For fans of the FPS genre of shooter who know that sales numbers don’t tell the entire story, it’s hard to think of a more respected development studio than DICE, the makers of the Battlefield series. With a devoted fan base and commitment to massive online battles based on tactical deployment and teamwork, Battlefield 3 was, in many ways, a major step forward for both the genre and the company.
Just don’t tell them that. According to the Swedish studio, one of their main goals for the upcoming Battlefield 4 isn’t just appealing to more gamers than ever before, but righting the wrongs of BF3. The last installment in the series may have been met with rave reviews, but to those who made it, the fumbling of the user experience and customization systems is something they “should be slapped” for.
The developers have stated in the past just how obsessively they examine feedback from customers, and for those keeping a close watch on BF4, it’s clear some issues have been placed in the spotlight this time around (the new ability to test drive vehicles outside of multiplayer is no surprise).
Since several major publishers and developers have fallen into the pattern of ‘streamlining’ their games to appeal to a massive audience, diehard fans of Battlefield might bristle at the notion of DICE re-designing the user experience, possibly to make it more palatable to anyone other than the existing community. But in an interview with VG24/7, BF4‘s creative director Lars Gustavsson explained that the systems being changed aren’t ones that new players had issues with – they’re the ones the developers weren’t pleased with:
“We’ve added a test range where you can learn to fly the transport helicopter, not crash it into your friends. We’ve reworked menus to give you a much better understanding of how you customise — comparisons when you add attachments that give you a better understanding, just like racing games. We have reworked the spawn menu, just the concept of spawning in; in most games you just end up somewhere random, but here we have a choice. We have to try to show that in a much more visual way. So we’ve done rigorous testing on that one. Game mode movies and so on. We’ve definitely done a lot to smooth the learning curve.”
No one will oppose the idea of creating seamless interfaces and more easily-readable menus, but there’s no overlooking the elephant in the room: EA wants nothing more than to make Battlefield a direct competitor with Call of Duty. But even if executives at DICE have blamed Activision’s annualized series for stagnation in the FPS space, there’s no question that there is a reason Call of Duty remains so popular with hardcore gamers and casual fans alike.
After all, massive armed battles incorporating tanks, fighter planes and helicopters can easily scare off newcomers – especially if the spawning or customization systems are more obtuse than they have to be. It’s DICE’s hope, then, that a ore streamlined and intuitive user experience will address the concerns of their devoted fans, while giving beginners the tools they need to join the action:
“We shipped Battlefield 3, which we should be slapped for, with probably the worst set ups ever… As a pilot, you had to fly your plane and only kill other planes with your cannons. You didn’t have any counter-measures; you didn’t have any missiles. And that’s basically for the best of the best pilots; that’s what they should do to show their skills. [As a beginner], you should have counter-measures, you should have heat-seeking missiles to give you a smooth ride into the game and then from there on you should customise.”
Lest anyone accuse DICE of trying to have their cake and eat it too – bringing in a more-complicated-than-ever Commander Mode, while giving newcomers fewer barriers to entry – Gustavsson reminds players that there is more than one way to be effective in their shooter:
“The key thing I’m after here is that even though we have score play and we now have Commander, it doesn’t mean that you have to play it that way. We have many modes where we don’t even have scores, or the focus on teamplay in that way. It’s you and only you, and only your kill-death ratio matters.
“It’s totally up to you, but if you want to, even in the more complex mode, you can do your own lone wolf career. But if you want to there is a traditional layer — for those who want it.”
“That’s the big thing. It might sound like a marketing pitch: play your ways. It’s sincerely what we believe in, that we shouldn’t dictate how to play Battlefield.”
Only time will tell how successful DICE will be, but the game has impressed so far. What did you think of the customization and vehicles of BF3? Are you more likely to try Battlefield 4 knowing these issues are being addressed? Give us your thoughts in the comments.
Battlefield 4 releases October 29, 2013 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. PS4 and Xbox One release dates have not been announced.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.