Have you ever picked up a gun in a video game and weren't exactly sure what would happen when you pulled the trigger?
This happens a lot in games, and especially in Sci-Fi shooters.
I love the FPS genre. Most of the games I own are FPS games. So when it came to designing my own FPS game, I had to consider for the first time what my guns would look like.
Since I had decided to make a Sci-Fi shooter, the possibilities were almost limitless. Options are good, right? As an artist, you want freedom, right?
Not exactly. Not when it comes to guns.
We all have pretty good idea of what a real gun looks like. Think of a handgun. Have you got an image in mind? Of course you do. Now think of a shotgun. Is it a double-barrel, a pump action, or maybe a big, bulky 12 gauge. Now, when you find this gun in a game, or choose to equip it in a menu, before you've read a description, before you've fired it, you have some expectation as to what it will do. You also have a good idea of how much damage it should do.
Most gamers have seen movies with guns, or played some sort of shooter video game that represent guns based on real-world weapons. Chances are you've seen a ton of movies with guns, or played a ton of video games with life-like weapons and physics. So you have a strong foundation of what a gun should do. (Unless you've only ever seen 80s action movies, then you have no idea)
Now imagine for a second you're in a game and you pick up a sci-fi, triple-barrel, fusion-fed, purple-laser, plasma rifle. How much damage does it do? What do the bullet impacts look like? How long can you fire it before you need to reload? Do you ever need to reload?
I have no idea, do you?
The point is, if you want to give your players a boost when it comes to learning and understanding your game, use the knowledge they already have to their advantage. They'll appreciate it and thank you for it, I promise. If you want them to feel completely alienated to the world in which you've placed them, by all means, make a triple-barrel, fusion-fed, purple-laser, plasma rifle. Just make sure it looks very different from the pump-action, sticky-liquid nail-gun. Nothing frustrates a new player like trying to identify alien weaponry in the middle of a combat scenario, only to find out they picked up a terminal interface device and not a gun.
Don't get me wrong, some games have managed to create amazing, completely made-up weapons, and managed to cultivate that sense of fun and excitement of being in an alien-like environment filled with strange weaponry. Typically these games are coop or single player, and their meta is all about that sense of discovery. Borderlands is a good example of this.
So if you're ever making a design decision as a developer, remember that your players have a wealth of knowledge you can lean on, and chances are they'll love you for giving them a chance to use it.