Interview: Battlefield 3 Developer DICE

I’ll be posting an epic Battlefield 3 review tomorrow, and giving away a few copies of the game, but before that I wanted to put up a little Q&A I got to have with DICE, the game’s developer. I tried to focus on issues that a are a little more relevant to the TechCrunch reader instead of just the FPS player.

These questions were posed before the release of the game and before I wrote the review, so unfortunately they can’t address the issues I’ll detail tomorrow, but anyhow, without further ado:

What made you want to up the social component with Battlelog and other updates? Do people really want to share their k/d ratio on Facebook?

Battlelog is all about starting the right game with the right friends at the right time. You don’t have to share everything with all your Facebook friends, but Battlelog makes sure that it’s easier than ever to follow your friends’ progress and join a game where you’ll end up with the right people to maximize the fun factor.

I remember in the old days, where I would boot up Battlefield 2142 and join a server, only to find that none of my friends were actually playing at the moment. Now, I hang around in Battlelog, check my stats, plan my next unlocks, and suddenly I see one of my friends go online and enter a server. Then I just click to join on the same server. It’s social gaming at its best.

The single player game is clearly very scripted, which some like more than others. But the multiplayer is much more sandbox, with open areas, lots of options for advancing, and so on. How do you manage to bridge this gap and still create a cohesive game?

The goal for our different game modes (multiplayer, co-op and single player) is not to give the player the same experience but to give the player a variety of different Battlefield experiences. But with this in mind I think the single player and multiplayer portions of Battlefield 3 are more similar than you would think. The gunplay experience and core gameplay features such as vehicular combat are all present in the single player campaign, even if we tie a strong story to it. We find that a lot of people actually play the single player campaign to acquaint themselves with the controls and the concepts, so they can enter the multiplayer portion and be prepared for the kind of actions they need to perform to survive in Conquest or Team Deathmatch or whatever game mode they want to play.

I always remember Peter Molyneux talking about new behaviors happening in Black and White, but with physics it can be just as unpredictable. Have there been any interesting “unintended consequences” you’ve seen as a result of the sophistication of the engine?

Haha, they happen all the time! It’s part of why we coined the phrase “Battlefield moments”. It’s those moments when weird and wonderful stuff happens online that you couldn’t ever script even if you wanted to. Some of the unintended stuff stays in the game and become classics of their own, like the ability to “wing walk” in Battlefield 1942 (basically standing on the wing of a plane taking off ). We saw similar behaviors in the Battlefield 3 Open Beta, where players would wing walk the MAV recon vehicle, with some interesting results. The point is that with the dynamic rock/paper/scissors gameplay in Battlefield, sometimes you’re just amazed by what happens, and I think that is part of what makes our multiplayer so popular.

But yes, the two differ in that in singleplayer, we make sure that players experience exciting moments by scripting some of them, while in multiplayer they emerge based on the dynamic sandbox style gameplay.

We’re seeing a lot of FPS games, including your biggest competitor based in the present or close to it. How do you differentiate things that are going to be in both games, like a common pistol or rifle?

I think we are doing the right thing by focusing on how we firmly believe that a Battlefield game should look, behave, and feel. We are not really comparing weapons models and going “How can we differentiate?” Rather, we are concerned with how we can make our game feel as physical and immersive as possible.

When it comes to weapons in Battlefield 3, we are putting an increased effort into making every class of weapon, and every weapon within that class, unique. This comes down to a lot of factors, like mobility, rate of fire, muzzle energy, and so on. But on top of that, we have this very deep customization system, where a player can tailor almost any main weapon in the game to fit any role from close quarter combat to medium/long range combat.

Every main weapon has three accessory slots where you can attach any of the huge amounts of upgrades you have unlocked. This can be foregrips, different kinds of optics, heavy barrels, underslung grenade launchers, and so on. By giving this amount of customizability to players, we think that anyone, regarding of play style, will be able to have their personal favorite weapon available for any job.

DICE has said that BF3 is first and foremost a PC game. Of course the consoles must have their version and it won’t be as good – but what obstacles are modern developers running into the most with the 360 and PS3, if you can say so without burning any bridges?

What we have said is that Battlefield 3 is very much the true successor to Battlefield 2, which I think might be misinterpreted as us saying Battlefield 3 is first and foremost a PC game. We do want PC players to know and feel safe in the knowledge that we are 100 percent supporting PC, while at the same time developing fantastic versions of the game for consoles.

We are calling Frostbite 2 a next generation engine for current generation platforms. What we mean by that is that we are pushing what’s possible to do on today’s consoles, so we are definitely pushing the abilities of both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. There hasn’t been anything I would consider “obstacles” during development of Battlefield 3 for consoles. Of course, a brand new $2,000 PC has higher specs, but that doesn’t mean getting Battlefield 3 onto consoles has been especially difficult.

Regarding DLC, many gamers feel that developers are shipping half a game and then charging you again for the other half (maps, weapons, etc) – you guys ran into this with the pre-order thing. Can anyone just ship a game any more? And if not, what’s stopping them from doing the Valve thing and pushing out updates for free?

This is interesting. I guess you are referring to the upcoming expansion pack Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand? When we came up with the idea to give an entire expansion pack away at no extra charge to everyone who pre-orders the game, I was thrilled. It’s probably our most generous pre-order offer ever.  I think gamers misinterpreted it as us shipping half a game since we announced the first expansion pack before the main game was out. It was bound to have that effect. Rest assured, Back to Karkand is developed by a separate team here at DICE. This will not be available at launch on disc. But all you need to do to get this post-launch, full digital expansion pack is to pre-order the game.

Having said that, I think that games nowadays – especially online games – are much more than hard-coded discs. For Battlefield 3, with the addition of everything that Battlelog brings, it’s more of an ongoing service for years to come.

Keep an eye out for our review tomorrow. It’s really long.