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Exclusive City of Heroes developer diary on the design of Dual Pistols animation

Eliot Lefebvre
06.01.10
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Even if you hate the ranged powers in City of Heroes with the heat of the sun, it's impossible to deny how stylish the animations for Dual Pistols look. The amount of movement in every single power makes the set feel organic and action-oriented, regardless of any other mechanical elements. But what went into making one of the marquee power sets for Going Rogue look so fluid and interesting?

Nelson Tam, an animation artist for Paragon Studios, was the mastermind behind the gun-fu on display for heroes and villains alike. In our exclusive developer diary, "How John Woo Inspired my Gun Fu," he explains how the animations came to life, from the earliest point of conception to the finished product that players can enjoy. City of Heroes players have clamored for the set nearly since the launch of the game, but as the diary explains, it wasn't necessarily quite so easy to get it to look right in the game. Click on past the cut!


Hello! I'm Nelson, a character animator at Paragon Studios. I'd like to talk to you about one of the coolest projects I've ever worked on – the Dual Pistols Power Set for City of Heroes Going Rogue.

It's easy to make a sword look cool -- but how do you make firing a gun look cool when all you really do is pull a trigger?

"Unlike swinging a sword, which includes a lot of body motion, firing a pistol only requires one finger."

Our vision of "Dual Pistols" was something flashy, stylish, badass and cool. It couldn't be just a guy holding two guns. It had to be awesome. I was waiting all my life for this chance. I'm originally from Hong Kong, so the movies of John Woo and the stunts of Chow Yun-Fat, Jacky Chan, and Jet Li live within my blood! The gears in my brain started to spin, and I was like "yeah baby, bring it on!!" We were going to go John Woo.

For the next couple weeks, I did nothing but look for dual pistol references. I watched a lot of old movies, went through YouTube to find cool action clips, read a lot of comic books and read even more manga. (What a great job I have!)

One of the biggest challenges in making the Dual Pistols Power Set is the choreography design. Unlike swinging a sword, which includes a lot of body motion, firing a pistol only requires one finger. Not to mention we had to create nine different powers for the entire Dual Pistols Power Set, each with a unique animation. My first approach was to study the strong poses from classic films such as Hard-Boiled and Face-Off.

An equation I use to help me design is Good Animation = The Right Pose at the Right Time.

Pointing your gun at the enemy and firing is boring. But spread out the legs, keep the hips low, thrust the gun forward as if you are sticking out a sword and then firing off your pistol... that makes for great animation!!

To further exaggerate the power, the idea of Gun Fu was discussed. In the realm of gaming, making combat seem realistic isn't my main concern. I want to make fighting look amazing. I want to emphasize the beauty of combat – bullet ballet, gymnastic gunplay, curving bullets – all of these became my inspirations.

As an example, the "Piercing Rounds" Dual Pistols power allows the user to "fire a pistol with deadly precision in a very narrow cone and piercing up to three enemies."

How was I going to visually present the idea of "deadly precision?" I decided to treat the pistol as a spear, have the player toss the gun into the air, turn his body around, grab the gun back into his hand, and thrust out with the arms at the same time as the pistols fire. Is it practical to fire a pistol this way? No. does it look badass? Hell yeah!!

For Gun Fu inspiration, the movie "Equilibrium" was recommended by many people. The Gun Fu combat in the movie is totally over the top, so it was perfect for me. I felt like the acrobatic fight scenes were meant to be put in a video game, and it later became one of my inspirations for my favorite power, "Hail of Bullets."

Movies weren't enough though so I ended up spending a lot of time acting out the animation too. Paragon bought us some air guns for "research" and I even videotaped myself trying all of the animations until I was finally happy with the poses and timing. When you see the Dual Pistols animation in-game, that's actually me!

If you want to know more about how we made City of Heroes Going Rogue, come by our Facebook fan page, where we'll keep posting more information about the development process. Thanks!

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