The Shift to Hitscan

Quake was the first competitive game that I ever considered getting “serious” about. The new 3D environments really reinforced mouse aiming, and it was just a blast to play 1v1s. In those days, map control was of paramount importance; you had to mentally time set respawns of key items and control the number of ways your opponent could approach. Aim wasn’t nearly as important. Rocket Launchers were the creme de la creme of weapons, and more spatial awareness was required to correctly utilize the weapon. Poor judgment could cause you to lose a substantial amount of health if you were careless in your placement of rockets. It was an adrenaline rush for the 1v1 experience — camping was usually disadvantageous since you would miss timed powerups and key respawns, and it would still take more than a single rocket to down an opponent, who would likely be brimming with energy if left alone to scour the map of its items.

This all changed with Quake II because of one weapon: The Railgun. It was a notoriously powerful hitscan weapon that emphasized aiming — so much that mouse sensitivity settings on average were lowered significantly to account for better aim, reducing the ability to quickly turn and observe the surroundings. Fragfests with scores of 40+ in timed matches dwindled to under 20, and for once, the camper had an advantage — the ability to cripple your opponent irregardless of powerups, weaponry or even range. To me, this made for a less interesting experience. I still found the game very fun, but I did not have the enthusiasm to play it at a higher competitive level.

Today, FPS are riddled with hitscan weaponry, and the railgun is very much alive, usually in the form of a very large, scoped sniper rifle. I can understand that slower projectile-based weaponry is not feasible for games trying to go for the modern feel (starting with Counterstrike and beyond, even up today’s Call of Duty). What bothers me most is that games that could actually utilize these kinds of weapons are virtually nonexistent. Halo is a great example of this; I’ve always treated it as a generic “space marines fight aliens” series, and while I am a fan of it and its extended lore, the games do disappoint me with the weapons that end up being used regularly on the competitive level.

I’m still a bit stuck in the past. Back then, hitscan weaponry on console shooters was fine, since it was nearly impossible to aim correctly on analog sticks. But years of practice and advances in controller design (along with a few helpful analog nub modifications) have eliminated this problem. I see players aiming with sticks as well as players with mouses … from 360-degree bunnyhopping to ridiculous aerial 720 hitmarker noscopes. The progress amazes me.

I still love FPS games, and I even prefer them on console now since I can’t be bothered to upgrade any of my PCs … and of course, because most of my friends are on XBOX Live. I just wish that MLG highlight reels would impress me with strategic play and not always focus on the lone hotshot getting doublekill 720 noscopes for the nth consecutive time off of forced respawns from the safety of his team’s sniper nest.


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