Design: FPS Stances & Breathing
We’ve called Star Citizen the ‘First Person Universe’ because we intend to create an entire world for you to interact with. You aren’t just a spaceship or a floating camera … you’re a character in a massive interactive world. To make good on that promise, the teams at Cloud Imperium and Illfonic are pushing the boundaries of a first-person shooter in Star Marine much the same way we’ve ‘built out’ space combat in Arena Commander.
In designing and engineering Star Citizen’s FPS mode (which players will first test in Star Marine), we’ve made a conscious effort to throw out systems that have become standard in first-person shooters in favor of taking an entirely new look. We’ve gone back to the drawing board to look for ways not only to set Star Citizen apart, but to add more balance to gameplay. This post describes how we will deal with aim stances and breathing during first-person shooter combat. Both of these systems add additional balance and tactical gameplay to Star Citizen, as well as improving the overall realism.
Once we premiere these systems in Star Marine, the Star Citizen community will help us balance and evolve them just as you have fighter combat in Arena Commander. In exactly the same way that you’ve helped us perfect spaceship throttles and laser impacts, you will help us perfect how characters run and aim and even breathe. And from there, the systems developed in the FPS will benefit every part of Star Citizen, from border gunfights in the persistent universe to the first-person combat that will occur in Squadron 42!
What are stances, and why do they matter? Aim stances affect how fast a fighter can bring the weapon up to look down the sight, as well as accuracy while shooting without aiming. Most traditional FPS games have two aim stances: firing while you’re moving (hips) or carefully closing in on your weapon (sights). The standard tradeoff is field of view versus weapon accuracy: firing while moving is less accurate, but you have a wider view of the battlefield. Firing while focusing on your weapon’s sights lets you target very specifically, but you lose your peripheral vision.
Star Marine — and Star Citizen proper — will feature three stances. Having three possible stances instead of two means that the game will have a more realistic system of weapon handling, which will immediately impact gameplay. Star Citizen’s three stances are Lowered, Ready and Aim Down Sights (ADS). The Lowered stance trades the ability to fire for maneuverability. The Ready stance slows a soldier’s movement while making reactionary fire and aiming a lot faster and more accurate. The ADS stance is the most accurate, but has the slowest movement and most restricted visibility of the three stances.
The Lowered weapon stance allows you to move fast (sprint, jump, etc.) and use all the contextual navigation available. The tradeoff is that firing requires you to switch to at least the Ready stance, which takes time. Bringing the weapon up for aiming takes longer since your weapon isn’t near the aim pose. (Attempting to fire from this stance would be ‘shooting from the hip,’ which would result in a large amount of spread, sway and recoil, since the weapon doesn’t have a stable platform absorbing the energy of firing. You would have little ability to adjust where the rounds are impacting in this stance.)
The Ready stance brings the weapon up to the shoulder but without the camera looking down the sight. This will feel similar to traditional FPS weapons when you are not looking down the sights (most like the ‘hips’ stance in the two-stance system). To use the Lowered stance, character movement must first slow to a walk. Contextual navigation will also be limited. In this stance, the character can much more quickly raise his weapon for the ADS stance (as the weapon is close to that position already). Spread, sway and recoil are more limited in this stance, and the position of the weapon absorbs the energy of firing in the shoulder and be fairly accurate — but not as accurate as using sights!
The Aim Down Sights stance reduces you to a slow walk. The camera will be looking directly down the sights of the weapon, making it the most accurate it can be. The spread, sway and recoil will be quite low (depending on the weapon and firing mode). Unlike the other stances, which are activated contextually based on player movement, the ADS stance must be explicitly activated. The process of ‘getting to’ ADS differs depending on which of the other two stances the character is in: the transition from Lowered stance is quicker, while it will take takes longer for someone in moving from Lowered stance.
You will be unable to use any contextual actions while aiming, making maneuverability severely diminished. Attempting to sprint does not take you out of this state like it would from Ready. From a gameplay perspective, players will be forced to think about their natural movements during a combat scenario. Sprinting from place to place now carries the additional balance layer, making it take additional time to aim your weapon accurately once you have stopped sprinting. The intention is that players will make smart, tactical decisions based on their overall abilities rather than attempting to blindly run around and gun down everything that moves!
How it Works
Much of this system happens automatically. Sprinting or using contextual navigation initiates the Lowered stance, while moving slowly and deliberately keeps your weapon in the Ready stance. When in the Lowered stance (entered by sprinting or using contextual navigation), pressing the Fire button will brings you back into the Ready stance.
Tapping the Fire button brings the weapon to the Ready stance from Lowered. Holding the button begins firing the weapon as it transitions to the Ready Stance, and releasing the fire button returns you to the Ready stance (unless any other navigation stance change button is used: Shift, Space Bar, Control). When in the Ready stance, pressing the Aim button brings you into the Aim Down Sight stance. Releasing the held button returns the weapon to the Ready stance.
