Battlefield’s key differentiator is its hardcore appeal, but it’s this very quality that prevents it from commanding the same success as Call of Duty. Battlefield 4 creative director Lars Gustavsson admits to VG247 that DICE hasn’t always balanced this tension as successfully as it might have.
“To be honest it was one of the key takeaways from 1942. I think we’ve usually stumbled somewhere down the road on accessibility.”
Speaking to VG247 at an event in Sydney last night, Gustavsson said DICE has “definitely” heard criticisms of Battlefield’s steep learning curve and lack of pick-up-and-play qualities.
“To be honest it was one of the key takeaways from 1942. When we started Battlefield 2, we started with this quick play, with this icon – one click, to matchmake you directly in, just to make it easier. But I think we’ve usually stumbled somewhere down the road on accessibility,” he said.
“Part of it is when you do 64 players, vehicles, even if it would be team deathmatch it’s a much more overwhelming experience. With Battlefield 4 we’ve done numerous things. We heard this feedback once again from Battlefield 3. We did a lot of tests; some of them were simple stuff just directly correlating to input latency and stuff like that. People were behind an enemy; they thought they had a perfect kill but with latency and everything it turned out that they missed, and they wondered why.
“So we’ve worked with latency. We’ve added a test range where you can learn to fly the transport helicopter, not crash it into your friends. We’ve reworked menus to give you a much better understanding of how you customise – comparisons when you add attachments that give you a better understanding, just like racing games. We have reworked the spawn menu, just the concept of spawning in; in most games you just end up somewhere random, but here we have a choice. We have to try to show that in a much more visual way. So we’ve done rigorous testing on that one. Game mode movies and so on. We’ve definitely done a lot to smooth the learning curve.”
DICE has also rejigged unlocks, both in terms of communicating them better and in handing them out in the right order – something it hasn’t always been great at.
“We shipped Battlefield 3, which we should be slapped for, with probably the worst set ups ever,” Gustavsson said.
“As a pilot, you had to fly your plane and only kill other planes with your cannons. You didn’t have any counter-measures; you didn’t have any missiles. And that’s basically for the best of the best pilots; that’s what they should do to show their skills. [As a beginner], you should have counter-measures, you should have heat-seeking missiles to give you a smooth ride into the game and then from there on you should customise.
“We shipped Battlefield 3, which we should be slapped for, with probably the worst set ups ever.”
“So that’s what we’ve tried to do; the full set-ups are supposed to be quite easy to learn and to master, and from there you can start unlocking things and seeing what your preferred setup is. So, a lot of learning from Battlefield 3 have gone into making the game.”
For anybody who struggled with Battlefield 3 this sounds great, but the other faction – the hardcore fans who value the shooter’s depth and complexity over pick-up-and-play elements – is going to be less pleased. Gustavsson acknowledged DICE is proud of the game’s reputation in this regard and doesn’t want to sacrifice it to accessibility.
“We have modes that are more complex and still since they are a vital part of Battlefield we try harder to show them off with new game movies, to introduce the concept,” he said.
“If you play Conquest – I’m not the best first-person shooter player, even though people might think so, so for me many times I run around and I revive people and I drive vehicles and I take capture points, since in the head-to-head part I will die. To me, part of the upside is teaching people what you can do on the battlefield to buy you the time to survive.
“The key thing I’m after here is that even though we have score play and we now have Commander, it doesn’t mean that you have to play it that way. We have many modes where we don’t even have scores, or the focus on teamplay in that way. It’s you and only you, and only your kill-death ratio matters.
“It’s totally up to you, but if you want to, even in the more complex mode, you can do your own lone wolf career. But if you want to there is a traditional layer – for those who want it.
“That’s the big thing. It might sound like a marketing pitch: play your ways. It’s sincerely what we believe in, that we shouldn’t dictate how to play Battlefield.”
Battlefield 4 is due on PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One at the end of October.