Saturday, June 28, 2008

Suppressive fire in FPS games, or lack thereof.

If you've watched many war movies, you've probably heard one of the characters yell out "Lay down suppressive fire!" or "Give me covering fire!" at some point. And with FPS games like Call of Duty and Battlefield trying to emulate these war movies, you'd probably assume that suppressive fire was a battle tactic that would be emulated in some way in these games, and in their multiplayer portions particularly. But for the most part, the tactic of suppressive fire is ineffective in FPS games. Why is this? And what can be done to change this?

Today, I played Battlefield Bad Company. As in most FPS games, the light machine guns found in Bad Company are some of the worst weapons in the game. Not being accurate enough for long range shooting (the realm of assault and sniper rifles), and not accurate enough on the move for close quarters combat (the realm of submachine guns and shotguns), the LMGs don't really have a role to fill. This is true of the LMGs in most other semi-realistic FPS games, too, such as Rainbow Six Vegas, Counter-Strike, and Battlefield 2. In all of these games, it is rare to see a LMG-using player top the score charts (and if they do so in the Battlefield games, they're usually there because they are supplying ammo/health to other players).

I later played some Company of Heroes, an RTS game where the machine gun is far more useful. A few seconds of machine gun fire on any infantry unit will send them to the ground with the "Suppressed!" status, slowing their rate of movement and fire drastically. A few more seconds and they'll usually be given a "Pinned!" status, unable to do anything at all but cower in fear.

Seeing that "Suppressed!" indicator pop up time and again in COH made me go to Wikipedia to look up what Suppressive fire is exactly, and why the tactic is so absent from FPS games and its treatment of machine guns.

Suppressive fire (also known as covering fire) is a term used in military science for firing weapons at or in the direction of enemy forces with the primary goal of reducing their ability to defend themselves or return fire, by forcing them to remain under cover.

Suppressive fire differs from lethal fire (i.e. shoot-to-kill) in that its primary objective is to get the enemy to "keep their heads down" and thus reduce their ability to move, shoot, or observe their surroundings. While soldiers may be injured or killed by suppressive fire, this is not its main purpose...


To be effective, suppressive fire must be continuous enough to keep the enemy suppressed - that is, to force them to remain behind cover. As long as the enemy can be kept fearful (emphasis mine) of the next round coming in, they will not consider moving or shooting back. If there is so much incoming fire that the enemy can not move or shoot, the enemy is said to be pinned...

Weapons used

Any ranged weapon with a reasonably fast rate of fire can be used to suppress. But suppressive fire is usually delivered by specialized weapons, such as machine guns. Within an infantry squad, this role is usually filled by squad automatic weapons,also know as SAWs, like the FN Minimi, the RPK and the RPD, especially when attacking, as these weapons can be quickly deployed. Suppressive fire can also be delivered using other weapons such as assault rifles, but the volume and intensity of fire generated is less than that of machine guns, as the rifles overheat more rapidly and require reloading more often.

Note my emphasis above. "To be kept fearful." I think this is the key element that is missing from FPS games, one that keeps LMGs from doing their job of suppressive fire. And it is missing for an obvious reason: FPS players aren't afraid of bullets or death like real soldiers are. Unlike in real life, FPS death is just a temporary affliction, usually one that lasts no more than 10 seconds. It's no wonder suppressive fire and the LMGs that are supposed to be delivering it are so ineffective in FPS games.

So how can suppressive fire, and the idea of "fear" be put into a multiplayer FPS game? And can it be done without reducing the fun of the game?

I've got three ideas that I've borrowed from other games.

#1 - Warhammer's Morale

Like fear, morale is another emotional concept that is absent from FPS games. In Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, players were able to wittle down the morale of squads with certain weapons or spells. Once a squad's morale hit zero, the squad "broke" and became very ineffective. At this point, the player had little option but to take that squad and retreat it out of the battle, where its morale could regenerate back up.

In an FPS game, morale could work almost as a second kind of health bar. Once depleted, the player would be unable to fight (use any weapons of any kind) and be forced to find some kind of safer ground. And the #1 reducer of morale would be light machine gun fire. Now, the LMG fire wouldn't have to HIT the player, and I think that's important. The bullets would merely have to land near or whiz past the player in order to decrease their morale bar. In this way, the idea of "keeping the enemy's head down" with the sheer volume of fire of an LMG would be emulated.

