Battlefield 3’s 4th DLC pack Aftermath is set after a devastating Tehran earthquake. VG247’s Dave Cook speaks with DICE, and goes hands on with the new content.
Founded in May 1992 as Digital Illusions CE. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
DICE’s first title was Pinball Dreams on SNES and Amiga. It’s still rather ace.
Released the first entry to the Battlefield series, Battlefield 1942 in 2002 to critical acclaim.
Aftermath is the fourth expansion for 2011’s Battlefield 3.
Near the start of the Battlefield 3 single-player campaign, Staff Sgt. Blackburn narrowly survives an earthquake in the heart of Tehran city. More than just showing off Frostbite 2’s capacity for destruction, the set-piece also gave DICE inspiration for a new expansion pack.
The concept of Aftermath was born, and the studio started to think about what happened to the soldiers still trapped among the rubble and ravaged streets. As such, the DLC features ruined maps littered with flattened buildings and debris.
Even the soldier models have been given a makeover, as they enter the fight with bloodied faces and tattered fatigues. There is also a trio of new vehicles bolstered with scrap metal salvaged from the chaos, giving the whole expansion a survival theme.
It’s a neat slant for a series that has championed destruction for some time now, and it has given DICE room to let its map designers run riot. We played a few sessions on a map called Epicenter, set in a twisted mess of toppled office blocks and cracked roads.
Fissures create ad hoc trenches along the roads, collapsed walls are now ramps leading up to multi-tiered floors of what was once a hotel, and flattened residential areas have become killzones lined with snipers. It’s a master class in map design, tailored to long and short range play alike.
All of this new content is great – and we’ll get to the superb Scavenger mode in a moment – but first we turn to DICE producer Craig Mcleod to throw him some questions about Battlefield 3’s sustained popularity.
The Battlefield 3 DLC season is still rolling on strong, and the player base has sustained throughout. How gratifying has it been to see public interest hold up for so long?
Craig Mcleaod:This has been fantastic for us within the studio, and all of our hard work has really paid off. It’s also great because we care a lot about our community, and we really want to help cater for, and mix up the experience for them. So to see them still playing – all 15 million users out there – is fantastic.
I have to ask though, some people out there really want to see a dinosaur expansion for Battlefield 3. Have you seen that? What do you think of that idea?
I’ve seen that yeah. I think each game gets it’s kind of little…quirk that players like. We understand this and actually, we do have one hidden Easter Egg which is along this theme in Aftermath for players to find.
The Aftermath expansion itself is set after the earthquake in the single-player campaign. How have you looked at really delivering a sense of ruin throughout?
So, Aftermath is set after the Tehran earthquake that you saw in act 2 of the singe-player. We wanted to tell a story and we wanted a really nice theme. So when looking through the single-player, this was a fantastic event that everyone knew and that everyone could relate to.
”For the first time ever in Battlefield 3, we’ve come out with new character models. They are wounded, they are bandaged, and they’re bloodied.”
When we thought about the singe-player, we looked at that moment and about how your character and other people left the scene, but then what about the people who are still there? We wanted people to see the other side of that earthquake.
That’s really where the theme was coined from, and we’ve really carried this through with what we’ve done in Aftermath. You have the maps, obviously, which have war-torn buildings, the streets are all cracked up. That is all shown in the environment.
But we wanted to go a little bit further, and so all of our vehicles are modified versions of existing vehicles. We’ve welded on steel plates, and they’ve been bolstered with salvage found around on the ground – things that were destroyed in the earthquake.
For the first time ever in Battlefield 3, we’ve come out with new character models. They are wounded, they are bandaged, and they’re bloodied.
It’s like a real ‘survival at all costs’ angle.
Yeah exactly, and wanted to show that we’d thought about this and we cared about what we were delivering. It’s like our new crossbow weapon – it’s not a standard crossbow – it’s actually an assault rifle stock that has been turned into a crossbow.
Even our new mode delivers a sense of, ‘you’ve survived this earthquake with literally nothing. Now, go find weapons and rebuild your arsenal.
I have to say that I really did get that sense of collapse on the Epicenter map we played today. It’s all uneven, full of hidden paths and shattered locales. Was that a challenge to design?
Yeah, the new levels were kind of tricky to design to be perfectly honest. The reason for this is that we usually start off with clean-cut levels, then the destruction kicks in and you see its transformation. With this we’re coming in at the end of an earthquake so it’s already destroyed.
“I can safely say that there’s still as much destruction on these maps, as there are in our previous maps. Another great thing that the earthquake theme has allowed us to do is to create more verticality with out levels.”
You’re seeing broken buildings, fires and torn up roads. It was a challenge to sort of improve that, but we’re still adding destruction to it – we’re still doing more. You can still collapse buildings, and on one of our levels, one of the monuments collapses, which can also take out enemies by the way.
I can safely say that there’s still as much destruction on these maps, as there are in our previous maps. Another great thing that the earthquake theme has allowed us to do is to create more verticality with out levels.
You have street level, but then you have the fissures in the roads that then create a lower level for people, so that they can sort of hide and take cover in there.
You then have balconies, and buildings which you can get into, giving you an even higher level. So you really need to think about what’s on your level, but also what’s above and below you as well.
