Impressions: Wolfire’s Hyper-Realistic Gun Sim, Receiver

By Nathan Grayson on June 20th, 2012 at 10:00 am.

Ah! I pressed this thing, and then this other thing came out, and it's full of other other things!
I went to a firing range once. Now, don’t get the wrong idea: I had no pretensions of “Oh, I’ve played first-person shooters, so this will be a bullet-casing-encrusted cakewalk.” I was not able to pre-fathom, however, just how truly terrible I’d be. Even the simple act of loading rounds into my borrowed 9mm pistol’s magazine was – at least, at first – an awkward, embarrassing battle of man vs incredibly simple machine. And, of course, I made all the rookie mistakes: I forgot to turn the safety off, my aim kept getting shaken up by recoil that wouldn’t rattle a baby, etc. All the while, I couldn’t help but wonder: “How do people who are actually good at this do it?” This wasn’t helped by the couple standing in the stall next to me, gleefully unloading a gigantic automatic rifle.

Receiver – Wolfire’s every-aspect-of-a-gun simulating entry in the recent 7DFPS challenge – reminded me all-too-painfully of that day. But, you know, in a mostly good way. And with a twist: I had to bring my horrific lack of firearm know-how, abysmal aim, and woefully non-bulletproof body into an environment full of things that definitely knew what they were doing.

First, though, the basics: Receiver was built on three central tenets: “gun handling mechanics, randomized levels, and unordered storytelling.” Interesting and ambitious ideas, yes, but – somewhat unsurprisingly – not the sorts that come together particularly well in only one week. So, as it stands, Receiver’s a neat experiment, but – thanks to aimless level design and some basic gunplay omissions that would’ve evened the playing field in a realistic manner – a deeply flawed, sometimes frustrating game.

That said, the nitty gritty nuts ‘n’ bolts of gun usage are pretty impressive – especially given that this all came together in a week. Before I could even fire my gun, I had to holster it, remove the magazine, slip individual bullets into it, put the magazine back into the gun, turn off the safety, release the slide lock, release the kraken, pull back the hammer, and actually, you know, raise the thing in front of my virtual body. And only one of those items is a dumb joke.

Does it sound complicated? Well, it is, and that’s the point. Fortunately, a toggle-able help system can guide you from point A to point Z Alpha Gamma Egyptian Hieroglyphic Of A Locust, but it still takes quite a bit more time than simply hitting the R key and watching a bald, beefy Ramboman work his firearm-charming magic. There is, however, a wonderful satisfaction in eventually learning how to do everything in seconds without so much as glancing at the guide. No, I still wasn’t up-to-par with the best FPS heroes in the business, but robotically dismantling a hundred men in the blink of an eye is overrated anyway.

Which brings me to my next major point in the “good” column: Receiver didn’t cast me as some nigh-invincible mass of regenerating muscle. The end result, then, was that I felt exactly how I’d expect Real Me would in a combat situation involving live ammo. At one point, for instance, I spotted a floating drone robot making a beeline for the most-electrocutable part of my face, hurriedly fumbled for my gun, and – miracle of all miracles – actually managed to plug a round into it after missing, like, five times in a row. In celebration, I did a little dance – then immediately fell down a nearby flight of stairs and died.

I can also recount countless tales of repeatedly whiffing rooted-to-the-ground gun turrets only a few feet away from me, but the point remains the same: Receiver attempts to recreate the feeling of using and maintaining a real gun, and it succeeds. Well, mostly. For whatever reason, there’s no option to pull the gun a bit closer and really aim down the sights – something that, in my one whole real life experience with this sort of thing, helped me immensely. Also, I couldn’t lean around corners, which meant frequently sticking my neck out way too far and immediately riding the bullet train to permadeath’s door.

Speaking of permadeath, its usage here is certainly interesting on paper, but the execution ends up hurting Receiver more than it helps. See, as soon as I died, I immediately restarted in a random portion of the level with enemy and story-revealing-recording placement completely randomized. On one hand, this meant I never felt like I was doing the same thing over and over – at least, after an hour or so of playing.

But, on the other, it meant that level design had to facilitate such a structure, and – while you could write it off as “realistic” – the dimly lit skyscraper rooftop ended up a mess of staircases and dead ends. Moreover, a mere three enemy types (two of which are floating drones and one of which is rooted to the ground) profoundly limited any opportunities for verticality or crafty positioning. Also, on a couple occasions, I spawned right next to an enemy, leading to unavoidable insta-death.

