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Shooting for Realism: How Accurate are Video-Game Weapons?
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Sat Mar 29, 2008 11:32 pm Reply and quote this post
In real life,people rarely want to get into a firefight. But in many video games,particularly military-themed first-person shooters (FPS) like thejust-released Rainbow Six Vegas 2, you can’t wait to step into the line of fire. After all, you’re an elite commando, and there’s no way notto fight—no button to press to call your nervous wreck of a wife or gohang out with the kids. It doesn’t matter how many bullets you takewhile gunning down whole platoons of terrorists and mercenaries,because this is red-blooded escapism at its geekiest. So shut up andstarting shooting guys.

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But unlike sci-fi FPS games such as Halo or Doom,military shooters have a tradition of so-called realism. Most of thein-game weapons are available now—or at least loosely based on designsthat could eventually reach the likes of Iraq and Afghanistan. In otherwords, as optimistic as game developers might be about a high-tech replacement for the M-16 assault rifle, there are no plasma rifles or rail guns in your arsenal. Firefights look and sound like something out of Blackhawk Down, with that unnerving, staccato crackle of modern-day warfare. And the damage inflicted feels more accurate, too: In games like Call of Duty 4 or Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter,most enemies are vulnerable to a single burst, and a few incomingrounds can kill you easily. So as this successful genre continues todeliver best-selling titles, will increasingly powerful PCs and gameconsoles allow military shooters to become more realistic than ever?

If Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is any indication, the answer is a big, fat “sort of.” The hugely anticipated sequel, which came out last week,has a relatively standard techno-thriller story line. It’s a gung-hofantasy of special-ops heroism, complete with weapons of massdestruction and a seemingly endless supply of well-equipped bad guys.Like the plot, the gameplay for RSV2 picks up where itspredecessor left off, as players navigate an array of ambushes andhostage situations in Las Vegas and Mexico. Cover is still crucial tomost engagements, and squad-level tactics (i.e., when to use smokegrenades) will usually prevail over run-and-gun action-hero stunts.Aside from a new “sprint” button, little has changed in couch-potatocombat here. But when it comes to the guns, the developers seem to havepushed the Tom Clancy series closer to the battlefield.

Or does it just seem that way? In this installment, bullets canpenetrate a variety of materials. This isn’t an industry first—in Call of Duty 4, for example, bullets can veer off into different trajectories. But according to Philippe Theiren, an RSV2designer at Ubisoft Montreal and the team’s self-described “gun guy,”bullet penetration now takes into account incredibly fine details, likewhether the target is wearing leather or cloth. “It’s actually anexcessively complex formula,” Theiren says. “If someone shoots througha plant, then a car door, then it hits Level 3 body armor, all of thateffects the force of the round.” Actual ballistic data associated withthe guns in RSV2, then, determine whether you can fire a burst througha wooden table and take someone out.

Except, of course, when the developers feel the need to cheat. All of the guns in RSV2start out extremely accurate, based on factory stats and more, beforegame balance and player expectations come into play. A shotgun firingbuckshot, for example, has significantly more penetration in RSV2than it should. Why? “People associate shotguns with powerful,close-range weapons,” Theiren says. So a shotgun blast will punchthrough walls and armor just fine, even though buckshot is known forits lack of penetration in the real world.

“I take these weapons, and look at what defines them, or what peoplethink defines them,” Theiren explains. “For an Uzi, people think itfires lots of bullets, and it’s really inaccurate.” That, he knows, hasnothing to do with reality—if anything, Uzis are considered some of themost reliable and accurate submachine guns around. But the 80s (and Miami Vicein particular) offered us the Uzi as a low-life villain’s weapon,spit-fire and out-of-control. “So I make it fire faster than it should.It’s about taking the personality of a weapon, and making it shine inthe game,” Theiren says.

With 200 unique variables for each weapon, including the damage itinflicts at various ranges, how fast it reloads and when bullets tendto start dropping off, a gun in RSV2could perform precisely like the real thing. “These consoles are sopowerful, when you fire a bullet we could factor all of it in:windfall, range, everything about the history of that specific weapon,friction values for the barrel, how many times it’s been fired since itwas last cleaned,” says Theiren. “We could make it as anally realisticas possible. But we’re not trying to make a live simulator.”


