Inside Battlefield 4 multiplayer: DICE on destruction, squads, Commander Mode and more

After an E3 in which we saw the mass destruction of the ‘Siege of Shanghai’ trailer, we sat down with Dice producer Aleksander Grondal to grill him on how a next generation of consoles will change the Battlefield series’ trademark multiplayer. Here’s everything we learned.

Bad Company 2 was all about destruction, you could level entire building, completely change the shape of an entire map. Is that going to be the case with Battlefield 4?

Aleksander Grondal: Yes, absolutely.

Even dealing with buildings on the scale we saw in the new multiplayer trailer?

Yes, so for the Siege on Shanghai map we focused the destruction, we wanted to take one building down on this map, we felt like if we took all the buildings down on that map it would completely ruin the game experience that we wanted to design in the first place. On traditional Battlefield maps you have all these small houses; it doesn’t really change that much to destroy all the houses, it looks really cool. But this map we wanted to focus – to focus and say “ok, the focus of the map is that building, and the destruction on the smaller [scale] is around store fronts and around, you know, where players are at and shooting in the area. We’re focussing destruction there.

So is the destruction of the big building a scripted event?

No it’s a player-triggered event.

So if we pound that building enough it’s going to collapse?

Yes, basically. It has supporting pillars that are pre-weakened, so that’s the idea; the players can choose to shoot those players out. But we also want the sense that you own the thing. If you own it, you can go up top on the skyscraper there, it’s a really tactical point because you can jump out and kind of paraglide to all the other points. So if you have it, you want to keep it. But if, for instance, the other team has a really good chopper pilot so you want to make it a bit more difficult for him to try to take the building down? Now we have this whole new gameplay area and you have this reduced visibility because you have all this dust in the air and stuff like that.

It [feeds] into the design concept which we call level-ution. And essentially what that is is we’re trying to tie all the dynamic events on the map into one design concept. So it’s cool with the skyscraper coming down, but that’s not what’s most exciting for me, personally; I’m more excited about the small things you can do while you’re playing.

So imagine you’re running into a car, the car alarm starts going off; now the enemy is aware that you’re in a nearby area. Or that there’s fires going on in the place and now the sprinklers are going off; sprinklers are throwing water at me and I get camera effects from the sprinklers. Or a fire extinguisher: shoot it and it’s now a temporary smoke cloud. And of course you have things like opening and closing shutter gates, you can lower and raise bollards to stop vehicles getting into certain areas. It’s all things that exist in the real world, we wanted to make sure that they had a purpose in Battlefield. That you can use them creatively if you want.

These things, I think, matter the most to second-to-second gameplay. Makes it more interesting. And this isn’t something new, we’re just building on the destruction levels that were already there. We wanted to see what else we could do. Like, ok, a fuse box? Shoot a fuse box: the building goes dark. That’s a new element we wanted to bring into play.

Producer Aleksander Grondal says Battlefield 4′s multiplayer maps will hark back to the destructibility of Bad Company 2.

There’s still a greatly reduced level of destruction to what you had in BC2, so what was the problem with BC2 since you guys have absolutely turned your back on that… not only that game, but also that kind of destruction?

We love that kind of destruction, and we want to have that kind of destruction on other types of maps. It’s just that this one, we wanted to be a bit more focused.

So that style of play will be in the game?

Yes, absolutely.

There’ll be maps where players can essentially carve a straight line across the map?

Essentially, yes. So with these houses that collapse, you know the one and two storey houses that completely gets obliterated? We’ll have maps with that type of gameplay, too.

OK, so in this case you have a map built around one type of building which can be brought down and other maps will be a sea of huts that you can wreck?

Yes. I love Bad Company. I also think Bad Company had a better level of destruction than Battlefield 3 and we are the first to admit that. Battlefield 3 didn’t necessarily deliver what we wanted it to be on the destruction level so we’re kind of upping that, we want to make sure everything goes.

The other thing Battlefield 3 didn’t deliver was a satisfying experience for console players because you obviously had to crop the maps down. With the introduction of the next generation of consoles can you now finally bring the full Battlefield experience to consoles?

Exactly, that’s what we want to do. We are bringing 64 players to the next generation consoles and we’re bringing 60fps to the next generation consoles. We wanted to finally get that epic scale that PC players have been accustomed to but console players haven’t.

With that in mind you’ve also upped the squad count to five – why?

You know, team play was something that we really wanted to focus on. We wanted to give a bit more options to team play. So by adding another team member to the squad we felt like, ok, this is good, we have some more tactical options, we have some more spawn points and it’s more situations to be together. And we felt that five was the right balance for Battlefield 4. I know previous games have had even more in the squad, but we felt like this was right.

And of course another thing is that we’re bringing back the commander and then the squad leader actually has a role to play. In Battlefield 3 we didn’t really deliver on the role of a squad leader. It was just essentially a guy in the squad. But we felt like that was underplayed, we could do more with the role of the squad leader. So the commander can issue orders to the squad leader and he can accept or deny the orders he gets from the commander. So essentially he’s in control of his squad and can choose to not do what the commander orders him to do. He can also request things from the commander himself. We wanted there to be more of a chain of command.

Commander Mode.

And how is the commander selected?

Basically, you choose to apply as commander. You can do it from in-game, or you can do it from a tablet, we’re quite happy to have a commander on the tablet.

So that means you essentially have a 1-in-32 chance of being the commander in any given battle?

