Inside DICE: Building Our Biggest Battlefield Map Ever
DICE Designer Inge Jøran Holberg tells the story of how we created Bandar Desert, the biggest map in Battlefield history. He also provides some playing tips for surviving in this harsh environment once the Armored Kill expansion pack appears in September.
Hi everyone. My name is Inge Jøran Holberg, and I’m one of the Designers here at DICE. When Battlefield 3 had just been released [in October 2011], me and the other Designers were approached by the Operations team Producer Björn Johnsson. He wanted to know if we had any ideas for “Xpack 3”, the third expansion pack for Battlefield 3 that would follow up the infantry focused Close Quarters. Me and my colleagues had already discussed how cool it would be to re-create Atacama Desert and Arica Harbor from Battlefield: Bad Company 2 in the ever improving Frostbite 2 engine. Even if I was the designer of those maps and would love to see them get the Frostbite 2 treatment, I figured they would really only classify as medium sized maps in Battlefield 3 and I was certain there were still loyal Battlefield fans whose needs we hadn’t met yet – those who loved to play on the very biggest of maps in Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2 [such as El Alamein and Fushe Pass].
Reading a number of posts by these players in our forums, I personally agreed that even with maps like Operation Firestorm, Kharg Island and Caspian Border, Battlefield 3 lacked a couple of extra-large maps with huge distances and lots of capture points that they have experienced in some of the maps in earlier Battlefield titles to complete the range.
Seeing as the tight infantry focused Close Quarters was already in progress, I felt that it was high time we delivered on the expectations from our loyal fan base in this department. So we promptly agreed to try and convince the management to let us go big on expansion pack three and make it all about all-out vehicle warfare and extra-large maps. The day after our pitch, Producer Björn Johnsson came back with the good news: “Let’s go Big!”
Bandar Desert — The inspiration
Since Iran was a major area of operations in Battlefield 3, it felt natural to get inspiration from there as a first step in creating some maps in “Xpack 3”. Seeing the desert scenery from the real Bandar Desert area, I really got inspired, and immediately knew we could create something really exciting out of it. When it comes to gameplay, we here at DICE have been enjoying Atacama Desert in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 a lot, just like many of our players. I started thinking about how the best parts of the gameplay on Atacama could make the transition to a new map like Bandar Desert.
Some of the things I like in Atacama and that I wanted to carry across into Bandar Desert is the mix between the built up village areas with lots of destruction and the barren desert where tanks and other vehicles were in their strongest element. Out there, vehicles could duke it out between the sand dunes, using them in large strategic maneuvers to hide or partially hide, protecting the lower parts of the tank when firing. There were also always a few areas where infantry could have the upper hand at times without making it hard for vehicles to enter the area.
With extra-large maps though, some of the additional possibilities I wanted to implement were: Being able to plan ahead when encountering enemy tanks (without always being able to hit them directly as they would be too far away)
Having a better chance to retreat and regroup
Being able to dig in if opposition is too strong
Perform large flanking maneuvers or get support from friendly air units
Size and gameplay
In Bandar Desert, supporting 64 players and jets, everything would have to be larger and build much more on vehicle gameplay on a grand scale than Atacama Desert. At the same time it should be scalable for consoles with fewer players without it leading to compromises for the 64 player version.
These were a few of the major requirements that I set for Bandar Desert. It should:
Support grand scale vehicle gameplay with freedom of movement at long range
Provide exciting dogfight gameplay for jets in huge mountain ranges
Contain diversity in gameplay and intensity between different themes
Offer a great visual diversity both in terms of palette and character
Support all game modes without compromise
Differ from the other three maps in the expansion both visually and in gameplay (I knew what the other maps would be after initial design discussions)
One day I was sitting in the editor environment, adding placeholders for the different capture points to test different layouts on the work in progress terrain. It dawned on me that this could potentially be the biggest official Battlefield map yet to be created. When I started thinking about it, there was no reason not to – especially in this expansion pack with its theme of grand scale vehicle combat.
Playing the first versions of Bandar Desert in our daily play tests was almost like re-discovering the classic Battlefield. Standing in the middle of that desert, looking around at the vast expanse with tanks approaching in the far distance and jets flying overhead was a Battlefield moment on its own.
