Outstanding examples in current games, areas that could use improvement, and general commentary on the genre.

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II. Gunnery

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The proper modeling of weaponry is one of the things that sets true tactical games apart from the pack. The little details, from sight patterns to ballistics and weapon sway, all add up to be far more than the sum of their parts.

Real soldiers train, train, and train some more until their weapon is an extension of themselves. To quote from the Marine rifle creed, "My rifle and I know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit..."

So, to those developers who strive to simulate realistic combat: We're playing as soldiers, Marines, or other trained combatants. Allow us to use our weapons as smoothly and with as much skill as our real-world counterparts would be able to. Model things right and you won't have to resort to "cone-fire", over-the-top accuracy penalties, or other gamey factors intended to "balance out" the deficiencies in your systems.

Above all else, I would urge all developers of realism games to spend some serious time firing real-world weaponry, as well as doing real-world training. The more familiar you are with how things work, the better you'll be able to turn your experiences and understanding into solid code that gives the realism crowd the kind of attention-to-detail and accurate modeling that we've so long craved.

Without further ado, let's move into the discussion of the various elements of gunnery and how they've been implemented in past titles.

Ironsight and Weapon Modeling

When it comes to the quality of weapon ironsights and the accuracy with which they're represented, two games top my list. The first is for fully 3D sights, and the honor goes to Call of Duty 2 for having the best. The other game, or more specifically, certain addon units and mods for it, is Operation Flashpoint, which uses 2D sprites to represent the weapon sights.

While Call of Duty 2 may have some scaling and slight perspective issues, likely caused by the game being co-designed for PC's and consoles and thus having to cater to the lowest-common-demoninator of screen resolution, the overall execution of their 3D sights is well above and beyond other games. Art-wise, they're excellent - solid textures, combined with accurate 3D modeling of them and their sight pictures.

In addition to modeling the sights correctly, CoD2 goes on to make player movement have an impact on their weapons. Your weapon has a very slight lag relative to your view movement, so rapid movements of the mouse will result in the weapon trailing slightly behind your view. The weapon also reacts subtly during other movement, like jumping/falling and moving in different postures. You can see this illustrated in the following video.

Download the hires version of this clip.

Moving on to Flashpoint, there's not a whole lot to say. The original game didn't have the most visually appealing sights, but there are many excellent mods and addons out with fantastic 2D sights for a variety of weapons. The upcoming Armed Assault is said to be transitioning to a fully 3D sighting system, so hopefully the best elements of the Call of Duty 2 system will merge with the excellent community-created OFP ironsights. Below you can see some examples of well-made community sights for Flashpoint.

For the future, it would be nice to see some shader-based rear sight blur on 3D weapon sights - Call of Duty 2 has none in any capacity, whereas the 2D sight pictures in various Flashpoint mods may or may not offer it (the tradeoff being that adding such blur typically creates "banding" in the textures). America's Army does this pretty well for their 2D ironsights (though the fact that the game mixes 2D and 3D ironsights is something I'm not too fond of, particularly when the 3D ones aren't that hot to begin with).

M-249 Ironsights in America's Army

Real-world M2 .50cal and M-240G machinegun sights. Note blur of rear sight/weapon/terrain due to focus on front sight tip.

 


 

Recoil

The correct modeling of weapon recoil is something which many games struggle to properly portray, or simply don't bother to even attempt to execute realistically. All too often there is either far too much recoil for certain weapon types (like Red Orchestra's submachineguns), far too little, or various other issues are present which make the weapons behave in an unrealistic fashion.

Despite not having ironsights, Raven Shield still manages to do a superb job of modeling slow- and rapid-fire shooting, both on the move and stationary, with all manner of weapons. From pistols to submachineguns, shotguns, assault rifles, and machineguns (excluding sniper rifles, which have a poor implementation relative to everything else), every weapon in Raven Shield behaves like I would expect them to in the hands of highly trained operators.

