Every Bullet is a Tracer
is the visual effect wherein every bullet fired from a weapon is a visible tracer round.
Real Life tracers
work by leaving a streak of burning chemicals behind the bullet to allow the shooter to "track" where his/her shots go. This effect is really cool
in reality, but is only deployed every nth bullet; in fact, tracer rounds generate extra wear on the barrel. They also tend to be somewhat less accurate, especially over long range. In a squad, one weapon may be loaded with this pattern of tracers to direct fire. Sometimes a couple tracers are added to the end of everyone's magazines to alert them to being almost out.
In some media, however, bullets will display tracer effects on every bullet. This is often due to Rule of Perception
: It allows the audience to see
where everybody's bullets are going, rather than having the alternative where the audience can only tell where the bullets are hitting
, and not the entire path of the projectile.
See also: Rule of Perception
, Bullet Sparks
and Frickin' Laser Beams
. Sword Lines
is a Sister Trope
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Anime and Manga
- The Hellsing OVA (original video animation) has Rip Van Winkle whose bullets are always visible. Then again, they are magic.
- They are also musket balls, which are essentially slow-moving .70-caliber slugs.
- A lot of action anime, particularly from the 90s and before. City Hunter did it constantly; the Gundam franchise, at least Universal Century (UC) and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing took it so far that a casual viewer could think personal Energy Weapons were standard issue. Even stranger, this trope was used almost whenever guns appeared in Rurouni Kenshin, set before tracer rounds were invented.
- Trigun mixed this freely with Bullet Time and relatively realistic depictions, using it as a blatantly non-diegetic effect to clarify possibly confusing scenes or make a hail of fire seem comically excessive.
- Although they're using airsoft guns, this trope is in play during the battles in Tokurei Sochi Dantai Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C 3 Bu. Each team uses a different colored pellet as well, to help differentiate which team is doing the shooting at the time.
- When Zorg demos the ZF-1's "replay button" feature for the Mangalores in The Fifth Element, not only is every bullet a tracer, but they self-guide to the target even when he is pointing completely the other way.
- Used in the Uwe Boll adaptation of Alone in the Dark (2005). In the beginning no bullets are seen, save for a pointless bullet time sequence. But later on everybody gets super bright glowing tracers for every shot, and at the same time can take down enemies that were previously depicted as nearly invincible.
- A particularly egregious scene shows a CG tracer bullet fly CLEARLY over the intended target by a good three feet and the enemy still falls over dead.
- Averted in Superman Returns. During the famous rooftop-gun scene, the dramatic slow-mo correctly shows every fourth bullet with a trace.
- When Baby Doll is fighting the minigun-wielding robot in the first action scene in the movie Sucker Punch, the robot's minigun is seemingly loaded with pure tracers, most likely so the viewer can see what a terrible shot he is throughout the entire scene, as well as how clever Baby Doll is by dodging his shots.
- In the next action scene, every round fired by the giant rabbit exoskeleton thing is a tracer, and so is every round fired by any of the dozen or so biplanes flying around. Also, some German soldiers fire tracers from their handguns at Rocket.
- Truthfully, this movie is chock full of this trope.
- Given the nature of the action sequences they happen in Baby Doll's head as she's getting lobotomized, this is pretty well justified.
- In games where the bullets are Hitscan, it's not uncommon to add a dull grey tracer to each bullet to simply inform the player that the bullets exist. In these cases actual in-universe tracer rounds (if any) will be much brighter and flashier, while stealth weapons will likely lack the dull grey tracers.
- The second movie-based Spider-Man game has this; every bullet is a tracer round, whether fired by a police officer or a thug.
- The bullets in No More Heroes are tracers.
- Almost all weapons in Planetside have tracers colored based on their faction's primary color. Vanu Sovereignty tracers are blue (purple for their lasers), New Conglomerate tracers are yellow, and Terran Republic tracers are red. Some weapons like the anti-tank weaponry just have smoke trails, and the 10mm revolvers have a extremely fast moving bullet, so it's almost impossible to see.
