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Lead The Target
"I skate to where the puck is going, not to where the puck has been."

Guns are incredibly psychologically powerful as symbols, let alone weapons. Aim, pull, kill. However, The Gunslinger knows that this isn't some holy trinity of death, and is the more lethal because of it. When gunning for a fast-moving or far-away target, he won't aim at the target (often shocking companions) and instead aim where they are going to be. Instead of a Hero Tracking Failure he will get the target cleanly because they almost literally ran into the bullet.

This is called Leading (Or windage), and is a Real Life tactic and training method. It's why you use clay pigeon traps for hunting practice, and is a key element in air-to-air gun combat. Video Games used to avert this trope with Hit Scan weapons, which were an Acceptable Break from Reality because of engine constraints; hitscan weapons didn't so much use "bullets" as simply hurt whatever was under the player's crosshairs at the time, regardless of distance. The alternative was the Painfully Slow Projectile, where the player not only has to lead the target, but actually shoot the bullet past where the enemy is, so the enemy will indeed walk right into it. But today games are much more complex and realistic, and a more moderate form of leading the target has reasserted itself. Slower projectiles obviously need more lead time, and sniping can be a real nightmare. The hitscan model is sometimes retained when energy, laser or other lightspeed weapons are available.

This is also relevant in sea and air combat with broadside weapons: even if the target isn't moving, the shooter usually is. This is the source of the "firing solution" you'll sometimes hear shouted about on the bridge of naval vessels (or, less commonly, by artillery gun crews).

Lasers, due to moving at the speed of light, should not be expected to follow this rule. Regardless, plenty of space combat games ignore this. Perhaps they are taking account of very long ranges - 20,000 miles is a tenth of a light-second - and absurdly high speeds; a ship moving at Earth escape velocity covers a lot of ground in a tenth of a second.

See Hero Tracking Failure for when the villains fail to do this and Wronski Feint for a aviation variant.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Princess Mononoke, Irontown's riflemen consistently do this while fending off San's assault. They only miss because San is more agile than a superball on speed, but every last shot is millimeters off (and the last one successfully blows her off her feet and stuns her).
    • Additionally, Lady Eboshi specifically instructs the riflewomen flanking her to hold their fire while San is on the roof, and aim for her landing spot instead.
  • In early chapters of 666 Satan it is repeatedly made a point that you should not dodge attacks by jumping into the air because then the other guy can just use this method to attack you as you're landing.

Comic Books

Film
  • Shows up in Free Willy 2. "Shoot where he'll be, not where he is". Of course, given the target...
  • Brendan Fraser brings this up in The Mummy Returns just before Rachel Weisz is about to cover him with a rifle.
  • Sukiyaki Western Django has the leader of the Whites not so much lead the target but boomerang his bullets by shooting 20% up and to the side.
  • Similar to Sukiyaki Western Django, Wanted had the assassins curve the bullets mid flight as part of their Gun Kata powers, effectively leading and boomeranging shots.
  • Full Metal Jacket:
    Joker: 'ow can you shoot women and children?
    Gunner: Easy. You just don't lead 'em so much. Ain't war hell?
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Legolas is naturally a master of this skill. One instance: he shoots at a distant Warg-riding orc, the arrow is in flight for about five seconds, and hits dead centre for an instant kill on a target that has covered about a hundred yards in the intervening time.
  • In Goldfinger, part of Oddjob's Improbable Aiming Skills with his lethal hat are because of this trope; he noticeably aims a significant distance in front of his moving target, and hits her cleanly on the neck despite the hat being much more slow moving than a bullet or an arrow.
  • In The Last Starfighter, this is one of the things Grig tells Alex to do when he's getting used to operating the gunner's chair in their Gunstar.

Sports
  • In Real Life throwing a ball is similar, with the ability to lead a teammate being an essential skill for quarterbacks in American Football. The ball has a certain flight time depending on factors like arm strength, throwing style, and how much it spins as it flies, so a QB has to throw to where his receiver is going to be in a second or two.
  • Page quote: Wayne Gretzky was considered too small and too slow to play at the highest levels of hockey, but by anticipating the play ahead of him, he put himself in the position to score. He's now generally considered the greatest professional hockey player in history.

