www.makeuseof.com Hitscan vs. Projectile Weapons in Online Gaming: What's the Difference?

Shoot 'em-ups have long been a popular genre in online gaming. You can see this with the age of popular franchises like Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, and Battlefield, and with new titles like Fortnite, Valorant, and Overwatch.

But despite having the same concept—shooting at each other with small arms—these games have different ways to go about it. It is how the in-game weapon works that helps balance the challenge of playing the game while keeping it enjoyable for the casual player.

So, how do these virtual weapons fire a virtual bullet? And what's the difference between techniques? Let's find out below.

How Does Firing a Gun Work in Video Games?

When you fire your in-game weapon, there are two ways a game engine can process this. The first one is through the hitscan method, which considers the gun you're holding as a laser. So when you fire the weapon, the bullet coming from it travels in a straight line parallel to your barrel and hits the first object (or character) it comes into contact with.

The other way a game processes a firing weapon is through the projectile method. This is a more nuanced way of processing bullet trajectories. That's because instead of treating it like a laser, the game engine considers a lot of other factors. It takes distance, air resistance, gravity, player movement, among other factors, into account when calculating your bullet's trajectory.


The hitscan method is the simpler option between the two, as it doesn't require the game to take physics into account to see where your bullet will hit. It literally is point-and-shoot. On the other hand, the projectile method makes the game more realistic but costs additional system and server resources.

How Do Game Developers Make Hitscan Weapons Realistic?

Since hitscan weapons use lasers to simulate bullet travel, you'll find them reaching your target almost instantly. While this isn't an issue for small to medium-sized maps, it can be unrealistic for larger maps, especially battle royale arenas with up to 100 players.

To make these weapons realistic, developers add effects, like moving around the weapon's target point when firing to mimic weapon recoil or limiting its range to simulate distance. This helps add realism to the gaming experience without requiring the additional resources of projectile physics.

Some developers even create reflective surfaces. That means when a bullet from a hitscan weapon hits it, a new angle forms which the shot will follow. This is how developers simulate a ricochet.

www.makeuseof.com Hitscan vs. Projectile Weapons in Online Gaming: What's the Difference?

Wolfenstein 3D, released in 1992 and considered one of the pioneers of the first-person shooter genre, used the hitscan method for its weapons. Over the years, the hitscan weapon has been reworked and refined—so much so that some currently popular games like CS: GO feature an all-hitscan armory.

Related: Common Video Gaming Terms, Words, and Lingo to Know

Can Developers Use a Hybrid Approach to Weapon Design?

Some games, like Sniper Elite, use a combination of the two techniques. That's because it may seem futile to implement the projectile mechanism for small arms at short range. After all, since bullets travel fast, the factors affecting your bullet's trajectory would have little time to influence it if your target is nearby.

However, your rifle would change from a hitscan to a projectile weapon when your target hits a particular range. This would then allow your bullet to be affected by several factors and enable the game to show your bullet's flight path from your barrel to your target and beyond.

Other games, like Halo 5, have different weapons with hitscan and projectile characteristics. For example, the Assault Rifle uses hitscan mechanics, while the Needler uses the projectile method when calculating where your bullets will hit.

This method of employing both techniques helps save on system resources while still keeping a level of realism, especially with long-range shots.

Greater Power Brings Better Realism

As computers get more powerful, internet speeds increase exponentially, and game engines become more efficient, it just makes sense for developers to implement projectile weapons in their games. That's because no one can beat the added realism this technique brings to the table.

In the past, smaller maps and enclosed spaces where gun battles took place made the hitscan technique ideal for combat games. However, as maps became vast in scale, especially with the popularity of battle royale games, it became crucial for makers to implement an all-projectile weapon database.

After all, it just wouldn't do if everyone in the game lands headshots at ranges beyond one mile. Because when that happens, then the game would be no fun to play. It removes a layer of challenge that will keep players on their toes—and it would make many others quit in rage.

Related: How to Build a Gaming PC That Plays the Latest Games

It also makes players look for favorable positions on the map. Because distance and gravity affect bullet drop, many competitors now prefer finding places in high locations. Their higher position lets them have a greater effective range for their rifles, as their bullets don't have to fight against gravity.

Furthermore, their elevated position makes them harder to shoot, as the projectile will need to fight against the game's gravity. This increases the chances of the opponent's bullets missing their mark.

Changing the Way You Game With Realistic Weapons

Advancements in processing power and internet connectivity allow game developers to create shooting games with an all-projectile armory. Since they no longer have to worry about glitches due to the server or gaming device not catching up with the gameplay, they can now reliably deploy this technology in their games.

You can expect projectile weapons to be the norm in shooting games from now on. This is especially crucial as maps and firefights grow larger. So, unless you're shooting at each other with lasers, expect to consider factors like distance and bullet speed in most modern FPS games.

What Is Cheesing in Gaming? Read NextShareTweetShareEmail Related TopicsAbout The AuthorJowi Morales(215 Articles Published)

Jowi is a writer, a career coach, and a pilot. He developed a love for anything PC ever since his father bought a desktop computer when he was 5 years old. From then on, he has been using and maximizing technology in every aspect of his life.

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