The challenge with designing a huge map like this is that the size mustn’t lead to it becoming boring and uneventful. There must be no endless, generic travel between point to point like a pointless merry-go-round that never changes speeds. Another challenge is to enable different player kits in the map – there should not be one kit that rules the entire map. Diversity in gameplay across the map would have to be implemented.
“The challenge with designing a huge map like this is that the size mustn’t lead to it becoming boring and uneventful.”
With different distances between flags and big differences between the themes in different parts of the level, you will find yourself in varying environments and gameplay characteristics as you go from the mountain, across the desert and into the more urban areas. All asking you to adapt your play style in order to win the bigger battle.
The difference in pacing and environments will make sure you get a very different overall experience every time you play the map, but it will also accommodate the different soldier kits by building on the strengths of them depending on where you are on the map.
For example: Trying to hold the urban areas will require a greater mix of your team’s different soldier kits than the desert area. You can for example be very useful with med kits, ammo bags or a sniper rifle in the urban areas, while anti-tank weapons will be more favoured in the desert areas.
All soldier kits have different pros and cons in the different areas of Bandar Desert. This is the case for the Battlefield 3 map Operation Firestorm as well, but on Bandar Desert you will have smaller but more houses with good options for vehicles to get around, and you will also have more destruction in the infantry focused areas so vehicles can get more involved in those kind of environments as well.
Tanks are not lost even in the village, but watch out. A soldier with an antitank weapon could be aiming at you from a window.
It’s official: The biggest map yet
In Conquest Large, Bandar Desert is stretching as far as 1,900 meters from U.S. to Russian deployment, not counting the airstrip at the very end of the ground forces combat area. This is even longer than Fushe Pass from Battlefield 2. Bandar Desert is about as wide as it is long at the middle flags – it measures 1,900 meters from the mountain base furthest from the sea all the way to the beach at the south edge of the map.
As a comparison, Caspian Border is roughly 1,100 meters between the U.S. and Russian deployments — around 800 meters difference both in width and length. Should you count the distance between your spawned jet and the enemy spawned jet, you will end up with 2,400 meters on Bandar Desert. From the closest capturable flag to the furthest capturable flag, you are looking at around 1,200 meters. For Caspian Border, the equivalent distance is just about 400 meters.
“1,100 meters between the U.S. and Russian deployments — around 800 meters difference both in width and length. Should you count the distance between your spawned jet and the enemy spawned jet, you will end up with 2,400 meters on Bandar Desert.”
Surviving in the desert
Working together with others in your team will greatly improve your chance of survival in combat.
If you want to play your best on Bandar Desert, I would say that you should try to be effective with different kits, so that you can be at your best where you are needed at all times, and to get to know the vehicles that you will find on this map. Also make sure to use teamwork to overcome enemy forces – stick together with team mates to improve your chances against enemy tanks.
If you haven’t been very active with vehicles before, Bandar Desert is a good reason to get on with the training. Join an empty or nearly empty server at first and test every vehicle’s strengths and weaknesses. It will help you take enemy vehicles out when you are under live fire. In addition, you can discover where you best can dig in when you encounter enemy vehicles.
Try this for example: Drive a tank up on the plateaued dug out sand in the desert army outpost, covering most of your tanks chassis. This gives you the possibility to reverse just a little to hide your entire tank for repairs, only to moments later drive up and shoot again when fully repaired. In this manner, this base is a lot more defendable from the inside with vehicles than the army base at Operation Firestorm.
Holding different flags on Bandar Desert will keep your enemy from valuable assets like tanks, helicopters, transport vehicles, and artillery to a larger degree than on the base game maps, so don’t feel safe with just holding four flags in Conquest Large. If you hold just the town and one more flag, the enemy will still have more valuable vehicles than you have if they hold the most outpost flags, making it difficult for you to hold that majority of the flags for long.
Building Bandar Desert has been a great experience. I want to thank in particular the level artists Simon Barsky and Andrew Hamilton for an excellent job on making Bandar Desert come to life and look amazing. I also want to thank the community for all your constructive feedback on Battlefield 3.
Working on a game where the community makes itself heard is very inspiring. I hope you will love Bandar Desert as much as we do here at DICE. Thanks for reading.
Inge Jøran Holberg
Battlefield 3: Armored Kill releases this September. Look out for more previews leading up to the launch. It is one of the five expansion packs included in Battlefield 3: Premium.