An in-depth analysis of aiming mechanics in first person shooters, and how they affect game-play and pacing.
By: Aydin Afzoud
This paper is a study of aiming mechanics in first person shooters, and how they affect the game in the sense of aesthetics, dynamics, mechanics and pacing as well as from a general game design perspective. Comprehensive research was made into aiming conventions in first person shooters and how they have evolved over the years as technology, game-play and industry standards have progressed.
I also studied the real-life counterparts that the games are emulating or abstracting to see what factors are relevant and how a game-designer can translate those factors into that of the virtual environment and what dynamics are desirable in the different types of games.
A substantial research was made into the affected genre where hundreds of data samples were gathered to serve as the basis on which the statistics and conclusion was made.
Table of contents:
- 1.0 Introduction
- 2.0 Purpose and plan
- 3.0 Background
- 4.0 In-game representation and simulation
- 5.0 Aiming mechanics in FPS
- 6.0 Results of research
- 7.0 Analysis of iron sights
- 8.0 Pacing without iron sights
- 9.0 Final conclusions
- 10.0 References
- 11.0 Appendix
Ever since I started studying game-design and was introduced to the MDA-framework at Gotland University I have applied it to games I am playing in attempts to “reverse engineer” the mechanics and figure out what the designer was thinking. When playing FPS and observing others play FPS I began to see patterns and aesthetics that I tried to pair with dynamics and find the core mechanic.
After discussing FPS aesthetics with my fellow students of game-design, especially the aiming mechanics and their resulting dynamics and aesthetics, I decided to dive deeper into the subject. I soon discovered that the previous research done on the subject was not satisfactory, so I took an interest and figured that I would do just that.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze aiming mechanics in games and especially examine a certain factor that has been added to modern first person shooters that are becoming more and more standard – the act of aiming down the sights (ADS) to accurately engage the target. I am going to examine the large amount first person shooters released between 1996 to 2012, single out the ones that use an ADS-mechanic and based on that data discern trends regarding ADS and what type of aiming mechanic they use and how it correlates to the the trend. I will examine the effect on pacing and game-play within the MDA (Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics)-framework and find relations between certain mechanics, dynamics and their resulting aesthetics. The research phase will be the foundation on which this thesis is built on, in the conclusion I shall present organized, analyzed, and measured data on which I shall base my conclusions on.
The questions I want answered are:
What aiming conventions are used in FPS?
What type of game-play does the existing aiming convention cater to?
What are the trends regarding ADS in FPS?
How do ADS-mechanics affect pacing and aesthetics?
The overall method I use is a pragmatic method that mixes qualitative and quantitative research. The research that makes up the bulk of this paper will be quantitative research that will then be visualized in statistical graphs as well as presented in tables. There will also be qualitative research on the more focused presentations of specific games or systems especially in the context of MDA. A deductive method and empirical statistics will be used when finding correlation between game-play and aiming conventions.
To make this study specific and to keep the samples consistent in comparison to each other there are some requirements and limitations that need be applied during the data gathering process.
1) Samples must be from the time-range of 1996 up to 2012.
After researching FPS in general, the conclusion was drawn that the latter part of the 90s was a time where FPS started to become more diverse with the introduction of more developers, franchises and better technology.
2) Samples must be taken from 3D FPS.
There is a large amount of 2D FPS that all use the same aiming conventions and engine. Inclusion of the homogenous 2D FPS-scene pre-1996 would distort the statistics as they are not relevant past 1996 when the first 3D FPS Quake was released.
3) Modifications of existing games will not be considered unless they went on to become commercial products.
Free player-made modifications of existing games are more often than not experimental in nature and do not reflect the industry trends. Inclusion of modifications would thus distort the statistics. Exceptions are made to modifications that later became commercial stand-alone games.
4) Sample data must be consumer products.
Arcade machines, internal military simulators, virtual reality, research and development prototypes and other products that are not made for the home-market are not directed towards the majority of consumers and require special hardware to operate. Thus they are not representative of the industry standard and will distort the statistics.
5) Expansion packs will not be sampled.
Expansion packs are in essence modifications or extensions of their main game, and will thus bolster the entries of that specific aiming convention and distort the statistics.
The term first person shooter describes a specific genre of video-games that have the player experience the world directly through the eyes of their in-game representation (avatar). Traits of this type of game is a 3-dimensional environment, high maneuverability, linear game-design and a strong emphasis on ranged weapon combat. (Rollings Andrew; Adams Ernest 2007)
As the technology and interest in the FPS genre has developed, the games them selves have become more complex, and while the older FPS featured very basic player actions; the contemporary ones have a lot more inputs and offer more interactions with the virtual surrounding. Despite the layers of complexity that has been added to the FPS, the core of a FPS is about combat and maneuvering. These two main actions have stayed the same, but has had more depth and dynamic added to them as time and technology has progressed.
One particular and defining mechanic in a FPS is ranged combat, to accommodate the game-design, the creators of FPS have developed different ways of abstracting ranged combat into something that can be done within the game.
To grasp the rapid evolution of player-actions in FPS, we will look at two samples, Wolfenstein 3D (id Software 1992) and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward 2007). This comparison illustrates of how the simple concept of maneuvering and combat has evolved as FPS have progressed. We will identify the parameters involved in the the two games, parameters here are defined as factors that the player must take in to account in a combat- or maneuver situation as well as actions required by the player to perform the task at hand.