But – and I can’t stress this enough – Receiver was created in a week. Its focus, meanwhile, lies squarely on simulating most (if not quite all) aspects of actually carrying a firearm, and in that, it’s a pretty excellent, extremely eye-opening experiment. I’m hopeful, then, that Wolfire opts to keep exploring and polishing this idea, because – on the whole – I enjoyed messing around with what it’s put together so far. And, I mean, just imagine this sort of thing with humanoid NPCs or in a multiplayer environment. I don’t know about you, but I’d be quite keen on playing that. Even if post-match stats would probably proclaim that I was most-killed by “the stairs.”

Receiver is available now for $4.99 on Wolfire’s website or for free if you pre-order bunny-based action-adventure Overgrowth.

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58 Comments »

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  1. John Brindle says:

    Aye, this was also my impression – a fantastic core mechanic just waiting for a decent, not-totally-frustrating game to surround it. At times Receiver was so dark that I genuinely walked off cliffs and died without realising it. Ho-hum. Still, I had fun, and fighting human enemies who die messily and bloodily and also fumble with their own guns would gel pretty well with the visceral gun mechanics.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      multiplayer would be some level of madness… two players facing off, each trying to reload their gun so they can actually shoot

  2. augustuskent says:

    Simply put Wolfire have a knack for just creating things that I’m intrigued by and this is no exception

  3. Hoaxfish says:

    I tried to play it, but it does not like my normal machine that much and seems on the point of freezing completely a lot of the time.

    In a weird way, I feel this is a pretty good entry as tech-noir/cyberpunk.

  4. Amun says:

    Them: “Here’s something we whipped up in a week!”
    Me: “Great, I’ll tinker with it for 20 minutes.”
    Them: “Okay, pay us $5!”
    Me: “Nah.”

    Not that I mind paying for things in general, but this has to be a joke or something, right?

    • Merlkir says:

      If you weren’t wrong, you would’ve had preordered Overgrowth already and thus gotten this game for free. But you are wrong.

    • Toberoth says:

      It looks ok for $5 if they keep building on it and adding stuff. But in it’s current state I agree with you–despite the time they put into it, I’m not interested in paying for what’s essentially a tech demo.

    • BigJonno says:

      It’s interesting how we perceive value. $5 for a tech demo sounds kinda pricey, but $5 for a week’s worth of work is redonculously cheap.

      • roryok says:

        You’d pay slightly more than that for a cheese sandwich. I brought lunch with me today, so I’m buying this instead.

        UPDATE: I was considering pre-ordering overgrowth to get this free, but then I saw overgrowth is $29, which I thought was too expensive. So overgrowth is not worth 6 cheese sandwiches to me apparently. I think I broke my metaphor

        • Hulk Handsome says:

          I’d never pay that much for any sandwich! Just like I wouldn’t pay that much for a tech demo. That said, if they developed this into a more fleshed-out product, I’d likely pay more than $5 for it.

          And for those asking why I haven’t pre-ordered Overgrowth, it’s because I thought the original game was terrible.

          • roryok says:

            well, we pay a lot more for food over here. $5 = €3.90 which would actually be pretty good for a sandwich. Most cafes would charge you €4.50 or more. You’d pay less in Tesco but it’d be cold and dry.

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            Lamb Chop says:

            Here in the colonial capital, you can’t realistically get a sandwich for under $7.

        • Cooper says:

          Food & nourishment =!= tech demo

          That being said $5 will get you only a pint and a half of decent ale here, and I’m owed some beers at the pub after work this evening, so may try this out.

          • psyk says:

            Good old “how many pints could that get me” is the best way.

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      wengart says:

      There was a link on RPS a while back of a Unity tech demo of a weapon system like this. You got to shoot a G36 in an almost featureless Unity rendered area. When you reloaded you had to drag the magazine out with the mouse and insert a new magazine in the same way. If there wasn’t a bullet in the chamber you had to pull back the charging lever.

      I thought it was incredibly cool and it seems that Wolfire is taking the next step towards doing something with that idea, and even if it is only a short tech demo of a game I’m fine with buying it because I want to show my support for this idea.

  5. CaspianRoach says:

    I love Wolfire.

  6. aircool says:

    Just imagine the target as the face of someone you don’t like and everything will fall into place.