Perhaps LMG bullets would create temporary "areas of emotional influence" depending on where they were going and where they impacted. If the target is near or inside these areas, morale depletes. Once morale is gone, the target must leave those areas, and regenerate morale a bit, in order to use weapons again.

While I would love to see this idea in an FPS game, I'm not sure if this would provide most players with a deeper game play experience... or a more annoying one. Having a "morale" bar, and one that can so drastically affect game play when it depletes, may slow the pace of the game too much for some.

#2 - Metal Gear Solid 4's Psyche

In MGS4, Solid Snake has a Psyche meter, which represents his psychological state. As it depletes, he becomes a less effective soldier. He moves slower, shoots and reloads slower, he controls weapon recoil less effectively, and when aiming a gun, his hands sway more. None of these negative effects are so disabling that you can't fight at all, though.

As above, being in proximity of LMG fire would have a negative impact on your soldier's Psyche. Low enough Psyche and your effectiveness becomes a bit less than what you'd normally have.

I like this idea the most because it is the most subtle. While it wouldn't recreate the idea of suppressive fire to the extent that I'd like, it is probably the most tolerable of the ideas for the mainstream FPS audience. It gives the LMG user that extra reason for being while not pissing off everyone else too much :-P

#3 - Company of Heroes' Suppression system

Finally, the COH system of suppression could be emulated in an FPS. Players who are taking LMG fire would first be suppressed, and forced to crouching or prone positions. Rate of fire would be reduced. This idea would probably be too frustrating for most people though. Like with the Morale idea, the flow of the game becomes too altered. Imagine being suppressed, forced to crouch and shoot slower as the LMG's teammates flank your position and open fire on you. The feeling of vulnerability would likely be too high and frustrating.

So those are my three ideas. What do you think? While I would love to see all three ideas in action, I think something like #2 is the most reasonable.

That being said, I also feel the likelihood of FPS fans ever seeing a well done suppressive fire system of any kind to be very low. FPS LMGs will probably continue their current "nearly useless" status for years to come, as there's no indication that any FPS developer has plans to emulate the "emotions" of war fighting that the suppressive fire tactic is designed to exploit. Without the emotional/psychological element in FPS games, suppressive fire is an idea that will continue to remain in the real world and in the dialogue of war movies.


Charlie_Six said...

I should say that the LMGs in COD4 multiplayer are very effective. But I think it's more due to the fact that they aren't really that different than the assault rifles in behavior to begin with.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting topic that I really wish game developers would pay more attention to.

There is no excuse in military tactical shooters not to have fire suppression in single player mode and cooperative modes against the computer AI. Every military game that considers itself "realistic" should have this as a feature but unfortunately they don't.

As for Adversarial gameplay that is human vs human, as you mention in the article, it only takes a little imagination how they can implement it.

Wake up developers!

Chris K said...

I think in many cases the game play for FPS' just hasn't developed to the level of sophistication that suppressing fire requires. There's still too much a feeling of "unreality," partially by design (who _really_ wants permadeath in their game - talk about a downer) and partially by the fact that the real world physics and graphical effects are still partially lacking. How many games accurately model true bullet physics with wind resistance, trace rounds, blood and death effects, etc.

While I'd love to see, I think its just too much of a real world flair. It could be useable in some hardcore sims (operation flashpoint was one I always remember being called a "true" sim) but for the normal, every day joe? No

James said...

I've observed this and similar problems in a whole range of games. I definitely agree the problem needs to be solved, however I don't think emulating emotions by way of a measurable bar or status is the way to do it. The player being unafraid of death needs to be resolved by game balancing, particular greater death penalties.

Problems arise because a supression meter or psych level is something outside of the player control, who's to say that you're not a battle-hardened badass that doesn't care about supressive fire? Players need to really feel that if they stick their head up they will probably die, and that the penalty for that death is not worth the few shots they might fire off. It's a simple risk vs. reward balance that is unfortunately very skewed in many games.

Bottom line: the fear of supressive fire needs to be created in the player themselves, not their character.

