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

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III. Reloading and Failures

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Dry vs. Tactical Reloads, +1 Loading

Raven Shield is one of few games that make a distinction between doing a "dry" reload and a tactical reload. For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, a dry reload is when all rounds have been expended, and if applicable, the bolt or slide has locked back. To get a weapon back into action after "running dry", the shooter must replace the magazine with a fresh one and release the bolt or slide to chamber a new round. On the other hand, a tactical reload is accomplished by replacing the magazine before the weapon has run dry, such that there is already a bullet chambered from the previous magazine. Thanks to this, a tactical reload is faster, since you don't have to worry about releasing the slide or bolt to chamber that first round. Tactical reloads are typically done whenever there is a lull in the fight, so that you have a full load of ammo once hostilities resume. Dry reloads are to be avoided whenever possible.

In Raven Shield, this is correctly modeled. The animations for dry and tactical reloads are different, and accurate. The fact that Raven Shield supports "+1 loading" goes hand-in-hand with the dry/tactical reload distinctions. The "+1" refers to a chambered round. So, for instance, if you have a Glock 19 that holds 15 rounds in the magazine, you have 15+1 when the magazine is full and a bullet is in the chamber.

Look at the video below to see the different types of reloads illustrated with a variety of weapons.

Download the hires version of this clip.

I should also note that partially-full magazines are retained in RvS, though there are numerous other games that do this as well (OFP and RO, for starters).



Jams/Failures to Fire

The only FPS game that I can think of off the top of my head that has had weapon jamming is America's Army. In it, you can get a failure to fire, which is cleared via a clearing sequence triggered by a special key. I mention this for the sake of completeness, primarily, as I'm not entirely sold on weapon jamming being a good thing to have in even a realistic game. In a properly-maintained weapon, jams are a rarity, and clearing them is second-nature to most well-trained soldiers.

To reflect this, if a game is going to include jamming weapons, I think it would be advisable to make it so that a few clicks of the primary fire key (or something similarly easy) would initiate the clearing procedure. This way you wouldn't have people sitting there fumbling on the keyboard trying to remember what key they bound to clearing, when in reality it would be a more rapid assessment of the failure to fire, followed by immediate action in the form of TAP - RACK - BANG (tap the magazine to ensure it's properly seated, rack the bolt/slide, pull the trigger).

I think it'd be a wiser investment of time and resources to instead implement things like the dry/tactical reloads of RvS, or any number of other things I've mentioned in this article. Jamming, while potentially realistic, just doesn't seem like the greatest of things to spend time working on.



Overheating & Barrel Changes

Overheating and barrel changes are critical elements to include in any tactical game that purports to offer realistic infantry combat. While smaller-scale games like Raven Shield can understandably get by without such a feature, other games like Red Orchestra and Operation Flashpoint are ideal places to include such attention-to-detail. It may not come into play every time you're using a machinegun, but in the situations where it does pop up, things can get wonderfully intense thanks to it.

Red Orchestra implements both overheating and barrel changes competently. Machineguns will begin to visibly smoke if fired for too long, and they'll gradually cool off if left alone. If necessary, a barrel change can be initiated - the new barrel will be "cold", while the old one will be allowed to cool once it's removed from the weapon. If a player doesn't do a barrel change when the weapon is heavily smoking, he'll cause a barrel failure and will render one of the barrels unusable. Prior to the failure, the weapon will begin to shoot sluggishly - if the barrel is not swapped out at that point, it will be outright destroyed by further firing.

Pictures from an MG shoot I was present at on Okinawa



Round counts

Many games, Flashpoint and Raven Shield included, give players a counter that displays exactly how many rounds they have left in their magazine. When it comes to realism, this is obviously not how things truly work.

Red Orchestra tries to reflect reality by giving the player a text message every time they reload - if the magazine is mostly full, you'll get a message stating that "The magazine is heavy", whereas a nearly-empty magazine will give you "The magazine is light". This is a good, basic and easily-implemented solution, but there's more that could be done with modern weapons (which RO obviously is not concerned with) if one were so inclined.

In the real world, some magazines (like Glock pistol mags), have numbered holes on the rear face that can give you an accurate to-the-round bullet count at a glance. It requires removing the magazine to observe these holes, so it's not something one would do in the heat of combat - better to do a tactical reload and worry about half-empty mags later. Other magazines, like those for the G-36, are translucent and one can get a good estimate of remaining rounds simply by glancing at it while it's in the weapon. Still others have no easy way to tell - the MP-5 in particular is difficult to gauge, short of guesstimating based on weight.

While it is a small thing with a heavy investment necessary to pull off (for questionable results), it would be nice for a future tactical/wargame to include magazine checks in some capacity. Until then, the RO system seems to be the way to go - perhaps with some tweaks and refinements.



Manual Bolting

Red Orchestra's retail released introduced a long-wanted feature where a player could manually cycle the bolt on a bolt-action weapon. This feature is important for realism-centric games that contains such weapons, as it allows a player to make the decision as to when exactly he wants to bolt. In certain situations one might want to try for a bayonet or other melee attack instead of working the bolt, or perhaps a sniper might want to follow-through to observe the impact of his round before he disturbs his scope by the act of bolting. Whatever the case may be, manual bolting is a good option to give the players.

Red Orchestra's system has a hassle-free implementation - instead of relying on a seperate key to cycle the bolt, all that is required is that the player press his "fire" key again. It takes only a few minutes for one to be comfortable with working the weapon in such a way.

IV. Weapon Handling

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Weapon Transitions

Raven Shield's weapon transitions are more or less perfect. The delay, animations, and the act of slinging the primary weapon in the case of drawing your sidearm (or anything else, for that matter) is all done just the way it should be. Not too fast, but not slow enough to get you killed when it shouldn't.

There's not too much to say about it. Raven Shield got it right - no restrictions on changing weapons while moving, no forcing you to stand in place while transitioning. The "true first-person" transition animations are top-notch as well, lending the whole package a very solid feel. As a pleaseant bonus, the different items all have their places on the player's body modeled - the primary weapon gets slung, the pistol gets holstered, and grenades/flashbangs are pulled off of the belt.

