In video games, particularly in first-person shooters (FPSs), circlestrafing is the technique of moving around a target in a circle while facing it. Circlestrafing allows a player to fire continuously at an opponent while dodging counterattacks. By rapidly circling the opponent, the player evades the opponent's sights. Circlestrafing is most useful in close-quarters combat, where the apparent motion of the attacking player is the greatest, and thus the chance of disorienting the opponent by making him lose track of the attacker is higher. The effectiveness of the circlestrafing maneuver is mitigated when the opponent's weapon fires projectiles that travel instantaneously, or fires a large number in a machine gun-like fashion.
Manual circlestrafing is achieved by walking sideways while turning smoothly. On PC games such as Quake, the popular control combination of using the mouse to control angle and the keyboard to move the character makes circlestrafing fairly simple to perform, although the inevitable (and often panicked) "pedaling" action of the mouse—raising it at the end of the mousepad and setting it down on the other side—can give the circling avatar a jerky path. Players reduce the need to "pedal" by turning up the in-game mouse sensitivity, but increased sensitivity may compromise their targeting ability. Alternately, they can use trackball pointing devices, and for this reason trackballs are some gamers' preferred pointing devices. Also, using the keyboard to turn can result in smooth circle-strafing, given the right sensitivity.
Some games feature a system to handle the turning automatically, which means that the player only has to move sideways to travel along the perimeter. Some good examples are the "Z-targeting" system of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which locks the character's viewpoint onto an enemy when the Z button is pressed, or the lock-on feature in Metroid Prime. In MechWarrior computer games, circlestrafing (sometimes termed "Circle of Death" in these games) is a frequent technique: 'Mechs can twist the torso toward the center of the circle, meaning the player only needs to pilot the 'mech in a circle while holding the aim relatively still.
Many players of first-person-shooters circlestrafe continually for most close-quarters battles, often combining this with unpredictable changes of direction and transverse dodging. Two skilled players fighting in this manner will frequently attempt to circlestrafe around one another, their movements describing intricate and complex patterns like spirals and figures-of-eight. Circlestrafing is an effective means of lessening the advantage held when one player has a more powerful weapon than the other, and by closing to melee range and circling, an attacker with an otherwise ineffective weapon can defeat an opponent whose powerful explosive weapon (such as a rocket launcher) cannot safely be used at such close quarters.
A large limitation to circlestrafing is that the one utilizing it effectively induces a tunnel vision on the line connecting him and his attacker, limiting his ability to engage in group tactics, noticing other enemies, or utilize indirect attacks.
Some players also combine circlestrafing (and similar rotary dodging motions) with dodge-jumping, in the hope of avoiding splash damage from rockets fired at the ground at their feet, while simultaneously affording them a better (i.e. steeper) angle at which to fire such ground-directed shots of their own (with the rocket being fired at the apex of the jump's trajectory). There is also some additional dodging value due to the jumper's added vertical motion. In older FPS games which allow air control (where the simplistic in-game physics allows a player to change direction mid-flight) this enhances the unpredictability of the player's position. In later FPS games, which largely remove air control, this maneuver is, if not entirely ineffective, at least much less effective, and thus more rarely seen.
The inclusion of jet packs in First Person Shooters like the Tribes series have returned the element of mid-air maneuvering, although in a more limited fashion. It is often a risky tactic, as the maneuvering eats jet fuel that might be better conserved for flying higher, hovering longer, assisting in jumps, or even powering other energy weapons.
Circle strafing takes on a more complicated element when utilized in games like this which contain terrains which are either slanted, hilly, or may even occur underwater, or on areas which are full of holes or thin, which while they are not victim to splash damage, could send the player falling below to a prone position, possibly receiving damage in the process.
In games like GunZ, circlestrafing is a strong survival tactic for people using daggers, which use a single attack no matter how rapidly used, unlike swords, which enter an attack pattern. This is especially prudent as close-range is an asset for melee weapons which have a large radius of attack, in addition to avoiding gunfire. It also allows jumps to be utilized to jump over an enemy character, allowing the enemy's head to be more easily accessed, a 180 shift in direction, as well as interrupting the targeting of the enemy and any other players watching the battle. Shifting back and forth from clockwise to counter-clockwise is also common for engaging in this, and will happen every 180 degrees when someone is pushed against a wall, or every 90 degrees when they are cornered. As this game allows easy escapes through wall-running, with many stairs and a closed area, however, it limits circlestrafing as more of a surprise tactic, eliminated by those experienced in escape, or simply jumping, which greatly limits attacking accuracy.
When the attacked player merely stands still and tries to turn to track his attacker, he will be defeated: the circlestrafer presents a moving target, the victim a static one. In such cases, circlestrafing is a highly effective technique. Countermeasures do, however, exist:
- The defending player himself circlestrafes, generally in the contrary direction to his attacker. Done properly, this ensures the attacker cannot duck "behind" the attacked, and makes the attacked player as difficult to hit as his attacker.
- When combined with a backward motion, the defensive counter-circlestrafe described above results in the two players spiraling apart. This often happens when players have weapons that require them to keep some distance between each other and their respective targets before they can be safely or effectively used.
- In games that permit it, a rocketjump allows one player to leap high above the field of combat, avoiding his circlestrafing nemesis and pelting him with gunfire from above.
- Keeping close to an obstruction, such as a pillar or, ideally, a wall, allows a player to prevent his opponent from flanking him. Mutual-circlestrafe conflicts often end when the action spirals into a confined space such as a corridor or doorway in which the required free movement is blocked.
- A target with an indirect (or area-denial) weapon can use it to confuse his opponent or disturb the delicate pattern of his circlestrafe. Bouncing weapons such as grenades, or delayed-action weapons like time-bombs, can have this effect, allowing the target the opportunity to flee and regroup.
In certain MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft, certain talents and abilities can only be used directly behind the target. Many players employ circle strafing in PVP combat to maximize accessibility of these talents, as well as disorient their opponent. Also, when the target of a spell is behind one, it is not possible to cast it at him, meaning the spellcaster has to stand in front of the target when the spell is being cast.