Aim assist as the name suggests is a program that helps in aiming and is used to compensate for lack of precise control when using controllers. For years now aim assist has been fundamental in allowing Console first-person shooters to stand in the big leagues alongside PC titles. Understandably this has sparked a lot of debates over the years regarding the need for this programming in FPS games. From forums to podcasts the discussions have been endless and we’ve still yet to come to a single consensus as a community.

Aim assist fundamentally helps players have a better aim and control their cross-hairĀ  better when playing on controllers which might leave you wanting more precision. That being said every game uses different methodologies when it comes to implementing and using aim assist in the game-play. These techniques range from completely unnoticeable during normal game-play to heavily intrusive even to a lax observer. Moving on, let us discuss the science behind the aim assist.

The Aim

Now, there are a lot of things that have to be kept in mind while developing aim assists for console games because of how they are handled in human hands. A lot of concepts are put to test while aiming and these affect the aim assist in many ways. Some of them are given below

Reaction Speed

The reactions of the human body take a key role in mapping out how any aim assist will behave during game-play and as such it is very important to include it in the parameters governing the aiming system. On average a player might take anywhere between 300ms to 500ms when reacting to something in the game.

 Aim Assist on Consoles
A simple test is used to get response delays in human cognition. A blue screen exists on which a red box appears in intervals. The time between the box appearing and the start of the mouse movement is used to calculate delay.

Keeping this in mind it is crucial to alleviate the speed just enough to allow the player proper response time. Games do this by slowing down the game when a new element enters into the field of vision during movement. The effect is minute and unnoticeable, but to the brain, every millisecond counts.

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory actually redacts from the need of an aim assist and it is thus important to know when the reactions through muscle memory have caught up to the actual game speed. Most games have intelligent algorithms which continuously judge player reaction times and adjust the involvement of aim assist accordingly.

Thumb stick Dead Zones

 Aim Assist on Consoles
The common mechanical setup for thumb sticks consists of two potentiometers with a mechanical zero point or center as shown in the picture

Now, this relies on the mechanical aspect of how thumb sticks actually work. Usually they’re made up of potentiometers in the two axes. The value in each direction varies from -1 to 1. Now, over time and even due to manufacturing, the joysticks can give false values around center zero.

 Aim Assist on Consoles
The dead zones are zones where the input by the stick is mostly ignored. The size of this dead zone may vary from scenario to scenario in a game.

To compensate for this, there exist Thumb stick Dead Zones which plant raw hardware input value near the maxima/minima of the controller input. to put it into simpler terms, to some point near zero (say 0.12), the value input would be 0 and near -1 or 1 (say 0.92 or -0.92), the value would be 1 and -1 respectively.

Muscles in the Thumb

Yes, even something like the tendency of the thumb muscles to provide better and faster movement in one direction as opposed to the other is taken into account while making the aiming mechanism in games. The muscles controlling vertical aiming are weaker than the ones controlling horizontal aiming. Thus vertical aiming will feel more difficult than horizontal aiming and diagonal aiming even more so.

 Aim Assist on Consoles
The vertical and horizontal movement speed are different and keep in mind how easy one movement comes to us over the other when using our thumbs to control the thumb stick

In order to account for this weakness, most systems adopt a mechanism to reduce the speed of vertical and horizontal aiming. There are also algorithms implemented which control movement in all directions using base horizontal and vertical speed by mathematically calculating the required speed for that particular movement.

Turn Speed Acceleration

Consoles are limited in the range of movement they can provided through thumb sticks because unlike mouse pads, there is only so much deflection the thumb stick housing can provide. Too overcome this limitation, the concept of turn speed acceleration is used.

 Aim Assist on Consoles
As you can see, continued movement per frame increases the turn speed over each frame

Basically what the program does is observe the movement per frame and increase it with every frame in case of continued movement. In practice if you move the stick for a short period, the speed will be low and provide precision. But if you move it for longer, the speed will increase and allow you economy of movement and help you turn around in time.