Wolfenstein 3D (id Software, 1992)
- The player must turn in the general direction of the enemy and fire their weapon until the threat is eliminated
- The player must navigate the map looking for the exit. An element of back-tracking exists, thus requiring some memorization and orientation skills. The player can find pick up power-ups, weapons and keys to locked areas.
The technology of Wolfenstein 3D did not allow for realistic combat but had to be abstracted down into something appropriate for the engine and input method. Combat is as bare-bones as it gets; the player points his weapon in the general direction of the threat until it is eliminated. The only factors the player has to consider in combat is remaining amount of ammunition and health, thus making a tactical decision if the anticipated engagement is in the players favor or not.
The only tactical maneuver the player can do is to step out of sight of the threat – for example going around a corner – causing the enemy to walk up to that corner. That way the player can gain an advantage if fired upon by multiple enemies since they need a direct line of sight to the player open fire. When line of sight is broken, the enemies will walk the shortest rout to the player and engage as soon as line of sight is established again. When they walk up to the corner they do it one by one and the player can thus minimize the amount of enemies shooting them simultaneously.
As for maneuverability the player can walk forwards, backwards and turn left and right. Lateral or diagonal movement was not possible nor was aiming up or down, and it did not matter where you hit an enemy as each shot had a set damage and did not take vital areas like the head or chest into account.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward, 2007)
The player must aim down the sights of their weapon, aim directly at the enemy and fire until the threat is eliminated, there is a variety of sights and optics that are effective at different ranges and situations, the player must take these factors into account.
The player must take into account the recoil as well as what body-part they are aiming at since different body-parts yield different damage outputs. For example a shot in the head will hurt the enemy more than a shot in the knee.
If preferable and available the player can fire on hazardous objects (such as propane tanks and cars) in the vicinity of the enemy causing an explosion that will injure or kill the enemy.
The player can throw stun grenades at a parabolic trajectory at the enemy to cause temporary disorientation and movement penalties, thus gaining a tactical advantage. The player can control the fuse of these grenades to compensate for desired detonation timing.
The player can throw fragmentation grenades at a parabolic trajectory at enemies to injure or kill them. These grenades are also subject to fuse-compensation to produce a faster explosion.
The player has access to close air support, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, surveillance and other aerial support and can call in a friendly non player character (NPC) helicopter or fixed wing aircraft to strafe or bomb a marked area on the map.
The player can request the launch of a missile from a combat drone. When this is done the player perspective changes to that of the incoming missile and the player can steer their missile from above down towards visible enemies.
The player must manage ammunition resources and anticipate when combat will occur and make sure the magazine is fully loaded or that the remaining ammunition will be sufficient for the next engagement.
If the player has to reload during combat they can choose to transition to their secondary firearm which is a pistol as it takes longer to reload the rifle than to draw the pistol the flip side is that the pistol holds less than ten rounds and cannot compete with a rifle in damage output. There is a tactical decision that needs to be made whether to reload the rifle or draw the pistol to finish the ongoing engagement.
There is a melee attack that the player can employ regardless of what weapon is used. When close to an enemy where the player will instantly kill the threat with a stab of their combat knife. This attack too does have a tactical decision, the advantage of using the melee attack is that it is silent, does not use ammunition, is fast and instantly kills the enemy. The disadvantage is that one has to be very close to the enemy, often in an ambush or surprise situation, the player must quickly estimate the spatial relation he has to the threat and decide whether the attack will hit or if it will miss. A miss will momentarily leave the player vulnerable to hostile attacks as control penalties are given for missed melee attacks.
The player can employ static defenses such as claymore anti-personnel mines that instantly kill hostile forces when tripped. There are also automatic Gatling guns that can be deployed that will open fire on any enemy that walks in front of it.
Smoke grenades can be utilized to provide concealment from the enemy.
A player can dual wield submachineguns or pistols to double the firepower but remove the aiming down the sights mechanic, thus making the player capable of shooting a lot of rounds but inaccurately, this too is a tactical decision.
Air support can be called in where a helicopter with a Gatling gun will circle the area while the player has control over the helicopter's gunner, and can strafe an area with accurate fire.
Devices and abilities exist to negate enemy support such as man-portable anti-aircraft systems, abilities to see claymores through walls and electromagnetic pulse that will interrupt the opposing force's radar.
A variety of weapon customization exist that affect recoil, range, sound, sight, sway, firepower, penetration, damage output etc. These are all factors that the player must take into account when choosing a load-out for a mission and heavily impacts combat.
The player can walk forwards, backwards, turn left and right, move laterally and diagonally, sprint, crouch, go prone, lean left and right (out of cover to expose as little of their body as possible), slide into cover, jump and climb ladders.
Power-ups consists of airdropped packages that contain the power-up A player must locate one, and spend a few seconds opening it, thus adding a tactical element to acquiring power-ups.
The games are released 15 years apart , so comparing technology would be irrelevant, but the defining concepts are still the same – maneuvering and combat, which are the core game-play mechanics of the first person shooter genre of games. One can superficially say that Modern Warfare is the same as Wolfenstein 3D in regards to that the player point your weapon at the enemy and fire until dead, but at further investigation there are lots of different factors and parameters inserted into that very basic set of actions. that the player needs to take into account. Thus making the combat play out very differently despite the fact that in its core it can be summed up to essentially "point and shoot".
