Battlefield 4 – DICE Developer Answers Your Questions on Gameplay Balance

Answers questions submitted by Battlefield fans earlier in the week, Battlefield 4 lead core gameplay designer Alan Kertz discusses DICE’s ultimate vision for gameplay balance in a massive next-gen shooter like Battlefield 4.

He also dives into some of the reasoning behind a number of the design decisions you may never have considered and talks about sniper rifle smoke trails, ghillie suits, MAA, and more. You can catch it all on the latest Battlefield 4 blog, or read on below.

Q: Balancing Battlefield 4 must be challenging, what is your ideal vision for the game’s multiplayer?

A: The ideal balance for Battlefield 4 is a battlefield where each item has a valuable role, and no one item, weapon, or vehicle is the clear winner in all situations. Each item has a counter tactic, a fundamental weakness and a fundamental strength. Essentially, it comes down to one really big game of rock-paper-scissor: tank, infantry, airplane, boat, helicopter, sniper, and so on.

Q: What’s the main process behind rebalancing a weapon or vehicle? Do you just change the appropriate values based on opinions voiced on the forums/Reddit/Twitter etc., or is it a much more complicated process?

A: When balancing a vehicle or weapon we always start with the original intention for the item, and compare it to how the community sees the role. Sometimes we have a different idea of how a weapon is intended to work than the community does. Then there’s a period of analysis about how that differs and if changing the design of the weapon would change the game for better or worse. Generally a high level principal is that no weapon, vehicle, gadget, etc., should be the best at any given combat situation. We try to avoid all powerful weapons and instead rely on a rock-paper-scissors setup.

A good example of where the designer and community opinions differ are shotgun slugs. Vocal members of the community see them as ineffective in close range. Given that the intent of the slugs from a design perspective is to be effective at long range, we looked at the feedback and decided that making them effective in close range as well would essentially remove the role of the other shotgun ammo. So we decline to make a tweak. The opposite is true of the mobile Anti-Aircraft, where the community and the designers both agree that it’s role is to shoot down aircraft, it’s just too good at it. The final step in that situation is to find the cause of the power imbalance (in this case, gun range seems to be the biggest issue) and make an adjustment.

Q: Why do sniper rifles and hand grenades leave smoke trails?

A: One of our high level design goals is that a player should be able to understand what killed him and from where.  In the best of worlds, a player accepts his death as being earned by the other player. Battlefield moves very quickly and death can come quickly. Highlighting big quick kill threats like grenades and sniper rifles help players understand and react to incoming fire. It makes the player feel in control and when you watch a well thrown (or even lucky) grenade arc in the air and blow you up, you appreciate it more than if you never noticed it.

Q: Why wasn’t the ghillie suit an option for the Recon class in Battlefield 4?

A: Much of Battlefield 4 takes place in urban areas. A bush wookie outfit simply didn’t fit into those areas, and not every recon soldier is a sniper. We worked with our character concept artists to design a kit image that portrays the recon’s role as a sneaky intelligence gatherer with a spec ops focus, an image we think the recon soldiers today fit quite well. Sneaky, Urban, Annoying.

Q: Why was the MAA (Mobile Anti-Aircraft) added to the game as there seems to be enough threats to aircraft?

A: The inclusion of MAA in BF3 and BF4, gives us a “rock” to the “scissors” of aircrafts and the “paper” of tanks. Basically, it gives something tanks can hunt, which isn’t really a threat to the tank, and it gives aircraft something to fear. Given the number of pilot complaints about mobile AA, it’s plenty scary. However, given the ability to stay far back from the front where the tanks can’t get at it, it’s clear it has too much range. We will address the range difference in an upcoming update, and force the MAA back into the battlefield in order to be effective.

Q: Why were smart weapons added to Battlefield 4?

A: Battlefield 4 is a game set in the modern warscape, and in order to properly convey that we included smart weapons. Obviously in real life smart weapons are amazingly powerful, and no one in the business of combat is looking to make it balanced; Battlefield is intended to be balanced, and thus we try to counter the ease of use of the smart weapons with their damage output, and other effectiveness values.  The level of our success in that delicate balance is lower than we’d like, and we’ve taken steps towards balancing these smart weapons for a future update.

Q: How did you determine the unlock order of the main weapons and side arms?

A: Actually, we generally try to pick the easiest weapons to pick up and use at the start of an unlock tree (hence the NLAW being a default unlock) and then the more difficult to master items deeper into the tree. We also have to balance that with the player having interesting options early on, so we may offer a new flavor quickly.

Learn anything new?

  • PI3KY

    I’ll just say that this is a pathetic excuse of a Q & A. Thanks Alan for answering the softball questions, because everyone who is really passionate about the game and want to understand the actual core decisions you guys make really care about which order weapons are set to unlock.

    A waste of time.

    • dpg70

      Did we expect anything less? Honestly?

  • Cameron

    They chose to answer some horrible questions.

  • Katana67

    A puff-piece. Atrocious.

