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Video games oftentimes seem very simply-designed in certain areas, when in actuality, those insignificant-looking parts of the game are crucial to the experience. This blog will give an analysis of a commonly ignored component found in first- and third-person games: the cross-hair.
There are many different forms that the cross-hair can take on over the years, and the popular archetype has changed dramatically since when it was first introduced as two lines crossed in a perpendicular fashion. Halo crafted the first widely-embraced cross-hair (no pun intended), which utilized a concept called ''auto-targeting,'' allowing your bullets to automatically follow enemies who are standing in your target radius, even if they aren't right smack in the middle of the screen. It's unrealistic, sure; but it provides a much more relaxed process of killing foes, which gives way for multitasking between throwing grenades and meleeing.
Other games embraced lock-on systems of aiming (especially flight-simulators, but also others, Half-Life in particular), wide bullet-radii, and making your gun follow on-screen targets by itself - the Timesplitters series embraced this archetype. In the end, though, one game rose up and dismissed the notion of auto-targeting in favor of something much less empowering: iron-sights.
Call of Duty had already introduced the idea of an expanding cross-hair in previous entries of the franchise, but the fourth installment put more of an emphasis on iron-sights than any game before it; and the result was stunning. Developers have suddenly adopted this ''new and improved'' means of targeting over the tried-and-true auto-targeting formula that was so easy to utilize. Instead of weapons retaining their ability to consistently blast enemies in an accurate fashion, even Halo has opted out for weapons that become less accurate as they are fired. ''Why?'' you might ask. ''For the cause,'' they say, ''The undying cause of establishing realism in every facet games.''
Right... as if bullets actually zipped off in all the four corners of the compass when a machine-gun is aimed at a target like we see in Call of Duty.... The excuse of realism isn't even relevant in a video game, as there is no applicable way to instill the laws of the universe in a 3D realm without compromising variety and empowerment exponentially. Here's the point: because the cross-hair is such an integral part of a game's experience, how come developers ignore it almost completely? Why doesn't it play a helpful role like it used to, instead of being a problem? Are iron-sights really the future of games?
In reality, there's nothing wrong with iron-sights, aside from the fact that they slow you down, block half of the screen, and reduce your bullet-radius dramatically. Aiming down the sights can be helpful when trying to land a long-shot. But as the primary means of combating enemies, they've become monotonous to use, and much less satisfying than being able to run, jump, and shoot freely without having your view blocked. It's possible that the only reason expanding cross-hairs suddenly took the reigns of shooters is because Call of Duty was the game that introduced it, and everybody knows that CoD sells big. My theory is that the franchise was successful despite its indecently inaccurate hip-fire, not because of it.
To ignore the significance of the cross-hair has become detrimental to developers. Just look at what we'd do without them. Imagine playing Halo without a cross-hair; expanding or not, it's essential to aiming your weapon with ease, and that's really the key word: ease. The more freedom a player is allowed to have (as long as it's within boundaries, of course), the more variety and empowerment they'll have at their disposal. Constriction only results in frustration, as many gamers have come to realize. Take the DMR from Halo 4, for instance; the cross-hair is outrageously small, yet the reasoning behind it is that, ''... the fight would be over much sooner if it were bigger.'' The fight is already long because of missed shots! Why make it longer? Reduce the damage, inflate the radius.
Widening the auto-targeting span only balances a weapon further; it can't ruin it. Many developers struggle with this concept purely because they don't know how to balance the damage of a gun; for this reason, snipers have become a common villain among FPS players. Leaving the radius as a dot creates what I call a ''better/worse'' scenario, where the person firing the weapon is frustrated at how small the cross-hair is, but when he finally pulls of the shot, the person on the other end is exceedingly unhappy because he wasn't given a proper chance to use a counter-tactic (examples include all shooters; even ones without a traditional ''cross-hair''); this situation is entirely unnecessary, as it prevents both players from participating in the battle fully; yet it's considered ''balanced'' by the developers.
There are obviously many methods of aiming that are waiting to be discovered. What spurred this thesis into being was the lack of variety which is present in shooters today because no one is willing to march past the formula our present best-seller embraces. Call of Duty is a fine game in many aspects, but it's crippled the minds of game developers into thinking restriction is necessary, when it isn't. If gamers really weren't fond of auto-targeting, Halo never would have become successful. Decent bullet-spread is obviously something gamers desire, or else Infinity Ward wouldn't have given us the option to choose perks that increase hip-fire accuracy, now would they?...
Ironically, first-person shooters actually started out not giving players the option of ''hip-fire'' aiming. Doom, Castle Wolfenstein, Outlaws: they all restricted you to a form of iron-sights. Nowadays that aiming perspective is considered archaic. Later games gave us a new perspective that was less constricting and much more satisfying to use; back then, the term ''hip-fire'' wasn't used critically. But now, more than fifteen years later, we've moved back to those iron-sights as the primary means of targeting enemies. Are games moving backward in design? That would seem to be the case in my eyes. I don't think it's a coincidence that the recently-named Game of the Decade, Half-Life 2, uses a wide auto-targeting cross-hair archetype. It's hard to dispute true quality in gameplay design. Unless this industry begins to realize what makes games fun to play, we'll continue to slide back down the mountain of innovation that has grown over the years, and end up where we started out.