The Assist

Now then, onto how the assist actually interferes with the aiming and helps the player in the middle of game-play. Given below are some of the concepts and tools used by developers when making up the workings of an aim assist.

Prediction

For any intrusive program like the aim assist to work correctly, it first has to correctly predict when the guidance is needed. Otherwise it can jeopardize the whole game-play or lead to an overall frustrating experience. Think of it like this, what could be worse than the aim assist moving or “helping” your aim towards a target that just moved across your screen while you’re snipingĀ  and already have another target in your sights.

The aim assist achieves this predictive intelligence through a number of ways. Most commonly targets have zones around them and the aim assist makes a decision based on a number of factors like how close to the zone you are, how long have you been inside the zone and what speed is the target moving at.

Magnetism

This refers to matching the camera turn speed so that it matches that of the target. This is usually done through closely matching the player input to base the turn speed on. This gives it a much more natural feels than just simply matching the two regardless of input. This is the foremost concept used when developing aim assists.

Centering

This concept modifies the camera turn speed so that you turn towards the center of the target. This factor is usually only applied if the player is already moving perpendicular to the direction they were facing, meaning it usually only applies to make small modification to make player movements easier.

Friction

Friction refers to a reduction in the camera speed once a a player closes in on a target. This is used to make the aim more precise and easier to modify. A downside can be the incapability of catching a moving target due to reduced speed but it can be easily overcome by other odd bits of programming.

Auto hit

This technique, dare i say it, is as close to cheat aiming as it gets but a lot of people would agree sometimes it’s needed, then again a lot would be perfectly willing to take up arms against it.

Auto hit goes over every frame and checks the center axis (aim) to the nearest collision surface (in layman’s terms, something that will react to getting shot at) and if the difference between the two points in under a certain threshold, whenever the player fires, every shot at that target is a guaranteed hit.

It wouldn’t work for long range weapons or slow moving projectiles mostly. The threshold varies depending on the state of the game-play for example it would be minimal while standing, a bit larger while running and even larger when on a moving vehicle like a train or a boat.

The Aim Assist

Now that we’ve discussed both the aim and the assist, we’ll look into when the aim assist looks into kicking in and when it’s needed more. These are the factors that an aim assist looks for and evaluates before making a decision to interfere.

Forgiveness

 Aim Assist on Consoles
The factor works actively to only provide assist when needed.

When the player is actively trying to box in a moving target, the magnetism or friction factor will kick into a higher degree and help assist the player in aiming. In effect it will forgive the difference in input and the needed speed and adjust the aim accordingly

Shooting

Quite obviously an aim assist always works better and more intrusive when a player is actively aiming the weapon. This may be scoping, moving slowly, or even crouching and tracking movement and of course shooting.

Long Range Weapons

When dealing with long range weapons,the aim assist is usually dampened a lot. The reason being that adding aim assist to long range projectiles would make them a very big hack.

Many Targets

In the case of a lot of targets, aim assists seem to only detract from the point as they feel too intrusive and the algorithms governing their behaviour can get overburdened. Therefore it’s always a good idea to turn down the aim assist when there are a lot of targets in the field of vision.

Conclusion: So there you have it folks, a pretty detailed and in depth look into how the aim assist works and how it allows console gaming to stand in the same league as PC gaming. The techniques and tools mentioned vary from game to game and depend on the developer who has the last say. What are your thoughts on the issue ? Do you think aim assist have uplifted consoles or should they never have been invented. Do tel us your thoughts.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. With so many cheaters online. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. A lagswitcher can be bulletproof for a short time. So many hack programs, aimbots…. Online is really a joke, lol.

  2. And thats why mouse and keyboard is the best way to play.
    You need aim assist to even hit anything. As a result, with a controller, all people do is ADS and the game will auto lock on the target and I find that far less satisfying than actually aiming for myself.

    Look for instance at Borderlands 2. You either set the sensitivity low to be able to aim but that means no fast turns or you set it to high and then you lose accuracy. Plus you cannot do extra actions without sacrificing the ability to look around. Your thumb has to leave the analog to jump reload or whatever and in PvP, that can get you killed.

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