Battlefield 3 interview
The launch date is approaching, the online multiplayer beta is attracting thousands of gamers and the expectations are sky high: Battlefield 3 is coming. And while many have pointed to glitches and bugs still present in the beta code (there remains a baffling inability among gamers to differentiate between the words beta and demo), EA Dice is confident it can have everything ironed out for launch at the end of the month.
Yesterday, EA ran a preview event in London, showing off four single-player missions and a bunch of new multiplayer maps. Well have more on that later. We also grabbed a few minutes with the games producer Patrick Liu, who answered a selection of reader questions, as well as some points about that controversial beta.
Heres what he had to say...
How do you feel about the beta so far?
Its taught us a lot. Our primary intentions have been to test the backend. As we said at the beginning, we have six times the number of players we had with Bad Company 2, we have record high concurrent users compared to anything weve done before. And we know it works. In previous games, like Bad Company and 1943, weve had serious problems with the backend, its just been overloaded - this time it hasnt been a problem.
So the purpose of the beta has been entirely about testing the infrastructure?
Yeah, we just wanted to know it wouldnt crash and burn at launch. It was horrible with Battlefield 1943 - it sold ten times the numbers we thought it would, and it was down for three or four days which is really bad. We dont want to go through that again.
Has anything surprised you about the way people are playing?
Weve seen a couple of things with the gadgets, but not as much as we expect - but thats mainly down to the map were showing - the Paris map - it doesnt have any vehicles, its much more linear; I think well see a lot more emergent gameplay with the big, open conquest maps.
What made you decide to run the beta with that map? Some people have said that its a shame you chose a level without vehicles...
Yeah, I think theres been a misunderstanding of the term beta test! We ran the alpha tests with a rush map and we wanted to have some sort of reference so we could compare results - so we needed to have more-or-less the same map. But we do understand the concerns that we didnt show a conquest map, but we have demoed Caspian Border, and we did run a conquest map as a limited PC-only test.
Our readers have asked about knifing in BF3 - is it correct that it takes two stabs to kill someone with the quick knife?
Thats true in a sense. Weve put another layer into the knife mechanic. Knifing in Battlefield has never been a one hit kill, but if you manage to sneak behind someone its now a one hit kill - and you then get the dog tags. Its a lot harder!
Have you ever thought of including a flight tutorial in the game to help people get to grips with the aircraft?
Weve considered it! There will be tips to show you what buttons to use, but its really about trial and error, and leaning by failing! You will crash a few times before you learn how to fly the jets. I have to admit, there is a steep learning curve. Once you know how to use a jet, its very, very dangerous. Its been a long balancing process and we always need to provide tools to counter the aircraft. The philosophy is similar to rock, paper, scissors - everything needs to be countered. With jets, its very har, but I know weve managed it with some of the gadgets and with the anti-aircraft missiles.
Will there be a strong clan infrastructure, complete with clan vs clan matches?
Yes. Right now we have the platoons in there, and one of the benefits of having Battlelog is that we can develop and update that element - and we will. Well change it according to feedback and we can react much faster to what people want.
Youve kept the story under wraps so far, do you feel its doing different things that other military shooters?
Yes, I do think were doing things slightly differently. Its another balancing act, youve got to think of the messaging you want to get across. Its an American game in a sense, but were based in Sweden - that in itself is a challenge. But we do want to do something different with the narrative.
A lot of our readers are huge fans of Bad Company - has that series been put to bed for a while so you can concentrate on Battlefield?
Well, we havent killed Bad Company! But we can only make so many games. Be patient - there might be something else coming up...
So you are actively working on other things?
We always have a couple of projects going on - some of them die, but some are more fruitful. We dont have any plans to make Battlefield an annual title - we want to make it ourselves we dont want anyone else doing it! And no studio can make an annual franchise by themselves - well, the sports titles can but theyre a very different breed.
And how about Battlefield 1943, which I loved. Is there a chance of Dice bringing out another digital download title?
Certainly, that kind of downloadable game is something were very keen on. Battelefield 1943 was kind of a disruptive game when it came out; there werent really any other shooters - XBLA games were very different then. Nowadays there are a lot of big triple A games on Arcade - Id like to believe we started that trend. I like the whole idea of transforming something as complex as Battlefield into something much more accessible with only very small tweaks to the gameplay mechanics... I could talk about Battlefield 1943 all day, that was my baby!
So whats going on in the office right now? Are you still in the midst of crunch?
I think were over the peak, thats for sure. Theres a still a lot of work to do. And the launch is just the start really. Well then be releasing more content, tweaking and balancing the game - we have a team dedicated to servicing the game after launch.
Have any Battlefield 3 multiplayer maps emerged as team favourites?
There are a bunch of them, but whats funny is that were making the Back to Karkand map pack with all the old BF2 maps and even Wake Island - again! - and people are gravitating towards those once more. Its nostalgia, theyre just so familiar. And I love Wake Island! There are a couple of basic map layouts, basic structures that usually work. There are maps that live on, that we just keep re-making over and over again - we do that for a reason: because theyre so good. Just looking at Strike at Karkand, thinking of how many hours have been spent on that map - weve seen the statistics, we know its popular. Weve had to analyse //why// its so good... so we can make it all over again!
The modding community played quite an important role in the early popularity of Battelfield, creating several high-profile offshoots, including Desert Combat, of course. Have you looked into supporting that community with BF3?
Weve investigated it, but we dont currently have any plans for it - we have no tools thatll be ready for launch. We do recognise the modding community, its just that its such a huge undertaking to make a toolset like that - its like making another game. But well see.
Finally, do you have any idea what EAs expectations are for Battlefield, in terms of sales figures?
(Pause) I know the figures...
[At this point a PR person politely informs me that EA arent discussing expectations for the title.]
But, okay, is there a blackboard on a wall somewhere at Dice HQ with a figure on it representing the number of units you want to sell?
(Laughs) No, its not something we talk about!