7yphus said...

I would agree that the reality of real suppressive fire is a fear factor issue which does not affect FPS players, not even moving from cover that is getting a lot of lead thrown at it is not much of a dissuade as you just lose a little health when you get hit. The LMGs themselves need to be much more powerful in game to be effective so players know a couple of rounds from it is going to be debilitating or fatal. However, to the writer of the article and other disgruntled folk I recommend you veer away from the console games and try some great PC titles such as the 2001 GOTY classic Operation Flashpoint and subsequent expansion packs or its more recent spinoff Armed Assault(ARMA). In those games when you got shot (once MAYBE twice), well you got hurt, usually bad and more usually real bad (as in dead). No health bar, no armor meter, nothing. Suppressive fire meant something strong when implemented correctly by a squad. Don't get me wrong I own a 360 and enjoy some its great titles, but I have always found the more real and gritty games to be on the PC.

7yphus said...

I would agree that the reality of real suppressive fire is a fear factor issue which does not affect FPS players, not even moving from cover that is getting a lot of lead thrown at it is not much of a dissuade as you just lose a little health when you get hit. The LMGs themselves need to be much more powerful in game to be effective so players know a couple of rounds from it is going to be debilitating or fatal. However, to the writer of the article and other disgruntled folk I recommend you veer away from the console games and try some great PC titles such as the 2001 GOTY classic Operation Flashpoint and subsequent expansion packs or its more recent spinoff Armed Assault(ARMA). In those games when you got shot (once MAYBE twice), well you got hurt, usually bad and more usually real bad (as in dead). No health bar, no armor meter, nothing. Suppressive fire meant something strong when implemented correctly by a squad. Don't get me wrong I own a 360 and enjoy some its great titles, but I have always found the more real and gritty games to be on the PC.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever played one of the Brothers in Arms games? They have a very good suppressive fire system. I think a lot of other "realistic" FPS games have a lot to learn from these.

Anonymous said...

I think that the machineguns in Day of Defeat are rather well done considering the limitations of it originally being just a mod. Once covering a corridor, MGs pretty much make it impossible to advance through that section of the map. Only a well placed grenade or an attack through alternate routes is feasible.

The problem is not that there is no fear of dying but that MGs in most FPS offer no distinct advantage: they have overall little extra ammo (your "clips" are bigger but you have only a couple of them), bad aim and do no more damage than any other rifle. In most FPS your chance of survival is actually often better in a random encounter with an MG than an assault rifle.

The solution: give the MG more ammo, make the MGs more accurate (especially when prone) and make them more lethal. Offset that by making MG players run slower and carry less extra gear and gadgets (they are lugging a hell of a gun around after all).

Overall most "realistic" FPS suck in the gun behavior department. I don't know how guns handle in real life, but from a tactical gameplay perspective guns should be made more distinct in their roles instead of being just different skins for the same behavior. I could go on about about how I expect certain guns should behave and how FPS have let me down time after time but I don't want to fill your blog.

Anonymous said...

I think trying to add an arbitrary 'stat' system to make suppresive fire worthwhile is ... just going to be annoying to the players.

Against AI I'm sure it could be done well, but against human opponents I just don't see it being anything short of a nuisance.

Anonymous said...

just make it so that nearby bullets decrease your accuracy -- so spraying next to someone would make them ineffective, just like suppressive fire

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that in BF2, you can get genuine pinning and suppressive effects from the machine guns on the trucks, for example a truck parked on the road up to the square in Karkand can prevent the yanks from getting into the square, and it's very difficult to take out with a rocket launcher. Cement Factory in Karkand is similarly suppressible from the road along the Warehouse, but it's easier to hit the truck.

Captain_Cleanoff said...

I would recommend checking out the Battlefield 2 Mod, Project Reality.

Obviously, the same issue remains that the player is not "afraid" of the incoming fire, but where Project Reality differs from pretty much every other game out there, is that suppressive fire actually works in the way it is simulated.

When you receive incoming fire, the screen blurs slightly, and the blur increases as the volume of incoming fire increases. Your ability to return fire is decreased as you cannot see straight.