It feels really sniper-friendly too. I was driving my jeep down a street and some guy sniped me through the wind shield. His vantage point was brilliantly designed. It did seem like you’ve engineered a play-space that suits mad, memorable stuff like that.
Definitely, I mean we have a lot of areas where you can have memorable moments. You mentioned the sniping one – there is actually a particular road in Epicenter that leads on flag point A to flag point B. It’s a nice, long area for you to snipe.
We also have the hotel area in there which is a lot tighter, so sniping would do you no good there whatsoever. It’s the variety of gameplay, so no matter how you want to play – be it sniping or run and gun, or vehicles – then you can do that.
We then return to our gameplay session, and indulge in a round of Scavenger, Aftermath’s brand-new mode. It sees all players starting on the border of scaled-down renditions of the pack’s four maps.
All players begin with just a pistol, a single grenade and one specialisation. As soon as the round begins however, all players must dash inward in search of more powerful weapons.
Firearms are spread across three power tiers, with the more deadly guns located near the centre of the environment. The further you venture into the map, the more likely you are to be be spotted and killed. It’s a neat risk-reward mechanic.
However, we never found that the top tier weapons were stupidly powerful, and Battlefield 3’s solid balancing remained, as we often killed enemies holding tier three weapons with our revolver.
Amid the chaos, we return to Mcleod and pick up where we left off, and to get a better understanding of both Scavenger mode and the impact of Frostbite 2 on the expansion, as well as the engine’s use across EA at large.
Can we touch on Scavenger mode? It’s really fun.
Yeah sure. Well, just as a quick overview of what’s in the Aftermath pack, we’ have four new maps, which is Epicenter and Markaz Monolith, Saadi Palace – which is focused around a big, ruined parliament building – and we have Telemarket, which is like this hillside village.
”We wanted the players to feel like, ‘I’ve just been trapped in this earthquake and I’m not going to have all of my equipment, I’m not going to have everything I used to have.’”
We also have three new vehicles, starting with the Phoenix on the U.S. Side, which is a modified humvee. We have the Barsuk on the Russian side, which is a modified Vodnik, and we have the civilian van that has been fortified called the Rhino.
There’s the new crossbow weapon, and we also have ten new assignments, ten dog tags and five new achievements or trophies. So yeah, coming back to Scavenger, this really is born out of the Aftermath theme.
Because we wanted the players to feel like, ‘I’ve just been trapped in this earthquake and I’m not going to have all of my equipment, I’m not going to have everything I used to have.’ So you are literally rising up with a pistol, a grenade and a specialisation.
From that point on, it’s really important for you to explore the map to find new weapons. What we’ve done with the weapons is tiered them into three levels. So level one is your less-powerful weapons like SMGs, and they can be found around the outskirts and safe zones.
But as you go up through the levels to level three, then you’re really going to have to risk your life to get them.
It’s a good risk-reward system.
Yeah thanks, and exactly, it’s risk-reward in its basic sense. So if you’re on level three you’re in open areas, you’re around the flags, so you know you’re going to encounter someone else out there, and that’s exactly what we’re going for.
Yeah you guys seem to have balanced the gun well in that mode, because our group were taking each other out with SMGs, and it still felt that whoever has the better aim wins. That’s how it should be.
We didn’t want just level three weapons to dominate everything. That just wouldn’t be any fun and it wouldn’t make any sense. They need to really be balanced and the great thing is – if you think of the Battlefield 3 as a whole – weapons are incredibly balanced anyway.
“We obviously developed the Frostbite engine at DICE, and we love what we can do. It gives us immense flexibility in terms of what we can do with levels within our game. But probably the proudest thing we have, is that we can share that with EA.”
That kind of came into Scavenger anyway. The other thing that is really cool is, we think about our players. We just launched Battlefield 3 Premium Edition for new players who are coming into the game a year after its launch.
They might be a little nervous that some guys have been levelling up for 400 hours, and think ‘how can I compete with that?’ This mode is perfect for you because whether you’ve played for 400 hours or one hour, you’re all on a level playing field. It’s up to you to make the most of your own skill.
We saw a recent quote from EA saying that Frostbite 2 is the best FPS engine out there today. What do you make of that?
We obviously developed the Frostbite engine at DICE, and we love what we can do. It gives us immense flexibility in terms of what we can do with levels within our game. But probably the proudest thing we have, is that we can share that with EA.
We see other titles using this engine from studios that are able to show them in the best possible light. That’s just fantastic for us to see. Our engine is always growing, and because other people are using it, they’re using it in different ways.
They create tools that they need which we didn’t initially need or think about, and then we can also add that in. Because of this, the Frostbite engine is constant;y developing and improving. It will be completely different in a year’s time.
How helpful is it to have a bespoke engine that you can build upon as you see fit?
It’s incredible, because if you have an engine that isn’t your own, it’s hard to push its boundaries. Like, we really want to do this. It’s important for us, it’s important for our community, and it’s important for our general gameplay theories.
We want to be able to do something new, to push our boundaries. We can do that, because we have the time right there to change the engine, build on it, and that’s huge. I don’t believe our game – or potentially other games within EA – would be as good as they are, if not for the flexibility that we have.
Battlefield 3 Aftermath is out initially for Xbox 360 premium subscribers from December 4th, and non-premium members December 18th.