Instead of ironsights, Raven Shield uses an expanding crosshair to indicate how accurate you'll be with a weapon at any given time. This is impacted by movement, both your character's physical movements around the gameworld and your point of aim shifting, as well as whether you're wounded or not, and what posture you're in. Each weapon handles differently, such that moving forward with a hefty machinegun in a standing posture is going to be inherently less accurate than doing the same thing with a light and compact submachinegun.

Raven Shield employs a number of different elements to give the player feedback when he's shooting. You get the screen shaking from the recoil, your aim being jolted around, and the muzzle climbs during sustained firing. RvS has a sort of "natural point of aim" feel to it, such that after each burst from your weapon, you'll typically end up somewhere close to where you were aiming initially, while still "off" just enough that you need to make minor corrections between each burst (assuming that you're far enough from the target to warrant such things - the closer they are, the less likely you'll have to worry about it all that much). It's hard to quantify what it is exactly about the RvS method of recoil that feels so right to me, suffice it to say that what I experience when running around blasting tangos in RvS matches up to my experiences with real-world weaponry, both in the Marines and as a civilian. The player’s ability to fire controlled, rapid bursts or rapid single-shot fire, both while stationary and while on the move, matches up to what I’ve experienced with real-world weaponry, and the accuracy of your shooting seems to fit nicely to how your stance, speed, and posture would affect such shooting.

For reference, here's a real-world clip of me firing my personal AR-15 while on the move. Note how it is most definitely possible to move at a decent rate while keeping a weapon shouldered and firing, and also note how stance transitions can be made from standing to crouching without having a dramatic negative effect on your accuracy during the transition. The soldiers and combatants we portray in our first-person tactical/wargames should be more than capable of acheiving similar results.

Download the hires version of this clip.

Next up we have a clip that shows off RvS's CQB quite nicely. In it, I'm running through a MOUT training facility with an MP-5A4 hunting down 11 or 12 tangos scattered randomly throughout. You can see many elements of RvS coming into play here, from the fantastic "true first-person" modeling to the tactical reloading, general weapon accuracy, and recoil.

Download the hires version of this clip.

The main problem with RvS is that, as I mentioned above, it doesn't have an ironsight view. However, if you could take the basic principle behind how it works and tie that into an ironsight system, you'd have the basis for an extremely solid close-quarters (for the purposes of this, we'll say anywhere from 0-75 meter distances) shooting model. Take the best of RvS's model, mix it with OFP's long-range model, and throw in at least CoD2-level 3d ironsights and you'll have a simulation of shooting unparalleled in the tactical gaming world.

 


 

Sight Sway, Ironsight Transitions

Sight sway is a critical element of an accurate weapon and accuracy model, and ultimately plays a very large role in moderate- to long-range combat. The lack of it typically results in pin-point precision shooting at all ranges, which allows all involved parties to acheieve a level of battlefield accuracy well beyond the ability of your typical soldier.

When it comes to that mid- to long-range combat, Operation Flashpoint takes the crown. In it, the sight sway behaves in a realistic and believable way, with it wavering and jittering around in an unpredictable fashion, compared to the languid, easily compensated for sway you get in some games. The more fatigued you are, or the more unstable your stance, the more pronounced the effect will be, such that a highly fatigued person trying to shoot a scoped rifle from a standing position can expect to hit everything but what he's shooting for. While not perfect (you tend to be too stable when standing), the OFP system is far and above most other games in its modeling of longer-distance shooting.

In this video, you'll see the waver through ironsights and a scope in the standing posture, both in an unfatigued state and a post-sprint, heavy-breathing state.

Download the hires version of this clip.

Flashpoint, like many games, models the varying levels of stability inherent in the different shooting stances. Standing is least stable, crouching more so, and finally prone is the most stable shooting position. Moving in any stance while in ironsight mode will cause your sight picture to bob and jolt around to the extent that it's only really advisable to use for MOUT or other close-quarters combat. The modeling in that respect is flawed, due to the player's view being "welded" to the stock, with a perfect sight picture (thanks to it being a 2D sprite for the sights). Because of that, the game has to forcibly jar your point-of-aim around, which due to being locked to your view results in a very disorienting and unrealistic jerking of your view.

