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Tom's Hardware: I think all gamers remember the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare scene where you're a sniper in the top floor of a building in Chernobyl. As a real U.S. Navy SEAL sniper, how accurate is this experience?
Craig Sawyer: For me, this was a huge leap forward in the realism department. I first saw it in Iraq. I came back into the team room and some of the guys were playing that scene with the sniper shot. I watched them trying to hold the crosshairs into the wind and get the shot to impact where they intended. I was hooked! As a real sniper, you must locate your target, identify it, determine its range, evaluate the atmospheric conditions, ballistic data, and then make adjustments for those variables accordingly to plot a final firing solution.
In a game, forcing you to contend with all of those factors would likely be too arduous. For a training simulator, though, it would be awesome.
Tom’s Hardware: In multi-player games today, there are always a couple of clowns that gamers call "campers," hiding and picking off other players without getting into the fray. It's particularly satisfying to sneak up on a camper and knife them from behind. How do real expert snipers like you deal with counter-sniper operations? How good are enemy snipers? Are they better characterized as shooters who hide?
Craig Sawyer: I've seen a wide range in capability from enemy snipers over the years. Most were probably just regular guys desperately trying to make use of a sniper rifle in a combat situation. Occasionally, though, I've encountered those who were local experts, or professionals brought in from elsewhere to do the job.
The most interesting "Sniper vs. Sniper" campaign I'll speak about involved the Serbian and Muslim snipers in Sarajevo as that conflict cooled. The situation was very unique because they had been contesting the same turf from the same positions for years. I made it a personal project to go through every one of the sniper hides there, both Muslim and Serb, to learn how the game was played. What I learned fascinated me. They obviously figured some things out after engaging the same snipers across areas like Jewish Cemetery for such a prolonged period.
They set up their hides differently than anywhere else I had seen, and I came away with a wealth of information from the study I conducted there. One of the strangest aspects of that conflict was the discovery that some wealthy Europeans were taking short vacations to join in, getting involved as snipers, and then returning to their lives just a few days later.
"Sniper Alley" was a stretch of sidewalk in downtown Sarajevo where even the women who were just shopping couldn't escape incoming sniper fire. It was an ugly campaign. Even young school children are angry over things that happened 400 years ago there. So, with hatred passed down from one generation to the next, the fighting was uniquely savage in several ways. It's not every day you see mass graves and the other dark aspects of war. I thought the film Shot Through the Heart captured the overall feel for the brand of horror that came out during that conflict.