This is probably the best implementation I have currently seen of suppressive fires effects in a game. It is a pity more military "simulations" and games that are trying to be "realistic" don't followed this route.

Project Reality is by far and away the best military simulation out there, and it's a mod. Armed Assault with a few mods does a good job as well.

I guess publishers/developers are afraid to innovate, add things which change the playing field, make things HARDER. The trend seems to be to make things easier, dumb it down for the lowest common denominator.

Charles said...

I think you missed a couple of options for suppresive fire,

1) Round of Play (Counter Strike) where you can be eliminated from the round

2) Delayed respawn (Team Fortress 2) can be tweaked to give the same basic fear of death.

However, your looking at a dramatic change in pace of the games.

Faceman said...

Love the idea of the article and wholly agree something needs to be done about machine guns and suppressive fire.

I personally like the first idea; with the morale bar. It is definitely the most "realistic" and I think would suit those FPS games that are trying to achieve some sense of military realism (eg. Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, Armed Assault, Americas Army, etc) but I agree it might be too much for those FPS games that are more "arcadey" (eg. Counter Strike, CoD4, etc).

Regardless, at the very least I would like to see something done to implement MGs and suppression more effectively in games soon.

Johnathan said...

America's Army does have effective suppression fire. Although most people that play the game don't know how to use it effectively.

It's especially effective against enemy snipers as the hail of bullets causes their accuracy to literally drop.

It's also effective to pin someone and allow your forward allies to grenade them where they lie.

Anonymous said...

i like the idea of reduction of morale. it should affect the willingness of the player to fire his weapon and also accuracy. like being very nervous that your hands shake. and if the player does not retreat or take cover his character will start to get disoriented. like drunken vision along with loss of hearing. all temporary of course until the suppressive fire is neutralized or the player moves away from the frontline.

Entropy said...

Back before Valve ruined Counter-Strike, suppressive fire was present there.

The way it worked was if you got shot, you could move hardly at all for about 1 second and your aim was slowed down or something. Also, a couple shots to the chest/1 shot to the head (w/o a helmet) with an assault rifle and you were dead.

What that amounted to was that only fools jumped into the line of fire, and suppressive fire was effectively implemented. I loved this feature.

But now it's gone. Valve decided that all the stupid kids would rather play Quake instead, so now everyone jumps into the line of fire and it's no longer about tactics, it's about headshots.

You can literally be getting pumped up with multiple rounds from an smg, point your desert eagle at someones head, and kill them.

RIP Counter-Strike.

Anonymous said...

Already implemented. Suppressive fire exists in the ultra-realistic multiplayer FPS Red Orchestra. Getting shot at (but not hit) by MG fire (or Artillery) makes your vision blur and the sounds of bullets whizzing nearby makes you want to cower.

CrazyButcher said...

the most obvious solution is higher respawn counts, which in generally enforce more "value of life". However depending on the target audience of the game this could be seen as "not fun"...

Eventhough geared much more for realism (quicker deaths, longer respawn) the project reality mod for bf2 ( has implemented some other effects to aid suppressive fire. Bullet impacts nearby or very close fly-bye bullets can cause audible and visual distortions, which add to the "fear" and "less effective" soldier idea. When your view is blurred or you only hear very loud impacts and alike, you are less likely to get out of your cover...

now maybe the game benefits from the mentioned "value of life" due to quicker death/ critically wounded, but one could experiment with such effects in other games as well.

Geoffrey said...

I think the real problem is not fear, but the combination of relative bullet invulnerability and movement speed.

In many pseudo-realistic games, it takes three or four bullets on average to take down a player and make them combat-ineffective. Also, at many ranges in these games, it's relatively easy to avoid fire because movement speeds are anywhere between marginally to greatly faster than regular human movement. In these conditions, covering fire is extremely ineffective. One can simply hop around fast enough that the machine gunner can't get more than a couple rounds in. Either the distraction is enough to let your teammates take the gunner down, or you can do it yourself.

I've played a few realistic games in which covering fire is very effective, such as America's Army, Day of Defeat: Source, the Project Reality mod for Battlefield 2, and the Insurgency mod for Half-Life 2. In these games, the inability of the average player to take more than a single bullet and the relatively slow movement speed make suppressive fire extremely effective. Popping your head out will send you back to the spawn point without any reward to speak of; either the gunner will spot the motion and track the bullets your way, or he's already got bullets landing in your path anyway as he tracks the bullets across the area to be denied.