A more accurate model of looking through the sights while moving could be accomplished with 3D weapon models and ironsights, of the quality you see in Call of Duty 2. With this kind of implementation, the player's movement would cause the weapon itself to bob or shift independent of his view, such that the weapon sights would be imprecisely aligned (with the degree varying depending on speed of movement, posture, etc), which assuming that the weapons were modeled correctly, would result in the point-of-impact shifting constantly but staying restricted to the direction the weapon is physically pointed (such that there is no random all-over-the-place accuracy like you would get in Counter-Strike when firing full auto on the move). This kind of effect is implemented in Raven Shield and represented via the expanding aiming reticule, but not through an ironsight view. The faster the player moves, the less precisely he's able to aim his weapon, and thus the reticule expands to show this. If the player moves at a controllable, smooth rate (without jerking his aim all over the place constantly), he'll be able to maintain a good level of accuracy and place rounds on target (utilizing a "center of mass" hold) at reasonable distances while mobile.

Download the hires version of this clip.

Red Orchestra does have one thing that Flashpoint and Call of Duty 2 both fail to model, in the form of gradual loss of stability if you stay in ironsight mode for too long. The increased sway occurs too quickly in RO, but the basic premise behind it is solid. Look at the following video for a demonstration of how this sway affects rifles, submachineguns, and scoped rifles.

Download the hires version of this clip.

Many games that model 3D ironsights have this "bobbing/misaligning" ironsight effect when moving or quickly turning (with CoD2 visually pulling it off the best), but it's questionable if any of them have extensively modeled the POI shifts that result from it. This is something that would come increasingly into play as fights progress past 50 meters or so (or past 10-15 meters with pistols), and would quickly prevent run-and-gun accurate fire at anything other than realistic distances matched with steady and stable movement speeds.

This next clip is I took with my real-life personal rifle, an AR-15 in M4 configuration (with a 16" barrel instead of 14.5"). In it you can see a demonstration of what an EOtech Holographic Weapon Sight looks like, as well as seeing a rough idea of what it looks like for a shooter to go from "unsighted" to "sighted". The EOtech, and sights like it, are preferred for CQB and MOUT environments due to the ability for a shooter to focus on the target with both eyes open and not have to worry about aligning the front and rear sights. You simply place the reticule on your target and fire. This makes the sight picture incredibly easy to pick up, and while the way this works isn't really properly modeled in current games (more on that later), it is something that will hopefully be correctly represented in future serious tactical games.

I should mention that the movements/alignment in this video are fairly sluggish compared to how it would normally look, due to the problems inherent in holding the rifle with one hand while manipulating a camera with another. Still, it should give a pretty good idea of how fluid real weapon manipulation is compared to what is frequently encountered in games.

Download a hires version of this clip (**highly recommended**)

 


 

Weapon Support

In the real world, soldiers are taught to utilize their environment to give them support for whatever weapon system they may be employing. Resting a rifle on a windowsill, the side of a fighting hole, or any other supportive surface can give a dramatic increase in their ability to deliver accurate fire to the enemy. For the longest time, no game came anywhere near close to offering a solid recreation of this very common combat technique.

That all changed when the retail release of Red Orchestra hit the scene. Red Orchestra is the only game that I know of in which you can get aiming support from the environment in a non-scripted fashion. You can use vertical or horizontal surfaces for support, and the actual implementation is intuitive, automatic, and well-implemented. Sandbags, a pile of rubble, the wall of a trench, a lightpost... anything you could conceivably support your weapon on in reality can likely be used in RO. To indicate that a position can support your weapon, a grey icon shows up at the bottom of your screen. After a moment without moving, the icon will light up, at which point your mouse sensitivity will drop a bit and you'll find your weapon to be extremely stable (vastly reduced sway).

With this system, snipers are no longer restricted to firing from a prone supported posture if they hope to get any accuracy, and soldiers in general can achieve high levels of stability and accuracy by utilizing their cover and environment in an intelligent fashion. Firing out of bunker apertures, or from behind sandbags, reaches a new level when you actually get support from the structures as you would expect to in reality. Thanks to this system, the player feels a closer attachment to his environment, and natural positions that any normal soldier would use in combat to increase their stability can be easily accomplished without any extra hassle to the player.

