Over the long weekend, I was drawn into a conversation with another shopper at the Game Stop near my parent’s home. We were discussing the recent first person shooters: Battlefield 3 and Mondern Warfare 3. He asked me which I preferred and I explained how I stand at the middle of the line and play both games, favoring neither. When I asked the same question, he became vehement about Battlefield being the far superior game. I asked further questions and determined he preferred Battlefield as he believed it was more realistic: “…I mean, it takes bullet drop into account!” This made me wonder, does realism really make a game better? As Dave Chappell put it in his old television show, at what point does keeping it real go wrong, especially in first person shooters?


*For purposes of this discussion, I will discuss only games taking place in our existing world and time. Any game taking place on another world or in the future can claim their place or time changes the rules of our world and is void from all analysis from here on.*

So true...so true...

If it’s Not the V, it’s the F (A Reference to Physics)
For those who are unfamiliar with me personally, I do long distance shooting as a hobby. The concept of being able to place a .308 inch diameter bullet into a target one foot by one foot from 700 yards away is fascinating. However, it is quite complicated.

If you were to sit down and play Call of Duty, you might think hitting this target is simply a matter of placing the crosshairs over it and squeezing the trigger. For those more akin to Battlefield, or the less popular Operation Flashpoint series, hitting the same target is a matter of placing the crosshairs over it, raising up a couple of mil-dots (the little notches on the crosshair lines in the scopes) and pulling the trigger. In the end, either way is just as unrealistic as the other.

Any shot made at distance has to take into account a number of varying factors, all of which force a sniper to adjust the settings on their rifle scope to raise or lower the cross hairs and move them left and right. These variables include wind speed and direction, temperature/humidity, spin drift (rifling in the barrel causes the bullet to spin out of the barrel, keeping it more accurate but also causing the bullet to drift over its flight time), distance to the target, the ballistic coefficient of the ammunition being fired, and the Coriolis Effect (while the bullet travels, the Earth continues to spin which causes your target to be in a slightly different place than it was when the bullet was fired, even if the target never moved).

Let’s face it, if you had to go through the series of calculations and make adjustments based on that, would you really take a sniper rifle in any of the above mentioned games?

Juggernaut at its finest

I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed
A couple of years back, I was playing through the campaign for Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. While playing, I kept track of the “unfair” deaths I experienced throughout the story. They included the sudden explosion of the humvee I was riding in (resulting in the deaths of my entire fire team), hit in the head with by a sniper/a rifleman/a rocket launcher, hit with a rocket launcher, both legs shot, leaving me paralyzed on the ground while my medic could not reach me, and I bled out a number of times throughout the game. While all of these deaths seem unfair in a video game all of them happen in real war.

Imagine how far the world would advance if you could get hit by a bullet and be just fine so long as you took cover for a bit or sat on top of a medical pack. Now, imagine what it would be like to get shot in these games if they “kept it real”. If you survived the round, you could be bleeding to death, in shock, limping, unable to hold your weapon up, etc… Doesn’t sound like fun anymore, does it? Though Dragon Rising’s damage system was far more realistic than its peers, I believe Battlefield and Modern Warfare are far more fun to play.

Where’s a Priest When You Need One?
Imagine this scenario:
You go to the store and buy your copy of Modern-Battlefield-Flashpoint and take it home to play with your buddies at midnight. The game looks awesome; you can’t wait to blow some people up. You get into a match and start to play. Being new, you get shot and killed quickly. As you prepare to respawn, you are greeted with a screen reading something along the lines of: “You’re dead, to continue playing, please see your local retailer and purchase another copy of Modern-Battlefield-Flashpoint.”

Before you go and say in the comments I am being absurd with this argument, consider for a moment now that you would be claiming more realism is absurd; which is exactly what I am claiming by saying this. You’re avatar is dead, now you need to play a new one. It is realistic in a gaming sense, but again, not so fun. If your buddy playing the support class could use his resurrection spell…well that just wouldn’t be very realistic either, would it?

I will give ground here and say that I really like the concept of more realistic graphics, no questions. However, I will argue the presence of the most realistic graphics on the planet cannot make up for sub-par game play and cannot be the principal reason to like one game over another unless all other things are equal. Take a game from the mid 1990’s for example.

Police Quest: SWAT, you may have heard of its sequels, but have you ever played the original? SWAT used full motion video for its characters, so it was just like watching a movie. Graphically, you really cannot get better than that. Unfortunately, weak game play, poor action sequences, a poor attempt to be truly realistic with sniper rifles (see above), and a realistic “damage” system (also see above) made the game atrocious and nearly unplayable.

In short, realistic graphics do not make a game good. We are not mindless birds attracted by anything that looks shiny, so why should we act like that?

Personally, I believe realism has its place in first person shooters, but I do not believe realism can define the gaming experience in any FPS. If we become too realistic in the game play, the concept of fun becomes lost. However, I do not believe we can abandon the concept of realistic graphics. What do you think? Do you think first person shooters need to become more real?

For those who have not read my profile, I want it clearly known that I do not stand firmly on one side or the other when it comes to the Battlefield/Call of Duty debate nor is this posting an attack at either one. Aside from my insults towards Police Quest: SWAT and the awful game it was, I harbor no ill feelings towards any of the games mentioned above.