Download the hires version of this clip.




In Vietcong, being too close to an object will make you automatically raise your weapon. The act is done quickly, smoothly, and doesn't inconvenience the player in an unrealistic way. Quite the opposite, it adds an extra level of immersion, giving the feeling that your character has real presence in the gameworld, since you can see yourself physically reacting to the environment. This is another one of those simple little features that adds a lot to the overall experience when done properly.

You can see this in action in the last segment of the "Rising Ironsight" VC movie.

Download the hires version of this clip.




Freeaim is simply the act of disconnecting your point of aim from the center of the screen. Both Operation Flashpoint and Red Orchestra have freeaim implemented, but Red Orchestra's wins out due to them blending the view movement and the freeaim, whereas OFP allows you to move your aim/cursor around in the invisible freeaim "box" without adjusting your view, which has the effect of making view panning a bit more awkward than it would otherwise be. The RO system is therefore more natural to use for most people, but it's not without flaws.

There are more than a few benefits to freeaim, but the basic one is that it makes it so that people can't use the center of the screen as a reference point for firing unsighted shots. If you're not looking down your weapon sights, you have to roughly "guesstimate" where your rifle is pointed and try to get a hit like that. It greatly encourages and rewards sighted fire at range, while still allowing people to engage in CQB "from the hip" with automatic weapons and get fairly decent results.

As to the flaws of RO's system, the game doesn't model any posture between "hip-carrying" and sighted. In OFP, on the other hand, there's an in-between carry where your weapon is held at a higher "ready" position. So, while the technical implementation of freeaim generally seems to be smoother and easier to use, the lack of that in-between carry makes it less-than-ideal in the big picture.

Download the hires version of this clip

V. Damage Model, Wounding, & Close Calls

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Impact on Players

Red Orchestra did a very good job with the way in which it made weapon fire and explosions have an effect upon players. Artillery and grenades going off would blur the screen temporarily, while near misses from bullets would cause a slight blur each time one passed nearby. This managed to add an actual true form of suppression, without resorting to "gamey" solutions like America's Army's system actually lowering your 'accuracy' bar when you're taking fire. In Red Orchestra, a machinegunner putting rounds over your head is going to blur your screen enough such that you may not be able to immediately return fire with the kind of precision that you'd be able to in other games. Likewise, being in the midst of an artillery barrage is going to give you such a degree of blur that you'll be unable to do much aside from get the hell out of the danger area and seek cover.

Explosion blurs in Red Orchestra

Other games have added similar effects to simulate the result of a flashbang exploding. A player's screen will white-out before fading back into clarity, typically with a blur effect added and an after-image of what they were looking at when the flashbang exploded. This is usually accompanied by a ringing in the ears which drowns out all other noises before gradually fading away. The same effect should be present with all types of explosives - grenades, artillery, bombs, and so on and so forth. An intriguing feature in the upcoming Armed Assault, called "High Dynamic Range Audio", purports to offer these kinds of audio effects, though details on the system have not been forthcoming as of yet. It seems to be the kind of system that would offer some interesting gameplay ramifications, like making footsteps and other low-intensity sounds fade out in the presence of high-intensity noise like gunfire, explosions, the roar of aircraft or helicopters overhead, or of tanks and APC's driving nearby. Rip off a burst of machinegun fire and your hearing will be dampened briefly, for instance, while something like a grenade going off nearby might leave you hard-of-hearing for a short while. Hopefully Armed Assault will implement HDRA to maximum possible effect, and hopefully it will become a standard feature in future games.

One area that a few games have made attempts at modeling is the effect of blast shockwaves. In America's Army, for instance, a grenade going off nearby will cause the player's screen to tilt wildly for a moment before going back to normal. This could probably be taken a step further, to include disrupting the player's view in such a way that their point-of-aim prior to the explosion and their point-of-aim post-explosion has shifted based on how close they are to the blast.



Wound Side Effects

We must also look at the various ways with which a player can be affected by his wounds. There are two primary types - temporary and permanent effects. Temporary effects are caused when damage is taken, whereas permanent ones result from the damage taken and last until dead or healed.

Temporary wound effects are the elements that make it difficult for a person being damaged to return accurate fire. This simulates the fact that a person actively being shot is going to have increased difficulty with effectively employing his weapon against his opponent.

Permanent wound effects are typically as follows. These are the things that require medical attention to have their severity lessened.

The more fidelity there is in the wounding system and the better the effects are for players being hit, the more realistic gunfights and combat in general will get. The ideal system has a spectrum of effects possible depending on the severity of wounds, both permanent and temporary, and the better the system is, the more room there is for medical personnel to be portrayed in a way that they have a significant and necessary role in combat.


Medics - Tending to and Evacuating the Wounded

The basic medical premise of Operation Flashpoint - get wounded, find a medic, medic spends a few moments patching you up (during which you're both vulnerable), and then you're good to fight again - is simple, workable, and while not incredibly realistic (but still more realistic than the revival of, say, Battlefield 2), it gets the job done and gives medics a place on the battlefield. America's Army takes a similar approach, and it also has a bleeding system implemented that can kill a player if a medic doesn't stabilize him soon enough.

It is probably too early to start asking for really robust medical models centered not around getting soldiers immediately back into the fight, but instead saving their lives and getting them evacuated from the field of battle.

I think that future games will have the capacity to make this an extremely compelling form of play, but it will likely take a backseat to most other features for the near future. Some day in the not-too-distant future you might find yourself dragging a wounded buddy out of a burning vehicle, slinging him over your shoulder, and rushing him to cover before getting a medic to look after him. Imagine the dynamic, emergent gameplay that could result from calling in helo- or ground-based medical evacuations in response to situations like that - and that's not even looking at all the possibilities that could exist for the medical personnel themselves.



Carrying the Wounded

The ability to carry or drag a wounded comrade in any capacity is missing in the vast majority of games, generally because there's little reason to do so in the scheme of the gameplay. As games progressively get better and better damage models, and become more and more realistic in their portrayals of teamwork and combat, hopefully more and more games will emphasize the importance of evacuating wounded comrades from the field of battle. At the very least, soldiers should be able to drag injured comrades out of harm's way and get them behind some cover so that a medic can more easily and/or safely tend to them.

Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault integrated an interesting medic aspect that made it possible to fireman's-carry incapacitated teammates. Via this, a player could carry an injured teammate behind cover so that a medic could safely tend to their injuries. It was a solid implementation, and hopefully future realistic wargames will pay more attention to the kinds of possibilities opened up by such a feature. Perhaps it will be necessary for games to portray the soldiers more as humans and less as nameless robots before players are really compelled to risk their own (virtual) life to drag a wounded buddy out of the line of fire. Regardless of that, the feature would be good to have in multiplayer environments of the same variety as Operation Flashpoint.




Most games that deem to model varying levels of armor protection typically do a very basic model in which the higher the armor, the more hits you can potentially take before being incapacitated or killed. Raven Shield is like that, for instance.

In the real world, different types of armor vests and inserts provide different levels of protection against various kinds of firearms. Some offer complete protection against standard pistol types (9mm, .40cal, .45cal for instance), others offer protection against pistol ammo being fired at high-velocity (like from a submachinegun instead of a pistol). Some can defeat rifle-caliber ammo, and some have inserts like the US military's Interceptor vest, which uses SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert) plates to provide protection against multiple hits from the 7.62mmx39 round that the AK-47 fires.

Marines saved by their SAPI plates.

No games as yet really model this at a high level of accuracy. The closest is probably E5: New Jagged Union, which allows a player to equip characters with varying levels of vests, and add inserts for extra protection. Far Cry had enemy soldiers that wore armor which defeated small-arms fire, and while it's by no means the most realistic of games, it was nice to see that become a gameplay element.

Armor vest in E5. Various ballistic plates could be inserted to increase protection.

It would be good to see a really robust modeling of these aspects for future games. Make it so that shot placement becomes an issue when fighting someone wearing good armor - techniques like the "Mozambique drill", where a shooter fires two shots into the chest and then one in the head (in the event that the person is wearing armor, and the chest shots don't stop them - or if the chest shots just don't stop them without any armor, and a head shot is required), would come into play and would be both realistic and would act to further flesh out damage modeling and combat shooting.

To further tie this into the damage model, it's important to note that the better the armor is, the more likely a player will end up wounded (in various degrees of severity) rather than outright killed. The more soldiers are wounded, the more important the medics become, and the more possibility exists for really robust medic modeling.



Injury-Induced Weapon Loss

Red Orchestra has a feature where a player can lose their weapon if it's shot. Though a flawed system (the player also magically drops all of his ammo in the process), it's a nice start. Future games should add similar effects for explosions, such that a player might get knocked flat by a nearby explosion (non-fatal, obviously) and drop his weapon in the process. As long as the weapons are easy to pick back up (realistically so - the player should have to press a key to toggle it, not simply run over it like it's Quake 3 or something), this should have nothing but positive impacts. I know there have been more than a few times in Red Orchestra that I've had very intense gameplay situations develop due to weapon loss. Expanding on this kind of feature would be a wise investment of time and effort.




The hell of war is best illustrated with realistic gore, ragdoll, and wounds. While in the end we're simply "playing soldier", I feel it's important to not pull any punches when it comes to portraying the violence inherent in combat. I take issue with any tactical/wargames that give very sanitary presentations of combat wounds (like America's Army, or Call of Duty), the ones where you see little if any blood and never massive wounds like shattered heads, detached limbs, or gaping exit wounds and violent shrapnel perforations.

A key element of a solid, realistic visual damage model is not overdoing things. You shouldn't see dismemberment from small-arms fire, for instance, whereas grenades should take off a limb, and artillery should be able to turn a body into just a torso or even vaporize the person depending on proximity. Soldier of Fortune 2, though it had an elaborate visual damage model, failed in this respect. It was trivial to get massive amounts of extreme gore in situations where it wouldn't realistically be warranted. Everything about it was exagerrated, and only served to give it a cartoony, unrealistic feel.

The best of the best these days when it comes to such features would have to be Red Orchestra. Limb loss, blood, total vaporization from high-explosives, and excellent ragdoll effects combine to give the game a gritty, intense realism. While there is room for improvement (as there is with anything), it's a great start. The textures for players who have been killed by explosives and riddled with shrapnel are fantastic, as are the blood decals, and shredded limb stumps. There's even a subtle blood spurt visible on the dead, pumping out from whereever they were shot. The most glaring omission in the Red Orchestra system is that there are no distinct head wounds - a player killed by a high-powered rifle round should exhibit massive trauma to the head, to the extent that a large portion of it will likely be blown away as the bullet exits the skull.

War is not clean, nor sanitary, and to me the sight of a sanitary portrayal of wars in games that claim realism is flat-out wrong, and is insulting to those who fought, bled, and died in actual combat. If you're going for realism, don't slack off when it comes to portraying the horrific results common in combat scenarios.

VI. Vehicles

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Environment Interaction

When you're driving a 60+ ton tank, you don't expect a few runty trees to offer much in the way of resistance. While some games offer limited environmental destruction when in a vehicle (BF2, for instance), none take it to the level that Operation Flashpoint does.

In Flashpoint, a tank can smash it's way through most any obstacles. Fences, trees, lightposts, walls - if you think a vehicle should be able to knock down or break through an obstacle, you more than likely can do just that in the game. It varies for vehicle type, too, such that a lighter vehicle like a HMMWV won't be able to have as large of an impact as an APC or tank.

This will be improved upon in the semi-sequel Armed Assault, and is expected to reach even higher levels of realism in the as-yet-unnamed "Game2" by the same developers.



Vehicle Mounting, Freelook, Unbuttoning/Turning Out, Movement Within

"Mounting" a vehicle is the process by which a player either enters it to command or control it, or gets onto the outside of it for the purposes of riding. Many games (to include Red Orchestra and Battlefield 2) make it so that there's no delay at all when entering a vehicle or leaving it - this tends to result in "gamey" situations like people jumping out of their burning vehicle in a split-second so that they can run away before it explodes.