  7. Creaturemagic says:

    “If you haven’t pre-ordered overgrowth…” at that point I screamed”Why the hell not!” Haha, its still in development but the amount of things and the level of detail the developer includes is just amazing!

  8. roryok says:

    and – miracle of all miracles – actually managed to plug a round into it after missing, like, five times in a row. In celebration, I did a little dance – then immediately fell down a nearby flight of stairs and died.

    I actually Laughed Out Loud when I read this. Hilarious.

  9. Kynrael says:

    Love it !

  10. Apples says:

    “Before I could even fire my gun, I had to holster it” Now, I’ve never fired a gun, but that doesn’t sound like proper procedure!

    Wish it didn’t have the $5 charge; the video’s not very convincing but I’d like to try it out since I think this is probably as close as I’ll ever get to shooting an actual gun (can’t find anywhere to do it in London!)

    • quintesse says:

      Well besides the fact that if you don’t have a US keyboard it’s hell figuring out what key to hit to holster your gun! I haven’t figured it out yet so many times was walking around unarmed although I had bullets they just weren’t in any of my magazines. Grrr

      Anyway, killing the drones is sometimes ridiculously difficult, unloading everything I had (10+) into a tripod from pretty close up and it still kept on working making it impossible for me to escape the corner I had spawned in.

    • EthZee says:

      London, eh? I’ve been looking around but it seems you’re right. You would most likely have to venture out into the countryside (read: rest of the UK) in order to find someplace to shoot.

      There are events and things to introduce people to shooting – the most recent one was National Shooting Week, a load of events around the UK to get people into the sport. Your best bet would be to find a local club and ask about events happening soon (it might be worth visiting Bisley, in Surrey – they’re the largest range in the country and base lots of clubs and things there).

      This game does sound really like the kind of thing I’d be interested in – not just because GUNS but because I like the idea of making small actions involved in gameplay – turning things like reloading and sprinting into complex mechanics.

  11. AshEnke says:

    It’s mostly frustrating, but it can be exhilarating at his best.

    When you navigate in a maze of columns and pillars, carefully oneshotting turrets before entering a room full of flying drones. The feeling you experience when you carefully line up your shots, and retreat while desperately fumbling with your magazine is quite unique.

    I already spent a few hours on it, and they seem to want to update it (they fixed a few bugs and added the possibilty to remove bullets from a magazine). If they’re gonna make a real game out of it I don’t know, but at the very least they’re cleaning it up.

  12. frightlever says:

    Hmm. Is this a console port? Unless you’re casting your own bullets and re-loading casings, you’re not taking it seriously.

  13. roryok says:

    dying to give this a try when I get home. I think there’s not enough expermenting in FPS gameplay. I’d love to see more companies put out tech-demos of experimental stuff like this.

    The last game I played that I thought really expanded on FPS mechanics was actually Mirrors Edge. Sliding to pick up guns was just amazing.

  14. Pyrosity says:

    This looks like a cool demo/idea, but I was really surprised to find out that you have to pay to see any of it. I mean, it’s only been worked on for a week?

    I’m not a cheapskate, but it reminds me of all the other things you can play for free, that are way more polished than this. I’ll be keeping my fiver for other means of entertainment, sorry to say.

  15. Muzman says:

    So it’s kind of first person Fade to Black (in a week). Cool. I hope they do more on it, with more enemies and such.
    And to think I said just the other day no one is trying to do guns in great accurate detail. One lot are I guess.

    (also, I don’t think it’s a good idea to aim a normal pistol from too close to your face. I get the point though. They probably developed it on too big a monitor or something)

  16. Magnusm1 says:

    “Before I could even fire my gun, I had to holster it”
    This is incorrect.

    • roryok says:

      actually yeah that sounds wrong. Unholster surely?

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      Petethegoat says:

      He had to holster it so he could load his magazine with bullets.

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        Petethegoat says:

        ALTHOUGH, he must have removed the magazine before holstering it. So the order is incorrect.

  17. Salt says:

    Reminds me of the original Police Quest. Typing what seemed to my young mind to be dozens of commands to use a gun without shooting my foot off.

  18. wccrawford says:

    This finally convinced me to preorder Overgrowth. I’d been on the fence for a while.

  19. Ghoulie says:

    I like the look of the game, but floating drones don’t make for good enemies.

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      Petethegoat says:

      I disagree. The locational damage on both the drones and the turrets really make them pretty fun to shoot. When you learn which bits to shoot at (one of the tapes tells you about that), it’s a lot easier.