Finally, your HUD view will change based on your stance. When in Lowered mode, there is no reticle, making characters rely on their enhanced movement rather than the weaponry available in the ADS and the Ready stances to be combat effective. The Ready stance also has no precise reticle, but will indicate where the weapon is aiming based on your helmet and attached items. In the ADS stance, a reticle will appear, based on the type of attachment you have assigned (iron sights, reflex holo, sniper, etc.).
When we pitched a ‘living, breathing universe,’ we weren’t kidding! Stamina and breathing will be an important part of Star Citizen’s FPS mode, simulated in order to make first person combat a much deeper and more tactical experience than many familiar FPS titles.
Stamina is a resource you will need to manage. Performing actions such as sprinting, vaulting, mounting, climbing and breath control (detailed below) will lower your stamina. Low stamina will have several temporary knock-on effects, such as drastically reduced sprint distance, diminished ability to aim properly, and even a reduced amount of time that breath can be held. This is intended to slow the pace of combat, so that it feels more tactical and reinforces our intention that survival takes consideration, rather than random firing. Actions such as sprinting, jumping, climbing, vaulting and holding breath reduce stamina, while walking slowly (slow regeneration), standing still (faster!), staying behind cover, or aiming without holding breath will regenerate it.
Additionally, your armor and other held equipment will have a direct impact on your stamina consumption. If you are in large heavy armor, then stamina will drain at a much faster rate. If you are wearing light armor, then stamina will go down more slowly and you can run around a bit more. The armor you wear should have little impact on how fast you regain stamina so long as you remain still. This should add a nice choice when you have to sacrifice maneuverability for defense and vice versa! The design team is experimenting with several different options for ‘displaying’ stamina without taking you out of the universe; the current thought is to indicate on the HUD how much stamina is available via a heart rate monitor.
If you have little to no stamina remaining, your character will be breathing very heavily. This will make the bullet spread and sway increase dramatically. This will help prevent you from running around and expecting to be able to fire as accurately while you run. This also will make natural pauses during breathing (after heavy exertion) very short, making accurate fire a lot more difficult. Your helmet will make small changes to the HUD and even your helmet’s glass, depending on the level of stamina. With low stamina from running around, you will breathe heavily, fogging the helmet and further obscuring the view.
We intend to prove that breathing can be an active, interesting part of the FPS experience. Soldiers must control their breathing in order to fire more accurately, so why not simulate that in the game? Firing at the top and bottom of each breath, or holding your breath entirely, are ways soldiers learn to fire their weapons most effectively, so it makes sense to reward players for having the skill and patience to do the same.
Firing at the top and/or bottom of your natural breaths mean that there is (briefly) no movement of the upper chest to move the barrel, making your shots more accurate. Holding your breath is another way which can be used for a longer stabilization time, at the risk of waiting too long and needing to catch your breath — with a resulting loss of stamina, should you hold it too long!
These “natural pauses” during the breathing cycle will only occur while in the Aiming Down Sights stance. There will be a pause at the top and bottom of each breath. During this pause there will be almost no movement to the sights and it will be the best time to fire. We might also tighten the spread of the rounds when firing at these points. (See below picture for the range explanation.)
Breakdown of full stamina breath pattern:
- 1 Second pauses at the top and bottom of the each breath
- 2 Seconds to move from the top to the bottom of the breath
- Left and right sway and up and down limits are dictated by the weapon and attachments’ values
- Up, down, left and right sway values should be determined by modifiers on the weapon’s sway
Breakdown of no stamina breath pattern:
- Very short pauses at the top and bottom of each breath, about .2 – .3 seconds
- Very rapid up and down travel time of about 1 second
- Left and right sway and up and down limits can have a modifier on top of the base weapon and attachments’ values
- Up, down, left and right values should be determined by modifiers on the weapon’s sway
Holding your breath is the active part of the breath system. By holding a button, you will hold your breath for a specific amount of time before your character releases the breath for you. The longer you hold your breath, the lower your stamina gets. If you have little to no stamina, then you will not be able to hold your breath very long.
Breakdown of full stamina breath hold:
- Holding [key] will begin the “hold breath” state
- Sway is reduced to 0 for the duration
- You can hold your breath for 10 seconds before needing to release (this action will be involuntary)
- The release will create sway for 3 seconds, with a modifier making it a bit more extreme
- After the sway, breathing returns to normal
Breakdown of no stamina breath hold:
- Holding [key] will begin the “hold breath” state
- Sway is reduced to 0 for the duration
- You can hold your breath for 1 second before releasing
- The release will create sway for 6 seconds, with a modifier making it a bit more extreme
- After the exaggerated sway, breathing returns to the breath cycle based on current stamina
The team is on the lookout for more ways to make Star Marine’s first-person shooter simulation realistic and challenging. Going forward, we’re looking into how we can apply this same system to melee combat and brawling. With breathing and stamina as balance points, we believe we can make for something a little more interesting than the traditional ‘press space to punch’ melee option. Animation speed, damage amount and more can be tied to the breathing and stamina subsystems, making for melee combat that’s more like a real fight.