Weapon support in Red Orchestra

Continuing on, we must look at other options that more specialized roles like snipers, sharpshooters, and machinegunners can use to stabilize their shooting.

The first of these is the bipod. Unfortunately, most games that include bipods (such as America's Army for their sniper rifles/MG's, and Red Orchestra for the MG's) have a nonsensical "locked deployment" feature where a player is restricted to a specific arc of fire once he's deployed, and must undeploy, shift, and redeploy the bipod if he wants to cover another sector of fire. The fact that the player's model must fold up the legs of the bipod (typically done at a leisurely rate not at all in keeping with the fact that he's in COMBAT, and totally ignoring the fact that the weapon can realistically be moved with the bipod deployed) only adds insult to the injury that results from this absurd and time-consuming requirement.

A more satisfying representation can be found modeled in Raven Shield, where the bipod deployment automatically and quickly occurs whenever a player goes into the prone position with such a weapon. Instead of forcing the player to undeploy/redploy, it deals with the matter in the fashion described in the "Prone" section of the movement chapter.  To sum that up, the player's body must be physically moved around to get him aiming in different directions. He cannot spin 360 degrees with a flick of the mouse; instead, he is limited to a small 30-45 degree arc. However, he can easily shift himself around to orient his fire arc in different directions. It's a natural, logical, and well-implemented feature that should be a standard in any game purporting to portray realistic combat. If you would like to see a video of this in action, you'll find it later on in the "Prone" section.

While it might go without saying, it's important to point out that Red Orchestra also allows for machineguns to be deployed on the same surfaces and in the same situations as any other weapons in the game. While the deployment does have issues - namely, it takes too long to deploy, and the player rotates where he's standing versus pivoting around the gun - it overall is a far superior system to the pre-arranged machinegun deployment positions or pre-set machinegun emplacements from other games. One small but important feature of the Red Orchestra deployment system is that a player can undeploy his weapon without having to specifically hit the deploy/undeploy key. If a grenade happens to land nearby, the player can just press his movement keys and he'll automatically undeploy the weapon and move.

For future implementations, it would be beneficial to allow the player to pivot around the deployed weapon, versus the weapon rotating around the player. This would result in a much more natural system, and more closely replicates real-world employment of such weapons. Combine this with Fluid Stance and you'd have one hell of an good (and innovative) deployment model.

The final thing I'll mention here is that when deployed, a machinegun is heavy enough that it will NOT buck up off of the ground (which it is resting on via the bipod) and start climbing crazily into the air during sustained fire. Machineguns will kick and shake and such, but the ability for a shooter to keep it shouldered and on-target during firing should be properly recreated.

 


 

Sight Adjustments

Adding weapon sight adjustments to a realistic wargame will allow proper implementation of long-distance shooting, "lob"-trajectory weapons, and would lay the foundation for all sorts of other weapon systems to be realistically implemented. As of yet it the various bits and pieces of such a system have been found scattered about in various games, but there has yet to be one that does it all propery.

Starting with sight adjustments at their most typical level (small-arms sights), World War II Online implemented an easy-to-use way to adjust the elevation of their small-arm weapon sights. Two keys, defaulting to PG UP and PG DN, would either raise or lower the elevation in "clicks" of 100 meters. Considering the distance that rifle engagements could occur at, and the precision necessary to get a round on-target with a bolt-action rifle, this was a critical feature for a game that had fully-modeled bullet ballistics.

To the best of my knowledge, there has yet to be a game that allows you to adjust both elevation and windage. For any game that models wind and the effect it has on bullet ballistics, it would be wise to include windage adjustments. I'm sure many people would read that and think something to the effect of "Wait, if there's wind, and we can't feel it, how would we know to adjust for it?". The answer to that is that you do it the same way real snipers do it. Look at how the wind is blowing trees, smoke, flags, guess the windspeed, and dial in a counter to it.

