As part of “Battlefield 4’s” official Player Appreciation Month in February, EA DICE allowed curious fans to submit questions about gameplay balancing to lead core designer Alan Kertz. The inquiries poured in, and Kertz answered several of them on the Battlefield blog. The question-and-answer session is the first in the “Ask Dice!” series, an upcoming weekly segment where fans can ask questions to a DICE developer.
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.