Ever since Wake Island and Battlefield 1942, taking advantage of a wide selection of vehicles has been essential for the all-out war experience in Battlefield. With Battlefield 4, the vehicle gameplay options and customisation possibilities are greater than ever, especially with the new emphasis on the hectic Naval Warfare. We now hand over the word to Senior Vehicles Designer Patrick “Posh” O’Shaughnessy for an in-depth look at the development of all the land, air and sea vehicles in Battlefield 4.
BF4 Vehicle Design: A Matter of Personal Choice
There was one basic design philosophy behind vehicles in Battlefield 4, an approach that is found throughout Battlefield’s history: to give players opportunities to make interesting choices and affect the game in a more personalised way. With vehicles, these choices happen when customising your vehicle’s loadout, or even selecting which vehicle you spawn into.
From an aesthetic point of view we try to make the experience of using the vehicles feel authentic and visceral, while at the same time avoiding unnecessary complexity. In other words: “easy to learn, hard to master”. Our goal is to make them look and feel authentic to their real-world counterparts, but not complex and overbearing.
With all the tweaks, new features and the convenient Test Range, we want to encourage players to try out the land, air, and sea vehicles in Battlefield 4, and of course the customisations that come with them. No matter what type of hardware you prefer, our goal is to turn our vehicles into thrilling tools for you to dominate the Battlefield – in your own way.
Angry Seas: Dynamic Water-based Combat
With Battlefield 4, we’ve put a lot of effort into giving Naval Combat the magnitude it deserves – and with the dynamic weather changes, fighting at sea becomes a constantly changing experience. At sea you get to control both attack craft like the Patrol Boats, and water transport vehicles like the Personal Water Craft, each with their own benefits. The bigger naval units are now basically “tanks on water”, suitable for both attacking targets defending themselves with powerful guns and countermeasures.
There were many challenges with designing the naval units in Battlefield 4. A big one was finding the right loadout for weapons, unlocks and other features for the attack boats. Naval units are unique on the Battlefield due to limited mobility, and that you are physically separated by the shoreline from both teammates and enemies. This is also true for the RHIB and Personal Water Craft, but transport vehicles are sort of disposable as you don’t spend as much time in them. We wanted the attack boats to hold value and have the same gameplay depth as a tank or a helicopter.
Let’s say you’re battling it out for bomb possession in Obliteration Mode and you want to take your team to victory by mastering the sea. One idea is to enter a fast attack craft like the RCB-90 and patrol the coasts of the most intense islands. Heavily armed, these things allow you to deal with light vehicles, infantry and other boats, but also give armored vehicles, jets and helicopters a fight. Now you have the choice of maneuvering the craft, trying to find the most strategic places based on what’s happening in the round, or man the fast 30mm cannon and take out enemy infantry as they rush with the bomb on the mainland. In Conquest, you can also use these mobile gun platforms to support the capturing of bases near the water.
If you want to speed things up at sea, the PWC (Personal Water Craft) is back for Battlefield 4. You might recognise this rapid ride from Battlefield 2: Special Forces and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and those familiar with the Siege of Shanghai and Paracel Storm maps know the strength of it – swift movements from A to B in naval environments. Also: if you find yourself aboard an RCB patrol boat that’s close to exploding, two PWCs can come to the rescue by acting as escape vehicles. In other words, there’s no need to swim all the way to shore, which makes for non-stop action on the Battlefield.
The Challenges of the Sea
One challenge with developing Battlefield 4’s naval combat was the difficulty to get other players in the vehicle with you. Unlike a tank or jeep, where you are likely close to friendly infantry, players don’t tend to hang out in the open water. And similarly, if you were a passenger in the boat and you wanted to go do something else, you’re pretty much screwed when the captain has taken you 300 meters from shore. Even as a passenger in a transport helicopter you can parachute down safely almost anywhere on a map.
Ultimately it was the transport helicopter that we looked at when solving these problems. The gunner seats of the transport helicopters are one of the most fun places to be in the entire game. So we added those types of weapons for the passengers of the attack boat, and made the vehicle a team spawn point, like the transport helis, to make it easier and more attractive for people to get in the vehicle.