                                                                                                                                                           
Even America's Army,the military's self-described recruitment tool, must balance hardwareconcerns with not making gameplay too much like an action movie.                                                                                     
                                       Full-on simulation, to some extent, is the job of America’s Army (AA).The incredibly popular PC game (and not so successful console port) isofficially sanctioned by the United States Army, and the PC editionsare available for download at no cost. In this unapologetic recruitingtool, you spend time qualifying with individual weapons on the firingrange, take part in nonlethal war games, and get chewed out for so muchas wandering a few yards away from your unit. Adhering to realism issomething of a sticking point for AA, since the last thing the Army wants to do is to present modern warfare as a series of high-octane action-movie scenes.

With consistent access to actual weapon systems and insight from current and former soldiers, you would think that AA’sguns would come out 100 percent accurate. “We can actually implementmany more characteristics than the game-play Frames Per Second canhandle,” notes AA executive producer Phil Bossant. “This meanswe need to either pick and choose carefully which particularcharacteristics are meaningful to the game play and environment—or comeup with an average estimated compensation.”

In other words, these are two completely different versions of the same story. In Rainbow Six Vegas 2,the reason for scaling back on realism isn’t the hardware, but thedrive to make guns feel like the ones we’ve seen in movies. And in America’s Army,the limitation is hardware, since accuracy is a key goal for thedevelopment team. Whatever role the hardware is playing, it’s safe tosay that the standard for realism in military shooters is hewing closerto the Rainbow Six school of play than that of America’s Army.

When you’re hit in nearly any war-themed FPS, whether its Call of Duty 4 or Ghost Recon,surviving means finding cover, then jumping back into the fight. Thisregenerative health system has no bearing on the story line or onreality. In America’s Army, injuries don’t evaporate into theether, but subsequent hits are more likely to kill you. It could bemore punishing and grisly, but recruiting tools shouldn’t necessarilybe complete buzzkills. While Bossant says that AA 3.0, whichshould be out this year, will include even more detailed mechanics formedical treatment, the rest of the military shooters aren’t likely tofollow suit. “The majority of the community wants to get back in theaction,” says Infinity Ward’s Robert Bowling, the community manager forCall of Duty 4. “We still favor gameplay and fun value over making it 100 percent realistic.”

The dev team for Call of Duty 4also starts out with hyper-realistic weapons, then tweaks them forbalance and personality. The AK-47 might start out with significantlymore recoil than the M-16, which is then gradually dialed down to moremanageable levels. Realism, in other words, is almost always about theflavor of the game, and it’s as subjective as any element of genre.Bowling claims that all of the gunshots in Call of Duty 4 arebased on unique audio recordings, while Theiren insists there wasn’tenough room on a DVD to avoid repeating some sound effects in Rainbow Six. So why do the rifles sound so much more blistering in the RSV2 audio mix? “There’s more echo,” he says. “When you’re firing outside, there’s a much nicer sound.”

By ramping up that rolling, reverberating roar that some of thelarger-caliber guns produce in outdoor environments, the weapons inthis game feel more realistic than their counterparts in Call of Duty 4.As for how much damage that same assault rifle dishes out in bothgames, or whether you can turn a corner and fire it more accuratelythan a larger weapon, the realism quotient is the same. If it feelslike the real thing, game on. If not, there’s a free game that might bea little slower-paced, but a little closer to reality. And if none ofthis is real enough, you can even visit a virtual recruiting station inAmerica’s Army to find out how to sign up for the real real thing. A word of warning: Regenerative health is definitely not part of that equation.

Contributed by Editorial Team, Executive Management Team
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Sun Mar 30, 2008 2:48 am Reply and quote this post
I reckon America's Army is pretty accurate for what it is. Once you're injured, you're injured for the entire round, unlike COD4 where you regenerate within a few minutes. Moreover, the weapon damage is realistic - a couple of bullets to anyone will render them dead.

The most unrealistic thing about AA is that it always seems to be a "storm-and-enter" or "get-to-the-objective" style of gameplay, which does not really suit the US Army's tactical style. For most soldiers in the US Army, they will be involved in urban patrols, reconstruction, demolition and security. The maps in AA reflect the nature of the work of certain tactical elements within the US Army - Special Forces groups and military police, which would specialise in seizing structures.

BF2 is probably more realistic when it comes to the actual nature of war, with its larger area of engagement, and a more realistic "take-and-hold" approach. IRL, soldiers in battle will probably be fighting for a strategic location, e.g a small town, rather than battling terrorist cells in a remote power station without air support, special forces, or even vehicles (as is the case in AA).

The next stage in realism is going to be the realism of the bullet damage. E.g. if you shoot someone in the head, their skull is split and their brain is demolished. This stage of realism will probably not be reached for most games, as they would force a large percentage of gamers (little kiddies and pansies) out of the market, as the games would be far too gruesome.

Contributed by Andy, Editorial, Marketing & Services Team
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