One game which springs to mind that could desperately use an elevation adjustment feature is Operation Flashpoint. To give an example of why elevation adjustments are necessary for sniping, check out this shot from OFP. In it, I'm approximately 2000 meters away from my target (Russian General Guba), using a .50cal M82 SASR "sniper rifle".

Due to the enormous amount of bullet-drop that occurs over such long distances, you can see that I have to aim quite high above the target (what's known as "offset aiming") to compensate for the drop. If elevation adjustments were implemented, I could "guesstimate" the range, dial in the appropriate elevation settings, and then hold the sights center-of-mass on my target before firing. For the purposes of realistic portrayals of sniping, sight adjustments are critical. If we're lucky, Armed Assault or the as-yet-unnamed "Game2" sequel will have all of this properly modeled.

When it comes to close-range shooting, sight adjustments play less of a role. Typically, a modern US infantryman armed with an M-16 or M-4 will have a "Battlesight Zero" (BZO) for 300 yards. Due to the rise and fall of the bullet after leaving the barrel, the trajectory will closely correspond to the "point of aim" (POA), such that the "point of impact" (POI) is, at most, a few inches from the POA at any range from 0 to 300 yards. For your average combat engagement, a few inches of deviation from the POA is hardly noticeable, and certainly not enough to warrant micromanagement of sight elevation during 0-300 meter combat engagements. The reason I bring this up is because, for your average infantry soldier in a game, he really doesn't have to worry about windage/elevation adjustments. He can aim just like he always has (offset/Kentucky windage), and get by just fine for the most part. However, with snipers, designated marksmen, or anything similar, the option is there for them to make whatever sight adjustments they deem necessary.

Another variation of sight adjustments comes into play when we look at grenade launchers and rocket weapons like the M-203 Grenade Launcher, the Mk-19 Grenade Machinegun, and the AT-4 anti-tank rocket. These weapons have a few things in common. Relative to a rifle or machinegun, they have a very limited number of rounds (from a single shot in the M-203 (reloadable), to a single shot in the AT-4 (not reloadable), to 40-round magazines with the Mk-19). Each of their rounds potentially does an enormous amount of damage compared to 'normal' rifle bullets, and the rounds all have a "lob" trajectory that drops steeply as distance increases.

AT-4 (left) and Mk-19 (right) sights. Note how much elevation is required for the Mk-19 to go from shooting at a target 300 meters away to one 900 meters away.

Surprisingly enough, the only recent game I can think of that properly models sight adjustments for these kinds of weapons is the WWII shooter Red Orchestra. In it, the Panzerfaust AT weapon is modeled such that you can aim it for 30, 60, or 80 yards, and the 3d model shifts accordingly to line up the rear leaf sight with the front sight tip. Without having these adjustments, firing the Panzerfaust accurately at the different ranges would be an exercise in (unrealistic) trial-and-error.

Moving on to modern examples, here we see a typical representation of an M-203 leaf sight (distinctly different from the M-203 quadrant sight, which I don't recall ever seeing modeled in any game). This particular one is from the LSR Operation Flashpoint weapon pack/addon.

With the way the sight is represented there, the actual functionality of the sight is completely absent. You can see that there are range markings, but - as I'm sure many people have wondered upon seeing such models - how the hell are you supposed to use it? In short, while visually that is how the leaf sight looks, functionally the leaf sight by itself, without the front sight to adjust with, is completely useless.

Here are two shots of an M-203 leaf sight from the ISMT I ran at the end of my enlistment in the USMC. I took these shots specifically to illustrate what's wrong with said sights in modern games, as it has and continues to frustrate me to no end to see the sights modeled incorrectly.

The M-203's leaf sight is graduated in 50-meter increments, with the 100 and 200 meter ones marked. To aim it, you place the front sight tip centered in the leaf sight, with the tip aligned with the range you're aiming for. Using this method properly, one can achieve great first-shot accuracy on a point target at 150 meters, or an area-target (like a fireteam) at 350 meters (per the Army publication on the M-203, FM 3-22.31, which you can download here if you'd like to read about employing the real weapon) . This is a far cry from the "fire and adjust" method currently required in OFP and other games that model the M-203.