- The TimeSplitters series plays this very straight; it's particularly notable in 2 because there's no variation in the paths of the bullets of most weapons. Empty a clip without moving the crosshair, and every single bullet will hit the same spot, so for a good few seconds you seem to be throwing out a solid tracer line. Future Perfect is much more realistic with regards to accuracy (or lack thereof), but this makes the trope that much more aesthetically satisfying, especially when you're letting loose with the Minigun or Plasma Autorifle. Ironically, it's most impressive to watch when you're the one being shot at...
- Golden Eye 1997 was among the first games to employ this, despite using hitscan weapons.
- GoldenEye Wii continues the tradition, with everything from handguns to fully-automatic weapons firing tracers.
- Global Agenda is often referred to as a "neon light porn show", in no small part due to this trope.
- Call of Duty and its Modern Warfare spinoff are quite guilty of this trope. Not only are there frequent tracers, but some weapons like AA guns are seemingly loaded with nothing but them! Done differently in Modern Warfare 2, where the usual yellow-ish tracers remain, but it also adds more obvious red tracers when a gun with the FMJ attachment is fired.
- Halo is a guilty party too. In Halo 1, the Assault Rifle spits nothing but tracers. You can see every bullet. In fact many weapons in the series follow this trope. Some mounted some not.
- Tracers are near-omnipresent in Team Fortress 2: even shotguns fire tracers! The effect can be spammy, especially when you have a lot of Scouts or Heavies. Even nades and arrows are tracer-nades and tracer-arrows, but that effect is obviously non-diegetic.
- In the case of grenades and arrows, these two weapons can be deadly if you don't see them coming. Basically, it removes the unfairness of a demoman spamming grenades from an unknown location and almost-invisible arrows (they would be without the trail due to their speed). Also, the bullet tracers are a great way to let you know that running in front of an enemy Heavy can be painful.
- It would be easier to list which ranged weapons don't fire tracers, and that would be just the sniper rifle and variants.
- One of the Sniper's new rifles, the Machina, explicitly says in its description that the shots are tracers. As a result, a shot will provide a nice, especially visible team-colored line showing your general location to the enemy.
- Critical shots are even more flagrant tracers, as they glow brightly with the players' team color. Projectile based weapons, such as rockets and grenades, have a glowing sparkle effect to them. And they should be, as a critical anything is usually a One-Hit Kill, or at least seriously painful.
- The Conduit is more realistic: while the alien and ultra-tech weapons are suitably glowy, the A.K.A.-47 firearms avoid the convenience of tracer fire all together.
- Used rather realistically in Battlefield 2. The only small arms that use tracers are light machine guns, and they are only visible on every 3rd shot. Also present on heavy machine guns, miniguns and large caliber autocannons.
- In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., all of the guns fire tracers, even the shotguns.
- Averted in Operation Flashpoint. Only machine guns typically fire tracers, and not every bullet is one. Rifle bullet tracers can be turned on or off in the difficulty options.
- The Source mod Insurgency has tracers every few rounds on the RPD and M249 machine guns.
- The PS1 game Die Hard Trilogy presents a subversion - The second game available is a shoot-'em-up, and the only time the bullets act like tracers is when you collect a "Tracer" power-up.
- Red Orchestra averts this. Only the machine guns use tracers and they fire them only every 3 rounds or so, the same amount as the Germans and Russians used in WW2, though they are Colour-Coded for Your Convenience.
- Explained by the Russians and Germans using different chemicals in the tracer rounds. Sulfur and magnesium if I remember correctly.
- Averted in the multiplayer of the new Medal of Honor game. You pretty much can only tell where a bullet will go when it hits. This makes it fairly hard to pinpoint an enemy sniper, unless you see their muzzle flash.
- Command & Conquer: Renegade has color-coded tracers, for the basic auto rifle and chain gun, so you can tell whether the bullets flying around you can hurt you or not. Other ballistic weapons are either Frickin' Laser Beams or weaponised Green Rocks, and so are slightly justified.
