Category: Serious Fun

On growth, principles, and power

I’d like to take a few minutes to address something that has come up several times in recent months on tumblr, in Youtube comments, replies to posts on my site, and in various other e-spaces.

The topic is that of ShackTac’s growth, or more specifically, the limitations I have placed on such growth.

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Freeaim: Or ‘Once upon a time, I was misguided.’

Once upon a time, a much-younger me wrote an article about tactical gaming. At that time I was an Operation Flashpoint player, grown used to using the game’s “freeaim” system – wherein the weapon was not aligned with the view, and instead moved freely in a box  shape. Another game at the time – Red Orchestra – used a similar system, as did a landmark tactical mod called Infiltration.

At the time, I believed this to be ‘The Way‘ to do realistic aiming.

In the years since, I have switched my stance on this completely – and, to answer the question posed to me on Tumblr:

Do you recommend aiming deadzone? Why/why not?

…I do not recommend using the aiming deadzone in any game that gives you an option, such as the ArmA series. I am strongly opposed to the feature in general these days, and it’s a big part of why I do not play Red Orchestra 2 with any frequency – as it does not give you that option and suffers for it.

Why is that, you ask?

Freeaim has no basis in reality and is terrible from a user-interface standpoint.

There, I said it.

Freeaim fails by virtue of how it works. In the context of the ArmA2 implementation, freeaim fails in that it forces you to ‘pan’ your view awkwardly by moving your aim to the limits of the ‘deadzone’ area before you’ll actually begin turning. From here, you end up with your weapon pointed in the direction you were turning, offset from your screen center in whatever direction that happened to be. Your actual aiming point – your muzzle direction if unsighted, or your irons if sighted – continually moves around your screen and relative to your viewing direction. One of the key principles of becoming a good shooter in the real world is being able to muscle-memory various common actions, such as indexing a stock in your shoulder, moving a weapon from a carrying posture (low/high ready, sul, etc) into a sighted posture, aligning your sights, establishing a stock weld, inserting or removing a magazine sight-unseen, and so forth.

Freeaim prevents you from developing this sort of muscle memory with the aiming process, as it provides a ‘moving target’ that constantly changes where your aiming point will be on-screen. In reality, a shooter looks at what they intend to engage, and their body works to bring their weapon up and aligned with where they’re looking. It is an absolutely natural process, and being able to repeatedly execute this concept unconsciously and with consistent results is key to being an effective shooter. It is true that you may end up twisting your torso or contorting your body in other ways to engage multiple targets, take advantage of cover, and so forth – however, this has little or no bearing on what you as a shooter are seeing. You are focusing on your target, your weapon sights are aligned with your eyes, and that’s that.

Freeaim/deadzone systems do not give you this result. The ‘traditional’ FPS style of having your weapon aligned with your view, as with ArmA if you turn the deadzone off, is the proper way to do things. Your mouse (or thumbstick if you’re a console dude) controls your intent. When I snap my mouse around to aim at something, this should be allowed, it should be repeatable and consistent (something ArmA2 struggles with due to other clunky mechanics of how aiming works – but, fortunately, this is something ArmA3 fixes!) – if you want to penalize me for ‘snap shooting’ or whatever you want to call it, there are other ways to do it that don’t involve me feeling like I’m controlling a game with clunky metal robot arms. Deadzone/freeaim is simply not the right solution.

While freeaim can ‘work’ (insomuch as a cumbersome, clunky aiming and viewing method can be said to ‘work’) at longer ranges, it fails miserably when the engagement ranges shorten. Moving through a MOUT or CQB environment with ArmA-style freeaim is tantamount to suicide, as you are having to frequently turn left/right and look up/down to cover different angles, floors, etc. This means that your ability to ‘index’ on your sights, to gain the benefit of ‘muscle memory’, is continually impeded in a very severe manner.