Though one can argue that the inclusion of sub-systems are needless in terms of game-play, the above example illustrate how the development of combat and maneuvering all affect game-design and game-play to a large extent.
As Craig A. Lindley explains in his paper The Semiotics of Time Structure in Ludic Space As a Foundation for Analysis and Design and in his lecture Ludic Form; video-games can be chalked up to be defined by 3 different disciplines. Simulation, narrative and game. This form of division is also supported by Gonzalo Frasca in his paper Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction To Ludoology. FPS have an intrinsic level of simulation in them as they abstract and to certain degrees simulate combat with firearms, to be able to analyze aiming in games we first need to look at aiming in real life so we can identify what parts have been disregarded, emphasized or abstracted down. In these real-life examples we will look at the M16 assault rifle and the Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 (AK47) as they are both prevalent weapons and considered standards in the field of assault rifles. (Lindley, 2005); (Lindley, Lecture at University of Gotland 2004); (Frasca, 2003)
The AK47 as the worlds most widespread and mass-produced weapon, it has it origin in Russia and the heavy saturation of AK47-type rifles in world conflicts and popularity among resistance and opposing forces have earned it a given place in pop-culture and entertainment. The M16 is the U. S-counterpart to the eastern assault rifle, it features a different design and while it is not as prevalent or iconic as the AK47 it has equal recognition pop culture. FPS that use modern weapons always feature the some variant of the AK47 and M16 rifle. (Killicoat, 2007); (IMFDB, 2012)
↑Fig.01. The Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 and its sighting system.
↓Fig02. The M16 and its sighting system
Despite the difference in the two rifle's design, the concept of aiming is the same: When aiming a rifle you line up the front sight in level the rear sight. Different weapons use different types of sighting systems, but the basic concept is to with visual means straighten the rifle to the target.
The rear sights on rifles are the ones that are calibrated by the shooter to compensate for distance and by definition are the ones located closest to the shooter. The concept is that the rear sight feature some form of notch or peep hole that the shooter need to line up with a post on the front sight to find the calibrated point of impact.
↑Fig.03. Adjustable rear sights on Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 and M16.
When aiming a rifle, the shooter uses several points to fix the rifle to his torso and make it as stable as possible. A shooter brings up the butt of the stock to their shoulder, rests their cheek on the top of the stock, grabs the pistol with the dominant hand, fore-grip with the other hand and tilt their head so one eye is in level with the rear- and front sights. (U.S. Department of Army, 2003)
↑Fig.04.A proper way of aiming a rifle. The circles indicate the points where pressure is applied to hold the rifle steady and fixed to the shoulder. The blue line is the line of sight and the green one is the line of fire.
The term for the visual relation between the front and rear sight when aiming properly is called sight picture. Sight pictures differ greatly depending on what sighting system the rifle is using, but across the board the shooter should focus on the front sight, thus making the closer rear sight out of focus. (U.S Department of Army, 1994)
↑Fig.05. The sight pictures of the AK-47 and M16 rifles.
Major factors that are of importance when engaging a target with a firearm are range, wind and movement. Range is of importance because bullets have a parabolic trajectory, the fall-off is called bullet drop. The shooter need to calibrate their sights to take distance into account, thus compensating for the bullet drop, when shooting, this is called zeroing and can be summed up to that the shooter sets the sights of his rifle so line of sight intersect with the bullet path at the desired point of impact. Adjusting range is often made with the rear sight in rifles and pistols, while the front sight remains static.
↑Fig.06. External ballistics and relation between bullet trajectory, line of sight and point of impact.
Another thing that affect the bullet's path is wind, some firearms have sights that allow for wind adjustment, but since wind is dynamic the shooter more often have to compensate it manually by offsetting their point of impact so that they aim in the opposite direction of the wind so that the bullet drifts into the point of impact.
The same concept applies when engaging moving targets, but there is no way to readily adjust the sights on a rifle to take target movement into account. The shooter has to compensate by anticipating the time it will take the bullet to travel the distance to the target, estimate the movement speed of the target and position the rifle so that the point of impact is where the moving target will be when the bullet reaches it. This method of aiming in front of a target is called to lead the target.
Factors like air density, humidity, bullet shape, barrel length, rifling, powder load and barrel warp also affect the bullet path, but the effects are so subtle that they only make a considerable difference at long ranges, and in this paper the relevant ranges are up to 400 meter. So we will disregard those factors. (International Ballistics Society, 2007); (Fw Mann, 1909)
Despite FPS having an intrinsic level of simulation, the game designers need to consider the technology they have at their disposal and the intended game-play, and choose what parts of the above factors to include, eliminate and which ones to simplify or abstract down to representative in-game actions. The act of aiming a weapon in itself is an action that needs to be abstracted down into something that fits the input method of the FPS, and if we examine past releases we can see how game-designers have dealt with the issue of aiming and shooting inside games.
In the older games such as Wolfenstein 3D (id Software 1992) that we looked at earlier, the input method was only the computer's keyboard. But ever since the standardization of mouse-input when working with computers the mouse have become standard way of looking around in FPS, while the keyboard is allocated to movement. This solution is called the WSAD control-scheme and have the player move forward with W, backward with S, stepping to the left side with A and stepping to the right side with D. The mouse is used to rotate the character and at least one button of the mouse, often mouse1, is used to discharge the weapon.
