AusGamers GDC 2013 Battlefield 4 Developer Interview with Patrick Bach
: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers. You are here once again with Stephen Farrelly. I’ve got a friend of the site, Mr Patrick Bach, all of the way out here from DICE to talk to us about Battlefield 4 --which was revealed to the world quite recently, and what a way to start; Battlefield 4.
And you have unveiled a new engine, which.. you know, the last game had a ground-breaking engine. So let’s talk about why Battlefield 4 required such an upgrade.
: I think in general, with Frostbite 2, we have a great engine --we could create some pretty decent visuals, and great audio, great animation, etc. What we wanted to do is take a big step forward when it came to the whole game experience. So the Frostbite 3 engine is... of course it has the latest and greatest when it comes to how you create good looking graphics (as you can see in the demo), but it’s also about creating a better toolset for the developers, so we can stop talking about how to build stuff, and focus more on what we want to build.
So it’s a complete mindset change in the whole studio --both from a Frostbite perspective, but also from a Battlefield 4 perspective-- of having a creative focus, rather than a technical focus. So to us, it’s a big change.
Now, obviously the game looks fantastic, but I did want to ask if it was built around bird-rendering
technology? Because there’s so many birds in that demo.
: But moving forward, one thing that you guys mentioned about Frostbite 2 back in the day --at the stage where you hadn’t shown Battlefield 3-- was that it was going to be a DICE-only toolset. But obviously, since then, it’s been used in a number of EA properties, and it seems interesting to me, that that would create an iterative process for Frostbite 2 to expand. Because you’re using so many different studios, with troubleshooting, and workarounds.
Did you guys use any of that information, gathered from the other studios who are working with Frostbite 2, in the process for 3? Or did you just jump straight into 3 yourselves?
: Well we have our own very specific needs to create Battlefield games, in general, so we are always the guinea pig for Frostbite to push the boundaries of what is possible. And like you said, Frostbite 2 got picked up by other studios, because of the versatility you could actually see from Battlefield 3 --that you could potentially build any game, because Battlefield is such a complex game, where you have everything from a first person experience, to vehicles, to big open landscapes, to indoor lightings.
The engine itself is extremely powerful, so it’s just a question of what you use it for. But more importantly, what drives the development of the engine, is that you need a kind of high-end project to work towards to create a game engine. Which is of course very stressful, because you’re building the engine at the same time as you’re building the game.
To me, it’s extremely important to not only have stunning visuals, and great characters, and pretty birds [laughs], but it’s also important to see how the game experience changes when you have a great tool. It’s like if you’re building a house, people are using hammers of course, but it’s the end result that is important --you don’t care about the tools, you just take for granted that you have the best possible toolset around.
To us, that was the core of the discussion with Frostbite: that we need better tools. Not better rendering, or better... because we would get that for free, so-to-speak, because we have a lot of technically-brilliant people at DICE, that will do will do this automatically. But to take a big step forward, we have to rethink the way we build games, and rethink the focus on everything we build.
So aiming for a greater experience, that you can then reverse-engineer into specific technology. Instead of looking at the technology and saying “How can we improve that?”. So it’s about changing the mindset.
: You guys have notoriously been very protective of your technologies, and I’ve actually asked this question once before of you, in regards to mod tools. Now, you’ve jumped to Frostbite 3, and nobody expects you to hand those tools over to anyone straight away, but on the idea that you’ve been sharing the tools for Frostbite 2 with other EA studios, is there a possibility that you could package that up now? And hand that over to your fervent community to actually play around with Frostbite 2, in terms of a mod sense?
Because, philosophically, wherever you’ve come from, there are still some really great games out there that are built from mod games. You’ve got all the great Minecraft stuff, you’ve got Natural Selection 2 [ed: originally a team of modders
], you’ve got a tonne of really great games that have been built around the mod scene. And it seems like: instead of throwing away Frostbite 2 --which is still a fantastic engine-- it would be a really great idea to hand that over.
