Visceral talks improvements to impact flinch, faction specific weapons and gun recoil - as well as "weird" feedback following the Hardline beta.
It's a brave company that announces a new game in a much-loved franchise and lets players in on the beta only days later.
Battlefield Hardline isn't just the next game in a long-running series, but also a considerable departure from its regular war themed gameplay. There was bound to be feedback. There was bound to be surprise at a new development team taking the lead. And there was inevitably going to be some players screaming "WTF is this?"
Visceral Games is the team behind Battlefield Hardline, and Steve Papoutsis is general manager and executive producer on the game. We sat down with him at EGX last month to discuss the beta, the delay, the changes and the vocal feedback from the fan community.
VG247: So after the beta the team delayed the game. Can you take us through that process and the thinking behind it?
"As a games player, when I think about E3, I see games are announced and I can't play them. Around the company a lot of people thought we were crazy."
Steve Papoutsis: We did the beta for a couple of reasons. We wanted people to get the chance to play the game themselves to see what we were doing. And we wanted them to get feedback on the game and if what we were doing on the game was good. We knew going into the game that there are many passionate Battlefield fans and people were going to have positive and negative reactions to what we were doing. A big part of the beta was letting people give us their feedback.
When we got all this great feedback we realised we've got a lot of work here to do if we're going to act on it. We talked with the exec team at EA and said if we want to do anything with all this feedback we're going to need more time. Andrew Wilson, the new EA CEO, one of the things that he wants to invest in is listening to players and putting them first. With that being the new vision for the company it made a lot of sense for them to give us more time.
It was really good, it's allowed us to continue to talk to the community. We've done a lot of blog posts and Q&As on Twitter asking for feedback. And then the multiplayer guys have been taking that and incorporating what makes sense into the game.
VG247: From a gameplay perspective what are the big changes we'll notice from the beta in the final release?
Steve Papoutsis: There's a handful that really stand out. The first one is something the community asked for, and that's having faction-specific weapons. In the beta everyone used all the same weapons. We wondered if people would like it if they were invested in their P90, but when they were on the other faction they couldn't use it? Previous Battlefield games have had faction-specific weapons. After the feedback from the beta we've decided to make them faction-specific. There's some weapons you'll only get when you're a criminal and vice-versa. It's an easy one but it was surprising to us.
The other big change is more around explosives and some of the heavy duty weapons. Obviously with Battlefield you have this really solid foundation of rock, paper, scissors gameplay. The heavy weapons counter the vehicles, etc. There's a great balance that the team has created over the years. We wanted to include RPGs and mines - and we did - but people felt that it took them out of the fiction a little bit; that you could just load up a character and equip an RPG. So that wasn't an easy thing to get rid of because it's part of the balance.
"The community felt that the impact flinch takes some of the skill out of the game - you're not in control because you're being hit. So we've been ratcheting that back."
The design team came up with a cool ideas based on that feedback. One is to have some of those more powerful weapons be pick-ups so it creates a secondary objective. Some of the modes, like in Hotwire, the RPG cache is one of the objectives. If you control that cache your team has access to the RPG. And that creates more interesting gameplay. We also came up with the notion of 'junk in the trunk' - what if we allowed players to equip special items to their vehicle instead of their inventory loadout. It goes back to movies where bad guys pop open the trunk to grab something big. When you play the game, if you set up your vehicle loadout to have a specific weapon in the trunk and you control the vehicle you can use that item. So now you want to get a vehicle to get access to a specific weapon, which also fits the fiction better.
VG247: What about smaller things that perhaps players won't notice immediately?
Steve Papoutsis: Playing around with recoil on the weapon and bullet flinch are big things. Going back to some of the earlier Battlefields the franchise has a long history with so many fans that certain people like a specific version. Like Bad Company, which I think is one of the more fun Battlefields. They had reduced flinch in those games so it wasn't as bad. The community felt that the impact flinch takes some of the skill out of the game - you're not in control because you're being hit. So we've been ratcheting that back and experimented with that. The non-Battlefield veterans may not notice the subtleties.
Is there anything that's an improvement on general Battlefield gameplay, not just Hardline?
Steve Papoutsis: Sometimes when you're playing Battlefield and you see a medic but you don't have your mic it's frustrating because you can't tell him you want a health pack. Now you can run up to anybody who has a health kit equipped and hit the action button and get healed. It's subtle but it really helps things along and reduces some of the friction and frustration.
VG247: You've been criticised for the beta but it's also a very open move. To not only announce a brand new take on Battlefield but also open it up to players - and then delay it to incorporate those changes. How did it feel to be part of a bigger experiment not only for the franchise but for EA and the blockbuster business?
Steve Papoutsis: As a games player, when I think about E3, I see games are announced and I can't play them. Back in the old days you would get an exclusive article in a magazine or online and that would be your only exposure to it. But now gaming has evolved that we thought it would be cool to let people play it when we announced it. It helped us with player feedback but it also helped us get ready for a challenge at launch. It was exciting and scary. Around the company a lot of people thought we were crazy - "what if it crashes?"
VG247: It changes the dynamic of how we interact with our readers too. We're seeing the game at the same time as our readers, and in some cases they're playing more of it than we are. I think that's great. At last the readers can relate to a game months before it's out.
Steve Papoutsis: It was scary but I was confident in the team's ability to execute and put it out. I hope the beta was a lot of fun. As developers you're always nervously excited when you release something like this. You're putting your heart out there with something you've been working on for a long time. And people either get on board or they don't.
Were you surprised by some of the more vocal feedback about the beta? Some of it was pretty blunt.
"My generation has a different understanding of what a beta is versus some new folks who think it's a demo. That was the most unexpected feedback we saw from people."
My initial experience with betas was with a lot of the MMOs, the early online games. Having grown up with that it took some understanding to what a beta is or means. It's something that's in development, it's going to change. That was how I thought about our beta. When we released it, it's to a different generation of gamers. To first-person shooter players a beta is kind of a new thing. What was weird, and a little bit disappointing, was some people thought that was the whole game. "This game is only one map and two modes? This sucks! You're going to charge $60 for this?" What we released was a very small piece of the game.
That was the weirdest part about it. I guess it's my age. My generation has a different understanding of what a beta is versus some new folks who think it's a demo. It's not, it's pre-release software, it's a portion of the game. That was the most unexpected feedback we saw from people.
VG247: Do you worry that after the beta you've put off some players who didn't like it and they won't come back to see the changes in the game?
Steve Papoutsis: That's a risk that we took. It's my hope that by talking to the press, talking through the blog, having the game at events like EGX, and then our new beta, people will get the idea that we've made some big changes to the game.
VG247: Are you confident you can establish Hardline as more than a one-off spin-off for the Battlefield series?
Steve Papoutsis: That's our hope. That people enjoy it enough that we get the opportunity to make another one. My opinion on games in general is that we have to earn the trust and support of our players. They make the decision. Saying we're going to make Battlefield Hardline 2 at this point is ridiculous because we don't know if this is what people want. I believe in what the team's doing and I see them playing the game and having fun. I see people at EGX playing the game and having fun, so I'm hopeful. But ultimately it's up to the players, let's see what they say.
Battlefield Hardline is due for release early 2015 on PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360.