Based on the research that was made into FPS in regards to aiming, here follows a presentation of the results. We will first look at the different aiming systems in FPS and how they work as well as the technical solution they use to achieve that mechanic. A template will be use to demonstrate.
Note that when the term ”camera” is used, it is referring to the perspective of the player, as the ”camera” in a FPS essentially is the view rendered out of the player-character's eyes. And the term crosshairs in the following examples is interchangeable with ”point of aim”.
↑Fig.06 Fixed camera
This is the original and standard way of handling aiming and was the method used in all of the pioneering FPS. The fixed camera system has the weapon and camera locked into position. It can be summed up to that the firearm is always pointed at the center of the screen and is fixed in position in relation to the camera. Every movement of the mouse affects the field of view, and point of aim. There are no ways to move the camera without also moving the weapon (and thus the crosshairs) and vice versa.
To compensate for the lack of accuracy and precision shooting the game may feature a visual aid in the form of a crosshairs in the center of the screen that will show the player where the point of aim is. These crosshairs may be dynamic or static depending on what game-design the FPS have; dynamic crosshairs are ones that expand depending on what spread the firearm has, and serves as visual feedback to the player of the expected accuracy. A moving player will for instance get larger crosshairs and while crouching they become smaller. This is an abstraction of the inaccuracy expected when moving and shooting at the same time as well as an abstraction of effective recoil, as rapid fire will increase the crosshairs and spread of the bullets.
A few examples of games that use the fixed camera solution:
Quake (id Software 1996)
Unreal (Epic Games 1998)
Half-Life (Valve software 1998)
Soldier of Fortune (Raven Software 2000)
↑Fig.07 Dead zone
In this solution the point of impact and the camera is not linked as rigidly as the previous example. The crosshairs are not always fixed in the center of the screen but the player is allowed to move it within a certain area, this area is called the dead zone (as camera movement is ”dead” when mouse movement is made within the given zone). The dead zone (marked in red) is not visible to the player but allows for movement of the crosshairs without moving the camera. This is to abstract the real life act of moving the weapon (and thus point of aim) without moving the head. When the crosshairs reaches any of the dead zone's edges the camera will pan along with the mouse-movement until the crosshairs is within the dead-zone again. (Bezzy, 2012)
In the visual example above, if the player was to move their mouse to the right, the crosshairs would follow accordingly but the camera would remain static as long as the crosshairs was within the red zone. If the player would keep moving the mouse until it reached the edge of the red zone and continue moving it, the crosshairs would become static and the camera would follow the mouse movements instead until the player would move the mouse left again which would make the camera stop and make the crosshairs move according to the mouse-input again.
Some of the games that use the dead zone system are:
Operation Flashpoint: Cold war Crisis (Bohemia Interactive Studios, 2001)
America's Army (U.S Army, 2002)
ARMA: Armed assault (Bohemia Interactive Studio, 2007)
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (Codemasters, 2009)
↑Fig.07 Dynamic camera, movable weapon.
This is a unique hybrid system between the fixed camera and the dead zone but applies it differently. If a player moves the mouse left or right the camera follows directly but the weapon is not fixed like in fixed camera solution, but rather moves in relation to the way the player turns. There are no crosshairs, so the player has to visually estimate where the barrel is pointing. However there is an acceleration or multiplier of the weapon-movement to allow for quick close quarter-combat reactions. Since the weapon and thus point of impact moves faster than the camera, the player can quickly adjust the direction of the barrel in a close quarter combat-situation with fast movement of the mouse, while a fixed camera solution would have required more deliberate and precise aim. (Mekhazzio, 2011)
Example of a game that use the Dynamic camera, movable weapon method is:
Red Orchestra 2 (Tripwire Interactive 2011)
All these above mentioned systems are used to abstract the act of aiming to fit the controller input and format of an FPS, but lately there has been a trend of adding another mechanic to the aiming system; the act of using iron sights. Iron sights are the factory-sights that are built in to a rifle (see fig.01 and fig.02). The inclusion of an iron sight mechanic into a game means that a new part is added to the equation of aiming; instead of using training the crosshairs on the target and open fire like in the standard FPS, the player has to use the iron sights, before opening fire to avoid penalties in aim.
In the research, 4 types of iron sight systems was identified and has been classified as ”2D-overlay”, ”3D”, ”3D faux” and ”3D miss-aligned”. An explanation of the different systems and the variations they have follows accordingly along with a discussion.
In this system a 2D overlay representation of the firearm with the sights aligned are brought up to represent aiming down the sights in reality. Here follows some notable examples of games with 2D overlay sights:
↑Fig.08 Hidden & Dangerous screen shot. Aiming the Sten-gun.
Hidden & Dangerous (Illusion Softworks, 1999) was the first game to use the 2D-overlay method.
↑Fig.09 Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis screen shot Aiming the AK74.
Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis is a military simulator for the home-market by Bohemia Interactive Studio which also uses the 2D-overlay method, but it differs from Hidden & Dangerous in that the rear sight is more blurred than the front sight thus making it more realistic, as one focuses on the front sight when aiming in reality.
↑Fig.10 Secret Service: In Harms Way. Aiming the AK74.
