Unsolicited Critique: Steiner Park SP420 Kinetic Assault Pistol (Interstellar)

(If you’re looking for the more serious/professional write up – that’s here)

Wizard Tower Games recently tweeted that they wanted to know what kinds of weapons people wanted for their the works game: Interstellar

This was kind of a weird question to put forward since to date they have provided no real helpful information about what kind of product that it would be, what kind of characters you would play, what kind of enemies these guns would be used on and what kind of world it is set in general.

The only real world building present in the diagram provided is that there is apparently some sort of corporate incentive to make weapons “Human Use Only” This is a little worrying given that stylistically it may or may not have been influenced by the rifles in Starship Troopers (1997), a movie that was intended to condemn fascism but is beloved by fascists and the Nazi-adjacent.

Starship Troopers screencap showing the modified rifles.
These are just real guns with extra bits put on top to make them look sci-fi, they weren’t really a big part of the movie and it made it easy to read them as guns.

As part of my amusement/hobby/obsession: Documenting the hilarious, immoral and sometimes possibly illegal actions of TSR LLC (referred to by some as “NuTSR”, personally I use”TSR (LaNasa)”) and associated companies (including former partner Wonderfilled Limited and current partner Wizard Tower Games) as well as the various personalities – I made some comments regarding that and an earlier post without tagging/flagging them.

It appears they were discovered and were not received well.

I did, indeed, refer to it as a “space glock” – the rest of this doesn’t seem to have addressed anything.

To be fair, it can’t be easy working with Justin LaNasa. Based on what I’ve seen and been able to find, it seems kind of like being a secondary character in Succession except instead of the hottest pop up restaurants with obscene prices on wine and haute cuisine, he takes you to a greasy spoon diner and promises he’ll cover the tip.

Logan Roy forcefully telling a room "I will win."
Justin LaNasa’s entire strategy in his TSR LLC vs Wizards of the Coast lawsuit

So, at the request of the x people who voted for me to do this: In this essay I provide critical review and feedback that can be used to improve this item, and in my opinion.

First item, before we even get to the specifics of the item, is why show this item like this. This is a kind of up close promotional image that one would assume is intended to get people who are into guns super horny for this this game. As a person super into guns, I can assure you – no horny.

The diagram of the SP 420 Kinetic Assault Pistol

A diagram like this invites you to study it, contemplate it and try to discern lore from it as well as imagine how the weapon would look and feel in real life – as much as you can anyway. After all, presenting this much data suggests you’ve considered it all, and hence mean not just what it says – but what it means. Right away, there’s a few key issues.

  1. Size specifications in Imperial (inches), and range in Metric (metres) – why?
  2. Range 200 metres? For an assault pistol?
  3. Power source… but no clarification on mechanism, calibre, etc Is it a pew gun or a does it fling projectiles?
  4. Is that a magazine in the bottom, if so why is it choked by the pins and trigger well?
  5. DNA Safety System and a Safety Switch (independent of the fire mode)
  6. Lotta extra bits that look like they’d catch on stuff
Marked up version of the diagram.
This is… not good.

Now, don’t get me wrong – designing fictional weapons is hard and most game developers take a lot of liberties with them. I understand that, and I am grateful because it lets me continually enjoy watching Jonathan Ferguson slowly lose his mind every time a new FPS is released.

Deathloop particularly took a lot of fantastic liberties with their guns – I see it, I respect it, I love it.

Those, however, are usually:

  1. Fun. Like it’s objectively just FUN to make a submachinegun by putting two pistols end-to-end
  2. Not literally the second thing we see about the game

This is also a poor choice of imagery to lead with since it sets a standard/style of content that will be nightmarish for an editor to maintain. Every time someone does an art with this gun you have to check all the features are correct, etc. Guns are always a pain in the ass but guns with extra bullshit are the worst (even cartooning this one is a chore)

Making it look like a regular gun, but with stuff on top also raises the question: Where’s the Sci-Fi Wendy?

The answer seems to be in the presence of charging ports, a charge indicator and DNA detectors as labelled in the updated image. So let’s dive into that.

Understanding the Gun

Based on the labelled image, it seems that this is some sort of battery powered gun that firers solid projectiles of unknown specifications, and it has a DNA “safety” to ensure it can only be operated by humans (and not say aliens or androids or alien android sex robots). Since there’s the power, and no ejection port – I’m going to assume the gun flings the projectiles ala Mass Effect.

Doing some fucking around in PhotoShop I did some measurements and relative to the length it looks like it’s somewhere between 0.40 and 0.47 calibre (depending on internal barrel width) so it’s… it’s a chunky round that we’re spitting out of this baby, and there’s maybe room for 13 rounds if we use the Glock G21 as a basis.

But it is here a point of confusion comes in. What is its intended purpose in combat? What role does a wielder of this weapon fulfil? Who has these?

With the full auto status, that kind of makes it seem like it’s a sci-fi sidearm, a gun you whip off your hip and use to drop someone at short range – one of your own if its necessary to maintain discipline. You’d expect relatively low velocity like .45 ACP so that full auto doesn’t snap your wrist like a twig.

But the overall length of 11 inches and maximum range of 200 metres is something you’d expect for competitive target shooting and you’d expect high velocity so that it hits with full power and it has enough oomph to carry it through all the wind resistance. But if its the mother of all nail drivers, then full auto would probably knock out the wielder as well as snap their wrist

So, what can we say this gun is for? Shooting people. We could guess that by the fact its a gun.

One baffling aspect of it is the presence of the charging ports – which seems to imply this weapon relies upon regular access to a charging station of some sort with infrequent use – thus never creating a scenario where a rapid battery change is required. Hell of an oversight for an “assault pistol”.