Because the attack boat has more limited options when it comes to what types of enemies to engage, in a large part because of its necessity to be in water, we decided to give it a more varied set of customisation options than other vehicles, so that you really can be versatile and engage many different types of targets depending on your choices when building your loadout.
We still had the problem of feeling stranded out in the water as a passenger, though. We solved this after thinking back to the Patrol Boats featured in the Battlefield 1942 map Invasion of the Philippines, which could deploy LCRS Rafts when it was sunk. We added a similar feature to the attack boats, allowing any passenger the ability to deploy a Personal Water Carrier from the rear of the boat which you could see in our Siege of Shanghai multiplayer trailer at E3 earlier this year.
Letting every type of unit have its natural prey and enemy, the signature rock-paper-scissors gameplay has always been core to our gameplay design. In Battlefield 4, it’s been greatly tweaked and enhanced. We looked over all of the vehicle classes and what their primary role on the Battlefield should be, and also what secondary role would be appropriate. For example, the Mobile Anti-Air Vehicle’s job is pretty obvious. However when you look at its customisation options in Battlefield 3, there wasn’t a lot of choice when it came to how you could actually engage airborne enemies.
So in this case we added more ammo options for the primary weapon slot and more types of AA missiles in the secondary weapon slot, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Now we can fine-tune our loadout to gain an edge in different situations. Is it helicopters we’ll encounter more often, or jets? Long range or short? Is there more cover for aircraft on this map or are they out in the open more often? So the biggest tweaks in the rock-paper-scissors gameplay come from what kinds of customisation options are now available to each class.
Pimping Your Ride
Before going into battle with your vehicles of war, you’re going to want to make sure that they’re equipped just the way you like them. Battlefield 4 brings several vehicle customisation options for you to experiment with, and this is done in a menu accessible before each round. Let’s say you want to customise the features of your main battle tanks. When picking your primary weapon you’re faced with the choice of a 120MM Armour Piercing Shell or a High Explosive Shell. The former is reasonably fast and deals a good amount of direct damage, but the latter spells heavy damage against armoured targets, at the cost of a slower flight speed of the shells. As always, it’s a matter of personal taste and what kind of resistance you expect on the Battlefield.
But vehicle customisation is also about camos and looking good on the Battlefield – and choosing the right camouflage for the right map environment can even be a life-saver. There are many different color sets and patterns of camo, any combination of which are available to vehicles, weapons and soldiers. The Adaptive Camo is a color pattern that is picked on a level-by-level basis, which is tweaked to match the environment of whatever level you are playing on.
The Freedom of Customisation
In Battlefield 3 there were three vehicle customisation slots; Secondary Weapons, Gadgets and Upgrades. In Battlefield 4 we’ve added customization options for the primary weapon slot, and split gadgets up into two new slots, Optics and Countermeasures. Unlocks for Optics and Countermeasures shared the same customisation slot in Battlefield 3, which wasn’t optimal when it came to tanks. When you had to choose between optics modes and a protective countermeasure, the countermeasure is sort of a no-brainer, which takes player’s control out of that choice. So adding dedicated countermeasure and optic slots removes that problem and adds more customisation options. Now tanks have more countermeasure options and they can be used at the same time as any optics unlock.
Alongside Battlefield 3’s secondary weapon slot unlocks, we now have customisation for the primary slot as well, including different ammo types and in some cases different weapon mechanics. Additionally, like helicopter gunners in Battlefield 3, tank remote gun stations now have their own optics slot and an upgrade slot as well, including functions like a laser designator and short-range incendiary grenades.
Having all these customisation options available will not only add longevity to the game, it will make your time on the Battlefield personal and deep. We truly hope and suspect you will enjoy figuring out what setup is right for you, for all the specific scenarios.
Critical Hit! (and How to Recover from It)
We’ve also applied some changes to the way that vehicles become disabled and how they recover. In Battlefield 3 your vehicle became disabled when its total health was depleted by a certain amount, rendering you basically immobile and in need of an Engineer to get it back up and running, otherwise the vehicle would burn away and explode. This changed a lot about vehicle combat in Battlefield for the better, but there were still some things about the system we didn’t like, based on how players reacted. Primarily, it always felt like you had to abandon the vehicle when becoming disabled, even though there’s always the possibility of still winning the fight. And if there’s no Engineer nearby, the vehicle is most likely going to explode anyway, so there’s not a lot of reason to stay in the vehicle.