Video Games
  • The best-ever usage of this trope occurs in Operation Flashpoint, in which, true to its realistic nature, you not only have to lead the target, but if you're using a sniper rifle, you even have to take into account elements like elevation and even wind resistance. Needless to say, the game makes Nintendo Hard look like a walk in the park.
  • In Age of Empires II, this is a researchable upgrade called "Ballistics" which improves the accuracy of your ranged attackers by applying this trope. Without it archers and towers shoot at the target's current location, making most moving targets hard to hit.
  • In the Battlefield series, this is the proper way to use the flak cannons. Unfortunately, some players are not aware of it and simply aim directly at the target aircraft.
    • Sniper rifles in the Battlefield series behave fairly realistically. The bullets have travel time meaning that your shots won't instantly hit your opponent, especially at long range. If you place your scope a certain distance ahead of a moving enemy and fire ahead of time then the enemy will run straight into your bullet. At long ranges, bullet drop affects the bullet and makes it go off target so you have to raise your scope high above the enemy so the bullet will drop onto the enemy and hit him. On rare occasions you can even lead the target and have the bullet drop and kill a moving target.
      • It actually is possible to shoot and kill a target who is hiding behind cover and you can't see by using the bullet drop and bullet travel time. Pulling it off, however, is another story.
  • In Halo, this is important if you want to ensure that you hit a moving target, as the bullets have a slight delay before they impact on the foe.
    • Well, for most of the guns. The Halo 2 BR and the Halo: Reach DMR are hitscan. For HR, they've also basically killed the auto aim.
    • A (in)famous attribute of multiplayer in the PC version of Halo: Combat Evolved was that you had to lead your shots when sniping with the pistol or sniper rifle, despite the weapons being supposedly hitscan, due to consistent lag.
  • This is the tactic we should use to play Space Invaders and other games of the like.
  • Most space combat sims (such as the X-Wing and Freespace series) have a target reticule on the HUD showing where an enemy ship will be when it and your lasers converge, assuming it doesn't evade. Obviously, you want to be aiming for this.
    • At least one example of such a feature, in the Wing Commander series, places the reticule based on the average velocity of your weapon projectiles. Given that you have a variety of energy weapons mounted on your ships, with widely varying projectile speeds, and it is possible to bracket the enemy, simultaneously over- and under-shooting your target, depending on your weapons loadout.
    • Similarly, the Ace Combat series and other games about fighters typically have a targeting reticule for the guns that indicate where the bullets will go. Very important when shooting while making tight turns.
    • Starlancer, in addition to featuring the usual lead indicator, has an interesting twist on the mechanic: Several ships are equipped with the "Blind-Fire" abillity, which automatically leads your shots as long as you aim at the general vicinity of the target. However, this is balanced by the fact that only one set of weapon at a time can be used with Blind-Fire.
  • BattleZone has a lead-assist marker for targeted enemies. It also helps a player with a mortar-class weapon, which can use indirect fire, pick the proper elevation angle.
  • In Brütal Legend, Eddie needs to help a neurotic bouncer operating a mortar cannon hit his targets, not only by spotting, but teaching him how to lead moving targets.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl and its sequels have a realistic ballistics model almost similar to Operation Flashpoint and you have to account for gravity and lead your target.
  • Sniper Elite, which puts you in the shoes of a American OSS Agent and sniper in Berlin during World War 2, had simulated gravity, wind, breathing, and bullet travel time. All except the travel time could be turned off.
  • Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 has (fairly) realistic bullet and shell physics, requiring players to learn not only to lead their targets, but also to estimate ranges and compensate for bullet drop. Nailing a moving T-34 with a StuG III is hard.
  • Bullets have a slight delay in Fallout 3, but lasers, correctly, hit instantly. Plasma however tends to toe the line between this and Painfully Slow Projectile.
  • While not the spirit of this trope, it's definitely to the letter to try and play a multiplayer FPS with a particularly high ping. The server won't process your moves until a fraction of a second (or more, if the connection is bad enough) after you do them, so you may have to lead your target (and pray). This has been mostly averted by lag compensation, and is only common in older games like Quake and Doom.
  • The N64 versions of Golden Eye 1997 and Perfect Dark had this inverted; round-firing weapons worked with hitscan, while energy and laser weapons had to lead the target (primarily because the laser beams had to be animated traveling from barrel to target). It's hard to notice this because of both games' default auto-aim setting and slow movement speed, but it's there.
  • Flying Heroes, a flight-based fantasy shooter for the PC, required that you lead your target. However, you could get an "Auto-Aiming" spell that would display a target for its duration to show where you should be aiming to hit.
  • Bungie's Marathon series required you to lead targets with all of your weapons (perhaps except your fists). This is partly due to engine limitations. The engine did not support hitscan weapons so all weapons fired projectiles. Pistol shots in the game move less than 1/5 the speed of real life pistol shots (for the same caliber), and nothing in the game moves faster than pistol shots.
  • League of Legends requires this with every character that has a skill shot ability. Ezreal is a prime example, as all of his abilities are either a skill shot or a targeted blink, giving him a very high difficulty rating.