      Also, this is probably the scariest game I’ve played this year.

  20. matthias_zarzecki says:

    So 2 weeks before 7dfps started we all brainstormed interesting FPS-concepts on twitter, and I came up (among others) with this idea.

    #7dfps: Every part of your gun is simulated with its own input-device/button. To shoot you have to load bullets in mag (with motion), etc
    #7dfps: To reload you have to press Release Mag, Pick New Mag, Slide In, Lock Trigger, Remove Safety, Pull Trigger. Guns jams if fail a step

    S of course now I wonder whether they brainstormed it themselves or were inspired by this :P

    -Matthew

  21. Skabooga says:

    I cannot fully express in words how much I enjoyed that “release the kraken” throwaway.

  22. maf54 says:

    I think the reviewer is focusing too much on realism. I don’t think the point of the game is to be realistic in every way. I think it’s more about having individually controlled gun parts and interesting mechanics.

  23. muskieratboi says:

    Before you go off about paying $5 for Receiver, remember that the game IS still being actively developed. Here’s a To-Do list for eventual updates to the game: https://github.com/David20321/7DFPS/blob/master/David-TODO.txt

    • bob. says:

      nice, thanks for the info. this is actually really fun to play so i hope it gets just a little bit more fleshed out.

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    bear912 says:

    I either hope that Receiver gets greatly expanded, or that it gets copied copiously. The idea of micromanaging gun handling is fascinating, and is something I’d love to see adapted in some other games. Seeing it get implemented in a Red Orchestra 2 mod seems natural, as RO2 already has incredible gunplay. As for level randomization, I’d love to see someone make a rogue-like FPS, with randomized encounters, levels, etc. and brutal permadeath.

    • EthZee says:

      I agree completely. In fact, a short while ago I had the idea for a mod for a game like STALKER which added the ability to manually load your magazines in real time, and made ammunition and magazines (empty or full) separate items in their own right.

      • PodX140 says:

        It really should be a common fact that in the event of some apocolyptic event, your ammo will be practically unlimited compared to your magazines. Hell, most firearms owners regularly have over 5000 rounds of ammo sitting in their homes at least, but the real issue is magazines and weight.

        Sure, you have 5000 rounds. But how many can you carry? Maybe 400 if you really need to? And how many magazines do you have? If it’s a pistol, I’m willing to say a maximum of 5? 6? That means that any sustained firefight against a rifle carrying opponent, and you’re dead in the water. His 10 mags of 30 will easily outshoot your 6 of 10. And you aren’t about to reload your magazines in combat, it’s a relatively long and tedious process (For me, loading a single pistol mag takes about 1-2 minutes, and that’s with a speed loader and nobody shooting at me).

        Hell, from a factory most firearms come with 2 magazines, if you’re lucky. Some firearms owners don’t buy more either.

        Let alone if we’re talking about a country where magazine capacities are limited like in mine (damn Canada). 10 round pistol magazines and FIVE round rifle magazines will not get you far.

    • Mattressi says:

      I’d certainly like to see open-world games (Arma, Stalker) differentiating between magazines and bullets (meaning, you need to get both and load the magazines and that magazines can later be topped off – I’m looking at you, Arma), but I don’t understand how the other fiddly mechanics would help improve the game. To me, it seems as tedious and unrealistic as making someone press different buttons to get into a car, get the key out of your pocket, put the key in, put their foot on the clutch and turn it on; or to eat something (like in Day Z), with different buttons to open the can, get out your spoon, collect food with it, put it in your mouth and eat it. It’s something that is complete muscle memory IRL and requires no thinking. Furthermore, it’s intuitive. “Pull back the slide to pull back the slide” is intuitive, while “hold r to pull back the slide” is not. Also, it’s not possible to accidentally walk forwards or open a door instead of pulling back the slide IRL, but it certainly is when you’re juggling keys in a game. I’m all for realism in games, but adding these mechanics would make the game much less realistic. People might fumble a magazine in the heat of battle, but they don’t accidentally unload the bullets from it, then scream “how do I holster my gun!?”. It’s an interesting mechanic in Receiver (I assume, I haven’t played it), but I can’t imagine realism is what they were going for.

      Also, to the guy somewhere above who suggested that the gun should jam if you forget to turn off the safety; that is ridiculous. Unless I’m missing the point and it’s not supposed to be some odd form of “realism”, but simply a quirky mechanic (like walking in Octodad)?