So in Battlefield 4 we’ve added a new mechanic we call the Critical Hit. Anytime a vehicle takes a hit, we check the amount of final damage that was dealt, after the angle and zone checks. If the damage was high enough, it’s a Critical Hit, and the vehicle acts much like they did in Battlefield 3, losing power in tanks or having loss of control in aircraft – but this effect is temporary, and the vehicle recovers automatically after a few seconds.
The critical hit damage threshold is carefully tweaked alongside the damage zones and glancing-hit scaling on each vehicle, in a way that promotes playing smart as both a vehicle operator, and in an anti-vehicle role. This new concept of temporary critical hits means that we keep the sense of impending danger that a damaged vehicle brings – while still allowing for brave drivers to regain control and keep fighting.
Hit’em Where it Hurts: Mastering Vehicle Damage
Key to taking down enemy vehicles in Battlefield 4 is of course to know the most effective ways to damage them. The vehicle damage systems are similar to those in Battlefield 3 but we’ve balanced and fine-tuned it and fixed some problems. Take MBTs (Main Battle Tanks) for instance. Just like in Battlefield 3, they have the strongest armor of any combat vehicle in the game, but only in the front of the vehicle, while the back of the MBT has the weakest armor of any combat vehicle. Then on the sides they have standard armor, the same as the other tanks have all around.
Even though the MBT is the only tank with strong and weak spots like this, it still matters how you approach any tank with anti-tank weapons. A straight shot, perpendicular to the face of the vehicle where the impact occurs, will deal the most damage. A shot at a more “glancing” angle will deal less damage. So steady aim, ambushing and flanking heavy vehicles is the key to taking them down.
In Battlefield 4 we’ve also added a new “top” zone to all of the combat-oriented tanks, which also takes into account at what angle the impact has occurred. The FGM-148 (Javelin) missile, and the vehicle-based laser guided missiles will all naturally achieve a devastating top-attack hit when responding to teammates laser-designated targets. You can also achieve this with an RPG if you are firing from the right position, like a strategic hiding place on a rooftop or by paradropping from above.
Take to the Skies: Unique Air Combat Roles
It wouldn’t be Battlefield without the ability to get into a jet or helicopter and help out your team from above. One challenge we faced when tweaking the airborne vehicles in Battlefield 4 was to clearly define their roles.
For instance: in Battlefield 3, Fighter Jets and Attack Jets were fairly homogenous and shared the same unlocks. They were both practically the same class, with few differences. In Battlefield 4, we’ve updated the Fighter Jet class to Stealth Jets with two new vehicles not present in Battlefield before (including the Chinese J-20), and their customisation options now focus on air-to-air fighting. Attack Jets now have their own set of unlocks which focus on air-to-ground capabilities.
As for helicopters, the scout, transport and attack helicopters return and their unique roles are also defined in different ways. The scout helicopter is faster and more agile in Battlefield 4 and works well against infantry and light vehicles, and the attack helicopter can easily take out armoured vehicles with the co-operation of a skilled co-pilot. The transport helicopter is, as always, the ultimate squad team play vehicle. Piloting the helicopters can perhaps be somewhat of a challenge, but is also very rewarding for those who dare take to the sky. And of course, you’ll always have the new Test Range to perfect your flying skills in, before taking on the all-out war.
Get Behind the Wheel
Come early October, when the exclusive and open Battlefield 4 beta kicks off, you’ll be able to try out the wide range of vehicles and all their customisations yourself. We hope you will find the Battlefield 4 vehicles better than ever, and that you enjoy that chaotic feeling of all-out war that comes with them.
THE DEPICTION OF ANY WEAPONS OR VEHICLE IN THIS GAME DOES NOT INDICATE AFFILIATION, SPONSORSHIP OR ENDORSEMENT BY ANY WEAPON OR VEHICLE MANUFACTURER.