  • Team Fortress 2: You have to lead with the Soldier's rocket launcher, since the rockets are slow. The same with the Demoman's grenade launchers, the Medic's Syringe Gun and the Sniper's Huntsman.
    • And the Scout's "milk," the Scout's baseballs, the Pyro's flares, and the Sniper's jarate.
  • S4 League: The Railgun sniping weapon is extremely powerful but has a half second delay when shot.
  • Steel Battalion: 2nd-and-3rd-gen VTs have the Forecast Shooting System (FSS), which can be toggled on or off. The game has a built-in aimbot of sorts when locked on to an enemy target that keeps the weapons trained on said target regardless of where the right stick has its reticle, and most of the weapons fire Painfully Slow Projectiles that can easily be dodged with a slidestep, so FSS helps quite a bit, but is not so good as to make it a Game Breaker. Without it, the weapon aiming is not compensated at all, effectively forcing 1st-gen VT pilots to aim manually without lock-on.
  • Silent Scope. Several levels take place on moving vehicles, further emphasizing this trope.
  • One of the stages in Donkey Kong Country 3 has frequent lightning strikes aimed in this way. When you see the lightning flash, slow down or Take Cover!
  • The final boss of Spyro: Year of the Dragon does this fairly well. If you run in a straight line for a while then those fireballs will hit you.
  • Done quite well by the enemy in the 3D tank games Specter and Specter VR.
  • MechWarrior 3 had a rather extreme example in ballistics-only online matches due to the typical Internet connection at the time being dial-up. Every player could adjust to bullet lag fairly easily if you loaded a targeting computer, but to be competitive online, you needed to be able to accurately read how much lag there was and adjusting your lead accordingly.
  • In Banjo-Tooie, Banjo and Kazooie have to fight Klungo multiple times as a boss. The main source of his difficulty increase between the first and last encounters with him is that he'll throw his exploding flasks where Banjo is in the first duel, but he'll try to anticipate where Banjo will be in the last.
  • Vega Strike has wide range of velocities assigned to all bolt and beam weapons. Kinetic weapons mostly fire at several km/s, "Mini Grav-Thumper" bolt flies away at mere 400 m/s. Military radars have a tracking system that shows where to shoot to hit the current target. An expensive per-mount autotracker device also keeps its gun trained at this mark as long as the target is within the tracking cone and you maintain radar lock. Turrets use the same ITTS, so even those without beam weapons aren't here just for flashes. But the tracking is "fair", i.e. true only if the target won't maneuver (good luck with that), so autotracking can—and sometimes needs to—be toggled off.
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there are two weapons that have a significant curve to the projectile path: the crossbow and tranquilizer rifle. There is also an upgrade to help you lead your shots.
  • In World of Tanks, this is a necessary skill for hitting any target moving laterally in relation to you, as the shells take a second to reach their target.
  • In Guns of Icarus, unless you're at point-blank range, this is required if you're using the cannon or super cannon. Cannonballs are powerful, but slow-moving, and it takes some practice to get the aiming right.
  • Tribes is one of the poster children of this trope. Very few weapons are hitscan (laser rifles and the like only), few projectiles are really fast, and most have significant bullet drop over long range. Combine this with the fact that everyone is skiing/flying around at 100+ kph, which of course also affects the trajectory of your shots, and you get more fun than you thought you could possibly have doing split-second vector calculations.
  • In Freelancer, a special targeting reticule pops up when you're aiming at where the target is going to be, so you'd know when to fire.
  • In Kid Icarus: Uprising, Palutena advises you to do this when fighting against the Phoenix.
  • Essential with energy weapons in the X-Universe series, since the shots are anything but Hit Scan. AI ships will do it automatically, as will turrets if the player isn't controlling them directly. For spinal mounts, it helps to install both Fight Command Software packages. Mark 1 adds a cursor to your targeting reticule that marks where the target will be when the shot gets there (assuming it maintains the same heading), and Mark 2 allows you to set the guns to auto-aim for that point.
  • In the Borderlands games, you're usually shooting from close enough range that the bullets fired might as well instantly teleport to their final destination. However, all of the guns in both games are projectile, meaning sniping from any kind of distance requires the ability to shoot where your target is going to be. Lilith, Maya, and Zer0 all have skills that increase bullet velocity to mitigate this, however.
    • There is actually a single weapon in the first game that is hitscan. It is the Eridian Lightning sniper rifle; it hits instantaneously from any range.
    • Torgue weapons in 2 all fire Painfully Slow Projectiles, thus one of the loading screen tips emphasizes the important of leading.
  • Some enemy bombers in Gatling Gears attempt this trope by dropping their bomb prematurely, hoping that you would walk directly into the explosions. Unfortunately for them, they still do this even in the player keeps still.
  • While flying any aircraft in War Thunder, Leading is the only way to hit anything. This is occasionally averted by More Dakka.
  • Most Human weapons in Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds don't do this unless specifically ordered to by the Force Fire function, meaning that Martian units on the move (particularly flying machines) are quite hard to hit. This is balanced by the Martians being generally short ranged and subscribing to Do Not Run with a Gun.
  • In Jedi Starfighter, Saesee Tiin actually explains the principle to you in the tutorials.
  • The Tank in Left 4 Dead will do this against you when throwing concrete blocks.

