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Aim assist and input filtering for thumbstick aiming.

Gamingtodaynews1g - Aim assist and input filtering for thumbstick aiming.

So I've been forced to almost completely cut out mouse and keyboard as a control method for games, including shooters, because of issues with my left (keyboard) wrist. Most of the time I use Steam Input in combination with gyro enabled controllers to get an aiming method that is close enough to a mouse in precision that aim assist isn't neccessary or even desirable, but some games are more problematic than others and I've played with just stick aim more than ever lately.

It's hard to get to any informative material on the subject because search results are bound to be filled with "warzone's aim assist is OP" and "a guy who's played PC shooters professionally for years will now tell you that controller players actually have an advantage somehow". Best I got was a talk about Resistance 3's aim assist and vague memories of seeing a video on Halo's aim assist.

So, as far as those made me aware, there are a few different components to aim assist:

  1. Magnetism/ aim locking

This is meant to make tracking easier by making the turn speed of the player closer to the movement speed of the target relative to the camera (player POV). In Resistance 3 it's achieved by blending the "right" input with the player's input, so that things like aim acceleration still behave naturally.

  1. Centering/ automatic circle-strafing

This is meant to make player movement less of a factor while aiming.

  1. Friction

This basically decreases sensitivity when the reticle is close to the target. Nick Weihs mentions a scenario when an enemy is moving so fast that this slowdown makes it impossible to "catch up" to it with your aim as a big downside.

It's especially agregious when it kicks in when you're actually using a mouse or gyro to aim, since they can't turn indefinetely, and it's what makes Rogue Company's gyro implementation awful. I know, nobody cares, let's move on.

  1. Auto Hit/ Bullet Magnetism

This basically makes the game count shots as on target when they're close enough.

  1. Aim Snapping/ ADS snapping

Not mentioned in the talk, but it's pretty common. When an enemy is close to the middle of the screen when you initiate ADS, the game automatically places your reticle on target.

My problem with numbers 1 and 2 is that they work based on assumptions of what you intend to do. This means they're prone to doing things you didn't mean to, either harmful (like slowing down your aim when you're trying to aim at something on the other side of an enemy) or helpful (like making your aim linger on an enemy you didn't even see).

The issue with 1,2,3 and 5 is that they remove the direct, consistent relationship between player input and the in-game camera behaviour. The speaker of the mentioned talk quotes muscle memory as a reason why mouse players can have close to perfect aim and I agree that said muscle memory is harder to build and less effective when stick aiming, but I still think this sense of mastery and feeling of control is a big part of why fps games are fun to play, and anything that makes identical inputs produce different results is a barrier stopping formation of muscle memory and actively works against the muscle memory already formed.

I think the fourth element of aim assist is great and should even be an option for mouse users on lower difficulties. It's great because it doesn't take away control from the player and still rewards good aim, simply lowering the difficulty of the presented challenge of aiming at a target instead of articially trying to do some of the work neccessary to accomplish it for the player. More over, there's no guesswork involved, since all the game needs to do is to aid the bullets in the direction of the enemy closest to the middle of the screen.


There are extreme examples of #4 in action like Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet and Armored Core games (I think), where the "reticle" is a rectangle covering a huge portion of the screen and as long as the target is in that rectangle, they are being locked onto. I'm surprised that they're such outliers, even considering how much sense it makes for developers to stick to a standard.

I'd like to know if there are more kinds of aim assist out there that I don't know about.

The second thing is input filtering. Like I mentioned, for the reasons of building muscle memory and feeling in control, I think identical inputs should generate consistent outputs.

The biggest offender against this idea regardless of your input method is aim acceleration.

For mouse users it means the speed of the mouse determines the distance the reticle travels, which is stupid because it makes building muscle memory much harder and forces you to take longer to make smaller adjustments, which is completely counterproductive, as you always want to aim where you need to as soon as you can.

For controller users this means that the result of your next input will be influenced by how fast the camera was already moving beforehand and, in most cases, it makes aiming delayed.

Other than the impact on muscle memory and feeling of control, the first issue this causes is making tracking targets – you know, the thing that's so hard that devs put special systems in place to do this for the player? – extremely hard. As soon as you find the perfect position of the stick to match the speed of your target, the camera starts turning faster, forcing you to search for the sweetspot again. This doesn't really happen as much with acceleration that's applied slowly and only when the stick is fully tilted though.

The second issue is related to the delay. Applaying negative acceleration when you've only started tilting the stick is meant to let players make small adjustments by tapping the stick quickly to full tilt, which would normally move the camera a lot. Not only does this make aiming delayed, since you need to get through that initial slowdown to get back to your normal sensitivity, it also makes making small adjustments the "correct" way (by tiliting the stick a little instead of tapping) slower and harder.

It also doesn't address situations where the small adjustment that needs to be made is bigger than the amount of camera movement you can achieve by tapping – either you start your career as a percussion player, try to hold the stick fully tilted for long enough to get there, but not long enough for the normal sensitivity to kick in (since that will send your crosshair flying) or suffer the unnecessary delay when tilting the stick partially, "the right amount", like you've been mastering the controls to be able to do instantly.

Now, there are ways of making acceleration helpful on a controller. First, making it kick in after a while ensures that it's only happening when the player is trying to turn around quicker. Second, making it only engage when the stick is fully tilted gets rid of the delay issue partially.

Last, calling out some games. Control has shitty thumbstick aim, not to mention the whole control scheme, honestly.

World War Z allows you to disable all aim assists and it has the nicest feeling thumbstick aim I've exerienced. Only Steam Input's mouse emulation rivals it in how instant and raw it is, and even then WWZ either has a sensitivity curve or subtle acceleration that I just can't replicate using SI.

Zombie Army Trilogy also feels pretty raw, though I'm not as in love with its sensitivity curve.

So, what are some games that do this stuff in a great, awful, or very different way and why/how?

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