- In Project Blackout, tracers can be toggled on and off in the options menu.
Shoot 'em Up
- In Dawn of War, bolters do this. Granted, each "bolt" is actually a tiny RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade).
- End War is very guilty of this. The brightly colored designs could easily be mistaken for lasers if it weren't for the background information.
- Averted in G-Police: Weapons of Justice. One of the earliest weapons you carry in the Havoc gunship is a machinegun. It fires tracer rounds every 10th round "for visual identification". Jolly good too, since, unlike the laser rounds, you can't actually see the damn bullets. It does however fire fast enough for you to see the tracers consistently.
- Guns of Icarus's gatling guns play it straight. And the cannons and rockets leave trails of smoke behind them, serving a similar purpose.
- Inverted and played straight in Child of Eden. The rapid-fire weapon you use to clear away enemy bullets is called the Tracer, and the enemy bullets often leave trails.
- IL-2 Sturmovik is a combat flight sim that gained critical acclaim for its realistic feel. Tracers are present, but sparse, as they were on WWII aircraft.
- The Naval Ops series uses this, but it's really cool when firing 16-inch guns (and larger) or when your anti-aircraft batteries open up and fill the sky with flak.
- All ballistic weapons in MechWarrior Living Legends fire tracers only. .50 caliber machine guns, high explosive autocannons, and even artillery shells.
- Metal Gear Solid: the last three rounds of the assault rifle's magazine are tracers every time. If you had the Infinite Ammo bandanna, it was sorta fun to slap it on for those three rounds, turning the gun into a frickin' laser.
- Generally averted in the 3rd and 4th games, where only guns with very high ammo capacity (over 50 or so, meaning mostly limited to light machine guns like 4's Mk. 46) fire one tracer every ten rounds.
Wide Open Sandbox
- Absolutely every weapon in Mass Effect. The amunition consists of tiny particles of steel shot with such a high velocity that they turn the air they pass through into glowing plasma, making them look like energy weapons. Yet for the sake of visual effects, they appear to travel at slow enough speed to be clearly visible.
- In Mass Effect 2, instead of vapor trails, you get normal tracers. Not only does it not make sense considering the propulsion method, but the tracers appear to not have have much more velocity than a paintball. The effect is a bit jarring, since the weapons are hitscan. With the sniper rifles, for instance, your target's body can hit the ground before the tracer reaches them.
- Fur Fighters does this but because of the general comic book and cel shaded style it all fits in rather nicely. A lot of fun when the meerkat hit-squad turn up.
- Gears of War, made particularly awesome by the fact of the Gears primary rifle also having a chainsaw on it.
- Monday Night Combat, though it kinda makes sense since the game is a official Blood Sport for large crowds. They would probably like to see bullets rip through the air.
- Red Faction: Guerrilla has a wide variety of tracer effects, and has examples of what to do and what not to do, in terms of gameplay design. The least unobtrusive effects are like a contrail. The effect is subtle enough it might not be apparent a tracer is being used: locating the source of incoming fire is quite intuitive. Fixed machine guns have a mid-level effect: they fire periodic glowing tracers. The Enforcer has a high-level effect; it has over-the-top pyrotechnic tracers. The neon bands of fire it produces usually obscure critical chunks of the screen, reducing the weapons effectiveness and making it hard to see what's happening and where to go.
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City does this with nearly every bullet, be it fired from a shotgun or a gatling gun, to make it easier to tell where your shots are going in spite of the inaccurate aiming system.
- Every round of ammunition fired in Prototype is visible. Even the grenade launcher fires a tracer-looking projectile. Not to mention the flat trajectory...
- Tank shells are visible dumb-fire rockets with little smoke trails.
- In a rare Real Life example, an American soldier was retelling a story of his engagement with the enemy in the Middle East. He was firing from behind cover, and the enemy didn't know where he was at first. Suddenly, he noticed that all their shots were getting too close. Then he found the cause — he accidentally loaded his rifle with a magazine full of tracer rounds instead of regular ammo, so his every shot was basically a big "I'm here!" to the enemy.