Western Animation
  • This is how Fry loses the "real life" game of Space Invaders in the Futurama episode "Anthology of Interest II".
    Lrrr: Instead of shooting where I was, you should have shot where I was going to be!!

Real Life
  • This is known as Gun Laying in the armed forces.
    • By the time of the First World War (almost a hundred years ago), capital ships were engaging each other at ranges which their shells would take over a minute to cover. By the middle of World War 2, the British were masters of the art; HMS Warspite opened fire on an Italian battleship at over twenty six thousand yards and hit with a shell from the first salvo.
    • Range (130 km) and flight time (three minutes) of the german Paris Gun meant Paris was effectively a (predictably) moving target due to the earth's rotation.
    • Anti-Aircraft Gun Laying is the most challenging since an airplane is an object that moves in three dimensions instead of two like a ground object. The revolutionary advent of the Proximity Fuse has made this significantly easier.
    • Stadiametric Rangefinding was the most common technique for aiming guns used by the army. This has since been largely superseded by electronic devices such as Laser Rangefinders but not completely replaced due to the threat of electronic countermeasures.
    • During World War II, the US military purchased a large number of hunting shotguns and incorporated skeet shooting into the early stages of aircrew and naval anti-aircraft training...so that gunners would already be used to the idea of leading the target before they moved on to training with machine guns.
    • During the Korean War, one of the advantages held by the F-86 over the MiG-15 was its radar controlled gunsight that automatically calculated lead.

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