Battlefield 4 is on track for release and apart from sudden hardware failure, supposedly is playable. At a Sydney preview event, we got a glimpse of BF4's cinematic aspirations as well as an insight into what makes a Battlefield game from a development standpoint. Supposedly, if gamers buy both Call of Duty and Battlefield, everyone wins.Meeting your heroes may end in disappointment.
With E3 now behind us, the video game hype machine is getting into gear and fans are receiving final details for the impending release of several Triple-A titles, as we have seen with the recent ‘game play’ trailer for GTA V.
Fans of first person shooters, especially Battlefield were not disappointed at E3 when the single player ‘Angry Sea’ and multi-player ‘Siege of Shanghai’ demos were shown off. These demos not only showed off the graphics capability of Battlefield 4’s updated Frostbite engine (Battlefield 4 at E3 was powered by Graphics Core Next equipped AMD Radeon Graphics Cards) but was topped off with an unprecedented showing of PC gaming force with a live demonstration of 64 players.
The aim of the Battlefield 4 disclosure at E3 can be seen as two-fold, not only to show that Battlefield can be as cinematic as any other triple AAA franchise but to prove that Battlefield has the game play to back up any ‘pretty graphics’. After all, EA’s CEO did infamously say to the press that Battlefield was a “superior product” to Call of Duty.
So how do you showcase one of the most anticipated games of the year to its eager community fan base? Put it on a big cinema screen, and that is exactly what EA Australia did at a recent community even for Battlefield 4 on July 16 in Sydney Australia.
As a recent convert to Battlefield 3, I admit to some excitement upon learning of the event, It is not every day you get to experience a game that is highly anticipated to yourself on a premium cinema screen let alone any game in general.
Although the event was to demo the already-previewed and downloadable “Angry Sea” map, there was definitely a strong Sense of Enthusiasm with the attendees, who were keen to get any taste of Battlefield 4 they could, filling the Hoyts Moore Park Cinema to two-thirds capacity.
Whilst the Angry Sea live game play on the big screen was to go along the lines of the E3 demo, Director of Marketing at Electronic Arts, Battlefield David Silverman was present to give a commentary on development and game play as well as to facilitate Q+A from the audience.
Although the presentation night was a mix of video media and live game play, with the way the demonstration PC from Origin was setup to the cinema projector it was difficult to objectively tell whether the audience was being shown a video or game code. Unlike Intel’s GRID 2 demo at the ANZ launch for their 4th Gen Core ‘Haswell’ processor, which we covered (below) the tell-tale desktop and loading screens were not visible from the BF 4 presentation. Intel went to lengths to emphasise that their graphics products could actually run modern Triple-A games well.
To show DICE’s work on character realism we were shown the typical motion-capture behind the scenes video staring Omar from The Wire Irish, one of the four main protagonists in the single player campaign, before and after shots from the motion-capture process and the same mo-cap composite in-game. Silverman was keen to point out that BF3’s animation engine was borrowed from FIFA and this technology had enhanced how characters behave, especially given the combat nature of Battlefield. AI in Battlefield 4 will also track the player during conversations and will be more responsive.
If you have already seen the angry sea game play demo/video then you know what to expect with the plot, game play and cinematic of the mission. The length of the demo presented was the same as the public video.
However it was emphasised that the AI in battlefield 4 is intelligent and improved for the single player campaign. For players of a ‘normal’ experience, team mates in the mission can perform flank the enemy and follow spotting commands. This is to assist not as experienced players and add some variety to the missions.
The game must be fun.
Fishing in Baku was also to be shown at the community event on the cinema screen however the demo crashed during the intro title. Judging by attempts to restart and diagnose the demo PC and various diagnostic lighting on the hardware, a GPU failure (ASUS Radeon HD7970 MATRIX) was likely and no backup system was available. Q&A was extended in lieu of the demo.
EA/DICE will not be changing their server model for BF4 such as releasing a dedicated server. Server Rentals will be available just as with BF3. System link, for consoles which are physically attached to each other for multiplayer gaming will not be supported either.
Although BF4 was shown at E3 using 64 player PCs powered by AMD Radeon, for Next-Gen consoles BF4 will support 64 players @ 60Hz. No mention of graphics detail levels at this setting however. We do have a concept of scale however with Silverman stating that Siege of Shanghai was a “medium sized map” to Battlefield 4. EA/DICE found 60% of Death Match play for Battlefield 3 was on Canals map alone and metrics such as this helped them plan and scale MP maps for BF4.
Cross platform play is not available, however Battle log will still be the front end for BF4 as it is with BF3 and MOH. It will be extended to consoles to provide a uniform experience. The reintroduced commander mode will also be available for all platforms.
Silverman was quite candid when it came to discussing what the design philosophy behind Battlefield was and how it relates or competes with Call of Duty. The key point to Battlefield that Silverman explained was that “the game must be fun”. The destruction technology in the game maps does not serve its purpose if the player can level the map and end up with a desolate wasteland of nothingness. Buildings in the maps can be destroyed within limits, falling within the ‘fun’ rule.
For BF v COD adversary, Silverman said if gamers buy both Call of Duty and Battlefield, “everyone wins”, alluding to the relationship between high game shipment sales and a healthy games industry as well as the effect of piracy.
It is expected for BF4 to follow BF3’s DLC model of expansions adding more scenarios as this was how new vehicles were introduced to the franchise. Players who enjoyed the Jet skis and attack boats from the demos could expect similar unique vehicles in the future.
Within regards to graphics and game play, the new iteration of Frostbite is not ‘more intensive’ compared to the Frostbite 2 engine used for BF3. Silverman stated that players who experienced BF3 on High settings will also be able to experience BF4 on High settings.
This has interesting implications for not only the PC/Next-Gen, (BF3 was a graphically intensive title for PCs in 2011) but gives us an indication of PS3/360 performance and quality.
The Oculus RIFT device has gained popularity for adding an extra dimension to graphics but despite being “really impressed” with RIFT, official support in BF4 is not planned. Exception being if an individual developer implements support on their own
If gamers buy both Call of Duty and Battlefield, everyone wins.
Ideally, the community event should have had allowed attendees to play the official demo maps for themselves rather than rely on the already well distributed game play videos and a backup PC should have been present for contingencies. Since EA's representatives are travelling the world to promote BF4, using a newer, more mature game build would have also been more ideal.
Previous discussions with EA informed us that it is logistically difficult to provide a PC fleet for community events and this is understandable, however the excuse ‘it worked well at the office’ does not hold much value when other tech vendors rehearse public events well and have contingencies for hardware failure.
There is always next time, and history has shown us that there will always be another Battlefield.
Battlefield 4 will be released in ANZ on October 31 for PC, PS3, XBOX 360. PS4 and XBOX ONE release is To Be Announced.
Details on the Battlefield 4 Premium Edition will be disclosed "within weeks".
AMD is heavily endorsing the game as part of their gaming evolved program and both AMD and DICE claimed they have optimised for AMD Radeon graphics. BF4 is likely to be part of AMD’s 'Never Settle’ game bundle and end users should expect to BF4 to be bundled with AMD Radeon graphics cards later in the year closer to Battlefield's (and new AMD Radeon graphics cards) release time.