unNOTICED DESIGNS – Gears of War 1 on Tracer Lag

Gun fire, sword play, magical explosions and story-changing choices!  Videogames house some of the largest and flashiest moments in entertainment, but what about the small ones, the little and almost too numerous to count design choices by designers that add up to make the game whole?  Let’s give notice to these unnoticed designs!

Gears of War 1 – Gun Tracer Lag

I have recently been dabbling in the Gears of War 1 level editor.   I wanted to get some practice in enemy placement aaaaaand GoW is one of my favorite f***ing games ever.  Ever!  To get the editor, I had to find a pc copy of the game through Ebay for way too much money…  Since the fall of Games for Windows and their Windows Live servers, no one sells the PC version.  **Cough** port it to Steam **Cough** Ahem, anyways.
Editor – “DOOOOOOOOM!!!!”
I noticed a very subtle, but extremely ingenious design.  When firing weapons, tracer rounds (meaning the streaks of lights that represent bullets) fly out towards enemies, but ultimately are completely useless.  Alright, so get this.  The moment the player hits the trigger, a bullet hole/impact occurs on the object or grub the gun is pointed at.  A tracer round then takes its sweet, sweet time from the gun muzzle towards the target that is already portraying the impact damage effect.


Epic had to create a balance between visuals and gameplay.  The tracer rounds are obviously meant to add a visual flare and sense of intensity.  For it to work properly though, it has to move slow enough to actually be seen.  This means a tracer round needs a minimum of 3-5 frames of screen time.  If damage wasn’t applied till the tracer round hit its target, the target would have additional time to dodge or evade the bullet.   Unlike Epic’s Unreal Tournament series, GoW was built to take extreme advantage of cover.  A player in the open should not be able to dodge enemy gun fire.  They should be dead…
The current method of instant damage also creates a high level of response in the game.  It’s important a player never feels cheated by the game, as if they were robbed of an actual bullet hit.  There is little chance of a bullet missing as long as the player can set his sights correctly through this method.
Wouldn’t this visual lag be noticeable?  Not completely.  It’s almost invisible in close quarter combat, and only really becomes apparent to a conscious player when in long-range gun fights.  Even then, the player is ducking into cover, paying attention to enemy movement and constantly attacking.  Very little attention is left to notice such a small lag in a strictly visual element.  It all melts together to create the Gears experience!

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