Map-wide changes seem to be something a lot of developers want to do these days, but it's been tied to the Battlefield series in some form since Bad Company. With Battlefield 4 the changes are much larger in scale - why did you move in that direction?
I think part of it is feedback from community, in that we can see for every [Battlefield] game that destruction is so precious to people. We've also seen that for Battlefield 4 that amphibious assault is really important -- previously we were extremely proud of battleships and everything in 1942, but many times it was a flat surface. The ship that saw the other one first sort of won the battle, and since then we kind of shied away from them and boats have mainly been used as a form of transportation.
The thinking around the new dynamic battlefield is that we wanted to keep on pushing the boundaries of destruction. The concept is that we take all the learnings that we learned from single-player Battlefield 3 -- the drama, the spectacle -- and we put it in the hands of the player.
The water too, for the first time delivers a networked experience. Whether it's a calm ocean or a storming sea, you'll get it networked for the 64 players, 60 frames per second experience -- for the first time in a first-person shooter. And it basically creates gameplay -- previously it was that people only sat in a boat to go somewhere, but not any more.
Do you ever worry that people won't enjoy the new additions - like Obliteration - and that they'll just stick with modes like Conquest, the bread and butter Battlefield experience?
I'm always worried. Since birth. *laughs* I think it's healthy to be worried, because to not be worried means to take things for granted. And to take your customer for granted is one of the more rude things to do. So, I'm worried, but that's also why we constantly stay on our toes to make sure it's a good experience. Is it accessible? Does it provide something new? We don't want to do these things just to say we've got more modes. If they're not good in prototyping, they don't make it in.
When we play it in, when we have people trying it out, it seems to be sticky. What I personally love a lot is that it's bringing out the fun and laughter out of the perceived 'serious' Battlefield. The crazy things that happen when people do everything they can to deliver the bomb to the base is great - you can hear the laughter and I can feel that we're onto something with it.
How do you balance 'Levolution' in terms of eSports? And will Battlefield 4 be a better eSports experience than BF3?
With Battlefield 4 we're trying to cater to competitive gaming - we showed the new spectator mode, broadcasting for three whole days from E3 -- and we got a huge response from that. We're also adding new modes, where we have Defuse -- a new small, tight game mode focused on five versus five competitive gaming, we also have Domination which we introduced late in the cycle of Battlefield 3 and we've brought it into the main package for BF4.
I think we are doing a lot of things to cater to players who might be afraid of the huge battlefields -- they like the tight infantry combat which many times caters for the competitive gamer. Still, if you want to do competitive games at 64 players plus two commanders on your next-gen console at 60 frames per second, you can.
It's also worth saying that in the smaller modes 'Levolution' doesn't have the same impact. We're trying to ensure that it becomes more focused on the large scale sized games. You'll have all of that in the 64 player Conquest mode. We've been working really hard to ensure that 'levolution' doesn't change the experience too much to the point that it might be perceived as irritating.
Do you feel like you ever need to engineer the game in a way to get players to not do certain things? For example, Metro 24/7 servers, where players exploit the closeness of the map to get a lot of XP quickly?
This is something we've seen, and of course with freedom comes responsibility, and we learned already from Codename Eagle and Battlefield 1942 that we provide the sandbox and players do what they want. Sometimes they do things we didn't plan in a good way -- but sometimes in a bad way. Since nowadays it's all controlled by servers post-launch we constantly monitor it and when it comes to servers, we've noticed that it's really hard -- in Battlefield 3 -- when you join through Quick Match to know what experience you're going to get.
This is something we've taken on and for Battlefield 4 you can set your server preference to official settings and you know you get the guaranteed quality Battlefield experience. Then you can start fiddling with your settings and go down to ranked and it's still ranked progression and everything, but people won't join through Quick Match.
We also looked a lot at how we could ensure that whatever mode or map you play, we could level out the scoring - so you don't just keep playing one specific map to just get a higher scoring ratio. We want players to experience the whole game while still filling their hunger for XP.
One of the things we've noticed at Gamescom is that Ubisoft have their games built on all different engines by their studios, but EA has started to lean heavily on the Frostbite engine. Do you feel that the company leaning on the Frostbite engine puts extra pressure on DICE?
