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Talking Battlefield 3 Multiplayer

Though we didn’t see any multiplayer in action during our cover story visit to DICE, that didn’t stop us from prying some revealing answers from executive producer Patrick Bach.

This is an extended version of the interview that ran in the March 2011 issue of Game Informer.

The experienced player understands and appreciates the teamwork concept in Battlefield’s multiplayer, but you often see new players lone wolfing it and missing the point entirely. How do you break through that barrier?
We’ve been asking ourselves that question – why don’t people play it. Because when you’ve put some hours into it it’s like, “this is way better than the competition.” The problem isn’t only on the game side, it’s how do you get to the point where everyone has tried it? Even if you have a demo or you gave away free samples you still need people to try it. The challenge is to get people to try it because we know that they will get hooked when they do. But also on the teamplay aspect it’s a deeper layer that most other shooters don’t have. The hurdle is to make sure that we lower the threshold to get into the game by letting everyone try it out. The running and gunning should be extremely accessible. That’s something we’re working toward with every iteration of the game while deepening the game so once you get hooked, there’s enough depth to play to get people to come back.

Bad Company 2 came out of the gates quickly, placing in the top three on Xbox Live for several months. Then you went six months without delivering new maps and the community fell off drastically. Do you plan on taking a different approach with Battlefield 3?
We have a big focus on sustaining the game. To be honest, Bad Company 2 was a bigger success than we anticipated. We did not account for that. We sold a lot of copies and don’t feel bad about where we were, but looking back, we should have released more, bigger content earlier. The challenge is to build a game, and then have more people coming on before the project is done to start building extra content because it takes a lot of time to get stuff out. Even if you’re done with something it takes another one-to-two months to get it on the net so to speak. We’ve learned our lesson now, and have a lot of really interesting plans for how to keep the attention of the players. We can do better in that area.

One of the things I felt went hand-in-hand with the lack of new maps was that, anecdotally, a lot of people stopped playing around level 25 because there was no longer a carrot dangling in front of them in terms of unlockables. Why did you decide on that approach, and do you plan on altering the progression in Battlefield 3?
It falls back on what I said earlier – we were much more successful with our approach than we anticipated. We didn’t think most people would hit level 22 to be honest, and especially not so fast. Our calculations on how much people would play to hit level 20, 25, 50 were completely wrong. Thought people wouldn’t play that much. We’re looking into the numbers of how we scale up, what we give away, how we give it away, with the understanding that some people put a lot of time into the game. There will be a lot more to unlock, not only weapons and other treats, but we have more things that you can unlock than in Bad Company 2, and we’re also making sure that there is a reason for you to reach the top rank. It doesn’t just end. There will be a lot of focus on persistence and how we present stuff to the player.

One of the things that helps persistence is when you give the player an identity. For instance, you can carve your initials into your gun in Black Ops, and Rainbow Six let you customize your outfit. What are the challenges to this approach and do you see Battlefield 3 going in this direction?

The more variation you have [in the characters] the less variation you can have in the rest of the world. I think it also has to do with the way you play more professionally. You don’t want people to look completely different. It’s team A versus team B. It’s always a challenge – how do you personalize a uniform? Giving the pink rabbit hat to someone would make it fun, but if you’re running around and you don’t know what you’re shooting at you don’t take the professional gaming seriously in my book. So there’s a challenge between personalizing and keeping it uniform. We will do more in that area, making sure that you can get your character to be more personalized both in a visual way and more specifically in the way you gear up. We did a good job I would argue in Bad Company 2 with specializations, different scopes, and different weapons – you can kind of find your way of playing the game, which broadens the game for more people. The deeper you get into that the more you unravel figuring new things out every day. That was kind of the seed to what we’re building now. We now know more than we’ve ever known about how to personalize a uniform team. Your friends will get very happy when they can see what they can do with their soldiers.

When I think about Battlefield 2, I always come back to the Commander position and the game within the game that arose from having Special Forces objectives. Are those returning in the proper sequel?

We could implement it but the question is how do you get the threshold lower? That’s not by making it more complicated. Our challenge is to make sure that anyone that just jumps into the game will get it. One of the biggest problems with Commander was that only two people could use it. Some people liked it but most people didn’t care, they just cared that someone gave them an order or that their squad could play together having fun on their own more or less. Then the more hardcore people went into the Commander mode and learned how to use that. You could argue it was a great feature, but looking at the numbers you could also say that no one uses it. We tried in Bad Company 2 to give that to the players, so you could issue orders to your squad, and you could use gadgets like the UAV that only the commander could use earlier – giving the power back to the players so everyone could use it. That made a big difference. More people could enjoy the game. We lowered the threshold for everyone because we gave it to everyone. We now know where the boundaries are for keeping the strategic depth and complexity while lowering the threshold to get in.

Since Battlefield 2 you’ve toyed with the amount of classes – that game had seven classes, Battlefield 1943 had only three, and Bad Company 2 had four. Do you think you’ve found the sweet spot?

