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.
How was hardcore mode received? Was there a broad adoption?
I think it goes in waves, and it’s also about your daily form. How are you playing? How do you feel today? How fast are you? I think the hardcore game mode is a brilliant idea, and we could probably turn it up a notch to make it even more hardcore in the future because people are willing to try it out. It’s the same game, but you turn it up to 11…You want that layer of complexity that you can just add on top of whatever game mode you have. It’s a good way of seeing the same game through a new angle.
It was great to be able to squad up in the pre-game lobby, but limiting it to the four people in one squad was troublesome for larger groups who wanted to play together. Are you changing your approach for Battlefield 3?
Well, yes. It’s actually a very crucial part of the game. We’re thinking a lot about squads and team play – making that even more accessible. Like you said, squads are really easy to set up, but how can you take that further? We have some really cool things that we’ll show later when it comes to dictating how you play with friends.
Call of Duty and Halo both have it, but with the crazy things that happen in Battlefield matches, no game is better suited to having a theater mode. What are you thoughts on that?
We have functionality on our end that can capture movies. The hard part of course is our dedication to creating non-cheatable games contradicts the whole idea of doing that because we are running dedicated servers on everything and that actually makes it harder. We’re definitely looking into ways of delivering our version of this functionality, but I can’t give away any details.
What are your plans for co-op? Will you be able to play through the campaign with friends?
We will have a co-op mode. I won’t go into exact details about if it’s going to be connected to this or that, but we will have a co-op mode in the box.
During the summer you released the one-off Onslaught mode for Bad Company 2. How did you feel it was received?
Okay. Only okay. Onslaught was an experiment on our side to see what we could do with our technology on existing code more or less. There was very little code change to the game because it was more or less supposed to be a little quirky mod for Bad Company 2. It was actually received better than we thought. We now know much better what is needed, and of course we have better tools that are designed to do these things. I can honestly say that we can now do whatever we want to do, and the choices we have made for the game are based on what we want rather than what we have.
One of the more controversial additions to Bad Company 2 was the killcam – snipers especially whined about it. Are you keeping it for Battlefield 3?
We still think that some kind of giveaway camera, no matter what it is, is something that you should be able to have. And you should have the opportunity to turn it off and play a game without it. I think it’s not all bad. And again, if you look at how we reason when we build a game there should always be a way to counter something, and if you’re a good sniper you know that you’re now on camera, which means that you should move.
Jets are coming back in Battlefield 3. How are you dealing with the maps to give them room to maneuver?
We’re building bigger maps. Then again, the games are about fun so if you have a Mach 2 jet on one of our maps you would pass it in 0.2 seconds. You still need to design the game to fit. It can’t be as slow as a chopper, but then again it can’t be Mach 2 so there’s a sweet spot that we’re hitting with map scale, scale of fight, and speed of vehicles so it will actually fit. And of course there should also be a way of countering something.
Prone is coming back as well. Why the change of heart from Bad Company 2, for which you defending your reasoning to leave it out of the game?
First of all, Bad Company 2 was the spin-off. We had our own rule set. This is based on Battlefield 2, so we can go back and look at how can we solve the problem of proning, hiding in high grass, and there are a lot of ways of countering that. Muzzle flash is one of them, vapor traces are another – the bigger the gun the bigger the trace – stuff like that. And of course giving others tools to spot players and give away positions. We have more time to fiddle with those things to make them work. Prone is fun for the person proning. How fun is it to not see someone shooting you? It’s not fun at all. That’s our challenge. That’s our job to design around that and find ways to counter that.
The Bad Company 2 multiplayer maps felt more funneled, then the Vietnam expansion offered more open areas like classic Battlefield games. What approach are you adopting for Battlefield 3?
I’m glad you noticed because that’s actually what we want to do. We want to show people that we can build whatever we want, and if you want to give people variation then you should look at what you just did and then do it slightly different. That’s the motto we use all the time – you pick a map for a reason. You want to play a map for a reason because it gives you variation to gameplay, pacing, flow, action, hotspots, and also how do or don’t you use vehicles on this map.
To read more about Battlefield 3, click on the hub link below: