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!

  1. Researcher: Joe2894
    Date Recorded: July 15, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    There it is :)

    • Researcher: Paul Harmer
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 4:19 am

      I read early on in the blog something like you want to bring abit of humour into the game.. I really hope you don’t and just go for the scariest horror survival MMO you possibly can. Humour in zombie games ruins the entire genre, like Left 4 Dead and Nazi Zombies from the Call of Duty Series.

    • Researcher: Emily
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm

      Well, when you think about it, people do bring basic humor even into grim situations. The human brain can’t really handle that level of stress and trauma without some kind of outlet, so we want to reflect that to some degree — survivors may react to situations in different ways. The humor we want to avoid is the over-the-top slapstick stuff.

    • Researcher: Tanner
      Date Recorded: July 19, 2011 at 1:32 am

      I think a little dark humor in a game doesn’t ruin it. It makes it better in my opinion.

    • Researcher: Keith Tallon
      Date Recorded: July 19, 2011 at 9:10 am

      I think there’s a huge difference between the humor they’re talking about and the goofy, mood-ruining zaniness that permeates many other zombie games.

  2. Researcher: Patrick
    Date Recorded: July 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I’ve been around guns since I was little (Dad hunts) and I’ve learned a lot of all sorts of random things that a lot of people never think about. Probably the top tip comes from trying to be all macho and firing two pistols at once. You don’t hold them straight out; if you don’t stagger them so that the gun in your left hand is in front of the one in your right, the brass that ejects from the left-hand gun has a tenancy to land right in the fleshy bit of your right hand and burn.

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 19, 2011 at 9:27 am

      I was never encouraged to use two handguns at the same time, as it is dangerous enough to use one. John Woo on the other hand, is the master of this area, except you need to drag around a huge cage of doves…

    • Researcher: KimuraFTW
      Date Recorded: July 19, 2011 at 11:51 am

      Using 2 guns at once means hopefully you won’t have to reload lol

  3. Researcher: Awesomedude360
    Date Recorded: July 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    You know your job is amazing when it involves a trip to the gun range. Hope you guys had fun, and i hope you use the knowledge to make really realistic gun physics. Bullet drop, recoil, less accurate while running, i want it all :P

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 9:29 am

      It was important to have some firearm credibility and to realize just how difficult it is to hit a target with a pistol. Guns will be fun in our game.

    • Researcher: Z.E.D(Zombie Euthanization Division)
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      handguns are much much harder to use than a rifle. all you need to do is pace your shots. Recoil can throw your aim off drastically so get to know your weapon down to the last pin and spring.

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 19, 2011 at 9:30 am

      Yeah, I went to the range again a couple days ago and there was a guy who brought a holo-sighted carbine version of an M4, a bit much for the pistol range but it did demonstrate how much more accurate a rifle is.

    • Researcher: Jazzek
      Date Recorded: July 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm

      Don’t forget that you guys had (hopefully!) professional instruction. A schoolteacher going out and shooting for the first time isn’t going to discover proper technique on his/her own, though he/she will definitely gain confidence. I suggest a limit to the proficiency one can reach until trained by an existing expert :P

  4. Researcher: Bongo
    Date Recorded: July 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    No mention of breathing out as you fire? Next to balancing with my non-firing hand instead of my trigger hand, probably the biggest reason for drastic improvement at the range when I first started to shoot.

    It’s all about controlled breathing when hyperventilating over the impending zed overrun!

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 9:33 am

      Of course the instructor talked about breathing along with all the other factors that go into a good stance, grip, sight picture, focus etc. It is easy to get overwhelmed as a beginner with too many factors to remember so we kept is simple on the range. It’s good to start with Stance, Grip and Trigger Squeeze.

  5. Researcher: Zach
    Date Recorded: July 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    The only time i have fired a gun is when my little brother and I went to the firing range with my Dad. I fired a 20.2 which i was fairly good with and a SKS. A semi auto version of a AK-47. That thing is goddamn loud!

    • Researcher: ColSanders37
      Date Recorded: July 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm

      Awesome read! Sounds like everyone had a great time! Really excited to see what you guys do with all of the stuff you learned!

    • Researcher: Z.E.D(Zombie Euthanization Division)
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm

      SKS is a very nice weapon, I would take one if given the chance to. although the name is hard to pronounce. Did anyone order Samozaryadnyj Karabin Sistemy Siminova?

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 19, 2011 at 9:32 am

      SKS is super popular in the States and I hope to get it in the game in some form.

  6. Researcher: Josh_Rhombusbox
    Date Recorded: July 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    was it wrong that I was worried that something might happen to someone on the team, and hence hurt development?