Secret Service: In Harms Way, developed by Fun Labs and released in 2001 is an obscure budget title that was the first true FPS to use iron-sights as both Operation Flashpoint and Hidden & Dangerous have third-person modes in them. The game also have a very high level of realism when it comes to the firearms, being the first FPS to feature different reload procedures depending on if there was a round in the chamber or not.
However despite the realism in weapons, the iron sights here do not give an accurate representation of aiming down the sights in reality as the camera is moved to the back post. In reality the head would be resting on the butt stock of the rifle, and when aiming an AK-type rifle the shooter would be able to see the rifle (refer to fig.5). As seen in the example above, the camera has instead been moved forward as illustrated here.
↑Fig.11 The blue eye symbol is where a shooter would have their eyes. The red eye symbol indicates where the eyes are placed in Secret Service: In Harms Way.
An advantage of having just the sights overlaid is that the developers do not need to draw the weapon graphic itself. The disadvantage - excluding the fact that it is not possible to aim like that in reality- is that the sights will obscure a lot of the field of view. In Fig.10 the sights take up the majority of the screen, and to compensate for such a severe blockage of the view, the developers have made the sight transparent so the player can effectively see through their weapon and acquire their targets more easily.
↑Fig.12 Battlefield 2. Aiming the AK47.
Battlefield 2 (Digital Illusions CE, 2005), a game released considerably later than Secret Service: In Harm's Way use a solution where the camera (thus player's head) is up against the rear sight. Here we can see that the back sight is blurred a bit for realism, but the developers have chosen not to make the weapon transparent to compensate for blocking the majority of the field of view. Taking takes the heads up display (HUD) into account we can see how much of the view that is blocked by the sight and graphical user interface elements.
↑Fig.13 Illustrating blockage of player field of view in Battlefield 2.
It should also be noted that the majority of the action takes place in the lower half of the screen, so the parts of the screen that has the lowest blockage are also the parts where the sky, which serves no tactical role, is rendered.
↑Fig.14. Delta Force: Xtreme Aiming the M240.
Delta Force: Xtreme, released in 2005 by NovaLogic is using a 2D overlay with heavy transparency, but unlike the solution in Secret Service: In Harms Way the transparency in Delta Force: Xtreme attempts to simulate stereo vision by fading out the outer edges of the rear sight. A greater field of view is given, but it becomes very obvious that it is a 2D overlay as the transparency draws attention to the fact that the sight is indeed just a flat image with no depth.
The ”3D”-category of iron sights are different levels of accurate 3D-representations of aiming down the sights.
↑Fig.15. World War 2: Battleground Europe: Aiming the M1A Garand.
World War 2: Battleground Europe (Cornered Rat Software, 2001) is an MMOFPS (Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter) that was the first FPS to feature 3D iron sights. There has been several iterations of the sighting system in the game since there has been content patches and engine upgrades, but the usage of 3D sights is constant. One thing that has never been added is proper depth of field, as the focus is equal everywhere on the rifle and its sights. One must note how ahead of their time World War 2: Battlefield Europe was. It stands alone with a 3D-iron sight system when 2D-overlay was the norm.
↑Fig.16. U.S. Most Wanted: Nowhere to Hide. Aiming the AK74.
The first single player FPS to feature real 3D iron sights was the obscure budget title US. Most Wanted: Nowhere to Hide, developed by Fun Labs in 2002, the same developer that made Secret Service: In Harms Way which was the first FPS to feature iron sights. It is to say the least interesting that Fun Labs were the ones that pioneered the modern aiming mechanics with their budget titles.
↑Fig.17. Call of Duty: Black Ops. Aiming the AK-47u
Call of Duty: Black Ops released 2010 by Treyarch is an example of a game that features depth of field, blurring the parts that are closest to the camera and focusing on the front sight.
The ”3D Faux” category refers to aiming solutions that feature a 3D sight but do not have a proper correlation between the sight and the point of impact.
↑Fig.18. Mobile Forces. Aiming the M16.
Mobile Forces (Rage Games, Realtime Worlds, 2002) was the first game to use aligned 3D-sights that actually did not aim where the bullets hit. In the above screen-shot we can see the point of impact marked by the blue reticule, but the rifle itself is aiming well below that. Furthermore the camera is placed behind the front post instead of behind the rear post, thus giving an incorrect sight picture.
↑Fig.19. TerraWars: New York Invasion. Aiming the M16.
TerraWars: New York Invasion (Ladyluck Digital Media, 2006) uses a mix of faux and miss-aligned sights as well as an incorrect sight picture.
↑Fig.20. The blue eye icon indicates where the shooters eyes would be. The red eye indicates where the eyes are in TerraWars: New York Invasion.
In appendix 1 the raw data of the research can be examined, but for the sake of clarity in the presentation, charts will be used to aid in the visualization of the data.
↑Fig.20. Trends regarding iron sights.
The above graph shows the trends regarding FPS with iron sights and what type of sights they use.
One can clearly see how 2D sights were the norm until 2002 when 3D sights took over completely, it is also clear that 2D sights have been effectively abandoned in favor of 3D sights as the blue line remains flat for most part of the decade. The fact that 2D sights are no longer viable can be attributed to technology advancement; the 2D iron sight has become obsolete as 3D engines have become the standard in FPS.
