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Every Bullet is a Tracer

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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 shooters to "track" where their shots go. This effect is really cool in reality, but is only deployed every Nth bulletnote ; in fact, tracer rounds generate extra wear on the barrelnote . They also tend to be somewhat less accurate, especially over long range. In a squad, the squad leader's 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 Slow Laser. Sword Lines is a Sister Trope. Don't confuse with Calvin's imaginary alter ego "Tracer Bullet" in Calvin and Hobbes, though that character is named after this type of ammo.


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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 Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C³. Each team uses a different colored pellet as well, to help differentiate which team is doing the shooting at the time.
  • A variation on this appears as a gameplay mechanic in Sword Art Online's sci-fi shooter-RPG Gun Gale Online. Bullet paths are highlighted before firing, allowing players with fast reflexes to dodge incoming fire (and those armed with photon swords and the skills to wield them to block bullets with the blade).

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Fifth Element: When Zorg demos the ZF-1's "replay button" feature for the Mangalores, 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.
  • Also averted in Saving Private Ryan while loading a machinegun:
    Mellish: One in five a tracer?
    Henderson: Yup, and tracers point both ways.
  • Sucker Punch:
    • When Baby Doll is fighting the minigun-wielding robot in the first action scene in the movie, 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.
  • Eraser has railguns copying the swirly blue effect from the Quake games, making every shot a particularly bright tracer.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (1978) had lasers, but the new one had kinetic kill weapons with red and blue tracers.
  • Justified in Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger; most weapons fire "charged up" bullets that literally glow in Bullet Time, and the one time a recognisable Real Life gun appears, this effect is not used, and its use of "old-fashioned bullets" is specifically mentioned.
  • Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis have the Gauss cannons and Railguns — every shot is a tracer.note  Even in some cases small arms are full-on tracers: a human soldier firing a squad automatic weapon at an enemy fighter for example.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Explicitly averted in BattleTech, where "tracer" ammunition for autocannons is its entire separate (optional) ammo type rather than the assumed default. Using it reduces nighttime penalties to hit, but also docks one point from the damage inflicted — sufficiently large autocannons will barely notice, but for the AC/2 in particular this means cutting its already-unimpressive standard damage clean in half.

    Video Games 


  • In games where the bullets are Hitscan, it's not uncommon to add a dull grey tracer (presumably to represent a smoke trail) 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.

Action Game

  • The movie-based Spider-Man 2 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.
  • Averted in The Matrix: Path of Neo where every bullet is a regular bullet, the only thing close to it is when you're in focus and white streaks show up for everybodies bullets.

First-Person Shooter

  • Quake III: Arena zigzags with this trope. The standard-issue machine gun fires a stream of tracers, but most other slug-throwers don't, including the Scattergun. In fact, the lack of tracers is so prevalent that the game gives you the option of ringing a chime every time one of your shots lands on an opponent, just so you can tell whether you missed.
    • The most notable exception is the Railgun, which paints a distinctive glowing line surrounded by a double-helix smoke trail back to your firing position with every shot. The free browser-based remake, Quake Live, lets you customize the color of your railgun trails, just so everybody knows who fired that last shot. Given that the Railgun is a One-Hit Kill on an unarmored target, though, this may be more of a subtle taunt than a liability.
  • Used deliberately for gameplay balance in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. The two factions have similar classes and weapons, but differ in the exact mechanics and abilities. One of the more noticeable differences is that Strogg weapons all fire orange energy beams, while Human weapons use bullets and are much more difficult to see. This is especially important for snipers; although the human sniper still has a much more visible trace than in reality, it's far more difficult to spot than the poor Strogg sniper linked to his target by a bright orange line that lingers for several seconds.
  • 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 TimeSplitters 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. TimeSplitters 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...
  • GoldenEye (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 spinoffs 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-colored tracers when a gun with the FMJ attachment is fired. Gets a bit funny in Modern Warfare 2 when a character announces he's getting low on rounds because he's firing tracers.
  • Halo is a guilty party too. In Halo: Combat Evolved, the Assault Rifle spits nothing but tracers. You can see every bullet. In fact many weapons in the series follow this trope, some mounted and 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.note  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.
    • 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.
    • Most sniper rifles avert the trope, so you can't tell where an enemy Sniper is until you find them yourself or through the killcam. The Machina sniper rifle, however, enforces this trope as one of its downsides. Its shots leave longer-lasting colored trails, essentially alerting any nearby enemy (especially enemy snipers) to your position.
  • 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.
  • Insurgency has tracers every few rounds on the RPD and M249 machine guns.
  • 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 World War II. They're also Colour-Coded for Your Convenience, explained by the Russians and Germans using different chemicals in the tracer rounds.
  • Averted in the multiplayer of Medal of Honor (2010). 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 chaingun, so you can tell whether the bullets flying around you can hurt you or not. Other ballistic weapons are either Slow Lasers or weaponised Green Rocks, and so are slightly justified.
  • In Project Blackout, tracers can be toggled on and off in the options menu.
  • Enemy projectiles in 8Bit Killer can be easily dodged thanks to appearing as big orbs that flash red and yellow. Inverted with the player's bullets, which take time to hit anything but are completely invisible except for sparks or splattered blood wherever they hit.

