"We don't want to make any other game than Battlefield. We're not trying to copy anyone else"
26th Jul 2011 | 11:01
In our previous issue of PSM3, we visited Battlefield 3 developer DICE, all the way out in Stockholm.
The result was a 10-page, hands-on verdict of 2011's hottest shooter, but that wasn't all. We also sat down with executive producer Patrick Bach and multiplayer lead designer Lars Gustavsson for an in-depth chat about their plans.
Over these two interviews we discover that Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 'aren't even the same sport', find out why DICE's QA testers are encouraged to fight dirty (read cheat) and discover that we've only seen the tip of the beautiful iceberg that is the Frostbite 2 engine. Here are both interviews, in full, for your reading pleasure...
Interview 1 - Patrick Bach
PSM3: Many see BF Bad Company 2 as the best multi-player on PS3. How far do you go in changing a winning formula?
Patrick Bach: Well, that's the winning question, actually. We are still striving to build a Battlefield game, so we would never do anything to wiggle the levers and change the core experience. I think Bad Company 2 is a great example of us getting more and more right, and it really set us down the path we're on now - we just want to make the best Battlefield experience we can. We have no urge to innovate for the sake of innovation - we just want to move the genre forward by making the core Battlefield gameplay more intense, a more physical experience, where your presence on the battlefield is clearer. We want to explore destruction, we want to explore animation, lighting... to make an even more vivid experience. Then we want to deepen the experience with persistence, unlock trees, ranking up. We basically want to take what we have and make it better.
PSM3: So you're looking to be 'best in genre' rather than reinventing shooters?
PB: Absolutely. We don't want to make any other game than Battlefield. We're not trying to copy anyone else. We have built so many Battlefield games now that we know what it is, we know what it should be. So we're both trying to capture that real Battlefield essence, and widen the appeal at the same time. We want to make it more accessible for new players and deepen the experience for veterans. We have a lot of avid fans who have been playing for hours - we don't want to get rid of them and focus on another group of people - they are still our core audience, and they're the people we want to please first.
PSM3: It must be difficult to keep both sets happy, right?
PB: We initially thought it would be hard, but the more we make, we're finding out that it isn't. The core formula is quite simple - if you want to just pick up a gun, run around and shoot stuff, then you can do that. If you learn to support by spotting and handing out ammo, then you can still get a lot of points from just helping out. There are a lot of people who play online who just aren't that fast, and they don't like the whole twitch-style shooting, but they still have a role on the battlefield because the 'rock-paper-scissors' gameplay we have caters for that. Then there are the vehicles. We have people who only want to play as a tank pilot, or they only want to fly a jet, and they can do that. That's the brilliance of the Battlefield concept, and I think we've definitely caught that with Battlefield 3. We know what makes the game great, and we know what to avoid changing - it's something we've really done well at with our last few games. I'm not worried we're going to lose players with Battlefield 3 - I just see a big opening for more people to come on board and enjoy it.
PSM3: How different with the PS3 version be to the PC stuff we've seen so far?
PB: Of course, there are practical limitations with the console versions with thinks like CPU, resolution, memory, bandwidth - things like that. So there are a few things we need to adapt to in order to create the same experience. I think Bad Company 2 is a great example of a game that feels very similar on PC and console, even thought it plays a little differently. We had a lot more hardcore features on the PC, but when we looked at feedback from console users we found we actually had a really hardcore fan base on PS3 too. So we're trying to explore that more - we want to nurture those hardcore emotions in console players too - even though the experience is slightly different. We have a lot of tricks up our sleeve for doing that. And I'm not worried about the output of PS3 compared to PC - it'll be very similar.
PSM3: As a developer of a very multi-player focused series, what are your thoughts on the recent PSN hack?
PB: I think its good that the problem is getting sorted now so that similar things won't happen again. However, of course, it's hurting us here and now but I think in the long-run it won't matter, and it'll actually create a better online service for PS3 owners. I think it's sad that it happened, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Everyone has to just live with it, I'm glad it has been dealt with, and I not worried about the future.