Operation Flashpoint has animations for entering vehicles, and while they're somewhat generic (meaning that there's no special animation for each different vehicle, just a set of generic ones - you won't actually clamber onto the turret, pop the hatch, and drop into a tank for instance), it's understandable why they chose that path. It's also the only serious wargame I can think of that includes such a feature. The only real downside is that there's no dedicated animation for dismounting - the player typically pops out of the vehicle with little delay. Still, the overall concept is a solid one, and it will surely be tweaked and improved upon in future games by BIS.


Mounting a HMMWV

When it comes to riding on a vehicle, World War II Online allows players to do just that. You can ride on tanks and other vehicles, and while there's no dedicated animation for getting on/off of them, it's still a good feature to have.

Moving on to freelook and unbuttoning in vehicles, Red Orchestra and Operation Flashpoint pull it off the best. Red Orchestra handily takes the crown for unbuttoning - the process is beautifully animated. In addition to that, there are multiple positions that can be taken by each vehicle crew member. You can move up close to the viewport to get a better view out of it, move back to see the instruments better, or unbutton the hatch and stand up to get an unobstructed view. From there, if you're the tank commander, you can even use your binoculars while standing in the hatch.

Download the hires version of this clip

Red Orchestra also has a very smooth and fluid freelook when in vehicles, moreso than Flashpoint (thanks in part to Flashpoint using a less-optimal freeaim system). However, in Flashpoint - or more specifically, in the military version of it called Virtual Battlespace Systems 1 - one can utilize their individual weapon while standing in the hatch of a vehicle. Thus, a tank commander can stand out of his hatch and fire his personal M4 carbine from it when necessary. This feature is expected to be included in the commercial semi-sequel to Flashpoint, Armed Assault.

VBS1 video showcasing the ability to shoot out of hatches

Furthermore, Armed Assault will have a feature where a crewmember can unbutton to use one of the machineguns mounted atop the tank. This is excellent for the point-defense of an armored vehicle, as the main gun's coaxial machinegun can be difficult to employ effectively in urban terrain where targets can pop up from a variety of wildly different directions in rapid succession.

Unbuttoned M1 Abrams, real life

Unbuttoned M1 Abrams, OFP1 (without the ability to man the MG's, which will be in Armed Assault)

Battlefield 2 gets credit for allowing people manning machinegun positions on vehicles (like the Abrams or HMMWV) to duck down to take cover behind the gunshield. This is accomplished simply by hitting the "crouch" key - once crouched, however, there's no way to turn the turret without standing back up. This ability to take cover should be in any game, and should apply not only to manning guns but also everywhere else it can be integrated. A crewman standing in an open hatch should be able to duck down rapidly if necessary, and pop back up just as smoothly, without having to close/open the hatch in between (which would be required by a system like RO's or OFP's).

Real-world HMMWV mounted .50cal being employed.

Virtual Battlespace Systems 1 also allows a player to move around vehicles while they're moving (for instance, inside of a helicopter or transport plane) and even lets non-crewmembers fire their personal weapons from the vehicle while on the move.

Video from VBS1 showcasing the ability to realistically enter aircraft and move/shoot from within them while flying.


Damage Model

While many games go by a generic "hitpoint" value for vehicles, the more robust a damage model is, the more interesting the and varied the gameplay can be. Operation Flashpoint allows for vehicles to be tracked (which is also referred to as a "mobility kill"), have their turrets disabled, or just outright get destroyed.

A BMP burns after taking catastrophic damage

Red Orchestra doesn't model those aspects, but unlike Operation Flashpoint it does model round penetration. Thus, the angle and range at which you shoot at a tank is important - hit them up close, at a good angle, and you'll get a penetration. Hit them from a distance with a poor angle and the round is likely to ricochet off without penetrating.

The ultimate sim-level models of armor and penetration for armored vehicles can be found in Steel Beasts, which robustly covers the entire spectrum of what is possible in tank combat.

A happy medium between the Steel Beasts-level modeling and the kind of stuff that Red Orchestra and Operation Flashpoint offer should be sought after for future combined-arms games (i.e. Armed Assault).

VII. Visual and Aural Effects

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High Dynamic Range Lighting (flares, sunrise, etc)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Armed Assault, as yet unreleased, is going to take the crown for HDR lighting in a wargame. Flares will diminish a person's ability to see in the dark, as will streetlights and such. Looking into the sun will cause issues as well, and this has been said to be exploitable when it comes time to staging ambushes - set one up with the sun at your back and the enemy will have a hell of a time seeing you. There will doubtlessly be many more situations in which the game's HDR implementation will shine through, but those are the ones we know about right now.

HDR has interesting implications in the future for weapon-mounted lights (and vehicle-mounted, in the case of helos with floodlights). I'll speak more on that subject later in this article.



Sound Modeling

Doppler effects and speed-of-sound were both well-implemented in Operation Flashpoint, along with some other technical sound features that were quite nice in action. Hearing the pitch change as a plane flew towards and then past you was very cool, and the same was true of watching an explosion in the distance and not hearing it until the sound actually traveled the distance to you.

Moving past that to Armed Assault, we'll be seeing soundwave simulation as well - buildings, hills, and other obstacles will stop sound. Another nice effect we have to look forward to in Armed Assault is being called "High Dynamic Range Audio". Think of it as HDR lighting, but with audio, and you have the basic idea of how it will work. I can't say much more than that, as there hasn't been a whole lot of information released about the feature, but it does sound promising. Think of some games that have kind of "faked" this effect - games where explosions will leave you temporarily hard of hearing, or flashbangs might have the same effect (as in Raven Shield). Imagine a game where the chaos of battle and the roar of weaponry actually drowns out people's footsteps (or other relatively soft sounds), whereas during a lull in combat you might actually hear something (like footsteps) that the noise had drowned out earlier.