Hack and Slash

  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice plays this straight, despite taking place in an era where the most advanced firearms are muskets. Justified due to the fact that it would be asking too much for the player to dodge invisible bullets in a game that's as already Nintendo Hard as it is.


Puzzle Game

  • Return of the Obra Dinn does this in its freeze-frame dioramas to let you identify whose bullet struck a target. But it's not just bullets—every spear and spike is a tracer too, and one scene has a tossed axe leaving an impressive helix-shaped trail as it tumbles through the air.

Real-Time Strategy

  • In Dawn of War, bolters do this. Granted, each "bolt" is actually a tiny RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade).
  • EndWar is very guilty of this. Every unit fires Colour-Coded for Your Convenience tracer rounds, and the brightly coloured designs could easily be mistaken for lasers if it weren't for the background information. Reality Is Unrealistic: In real life, Russian-made tracers are in fact green due to the barium salts used to make them.
  • Elite units in Command & Conquer: Generals fire red-tinged bullets/rockets with every shot.
  • World of Warships is all tracers you can even see friendly torpedoes. This makes it much easier to correct your aim. In real life figuring out which guns caused which splash was really confusing, even if you could see the splashs.

Shoot 'Em Up

  • 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.

Simulation Game

  • 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.
  • Played realistically in War Thunder; on most standard ammunition belts every sixth bullet or so is a tracer, but you can swap it out for a belt of entirely incendiary tracers or for a stealth belt with no tracer rounds at all.
  • 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.

Stealth-Based Game

Third-Person Shooter

  • Absolutely every weapon in Mass Effect.
    • The ammunition 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 it all fits in rather nicely with the the Cel Shading and general comic book style . 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.
  • Downplayed but still played fairly straight in Max Payne. It's not tracer as such, but bullets are coloured white and have their gamma boosted slightly so they're easy to pick out -and dodge- during Bullet Time. It's not really noticeable the rest of the time though.
  • Uncharted enacts this starting with the second game in the series. The actual damage is still calculated using hitscan however; the tracers are for figuring out where enemies are firing from.
  • Averted in Outcast, only one weapon: the USA-SH1, will generate a tracer effect. And that's because all the ammo for that gun specifically, are tracers.
  • MADNESS: Project Nexus 2, much like the Madness Combat series, has white tracers for every gun. Gameplay wise, this makes it easy to identify incoming gunfire.

Turn-Based Tactics

Wide-Open Sandbox

  • Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City do 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. Though in their case they appear as grey smoke lines rather than a typical tracer streak.
  • Every round of ammunition fired in [PROTOTYPE] is visible, and moves about as fast as a paintball. 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.

    Web Animation 
  • A staple of Madness Combat. The one exception to the entire series is the minigun used in MC8. Since there were so many bullets being fired out of the minigun, there was no feasible way for Krinkels to animate it aside from making every 100th bullet a tracer. Swain apparently came up with the idea as explained in this video.

    Web Original 
  • Justified in this story. It features dragons that use a hydrogen-based flight system that seems to be shamelessly ripped off from Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real. The results of them being shot up by machine guns fully loaded with burning phosphor-coated bullets are decidedly not pretty.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
    • In another incident, an army base near the Rhodesian border was being fired on by guerrillas. No-one was alarmed because it was night and the guerillas were using excessive amounts of tracer making it clear that all the shots were going over their heads. Suddenly the soldiers ducked for cover when an invisible burst struck uncomfortably close. They concluded there must be an East German 'adviser' among the rebels, firing ball ammunition.
    • 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, as well as the fact that a minigun firing at full speed makes a massive cone of fire from the barrels due to the amount of shots coming from it. Think about what this would 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.
  • 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 - if one doesn't see the flame, it wasn't a blank.
  • In his memoir about being at the front of the Iraq invasion, Nate Fick wrote about loading his magazines with all tracer rounds so he could mark targets for his platoon.
  • Any Magnetic Weapons probably would appear to be this, as they would be fired at a high enough velocity that plain rounds would be heated significantly more by the compressive heating. Of course these technically wouldn't count as bullets, but close enough.
  • On a non-warfare example, there are nocksnote  for modern arrows with small LED lights inside that function the exact same as tracer rounds for firearms. These serve so you know where your arrow has gone, whether stuck on a game animal or bounced out of sight, in low-light conditions.

Alternative Title(s): Visible Bullets