The 3D faux and 3D Miss-aligned sights also rise as the 3D sights rise, this can be attributed to the fact that since there are more 3D iron-sights being made, there is a higher probability of mistakes being made, thus accounting for the increase in especially miss-aligned sights.
By compiling the data into a pie-chart we can determine the relative relationship of different iron-sights between 1999 and 2012
↑Fig.21. Distribution of sight types in the affected data range
To establish a proportional historical record of the rise of iron sight aiming in FPS we can compile the data into a bar-chart that shows when the examined games featuring iron-sight mechanics were released:
↑Fig.22. Proportional distribution and time-range of release
X axis: Number of games with iron sights released within time-range.
Judging from this graph alone, one can interpret it as the usage of iron sights are slowing down in the latter part of the decade and that iron sights in FPS peaked between 2006 and 2009 – that would be incorrect. If we examine this graph along with the line graph (Fig.20) and consult the the raw data it is clear that the inclusion of iron-sights in FPS are going up steadily. The reason why there were fewer FPS with iron sight mechanics between 2009 and 2012 is because there were simply not as many FPS released in that period as in the previous 3 years. Less FPS means less FPS with iron sight mechanics.
To determine trends as well as to project future progress and visualize the relation of different types of iron sights in context of overall percentage of games, the data has been compiled into the following chart.
↑Fig.23. Percentile distribution of data over time, and basis for future projection.
The initial turbulence around the millennium shift can be explained by the fact that fewer data samples lead to larger discrepancies in data and thus more dynamic range. Around 2005 we have enough data samples to begin to discern a trend, and the data from 2005 and onward solidifies the trend thus making it more predictable for future projection.
Regarding projection of the chart one must take into account that such a projection would only show a probability of events if the status quo was constant for the coming years. It would lead to an incorrect result as both software and hardware is constantly being developed, and a 30 year projection would not take into account the next generations of games and consoles. So one has to be careful not to project too far into the future as the probability of having current technology diminishes rapidly the further one looks into the future. Yet the chart above serve as a good foundation for near-future predictions regarding percentile distribution of iron sight types.
The inclusion of iron sights mechanics in FPS affect both the dynamics and aesthetics of the game. To discern trends and relations we need to study which games use what kind of aiming conventions and how these aiming conventions affect the game-play on a practical level. The framework in which we will make these is the MDA-framework.
MDA stands for mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics, and is a way to view the correlation between the underlying processes and their effective output in a game. It spans the entire game, from the rules to the experience and thereby it also include developers as well as consumers. A game is a complex set of rules and a slight tweaking of the basic core rules can give raise to a butterfly effect that results in a drastic change in the actual game-play. Here is a more in depth explanation of what MDA means.
These are the game rules. Everything within the game eventually has it roots in the rules. The mechanics define how the game should operate.
This is the system that is shaped by the rules. In other words dynamics are how the game is when it is running, it is here the interaction between player and game system takes place.
The aesthetics are how the game is being felt by the player. In other words, what emotions the player feels when playing the game. Not what he sees, but what he feels.
Game designers ultimately attempt to shape an experience for the player of the game they are designing. The MDA-framework is a useful way to evaluate how different changes in mechanics can give rise to radical changes in dynamics and finally how these changes are perceived by the player. MDA is especially useful in prototyping since the game system and player actions are kept relatively simple at that stage thus allowing the designer to have greater control of the output. (Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek, 2004)
To further illustrate the relation between mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics we will examine Team Fortress 2 (Valve Software 2007) as an example. The first column shows one rule and the dynamics it gives rise to, and the second column shows the difference when changing a rule. The following example is not hypothetical but an observation of the historical record, we examine the change of mechanics in the capture point map cp_grainary and how it affected the dynamics and aesthetics
The middle capture point is neutral. The team that captures it first gains an advantage.
Players on both teams all choose the fastest player-class, the scout, to be able to get the point and after it is captured or lost they play their intended class.
The first push is always made up of scouts, making it monotonous and predictable The first capture point that is supposed to be the most
crucial feels the most boring. Players don't get to play with the class they want, but feel obliged to choose the fastest class to help out their team.
There are locked gates before the middle capture point that restricts access for the first one and half minute of the round
Players on both teams all choose the class they want to, because even if one chooses the slowest class, they will reach the gates before they open, and thus won't miss out on the capturing of the central neutral point.
The battle now becomes less predictable and more dynamic, there are no longer just scouts running around trying to capture, but medics, engineers, heavy weapon guys, soldiers, snipers, spies and pyros. The player can play with whatever class they like the most. The first cap becomes more frantic, competitive and fun.
This illustrates how a mechanic gave rise to a dynamic that in turn lead to an unwanted aesthetic. Valve Software then changed their mechanics to force a different dynamic which in turn produced the desired aesthetic. It is within this framework will will be analyzing and draw conclusions about the effect of iron-sights on aesthetics, pacing in particular.(Valve Software Patch Notes, 2008).
In this analysis I will use the system in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward, 2007) as it is representative for the overall standard for the majority of current FPS that use iron sights.
When engaging at range, the player needs to direct their crosshairs in the general proximity of their target and simultaneously bring up the iron sights. When the player does this, the field of view is affected as well as the level of zoom. The camera becomes a little more zoomed in, the edges become blurred and the aiming aperture takes up the majority of the area of action on the screen. The movement speed of the player is also reduced, as one cannot run while aiming down the sights, there is also a penalty for walking while aiming down the sights as the weapon will begin to sway heavily and it will be hard to retain a visual of the target or a predictable point of impact.
