Past Rants, Raves & Views

Aiming: The Invisible Art

We may take it for granted, but a lot of work goes into ensuring you can pull off that perfect headshot.

When playing a shooter, we don’t think about what we’re doing, as in a sense it just comes naturally. We aim the crosshairs, line them up with our targets heard (or genitals if we’re having a laugh) and fire. Poof! A head pops and we high-five the air in celebration. But how did that aim happen, and was it actually us that produced that epic shot?

Originally, in most FPS, aiming was left totally up to the player. There were no auto-aim features, no quick targeting options, and no help from the computer/console. If you missed the target, tough; you should have been a better shot. But these days, most shooters provide some form of help. There are varying degrees of help that are provided, which is most notably decided by the game’s developers. Some give you a little bit of guidance (Modern Warfare 2 features an auto-aim system via the left trigger), others practically do the aiming for you (Just Cause), it all depends on the type of game and the difficulty. Gears of War, for instance, just lets you get on with it; but that is one tough game!

But what do we prefer? Do we like being left to our own devices, to shoot wherever we please, or would we rather the game took occasional control, and spread some of the load? Well, it all depends on the game. For instance, if you’ve ever played Just Cause, you’ll know it’s almost impossible to shoot an enemy with the auto-aim feature off. No matter how hard you try, you’ll still just spray a splatter of bullets all over the place, and miss your intended target completely. But you’ll also know, from playing Just Cause, that with auto-aim engaged all sense of difficulty and challenge is lost, as you just press fire and leave the rest to CPU.

So would we rather have no auto-aim, like in the case of Gears of War or Half Life 2? These games thrive on the fact that it’s the player that does the hard work, and although both games require the player to pull-off shots that require great skill, the rewards for doing so are great. That said though, both GOW and HL2 have superb controls, making aiming and firing an easy pleasure. But if you compare that to the controls of say, Rogue Warrior, then it’s a totally different kettle of fish. Rogue Warrior fails miserably because its controls (mainly due to its appalling frame rate) are twitchy, delayed and unmanageable. When you’re trying to shoot an enemy from 6ft, let alone 60ft, it’s nearly impossible to get that killer shot in first time. So in that respect, a little bit of help would have been appreciated.

But in general, what we really want is a mix of both, like the style that Grand Theft Auto 4 provides. In GTA4, you can shoot without help, and achieve impressive results, but for those moments when needs must, auto-aim kicks in and lends a helpful hand. You still have to do the main aiming yourself, but the majority is done for you. It’s like an arm around the shoulder, guiding your aim in the right direction, but still allowing you to take the final, decisive shot.

So, next time you shoot an enemy in the chops, just give thanks to the hours of development work that has gone into crafting an aiming system that works correctly. It may not sound like much, but bad aiming can ruin a game, regardless of the excellence else-ware. Poof! Got another one!

Scott Tierney