A Brief History Of FPS Mechanics; Part 3 – The Modern Age
April 30, 2013 3 Comments
From ADS to hitscan
It is very hard to pinpoint when precisely aim-down-sights (ADS) was invented, so to speak.
One thing is for sure, during 2003 and 2004 we saw a surge of FPS games starting to take the lessons from Counter Strike to its logical conclusion, with games like Vietcong and Red Orchestra making weapon mechanics more authentic. There were two franchises that influenced their popularity more than others.
The Battlefield franchise started its rise to popularity with Battlefield 1942, a combined arms multiplayer FPS on a grand scale, in 2002.
Battlefield 2, released in 2005, expanded the franchises weapon mechanics towards more realistic behaviors with the addition of aim-down-sights, bullet drop, cones of fire, recoil and movement induced penalties.
The addition of those elements into a massive 32v32 conquest battle system, with aircraft and ground vehicles, created a game unlike any other before in which warfare relied on teamwork, positioning and tactical maneuvers rather than the skill of one individual that could carry the team to victory.
ADS and the hard differentiation between hip-fire and aiming created a situation in which long and medium distance projectile combat was the norm. Flanking, high ground and cover started to gain more importance as firing from the hip was now very unreliable and standing in the open would get you killed by enemy snipers.
But Battlefield did not stop there, every bullet fired had its own physics attached and experienced a gravitational drop over long distances, making ADS and using scopes more important then ever. A bullet also did not hit immediately, it had a semi-realistic travel time and long distance shots required compensation for the weapons unique muzzle velocities.
These mechanics combined with the large 64-man maps created a situation where twitch shooting was not the norm anymore, longer aiming, adjusting and maneuver anticipation was the focus in Battlefield 2.
Gone were also the leftover movement mechanics from the Golden and Silver Age, sprinting now had stamina attached to it and could not be performed indefinitely, the same was also true of jumping. Following this and the fact the game ran a completely different engine not based on Quake, bunnyhopping or strafejumping was impossible to perform anymore.
This time the techniques for combat became centered around the three stances available in Battlefield 2: standing, crouching, prone. In search to circumvent the movement penalties set by the weapon mechanics, the players quickly noticed a small discrepancy in the prone stance.
Laying prone was supposed to provide superior accuracy and also make the player a smaller target, blending with the surroundings, even with grass. However prone behaved similarly to the CS crouch jump and could be triggered in mid-air, creating a sort of forward lunging motion, dubbed by the community the Dolphin Dive.
The Dolphin Dive illustrated
This quickly became an important way to both evade fire and gain superior accuracy while maintaining momentum. The execution of this skill was very important especially for medics that could revive soldiers with shock-paddles and often needed to cross the line of fire to do so.
Following the strong emphasis on teamplay and maneuvers, Battlefield 2 also introduced the Commander mechanic which let one person be voted to be the troops commander, supporting the squads and giving orders.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare
CoD:MW shook the scene of console FPS games in 2007 and established itself early as the de-facto console FPS of the Modern Age.
Consoles could not conceivably go through the PC Silver Age arc as the controller could not support the twitch-aspect from Counter Strike style shooters. Instead Modern Warfare skipped this phase and went straight to emulating Modern Military Shooters but included console-specific elements from the Halo generation, like regenerating health and soft-aim-assist.
CoD:MW was characterized by a faster pace of kills than the Halo generation. Having removed the shield from players and adding more modern weapon mechanics with headshots, the TTK was reduced significantly and a player required only a few bullets to drop an enemy.
In comparison to the Battlefield franchise however Modern Warfare did not go as far with its movement and weapons mechanics. The guns performed with what is called hit-scan which means that bullets do not have travel time or bullet-drop, making aiming a lot easier and faster paced even at long distances. Recoil and cones of fire were significantly reduced as well to simplify the weapons handling for the controller and prevent the need for compensation with an inferior input method.
The big addition in the Modern Warfare franchise was the inclusion of leveling mechanics and weapon customization both permanent and during the matches themselves.
Kill Streaks allowed for the one-time purchase of gameplay enhancing abilities and items like a UAV that shows enemies on the minimap and permanent progress from the match is used to unlock different weapon attachments and weapons.
Modern Age Mechanics Analysis
The modern age is characterized by a modernization of weapon mechanics and removing more and more emphasis from movement itself. Weapons now performed closer to their real life counterparts but still retain a few gameplay shortcuts for the sake of simplicity.
Some of you might be wondering where games like ARMA have went in this analysis and the answer is simply that these are largely simulations with a heavy emphasis on realistic reproduction of gunplay and real life warfare, while FPS games like Battlefield 2 or Modern Warfare are actually far more inaccurate and “game-y” than their simulation counterpart.
Being the more authentic of the bunch, if you take Battlefield 2’s gunplay mechanics and analyze them you find a lot of gameplay elements that do not behave as real life would. The Dolphin Dive is one such element coming from a simplified movement system without cooldowns between actions and simplified animation requirements.
Another example is the Cone Of Fire as an inaccurate simplification of guns in real life, it is by all means an approximations of handling instead of a representative simulation.
COF is often confused with Recoil and other accuracy mechanics.
In the real world accuracy is largely determined by the wielder and his ability to aim as well as compensate for the erratic movement of the gun when fired (due to recoil). When strapped down in a vice and independent from a wielder, a gun has a very high accuracy as long as it has no factory defects (irregularities in the barrel, wrong sights). The ability to hit the same spot with high accuracy in optimal conditions is one of the hallmarks of gun design and its variance is called “grouping”.
The spread of bullets (the cone of fire) in the real world is predicated mostly by the gun wielder and his ability to control the guns recoil when fired and not an inherent characteristic of the gun itself. The only real world weapons that have actual (game term) cones of fire are shotguns due to their pellet nature.
In games the weapon is held by an avatar and not by the player itself so there is no feedback to control and “properly” aim. This means that certain aspect have to be simulated in order for this to reflect the real world.
COF is an easy way to simulate the inherent inaccuracy of any weapon fired by a human being, it is however also incredibly wrong as it assigns an arbitrary statistic to the gun itself instead of the avatar, as if the gun could not hit the same spot twice. However these mechanics were necessary because of the different fire modes between hip-fire and ADS.
A closer reproduction of the real world would be the removal of COF and the addition of realistic Recoil for both hip-fire and ADS, which simulations like ARMA do.
Games that mix both COF and Recoil mechanics are technically placing a higher handicap on the player as real world guns would not have the exaggerated cones of fire found in games while also featuring recoil to be compensated for. Generally a bullet lands where the crosshair points at (bar distance and drop), it just jumps around/sways due to the failure of the wielder.
During the next years following the Modern Age these mechanics started being more and more simplified and even recoil started to behave strangely, even considering the game’s internal rule-sets.
If we look at the weapon mechanics as an evolution from Golden to Modern Age, the years after are characterized by a copy-paste approach and a loss of understanding why these mechanics existed and the goal they tried to achieve. Unfortunately by copying off each other games started to also copy their imperfections and embraced elements that either didn’t make sense or were entirely unfitting for the genre of game they tried to produce.
Join me next time for the last part in this series, The Dark Age of the FPS.