    • awkenney

      I think ground-to-air missiles really should really have no countermeasure in this game. The main benefit to the aircraft is that they move you from point-to-point faster. Otherwise they contribute only to the sandbox, and not to the objective. So the balance of ground-to-air smart missiles is that they keep sandbox gamers in check and hopefully returning to the objectives more often. That’s good enough for me.

      • Katana67

        So fighter/attack aircraft (with included AA and CAS weapons) are only to be used as a glorified ferry?

        I’m sorry, I get that this is your opinion, but that is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard. I’ve never heard anyone who’s satisfied with the jets being used like a roll of toilet paper.

        You’d rather have them be ONLY used for transport, in not having CMs over having a more robust CAS system in place so that jet pilots could actually support ground operations?

        • awkenney

          I’m not saying aircraft shouldn’t be used to support ground ops. I’m saying players don’t do it nearly as often as it was intended by DICE. That’s due, in part, to the design of the game. Due to the sheer number of things that a player can get distracted by in BF2/BF3/BF4, DICE has pretty much guaranteed that BF will always be too complex to ever attain balanced gameplay or focused objectives.

          I’m aware of how unpopular my opinions are here and just about everywhere else. Does that mean that challenge and competition are irrelevant in the games industry? No. More recently its been shown that people are still very attracted to challenge and competition in games. But I don’t think BF supports this because the gameplay and mechanics are not directed enough.

          • Katana67

            Which is where I wholeheartedly disagree with you. Games are not about challenges or competition for me. They can be, sure, and by definition a game is a competition. But they are also about the experience, for me at least, which is much more important. But that’s a fundamental difference that we’ll just have to agree to disagree upon.

            I’m not saying anything towards your credibility, or popularity. Things like that don’t really concern me, as I have pretty unpopular views on certain issues in BF as well. Nor am I concerned with the gaming industry as a whole, there are games out there for everyone. What concerns me is Battlefield.

            I’d rather them bolster what they’ve got (with regards to jets) so that jet pilots can effectively support ground troops. Whereas now, they’re neutered by overwhelming AA, ineffective CAS weapons, and poor coordination with players on the ground.

            For instance, if I were able to actually engage infantry targets effectively with the main cannon… that would allow me to support the advance of a squad under fire. Or if said squad were able to mark a non-vehicle ground target for CAS. Or if I wasn’t 100% visible all of the time due to zero atmospheric effects.

            Likewise, taking your notions of advancing an objective to heart, I’d love to see the Conquest game mode specifically get a revamp. Whereby there are ground/air zones which are controlled by mere team population which could affect ticket counts/bleed. In addition to fixed CQ flags which play a heavy role in dictating ticket bleed as they do now.

            I guess my way of looking at it is this. You’ve got the so-called “sandbox” versus “objectives” as you describe it. So you’ve got endorsed ways of playing the game that don’t actually affect the objective. So instead of taking these ways of playing the game away, why not GIVE them an objective to advance? Same applies to long-range snipers.

            • awkenney

              If the game had a better way of dealing with emergent gameplay and horseplay, I’d like your idea. It’s not a bad idea. I’m just pretty sure the majority of players would find a way to screw up the concept. Most of the players are too busy saying “I wonder what happens if I do this” instead of playing the damn game.

            • http://www.facebook.com/datkidfromawendaw Clay Johnson

              I agree with you.

            • Katana67

              Yeah, I haven’t played BF2P4F but I did play the hell out of BF2 so if the jets are anywhere near the same then I get what you’re saying.

              They were very much different. From what we’ve got now in terms of capability/effectiveness. It’s sort of a roundabout way of saying “less is more”.

              For one, you had to RTB to re-arm.

              Second, there were just AA missiles and un-guided JDAMs.

              Third, the draw distance was so short that you could actually disappear from LOS if need be. A similar effect could be accomplished now if they’d just add some effing volumetric clouds.

              Fourth, all of the ground-side AA was either fixed or on the MAA vehicle. No Stingers, no SOFLAMs, no nothing. Even helicopters had to RTB once they spent their AA missiles and they weren’t particularly effective. You didn’t have Attack Helicopter pilots chasing after jets like you do in BF3/4. I’m also pretty sure the pilot’s supply of flares was finite, but I could be mixing my time on PR with my time on vanilla BF2.

              Fifth, and most importantly in my mind, the main cannon and JDAMs actually WRECKED their targets. JDAMs took REAL skill to put on-target.

              So, in BF3, you have (like you said) less-maneuverable jets, with wholly less-powerful (albeit more various) offensive capabilities, less health overall, and more AA arrayed against them. How anyone could think this is acceptable is beyond me, they’re effing jets, not disposable teacups.

              This is the one area that I’d take an improvement over all others. Next to jet improvements, I couldn’t care less about a Stinger revamp, bolt-action revamp, or the riddance of random spread. Jets need some serious improvement by DICE.

        • Guest

          I’m not saying that players shouldn’t use aircraft to support ground ops. I’m saying they don’t do it often enough. Partly, I’d say that’s by design.
          Are my opinions unpopular? Yes. Does that mean that I am uneducated about how to put the objectives of a game before anything else? No.

  • dieger

    “: Why do sniper rifles and hand grenades leave smoke trails?

    A: One of our high level design goals is that a player should be able to understand what killed him and from where. In the best of worlds, a player accepts his death as being earned by the other player. Battlefield moves very quickly and death can come quickly. *Highlighting big quick kill threats like grenades and sniper rifles help players understand and react to incoming fire.* It makes the player feel in control and when you watch a well thrown (or even lucky) grenade arc in the air and blow you up, you appreciate it more than if you never noticed it.” i think people get they are getting shot at by a sniper when they hear a huge bang and the entire screen is blurry…how much more help do they need?!

    • Katana67

      Not to mention the blaring scope glint.

      Thank god I play Hardcore and I don’t have to deal with “Killcams”.

      • awkenney

        I think the sniper glint was the wrong mechanic to apply to snipers. A better mechanic would have been satellite recon, or some sort of air-based spotting system that doesn’t automatically light up every sniper that tries to scope up.

        • schrute

          Snipers should be lit up like a Christmas tree, they are annoying and way too common

        • YellaNinja

          Maybe the glint should actually work dependant upon where the sun is in-game. That way, it’d be more realistic and it’d punish daft snipers who didn’t think about their positioning in regards to the sun…

    • VEX_VEHIX

      I need a TRIANGLE over their heads too! Lol

      • dieger

        True spotting should be removed on sniper glint is bad enough

        • Katana67

          I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

          Sniping is about range, stealth, and accuracy. Nothing more.

          If Kertz’s (conflicting) logic is to be interpreted correctly, in not making any individual weapon proficient in every scenario, then bolt-actions SHOULD NOT HAVE sub 6x optics.

          They excel at long-range, stealthy, accurate engagements. Not close-quarters, overt, rapid-fire engagements.

          They need to toss straight-pull bolt (or make it a pain in the ass to use), get rid of sub-6x optics, reverse the damage curve so that bolt-actions do maximum damage at range, and add a killflash which would replace the 14x variable slot to get rid of the scope glint.

          Sniping, although much more effective in BF4, still has a long way to go.

          • dieger

            in my opinion if you got a silencer on the sniper rifle glint should be gone.

          • Cycovision

            If you’re going to nerf snipers into oblivion then they at least need a chest multiplier. Otherwise they’ll be utterly useless

            • Katana67

              Either two-shot kills to anything but the head at all ranges.

              Or two shot kills inside of 100m and OHK at range.

              They shouldn’t be effective in CQC. Period. Two-shot kills is being generous. I’m a fan of the first one, as it still places a premium on headshots whereas the latter tips the scales too far in terms of ranged damage in my mind.

            • Cycovision

              Did a sniper rape your mother or something? Basically you want snipers to be useless.

            • Katana67

              Nope, I want them to be great at long-range and horrible in CQC.

              Because… that’s what they do.

              I love sniping, not side-stepping with an 8x at 50m with OHK’s guaranteed.

              Chill.

            • Cycovision

              They’re already horrible in CQC

            • Katana67

              Not in Hardcore. They’re wholly proficient at all ranges. Both statistically and in practice, they just are.

            • Cycovision

              Then don’t play hardcore?

            • Katana67

              I’d rather advocate for change than giving up a decent gametype that I enjoy playing.

              I’d also rather advocate against blanket balance, so that DICE balances Normal and Hardcore separately. Because it’s required nowadays.

  • VEX_VEHIX

    Ring around the roooosiee… Bleh.

    Where are the tough questions/answers? The Ghillie suit answer made the cut? Lol

    I do agree with the upcoming MAA range nerf. Make them “fear” tanks, while they harass pilots. :)

  • MegaMan3k

    Why not ask a tough question like “Why is this game not designed to allow a skilled player to succeed?”

    • Katana67

      Because that would require them to wholly contradict their “working as intended” product.

      A very good question indeed.

    • awkenney

      I wish they would do just that. But most developers are really driven to make a game that is fun for the widest audience possible. DICE is no exception.

  • Kyle Jackson

    Questions were far too soft going.

  • http://Www.pselectronicsrepair.com/ Lrishjake

    Nothing against you or your story David, but I question why I even read this..

    • VEX_VEHIX

      I question your question. Haha

      Irish!! I’m finally building a gaming PC. Now stop ignoring my texts. No mo.

  • VEX_VEHIX

    Better question: “Why are your investors pissed?”

  • Kidanny Mendez

    I would have liked to know their criteria for deciding if a game is ready for release

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  • Sensou-Ookami

    FIX THE FREAKING 0 HEALTH BUG!!! Getting so tired of losing gun battles and seeing that the guy walks away with 0 health. I swear your whole testing team was on the pipe before examining the game.

    • Sensou-Ookami

      Don’t get me started on the random moments I’m about to load onto a map and get stuck in the black screen still hearing the load music play bs.

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