We just got to chat to DICE's Creative Director and Global Community Manager about the just-ended Battlefield 3 beta. What have they learned, and what will change?
At a Battlefield 3 event in Sydney today we got to sit down and play some co-op and four missions of the game’s singleplayer. As we left – so that we could bang out this story, ‘cause that’s how we roll – the PR team asked us for some feedback on the game. “I’m a PC guy, ya see,” I said, and got nods of commiseration that pretty much said we needn’t say more.
Needless to say, this event, and the majority of SP/co-op events so far, have all been console-driven. Having just come off the beta (and yes, it is like coming off a drug, complete with withdrawals, depression, and mild shakes), anything less than PC perfection is a definite let-down.
Plus, to be honest... the singleplayer portion of the game really seems to be a glorified training scenario. Sure, there’s a plot, but it’s so overblown as to belong more to Call of Duty than Battlefield.
But that’s okay – the multiplayer is really where it’s at.
All that said, the event was solid, if only because we got to have a brief chat with Lars Gustavsson, Creative Director at DICE (and afflicted with a mighty man-flu!), and Daniel Matros, the Global Battlefield Community Manager. These two guys are pretty stoked right about now, not to mention fracking exhausted. So, of course, we asked them about the just-finished beta, and what they took away from it.
“Were to start?!” was Lars’ first response, and when Daniel pointed out that they had six million people playing it at peak, we kinda see where they’re coming from. And given those numbers, you can probably guess where Daniel took the conversation.
“We learnt a lot about peak loads and how to manage those numbers,” he told us. “And we got a lot of amazing stats once we shut the beta down.” It seems even DICE was impressed with the kind of reach the beta got.
“But it was also great to get the game out in front of people ahead of launch, to let them see all these things we’ve been working on,” Lars told us. In other words, it was a good way to learn about what the game needs, and double as a limited demo of sorts. Daniel added “But really, those numbers and how to manage them on our server structure, that was a big take-away.” But is it one that’s useful...
“Oh yes, we’re really confident now,” he added.
Apart from managing huge player numbers – and I think we can all agree that six million players is no mean feat – we were curious about what would be in release that we didn’t see, that’s going to be improved upon.
“Well, there’s a lot of unlocks that we’ve not touched on yet,” said Lars, referring, we assume, to things like the Support class’s mortar abilities, and of course there’s vehicles we haven’t seen yet, either. “And we’re tightening a lot of things up, too, like hit detection, which is a big thing for us right now.” Hit detection – or the lack of it in some cases – has been a huge sticking point for many hardcore players on the BF3 forums. With the hit calculations now worked out client side, lag can have a huge impact on apparent accuracy; we certainly noticed some issues in that regard in the beta, so if DICE is aware of those problems, it definitely puts a smile on our dial. “People really need to understand that the build they’ve just been playing is much older,” Lars added. “There’s so much more in the final version.” But what about beyond that?
EA has made no bones that it’s targeting Modern Warfare 3 this gaming season, so we were curious to see if DICE had any plans looking ahead, given CoD’s production line of releases every 12 months. Lars, bless him, seemed a bit uncomfortable – which makes me think that DICE just don’t even want to play that game – but he soldiered on. “The way we look at making the game as good as possible is that the real work only starts once the game’s released,” he said. “Battlefield games have always had a long tail, people play them for years, so it’s an ongoing process.”
It’s a fair point, too. With a player count in the millions, and complex interactions between cover and suppression, vehicles and a destructible environment, and competitive online play, ongoing game balance will be an issue. But Daniel did enlighten us a little. “We have a whole team who work on extras, so you know that’s going to be a part of our plan,” he added. “We’ve got a dedicated team that have just worked on the Karkand map for the BF3 limited edition, and they’re great guys, so we’ll use them.”
In fact, working with great people was something that both Lars and Daniel seem very passionate about. In a fascinating tangent we got to talking about staffing and keeping good people on board. “You can’t really be told how to make a Battlefield game,” he said. “There’s no one document that lays it all out; instead, we’ve got people who’ve been doing this for years, since the early Battlefield titles, and we really want to keep them. That’s very important.”
We like that, in a developer. In an industry which is known for a certain degree of churn, the idea that a company values its staff is a relative rarity. And, we hope, a sign of the inherent quality of their work.
On the 27th of October, when Battlefield 3 releases, we’ll find out for sure.