Red Orchestra 2 is not as dramatic of an example as ArmA’s style of freeaim, as your view turns whenever you move the mouse and only the weapon is influenced by freeaim, but the end result is still quite goofy and artificially impacts the gameplay in what I would say is a negative way. I would even wager to say that the fact that RO2 saw such a remarkable drop-off in player activity shortly after release is partly due to the goofy freeaim it employs, though I suspect you will be shouted out of their forums on the pretense of ‘realism’ if you suggest this.

When it comes to the ArmA series, I would not ask for freeaim to be removed from ArmA3 – there are many who are likely nostalgic about it and play in a fashion where it works for them – but I will plainly state that anyone who chooses to use it in A3 – or uses it in ArmA2 currently – is at a severe disadvantage to those who choose to discard it. If you play adversarial missions with freeaim on, you are hurting yourself as well as your team – you would do better with it off.

Try it and see.

Ditch the deadzone.

The benefits of TrackIR

How much does a TrackIR really help? I can’t justify spending that much on it until I know how it is.

I am a huge fan of TrackIR, as you probably guessed from my past videos of it – most recently, my TrackIR5 video. You can see my usage of it in my recent first-person videos, to include aerial usage in Plateau Assault and infantry usage in The Little Delta That Could. I do not play ArmA without it – ever. I find myself twitching my head instinctively in other games that don’t support it, and wish they did. I have tactics as both infantry and air that simply are not possible to do without a TrackIR, and I know it has saved me many, many, many times in my gaming. I strongly believe in TrackIR as well as the company that makes it – NaturalPoint – and I recommend it to anyone who can scrounge up the funds. It is without question worth the money. It’s not terribly expensive when you put it in the proper context, and it’s an awesome product that will absolutely help you in ArmA.

ShackTac’s usage of ironsights/unmagnified optics

I’m sure a lot of folk have noticed that ShackTac avoids optics beyond red-dot / reflex sights. I’m sure an equal number of folk are wondering what the reasoning is behind this choice. Is it poor modeling of optics in the game engine? (no back-up irons, no shooting with both eyes open, no immersion due to the way it just zooms the FOV and slaps a black filter over the screen) Is it that ranged engagements get too easy? Is it that a scope beat you up and stole your lunch money?

There are a number of reasons why I prefer to avoid magnified optics as infantry in ArmA.

The main ones are as follows:

  1. ArmA does a poor job of showing concealment at a distance. The ‘grass layer’ is supposed to achieve this but generally is unsuccessful. It’s pretty easy to spot people without a magnified optic, and adding one just makes it that much easier. Finding a person in camo in a forest from a distance is not a trivial thing in reality – whereas in ArmA, it’s cake.
  2. ArmA does not render shadows past 80m. Same general idea as the above point – you can too easily see people to start with, so adding magnification just makes it worse.
  3. Magnified weapons increase the ranges of combat and tend to result in less interesting engagements. The increased accuracy and spotting abilities they bring removes a lot of the fun that otherwise exists in the infantry combat of the game. Too much sitting at a distance plinking, too little closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver.
  4. Magnified optics are far too stable and easy to use. ArmA does not have a simulation-level depiction of the real-world issues that come with weapon accuracy in general. Breathing cycle, aerobic/anaerobic fatigue, weapon support, recoil and the myriad things that come into play there, stance influence – the list goes on and on, and ArmA doesn’t do much of it, and when it does, it does it kind of awkwardly. People can throw themselves prone and blast away accurately without pause, or stand unsupported and plink off targets with relative ease. It’s just not how it works in reality, and when you combine that with the above points, it cheapens the experience.