    Considering first that I was worried about the human before the game.

    • Researcher: Budwyzer
      Date Recorded: July 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      Would it really hurt though? A zombie working on a zombie game… something that could really come in useful when approaching the zombie side of the game. Seems like that could only help development. Though of course it would hurt the person, poor person. But if it’s going to make my zombie game experience better, well that a sacrifice i’m willing to let someone make for the sake of CLass3/4.

    • Researcher: KimuraFTW
      Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 1:28 am

      It’s kinda funny you guys just posted this because me and a bunch of friends just went to the range yesterday. I wanted to go zero the BUIS and sight in the red dot on my new M&P15OR and they wanted to try a bunch of different pistols out before we go to the gun show here in MD on Sunday. Anyway, I think it’s great you guys let everyone get the opportunity to get some hands on experience. TV, film, and video games make operating firearms effectively, especially in life or death situations, seem so easy and natural. I hope I’m not in any violation here but I suggest anyone interested to check out this article on the Physiology of close combat. Even people that are proficient with firearms experience a significant reduction in performance when face to face with an enemy where death is a real consequence.


      P.S. You guys are gonna make the greatest game ever!!!

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 9:37 am

      Yep, get that heart rate up and you can kiss fine motor control goodbye.

  7. Researcher: zach
    Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 12:00 am

    if useing an assault rifle at long range from an evelated postion useing your elbow as a stability point can help

    • Researcher: Budwyzer
      Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 9:08 am

      lol what? Use the magazine for stability. Yes it can cause it to jam, but elbows are wobbly. Atleast now the shots you did get off counted.

    • Researcher: Jordan
      Date Recorded: July 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm

      Bare in mind I know nothing about guns but would standing with your back against a wall help stability while firing an assault rifle?
      Just my 2 cents ^^’

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 9:43 am

      You want to rest the weapon on something that gives stability, not a single point pivot like an elbow or even that magazine. There are firing positions that use the ‘elbow-knee’ connection but with an assault rifle you’d be better served using the crook of your arm but sandbags or bags of rice are better, they don’t have a heartbeat.
      @Jordan, not really, a proper firing stance has you slightly bent forward at the waist so your back shouldn’t be touching the wall anyway.

    • Researcher: KimuraFTW
      Date Recorded: July 19, 2011 at 11:54 am

      I fired an AR-15 while posted on my elbow a few times and the recoil conveniently removed all the skin from my elbow for me… =/

  8. Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 12:29 am

    As far as weapons go, I am EXTREMELY excited to see that the lab is willing to get out there and actually put effort into making the game more realistic. All the information gathered from this one outing impresses me, and because of this my faith in Undead Labs abounds!

    On a small side note, there is only one thing I will request, and that is the existence of four guns of which I personally own. The AK-47, Saiga-12, Makarov, and Dragunov. If not these exactly, then I would like to see guns similar to them in the game. PLEASE please put them in! I’m in love with them and I don’t want my heart broken…

    • Researcher: KimuraFTW
      Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 2:57 am

      How do you like the Dragunov?

    • Researcher: Budwyzer
      Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 9:13 am

      I imagine since those weapons are common to Russia that if they are in the game you’re going to have to go hunting for them, since they’re common to Russia but not so much to the states.

    • Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm

      The Dragunov is incredible! Very low kick when compared to other rifles. Even while using the 7.62x54R like the Mosin-Nagant. It isn’t the best looking thing around but it being semi-auto rather than the bolt action is a nice improvement. When using a bolt every time you fire you take your eye off the target, even just a little bit. With the semi-auto I’m fairly accurate while standing but if you use a bipod you can fire fairly quick and still hit your target even at range.

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 9:52 am

      Ok, the Makarov and Dragunov are a tough sell because they are not common firearms in the U.S., partly due to their ammunition being non-NATO based, 9x18mm (Makarov) and 7.62×54mmR (Dragunov) – trivia note, this round is the oldest round still in active service at 120 years!!!
      The Saiga and AK has penetrated the US market enough to make them viable choices to include in our game for sure. This is not to say you won’t find those other guns, but it is very unlikely to walk up to a farm pickup in Eastern Washington State and find a Soviet-designed, rim fired Sniper rifle.

    • Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 6:53 pm

      Fair enough. It makes sense that they would be difficult to find if they’re included at all. I am pleased to hear that they could be! The Saiga-12 is my favorite of the four anyways.

      Now I understand this news update was focused on handguns and how the game will reflect reality in that respect, though I’m curious if Undead Labs will be training with other varieties of weaponry; such as shotguns, assault rifles and sniper rifles.