To close on this particular topic, I'll emphasize the fact that any weapon that has a "lob" trajectory (meaning that it isn't as "flat" as a rifle bullet trajectory would be) benefits enormously from having sight adjustments possible, to the extent that not having said adjustments severely cripples the implementation of those weapon systems. This applies to all of the above weapons, and doubtlessly many, many more. If you wanted to take it even further, you could conceivably create accurate mortar aiming systems, and even Traversing & Elevating (T&E) tripods for crew-served machineguns, with a solid windage/elevation system as a basis.

If you're interested in reading more about rifle marksmanship, sniping, and the M-203 Grenade launcher, I've uploaded several of the military publications dealing with such, in PDF form.

The first is FM (field manual) 23-9, the US Army's publication on Rifle Marksmanship. The next is FM 23-10, Sniping, followed by FM 3-22.32, covering the M-203 40mm Grenade Launcher. I've also included MCRP 3-01A, the USMC's Rifle Marksmanship manual, and MCRP 3-01B, the USMC's Pistol Marksmanship manual.

If you want to know more, there are tons of military publications available for free online via a variety of sources. Look and you're bound to find ones dealing with machineguns, mortars, air support, and pretty much any other military topic you might want to read about. If you want to know how things work in the real world, the military manuals are a great place to start.

 


 

Ballistics

No first-person wargame is complete without weapon ballistics, at least if it intends to model combat at ranges beyond 50 meters. When it comes to ballistics, there are a number of areas we can concern ourselves with - wind-induced drift, drag, gravity, and loss of energy over distance are the main ones. Most of them, with the possible exception of wind-induced drift, are featured in the upcoming Armed Assault. Short of that, Flashpoint wins for having the best ballistic model of any game I've yet experienced.

Ballistics increasingly plays a role the further one gets from their target. Time-of-flight becomes an issue, requiring proper lead to hit a moving target. Gravity forces one to utilize offset aiming to score hits at long range, while energy loss dictates whether or not your weapon will be effective at any given range. All of these factors combine to emphasize the roles of various weapon systems, and their places on the battlefield. Pistols, with their low muzzle velocity and energy, quickly lose any appeal once the range gets past 30 meters. Submachineguns fare slightly better, up to perhaps a max of 100 meters before you feel like you're just throwing rocks at the enemy. Rifles and carbines show their strengths out to 500+ meters, depending on the caliber employed, while machineguns and sniper rifles continue past to reach out and touch things with effectiveness thousands of meters away.

Ricochets are an aspect of ballistics that many games either avoid altogether, or simply "fake" for immersion purposes. Red Orchestra is a culprit in the faking department - the machinegun tracers you see ricocheting in it, while nice to look at, are completely incapable of doing harm. Armed Assault, on the other hand, models proper ricocheting, to the extent that automatic 20/25/30mm cannon shells can ricochet off of one object (be it a tank, building, terrain feature) and explode upon impacting another. Red Orchestra does model the main tank guns ricocheting off of armor, and they do do damage to whatever they hit, but it applies exclusively to the tank main guns being used against other tanks. Shells will not ricochet off of the environment. Ricocheting bullets can increase the effectiveness of machineguns dramatically, particularly in urban areas, and it will be nice to see this come into play in ArmA.

On the subject of energy loss over distance, let me relate the basic workings of 5.56mm NATO ball ammunition, the type used in US M-16 and M-4 rifles. Perhaps this will shed some light on how the modeling of such an aspect of ballistics can lend itself to making a very robust damage model.

With a 5.56mm bullet, the primary wounding mechanism is via fragmentation. The base-heavy rounds, upon hitting a dense material (i.e. flesh), have a tendency to tumble such that the base is leading the way through said material. At speeds of over 2700 feet per second, this attempt at tumbling causes the round to experience extreme amounts of force and break into multiple fragments which spread out in a cone-like fashion and carve multiple wound channels into the victim's body. This has the effect of dispersing the vast majority of the bullet's energy into the target, versus the round fully penetrating without fragmenting and exiting out with energy to spare.