Red Orchestra is another current game that does some good things with sound. Weaponfire in it sounds accurate at different ranges, whereas some games (including Flashpoint) make distant gunfire sound very similar to close gunfire, just subdued. In reality the sound changes quite a bit as range increases, and Red Orchestra reflects this with different sound files used for gunfire at close and longer ranges. Hopefully future games will be able to dynamically do this instead of having to rely on pre-made sound files for the different distances.



Rotor downwash, the impact of goggles, and similar visual effects

Mods for Operation Flashpoint have included rotor downwash from helos kicking up dust, and have given certain units goggles that can be worn to protect their vision in such a situation. A player not wearing goggles while in the midst of such a downwash-induced dust storm will "blink" and cough, whereas one with goggles on won't experience any such adverse effects. With modern graphical effects, this could be taken a step further by adding an intense blur shader to the vision of anyone caught without eye protection.

A variation on the goggle-to-prevent-vision-issues can be seen in Raven Shield with the tear gas grenades. If a player is wearing a "gas mask" (technically, a field protective mask), they will be unaffected, whereas someone not so equipped will cough and have their vision blur.

In future games, goggles could protect against a variety of things, from dust and debris being kicked into a player's face (be it via rotor downwash, bullets kicking up dirt, or explosions), to tinted goggles and glasses lessening the HDR effect of the sun or other intense light sources.


VIII. Interaction with the Environment (weapons and otherwise)

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Penetration and destruction of a gaming environment is one of the most sought-after features for hardcore tactical/wargaming fans, but also unfortunately happens to be one of those things that is very difficult to pull off correctly, and in some respects is limited by present technology.

In a perfect world, the environment would react to gunfire and explosives just like in reality - bullets would be able to punch through various materials depending on caliber and the material type, explosives would blast open walls, and cover could be reduced to rubble by sustained shooting.

In our present gaming world, penetration isn't consistantly modeled in most games that do it at all, and the vast majority of games don't attempt it for the entire gameworld, instead relegating it to easy-to-model things like doors. I've yet to see a game where I can chew a hole through a cinderblock wall with a machinegun, but hopefully we'll see it in the future.

When it comes to future games, Armed Assault is said to be offering material-based penetration, but the extent of the model is yet to be seen. "Game2", formerly known as "Operation Flashpoint 2", will likely offer destructible buildings, realistic cratering, and other destructive features.

Hopefully one day we'll be able to shoot a 120mm SABOT round in one side of a building and have it travel through everything (and everyone) in its path before blasting out the other side and obliterating a vehicle... or we'll be able to shoot a thermobaric SMAW warhead into a building and watch it collapse in upon itself... or fire a .50cal BMG round through a cinderblock wall to take out a bad guy hiding behind it... or, or, or. The possibilities are limitless, it's just a question of technology getting to the point where it's practical to robustly model such things.



Doors & Breaching

The importance of properly modeling doors cannot be underestimated for any game that includes combat within buildings. Raven Shield did a fantastic job of giving the player a wide variety of ways to deal with doors. One could hit their "use" key to open a door all the way in a single movement, or they could opt to use the mousewheel to incrementally open or close it. This allowed for a player to crack a door open to see into a room, or toss a flashbang or grenade inside, without drawing the amount of attention and exposure that a fully-opened door would bring. RvS also indicated via an icon whether the door opened inward or outward, which was a nice touch.

It's a good system, well-implemented, but there is room for improvement. When a door is closed (such that the latch engages), it's understandable that simply walking into it won't cause it to budge. However, once the player has opened the door enough to disengage the latch, it would make sense to have him able to push or ram it open via body movements. Moving quickly into an unlatched door might slam it open, whereas a slow movement would get it to gently swing inward.

Combine this with environmental physics and you can imagine a scenario where someone has barricaded a door by placing a filing cabinet in front of it. The player moves to the door and opens it, only to have it halt an inch or two into its swing by the cabinet. The player could then back off, and ram his virtual shoulder into the door in an attempt to knock the cabinet over.

Download the hires version of this clip.

Players could also breach doors in a variety of ways. Shotguns could be used to blow the door knobs apart and cause the door to swing violently inward, or breaching charges could be employed to flat-out demolish the entire thing. Grenades would have the same effect, and pretty much every small-arm weapon in the game was capable of breaching a door or outright destroying it.

Download the hires version of this clip.

The only thing Raven Shield really missed out on was the ability to kick a door in. Aside from that, it did an excellent job.




Environmental Hindrance

Common sense on this one. If you're moving through heavy brush, you're going to be slowed by it, correct? Vietcong modeled this well, and it should be a standard feature for any game where the great outdoors are involved. This is another one of those "small" features that makes you feel that much more physically connected to the game world. By the same token, moving through deep snow, water, mud, or any other hindering terrain should cause an appropriate level of slowdown accompanied by relevant visual and aural effects.

IX. Gear

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Inventory/Carrying Capacity

The more first-person tactical/wargames attempt to simulate realistic combat and the closer they get to acheiving that goal, the more important it will become that players are capable of carrying a realistic load of equipment, ammunition, grenades, and other gear and supplies.

Operation Flashpoint and its addons have done the best job yet of giving characters fairly realistic loadout possibilities. It's an imperfect setup (perhaps to be improved on in Armed Assault), but it gets the job done better than anything else in the first-person genre. Flashpoint allows you to carry a primary weapon, a sidearm, and has a slot to equip an anti-tank weapon, radio, or laser-designator. In addition to that, you can loadout with magazines, extra AT rockets, grenades, smoke grenades, and other items. You also have dedicated spaces for binoculars and nightvision goggles. Some mods even add a rucksack, which typically carries spare ammo and can be ditched when necessary.

Flashpoint doesn't model encumbrance, though Armed Assault is quoted as having such a feature. The main problem with Flashpoint's system is that there is a limited carrying capacity compared to what an actual soldier would have on him. Mods have attempted to address this in various ways, but ultimately it's going to need intervention from BIS (the developers) to make it a truly perfect setup.

While there's no better FPS than Flashpoint when it comes to player inventory, we can skip out of the genre to find one game that has inventory down to a near-perfect science.

The game in question is a tactical combat game by the name of Brigade E5: New Jagged Union. You can read about it elsewhere on this site if so interested.

