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Expanding the Sandbox - Our Big Battlefield 2042 Interview
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 01:10am 10/06/21 | Comments
With its modern setting and overhauled Frostbite engine, Battlefield 2042 is not only the latest entry in the series - it’s aiming to push the sandbox into new and exciting territory. We sat down With DICE to talk about all of this and more.

In describing Battlefield 2042, the next installment in EA and DICE’s long-running first-person multiplayer shooter series, both the publisher and the Stockholm-based developer refer to it as a “return to all-out-warfare”. With map sizes and player-counts effectively doubling, the action in 2042 will support upto 128-players on PC and next-gen consoles.

The near-future setting, as hinted at in the title, also lets the team flex its creative sandbox-muscles with things like unpredictable (and giant) tornadoes that can suddenly appear. Born from the ongoing effects of climate change, Battlefield 2042’s maps will feature real-time weather changes and other dynamic events. There’s a lot about 2042 to be genuinely excited about, even without a single-player campaign or dedicated narrative-driven story-mode.

Unlike a certain ‘Call’, Battlefield isn’t an annual series either, so the last time it dealt with anything close to modern-combat was 2013’s Battlefield 4. DICE and a dedicated technical team based out of Gothenburg have spent considerable time updating the underlying Frostbite tech that has been at the core of Battlefield for decades, delivering what it feels is the biggest upgrade in years. And one that sits on the cutting-edge of what’s possible.

And that’s not merely in reference to the bump in visual fidelity, but the physics, animation, and network side too. Battlefield 2042 is effectively the next-generation of the series. Which, thanks to the arrival of the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and new graphics hardware from NVIDIA and AMD alike, makes the timing somewhat perfect. And of course, calculated.

This has been in the works for quite some time.

Ahead of the reveal we had the chance to sit down with DICE and Battlefield 2042 Design Director, Daniel Berlin, to chat about it all.

In The Year 2042…

Climate change, catastrophic weather events, disparity, a growing refugee crisis, technological advances, stateless players making a difference, the usual global superpowers showing up. Battlefield 2042 not only presents the world on the brink, but in the midst of a global conflict that sees the United States and Russia dragging everyone else into the solar-powered fray. With its near future setting that feels as grounded and exaggerated as anything in the series to date -- Battlefield 2042’s all-out-war doubles as a reference to both its scale as a multiplayer shooter, and the conflict it depicts.

Battlefield 2042’s all-out-war doubles as a reference to both its scale as a multiplayer shooter, and the conflict it depicts.

“As we moved into developing this new Battlefield we wanted to make a leap,” Daniel says. “And with that we brought forward a bunch of different concepts, there were at least 12 different ideas. But, when we saw this one, the modern setting, we knew it was right. It enables us to do all of the things we want to do, we love to do. We really wanted to push the scale this time around, and we wanted to lean into cutting edge technology.”

“The essence of Battlefield is the sandbox and we wanted to fill the sandbox with new ideas and give players more creativity,” Daniel adds. “Moving into this modern setting and space really does enable us to do so much more. It unshackles us in that we’re not bound by grounding everything in historical accuracy.”

That particular nod is aimed in the general direction of the two most recent entries -- Battlefield I and Battlefield V, which spun the clock back to the days of World War I and World War II respectively. Titles that have excelled in their own right, pushed the series forward, but also settings that have seen the global Battlefield community gently nudge and not so gently nudge DICE to switch things up.

Chapter 1: A Giant Tornado Appears

“These are not simply locations that you could see today, something has happened,” Daniel tells me. “Each play-space has that feeling that something major has happened, and that’s super interesting for us as designers because we always go through that process after landing on a setting. We look at all the different locations around the world, and by having a near-future twist we can put our own fantasy on top of it all -- and really push that side of things.”

"When we saw the modern setting, we knew it was right. It enables us to do all of the things we want to do, we love to do. We really wanted to push the scale this time around, and we wanted to lean into cutting edge technology."

Environmental storytelling arrives in many flavours, from something as simple as seeing the remnants of a recently abandoned vehicle and discovering signs of a struggle, through to the wear and tear seen throughout a once pristine building. Each location in Battlefield 2042 - and the game is set to launch alongside seven maps - is also a place that feels very much alive. Orbital, set in French Guiana, sees the action take place around a large rocket - one that may or may not launch. If it does though, you’ll feel it.

Dynamic real-time elements both large and small will be found throughout Battlefield 2042, from the man-made spectacle of a massive rocket launching into space (or exploding) through to the smaller seemingly inconsequential movement of AI-controlled cranes moving shipping containers around.

And then there’s the chance of getting to witness a giant tornado seemingly appear out of nowhere. For DICE, the sandbox informs all aspects of Battlefield.

“That is how ideas usually originate,” Daniel explains. “Someone will ask, ‘What if we had a tornado?’. And this is not something that we could have done in the past, this is based purely on the technical upgrades we've gone through with Frostbite. A giant tornado is a big physics disruptor, it's unpredictable, it doesn't always appear, and it can take different paths.”

“And it's not a scripted set path either, which helps create those unexpected moments,” Daniel continues. “When you're playing a game of Breakthrough, where you have more compressed battles on a specific section of a map, and fewer points -- maybe you're sitting on the attacker side and you get lucky. Here it comes. And it’ll just blast through a point. One of the things I do is that I move behind it and then watch as everyone on the point is picked up and thrown around. And it just destroys, well, everything.”

