Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shotguns in Video Games or Wonderful IRL Tools Reduced To Stereotypical Anachronisms

If you're a hardcore gamer like yours truly, growing up with first-person shooters, you pretty much recognize the standard fare of today's virtual arsenals: melĂ©e, pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, grenade/rocket launchers, rail guns, and last but not least, the BFG.  The names and models may change, but the physics remain the same.  Gun goes bang, bad guy fall down go boom, next in line.  As far as gameplay goes, the recent proliferation of competitive multiplayer gaming, the most notable of which was pioneered by the landmark mod Half-Life: Counter-Strike, set a whole new standard for laying the ground rules as to how firearms are supposed to work in the virtual world.  And, more often than not, the rules have been stretched a bit.  We've all heard the stories of 360 no-scopes and the magic game-winning pistol shot from across the map, but those are not the focus of this post.

In today's essay, we shall take a look at one of the biggest class of boomsticks to get the shaft as far as effectiveness and user-friendliness goes in today's modern shooter: the shotgun.

If you're familiar with this blog at all, you will recognize this photo from a previous post in which I review one of my personal firearms, the Mossberg 590A1.  This is my shotgun, and I love it.  It serves me well, it does what I ask of it, and it works when I need it to work.  Many times I have said to myself when I was browsing the weapon select windows of the latest FPS game,
"SELF!  Why couldn't I just code my Mossberg into the game?  I'd much rather use it than any of these other laughable excuses of pixellated iron and steel!"  And rightly so.  Without mincing words very much, shotguns in video games are a joke.  Straight out.  Bear with me a bit here, I'm gonna start talking ballistic jargon here.  If you want game talk, just skip forward a paragraph or two.  If you want to learn a few things you might not know, keep on reading.

First, before I get swamped with comments, I'll say this first of all.  Yes, shotguns are traditionally close-in weapons, with a maximum effective range of about 50 yards with 00 buckshot.  Fifty is a pretty small number when you compare it to the effective range of, say, an M4 carbine, which is 400 yards.  But rifle and shotgun cartridges are two completely different animals.  Shotgun shells are normally made out of cardboard or plastic, sometimes all brass if it's a specialty or discontinued gauge, and have lower overall pressures than rifle cartridges.  But therein lies the rub.

Rifles are, on the face, a one-trick pony.  They shoot a well-aimed projectile on a fairly flat trajectory to a determined distance within the rifle's effective range to strike a target and bring it down.  Shotguns, on the other hand, have a wide menagerie of shotshells they can feed and fire to match pretty much any scenario you throw at them.

Above are examples of rubber projectiles designed for crowd control and less-lethal takedowns.  They also make beanbag rounds and Flite-Rites, shotshells filled with tear gas designed to be shot through walls and windows in a siege situation.  On the more conventional side of the coin, the variety of shotshells goes from itty-bitty birdshot to the heaviest bear slugs, and anything in between.  You normally never get a choice as to what is loaded in your shotgun in a video game, so let's say for the sake of argument it's a standard 12-gauge, 2¾-inch shotshell loaded with nine pellets of 00 buckshot.

Normally, the maximum effective range of buckshot, as I said above, is about 50 yards, give or take.  Past that, the round pellets, not being spun by rifling, go their own merry ways like musket balls of old and start losing velocity, and accuracy.  But within that 50-yard window, buckshot shines.  From the muzzle to around 15 yards, a proper 00 Buck payload should stay in a tight group about the size of one's fist, causing massive trauma to any flesh it strikes, even with a cylinder choke.  At point-blank range, buckshot can take off a limb.  So, taking that into account, let's imagine a little scenario in a video game.  You, the player, has a shotgun with eight rounds, a full magazine.  You are standing at one corner of a hallway 20 yards distant, about the length of a first down in football.  At the other end of the hallway are three terrorists.  Let's take cover behind a chest-high wall, peek over top of it, and take aim.  Pull the trigger.

Knowing what we do now, our well-aimed buckshot should strike one terrorist with about seven of the nine pellets.  In some games, you might see the same outcome, you may see all three terrorists being hit, or you may see a bunch of sparks as the buckshot spreads out and misses them all entirely.  More often than not, the latter outcome has become de rigeur for shotgun ballistics in the virtual world.  Instead of a nice bell shape for shot trajectory, it turns into a big nasty cone.

Game programmers must think shotgun barrels are 25 yards long, given the accuracy one sees out of the current crop in today's shooters.

I'm not asking for a complete overhaul, I'm just asking for a little more authenticity in the way shotguns work in FPS games.  Close quarters accuracy should not stop simply at arm's-length from the player.  Real-life shotgun pellets do not immediately exit the barrel and go willy-nilly all over Creation, missing everything remotely resembling a target, allowing oneself to be open to a knife in the belly by some 13-year-old pest from Kalamazoo, MI calling you a faggot.  Within 50 yards of an ingame world, shotguns should be just as effective as an SMG or even an assault rifle, maybe more so.  I also have qualms about certain types of shotguns and their fire modes, but that's a separate rant for another day.
If you are a game developer interested in making shotguns more palatable to hardcore players, take a look at the scene from Robocop, where Peter Weller's character gets cut down by four gang members wielding shotguns at less than five feet.  Of course, the movie took some dramatic license to intensify the gore a la Soldier of Fortune, the effect on actual human flesh is not too far removed from the truth.
DISCLAIMER: the following link is very NSFW, click through at your own risk. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VclFEwUGdY0