Following their recent appearance at the Historia Ludens conference on ‘History and Gaming’, held at The University of Huddersfield, Royal Armouries curators Jonathan Ferguson and Lisa Traynor reveal their experience of working with the team from video game developers – Rebellion – on the latest edition of their successful Second World War game series, Sniper Elite 4.

Sniper Elite 4 © Rebellion Developments Ltd 2017
Sniper Elite 4 © Rebellion Developments Ltd 2017

Sniper Elite 4 contains a high level of pseudo-realism, featuring period-correct weapons and attempts to display marksmanship principles such as breathing techniques, range estimation, and scouting with binoculars.  All of these features contribute to the verisimilitude of the game, whilst also adding to the game-play, and challenge.

Our role was to advise not only on the use and accuracy of how these weapons were used so the developers could incorporate them wherever possible into the game, but to also provide real life examples of such firearms, for the game’s weapons to look as accurate as possible. For this, we supplied Rebellion with hi-resolution images in order for 3D models to be created for ‘texturing.’

Improving Technical Accuracy

In addition to providing Rebellion with images of our firearms, we also helped to correct minor errors made in the previous games. In all of the previous Sniper Elite games, the sub-machine guns fired from a ‘closed bolt’ like a typical military rifle would.  In reality, these simple automatic weapons fired by releasing a heavy metal bolt with a fixed firing pin from the rear (or ‘open bolt’) position. This slams forward, collecting a cartridge from the magazine, pushing it into the chamber and firing it. This system is now correctly represented, and overall is probably the most accurate impression of sub-machine gun fire in a video game. You can see what we mean in this high-speed camera footage of the earlier Bergmann SMG (the ‘grand-daddy’of all the SMGs represented in the game).

Boot Camp

In addition to studying and handling our firearms collection, we gave the team of designers a live firing session on how our firearms should be operated to add to the game’s realism. One of Rebellion’s primary objectives for the day was to establish the different positions which should be adopted when firing different weapons. They also wanted to know how an experienced person handles a gun, their pose, feet positioning, and stance, as they wanted to make their sniper, feel as realistic as possible. As with anything that involves live firing under the supervision of the Royal Armouries staff, there are rules.

Lisa and Jonathan discuss with the Rebellion team the range rules.

Jonathan supplied copies of archival evidence in order for Rebellion to create a more authentic experience of how soldiers would adopt a pose due to their military training, and our tutorial on sight picture ‘heavily influenced’ Rebellion in their games development.

We also delivered tutorials on correct Second World War breathing techniques. To get the shooter as stable as possible the technique taught was; breathe in to oxygenate the brain and prevent muscle twitching, let out part of it to prevent straining, and then shoot as you briefly hold your breath. This makes shooters more stable preventing wobbles.

Rebellion were also physically put to the test running in Second World War webbing just so they could feel the effects of the weight they would have been carrying and how when running it sometimes got in the way.

Hitting the mark

We may comment on things not being entirely accurate both historically and technically, as this is our craft, but how could they possibly be, as this is a game and we wouldn’t wish it so. If it were truly realistic we doubt that we would want to get home after a day’s work and play a sniper game where we have to lay in position for hours waiting for some action to happen. Great job Rebellion we can’t wait for Sniper Elite 5, how about a female sniper at Stalingrad next time?

You can explore the weaponry featured in Sniper Elite 4 for yourself with our Collections Online service which features the De Lisle Carbine, M1 Garand, and Thompson Submachine Gun, among others.