If you’ve been playing a lot of shooting games, chances are you’ve come across the term “hitscan”, so you might be wondering what it means. In this article, we’ll provide a brief overview of what hitscan is, and more, so read on!
What Is Hitscan and How Does It Work?
To put it simply, hitscan is the method that many games use to simulate projectile weapons, mostly guns. And how does it work? It’s quite simple, actually:
- The game takes into account the direction in which a weapon is pointing
- At the moment when a shot is fired, a straight line is cast in that direction
- The shot registers with the first object that the line comes in contact with
Now, some weapons that you’ll find in games (such as railguns or high-caliber sniper rifles) can hit multiple objects along a single line. So, when one such weapon is fired, the hit registers not only on the first object that the line comes in contact with but also with one or more others that it comes in contact with after the first one. And just like that, you have weapons that can shoot through different surfaces or damage multiple players with a single shot.
And speaking of bullets going through surfaces, there’s also the matter of ricocheting. This is an effect present in many games and whether or not a shot will ricochet usually depends on the type of surface that it hits. If a shot hits a reflective surface, a new line is cast at a new angle that is determined by the angle at which the original ray hit in the first place, thus simulating the bullet ricocheting off the surface.
Is Hitscan a Good Way to Simulate Firearms?
Many popular games use hitscan, but how good a job does it do at simulating actual firearms, and does this even matter?
Well, needless to say, real bullets don’t travel through space at infinite speed along a perfectly straight line, so hitscan is far from being a realistic ballistics simulation. Still, in most games, this doesn’t really matter since the distances between players are usually so small that bullet travel time and trajectory hardly matter.
But even so, many popular FPS and TPS games from the past two decades put a lot of stock in realism, and developers usually implement some tweaks in order to help hitscan emulate realistic ballistics better.
For example, you’ve undoubtedly noticed how firing automatic weapons in shooting games lowers their accuracy due to “recoil” or how some games that feature long-distance sniping require you to aim above the target that you want to hit. These are some of the tweaks applied to hitscan in an effort to make the experience more realistic and more balanced.
Still, even when modified in this way, there are some balancing issues with certain weapons, which is why many games actually feature hybrid systems, using hitscan for some weapons while using projectile ballistics for others.
With projectile ballistics, the game renders a projectile as an actual in-game object rather than a contact point between an obstacle and an invisible line. This helps make some weapons such as sniper rifles or rocket launchers feel more realistic and more balanced.
Now that we’ve mentioned projectile ballistics, how does this system differ from hitscan and is it really a better alternative?
As we have established, if a game uses projectile ballistics, the projectile is rendered as an actual in-game object that is affected by the physics engine – size, weight, velocity, wind, and some other factors can affect the behavior of the projectile after it is fired. As such, the player needs to account for these factors when aiming, especially when the target is moving and/or far away.
Games like the Sniper Elite and the Max Payne series place a big accent on projectile ballistics, though as we have mentioned above, it is actually found in many other games as well but is usually limited only to certain weapons.
Hitscan vs Projectile Ballistics – Which is Better?
On paper, projectile ballistics sure seem superior to hitscan in virtually every way, but realism isn’t the be-all and end-all in gaming, and hitscan actually has a key practical advantage over projectile ballistics.
Namely, hitscan is much easier on the hardware. While this isn’t that big of an issue in single-player games, it can make a world of difference when it comes to multiplayer, allowing a server to handle a higher number of players while reducing the risk of glitches and crashes when under heavy load.
Besides, as we have already mentioned, realistic ballistics don’t make much of a difference in terms of player experience when we’re talking about rapid-firing weapons in relatively small arenas but they would constitute a ton of needless workload for the CPU.
But as we have already established, there are merits to projectile ballistics, too, which is why so many games use hybrid systems. They make high-damage weapons like sniper rifles and rocket launchers more difficult to use (and thus, less unfair) in large, open levels. Of course, these weapons also have a relatively slow rate of fire, so simulating them in a more realistic fashion isn’t as demanding on the hardware as simulating several dozen rapid-firing machine guns would be.
So, there you have it, an answer to the titular question and a brief overview of the advantages and disadvantages of hitscan and projectile ballistics.
We hope that this article has been helpful and if you feel that we have made any mistakes or that we have overlooked something important, feel free to let us know in the comments and we’ll see about correcting the error ASAP.