Some of us like to spend our time shooting at other people via computer games, some of us like to spend our time shooting at our friends through games of paintball. It’s clear that we’re all equally mad in our own ways, but something that has been underexplored is the overlap between paintball and video games.
Google Trend data shows that searches for paintball have been in decline since 2004. First-person shooters, on the other hand, have been steadily gaining in popularity — with “FPS” overtaking “paintball” as a search term for the first time in 2013. But the two different ways of shooting your friends aren’t competitors, they’re actually natural allies. We can see this from the 5 times that the two game types stole brilliant ideas off each other in the last thirty years.
Capture the flag — a game type where two teams attempt to capture the opposing team’s flag and bring it back to their base — has been a feature of paintball since day one. The very first recorded game of paintball, played in 1982, was a CTF style map where the winner was the first player to collect all 12 flags. Eliminating other players was optional, as proved by Ritchie White who won the game without firing a single shot.
The first CTF video game was released two years later by Atari. But Capture the Flag as the game was inventively called, wasn’t technically a shooter. CTF style games are now a staple of almost every online multiplayer shooter, but the game type wasn’t popularised until it featured in Team Fortress, the revolutionary Quake mod that was released in 1996.
Team Fortress also introduced the idea of class-based gameplay. Rather than equipping every player with the same weapons and abilities, players could choose between different classes who came equipped with different loadouts — you had the Spy, Scout, Soldier, Medic, and Sniper, among others. This idea revolutionized the FPS and has become commonplace today, as we’ve seen in Blizzard’s new class-based FPS Overwatch.
Class-based gameplay has become so popular that it has even entered the world of paintball. In 2011, the London based GO Paintball was the first organization in the UK to offer its players class-based gameplay. Consciously citing Battlefield and Call of Duty as an inspiration, players can choose to upgrade their standard starting paintball gun to an assault rifle, sniper rifle or high-end submachine gun depending on their playstyle. The move proved immensely popular and the site gained rave reviews from its players.
In most games of paintball, it takes just one hit to mark a player out. This is a contrast to most video games where characters can traditionally shake off the first few bullets without so much as a stumble. In Videogames, players also respawn even once their character has been killed. It took several years for video game shooters to adapt to the elimination style gameplay that was prevalent in paintball.
The first video game to demonstrate how tense and powerful an elimination style game could be was Counter-Stike. When a player is eliminated in Counter-Strike they are out until the next round, forced to watch their team go on to defeat or victory from the sidelines (just as in most variations of paintball). Counter-Strike ushered in one of the first mature professional video game scenes in the mid-2000s, more than a decade after the first professional paintball league came to Britain in 1989.
Adjusting to the fast-paced world of the video game, some paintball fields have started running maps with active respawns. This enables players to spend more time in the game and less time standing around.
Perhaps the most famous example of paintball borrowing from video games happened in the US. Shortly after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 became ridiculously popular, an enterprising paintball company in the States actually took the time to build their own real-world replica of Nuketown — a popular COD map. Players can experience the map that they knew from gaming in real life, right down to the location of parked cars, buildings and even spawn locations.
The other COD feature that we couldn’t leave out is its Zombies Mode which first appeared in Call of Duty: World at War in 2008. Zombies, aliens and vampire-style paintball games have existed for decades — Google search data indicates that “Zombie paintball” existed all the way back in 2004 — but zombie paintball really spiked in popularity for the first time for Halloween of 2011, a few years after zombie fever had gripped the nation due to World at War, Left 4 Dead (2008) and The Walking Dead (2010).
Splatoon, released in 2015, was hardly the first paintball video game (anyone else remembers Greg Hasting’s Tournament Paintball from 2004?), but it could easily be considered the best. Scoring 81% approval on Metacritic, the squad-based shooter for the Wii-U was a completely hectic re-imagining of paintball that appealed to both a younger audience and more serious gamers.
In fact, paintball has often been offered as a game mode for shooters on a number of occasions. The legendary Goldeneye 007 (which like Splatoon was also released for a Nintendo console) featured paintball mode as a cheat; that was back in 1997! Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare from 2014 also offered a paintball mode — perhaps as an olive branch to parents concerned about the level of violence in the original version of the game.
Virtual Reality and the Future
2016’s release of the highly anticipated Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Samsung Gear means that virtual reality (VR) gaming is finally here. With VR, players don a headset and transform their living room into outer space, the ocean floor or a battlefield. As of yet, the technology has been limited to the extent that VR shooters are a poor imitation of what you can experience on a paintball field. But this is only the first generation and companies are working on developing immersive shooting experiences that could rival the one offered by a paintball.
On the other hand, it’s equally possible that a generation of VR shooters could encourage a whole new generation of players to try ‘offline’ paintballing too! Whatever happens, it seems certain that when real-world and virtual shooting games borrow from each other the outcome is a positive one.