I guess it's lessened pressure in a way -- from my perspective anyway -- because it's a dedicated team, not the Battlefield team. Previously we had to build the engine at the same time as we built the game, and we often ended up -- tech savvy as we are -- in an extreme conflict where we were struggling to build the games while we were also building the engine. Now we have the Frostbite group who provides the engine and it's up to us to make the most out of it. So we can focus on being creative and pushing the boundaries. In the long run for EA it's good, and for me as a creative director it means a more predictable environment.
You guys have got 64 players on the next-gen consoles -- do you see yourselves striving for a higher number for PCs in the coming years?
We often get that question, and I actually still have the design document from 1942 where we first claimed 128 players... I think since then we've worked so much on getting players quicker into the battlefield - through resurrection via defibrillators that can bring back squad mates, and we have mobile spawn points on squad members -- we have a lot of things that put you into the battle much quicker. So it's more like a higher amount of players where you are would maybe not make the game much better. We'd rather, at this point, focus on making that experience more visceral, more dynamic, more explosive -- and that's where I think we are succeeding.
For the future, I've learnt to never say no, so... maybe.
It's interesting that you've decided to remove the Commander from the Battlefield -- is that tied directly to your 'second screen strategy'?
It is part of our second screen strategy, but also what we heard from a big part of the community was that it was a mixed bag between 'I want to do this but I constantly get knifed, not knowing what happened'. So we wanted to separate the experience -- either you commit to being Commander or you're on the battlefield. It was out of interest of making it clear who is the Commander and who is playing.
One of the challenges of Commander mode was that you occasionally had a subpar Commander - can you vote Commanders out?
The mutiny system is there, and it's up to each and every squad to make their voice heard. You can rate the commander's performance, you will be able to see that he's out on thin ice and to correct yourself or you will be kicked.
And does that affect how often they get to be a Commander? BF2 had the ranking system - is there something similar here?
What we've done is we have a gating system in the beginning. We want you to learn the battlefield before you take on the responsibilities of leading a team. And I think that's for your benefit as you know the game and it's also a responsibility to all the players, so they don't have someone telling them what to do who might not know what they're talking about. I think we've found a sweet spot there. Oh, and if you get booted out you won't be able to just reconnect as commander.
I noticed in Domination mode the game tells you when you're the last person alive in your squad. What's that about?
What we have now is we upped the number of players in a squad to 5, and we also introduced a system called Field Upgrades -- basically as a player you get to choose a Field Upgrade Career which consists of four different upgrades. As you start playing as your squad you aggregate a team score -- but if your squad gets wiped, the bar goes down and you lose points. That's why the message is more critical -- so that you don't get bumped down. Also, the Commander has the possibility to upping your rating. We're trying to build a good Ecosystem where teamplay is important -- but only if you want it. If you're a lone wolf, you're totally fine to do have your lone wolf war.
A Follow-Up From the Showroom Floor
- In the interview Obliteration, Domination, Conquest and Defuse are all mentioned. Domination and Conquest you should be familiar with -- Conquest is the classic Battlefield experience, and Domination is a smaller scale version of Conquest made famous mostly by the Call of Duty franchise (though it appears as "Conquest Domination" in the BF3: CQB DLC).
Obliteration is a large scale mode involving a bomb and key destruction targets. When a team takes down a target using the bomb, a new bomb spawns somewhere and the attack begins anew. The DICE team described it as a game of rugby with guns, and on more than one occasion I noticed a similarity between the closely huddled masses of players and a maul.
Defuse wasn't being shown on the game floor at Gamescom but I did follow up on the hint Lars Gustavsson gave us later on -- it's a 5v5 small-scale mode with two bomb plant zones where when a player dies they have to sit the rest of the round out. Sound familiar? I wouldn't be surprised if you had to buy your guns each round, is all I'm saying.
- A squad earns field upgrades as they play out a map -- they longer your squad stays alive, the better the upgrades. For example -- if you have the Defensive Field Upgrades set in your character select screen, your first upgrade gets you Suppression Resistance, your second gets you an extra grenade, third gives you a flak vest and the fourth reduces the time for your health regen to kick in. When your entire squad gets wiped, as Lars said, you lose a level.
- Yes, I cringed every time I said it out loud. Lars didn't though.
- According to an EA PR person who helpfully interrupted at one point of the interview, the game allows four Spectators on top of the 64 players and two commanders. Does this mean Battlefield 4 allows 70 players? I guess that depends on how loose you define 'player'. If you thought you played
Heavy Rain, guess what, Battlefield 4 now has 70 players!