: Well I wish it was that simple. It’s not just like a single piece of software that you just hand out. There’s a lot of built-in licenses in the software, and it’s also quite a complex setup, when it comes to the database, versus the editor, versus the actual engine.
So just because other people can use the Frostbite engine, doesn’t mean that it’s a neat package that anyone can just download, and start an executable, and then you’re on your way.
It’s... I wish I could explain it in an easy way, but it’s a really complicated setup, and there would be a very limited amount of people that could even do this setup, because it takes a lot of... you need a separate database in the datacentre etc, to do the setup. And then on top of that, all the [third-party middleware] licenses.
So we would have to spend quite a lot of time to strip out all the licenses from the engine, and then what would that leave us with? You wouldn’t have the Frostbite engine anymore, because it would be a very, very, limited toolset --because we are using a lot of licenses.
And on top of that, who would then use this? Because, again, some engines are actually designed so that anyone can use them; this one is not. This is tailored to the experts we have in the studio, and we have hours and hours of education on how to use just one part of the engine, because it’s that complicated.
I’m not saying that people wouldn’t pick that up, but it would be a very limited crowd that would be able to use this. Of course you could spend more time on doing that, instead of building a better game, and to us, that is way more important.
: Ok. Let’s talk about that: building a better game. You guys have mentioned that Battlefield wouldn’t be possible without Frostbite 3, and I guess what I want to know is what you learnt --not necessarily from a technical point of view, but from a gameplay perspective-- moving forward into Battlefield 4, from everything that happened in Battlefield 3.
There was feedback from fans, there’s a lot of feedback from the dedicated community, and the media. What have you guys gone into, philosophically with 4, over 3.
: In general it’s... of course we listen to the community. You can see in the Battlefield Premium campaign that we have been supportive with fixes and changes to the premium campaign --that we have been supportive with fixes and changes to the Battlefield 3 game for a year and a half now. So, it’s not that we don’t care about the community --we do listen, and we do integrate the needs and the urges from the community, but more important, we need to find a vision about the game, so that we can actually surprise the gamers when they get hands-on.
We don’t want people to only get what they think they will get, we want to surprise people. We want to give them more... or different than what they expected. Because otherwise, we think we would probably dilute the franchise if we only iterated on what we have, rather than rethinking what our purpose with Battlefield is --looking further into the future and discussing what we want out this in 5/10 years.
: That’s an interesting point, because the other part of that question, for me, was: there’s a bit of a resonance now in the industry, that maybe the military shooter is now suffering some fatigue --similar to what happened to the World War II franchises. Are you guys going into development with that actually marked on the board? Or are you just kind of hoping that that is not the case, and that you can just drive it forward yourselves?
: We can’t decide on what people will think about our game. We build the game that we want to play, and we build the game that we think is the best possible Battlefield game. We’ve talked... I’ve heard the discussions about fatigue; we haven’t seen any decline, in Battlefield 3 for instance, there hasn’t been any fatigue in that aspect. We have sold quite a few copies, and you could argue that that doesn’t have anything to do with people liking it or not, but still the fact that we can see that people are playing our game online, every day, every week, every month --still, a year and a half after launch-- does not prove the fact that people don’t like a Battlefield 3 game.
You can argue that you can see that other modern military shooters are not doing that well. Well, is that to do with those games? Or is it the actual setting, or is it something else? I think if you make a great game, people will recognise that, and they won’t get hung up on what other games are doing. It’s about creating the best possible Battlefield game.
So to us, the focus is crystal clear: we are building the game that we want to play ourselves, and historically that has been the game that consumers share with us.
: It’s interesting that you guys have begun to lead with a single-player narrative, in terms of your revealing, when obviously, the meat of the game is always multiplayer. It’s the factor that drives sales, it’s the factor that drives people back to it. Is there a reason that you didn’t switch it up, in terms of all the other companies that are down the same path here, and not just come straight out with multiplayer?