The best way of accurately engaging a target is for the player to stop moving completely, aim down the sights and open fire, standing still until they exit the iron sights.
In a multiplayer situation the player that can bring up their iron-sight the fastest will be the one with the advantage. To get this advantage the players memorize the levels and associate certain areas for being likely to have enemies, thus pre-emtively entering the iron sights, aiming at for instance a door opening and waiting for an enemy player to show up. When observing replays of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare matches one can clearly see how the players stop and aim down the sights at certain places, and when engaging an enemy they stand still until they exit the iron sights.
This constant stoppage lowers the pace of the game, and creates a ”stop-and-go” type of game-play where every few seconds the player stops, aims, and moves only to stop, aim and move again. And most of the time the player will aim at nothing but a place where an enemy is expected to maybe appear or be in.
Here follows a 23 second analysis of a player in Call of Duty: Black Ops released by Treyarch 2011 (which uses the same system of aiming mechanic as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare) to determine the pacing and game-play consequences of using the aforementioned aiming mechanic.
To make it consistent with the following non-iron sight comparison it should be stated that this was played in a free-for-all game-mode with a weapon that yields high damage thus effectively being a one-shot-one-kill weapon.
↑Fig.24 Chart chronicling 23 seconds of Call of Duty: Black Ops.
The analysis was made by observing the player in first person view, and each second check if the parameters ”moving”, ”static”, ”iron sight”, and ”kill” were fulfilled or not. Here it is in graphical form using the parameters moving and kill.
↑Fig.25. Analysis of maneuver and combat states in Call of Duty: Black Ops
Y-axis: 0 = False. 1 = True.
X-axis: Time elapsed in seconds
As shown by the green line, the player moves, and stops completely, only to move again and come to a complete stop every few seconds. From seconds 1 to 12 the player gets one kill each time he stops, at the 13 second mark there is one instance where the player aims at an expected threat which never appears and keeps moving. Looking at the correlation between the green and red line we can determine the rough equation of combat in Call of Duty: Black Ops. While only looking at the graph it can be interpreted as ”Every time a player stops they get a kill” it is actually ”Generally to get a kill you must come to a complete halt” once you take the game-mechanics into account such as the severe penalties to accuracy if the player does anything other than standing still when shooting.
This stop-and-go type of game-play is evident in other FPS that are designed to be action games with a lots of engagements, and drawn out action sequences during a player's life, for example Battlefield 3 (Digital Illusions CE, 2012) .
↑Fig.26. Analysis of movement in 38 seconds of playing Battlefield 3
Legend: Y-Axis: M=Moving. S=Static (standing still)
X-Axis: Seconds. Green marks are kills.
Again we see how the pacing of the game, and thus the action is broken up every few seconds to accommodate the aiming mechanics of the iron sight. Or in other words; to avoid the penalties of shooting without the iron sight up.
To compare and contrast with the above data, here follows an analysis made of a game that does not feature iron sights or penalty for movement. This example will be Quake Live (id Software, 2010) in an identical set up as the previous example; A free-for-all game type and a weapon with a high damage yield that most often result in one-shot kills.
↑Fig.27 Chart chronicling 23 seconds of Quake Live.
Again, the analysis was made by examining a player through a first-person perspective for 23 second. Since there is no iron sight in Quake Live, the aiming column is replaced with ”fire” to indicate whether the player opened fire or not. When we translate the above data into a graph, we will see a completely different pattern than that of Call of Duty: Black Ops
↑Fig.28 Analysis of correlation of maneuvering, shooting and killing in Quake Live.
Y-axis: 1 = True. 0 = False
X-axis: Time elapsed in seconds
As we can see by the blue line the player is constantly in motion, except at the 16 second mark where the player stops momentarily. As for firing, the player fires at 1, 3, 7, 10, and 12 seconds without scoring a kill, other than those instances the player scores one kill for each shot, all this while constantly moving.
If we super-impose the movement patterns in Call of Duty: Black Ops with the movement patterns in Quake Live we get a clear visualization of the contrasting pace in the two FPS.
↑Fig.29 Comparison of pacing in Call of Duty: Black Ops and Quake Live.
Y-axis: Movement. 1 = True. 0 = False.
X-axis: Time in seconds.
Examining the above data as well as the wider raw data leads to the conclusion that inclusion of iron sights in FPS greatly affect the game-play and especially the pace of the game. From an MDA-standpoint we can conclude that adding aniron sight mechanic with penalties for not using the iron-sights will lead to a dynamic where the players that have their iron sights up the fastest will have the advantage. And to maximize the chance for that advantage, the players will preemtively enter the iron sights and aim at anticipated enemy positions, which in turn slows down the pacing drastically
To illustrate the dramatic change in pacing we will use a hypothetical example and compare the correlation of mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics in the context of iron sights. The left column is the game without iron sights and the right column is the same game but with iron sights.
To defeat enemies, the player needs to train the crosshairs on the enemies player model and fire until the enemy is dead. There are no aim-penalties for movement.
