Going Ballistic: Arma 3’s Bullet Physics Detailed In Video

What's this called again? A nug?

Videogames are impossibly complex, and it’s a miracle they work at all. Have you ever stopped to think about what a game like tactical shooter Arma 3 is doing, 30 times a second, every second? All those polygons it’s drawing on screen, the bouncing of light off those polygons, the physics of every vehicle, the animation of every character, the artificial brains to bring those characters to life. And, of course, the guns and the bullets they fire, ripping through the world, arcing, losing momentum, draining health.

Arma 3’s ballistics are more impressive than any game in the series, and this video from dslyecxi, leader of the ShackTac troop, shows why.

I was talking to comrade Philippa Warr at the weekend about the need for a games conference to sit between the arty independence of GameCity and Indiecade and the marketing bonanza of E3 and Gamescom. A conference for gamers which celebrates the art of mainstream games. This is the kind of thing I think would be there: games developers talking in nerdy detail about how they made their machinegun the best of all machineguns, or playful public spaces that reveal the unnoticed thought behind Dota 2’s pitch.

Like, for reals. We spend hundreds of hours firing these things. Anything that takes them apart and reveals how they work is a great stepping stone towards understanding why it’s fun. Also, this video might make you better at Arma, so, you know, win-win.

To try this for yourself in-game, download the script used.

Thanks, PCGamesN.


  1. Thunder says:

    ARMA 3 may be a bit more streamlined than the previous titles but new details like this increase the nerdness factor nevertheless!

  2. Iron Ladyboy says:

    Shooting plywood is the next generation of punching trees.

  3. UmmonTL says:

    Watching the video I have two guesses about the bullet physics in this game:
    1. The bullets are indestructible.
    The only reason a bullet disappears is if it has no more energy left. This is evident because all bullets either penetrate or ricochet if they have high energy. In the multiple-wall penetration test bullets from the same gun penetrate the same amount of walls every time.

    2. All materials are treated as a solid block with no flaws or variations in density.
    This is why sandbags are so easily penetrated. It could be made visible if the target of the penetration test was transparent. A real sandbag stops pretty much all bullets because the more energy you use to penetrate the more resistance it offers, same as water. Most bullets would just disintegrate inside the bag. Brick walls should also have much less ricochets because the bullets would likely get stuck in the wall. I would like to see a similar ballistic test for firing into the water.

    Finally I don’t think the bullets would skip that often on normal ground.

    • Iron Ladyboy says:

      Some interesting thoughts there. Even if they could push the simulation further I wonder how much the reality of netcoding is holding them back.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I would not expect netcode to be the limiting factor here, except possibly for purposes of fragmentation causing more entities needing to be tracked?

        (Does it actually net-replicate bullets, though, or does it just simulate them server-side, then tell clients “you got shot, aren’t you lucky”? We’re talking entities whose lifespan is probably shorter than the connection latency.)

        • UmmonTL says:

          I would not track fragmented bullets or if you really want to you could make it a small cone shaped area attack simulating the fragments. What they should do is reevaluate how easy some things like sandbags are penetrated. Finally they can either add a bit more randomness to the bullet physics (maybe depending on the material) and/or give the material a certain chance to stop a bullet regardless of absorbed energy. The latter might even reduce the amount of calculations that need to be done.

    • hymnharmonia says:


    • Thunder says:

      Yes, there is much room for improvement. What you mean I think is bullet fragmentation. Also, when a bullet is penetrating a material, it should blow off some of the material, causing fragmentation. Would have a few interesting applications in forests. I think in reality, tank crews are trained to shoot at trees because it causes so much fragmentation and destroys the cover.

    • Disillusion3D says:

      You are pretty much spot on on all three points.
      Apart from sandbags (and probably water) the game also seems to hugely under-represent the stopping power of stone and brick type of material. It’s all probably due to the indestructible bullet design they have chosen.

      Other than that the ballistic model is quite impressive.

