Randomness you can’t see…

It’s been a while since we last talked about randomness. Generally this sort of conversation dives to horrible depths, going over the same arguments over and over again until either one side gives in, it starts getting nasty or the thread goes off topic. Either way, the thread dies a horrible death. It keeps on happening.

What’s interesting though is that the majority of these arguments are about random critical hits. The other random factors, random bullet spread and random damage spread, often lurk in the shadows, untouched. Why?

With random bullet spread, there is rarely an argument for that. Bullet spread is common in many, many games. Counter-Strike makes good use of it, having different accuracies for different weapons. The same can be said with TF2. Why should a shotgun have the same accuracy as a pistol? Or a revolver to a scattergun? Or the SMG to the… you get the point. Bullet spread is a fairly natural part of gaming these days, built into how powerful or precise a weapon is.

But what about random damage spread? Now, if we were talking about other games, where shots in the head always do tons of damage and different body parts can take different amounts of punishment, then some sort of damage spread is to be expected. This isn’t random though, it all depends on the accuracy of the weapon and the person holding it.

In Team Fortress 2, whenever you fire a gun, not one, but two dice are rolled. The first is your bog standard random critical hit chance. The second die is rolled when or if your bullet or rocket or whatever hits. This is random damage spread’s time to shine or piss on your parade. Every single time you damage an enemy, there’s a chance of doing 10% more damage or 10% less damage.

Ten percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but that can be the difference between life and death, especially in close fights. Imagine being a Scout trying to kill a Medic, but your scattergun doesn’t do reliable damage. You’d be annoyed right? But you wouldn’t have a chance to vent since oh well you failed and you died. That Medic got away. The opposite can happen, where an enemy player can whack you twice with his melee but you escape and kill him with a slither of health.

Alright, these examples seem small and rare, but to experienced players, they can be infuriating. A perfectly good plan ruined by luck yet again. So why aren’t people up in arms about this as much as critical hits?

Simple. Damage spread is invisible. To the average player, who doesn’t know exactly how much damage a body shot or a rocket or a sticky trap or a meatshot is supposed to do, they won’t and can’t recognise when they’ve been screwed over by a random number generator. The average player will just put it down to them not being very good or missing their shot or the enemy turning around or whatever. They’ll assume it was bad luck and nothing more. You can’t complain about something if you don’t know it’s there!

Compare random damage spread to random crits. With a random crit, you can see what happened. There’s a big, sparkly object coming towards you in the colours of the enemy team. If you’re lucky or skilled enough, you’ll survive. If not, you’ll die. Either way, most of the time, you know the reason why you were killed and can decide whether that crit was fair or not and whether you should complain about it. People forget about the Kritzkrieg, you know. But with random damage spread, you can’t really complain about it until you reflect on your actions later on. Apart from odd-looking damage numbers, you can’t even SEE damage spread. There’s no indicator that there’s another level of randomness underneath the swathes of randomness already in the game.

Think about it this way: you can see a crocket flying towards you. You can’t see that 175 damage Machina shot.

Which one will kill you first? The Machina or the crocket?

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