PSM3: What's your take on the Modern Warfare 3 information leak?
PB: It must be a horrible experience for them. You wouldn't want that to happen to anyone. If you can't control what is leaked, you can't explain any of the information. There must have been some very angry people over at Activision when it happened, and I would be very upset if it happened to us. We feel sympathy for them.
PSM3: Does it annoy you when people compare Battlefield to COD, instead of talking about Battlefield in its own right?
PB: I think its natural that you compare the two. It's an FPS, its modern day, it has guns... comparisons will always happen. We are not building another game, we're trying to build Battlefield. If there are similarities its because we're inspired by the same films, the same books, the same magazines and media - of course there will be cross-overs when it comes to inspiration. Last year there were similarities because there were jungles in both games - it happens.
Everyone wants there to be a fight between us, and I understand that as well, but the problem is that if you say it's a fight you're assuming that you're competing at the same sport. We have so many things in our game that aren't a part of Modern Warfare, so it really comes down to personal preference. You choose based on the depth you want, the maturity level, your own personal taste - it's all about how you get your fix. We are building the game we want to play, and there are a lot of Battlefield fans who agree with us. If you look at longevity - we peak when we launch, then we level out, and we stay at that level for years and that proves we have a lot of fans who like what we do and enjoy playing the game over and over again.
PSM3: Given Battlefield's multi-player heritage, why did you decide to showcase single player before multi-player this time?
PB: The choice was based on the fact that needed to show off the style and tone of the game early on. It's the key to what we're creating. We wanted to show that this isn't a Bad Company game, nor is it like Battlefield 2 - it's something new. With the single player demo you can feel the direction we've taken, you can feel the vibe of the battlefield we're trying to create. That's easier to portray with a shorter, single player level. Our multi-player is something you spend time on because you play it over and over again. It might take you five minutes to get into, it might take two hours...
I also think it was a good showcase of the Frostbite 2 engine, and what it is capable of. And once you've seen that you can get a good idea of how it will work in multi-player, which is something you've seen today. It has the same animation system, the same level of destruction, the same visual fidelity, the audio is great - and it has everything you'd expect from Battlefield gameplay too.
PSM3: Can a modern FPS survive without a both a high-quality story and multi-player?
PB: It's certainly getting harder and harder, because there has been an inflation in what people expect from a game. If you pay £50 for something you demand the full package, because otherwise you can always buy another game that'll give you more hours of entertainment. Plus, you've got two very different types of players - some want to get immersed in the single-player experience, while others want to jump in and spend hundreds of hours in multi-player. Some people who played Bad Company 2 for example, just played the campaign and never started the multi-player. Then there were others who just jumped into the online and never played the story. So, although some will spend their £50 and only play one part of the game, I think you need to have both parts. It's certainly not impossible to survive as a pure multi or single player game now, but it's much, much harder than it was even a couple of years ago.
PSM3: So, you're having a drink with friends. They own a games console, but they only buy FIFA and Call Of Duty every year because their mates tell them to. How do you convince them to buy into Battlefield?
PB: Something we hear a lot from people who haven't actually played Battlefield is that they would like a modern day first-person shooter, with everything you have in other games, but with vehicles and proper destruction. They say "That would be awesome". And I say "Well, you can buy that game today..."
I think it's the fact that people don't know about Battlefield, which is the problem, rather than the quality of the gameplay or the excitement it offers. Awareness is our biggest concern right now, and we've certainly taken great steps towards that with Bad Company 2 and what we've shown of Battlefield 3 so far. This is the game everyone says they want to play, but relatively few have actually played it. So, it makes us sad when we hear that, but we understand that most people just don't hear about games in the same way we do as enthusiasts. They don't read the same magazines, visit the same websites, watch the same TV - and often if it doesn't go beyond games-focused media, you just don't hear about it.
Interview 2 - Lars Gustavsson
PSM3: With such a committed fan base, do you have to look extra hard at every feature you change from both Battlefield 2, and Bad Company 2, going into BF3?
