Bringing Battlefield into Close Quarters
Hi everyone. This is Niklas Fegraeus, Lead Designer on Battlefield 3 ™: Close Quarters. Above is an early test video we recorded during a play test to judge the effect of our new destruction. But first things first:
In 2001, while making games for the Sega Dreamcast, I began a career as a clan player in Counter-Strike. This eventually became a semiprofessional part time job, as I got a sponsor, won several LAN tournaments and competed in the Cyber athlete Professional League.
Now, in 2012, my competitive mouse is put on the shelf, but I consider the experiences from those days invaluable to my role as game designer making Battlefield games.
Counter-Strike is a very tactical and precise art of close quarters shooting, so I can comfortably say I know a little about how those tight shooter experiences play, and how they should play.
Battlefield on the other hand, is a huge game in more ways than one. Even we developers sometimes have a hard time realising its breadth. You can go from clearing a house of enemy soldiers through careful squad tactics to soaring through the sky in a jet fighter, frantically evading enemy anti-air weaponry, all in the same round.
I can still recall the thrill of that scale and freedom I had when I first tried the game. It was the BF1942 demo on Wake Island (before I joined the crew here at DICE) and I was raging over those damn fighter planes that kept dropping bombs on my head! However, rage and confusion turned to evil grin as I found the AA-guns and used them to good effect!
Three years later, I landed my dream job working at DICE on Battlefield 2! Having worked as Animator and Designer on Battlefield 2, it was especially satisfying to be Lead Designer on Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand and bring some of the most classic maps from Battlefield 2 into Battlefield 3.
When I finished up Back to Karkand, I already knew I needed to start on our next themed expansion pack for release in June. This time, I really wanted to expand Battlefield 3 and give players even more experiences to choose from. But I didn’t know how to approach it.
Then I remembered those nights at my sponsor’s Internet café, where I and my clan for hours on end practiced the best way to attack a well-defended room, using only a few grenades and the business end of our rifles.
There is something very unique about an indoor fire fight. You have to cover angles in new ways, use sound to track your enemies, navigate with much more careful precision and most importantly, you’re never safe. Danger is always no more than a few meters away. It’s a scenario that always makes me feel 100% in the fight. There is no dull moment, you’re always on your toes, on the edge.
The closest you come to this type of tight combat scenario in Battlefield 3 is on Operation Métro. We know this is one of our most popular maps, which tells us that our gameplay has what it takes to perform in such unique and frantic conditions.
I had an approach for our new expansion pack. Now, I just needed to refine it. I needed to find those elements that make the adrenaline levels go through the roof and keep you constantly on that edge. I want the player to feel like Hudson in Aliens, as he is watching the motion scanner bleep faster and faster, realising that the safety he thought he had isn’t there anymore, and that death is already in the room.
I sat down and spoke with Jhony Ljungstedt, my art director, and had a discussion about how we could achieve this. After bouncing random ideas for a while, he told me that even though that explosive scene from “The Matrix” was rather old, seeing Neo and Trinity turn a lobby into rubble in slow motion did leave a huge impression, and hadn’t ever been properly done in a game. We both agreed and Jhony said he really wanted to be able to create that sensation.
“Imagine tearing a place down using only bullets, watching chunks being torn off the walls, littering the floors like a dropped bag of grey marbles” he said.
“I wanted everything to get shot to pieces. Really, really small pieces”
And that’s when it occurred to me. We have a golden opportunity here. When removing large and process heavy elements like tanks, and scaling down Battlefield to a tighter scale, we are given some extra Frostbite 2 oomph at our disposal. The engine has fantastic destructive capabilities, and with more CPU overhead, we could put it to the ultimate test.
I wanted to see if we could destroy things in greater detail. I wanted everything to get shot to pieces. Really, really small pieces. In short, I wanted destruction to go High Definition.
After a series of prototypes and testing, we had a working model and immediately put it into practice. A grey and boring test level became the scene for a big floating stairway, with supporting pillars surrounded by temporary walls, just so we wouldn’t fall into oblivion.
We had incorporated some early HD Destruction in this test level just for proof of concept. Then, we simply asked the testers: “Shoot at everything”. And they did.
The place immediately got torn to pieces, as bullets ripped through the grey prototype materials, spreading chunks of it everywhere, literally creating a carpet of debris on the floor. Walls had big holes where there was once solid wood or plaster. You could create new angles and ways of attack, just by firing your normal gun. This was new to Battlefield, as you would normally need heavier hardware like RPG’s or tanks to blow up walls in the base game.
We immediately knew this was something really cool and would have a significant impact on both how you play and how you experience that play. HD Destruction immediately became a key factor in bringing the intensity of the Battlefield experience into close quarters combat, and looking at it now, in its complete implementation, it feels great to finally be able to show it to everyone.
While HD Destruction has a significant impact on how you experience the second-to-second gameplay, we also had to tackle the challenges of bringing our tried and tested game modes to the smaller scale. We understood quickly that Rush, being a large and progressive mode that takes you on a journey from M-COM to M-COM, simply wouldn’t fit physically. So instead, we turned our attention to Conquest. How could we tailor this essential Battlefield game mode to fit our new type of environment?
Welcome to Ziba Tower. We built it. We can destroy it.
I spoke to my Game Designer Gustav Halling who, like me, has a history of competitive FPS gaming. We remembered Unreal Tournament from way back in 1999. It was the first time the world saw the game mode “Domination”, which is very similar to Conquest. There are some differences though, and the Domination type gameplay usually takes place on smaller maps, much like the ones we were creating.
Inspired by these memories, we used the spawning systems from Battlefield 3 Team Deathmatch and came up with a Conquest mode adapted for smaller spaces. We called it Conquest Domination, and it worked beautifully. In particular, flag defense is suddenly more important, and you get different tactical layers due to the subtle differences the new mode provides. It’s reminiscent of those tactics I practiced to perfection in my e-sports days. Listen for the footsteps, spray the wall, throw your grenade, cover one angle each and constantly communicate. The experience grows with our tried and tested squad play mechanics, and the intensity and pure challenge of trying to dominate these close quarters is something I’m convinced will put even the best squads to the test.
Designing a new experience isn’t easy. Many things were created and tested, many things didn’t fit, and there are millions of fans whose wishes you want to fulfill. Ultimately, it’s about finding a meaningful core idea, and realizing it with relentless attention to detail.
We wanted the thrill of fighting in close quarters. We wanted the adrenaline rush that comes from always being one second from potential death. We wanted the world around you to be both your best friend and mortal enemy, by protecting you in one moment and in the next, completely failing you by opening up new ways for the enemy to attack.
Often when I remove my headphones from a playtests on Close Quarters, I’m shaking like a leaf from all of the adrenaline. So personally, I am very happy and proud of where we are with our next expansion pack. Most of all, I’m happy with how versatile our game is, and how my team has helped broaden it further.
Niklas Fegraeus, Lead Designer Battlefield 3: Close Quarters