    • P.Funk says:

      I don’t see why you would think that a hard baked surface like a brick would absorb a bullet, especially when its being struck at an angle. That sort of surface if anything ought to encourage more ricochets not fewer.

    • remon says:

      There are some bullets that penetrate more walls than the others from the same weapon, they are very rare though. Go to 04:21 in the video.

      As for the bullets skipping, watch this link to youtube.com

      • UmmonTL says:

        I’ve got no problem with a bullet skipping when it first hits the ground at a low angle but a bullet skipping five times or more just feels wrong. But I have no actual knowledge on how likely it is.
        In the video you linked you also see the ricochets go all over the place even though they are all shot in one direction.

        • airmikee99 says:

          Ricochets are quite common, the internet is loaded with stories of people being hit by ricochets, sometimes even a bullet they fired coming right back at them. I can’t find anything relating to a bullet skipping 4 or 5 times, but if the materials, velocity, and angles are just right, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible.

    • identiti_crisis says:

      I was amazed that each bullet impact has its own sound localisation and (seemingly) instance. I mean, it makes sense, but running at full speed, that’s a lot of events and scheduling of playback etc.

      I expect it gets saturated pretty rapidly, though, and any level of detail considerations would probably turn most of it off in a “real” gunfight. Still, for a lone bullet penetrating several objects and ricochet-ing near you, the depth of the sound it produces must be quite something – terrifying, probably.

  4. FurryLippedSquid says:

    No bee shadows?

    • RedWurm says:

      Go to 10:49 – and turn your resolution up a bit. there is a bee, and a shadow of a bee.

    • Mctittles says:

      I hear about the bee shadows a lot and if it actually ran well with bee shadows it would be impressive. More likely they are just using the same object/draw method as everything else in the game for bees instead of removing stuff like shadows for better performance.

  5. Turin Turambar says:

    In more interesting news, the first campaign will be released in 3 days.

    • truck says:

      I finished the first chunk of campaign today and I have to say I thought it was excellent, definitely a major improvement over arma 2’s campaign.

  6. kitzkar says:

    While I appreciate the attention to realism, I wonder how they’re going to make this not feel unfair for the player. It’s quite frustrating for a player to die while inside a house without knowing what hit her/him. They would have to have very good signs and feedback in order for this to work.

    • P.Funk says:

      No, not really, you just need to realize that this isn’t about a game being balanced for a bunch of cry baby wusses.

      Its funny really, people usually whine that highly realistic games encourage “camping” which is otherwise known as good tactics, then when something like bullet penetrations dulls this omnipotent strategy we get accusations that its unfair because you can’t hide in a dark corner and shoot people in the choke point.

      Guess what, hard cover isn’t perfect now. You also need to use some cunning. ZOMG how will the masses handle the need to use brain power to evaluate their tactical options in a more complex method than just knowing the chock points of a tiny ass map by heart?

      Stealth is a universally useful and essential tool in real life and in this game, now more than ever. Rather than sitting in a known position and being lit up you have to actually use some brainpower to avoid being shot to bits. Cover is still useful, but not as good as being hidden and able to shoot he fucker in the back.

      • kitzkar says:

        I’m not talking about making the game easy for your casual gamer. Even hardcore gamers will feel cheated if they die while being in the middle of a deserted house without knowing what hit them.

        It’s basic feedback and they must be really careful about doing this right.

        • P.Funk says:

          No, a hardcore gamer will accept the fact that he got killed in a house by something he couldn’t see for the same reason he accepts that he got shot in the open by something he couldn’t see, or in the forest by something he couldn’t see, or just about anywhere by something he couldn’t see.

          Its Arma, so the average Arma veteran is used to being shot by stuff he can’t see until he learns to be better and see stuff that can’t see him and become that thing shooting people who don’t know what shot them.

          I might add that getting hit in a building is still extremely unlikely and would require terrible luck or a tremendous degree of carelessness with your positioning, like standing by the same window, shooting from it, then ducking there to receive full return fire from multiple people. If nobodoy can remember watching movies like say L.A. Confidential where in the shootout scene they are constantly going prone to avoid the bullet penetrations or moving around to avoid letting them know exactly where they are from where they shot last I return to my normal reply to this logic which is: your tactics suck.