However, once the 5.56mm bullet is traveling at speeds below 2700fps, the fragmentation rapidly lessens and then ceases entirely and the bullet has a much less dramatic impact. It's still very dangerous and can do a great deal of damage, but it's not as effective as it would be at a higher velocity. The distance at which the bullet dips below 2700fps varies due to barrel length and weapon type, but generally speaking you can expect to see it max out at around 150-170 meters for a 20" barreled M-16A2 or M-16A4, whereas it drops to around 100 meters for a 14.5" barreled M4 carbine. These rifles are rated as being capable of hitting point targets at ranges of 550 meters, so you can see how there's a relatively small fraction of that range at which the weapon performs optimally. With that being said, most combat occurs at ranges <200 meters, so it's certainly nothing to sneeze at.

My point in bringing that up is that in a game like Armed Assault, the potential to have superb, unprecedented detail in damage modeling is there thanks to the modeling of energy loss over distance. Plinking at a guy 700+ meters away with your M-16A4 may only wound him (assuming you hit him to begin with), whereas if you had a .50cal SASR you'd be able to deliver a devastating kill shot at that range. With the way it currently stands in Flashpoint, a given bullet type does X-amount of damage regardless of how far the bullet travels before impacting a target. Armed Assault will bring this much closer to the reality of how things work, and will be yet another aspect that will allow us to experience the factors that give pistols, submachineguns, rifles, and machineguns their own distinct roles on the battlefield.

 


 

Reticule Pattern Accuracy

One oft-overlooked aspect of in-game sniping is the sniper's scope reticule pattern. Many games don't bother to scale or calibrate the reticule such that it can be used in the same fashion that a real one is. In Operation Flashpoint, this is not the case.

As you can see in this picture, the SVD Dragunov reticule in OFP is properly scaled and matched to the ballistics of the round, such that the player can actually use the range-estimating aspect of it and the different aiming chevrons to achieve first-round hits in a realistic, truly skill- and knowledge-based fashion.

I think this subject is pretty self-explanatory. For a sniper to be effective, he needs to have a scope that behaves in a similar fashion (if not exactly the same) to the real-world equivalent. Reticules can and should ideally be used in games to guage distance and for hold-over purposes.

Accurate reticule patterns come into play in more than just sniper rifles, however. Modern sights like the ACOG have Ballistic Drop Compensators (BDC's) built into them, and are increasingly being used (along with a variety of other optics) instead of ironsights by modern armies. A BDC allows a shooter to "hold-over" on a marked range aiming point so that they can make accurate first-round hits on targets at varying ranges without having to manually adjust elevation settings each time.

In this picture, you can see a real ACOG BDC compared to the improperly scaled ACOG BDC present in the BAS addons for OFP and another OFP mod ACOG. The real one would prove useful, whereas the two mod-created OFP ones are nothing but meaningless eye-candy due to their range markers not lining up with the ballistics of the rounds.

Other sights like the EOTech HWS have aiming dots which are a specific number of MoA's (minutes of angle - 1 MoA is equal to 1" at 100 yards). The EOTech HWS has a 1-MoA center dot, while the Aimpoint 3M has a 4-MoA dot. These can be used to estimate the distance to a target, amongst other things, as long as they're properly scaled.

In recent Armed Assault footage, it appears that the game will have properly-scaled reticules for the ACOG and M24, and presumably all other weapon sights.

 


 

Breathing and Breath Holding

OFP, as mentioned above, models the waver of weapons very well at the kind of distances sniping is typically done at. However, it is not without flaws. Since there is no way for the player to manually hold his breath or "concentrate" for a shot, a key element of sniping is found to be conspicuously absent.