: Well there’s several reasons why we reveal with single-player. One is that it’s really hard to showcase multiplayer without giving hands-on, and we don’t feel like we’re ready right now, to give hands-on with the game. It’s also hard to, in seventeen minutes --like we did now, which is quite a lot for a first reveal-- to prove a point with multiplayer. Because like you said, multiplayer you play that for hundreds of hours, and it might not be until after 10 hours, where you actually start to feel like “Ok, now I know what this game is”.
So I think revealing with multiplayer would actually be hard from a presentation standpoint. Then on top of that, I think we are showcasing a lot of new... both features, but also new ways of thinking, by showcasing single-player.
And the third thing that I think is also important, is that we see more issues with our single-player than we have seen with our multiplayer. That doesn’t meant that we’re not innovating, or giving you great surprises with multiplayer, but I think it’s important to understand that our multiplayer has sort of been great, but single-player has only been good. And I think that discrepancy, we need to keep working on.
So we are trying to push our team, and ourselves, to create a better single-player. We want to show the world that we’re doing something about this, and moving the multiplayer heritage into the single-player.
: You talked in the demonstration actually, about the idea that there would be more dynamism in single-player, and more open spaces drawn from the multiplayer experience, and I’ve always been of the mindset that each player that plays a multiplayer game of Battlefield gets an emergent experience that only they can tell. How are you going to translate that sort of dynamism to even a remotely directed story?
Obviously, you’ve got these giant set-pieces and these really cinematic moments, but those aren’t specifically driven by the player’s choices, they’re driven by the player pushing forward. So I’m wondering, in these kind of more open approaches, and the more dynamic approaches, how you’re going to apply that to a player feeling like they’ve actually made that happen.
: I think there’s a mix between a strong narrative --and great drama and great characters-- and dynamic gameplay. Our goal is to mix the two, and not have it being a random single-player/multiplayer game session, where things could potentially happen; it could potentially turn fun. We want single-player to be a directed experience in some parts, but also give you the freedom of choice when it comes to how you solve a battle.
We have the example in the demo with the big open construction site, where you actually have multiple ways of pushing through. The objective is crystal-clear, you know exactly what to do. So we’re giving the player an objective; much like when you’re playing multiplayer, and you get the different achievements by doing certain things, and we’re trying to move that over into single-player as well; where you get a clear objective, but you can accomplish it in different ways.
So when we say freedom, we don’t mean randomness; we don’t mean “Hope you’re having fun”. We want to entertain you in single-player, in the way that everyone that is playing on a server in multiplayer are helping each other to have fun, because there is this competitive dynamism. In single-player, you can’t really have that, but you can do other things to create freedom.
There are elements of the multiplayer that we will bring into the single-player that will give you options, and create dynamism with destruction and vehicles, and different elements of choice. But in general, we don’t want it to feel like multiplayer, because then you should play multiplayer: it’s great; it’s awesome. [laughs]
: And you also mentioned that the multiplayer has always been great, and the single-player has been good. Does that mean that multiplayer is going to be much the same as we’ve come to expect from Battlefield 3, or is there implementations there that you can actually feed me now --that you’re allowed to talk about-- that is actually going to be a tantalising offer for people wanting to jump from one to the other?
: No. [laughs] I can’t tell you anything about multiplayer right now. How should I put it? I think we have a great heritage of creating great multiplayer, and actually evolving multiplayer over time, but still keeping the focus on what the Battlefield multiplayer stands for.
So even if we’re changing things up, and we’re stirring the pot, we’re trying to stay true to what Battlefield is all about. And I think people can trust me when i say that we will surprise you in some cases, but we’ll stay true to the Battlefield heritage.
: I’m just going to wrap up on one final question, and this is more of a personal query. I’m actually pretty excited about the renewed push in the VR direction with stuff like Oculus Rift. Have you guys been toying with running your tools through that at all?
: I can’t go into detail exactly what we’re doing with perception gaming in general, but we are interested in everything that enhances our gameplay, and we’re not at all interested in gimmicks. So we’re trying to look at what enhances the game, and we will definitely support those things.
: Great. That’s really good intent.
Well, thanks very much Patrick. Cheers
: Great. Thank you very much.