at enemies. If the beam is held on a smaller enemy for a moment, the alien morphs into a chicken. Firing the beam longer at larger enemies can change them to chickens as well. Enemies remain chickens; they are unable to revert back to their original forms.
The new chicken is to the left, just under the beam.
History and Legacy: The 'enemies-morph-into-chickens' concept was preceded by Heretic which contained a special item called the Morph Ovum. When used this item caused projectiles to launch forward, turning most enemies hit into chickens. It's notable that Ratchet and Clank balanced the weapon and gave the player the ability to use it any time, rather than limiting the power to a special item. Though also of note, in Heretic the rarity of the Morph Ovum was balanced with some entertaining, random abilities.
As many of the weapons in Ratchet and Clank did, the Morph-O-Ray spawned an entire category of 'transformation weapons'. Subsequent entries in the series included guns such as the 'Sheepinator' and the 'Quack-O-Ray'.
Gameplay: Functionally the firing action was similar to any gun that fires bullets. Effectively the time held on the enemy would be the time required to fire bullets at the enemy and kill it. But instead the time here is required to hold the beam on the enemy and change its form to something harmless.
Other weapons, especially when shot at bigger enemies over time, might knock them back (temporarily stopping some of their attacks) which was an advantage. Players had to be careful when using the Morph-o-Ray as there would be no knock-back on bigger enemies and it could be tough to train the weapon on them the entire time it took to change the bad guy.
Video link to the Morph-o-Ray in action:
Visuals and Audio: The swirling, colored beam was aesthetically appealing. However more obvious feedback when hitting an enemy would have been helpful. Between the swirls and the sparks, it was a little tough on bigger enemies to tell if you were hitting them or if they were just out of reach.
The resulting chicken aspect was excellent--being able to the change the enemy into a well-modeled, fairly realistic-acting chicken was very satisfying and entertaining. The clucking sounds of the chicken supported the humor well.
Why It Works in This Game: Rachet and Clank has an cartoony, inoffensive style. Still many of the enemies can be pretty intimidating with their quick approach or wicked fangs. Changing all manner of disgusting aliens into Earth chickens helps enforce the game's wacky sense of humor.
Encounters with enemies range from the simpler 'popcorn' types of enemies that surround Ratchet and attack in groups, to the bigger, less frequent aliens. Having many frequent, smaller enemies, and full support of the Morph-O-Ray on nearly every enemy, gives the player plenty of chances to create a veritable chicken farm.
Requiring the player to keep the weapon trained on the enemy balances out its power and the fact that it required no ammo. The timing could have been shifted to a singular projectile which instantly changes the enemy into a chicken. This however would have required a reload time (or some similar delay) to achieve the same game balance. This probably would have worked okay, similar to how a rocket launcher functions. However the way the final version requires constant attacking, it keeps the player's time occupied with action, in keeping with the pace of the game.
The difficulty could have been increased by allowing enemies to transform back to their previous forms. Generally though Ratchet and Clank games are not a difficult games which wouldn't make a 'reverting behavior' a good match.
The weapon takes what is basically simple shoot-the-enemy gameplay and changes it into something filled with humor and personality. Though well known now, the original version showed plenty of creativity, and updates in sequels have added extra abilities to the morphed creatures. The Morph-O-Ray should inspire other designers, not to copy the exact design, but to consider that the design directly fused the identifiable style of the game with a satisfying weapon.
Previous Gonzo Gun: Land Shark Gun