E5 has a slew of options when it comes to inventory options and management. You have tactical belts, ammo pouches, load-bearing tactical vests, rucksacks, and cargo pockets. There is also a dedicated slot for a helmet, armor vest (with the option to use ceramic or titanium Small Arms Protective Inserts (SAPI) rated at level IV protection), primary weapon, night vision goggles, and you can even have slung weapons (like an anti-tank weapon).

Depending on where on your body an item is located, you'll either be able to access it faster or slower. A magazine stored on the front of your tactical vest will be easy to quickly access, whereas the same magazine stored in your rucksack will take longer to get at. There's enough space for a character to carry a realistic amount of equipment, and the options for where he places each item add an extra element of configurability. The size of an item is well-represented, and overall the inventory system is implemented extremely well and comes across quite realistically.

Here's a screen of the E5 player inventory.

E5 also models encumbrance, with each item having a set, realistic weight, and each character having a strength attribute that determines how much they can carry around comfortably. Overburdening a character will result in them expending their energy faster and moving at a slower pace, but it won't stop them dead in their tracks like some games so unrealistically do.

In a perfect world, E5's inventory system would be married to a game like Armed Assault. We'll see if that actually happens.



Weapon Mods

While some first-person games do a good job of having modifications for weapons, the two genre kings (of which I refer to Raven Shield for CQB, and Operation Flashpoint for anything else) both have less-than-ideal systems for attachments and modifications. Raven Shield restricts you to a single attachment - you can pick from a variety of components (scope, suppressor, high-capacity magazine), but only one of them can be attached. OFP, on the other hand, didn't have any add-on attachments and generally doesn't have specific support for this feature (though there are workarounds provided by the community - imperfect ones, but the best that can be done with the way things work).

When it comes to weapon mods, I must again reference the excellent tactical combat game Brigade E5: New Jagged Union, which although it is not an FPS, has a number of exceptional elements that are just begging to be put into future first-person tactical/wargames.

In E5, a player can take a weapon and apply any components to it that could realistically be put on it. To illustrate this, I've put together a series of shots showing the variety of customizations one can achieve on an M4 carbine.

As you can see, pretty much any combination you could want can be acheived in the game. I don't think this requires too much elaboration - giving players the ability to modify their weapons, to the extent that their character would be able to (for instance, a Special Forces soldier should have access to a slew of addons, whereas a "normal" grunt may only have access to a few things), would be a great thing to have in future games. If you look at any photos of US soldiers and Marines in Iraq or Afghanistan, you'll see a wide variety of optics and other attachments.

For the sake of thoroughness, I'll go ahead and describe some of the attachments that should be possible.

All in all, there's no reason not to go in-depth with the modeling of modular weapon components with a serious tactical/wargame. E5's system would be welcome in any future games.




From flashbangs to tear gas, smoke to fragmentation and even incindiary, no tactical game is complete without well-modeled grenades. While many games offer solid grenade implementations, there are a few features in particular that can really flesh things out.

The first involves how the player throws the grenade. Off-hand throws like Call of Duty 2 are less-than-ideal, as they allow for people to toss grenades at a moment's notice with little if any pre-planning or tactical considerations taken. Having grenades as a dedicated weapon key, such that the player has to make himself vulnerable by lowering his primary weapon to throw a grenade, tends to work out much better.

The ability to choose how you throw the grenade, and being able to "cook" it, is shown in both America's Army and Red Orchestra. AA has the option to do an overhand throw or an underhand roll, whereas Red Orchestra lets you do an overhand throw or an underhand throw. Both let you "cook" grenades that could realistically be cooked. Red Orchestra even has a 1% chance that a grenade will be a dud, which can prove to be very interesting at times.

After that, there are physics. An ideal grenade should have physics attached to it. Throwing a grenade onto a concrete floor should cause it to bounce and roll unpredictably before exploding, whereas the same grenade landing on loose dirt or sand would more or less explode where it fell. I can't think of any game that has really done this well, but hopefully it will happen in the near future.

Stance should also have a significant effect on how far a person can throw a grenade. Throwing from the prone should be the shortest of all, with the range increasing as the stance rises.

I won't go into too many specifics on how future damage models for grenades should be, suffice it to say that a perfect situation would model both the blast effects and the shrapnel as seperate wounding mechanisms, and would account for various grenade types having more or less shrapnel/blast effect. Defensive and offensive grenades would be distinctly different, for instance. E5 did a very good job of modeling such things, down to modeling each individual piece of shrapnel (though the shrapnel spray pattern was questionable at times, at least in the beta). While it's not likely to be practical for some time to come, it would be a great thing to see in future titles.




Flashpoint is the undisputed king when it comes to in-game maps, though both Vietcong and Red Orchestra have solid implementations as well.

Flashpoint wins out for the level of functionality you get from the map. You have a wide range of zoom available, the map grids are accurate measures of distance (the small map grids are 128 meters, the big ones are 1.28 kilometers) and also are marked via an alphanumeric system - two numbers for N/S, two letters for E/W, map markers can be added via a double-click, orders can be issued via map clicks, elevation is represented on the maps (with the highest ground labeled with the height in meters), and in lower difficulty modes you can even see the locations of friendly units in your proximity. Contact reports will give a glimpse on the map of where enemy units were last seen, too.

Fairly standard mission briefings

In-game map with compass and watch (l), Complex briefing for a user-made mission (r)

In addition to the map, Flashpoint also sports a GPS device, watch, radio, and compass. All work as you would expect, and all find a place and a use within the game.

Here's a video of Flashpoint's map, compass, and watch in action. It starts off in a pre-mission briefing, showing the functionality of the excellent Flashpoint briefing system, and then moves on to an in-mission demonstration.

Download the hires version of this clip.

For reference, here's a what the Vietcong implementation looks like in action.



Nightvision and Binoculars

Though it is by no means perfect, Flashpoint's nightvision implementation is quite solid. You really do get the sense that light is being amplified by them, not just that you have some green filter on your screen and the gameworld's lighting was cranked up arbitrarily.

