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Lessons From The Range

Last week, we took a company field trip to a local gun range to get some hands-on experience with pistols. Only a few of us had actually shot a handgun before, and since we’re building a zombie survival game, we figured that it would be a good plan to make sure that everyone on the team has at least fired one before. I mean, how can you build something without knowing how it actually works?

The day was pretty amazing. As soon as we arrived at the range, we were given a short safety class. In a half hour or so, we had learned how to properly handle our weapon — how to carry it, how to check to see if it’s loaded, and how to hold it. Our instructor even drew little lines on our hands to help us remember the proper pistol grip. Before we headed into the firing lanes, we picked out a pair of ear protectors, a set of safety glasses, and our first spread of 9mm pistols.

Once we were on the range, the real lessons began.

Lesson #1: Loading a magazine is a pain in the ass.

Most of us didn’t realize how tricky it can be to load a gun by hand, especially when you’re trying to do it quickly. To put a bunch of bullets into a magazine, you essentially need to push one round object down with another, and there’s a spring pushing back so you have to use more and more force to shove them inside. Loading the first few is easy enough, but after four or so it takes some real technique to do it smoothly. We also discovered that 9mm rounds are worse than .45’s because they’re tiny — Ben (who’s super tall) struggled with this part the most and dropped the smaller bullets a few times because they were hard for him to hang onto.

On average, putting a single round into a .45 takes between two and four seconds. Multiply that by eight, and you’ll see that loading a full magazine is going to take you between a quarter to a half of a minute. That’s a lot of time when you’re in a life or death situation.

Now picture how difficult it would be if you were trapped behind the counter of your local sporting goods store, scooping up a pile of spilled ammo, and trying to quickly reload your gun while zeds are slamming their rotting fists against the window. It’s not a pretty thought.

How does this translate to the game? Well, we’re not going to make loading a hassle, of course, but it’s given us some food for thought on reloading mechanics, interesting scenarios, and the value of speed loaders as items you can find in the world.

Lesson #2: Missing is a lot easier than you’d think.

If you’re a horror fan, you probably scream at your TV when you see people shooting at zombies and completely missing their heads. We did too — until this trip. Target shooting gave all of us a much greater appreciation for how the slightest tilt could affect accuracy in a big way.

Case in point, your grip can make or break your accuracy — and the correct technique is not what you’d expect. A proper two-handed pistol grip is 80% off-hand to 20% trigger hand, meaning that you should grip the gun much tighter with your non-firing hand. That’s because your firing hand is more susceptible to small, unintended shifts when you flex that trigger finger.

Another interesting factor is recoil. Even with a .45, the kick you feel when you shoot isn’t as big as movies make it seem, but even if your hand only moves a little, there’s no way to keep your sights perfectly lined up between shots. Some of us experimented with shooting in rapid succession; some of us took a long time to aim between each and every shot. Being accurate when firing quickly was a real challenge, which in turn gave us an idea of how hard it would be to stay accurate while moving and firing rapidly. Not the formula for a perfect headshot.

In Class3, aiming is based on player skill, but recoil and moving while shooting can affect the spread of your shots. The more experience your character has with firearms the better — just like in real life, knowing the right techniques can really help you deal with issues like recoil and being accurate on the run.

Lesson #3: Distance matters. A lot.

It makes sense that shooting something far away from you is  trickier than hitting something right in front of you, but many of us didn’t realize just how far pistol accuracy drops off after the 30 to 40 foot mark. When we first started shooting, our targets were at 15-20 feet, and we felt like zombie slaying bad-asses. The bulls-eyes on our targets quickly turned into gaping holes, and no shots hit outside of the target circles. We were unbeatable.

Then some of us decided that we wanted to try our hand at longer ranges.

As soon as the targets went out to 30 feet, we saw a definite drop in accuracy, and at 50 feet headshots became a rarity and people would occasionally miss the targets entirely. (Though Jess and Foge both had some really nice shots at 60+ feet.)

As Brant mentioned in his Weapon Of Choice article, we’ve talked a lot about the relative roles of different kinds of firearms. Our experiences at the firing range really underscored how much better handguns are at close and medium ranges. When I was in the army, I wasn’t a sharpshooter, but I was easily hitting targets with a rifle at 50 yards instead of struggling to do it with a pistol at 50 feet.

Lesson #4: Holy shit — guns are loud.

Yes, they really, really are. Even with the hardcore noise-cancelling headsets that we had on, shots were loud enough to make some of us physically jump, and people that decided to adjust their ear protection at the wrong times definitely regretted it (and their ringing ears). How loud are we talking, exactly? Let’s take a look:

85dB — OSHA requires hearing protection
120dB — Most peoples’ normal pain threshold
150dB — Your chest cavity starts to vibrate
160dB — Your eardrums rupture
180dB — Tissue important to hearing starts to die
194dB — The loudest sound possible

Now consider that most rifles, shotguns, and pistols produce between 150 and 160dB when fired — and some can actually hit upwards of 170d!. That is really freaking loud.

This just served to reinforce one of the big features we’ve discussed many times: Noise matters in Class3. Before you pop off a few rounds at a zombie, consider this: if he’s got buddies in the area, they’re going to hear you and come shambling (or running). Likewise, if you’re trying to get away from a horde that’s chasing you, taking as many of them out as you can could save your life.

Lesson #5: Practice. Practice. Practice.

There are a lot of subtleties to good marksmanship. Being too excited — like I was when we first started shooting — can make you pull the trigger instead of squeezing it. Anticipating that big bang and the recoil can make you tense up right after you line up your sights. Both will ruin your accuracy. Having a poor reset — releasing the trigger after you shoot instead of just easing up on it — can shift your hand as well, forcing you to take extra time when you’re trying to re-aim. Every gun has a different weight, sight, and amount of resistance on the trigger. Each one takes an adjustment period to master. (Surprisingly, no one ever warmed up to the gun with the fancy holographic sight. We expected that to make aiming easier, but it was distracting and felt unnatural for most of us.)

By the end of our range visit, we all noticed a noticeable improvement in our shooting skills — we were reloading magazines much faster, were anticipating our shots less, and were hitting our targets much more. After burning over 1000 rounds,  we decided to take out one final zed, then call it a day. Everyone got a single.45 round to fire — with the rest of the team heckling, er, watching and providing moral support. Check out our results!

A bunch of the guys got clean headshots, but in the end Brant still had to show everyone up, going second-to-last and calling his shot, “eye socket on the right.” His hole is the one in the dead center of the eye socket on the right.

All in all, we learned a lot of lessons at the range that can apply to the game. One of these was just how much room there is for characters to get better with guns over time, but we also saw something else: you can make a lot of progress really quickly. We have no intention of making a grindy experience where you perform repetitive actions to slowly earn critical stat increases. After all, that’s not what we saw in our real life bit of firearms training. So if you’re playing a school teacher who’s never fired a gun before, you won’t have all the advantages of a seasoned hunter with a sniper rifle, but just going out and using a rifle will improve your skills in no time.

Have you fired a pistol before? Do you have any lessons of your own that you’d like to share? Post a comment — we’d love to hear your stories!


PS: If you want to see our experience first-hand, head over to our Vimeo page and check out videos from the range. We’ve also got a lot of great photos on our Flickr gallery, so head over and check those out, too!