DICE's Patrick Bach and Tobias Dahl on Battlefield 4's emotional engagement
GAME NAME: Battlefield 4
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox, Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): Autumn 2013
From a hotel suite in the heart of San Francisco, DICE’s Patrick Bach, Executive Producer of Battlefield (pictured above), look astonished when I summarised that journalists didn’t feel as connected to the Battlefield 4 gameplay demonstration as those as DICE had.
DICE spent yesterday evening driving home the point that Battlefield 4 has been built on the core concept of “human, dramatic, believable.” A number of us in attendance at the event honestly felt underwhelmed by the single-player presentation. That was news to Bach.
“You know what? I’ve heard the opposite,” Bach said. “I think there’s a controversy in the fact that we’re building a Battlefield game, period. Because we are now turning into something that people recognise, it’s easy to point out, ‘oh, that should be different. I don’t know what that is, but it needs to be something else.’”
“It’s an IP that has been around for more than ten years, and it’s Battlefield; people know what that is. If people don’t feel like it’s believable, or it’s human, or it’s dramatic when they saw the demo, I don’t know exactly what people were expecting,” he continued.
“It’s one of the most dramatic demos that I’ve seen, and I’m extremely proud of how dramatic is and how people talk about the characters. They remember [the characters’] names and what they do. They don’t talk about polygons, they don’t talk about features -- they talk about the actions on screen. And if that’s not dramatic, or human, or believable, then I don’t know what is.”
A fellow interviewer countered with the notion that it appeared that Battlefield 4’s campaign looked as scripted as the largely criticised campaign in Battlefield 3. Bach and colleague Tobias Dahl, Single-player Producer on Battlefield 4, disagreed.
“It’s less scripted than ever before in any Battlefield game,” Bach said. “No, it’s not an open-world game; it’s not a bot match where you run and play against AI players and hope to have fun. It is a very narrative and focused story that we’re using, but we’re opening up for variations in gameplay when it comes to choice.”
“You can choose different paths, you can choose to use vehicles, and you can choose to engage or not engage enemies. You still have a very clear goal on what you’re doing, but still you have the freedom of choice to choose how you’re going to solve the problem,” Bach continued.
“Also we’re bringing the player into all of these epic setpieces that you saw yesterday,” Bach said. “You still have an active role in it; I mean, you don’t press play and watch a cool movie and go back to shooting. You’re a part of all of these elements.”
Dahl nodded as Bach explained DICE’s position. “The problem we have with showing the demo, and one playthrough, is exactly that. I mean, we could play three or four times through in different ways to prove you wrong, but you’d probably leave the cinema before that,” he said, laughing.
“The whole purpose of the construction site in the demo yesterday is to show we will give you the tools that you have available in multiplayer, such as vehicles and the possibility to affect what your squad is doing,” Dahl continued. “But how you solve each puzzle is… as far from pre-scripted as we can get. I mean, we have a totally new rewritten AI that is totally procedural, depending on what you do.”
“That’s an AI that encourages you to move, to use your squad and the destruction of the environment, or to use vehicles. It’s really pushing you to be really active and creative and to improvise to find your solution,” Dahl said, stressing the importance of the player.
“We can give you the tools, but we won’t be the ones to tell you have to solve each playground. In the construction site, there are a bunch of enemies in there, and you could have taken the vehicle all the way, or you could have skipped the vehicle. We’re not going to force you to do anything there,” Dahl continued.
“You are encouraged to participate. You are the one that shoots the window [to escape from the submerged car at the beginning of the demo]; you are the one that cuts the leg [after the building you’re in collapses on a squadmate],” said Dahl. “If you don’t avoid the chopper, and if you don’t avoid the enemies sliding down the collapsing building, then you won’t be able to enjoy the moment.”
“You have very clear objectives, that’s for sure,” said Bach, reinforcing the idea of freedom and choice. “In the genre we’re in, we want to activate the player. We want them to do things and react with the environment. You’re in a hostile situation where you need to adapt and survive.”
To Bach, there does have to be a limit on just how much freedom can actually be given in a first-person shooter. “We don’t want to create a simulation – so it’s like ‘oh, if I just stay here and wait overnight, and I dig a hole in the ground and put up a tent [to avoid combat situations with enemies].’”
“We want it to be very dramatic. We want to take Battlefield multiplayer to the extreme, and create a Hollywood movie version with you as an interactive player in that, to play through with the toolset that you have in multiplayer. That’s the experience we want to create,” Bach said.
“On that level, it’s a linear experience with a beginning and an end, but we have opened it up this time,” Dahl added. “It’s not a corridor shooter; if you go the extreme, there’s a corridor that leads to another, and that’s not what we’re doing.”
“We don’t see linear as negative and being open as positive. To us, it’s the variation between them; it’s the contrasting actions between being in a very narrow space and being in a very big open space,” said Bach. “As you see in the demo, you start in a car, underwater, sinking; it’s less than a corridor. It’s worse, you could argue. But, it creates a very intense drama. It creates tension; it creates a connection to these people around you. Like we talked about before, people remember the [characters’] names. It’s super personal. People care about the characters, and we’re not used to seeing that in many shooters.”
Despite not seeing eye-to-eye on some points, I can honestly say that both Bach and Dahl are extremely passionate about Battlefield 4’s single-player campaign, and are working hard to achieve the best outcome as they can. It’s hard to find to fault in such a mission, and as autumn rolls around, I’m sure we’ll be presented with many more ways to engage with Battlefield 4’s emotional core.