      I can’t wait to play this game! :D Keep on being awesome guys.

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 19, 2011 at 9:43 am

      I’d love to get the team trained on everything up to .50BMG precision rifles but in reality it will be difficult to advance much past civilian versions of some SMG/PDWs and maybe an AR style 5.56mm. I’d like to get everyone some shotgun experience but that requires a much larger time commitment as we’d have to travel a bit farther. Machineguns in Nevada would be fun though…

    • Researcher: Fundayz
      Date Recorded: July 20, 2011 at 8:51 pm

      I think that weapons such as the Dragunov would make great “rare” or “uncommon” weapons.

      Rare, and even named, items really add to an MMO, adding to the games “popular culture”. For example, everyone knows and loves WoW’s old Arcanite Reaper.

    • Date Recorded: July 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm

      Haven’t you heard? This isn’t going to be an MMO, it’s going to be an OWG. ;)
      I’ve never actually played WoW, though I’ve always been able to appreciate the idea of many of the different game mechanics involved in games such as those.

      But I agree. I would really like to see some rare or named weapons that can be found in the game world. It really makes exploring more rewarding.

    • Researcher: Gameboy39
      Date Recorded: July 31, 2011 at 1:33 pm

      I agree with the ‘unique weapons’ idea, but It makes no sense at all for a player to find a cool gun and magically know its name, as with unique weapons in other games.

      Perhaps letting the player name his/her own guns (Father Grigori/Annabelle style) would be a nice alternative? It adds realism – after all, it happens a lot in survival-media – and it’s a nice little touch that makes the players experience more personal and involving.

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: August 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      I was not talking about named weapons like in Borderlands or “Annabelle”. I don’t yet know the extent that we will be able to allow personalization of weapons but we are looking into it. I was referring to some of the really exotic weapons that players are used to seeing in action games like CoD. They have some really fun, cool guns that are not available for civilian purchase in the US, which is the main pool I’m drawing our firearms from. When I say ‘unique gun’ in reference to Class3-Class4, I mean an exotic import that you wouldn’t find in agricultural America. Sorry for the confusion.

  9. Researcher: Sean
    Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 1:17 am

    It really gets me excited to see exactly how serious you guys are about making this game awesome! I hope you guys took a lot from the shooting range and reflect it in the game. I’m with Awesomedude360 on this one, I want every bit of gun realism you can fit into this game!

    • Researcher: Pieter Kuperus
      Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 5:06 am

      Glad you guys had fun.

      I only shot a BB0gun once in my life, or was it a rifle? I don’t know anymore. :P

  10. Researcher: Janka
    Date Recorded: July 16, 2011 at 3:00 am

    I live in an Country where going to shoot at an firing range is not quite easy. So my only experience is from my service time in the Austrian armed forces and some visits at an local firing range with my father in law.

    The One essential thing I have learned both firing an 5,56mm AUG and an 9mm CZ-75 Compact was that Breathing is the key.

    And also Timing of the Breathing is very important. You can seriously improve your hit count by just squeeze the trigger when you breath out.

    But my biggest problem was to keep track how much bullets are in the mag and or the barrel. Especially on Assault Rifles the one bullet you have in the barrel can be a real life saver.

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 9:57 am

      I agree with you about the magazine and number of rounds left. It is very hard to try to translate that into the minds of gamers who have become used to the “shoot a single round and reload the magazine” mentality that First Person Shooters have reinforced for so long now. We will be making many judgement calls on reality versus fun but our initial inclinations will start on the realistic side and then trend toward unrealistic until we find the fun balance.

    • Researcher: John
      Date Recorded: July 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      Brilliant! Interesting notes about hearing loss and firearms. I’m gobsmacked with the attention to detail UL is bringing to Class3/4.

      Plus, the white lab coats make it all scientific. :)

    • Researcher: Rambo
      Date Recorded: July 20, 2011 at 5:48 pm

      Rambo would like to know if there will be aircraft in the game and if they will be armed? If not can you paracute out?

    • Researcher: Chuckles
      Date Recorded: May 19, 2012 at 12:18 am

      Ever tried one-handing a .45 whilst shooting at a target 40 feet away? It’s bloody hard. I’m glad you guys are doing a realistic approach to shooting; there are too many games out there that turn you into an action hero for no reason. As fun as it is, it has no place in a zombie survival game. Having a realistic shooting mechanic also means that making an impressive shot feels much more rewarding.

      Congrats on the eyeshot, Brant. I wouldn’t mind you having my back when the zeds start pouring out of the woodwork.