- One of Murphy's Laws of Combat is "Tracers work both ways."
- Another Real Life example happened during the Rhodesian Civil War. Commandos were attacking a rebel base, the garrison of which was much larger than the commando team. The commandos loaded every third round with a tracer, instead of the more usual every fifth round. When the commandos attacked, the rebels thought that there were a lot more commandos out there due to the extra tracers and fled.
- The British did this in the Dambuster raid - though the Lancasters were universally armed with .303-calibre machine guns, the rounds selected were particularly bright tracers chosen to give the impression (to German gunners on the ground) that they were cannon shells.
- The Australian SAS used to do this in Vietnam. They often patrolled in groups of four or five and when they encountered the Viet-Cong or NVA they would fire full auto in their direction to fool them into thinking they had encountered a full platoon.
- During the Vietnam War, it wasn't uncommon for US door gunners to run belts of straight tracer rounds to help them walk their fire in flight.
- Tracer rounds follow a different trajectory from normal rounds, due to the aerodynamic effects of the burning material that creates the 'trace.' For automatic weapons this is a problem. Especially at long range, aiming so that the tracer rounds hit generally means that the other rounds won't. Since plain rounds generally make up the majority of the loadout this is quite inefficient. Firing all tracer rounds means every shot fired hits in the same area.
- Not so much of a problem with World War II fighters, especially on the Allied side, which would have varying load-outs - e.g. a Spitfire (eight guns) might have some loaded with all tracer, some explosive, some armour piercing, some standard ball, with the differing ballistics corrected by harmonizing all eight guns separately to converge at the same spot (although this meant effectiveness decreased severely beyond the convergence point). Additionally, the last second or two worth of fire are all tracers in every gun to warn the pilot he's about to run out.
- That last thing also worked both ways. It was eventually abolished, as it basically meant shouting "Hey, I'm almost out of ammo" to every enemy in visual range.
- It was common among experienced pilots in the Second World War to avert this trope entirely, carrying a full load of ball ammunition so that they wouldn't alert their target of their presence until the target was already taking damage
- Also during the Vietnam War, the AC-47 Spooky gunship earned the nickname "Puff the Magic Dragon" after the song by Peter Paul And Mary. This came about partly because a decent percentage of its loaded minigun rounds were tracers. Think about what tracers look like in the dark and you'll understand why it got the name.
- Many gunships and other cannons on close air support use tracers in every fifth or so round. This is to help the gunner figure out where the bullets are actually landing and they're fired from very far away that the tracer won't really work in the other direction.
- The M242 Bushmaster 25mm chaingun. Every round really is a tracer, be it high explosive, sabot, or depleted uranium.
- In the British Army in the 90s (probably before and after, too) - it was common to load up 4B1T (4 bullets, 1 tracer - pronounced four-bit) in personal rifles, and 10B1T in belt-fed machine guns during training. Since the machine guns fire at about 1000 rounds per minute, it would look like a (curved) laser beam during night attacks - very useful for knowing where not to run to.
- The British Army Air Corps also issue carbines to its attack helicopter crews that are loaded with a full magazine of red tracer. If they're forced to crash-land, the tracer rounds are used to mark targets for their wingmates to lay down suppressing fire until the downed crew can be picked up.
- Dim Tracer rounds are a more sneaky variant of tracer rounds. They emit infrared light instead of visual light, thus being invisible to the human eye while still providing tracer effects to the stealthier guys with Night Vision Goggles. If you try to use normal tracer rounds in this situation, not only you blow your position sky high, you'll get, wait, are these normal tracer roun... My eyes, MY EYES!!!
- Funnily inverted when the photo◊ of President Obama shooting a two barrelled shotgun got published, with comments like "fake", "Photoshop", "firing blank". Blank shotgun shells (or ordinary shells from which shot has been removed, but wad left inside) blow a big flame at the muzzle, unlike normal shells - it one doesn't see the flame, it wasn't a blank.