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GDC 2008: Battlefield Heroes Preview
Post by trog @ 12:46pm 29/02/08 | Comments
Battlefield Heroes - lots of focus on the newbie player, but it's looking pretty good.

Battlefield Heroes - lots of focus on the newbie player, but it's looking pretty good.

Battlefield Heroes Battlefield Heroes was announced with surprisingly little fanfare a while back; a new property in the ever-popular Battlefield franchise, Heroes looks to capitalise on the success of the standard style of gameplay combined with Team Fortress 2-esque cartoon-ish graphics. Its appealing price tag of zero dollars definitely makes it stand out as well.

At the Game Developers Conference this year, EA and Dice jointly held an event to show off some of the juicy bits of Battlefield Heroes to an eager crowd of developers and journalists. While we weren't offered the chance to play it, they gave us a pretty decent demo of the game, showing off the key features.

The game is set in a faux-World War 2 universe, depicting a war between the Royal Army (the Allies) and the National Army (the Nazis). It should be noted that they're clearly not calling it a World War 2 game, probably so they just don't have to drown in the tears of millions of gamers crying about another one - but the style of the game is unmistakably influenced by WW2: weapons, vehicles and uniforms all have a pretty familiar feel.

Each side has three different classes:

* The Soldier - a typical general-purpose solider unit that runs around and shoots things.
* The Gunner - your heavy weapons guy.
* The Commando - think TF2 spy and you've got it (they can go invisible, sneak up behind enemies, and stab them in the back).

Battlefield HeroesAll the characters in the game are extensively customisable; the idea is you'll start off a single character (picking a team right from the start) and then try to grow that character MMO-style. You'll have the ability to outfit your character with items that you can buy online from the website - another revenue stream for this title in addition to the advertising.

(For those people that are fanatic about advertising: it was made clear that there will be no advertising in-game. You won't have to worry about anything distorting the gameplay experience. All the ads will be confined to the website and to things like loading screens.)

Characters also have special abilities - you might have incendiary bullets, for example, which do more damage. There's also a healing ability, which means you can "power up" before taking on a heavier class. While the effects might seem subtle it was demonstrated how they can have significant effects on game balance.

Gameplay-wise - if you've played a Battlefield game before, you're going to know what's going on, so there's not a lot of point going into detail about that aspect - you've got the usual arrangement of weapons and vehicles. We got to see a tank and a fighter plane in action - didn't see any navy stuff but I'm guessing they'll be present.

One thing that has changed in the gameplay though was the flight model has apparently been significantly simplified, with the goal of making it more accessible to newbies. Whether this allows for as much skill differentiation as we've seen in previous BF titles remains to be seen.

Another really big change gameplay-wise is that instead of the classic first person shooter style you might expect in a BF game, you're now playing third person. The only real difference though is that instead of a gun in the bottom of the screen you now have your character.

There's a few other changes as well, such as a greatly simplified UI. There's not even a mini-map! A simplified voice system replaces the previous systems used in other titles - you'll just get a 3x3 grid that pops up with a few choices on it. You'll also have an XP and level indicator.

When they mentioned that during the presentation, I thought "uh oh". They continued to demoralise me - the game will have a strong focus on leveling and character improvement (as opposed to, say, skill in beating other players). There's very good reasons they want to do this - the lure of constant and gradual improvement is such a successful formula for getting people to keep playing - but the concern is whether players investing time can beat better players just because they have a high level or access to better items. That remains to be seen though; its quite possible it will not be an issue at all.

Battlefield HeroesNewbies are clearly a big focus for Heroes. As a free game making revenue from advertising and micropayment sales, obviously they want as many eyeballs as possible across this game - making gameplay appealing and accessible for people was an important part of the design process. On the technical side, the game has been tweaked to run on low-end hardware - a 1Ghz CPU, 512Mb of RAM and integrated graphics on the video side is all you're going to need to make this puppy go.

Further efforts to simplify the game are seen in the focus away from the "Capture and Hold" that you might expect - the game is now primarily Team Deathmatch. Flags do exist, but they simply act as modifiers to the kill scores, which is the key value for deciding who is winning. There's also no friendly fire, which will save a lot of headaches at the expense of making the game less typically hardcore.

Some other features which don't warrant their own paragraphs:
  • There's a demo recording system built in from the ground level, allowing for replays of games to be made.
  • There's a feature they call "wing sitting" - essentially, some aircraft will have actual seats on the wings, allowing for quick and easy pickups of other players to ferry them elsewhere.
  • Respawn times have been lowered to 5 seconds to make people feel like they're always in the game.
  • There's no instant killing - even with sniper rifle headshots.

As a long time veteran of running game servers I had a lot of other questions that I didn't get to ask. Will anyone be able to run a server (I'm guessing no due to the ranking/statistical system)? Will it have PunkBuster? What gameplay moderation will be done? What's going to stop asshat players from just creating multiple accounts to try and ruin everyone's day? I'd like to believe a lot of thought has gone into this but practical experience tends to make me think most game developers don't think about these issues until its far too late. Maybe we'll get lucky though.

The game is shaping up to look pretty nice. At a glance I have to confess I didn't think it was quite up to the standards of Team Fortess 2, but it has a nice, friendly, appealing visual style that will no doubt attract a lot of new gamers. A lot of thought has clearly gone into making it accessible and simple to pick up and play, with a bunch of features to try and keep players coming back in regularly.

Worth keeping an eye on for sure.