Lars Gustavsson: Definitely. We've made mistakes in our history where we've changed things because we thought it'd make for a better game, but we soon realised that once we'd shipped that game it belongs to the community - so if we hear a unified voice, or hear about a clear imbalance we have to change it. The way people play Battlefield becomes what the game is.
PSM3: One thing that surprised me was that you've blended the Assault and Medic class. Why did you do that?
LG: Our main thinking with the medic class is that we want more people in the game, playing, than sat in the spawn menu. So, the more chances we give team mates to help with things like revives, the better. We constantly evaluate where people are on the battlefield - and as we saw it in Bad Company 2, Medics were rarely equipped to be on the real frontline. It was the Assault class that people took to the front, so it seemed natural to combine the two. Of course we're doing a lot of testing and balancing, because we don't want to create some kind of super-class. But at the end of the day our motto is 'Play your way' - so you can alter your set-up to be more Assault than Medic or vice-versa, by swapping different parts of your kit all the way down to rifle attachments and things like that. Finding your preferred set-up will be a big part of the Battlefield 3 experience.
PSM3: That must be difficult to balance, especially if you want to avoid a super-class.
LG: Well, there are two things that steer us in the right direction. One is experience. We know, based on experience, what has caused problems in the past. The second is telemetry. We constantly look to see if we have combinations of kit, weapons, abilities that give a big advantage. Battlefield is a rock-paper-scissors game - there shouldn't be a silver bullet, a combo that you can always pull out to win. However, we can't sit here and say everything will be perfectly balanced. A game really begins its lifecycle when it comes out - something we learnt from Battlefield 1942. If you look at the Omaha Beach level: that went through so many changes, but in the beginning it was a perfectly well balanced map. People would come up with ways of blocking it, then they'd find ways of unblocking it and counter-attacking, and so on. We need to be aware of the trends, and track the changes that are happening in terms of how people play the map, but at the same time we need to keep our cool and not react until we're sure we need to. And for that we look at a lot of telemetry.
PSM3: Do you think it's impossible to release a perfectly balanced game on Day One?
LG: No, it isn't impossible. However, everything is based on the knowledge you have up to release, and as millions of brains work differently to hundreds, you know someone somewhere will come up with things that you haven't thought of. For example, in Bad Company 2, someone came up with the idea of planting C4 on the UAV. So, it's impossible to foresee everything, and we do encourage our testers to play dirty, to do everything they can to win.
PSM3: Has the increased destruction of Frostbite 2 influenced the way the maps are made?
LG: What we learned through previous games is that, although destruction is wonderful, too much of it - especially in a game mode like Rush - creates a problem. If you're the defenders, for example, you can level the scenery and make it so there's nowhere for attackers to hide. We work with a combination of fully destructable, and fixed objects in each level with the overall aim that - if you were to nuke it - there would still be a well-balanced map left over.
PSM3: You've shown loads of examples of damage in the single player demos, the earthquake being something that was particularly impressive. Will we see massive environmental-damage like that in multi-player maps?
LG: We're still looking into ambient destruction in multi-player; it's still too early to say really. It's technically possible to have earthquakes in multi-player using Frostbite 2. We feel like kids walking into sweet shops with Frostbite - it has so many features we never knew we needed, and we're still figuring out how best to use them. It's just the start for this engine. So far, the only limit to the things we can do with it are our own creative restraints.
Initially, Frostbite was intended to be 'the next step for DICE', but as it has grown we've gained experience using other engines, and that has fed into this. People have only seen the output when they've watched Battlefield 3, but as developers we see enormous potential every day when we sit down to use it. It really optimises work-flow, and it's very easy to use, so we can bring in people who have worked on other games and just let them be creative with Frostbite rather than have them sitting around waiting for loading bars to fill or working out how to use the tools.
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Battlefield 3 - 10-page exclusive feature, as we visit DICE in Sweden to unearth new screens and insight
Portal 2 - Finished it? Find the ten secrets and easter eggs you missed
inFamous 2 - Why Sony's much-improved sequel is still far from superhuman
325 hours of games for £50 - Buy better, longer-lasting games for LESS with our buyer's guide
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