      • PodX140 says:

        Yeah, I think they were just going for ‘This is an actual firearm, no “the computer does all the stuff for you.” Now learn to operate it, so that you may transfer some of this knowledge to real firearms, unlike what other video games are like.’

        So, to me, it’s more of an instructional excercise to teach people that firearms are HARD, but it’s still impossible to convey the largest parts: subconcious twitching while pulling a trigger (anticipating recoil) and actually lining up sights and focusing on front sight posts, leaving the target in the background. Those honestly are the most difficult parts of using firearms, what dishonered shows you is the handling/logistics.

      • Kektain says:

        Some people like battlefield-style airplane mechanics, some people like Falcon 4 or DCS A-10C airplane mechanics. To my knowledge, this is the most detail in the actual operation of any sort of firearm any game has ever given us. That alone makes it pretty fun to play with. I find it gives a certain tactile authenticity that hitting R to reload lacks.

        Anyone else practice fast reload drills?

        • alhazan says:

          @Kektain after a while I noticed that if you (say) have a mag in slot 1, and hit ee11 you’ll unload, drop the mag, and load the mag from slot 1, which I guess is about as fast as you can get it? I don’t think I ever had to reload under pressure though, either a drone would suddenly surprise and kill me, or I’d run into the next room and have time to think.

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        wengart says:

        It would involve a learning curve. Just like any of the more complex flight sims. I play IL-2 and manage not to randomly turn my engine off while trying to keep my plane straight while working with only half of the operable controls, because I was hit by AA fire and am now furiously slamming the g button to manually lower my landing gear. When I first got it I would have let my plane spin into the ground. A new player might accidentally walk or run somewhere, but after a few hours with the game a player should be able to operate their weapon with a fair amount of competency.

        In any case adding in detailed weapon controls would add emotional weight and stress to combat. In other words it would help to accurately simulate the expected emotional response. In a shooter right now if I get surprised by someone, or something, I may quickly spray my magazine at them, and then hit R and wait. The waiting part can be nerve wracking, but it is nerve wracking in a decidedly unvideogame fashion. You have become a passive viewer of an action. You are now watching the dumb character in a horror movie check out that strange sound in the attic. As opposed to being the key player in the action. Where you are removing the magazine and inserting a new one, and because you were running and jumping to avoid death you fumbled with the charging lever and it’s going to take a bit longer for your weapon to be ready to fire.

  25. shizamon says:

    Sweet, if they combine the walking/running movement from QWOP, this is my dream game!

  26. alhazan says:

    Incredible! Totally worth $5. Just imagine the tension if enemies patrolled, or had pathfinding and stayed interested in you for more than five seconds. As it is I still haven’t found more than a handful of tapes before I die, no matter how cautiously I play. Loved the gun mechanics after I got familiar with them. Also noticed how you don’t die for a second or two after getting hit – keep having these moments where I pop around a corner and back, then wonder if I’m still alive – wonder if IRL you might not immediately know you’ve been shot on account of the adrenaline. I hope they do more with it.

  27. BobbleHat says:

    This’d work really well as a mechanic in a survival horror game; playing as a character with no experience of weapons desperately fumbling about to try and kill something. I hope Wolfire work this into an actual game at some point (not until Overgrowth’s done first though!).

  28. ThanksToYou3 says:

    Guys, before you decide to not buy this game because of what shotgun said, you might as well know this. A lot of these issues have been fixed in the last few updates. You don’t spawn next to enemies anymore, and the level layouts aren’t that bad ( I don’t know if that is from an update, but it most likely is). The permadeath is annoying, but it adds to the caution, planning, and strategy that this game is trying to promote, as if you don’t plan, you cant’ rely on a checkpoint, you are just screwed ( although maybe 1 or 2 checkpoints would be good, since dying when you have only 1 tape left to go sucks). Anyway, if you are looking for a strategy, fps, stealth game, then the $5 dollars is way more than worth it, trust me. (Not saying that shotgun was wrong, he was right. Just providing another viewpoint)

  29. blaclika says:

    gleefully unloading a gigantic automatic rifle….YETATATATATATATATATATTATATATATATATATTATATATATATATTATATATATATATATTATATATATTATATATATTATATATATATATATATA. BATTLE MODERN QUARTERS 3 PREMIUM ELITE!