Why use Observation & Scanning Terrain Techniques?
How many times have you experienced your own "virtual death" when playing BF2 and not ever saw where the fatal enemy fire came from? As in real life, seeing the enemy before he sees you, often makes the critical difference in reaction time as to who fires first and with the most accuracy.
So, are there real world military observation training techniques that a player can also apply to the BF2 military game simulation? Absolutely, although they don't translate 100% to a computer screen and mouse, they can make a subtle difference for those players that have the patience and discipline to practice them. It should be noted that this article is not for the "run and gun" arcade Quake Recon types, charging all over the maps with Threat Indicators ON. Rather, it's been written as a guide for those players that wish to play the game more as a military simulation.
Note: the BF2 game offers a UAV & Radar (Scan) to provide enemy movement / location on your map / mini-map. However, this does not provide them in your direct view and there will most likely be occasions where you do not have the benefit of UAV or Radar.
General Principles for Observation
The general overriding principles of scanning terrain are first, be stationary in the prone position (on your belly) if possible and second, be concealed and occupying the highest ground that permits the greatest viewing distance. Once in position, you do a quick scan forward, taking in your entire viewing angle looking for anything obvious that you should immediately react to. Pay particular attention to and make a mental note of any "dead ground" in front of you. Dead ground are areas where the terrain is depressed (i.e. gulleys, ravines and wide ditches etc), where the enemy may easily conceal himself, or suddenly appear in front of you as they move forward and rise up out of those depressions. If through your "Quick Scan" everything looks quiet and normal, then you mentally divide your forward viewing angle into three distinct areas consisting of foreground, middle distance and horizon. Once that's done, you begin a detailed and very slow scan of the foreground (greatest threat) area, shifting when complete to the middle distance area and finally, moving your scan to the far horizon. Pretend your eyes on your monitor (using your mouse as well) are like a typewriter carriage in motion, except reversed. Always begin your scan from RIGHT TO LEFT, moving across the designated area (foreground, middle distance, horizon), then as you reach the end of each area, do a "carriage return" and shift your eyes back to the right side of the next area, commencing your detailed RIGHT TO LEFT scan all over again.
Why RIGHT TO LEFT? Quite simply, we are conditioned as children and taught to read with a more normal LEFT TO RIGHT eye movement. Our eye motion and associated muscles get very comfortable moving in this direction and it creates very smooth movements through image transitions with few pauses. Unfortunately, this muscle and mind conditioning also creates an environment where it's easy for the eye to be lazy and miss something when scanning in this more learned mode. However, if you scan RIGHT TO LEFT, you'll find it far more awkward for your eye and mind coordination to get lazy, plus there's a tendency for your eyes to stop and pause more often to focus on what you're seeing. The result is that you might identify things that you'd easily miss when scanning in the more natural and conditioned LEFT TO RIGHT mode. Next time you're outside with real life terrain, test out this phenomenon and I think you'll get a clear idea as to how this works. It also works with your eyes on your computer screen and with your mouse movement in a similar, but less pronounced fashion.
Now that you're scanning the terrain from RIGHT TO LEFT, what are you actually looking for? Basically, real world special forces teams are trained in the "4 S's and M" methodology for observation and scanning terrain to their front. The "memory reminder" acronym stands for Shape, Silhouette, Shadow, Surface and Movement.
Let's examine each one and see how you can apply them to BF2 and perhaps gain a slight visual edge by seeing the enemy first.
When scanning the terrain, look for anything that has a shape that isn't natural as compared to its surroundings. Nature doesn’t make trees and bushes appear in an ordered and regular manner. In other words, their shape usually is irregular and their edge patterns are not something that looks symmetrical. If you see through or check out the edges of foliage, any shape that appears very structured (manmade) and symmetrical is most likely a camouflaged vehicle or an enemy infantryman. The same but reverse principle applies in built-up areas when examining the edges of building corners, roof lines, window and door frames, or horizon pavement lines, where one should not see irregular or non manmade edges. If you do, then it's most likely the shape of a camouflaged vehicle or an enemy infantryman causing the break or unevenness in straight lines, which should be showing a more natural symmetry.
When scanning the terrain, look for anything that has a recognizable man or vehicle silhouette displayed against any smooth background, horizon, window and door frames or building edge line, that isn't natural as compared to its surroundings.
When scanning the terrain, look for the casting of any man or vehicle shadows, beside or near trees and bushes or building edge lines.
When scanning the terrain, look for any surface or graphics texture that appears unnatural as compared to its normal graphically rendered surroundings. In real life, this would include the glinting or reflection from the sun off of items such as vehicle windshields, binoculars and any other shiny surfaces that haven't been properly camouflaged or dulled down. In BF2, these type of graphics features aren't rendered or simulated. Therefore, surface in the BF2 context is more about the color and texture you notice when looking through or directly at foliage (day or night vision).
Last but not least, we have the scanning of terrain for movement. This is perhaps the single biggest action that reveals the position of the enemy. In short, unnecessary movement KILLS, so keep this in mind for your own movement actions. It's difficult to spot movement while your eyes (and mouse) are actually moving as well, so develop a good habit of pausing for a minimum of at least three seconds during your RIGHT TO LEFT scanning technique. Simply stare at the center of your viewing point (screen) and take in a mental snapshot of the image, while all of the time sensing for any movement that isn't the result of the natural swaying of trees and bushes. Often, you'll pick up fleeting movement out of the corner of your eye as any enemy in motion appears and disappears into "dead ground" or behind obstacles. You should then ensure you take up a safe fire position with your weapon's reticule tight and focused on the area (wide view) where you sensed the motion. Be patient and wait him out, as often the enemy has simply paused to perform his own scan and once complete, he'll start moving again.