There have been games that have featured breath holding for snipers - Call of Duty 2 and Far Cry spring to mind as two of the more recent ones. Of them, Call of Duty 2 has the best implementation. In it, the sight sways constantly while in scoped mode. It is only when you toggle the "hold breath" feature that the sway disappears and a steady shot can be made. In addition to that, the act of concentrating is simulated by having external sound muffled a bit, while adding an amplified sound of the thump-thump-thump of the player's heart. If the player keeps his breath held too long, he'll exhale violently and cause his scope to uncontrollably sway for a few seconds. Although this is a somewhat exaggerated effect, and not entirely realistic, it fits nicely with the game and with some tweaking would be a worthy addition to future wargames. In the case of a game where sniping is done at more realistic distances (such as Flashpoint), the implementation would best be changed by having an increasing and declining benefit for as long as the player holds his breath. Meaning, at the start his sight becomes steadier, and he can fire accurate shots. After a bit, the sight starts to waver again, small amounts at first but quickly building up to worse-than-normal levels (due to muscles twitching from lack of oxygen), after which the player would be forced to exhale (with the resulting disturbance to the sight).

This video illustrates the process involved in CoD2 sniping. First you will see the breath being held too long, followed by the punitive effect for that, after which you'll see shots made with the help of the breath-hold feature.

Download the hires version of this clip.

 


 

Smoke & Muzzle Flash

Hollywood and most action games would have you believe that every single shot from any kind of weapon will result in a massive muzzle blast - the reality is quite a bit different. Getting games to reflect that, however, is a difficult prospect.

Without being able to experience the physical recoil of the weapon pushing into your shoulder, the smell of gunpowder in the air, the heavy thumping as each round is expelled, and the thundering boom of each shot, games and Hollywood typically overcompensate by making enormous muzzle blasts. While there are some weapons that do produce impressive muzzle blasts with regularity (typically shorter-barelled ones), most are rather subdued. Generally speaking, the smoke from each shot is a much more prominent expulsion than flame. Additionally, muzzle flashes don't always occur on every shot even when the weapon can produce them. You'll often see them appear erratically, with a few shots being predominantly smoke, then one with a small amount of flame, or one with a large amount, and so on and so forth.

To illustrate this with real-world footage, have a look at this compilation clip from a machinegun shoot I was at on Okinawa. Tons of smoke, but virtually no visible flame - from machineguns, no less.

Download the slightly higher resolution version of this clip.

When it comes to smoke from shooting, Raven Shield does a good job of portraying it. On the subject of muzzle flash, it does an adequate job, though it probably errs a bit too far on the side of Hollywood for a game that's pushing realism so heavily in all other areas. Still, it's a better implementation than most other games. Raven Shield's muzzle flashes would be more in line with what you might expect to see from certain types of weapons in low-light situations.

Flashpoint also deserves note for the way the game, and some user-made mods in particular, handle muzzle smoke and other smoke effects. Machineguns, anti-tank weapons, and various cannons put out fairly accurate amounts of smoke when fired. Though it neglects to model the dust being kicked up by such gigantic muzzle blasts (the dust being what lingers, not the smoke, in the "real world"), it's a better modeling of weapon-produced smoke than most other games even attempt to offer. Perhaps we'll see the dust being kicked up by such shockwaves in the future.

When we move on past the actual firing of weapons and towards other smoke effects, we again find Flashpoint to offer an excellent rendition of the various kinds of smoke you're likely to encounter on a battlefield. Smoke columns rise from burning vehicles, bombs, rockets, and cannon fire produce large smoky explosions, and smoke grenades offer thick blankets of concealment for those utilizing them. Wind even influences the smoke, causing it to drift lazily a light breeze or blow strongly in heavier winds.

In the following screens, you can see various smoke effects resulting from a Close Air Support mission by an F-16 and a pair of A-10's on an enemy vehicle convoy in Operation Flashpoint.

If we look at smoke from a visual standpoint, Call of Duty 2 has very nice effects. To pair the visual quality of the Call of Duty 2 smoke with a game like Flashpoint would be a match made in heaven. CoD2 also excels at giving the battlefield a persistant smoky and obscured look, which is in keeping with the reality of combat - there's a lot of stuff in the air, smoke and dust in particular.





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