          The standard methodology for firing from within a building is to fire enough steps back from the window so that your muzzle doesn’t go outside the window and so that only what you can shoot can see you through that window. It also means that its harder for him to extrapolate your exact position because you’re at an internal angle to the window so he can’t just shoot at the base of the window and be sure he hit you.

          Lastly, if you’re exposing yourself via this window either visually (because your tactics suck) or because you betray your position by firing (a necessary choice taken conscious of the consequences to follow) you will draw fire from any competent enemy whom you do not kill or wound. Knowing that you have exposed yourself you must reposition or ensure you maintain a volume of fire sufficient to suppress or kill the target. If this doesn’t work, move and fire from somewhere else.

          If all this is too complicated and requires “feedback” to ensure people don’t pee their pants at being punished for having shit Situation Awareness then I don’t wanna play the new Arma.

          And finally, I don’t see how getting hit by a bullet penetration is any worse than getting hit by a frag grenade thrown by someone you couldn’t see. You’re just being silly.

          • Baines says:

            No, a hardcore gamer will accept the fact that he got killed in a house by something he couldn’t see for the same reason he accepts that he got shot in the open by something he couldn’t see, or in the forest by something he couldn’t see, or just about anywhere by something he couldn’t see.

            Hrm, a lot of FPS gamers do complain when they are shot in the open by something they couldn’t see. Particularly if it is a sniper.

          • P.Funk says:

            If you played a lot of Arma 2 and 1 and OFP then you would have been complaining for the last 10 years basically.

            Whats the point of realistic ballistics and maps that are dozens of square km when people get annoyed by the simple reality of walking into someone else’s ambush?

            Might as well complain that in the next IL-2 game about how you get shot down by enemies who swoop in on you from high in the sun where you can’t see them because most gamers are poor sports about being caught on the wrong end of an Energy fight.

          • SuicideKing says:

            Haha enjoyed reading that. Valid points, all.

    • Thunder says:

      There are a lot of occasions where you do not know why you got shot in ARMA. You may hit a mine without warning, a missile flying 3 kilometres to blow up your tank or a bullet penetrating your cover.

      The first lession in ARMA is situational awareness, which means you know what is going on, where are my enemies, what weapons do they have? That is part of the appeal for this kind of game. People could also just blow away the whole house with a bomb, it depends on the mission you play. Some communities play with rules of engagement that may prohibit blind shooting into houses until they are swiss cheese because there may be civilians inside.

      But all these things can happen without knowing. Its part of the appeal and causes a tension in games I know of no other game.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Isn’t the game-design way to fix that to actually put civilians in the houses and apply appropriate penalties for casualties?

        (I assume ArmA3 is already open to hideous griefing in a million other ways—it doesn’t strike me as a game to eschew friendly fire—so it could even be mission failure.)

        • P.Funk says:

          In most cases Arma multiplayer is played much like any home table top RPG is. Its all verbal agreements and self policing. You acknowledge your screw ups, you call people on their shit, just like when someone says something over the DnD table and you call it.

          Usually there aren’t any “mission failure” things that aren’t about people saying “yea we lost” or “we fragged a civi”. Mostly every human player and every AI entity could be killed and the server would still run the mission unless there was some kill script enabled or an admin decides to endex.

          It truly is a sandbox in that respect, its very player driven, its not very hands off. Thats its strength and thats its weakness. There are of course endless possibilities for scripting something similar to a traditional mainstream FPS server experience, but thats very complicated and hard to fit to all missions and given Arma’s open world nature and its inherent clunkiness its not really suited.

          You can edit difficulty settings, prevent Blu-on-Blu, turn off god’s eye map, turn off the friendlies-hex etc, whatever, but again its mostly player driven, at least in most of the clan scenarios. In fact there are a few mission templates that furnish leaders with Dungeon Master like tools (such as MCC link to forums.bistudio.com) which allow you to drop the monsters in and create missions on the fly.

