On the last day of the Game Developers’ Conference here in San Francisco, we managed to catch DICE’s panel on how it sought to improve the Battlefield experience between 3 and 4 –by giving everything a realistic bent.
By Patrick Stafford on March 25, 2014 at 3:14 pm
It took six years for DICE to release Battlefield 3 after the previous iteration, so a gap of just two years before the release of Battlefield 4 caused some skepticism – but the company has sworn at GDC it made big leaps during that time.
During a talk on Friday morning, the last day of the conference, DICE lead artist Linnea Harrison said the company wanted to add a heightened sense of realism to the series in order to differentiate itself among the flooded FPS market.
This meant adding features to help new players, but also a significant amount of technical details – and internally, managing resources so the company didn’t encounter a “crunch” period.
“We wanted to make everything believable,” said Harrison. “That meant with the character animations, we wanted to have fewer instances of that uncanny valley feeling.”
“We also felt the music needed to be much more organic and human – so less dubsteppy.”
A big focus for DICE was environmental storytelling in this iteration. “We didn’t want to tell small stories,” said Harrison, but instead use the surroundings of a particular level to give hints of a much larger situation.
Abandoned cars were used as an example, to show how the level can present a narrative without ramming it down the player’s throat.
But the more interesting discussion was on environmental effects – subtle changes made to help the player believe as though they were actually a part of the world. The new version of the Frostbite engine in the game helped in some regard, allowing trees and other elements to react more realistically, but the audio played a huge part as well.
The Battlefield audio team, which is well known for its work, used real warfare footage to emulate realistic firefights. Instead of having background characters fire bullets all at once, the designers had them shoot in unrecognisable patterns.
“That might seem like a subtle difference, but when you hear the ambient sounds it helps create the illusion of immersion for the player,” said Harrison.
The team also used that real warfare footage, with Battlefield audio over the top, in order to test how realistic it sounded.
The environment played a large part in making the levels feel real, Harrison said. Artists used more realistic effects on cover, such as rocks, buildings and other materials to make them appear less constructed – such as using foliage in ways that would reflect the environment of the map. For instance, having some greenery appear more grown on the side facing the sun in that particular level.
The final element was improving destruction, Harrison said, which had been part of the series for a while. But ramping up some of the destruction on a micro level, such as when players are crouched behind cover, once again add to that sense of realism.
This applied to the huge, game-changing destruction events – such as a falling skyscraper or exploding dam. These were designed to not only create an immersive moment, but actively changed the battlefield itself.
“We’re trying to make these really spectacular with big animations, and to actually change the way levels are played –we wanted to actively amend the gameplay area.”