The DNA scanner also seems a baffling feature since it implies that wielders do not wear gloves, and do not have to worry about the scanner getting covered with say… alien blood after they shoot someone up close.

Overall, its position isn’t clear and anything that could be deduced from some features is unreliable due to their being so many contradictions.

Imagine wielding this

Part of the joy of roleplaying is imagining yourself in your character’s shoes, what would it be like to wear those clothes, enter that crashed space ship, snort lines of alien drugs out of an android ass crack and then fight your way out when you find out that the ship is not only not abandoned, but has a large military contingent who are all straight edgers. (Is this gonzo? I hear Fake OSR are into “gonzo” now)

Imagining the feel of this in my hand, it seems like it’d be very unwieldly due the length and that it seems to be fairly evenly distributed – the further weight is from the handle, the more leverage it has and so the heavier it feels. That’s why Dirty Harry’s automag had all the action a the back.

Harry Callahan holding the Automag like he wants to sell it to you on a late night infomercial.
Classic product placement

The longer length would also get in the way of its roll as a sidearm, since generally the point of those is to be able to whip them out on short notice and send bullets exactly where you need to without balancing a long, heavy barrel. Even John Wick’s scary P30L is only 7.71 inches long, and that’s for use a primary combat pistol in scenarios where he can’t bring a carbine/rifle/submachinegun/shotgun/etc.

So, it’s clunky… and all the controls and information appears on the left-face when held – this creates difficulty in operating it – particularly if you’re a right hander. I did ask Don/Wizard Tower Games if he’s a left hander, but no response yet. But envision for a moment, you’re holding it double handed (as you generally do with a combat pistol) and you need to check the charge meter.

Diagram showing holdings the weapon with the controls displayed.

There’s good way to do it without pointing your gun one way, and looking the other, thus seriously compromising either the safety of others and yourself.

You can turn it sideways.

Cartoon of lifting the gun up to hold it sideways and shoot sideways. 
From the side comes "YOU SHOT ME IN THE DICK" and the pictured character says "Sorry Justin! (not sorry)"

You can point it up, tucking your arms in, in a manner that is truly awkward even bare handed.

You can limit to the Weaver stance and looking away from combat to peer at the side… but aside from looking stupid, the Weaver stance is sub-optimal for professional combatants since the turning of the body exposes

Or if you’re using your left hand you can intuitively roll the pistol 45 degrees inward, and lower it enough for you to get a good read on the charger panel. This technique was popularized in the John Wick movies and is known as Center Axis Relock (this technique is considered great for close quarter gunfights, but not for long range aiming… so not for an 11 inch pistol)

John Wick demonstrating the holding of the pistol on a tilt, but he's right handed of course.
I could have flipped this to simulate “Left Hand” but I respect Keanu too much.

Right hand requires rolling it outward, which is count intuitive, uncomfortable and pretty sub optimal on your body architecture – thus ensuring diminished safety and control.

Similarly, for a right hander, operating the controls (aside from the trigger) requires moving your supporting hand away to push at things with your thumb, or trying to fumble with the thumb of your aiming hand. It’s sub optimal.

Again, left handers have the advantage here in they can reach around with the supporting hand to operate switches, etc. So either this is a diagram of the left hand version of the weapon or they just accidentally created it like that and put all the controls on one side to make them all fit on one drawing.

How do you fix something like this?

KISS and fuck the guns. By that I mean Keep It Simple Sasquatch and don’t try to make the selection of guns a big focus of this product. Instead take the approach of base archetypes and tell players there’s a lot of room for detail etc, the same way that a “longsword” in D&D can be any number of designs. This can be done simply, or with varying degrees of complexity and world building.

Work out some general style guide material to give to artists and writers so it all fits the same look and feel of the product, and then move on. Make the designs simple so that they’re easily replicated by any artists and easily described in fluff text – really all you need to capture is the spirit of the weapon, not the details that just invite fault finding and over thinking.

The simpler the designs are the more likely they are to be used in artwork, and in particular dynamic combat scenes etc – so less is definitely more.

There are a couple of options.

Modular Option

Based on the branding and designs on this, it seems like the key feature of this weapon is the DNA Safety to ensure “Humans Only”. Without further exploring this further it seems like this is a key feature and so to fit in with the general approach to “space” the core kinetic engine that launches things would be compatible with multiple barrels, fittings, ammo providers, batteries, etc so that you have the:

  • Personal small arm core (compact pistols, standard pistols, light carbines)
  • Standard combat core (heavy pistols, standard carbines, assault rifles, light/scouting sniping rifles)
  • Battle core (heavy carbines, battle rifles, sniper rifles)
  • Heavy core (shotguns, anti-armour weapons, ultra-range sniper rifle)

You can then use your technical/science diagrams to illustrate the general concept behind them and then use vague shapes (even silhouettes) for categories with information about their purpose and tables for stats/modifiers etc.

This would also let you take unique approaches to mechanics and the idea of customizing/building weapons – including improvising weapons if you’re on a space station and need to defend yourself with mining gear and a literal nailgun.

Lot of room for player engagement.

Branding Option

Few people enjoy doing countless technical diagrams and doing repeat faithful illustrations of complex objects such firearms – particularly at forced perspective etc. So rather than lock into a finite number of designs, or specific designs, simply invent the branding imagery for the weapon manufacturers.

This was particularly effective in the original novel of Altered Carbon which generally only described weapons by real life brand names, so it would be easy to establish fictional brands with general descriptors (efficient, streamline vs industrial, enforced) and potentially minor modifiers.

This also creates a lot of opportunities for story telling, engagement by hired and fan artists and further expansion products such as feature on Steiner Park as a company, their products, etc.

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