Hone Rata said...

I read an article on FPS weapon modeling recently (sorry no link) and the number one reason that LMGs are so nerfed in FPSs is that their real life performance is too good. If they were modeled realistically they would be highly accurate and effective for suppressing fire. Unfortunately this would be unbalancing and they would probably be the only weapon used by players. Having said that, I agree with the above, that COD4 does provide accurate enough LMGs for suppressing fire to be implemented. Especially in game types that kill a player for the duration of the round.

Anonymous said...

There are several examples of first person suppression systems floating around.

Arguably the most polished implementation is in Red Orchestra. Near-misses with bullets and artillery will slow your movement speed drastically and blur your vision, giving enemy infantry the opportunity to flank you. Machine gun players can actually play a crucial suppressing role in this manner, although they also usually rack up a high amount of direct kills. This game also has one of the best first person cover systems around. The game isn't without its flaws, but it implements these two concepts well.

I believe the battlefield 2 'Project Reality' mod also has a similar suppression system.

Armed Assault has one or two mods that simulate suppression. In one case (SLX mod, I believe), the game's AI will be forced to the prone position whenever a sufficient volume of fire is directed at them. Notably, the player is bound by the same rules. Some might not like having control taken away from them in this manner, but it does prevent anyone from ramboing.

Mono said...

I haven't played BF2 in a long time, so I don't know how far they've nerfed the support class now, but there was a time the LMGs in that game were about the best guns there were. Perhaps too much so, you could win sniper matches with them...

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has played Day of Defeat knows how effective a well placed machine gun properly deployed can be, can keep people stuck behind cover and deny any logistical advantage...namely it gives great supressing fire.

But this is because its a lot more accurate and deadly when deployed than in all other popular FPS titles.

Anonymous said...

Check out Red Orchestra's suppression system...they have a screen blur effect when rounds pass near the player's position that can effectively prevent returning fire while being suppressed.

GreezMonky said...

Nice article. Also other effects could be tunnel vision, blurred vision, deadened sounds, random reloading (cause who wants an empty clip and cant count when your being shot at, and did I shoot 5 or did I shoot 6 PUNK!), warping or blurring friend or foe map, Character models become ambiguous ( everyone one has a special skin that looks like a combination of friend and foe). random prone cause we have all heard of the guys digging with their hands to get lower.
just some ideas. But every weapon that can sustain fire should be able to affect people with these effects. but it would have to be sustained. 4 seconds or so?
Would make for a nice, um Gunner Mod for cod4. Also if teams were split up in to squads like Insurgency mod for HL2 and each squad could only have 1 SAW and 5 people, but no weapon restrictions other then that. I HATE getting stuck with rifleman or rpg or engineer.
Just my opinion, but I would LOVE to try it.

William said...

the brothers in arms series has had a suppressive fire system...and the first one in that series came out in 2005

GreezMonky said...

Nice article.
For COD4, suppression could be a PERK just for the LMG or assault weapons, or just automatic in the environment.
Would definitely make all those SAW's attached to buildings or sandbags on maps more useful and a lot less um, Cannon fodder.
Other effects could be :
Affecting Sensory :
Blurred vision, tunnel vision (narrowing of field of vision), Near sightedness (blurred vision past say.. 40 feet), muffled hearing, sound of heightened gunfire near you, blurred tactical map, misrepresented friend/foe position or your position on tactical map, loss of tactical map, random "ghosts" of movement on peripheral vision (edges of screen).

Affecting movement:
The ability to only crouch or go prone, stuttered movement, random movement backwards or towards cover with inability to move forward or from cover, random prone position, inability to run forward.

Affecting ability to fight:
Ambiguous skins on all models meaning that both friend and foe show up as a model that has a blend of both teams characteristics, random reloading of the weapon the farther into depleting a clip because who can count rounds while they are being suppressed and "Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. ". Sorry had to but in the Dirty Harry quote.