Future iterations could use some post-processing to get things looking more like they should, and certain elements (light-emitting things like tracers, fire, etc) could stand to have realistic levels of blooming when seen through NVG's. As a pleasant sidenote, Flashpoint's realtime day/night cycle ensures that you'll have ample opportunity to use the NVG's extensively from dusk until dawn.

For binoculars, OFP has the most technically correct and the most useful application for them (due to the scope of the game world), but it suffers from a fairly poor execution. You cannot move while viewing through them, and it's a clumsy process to take them out and stow them. Red Orchestra, on the other hand, has nice era-appropriate binoculars with good animations and the ability to move while viewing through them. Thus, Red Orchestra wins out on this point. America's Army also has a fairly solid binocular implementation, but I'd have to give RO the crown due to the AA animation being a slow-paced one where the lens caps are liesurely taken off before the binos are brought up.

Download the hires version of this clip.




The only game that comes to mind in which flashlights have a significant effect on the view of the person looking into them is Raven Shield, and in that only the bad guys have them - there are no player-useable weapons with mounted lights on them.

With High Dynamic Range Rendering becoming a standard feature, the possibility to have some very nice flashlight effects in future games is definitely there. Shining a high-powered tactical flashlight in someone's face should have a dramatic negative effect on their ability to see, and it should take some time to recover from even after the light source has turned off or been diverted from the player's eyes. All of this would appear to be doable with HDR, it's just a question of someone putting it into a game and making it a useable gameplay element.

I look forward to the day when weapon-mounted lights become a truly viable option in CQB.

X. Future Stuff

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Supersonic Bullets & Making Combat Sound Authentic

There has not been a single game, ever, that has come anywhere close to representing the sound that a supersonic bullet makes when flying past. Watch a bit of this video, and you'll notice all kinds of popping and snapping sounds the likes of which you've never experienced in a game before.

The snapping noises are created by supersonic rounds passing within a certain distance of the camera. Each little snap or crack is the sonic shockwave created by the bullets, and the closer ones typically sound like a very large, sharp, and dry "CRACK!" (at least in person - it's a very difficult sound to catch on tape, but this video is the best representation I've seen of it so far).

Imagine the level of immersion that would be acheived by modeling thesee sounds properly. No longer would players have a lame "whoooosh" to signify that a bullet just passed close - instead, they'd likely jump out of their seat upon hearing a CRACK just inches from their character's head as a sniper's bullet barely misses them. Or, even better, they'd have a CRACKCRACKCRACKCRACK each time a burst of machinegun fire passed too close.

If modeled such that supersonic and sub-sonic bullets have proper audio signatures, the difference between sub- and supersonic rounds would be even more pronounced for the purposes of stealth. A suppressed weapon firing a supersonic round will have the muzzle blast muffled, whereas the CRACK of the round passing near anything in the line of fire will still be heard. Subsonic rounds being fired out of a silenced weapon, on the other hand, will "whoosh" at best and will thus make it that much harder for any targets to figure out where the fire is coming from.

To give an example of how loud this supersonic crack can be, during USMC rifle qualifications half of the shooters are sent to the "pits" to pull targets (bring them down, mark where the person hit, send them up). There's a berm protecting you from stray rounds, and at that distance the sound of everyone shooting up above (from 200, 300, and 500 meters) is very muffled - if you've ever heard gunfire from a good distance, that's what it sounded like, except more subdued. Anyhow, the ONLY sound you can hear from the pits that's of any substantial volume is the sound of the supersonic 5.56mm rounds passing overhead. The intensity of the sound is such that it actually hurts your ears if you're not wearing earplugs. They're LOUD, no two ways about it.

This desperately needs to be modeled in future wargames.

Update September 24th, 2006: A sample of what this could sound like in a future game can be found here.

Project Reality, a Battlefield 2 mod, will be implementing these sounds in their upcoming release.




In the real world, accurate ironsight shooting requires a person to focus intently upon the front sight tip before firing. This has the effect of blurring the target, and not doing so before a shot has a significant accuracy penalty when firing at range. The blurring target is one reason why soldiers are taught to fire "center of mass" - it's impossible to make out detailed features and set a precise aimpoint when firing through ironsights in such a fashion. Without this shift of focus, and the resulting blur, players in current games are able to make very precise shots while looking at a perfectly focused target. Simply put, this isn't realistic.

It would be nice to have some kind of blurring effect occur in future serious tactical/wargames when utilizing ironsights. This could be done as part of a "Breath hold" feature (let's call it "shot concentration"), such that the player can hold his "shot concentration" button before a shot to shift his focus to the weapon's front sight tip. This would improve overall accuracy, and while shots would definitely be possible without such concentration, they would increasingly be less and less effective at further ranges.

One interesting side effect of modeling this feature would be the sudden emergence of reflex optics as an extremely preferable alternative to ironsights. Due to their design, sights like the EOTech HWS and the Aimpoint are meant to be fired with both eyes open, and the focus should be on the target, not the sight. Compared to the process involved in being accurate with ironsights, one can see that these reflex optics have quite an advantage. When you consider that they also require no alignment of rear sight to front sight it becomes even more appealing - the sight is basically just a dot, all you have to do is place it on a target and pull the trigger.

As it stands now, there is no dramatic difference between reflex sights and ironsights in games, aside from the fact that reflex sights typically offer a better view of the battlefield. With the focus/blur effect implemented, weapon sights would suddenly accurately portray their real-world counterparts and would come with the same benefits and drawbacks as them. In time, I'm sure we'll see this feature arrive - though how long it might take I cannot predict.



Infrared Equipment

Few games have done much to properly simulate infrared devices, with the exception of sim-level titles like Steel Beasts. There are a vast number of things that could be implemented if infrared were modeled, to include:

Best of Tactical Gaming: Infiltration published

Followup to "Tactical Gaming Done Right"

A followup to this article, titled "Best of Tactical Gaming: Infiltration", was posted on August 19th. If you were linked to this article from a forum, feel free to post about the new article to help spread the word. You should read the "In closing..." section below before jumping to this new article.

The new article can be found here when you're ready.