Yes, I think the sweet spot is four. Looking at what we’ve done so far, we see the classes as a starting point. Classes are kind of “Who am I? Well, I’m this kind of person. I want to help out or play in this way.” Then as you go along you will find different nuances of that class. If you look at the amount of classes you actually have in Bad Company 2 with all of the different loadouts, it’s probably a couple of thousand, compared to 1942, which was quite static. So the sweet spot for entry is around four. Then it’s about how much you branch it. It’s a never-ending discussion that’s a matter of what kind of toys you want the player to have and how you balance it out. The rock, paper, scissors theory is still the foundation of every Battlefield game. A lot of people come up to me and say “You should increase the power of that gun, or you should make this gun better, or you should add nukes." The easy response to that is "How is that fun for the person getting shot at?" Because that needs to be the balance – if there’s no counter to a weapon, then we won’t put it in the game. There should always be a way of countering, so then you get this circle of death where if you have the means to kill me, I can switch gear and find means to get back at you. There shouldn’t be any über class or über weapons. Some games have perks where you kill the game by using it, and you do it over and over again. That’s no fun, that’s a game breaker. If someone gets really good at flying a chopper, then people say the chopper is overpowered. No, you just haven’t learned how to counter it, because there is a counter. That’s the kind of depth you want in a Battlefield game. It actually takes time until someone figures it out. We often compare ourselves to sports. You have a game with a set of rules, but there are a million ways of playing that game still even though the rule set is very solid and it hasn’t changed for 100 years. Every game is completely new. There is always a way to counter the opponent. Like football, or basketball, or soccer, the game is always evolving, yet the rules are the same. People adapt and find new ways.

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Comments
  • I'm really happy to see how much thought is being put into this game. All of the interviews so far have been really great reads/views. I'd also love to see this game finally overtake Call of Duty, and I think it can, if only they'd step up the marketing.

    I think that one of the main reasons the Battlefield series just doesn't sell on the level of Call of Duty is because the people who follow it and read these articles are people like us, hardcore gamers. The fact is that we don't represent the entire population, maybe not even 40% of the people who buy Call of Duty games. I'm willing to bet that there's tons of gamers out there who play Black Ops every day who have no idea what Battlefield is. The point being that if they REALLY want their sales to increase, and they REALLY want Battlefield to be the next big online shooter, then they need to increase their brand awareness through a massive marketing push, like Activision does by showing their reveal trailers each year on TV during big sports events and the like.

    If EA fails to properly market this game in a way that will make the Battlefield name known to the general public, I don't see Battlefield competing with the next Call of Duty entry this year.
  • This seems to be all the same stuff I read in this months GI issue, but i'm happy to read it again. Cant wait for this game!!!!!

  • I disagree with the first question. Stating that the experienced player always works with a team and new players miss the point of the game if they go off on their own, it's not right. I am a very experienced player and for the most part a team player, but there are times when you are just in the mood to run and gun. Especially in an instance where you have a lousy team. Who wants to run around in formation with teammates that can't handle their own? As far as I'm concerned, the "point" of a game is to get on and have a good time. But, I guess we are all entitled to our own opinions.
  • cool

  • So long Call of Duty, you had a good run buddy... That's ok. We'll kinda miss you. Just.....hang your towel outside, we'll use it to clean up the tears of all your fan boys/girls... It's ok..it's ok.. you can come back when you grow up.... I promise!

    Hey Homefront, welcome to the neighborhood, nice to meet you... you seem cool just stay off my lawn..

  • Keep up the big maps and new DLC DICE

  • i like noodles

  • i like noodles

  • I'd like to see some console game play. We've seen how amazing it will look on pc but a console trailer would be great. Waiting until fall for this game is a long a** time and anticipation is a b*tch.
  • im putting my money on bf3 being as balanced as it can be within 1 month of its release. and i still find it bad how they took out commander i mean come on us veteran bf gamers want commander back it was a fun and different experience that actually required skill to be able to use successfully
  • most people say they want it what if its not that awesome.

  • i wish they make trailers that show more vehicular violence like the Jets or other new vehicles introduced to BC3 :(
  • love all the Battlefield games. this one will hopefully compliment on an already awesome game series. Never really cared for the COD multiplayers(only played them for the short campaigns), but the Battlefield multiplayer is something truly satisfying. No matter when i play, it always gives me the sense that I'm in an all out massive war. I do hope we can start to squad up with more than 4 players@a time though. 8 or more without sacrificing the quality of the MP would be real cool. 2011 holiday season is going to feel like the 4th of july with all the explosions and anarchy blasting out of my tv set.

  • I like pie

  • You know for a game set on realism they sure still find plenty of ways to counter it: no ghillie suits, hints at how to counter prone shooters, slow jets, etc. Some of it makes sense, others I think they took out because of too many complaints
  • I gotta say DICE knows how to compare their past work with the present market. The "flow" that they have going on now for BF3 is quickly turning into gale force winds against any and ALL competition in their path. This is going to be the biggest Battlefield to date. Keep 'em coming DICE, we'll support you.

  • this is to long