Area of effect (AOE) :
That should depend on weapon being used. With the SAW having a good range, and high firing rate it should have like a 45 deg AOE. Where as two guys with M4's should have like a 25-30 deg AOE. Of course the person right in the middle of the AOE ( the guy being suppressed), should be affected the most, with people on the edge being affected the least. And this should be for any sustained fire for say 3 or 4 seconds of continuous fire from 1 SAW or 4 to 5 sec of high burst fire, from 2 or more rifles. Cover should afford some "clearing your head and gather your wits". RPG's, Stun Grenades, flash bangs and if you have been suppressed prior to this, should all make you more prone to being suppressed for a short time after exposure to their numbing effects. Maybe even shotgun or SMG's could have suppression in indoor close environments, I would think that is something the mapper would have to designate for certain rooms / areas.
I can see it now, new awards for Most Suppression Fire, and Most Time Suppressed Under Fire

Would LOVE to try a mod based on these (of course I would, they are all my ideas).

techiecl said...

Another option could be limit the # of respawns a round, but not the # of revives by a medic-type class. So two game play deficiencies are dealt with. I've seen this work with certain Wolfenstein: ET servers.

Anonymous said...

Best example of suppression in FPS is Red Orchestra. Its showing its age but in my opinion remains the definitive combined arms simulation. When you are under MG fire the disorientation leaves you able to do little more than lie prone and hope they are low on ammo. $19 on Steam.

Anonymous said...

In Brothers in Arms, suppressive fire is the only way to progress in the game. Also, there are optional meters that will appear over the enemy to tell if they are suppressed or not.

Anonymous said...

Red Orchestra models suppressive fire by causing a blurring effect on the screen of a player who has bullets either whizzing past him or hitting the ground near him.

Obviously with a blurred screen you will not be as able to perform precision tasks like returning fire.

MaxRay said...

Fire Suppression is also integral to the Brothers in Arms series. When fired upon, enemy units get a 'suppression meter'. When its full, the unit is suppressed. And it does take sustained fire to do this. Hopefully, your Assault Squad is then ready to take the enemy out.

Anonymous said...

Brothers in arms.. was ok. Some people loved the suppressive fire in that FPS but I thought it was a poor engine that let it down.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, all of those ideas for FPS like the morale bar would be a bit too much I think. (BTW, a morale bar should move up and down regardless of if its machine gun bullets or not, sometimes supressive fire can be done with normal guns).

Anyway, for surpressive fire try out Team Fortress 2, it has surpressive fire in a sense, the Sentry Gun :) It scares away the enemy team somewhat because of its volume AND accuracy of fire.

Speaking of which, you can get surpressive effects in any game if you get a weapon that puts out enough effective fire. But unfortunately such a weapon is usually unbalancing to the game.

Johnathan said...

I know TF2 isn't supposed to be realistic, but I know I've used suppresive fire on known sniper exits when crossing 2Fort5. Having a great big rocket coming at you does make them duck & cover. In this circumstance I would probably call it spam though!

Kenneth said...

Very interesting concept.

However, I feel that the easiest way to examine why LMG are so effective is to see why they're effective in real-life: because getting hit by a bullet sucks (a lot) and could possibly even kill you.

From what little COD playing I've done, the LMG is rather ineffective because it doesn't really have any killing power, especially when compared to the other weapons in the game (though I'm not sure if this has more to do w/accuracy comparisons than with with damage-ability).

So we have 2 options:
1. making the LMG in an FPS a lot more deadly...thus encouraging people to GET THE HELL BEHIND COVER (instead of just running and shrugging of MG fire like it's a massage). I guess this could be done by making the LMG REALLY REALLY accurate when its wielder is PRONE or can mount it onto something (like a wall)...just as it is in real life (i mean, you're throwing out that much more lead per second, leading to a greater chance for a hit).

2. making dying a lot less palatable. Not sure how you would do this while maintaining the integrity of the game (ie- slowing things down too much). But, I mean, the main reason why people in real life duck when they take incoming because their respawn is with their Maker.

I think this is properly modeled within CoH...especially when you see a bunch of soldiers moving through (and not being made prone) an area with MG fire: they get mowed down.

[for an interesting read in why MGs are so Grossman's "On Killing" -- fascinating read]