“It's cool because physics are fun and physics are fun in multiplayer settings,” Daniel says in a moment of zen-like universal truth. “They create crazy moments. We’re really adamant about pushing the sandbox with Battlefield 2042, and it's such a great addition because it's -- at its core -- a disruptor of physics. So it's a great fit for us.”

On Specialists and Classes Not Defined By Weapons

With unpredictability and real-time dynamic events found through Battlefield 2042 feeling like the next logical step in the franchise’s (le)evolution, this new entry also shakes things up when it comes to how the series deals with Classes and playing a role on the battlefield. Specialists are predefined characters - think Operators from Rainbow Six Siege and you get the general idea. They’ll all arrive with a backstory, a look about them, a unique gadget, and fall under the classic Battlefield class-structure of Assault, Medic, Support, and so forth. But, their loadouts will be fully customisable -- a choice and design decision that came about after taking a holistic look at the series.

"A giant tornado is a big physics disruptor, it's unpredictable, it doesn't always appear, and it can take different paths. And it's not a scripted set path either, which helps create those unexpected moment.”

“We want to bring Battlefield to a space where the choice you make as a player, on who to control, is for the role,” Daniel explains. “What we've seen in the past, both through data and player feedback, is that people didn't necessarily choose a Class based on the role they wanted to have on the battlefield, it was mainly because of the primary weapon.”

Take that out of the equation and the decision then comes down to the Specialists themselves, their gadgets and what those bring to the table. A drone, a turret, a healing pistol, a grappling hook.

“In the past if you looked at vehicle-heavy maps, we saw an over usage of a singular class,” Daniel adds. “With this setup, we see a much wider range of Specialists. You can be Falck who has the Surette pistol and specialises in reviving and healing, but you can also make her throwable C4 and her secondary a rocket launcher. So healer or medic can still be your role, but you can also engage with vehicles. That was the primary idea that led us to this approach, a way to open up the sandbox and really focus on the gameplay role. Also, we get to have really strong and character-based Specialists and connect narratives to them.”

Battlefield 2042 is set to arrive and follow the Seasonal model of updates and content drops, with each new Season adding to the narrative with new locales, introducing new Specialists, and expanding on an already expansive setup.

Imagine This… Conquest, But With 128-Players

Battlefield 2042 is set to launch with three distinct multiplayer experiences. The aptly titled ‘All-Out War’ sees fan-favourites and series-staples Conquest and Breakthrough return, with the later offering up the objective-based push-and-pull. ‘Hazard Zone’ will present a squad-based approach that is set to be a “modern take on the Battlefield series”, with DICE LA-developing the third still-to-be announced mode.

It’s a lot, and there’s a lot still to be revealed. That said, Battlefield 2042 answers the very simple and enticing proposition - Conquest, but with 128-players. With an overhauled Frostbite, simply being able to support double the player-count has been a monumental effort for the team at DICE.

"We have the innovations that we push for within the game itself, but we’ve also made several upgrades to Frostbite just to be able to handle 128 players.”

“We have the innovations that we push for within the game itself, but we’ve also made several upgrades to Frostbite just to be able to handle 128 players,” Daniel says. “That’s something we've been working on continuously and for that we've gotten great support from Gothenburg, who helped push the tech.” Although Battlefield 2042 development is being led by DICE, the studio is also being supported by a number of EA outfits from all over the world. From Criterion in the UK to the newly spun-up DICE LA.

Even though Battlefield has been a thing since the early days of the online-FPS, overhauling Frostbite and increasing the player count means there’s still a lot of testing to take place -- starting with a very unique invite-only Technical Test.

“It's going to be running on a grayscale version of a map, meaning it won't have textures or anything like that,” Daniel explains, noting that unlike Betas or Alphas, DICE will be presenting this first version of playable Battlefield 2042 with caution, and care. “The reason for this is we simply want to test the tech in a live environment. It's not meant for us to necessarily get gameplay feedback. It's not a space to present something super-refined and balanced. It's more like this is a space where we go in so we can get the data that we need in order to make sure that at launch the experience is very, very solid.”

With the largest play-spaces in the series to date, real-time dynamic events, and maps set in diverse settings found across the globe, Battlefield 2042 sounds impressive. A return to all-out warfare in a setting and with a scale the series hasn’t seen before. And it’s more than simply a case of bigger is better, that is a larger map and player-count just because. For the team at DICE it was an opportunity to lean into what it does best.

“With clustering it's almost like we're building multiple maps into one map,” Daniel explains. “That feeling where if you simply want to experience some close quarters combat, you can. The Hourglass map for example, you could head to the giant Stadium. And there you’ve got a complete area with multiple capture objectives where you can have that close quarters action. But then outside of that space there's rolling sand dunes where there's potentially lots of vehicle combat.”

"We’re really adamant about pushing the sandbox with Battlefield 2042.”

“Head south and there's a village, which presents a mix of vehicle and infantry gameplay. And if you head a bit more to the east, you'll actually find the neon-lit city, which is filled with skyscrapers and a lot of verticality. It's about infusing every place-space with more gameplay opportunities and more flavour.”

It’s all about that sandbox, setting the action on an actual desert - as seen in Hourglass - and then throwing it all in the air with an unexpected sandstorm.

Battlefield 2042 is set to launch its first rocket into space October 22, 2021 on PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Read more about Battlefield 2042 on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

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