XI. In closing...

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Congratulations on making it through this entire article. Hopefully it was enjoyable, or at least informative.

While I'm pleased with the amount of material that I managed to cover, I must admit to having cut out a slew of topics - particularly where future stuff is concerned. It was partly so that I would be able to have this "published" in time for Memorial Day, and partly because I've spent such a large amount of time composing this and I needed to draw a line somewhere to prevent myself from never completing it due to continually adding onto it.

It's very likely that I will revisit this topic in the future and get around to discussing the various features I had originally intended to cover, along with whatever else pops to mind. There are a ton of things that can be said about the future of this genre, and loads of praise can be heaped upon games for features that weren't even in the scope of this article (though many were, and I regret not having the time to include them).


Update: I'd like to point out a few things here that I neglected to mention in the article. There are a few games missing from the lineup that probably deserve notice in some respects, so here are the names and why they weren't included.

  • SWAT 3 & 4 - I never played either of these games extensively, and thus didn't feel comfortable citing things from them that I wasn't familiar with. SWAT 4 had a mouse bug that prevented me from playing it, and I just missed the boat on SWAT 3.
  • Infiltration for UT99 - Same basic story. Never played it extensively, and while I know it had some innovative features, I'm not familiar enough with them to talk authoratively about them. I'm reinstalling UT today and downloading the mod to see what all the fuss was/is about. Update: Very interesting mod, I'll try to include some features from it in my next article. Update, August 19th: There's a new article posted about this. The new article can be found here.
  • Wargames League mod for Operation Flashpoint - Had I played this extensively prior to writing this article, WGL would've been mentioned many, many times. The mod is very hardcore when it comes to realism, and the experience in it is totally unlike normal OFP. WGL does medics and wound effects exceptionally well, along with a score of other things. Firefights last for very long times, real tactics come into play even moreso than normal OFP, and all in all the experience is just phenomonal. I've written up three posts about it for ShackTactical, you can find the first one on my site, the second one here, and the third one is viewable here. They're both pretty casually written as things go, but if you're interested in reading about this fantastic mod, they should serve nicely. This mod has been a smash hit with the ShackTactical and SomethingAwful Goons for our MP sessions.

    I'm very sorry that I wasn't aware of WGL prior to writing this article. The mod deserves all the love and attention it can get, it has thus far portrayed modern combat better than anything else I know of. Do yourself a favor if you're an OFP fan and pick it up.
  • Hidden & Dangerous 2 - There are quite a few features in this game that would have fit nicely in this article. I've only played the demo (upon repeated recommendations from readers of this), but from what I saw, the movement speeds (four types, quite nicely done) and inventory system (not as good as E5, but at least it's a first-person game that does it) at the very least deserve mention. If I were more familiar with the game I'm sure I'd be able to cite more quality features from it as being good implementations for the genre.

    Thanks go out to the guys at Shacknews for discussing various realistic topics with me over the course of this article's development. Thanks also go to Syixxs for lots of very valuable feedback, and to Umbr for allowing me to host the videos on his more-bandwidth-than-he-knows-what-to-do-with Dreamhost site.

    If you enjoyed this piece, want to discuss any of the topics contained within, or would like to provide general feedback, I'd encourage you to send me an e-mail at my GMail account - dslyecxi /at/ gmail.com.


    Thanks for taking the time to look through this. As a bit of a reward, here's a nice series of clips of USMC Cobras doing what they do best. Things heat up at 2:35 into the clip and it stays strong from there until the end.

    I've also gone and added a "Revisions" tracker (after this video) to keep track of the changes that will be made to this article over time.


    Cobras, Cobras, Cobras. Snakes on a battlefield!!


    Keeping track of article updates


    September 24th - Added a note about supersonic sounds in a BF2 mod. Scroll up a bit to see it.

    August 19th - Updated to reference the new Best of Tactical Gaming article. The new article can be found here.

    July 27th - Updated the TrackIR section at the beginning of the article to link to the latest Armed Assault video showing off the game's support of the device. Simply put, it's fantastic.

    June 23rd - Updated the final chapter to talk about Hidden & Dangerous 2.

    June 13th - Updated the Wargames League text to reference the third WGL AAR.

    June 6th - Updated the final chapter with information explaining why the Wargames League mod was missing from the article.

    May 29th, cont - Updated the final chapter with information explaining why Infiltration and SWAT 3/4 were not mentioned in the article. I plan to add some Infiltration-related stuff in the not-too-distant future, and once I do, it will be listed here.


    WWIIOL Statistical HE error correction

    May 29th, 8pm CST

    Thanks to gnasche from the WWIIOL forums for correcting me on how the WWIIOL shrapnel modeling works. I've since edited out the incorrect info about it, and have included a quote from him concerning how things are done in WWIIOL if any of you are curious about it.

    With the part quoted above, you talk about WWII Online and grenade shrapnel. "began to model them statistically" is incorrect. Yes, it was called StatHE, but it's very misleading. First understand the issue here. Todays systems can only generate and make calculations for a certain number of pieces of shrapnel without locking up the game while the CPU does the calculations. I don't know what that number is set at, but hypothetically let's say it's 300 pieces of shrapnel for HE explosions. Here are the details of shrapnel:

    Normal HE shrapnel: Still used in HE rounds (grenades and bombs use StatHE): The round explodes and a certain number of shrapnel are created (hypothetically, 300). Those pieces of shrapnel fly outward, 360 degrees from where the round hit.

    Stat HE shrapnel: When the round strikes (grenades and bombs), the round still generates 300 pieces of shrapnel, but it's not in 360 degrees. The game finds the 3 nearest targets and throws a cone of 100 pieces of shrapnel in their direction. This means that targets are much more likely to be hit because there is less space between the shrapnel pieces coming at them.

    This is why Stat HE is not used for anti-tank rounds. Stat HE won't work well if the round explodes "inside" the target. You want 360 degrees of shrapnel if you're inside the target because you want to hit as many vital components as possible. If Stat HE was used, there would only be 3 cones directed towards the center of players/vehicles and the likelyhood of hitting a vital component would be a lot less.


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