Players will constantly move to avoid be an easy target. Maneuvering becomes a part of combat as the player must move in a way to dodge the line of fire of their enemy as well as analyze and anticipate the movement of their enemy to line up a shot that will hit.
A fast and frantic game where the players are constantly moving. Constant action in the form of either combat or tactical navigation.
To defeat enemies, the player needs to bring the crosshairs in general proximity of the enemy. Bring up the iron sights wile coming to a stop, train the sights on the enemy and fire until dead. Severe penalties for firing without iron sights or moving while aiming down the sights
Players will end up competing in who can bring up their iron-sights first. To gain an advantage in this competition, players preemtively bring up iron sights and aim at likely places where enemies may be encountered, such as doorways or corners.
A game where the player stops every few seconds, aims at something and then continues to move. Action is broken up moments of just aiming at nothing in particular in hopes of an enemy walking into the player's iron sight. Pace is lowered and there is no element of maneuvering while shooting.
Using hypothetical deduction as well as empirical studies of the gathered samples we can point out a relation between aiming mechanics and sub-genre of FPS. One can divide FPS games into arcade-type, action and simulation.
These FPS are designed mainly for entertainment value, realism is not an issue and there is very little or no waiting time between player deaths. Combat is fast paced and happens often. These games can feature unrealistic type mechanics such as jet-packs, auto-recharging or large amounts of player-health, weapon and power-up pickups and spread out re-spawn points
FPS of this sub-genre are like the arcade-type of games but with a higher level of simulation. For instance they can feature body specific hit-boxes, no level-spawned weapon pickups or power-ups, more realistic combat and more team-specific re-spawns. While the combat in action-type games are fast and happens often, there can be long waiting periods between re-spawns
These type of FPS attempt to replicate reality. There are no fantastic mechanics, player health is low, weapons are realistic, ballistics are implemented and the environment is realistic. The pace is slow, there is not much movement, and combat is short and a lot of time passes between combat-situations.
As a reference, a selection of games belonging to their respective category:
Arcade type: Half-Life (Valve software 1998), Quake (id Software 1996), Team Fortress 2 (Valve Software 2007), Unreal Tournament (Epic Games 1999), Halo: Combat Evolved (Bungie Studios 2001)
Action: Counter-Strike: Source (Valve Software 2004), Call of Duty4: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward 2007), Battlefield 3 (Digital Illusions CE 2011), Left 4 Dead (Valve Software 2008), Killzone 3 (Guerrilla Games 2011)
Simulations: Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad (Tripwire Interactive 2011), Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis (Bohemia Interactive Studio 2001), ARMA (Bohemia Interactive Studio 2009), Iron Front: Liberation 1944 (X1 Software, AWAR 2012) , America's Army (United States Army 2002)
As the history of aiming mechanics in FPS show, iron sights come from the simulation-type of games and continues to be an important factor in the game-design of simulators. However, lately there has been a large amount of action- or arcade-type FPS that include iron sights in their games and impose severe limitations and penalties for not using them. This cross-over of mechanics between sub-genres gives rise to dynamics and aesthetics that may not always be preferable.
An inevitable dynamic of adding a mechanic that penalize the player for shooting while simultaneously moving will be that the players will only shoot at while standing still - that is predictable and most likely the desired dynamic when implementing such a system. However in regards to iron sights, a less predictable dynamic evidently arises where players preemtively aim at areas of expected enemy presence in order to have the iron sight advantage. Thus greatly slowing down the pace of the game.
If a designer makes a game with the intent of it being an arcade-type or action game, inclusions of iron sights mechanics would not be advisable as it gives rise to an aesthetic that belongs more in the simulation category. Iron sights generally belong in games that feature short bursts of action that are spread far apart. An arcade-type of FPS would cripple itself in the game-play department if iron sight mechanics were added, and a simulation would cripple itself if iron sight was removed. Game-designers must not take inclusions of iron sight aiming conventions as a given just because they are getting more popular, but need to carefully consider the implications it has on the dynamics and aesthetics, and if the results are preferable.
Presentation of raw data
To encourage future research and discussion on the subject of aiming conventions in FPS, the raw data of the research can be accessed in the appendix along with the screen-shots for every game included in the study.
Rollings Andrew; 2007, Adams Ernest, Fundamentals of Game Design. p.436-439
Craig. A. Lindley, Game Studies, vol.5 Issue 1, October 2005
Gonzalo Frasca, 2003, Video/Game/Theory
U.S Department of the Army, 2003, U.S Army field manual FM 3-22.9 Rifle Marksmanship
M16A1, M16A2/3, M16A4 and M4 carbine chapter 7
U.S Department of the Army, 1994. US. Army Field Manual FM 23-14 M249 Light Machine Gun in the Automatic Rifle Role chapter 5.
Franklin Weston Mann, 1909, The bullet's flight from powder to target
All web links verified 2012-06-21
Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles
MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research:
DeadZones: Part One
Table of games with relevant information.
Click on the image below or download the spreadsheet here.
These are some screenshots from the games with HUD and weapon masked out, to help determine the amount of blockage when using iron sights. The paper initially had a section speaking about the problem of having to make very good environment, enemy models and animations only to have them be covered up (and therefor not seen by the player) by a weapon and muzzle flash. You can download them from imgur or the rar here.
Screenshots of the games included in the research. You can download them from imgur or grab the rar here. (52MB)
By: Aydin Afzoud