DICE talk to us about why their single-player campaign is less scripted than you think.
By Katie Williams on April 1, 2013 at 11:58 am
It ain’t easy being Battlefield. No matter how gratifying the gameplay is, no matter how beautiful the tech, the long-running FPS giant is always going to encounter some criticism – it may even attract it, given its pedigree. “On rails,” “essentially… the same game [as BF3]” and “all style and absolutely zero substance” were such comments made by the games.on.net community following the release of Battlefield 4’s single-player campaign trailer last week.
But are the complaints warranted? Is Battlefield 4 as “human, dramatic and believable” as DICE would have us believe? Is a highly-scripted experience necessarily a bad thing? We sat down with two members of the Battlefield 4 development team, executive producer Patrick Bach and single-player producer Tobias Dahl, to discuss their thoughts on the feedback that the epic 17-minute trailer has garnered since its reveal.
“It’s the least scripted experience of any Battlefield game,” Bach begins confidently. “No, it’s not an open-world game. It’s not a bot-match where you randomly play against other players and hope to have fun. It’s a very narrative, dramatic, and focused story that we’re using, that we’re opening up for variations in gameplay. You can choose different paths. You can choose to use vehicles. You can choose to engage enemies or not engage enemies. You have a very clear goal of what to do, but you still have the freedom to choose how to solve a problem.”
“We’re bringing the player into all of [the game’s] epic setpieces. It’s not press play, watch people move, and then go back to shooting.”
Dahl emphasises that DICE only provides the tools for players to shape their experience. When it comes to what exactly that experience is, the developers step back, allowing the players to take centre stage – something that, he argues, is difficult to identify in a trailer.
“That’s the problem we have with showing just one playthrough,” he says. “We could play it through four times in different ways to prove you wrong. How you solve the puzzle is as far from being pre-scripted as we can get. We have a totally new rewritten AI that is totally dependent on how you behave. We encourage you to move, to use your squad, to use the destruction of your environment, to use your vehicles however you please.”
But what about the elaborately constructed plot points? Surely finding himself trapped in a sinking car is integral to Battlefield 4’s story, something that all players will have to go through?
“Yes, but you are encouraged to participate,” says Dahl. “You are the one who shoots the window. You are the one who cuts off your friend’s leg.”
Bach issues a challenge to Battlefield 4’s critics. “What is not a scripted game?” he wants to know. “Give me just one example. Fallout? Fallout has very specific missions. It’s very scripted. You can roam randomly, but you can’t do whatever you like.”
“We want the player to react to the environment,” he continues. “You’re in a hostile situation where you need to adapt and survive. Free roaming would not fit the theme or the genre. We want to take Battlefield to the extreme, and create a Hollywood movie version with you as an interactive player in it.”
Bach believes that linearity isn’t inherently a bad thing. “It’s about the variation between,” he explains. “It’s the contrasting actions between being in a very narrow space and being in a more open space. You start in a car in the water, sinking. It’s worse than being in a corridor, you could argue. But it creates very intense drama. It creates tension. It creates connection to these people around you. It’s super personal. People care about these characters, and we’re not used to seeing that in many shooters.”
Both Bach and Dahl attribute the campaign’s moving story to the reason we’re seeing less of an emphasis on hardware. While we’re looking forward to seeing what a developer like DICE can accomplish with the power of the PC platform, they say that they’ve been surprised by fans’ lack of interest in the technology powering the demo.
“We’re definitely pushing the PC to create that super high-end experience – but nobody has asked us about what hardware we’re running on,” Bach says. “It’s going back to believable, human, and dramatic – people are focusing on the software rather than the technology. Why? Because it’s not important. It’s what’s on the screen that’s important. This is about the experience that players want to have, not their hardware.”
In spite of that, DICE are working closely with hardware manufacturers to pinpoint and increase the possibilities of Battlefield 4’s visuals. Multiple GPUs will be supported, and “all of the memory you can possibly put into your machine” will be leveraged to create the smoothest, most gorgeous experience possible.
“It’s an IP that has been around for more than 10 years,” Bach concludes. “It’s Battlefield. People know what that is. We’re not leaving the FPS genre, and we’re not creating a new IP here.”
“But we’ve worked to make this the best Battlefield yet. I’m extremely proud of how dramatic it is, how people talk about the characters. They didn’t talk about the polygons, they didn’t talk about the features – they talked about the actions. If that’s not dramatic or human, I don’t know what is.”