No I don’t think that’s going to be [the case]. I think that most people that want to play commander will find out [quickly] if playing as commander is the [right thing] for them. And most other people don’t necessarily care about being the commander, they’re just happy being a part of the commander’s gameplay. But that being said, there is a system in place to make sure we pick commanders that are good, and you can of course vote a commander off if you don’t like him; you can mutiny and throw him out of his position. I’m not going into details about how the actual matchmaking thing works but we’ve done some number-crunching and we think that we have pretty solid ideas for those people who want to play as commander so that they can.

Commander mode, of course, is a returning feature. Is there a reason you took it out in the first place? What changes did it take to bring back commander mode and what learning did you have from it to make it worth bringing back?

I think going back and looking at commander… we went back and took a look at Battlefield 2142 commander… and I always felt like I wasn’t part of the game itself [as commander], I always felt like was doing my own thing trying to get as high a score as possible. And I felt like the connection between the world and the commander was distant; it was just there adding ambience. It was one of the things that I felt personally. So we decided, ok, let’s make sure that the commander has enough things to do so he actually dedicates all his time to becoming the commander rather than running around and maybe hiding behind something. And let’s make sure that the gameplay is connected too. How well your team performs is connected to what efforts you have available.

We wanted to make sure that we feel the presence of the commander when you’re playing with a commander on the server. Now if the player follows orders, does what the commander wants, that’ll be encouraged by… if you do what it says you’re supposed to be doing, you will get more team score, basically. So we added another mechanic for the team score which is essentially what we call the ‘field upgrades’. So this is kind of like a little kick-back to 2142 as well because the squads had progression in 2142. This is like similar to that.

So the squad, itself, has an experience bar and you get experience  by doing team-based actions like capturing the flag together, or I’m healing you in my squad, or I’m following orders from the commander. So all this gets thrown into our shared pool and that gets me nice little upgrades, you know extra ammo, sprint speed, stuff like that. And of course in Battlefield 3 you couldn’t really control what people were giving you, so in Battlefield 3 you had specialisations, so most of the time you had like a full squad and everyone had like shared run speed, for instance. So what we did here is you actually get to decide what upgrades you get on this progression. So [if] I want to play as like an offensive medic or whatever…

And that’s game-by-game, so it resets at the beginning of each game?

It resets, right now, when the squad [disbands]. So you build experience, but you can also lose experience and that’s if the whole squad gets wiped [out] it gets put down to your previous level. So it’s like ‘oh no, let’s at least have one guy left [alive] or we lose our points’.

Do you still have suppression in the game?

We still have suppression: there are some changes to it. The feedback we were getting was that it was a bit too random. Deviation was a bit too random. So we changed the mechanics; its more skill-based in how you’re going to react to suppression.

And how have you reworked the classes?

So the classes remain pretty much the same, we’ve done a little moving of gadgets between the classes – the C4 is now with the recon classes, for example – and people seem to be quite happy about that; it was a requested feature.

In Battlefield 3 the engineer was by far the most flexible and useful class – how much of that played into your thinking?

We wanted to make sure that people had access to explosives and can to do interesting stuff so we have added some more explosive-type gadgets. You have grenades you can pick and choose from.

Bad Company 2 had an under-slung grenade launcher on pretty much every gun in the game… is that something you’ve brought back?

No we didn’t bring that back. We love the M320, I love it, I use it all the time and maybe you do, too, because you’re a Bad Company player. It’s something that we talked about but we felt like for this we found a nice balance between the number explosives. You know grenades have now gotten a bit more powerful and now can take down structures. In Battlefield 3 grenades a bit weaker against physical objects so they have more abilities to take down things, now than they did in Battlefield 3. And of course we added some more diversity to the classes by allowing all classes to have carbines and to have a light sniper rifle and the idea here is that we want to give some more flexibility inside the class on what distance you want to engage on.

Is there a danger that if everyone is able to carry the same assault rifles, it erases the point of classes in the first place? 

Yeah, there’s a number of weapons that are shared but still you have the best weapons in a specific range – they will always be better [for a specific class]. This is just for giving you an option to engage. You won’t be the best at it, and it won’t be the best weapon at all but it allows you to say ‘ok, I want to be a defensive engineer, I don’t have to run up to you immediately and shoot you in your stomach, I can actually take a little bit more of a strategic role – maybe I’ll be using some [long-range] weapons from a distance instead’. And in-between those things I can actually do something.

Will we see remakes of the most popular maps?

That’s something we’re doing. There are a few maps we’ve picked, we’re doing some re-work on them, adding a BF4 flavour. So that’s coming to the Xbox One first. Some of the old maps are really good. And especially going back to BC2, I would love to see more of the BC2 maps.

You guys also did some interesting experiments with Battlefield 3 with your DLC, introducing a pure Skirmish-based map. Did you learn anything in particular from doing those things?

Absolutely. We took a look at what the popular maps had been on expansion packs and took a lot of learning from the expansion packs themselves. I guess you’re referring to the close quarters maps?

Yeah.

In the beginning I must say I was a little bit sceptical about the direction we took. But I think you know after playing it, seeing it live I think we discovered that there is a group of people that really likes to enjoy this kind of high-intensity fights in the Battlefield universe, using the Battlefield mechanics. So you could say that we have a playerbase that have this, they love that, but they also play other stuff and I think that it’s the fact that we have all of these things that make Battlefield interesting. That you can be tired of playing, I want to just into the action, I just want to play for fifteen minutes and have time to play like an XP-free, super-big map, you can just get in there and shoot.

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