Aside from the technical and gameplay reasons, there is a mentality I see throughout The Internet’s Gamers where people over-glorify “long range” shooting, snipers, and similar. In the case of ArmA at least, too often the people who are doing this overglorification are using these weapons and their overpowered nature as a gameplay crutch that allows them to take advantage of imperfect aspects of ArmA’s simulation to be more successful with less risk. I can’t count the number of people who think they’re Billy Badass because they can sit on a hill in Domi/Insurgency/similar missions and plink off AI with impunity thanks to their awesome-o sniper rifle/scope. I find that to be a cheap, empty thrill, and it’s part of why you’ll see me ribbing these types of players with videos of me shanking my own group’s snipers from time to time.

Those who love their magnified optics, hey, whatever – to each his own. Personally, I’m on the other end of the spectrum, where I find myself wishing I had a ka-bar/bayonet at times. The closer the fight, the greater the tension, the higher the thrill. Plinking people from extreme ranges doesn’t float my boat. Easymode optics don’t, either.

ShackTac’s usage of crosshairs


Update, Nov 2015:

My decisions about crosshairs in Arma were formed in Arma 2 and prior games, and after quite a bit of Arma 3 time and developmental efforts, I wanted to take another look at the viability of no-crosshair for our sessions. After weighing the pros & cons of Arma 3’s rather significant changes in this area, I’ve switched crosshairs off on our server. The basic technical reasons are as follows:

  • Arma 3’s weapons handling and general mechanics are much better than A2’s ever were. Better mouse control, smoother sights, faster zooming, better mechanics such as sway, sight misalignment, recoil, proper collimated optics, resting/deployment, etc. Having swappable sights also makes it less likely to end up with a ‘broken’ optic as could happen in A2’s mod set.
  • The scripting requests that were made in the past about things that could be used to make a less-precise/gamey crosshair were not implemented, taking that away as an option for toning down their usefulness or introducing more interesting mechanics.

While this isn’t a perfect situation, the only significant feature we’re currently lacking is that of both-eyes-open translucent weapon visualization. I made a mock-up of this here – I hope that some day we see this appear in Arma as an option, as it’s about as close as you can get to representing real-world capabilities without needing to use something like a VR setup.

So, TLDR: A3 weapon handling and mechanics are good enough that we can disable the crosshair and live with opaque weapons for now.

The prior post about my A2-era crosshair stance from Aug 6th of 2012 can be found below.


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Take On Helicopters flight model

What are some of your thoughts on the differences in the flight models of Arma 2 and Take On Helicopters? Also how do you feel about the possible inclusion of the Take On Helicopters flight model in Arma 3?

Take On Helicopters’ flight model is something I’m sure people looking for true helicopter simulation are going to enjoy. Personally, that’s not what I play ArmA for. If I wanted to play hardcore flight sims, you’d see me in DCS, IL-2, TKOH more often.

Considering ArmA’s scope and focus on the infantry side of things, I find the ArmA FM to be a pretty much perfect blend of authenticity and accessibility. It is more ‘hardcore’ than games like Battlefield 3, less forgiving, and while most anyone can hop into a helo and with a short period of practice be capable of basic take-off/flight/landing, it takes a great amount of time to truly master. The dynamics of ArmA’s flight model work extremely well in the context of the game, and the accessibility means that anyone can become a decent pilot with a bit of practice, capable of landing in hairy situations with competence. If you took the TKOH FM and injected it into ArmA, I think you’d find it to ultimately weaken the multiplayer experience.

Personally, if A3 has TKOH’s FM as an option, I plan to never use it. I’ve told ShackTac already that we won’t be adopting that FM, and given my reasons why (basically an expanded version of this post).

I also think it would be a mistake to make the ArmA3 FM TKOH from the start – part of what attracted me to this series in the beginning was the accessible helo flight model, and I’d hate to see aspiring ArmA pilots shy away from it after having a bad encounter with the TKOH FM, without realizing that there’s a more accessible one available. Having the option of either is fine, whatever, to each his own – but the default should be the ArmA-style version.

We’ll see what actually happens though. There’s more to be said re: the difficulty of making TKOH helicopter configs for mods, for example, but that’s drifting a bit from the core issues.

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