It’s happened to everyone. You’ve pulled the trigger for just under a second and seen five hit markers, blood spurts or however a game tells you your bullets hit. Your brain, used to seeing your foes go down in that many hits, instinctively turns away, and your very-not-dead-enemy shoots you in the ass. If it happens once, on consoles or PC, blame latency, twice a timing error on your part, thrice, rage mode! The problem does of course lie in part with the hit detection in the game and your connection to either the server or the host (which I’ll talk about shortly), but some of it’s in your head. The brain wires itself to recognize timings , and the instincts that allow you to pwn teh n00bs get you killed because of what the game allowed your brain to teach itself.
The hostest with the mostest
So I want to start by dispelling the myth that dedicated servers solve all problems with lag. They don’t, and they won’t so long as the internet remains in its current state. PC gamers schooled at least a little bit in the lore of the Tech Gods know this already, but I’ll spell it out regardless. On PC, when you connect to a dedicated server, your computer sends out little packets of information that connect with said server. Your “ping” is the amount of milliseconds it takes your computer to release the packets and hear back from the server. Ideally, you want your ping to be less than fifty (50) milliseconds (ms), as this means that your connection is both strong and close to the server. The higher the ping gets, the slower your connection to the server, and its just that much longer before your bullets, kept as data within the server itself, register as hitting your target. We can’t perceive the short delay between bullet connection and registration unless our connection to the server is high, around 100 ms or more. The game code itself might be faulty and the connection and registration might be a complete miss, but again, ideally, every bullet connects and you face a very short wait before damage occurs.
This is somewhat different on consoles, for the most part. Your AAA shooters generally use the host model, though there are exceptions, like Battlefield and Homefront. There’s another myth about host based shooters too, and its that there are no “servers” involved in your gaming experience. This is incorrect. The game world runs on servers owned by the game’s creators or their publisher. This is only the game code, not the connection between bullets and hit registry. That link is all determined by internet connection. Packets are still involved, but instead of connecting directly to the game servers, they interact with the host of the game, the console with, presumably, the best connection to said servers. It is this console that communicates directly with the servers that host the game code. This is the reason having a bad host makes for a very, very, bad experience. Because your console has only a secondary connection to the actual game, bad hosts mean the game doesn’t know you’ve done something until some time after you’ve done them. At worst, you have to wait a few seconds to just reload, let alone for your bullets to find their targets.
What did that box ever do to you?
If you understand the dynamics of host/server connection, the next thing to know is how hitboxes work. In short, the hitbox is the invisible, polygonal frame in which your bullet must be aimed for the hit to be valid. It varies from game to game, but newer games tend to use very precise hitboxes molded to the in-game avatars, and others use boxes to approximate. Team Fortress 2 is an example of the latter, and newer Call of Duty games, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, etc. all use the former. For CoD and its competitors, you can shoot between someone’s legs and the hit won’t register, as it shouldn’t. But it will in Team Fortress 2 There are advantages and disadvantages for both types of hitbox design.
Advantages: For the TF2 design, it’s easier to build the rest of the game if all you’re doing is optimizing cube sizes for head and body. Headshots register on a slightly wider area as do stabs. For most other shooters, it adds a little bit of realism to the proceedings, a more defined target to shoot at, and some really funny ragdoll physics.
Disadvantage: TF2′s design is flawed in that facestabs become possible, the Huntsman’s headshot hitbox is too large and the Ambassador’s is to small. Without a direct correlation between hitbox and avatar facing direction, a player might be looking directly at the spy, but their in game head is not. Enter the facestab. Latency is a problem here as well, and the spy with the better connection gets the facestab. For Battlefield, CoD, and others, the precision of the hitbox makes the game do more to register the hit. There are more calculations to do per bullet, so there are more possibilities for error.
Manipulating the system
As our great leader WiNGSPANTT demonstrated with his Epic Crouch video, and as CoD players know with the drop shot, hitboxes are manipulatable. Developers create multiple box designs for various positions an in game avatar might take, and shifting between them quickly can have effects not otherwise intended. For example, in TF2, I believe crouching not only shrinks the hitbox, but also moves its center, allowing for crouch jumping. It does this instantaneously. While in the air, crouching moves the hitbox slightly up within the game world, so the avatar’s feet move to the level of the platform they’re jumping onto rather than being just below it. Epic crouches are possible because, while the main hitbox moves up, the headshot hitbox moves with the head and acts as the cap for the main box. In short, the hitbox for a crouching character in TF2 is less a cube and more a rectangular polygon.
For games with prone in them, dropshotting is possible, and its effectiveness is not simply in removing yourself from your enemies’ crosshairs. Because the motion from standing to crouching to prone happens so quickly, the hitboxes for head and body intersect for a short time and interfere with one another. Sometimes this makes headshots easier for the one being dropshotted, but most times the hitboxes become distorted so quickly that hits that would have otherwise registered do not, and the kill goes to the one who dropped to prone.
Want to hear more on this subject? Let me know!