          Its a very social game, so when you blu on blu someone calls you a prick on the radio and you get red in the face. In my clan’s server we turn off the Kills/Deaths overlay so that you don’t even know if you killed anything for sure til the mission ends.

        • Thunder says:

          Its the base for Counter Insurgency missions, there are plenty of them in Arma 2. Civilians are kind of dumb if not scripted, they stay in their houses or flee at random, or even run into a gunfight; but you can script them. For example, there are whole mods for civilian interactions, to question them, detain them, let them scout for the enemy (british military calls them dicker in Afghanistan), be a suicide bomber, be a triggermen, draw a weapon when nobody is looking at you and shoot players, or simply be the every day guy moving around in town to add immersion.

          It also adds the need of fire discipline, to positively identify the enemy. There are situations where you think it is an enemy but its just a civilian fleeing. Or maybe its an insurgent who threw away his rifle, fleeing.

          If you look at mission from a military perspective, an assault mission will never be quit because of collateral damage. However, it may still be a tactical defeat because you lost hearts and minds for later operations. But its not a defeat in a military sense if you know what I mean. If you play realistic scenarios, you need to think a bit different to common game logic, where friendly fire or civilian casaulties are mission failure. They can happen and you have to adapt to do better. But that is only how I employ civilians, its how people like to play.

  7. Crows says:

    As i posted on his youtube account i just went and bought the game :)

  8. Geen says:

    With the SMG bouncing off wood like it does, with a pistol I can finally live my dream of becoming Revolver Ocelot and doing crazy ricochet headshots!

  9. Gap Gen says:

    Modern computers can simulate and render entire worlds, and yet the time taken to boot up Windows is still measured in minutes.

    • airmikee99 says:


      Time to upgrade to a modern computer. My computer takes less than 20 seconds from powering it on to letting me press the Start button.

      • Baines says:

        To be fair, Windows 8 cheats with its non-complete shutdown shutdown. And SSD drives have boosted boot speeds as well.

        And simply building up software and such will eventually slow your machine anyway. When I had a fresh install of Win 7, my laptop booted extremely fast. Years later, it boots much slower. A fresh re-install would probably restore that speed for a while, but would also be extremely annoying to do, and eventually it would slow down again anyway.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Most of that is I/O-bound and waiting on hardware to initialize. Microsoft have got so touchy about this now that Win8 boxes don’t even guarantee to wait around for a keyboard before the whole F8-safe-mode bit, which is why it has a “reboot into safe mode” option, with some rather obvious caveats on how you actually select that if you need it.

      You do it to yourself, users.

  10. sventoby says:

    How is the campaign shaping up? The last game I played in the series (sorta) was Operation Flashpoint 1.

  11. akbarovich says:

    The campaign is surprisingly good – I’ve played through several of the missions and I’m still interested in continuing on, which is much more than I could ever say about OFP1, or ARMA2.

    I like how in ARMA 3 people don’t have superhuman aim anymore. In the previous games, everybody (including the player) shot with perfect accuracy. One muzzle flash at night time was enough for the AI to zero in on you and take you out with one shot. Now, it’s actually somewhat difficult to hit things.

  12. antinmol628 says:

    my friend makes $83/hour on the laptop. She has been fired for nine months but last month her income was $21331 just working on the laptop for a few hours check it quickly>>>>>> link to goo.gl

  13. Ross Angus says:

    Nice to finally see dslyecxi’s face. He seems to be cosplaying as Preacher from Medal of Honor.

  14. SuicideKing says:

    There’s also a Steam workshop mod/mission that enables this (uses the same script with a weapons and vehicle spawn system).

    But this would be useful, i really want to see what happens when you fire at rocks (some bullets go through).

  15. identiti_crisis says:

    “5.56 doesn’t do much, 6.5 is OK, but 7.62 is where the real penetration happens.”

    It’s always about the bigger guns, isn’t it?