DICE Battlefield 1 Interview – Being Authentic, Maintaining Game Balance
E3 2016 is an incredibly hectic show, and this year was one for the record books. EA held their own separate event, and even had their press conference the Sunday before the main show kicked off. We were lucky enough to duck away from all the hype to sit down and ask Dan Berlin, Lead Level Designer at DICE, a few questions about the upcoming Battlefield 1, and just what it means to fight a plane with a rifle.
PSLS: How important was it for DICE to be historically accurate?
Dan Berlin: It’s definitely something that’s been a thing going through this whole process. Authenticity is very important to us, but at the end of the day, you know, it’s a game, and gameplay and all those things come first. Even though the weapons you’ll see in game are actual weapons we used in conflicts, and vehicles and things are authentic, it’s grounded in this authenticity, but it’s a game, and the fun comes first, (especially) in terms of balancing.
PSLS: Given how recent Battlefield expansions seem to fragment the playerbase, is this a known issue by DICE, and have you done anything to mitigate that?
Dan Berlin: Right now, we’re just focusing on the base game. In my position, we have the scope of stuff that we’re working on, to bring into the first game, so my focus is just the base game, get it out, then we’ll start focusing where to go from there.
PSLS: Could you describe what your role is, what a typical day is for you?
Dan Berlin: I manage the world team. That incorporates the multiplayer part of game development. That incorporates the level design, for all the maps we’re building, also all the multiplayer game modes. All the stuff that you saw today, the dynamic weather systems, destruction systems, that stuff.
PSLS: What sort of destructibility will we see in Battlefield 1?
Dan Berlin: Pretty much, what you see is what you get this time around. That has been the mantra: if I shoot at it, and I expect it to break, we want it to break. We’re really pushing the amount of destruction, in terms of how creative you can be in destruction. You can, pretty much, enter a building, and if you don’t want anyone to follow you upstairs, for example, you can throw an explosive on the staircase, and blow it up. So [you’re actually] able to take structures piece by piece, as well as bringing them down completely. [There is also] ground destruction much more than before, in terms of craters. [They] play a much bigger role this time around. You can have a field that is completely flat and open, and then as the game progresses, explosions go off, the whole thing turns into kind of Swiss cheese, and you can use the craters to move forward. Same mentality here, if you expect an explosion to cause a crater, it’s going to cause a crater. What you see is what you get – it’s what we’ve been pushing for the whole [time].
PSLS: How do you keep the balance between air and ground units?
Dan Berlin: We have the anti-air, stationary weapons. So a player you can actually sit in these flak guns and just shoot at the airplanes going by. But there is a balance aspect…this time around, you can shoot regular rounds at airplanes as well. It’s not going to do a ton of damage, but when someone’s coming down for a bomb run, and [they see] the pop, pop, like they’re taking damage, you can take out the pilot with a well-placed sniper shot. We’ve seen in play tests, for example, like in Italian Alps, for example, that has a lot of elevation in it, some parts of the maps are really down low, and then you can go up in the mountainside, and get really close to the airplanes. Having those situations, where an airplane comes by really close, you take a shotgun, unload six shots into it, and that’s super cool, to see parts of the airplanes coming off. You can mess with the wings, and they won’t have good steering any more. You can have a larger impact on the airplanes on the ground.
PSLS: What sort of ground vehicles can we expect to see?
Dan Berlin: Well, there’s the armored car, which is a multiple seat, squad-based vehicle, so you can get in with your squad and drive up, it’s a little bit faster, it has multiple machine guns. There is also the heavy tank, that’s a six seater, so you can fit your entire squad into one tank. It’s a really big, metal husk-like beast. It’s slower than the other ones, but it’s super good for, for example rolling into a flag, and having a full squad means you have full 360-degree firepower, because each person sits and can just shoot. We also have medium-sized tanks which have 3 seats, and a smaller one which is a one-seater. So that’s what we’re showing off (at EA PLAY).
PSLS: What planes are available?
Dan Berlin: Today we’ve shown you the two-seater, which is, in terms of air-to-air (combat), it’s pretty decent. It can hold its own in a dogfight. It also has a second seat in the back of it. So you can have you and your friend in the same airplane at once. So if you get caught in a dogfight, the pilot can shoot forward, and then you have a guy in the back as well who can shoot people coming up from behind. We also have a scout plane, which is a super nimble airplane. It’s super, super good at dogfights. It’s really good to combine these (planes), actually, because when you get to the bomber airplane, it’s a bit slower, it’s a pretty big airplane with three seats, and this one is super good for just swooping down and dropping really heavy ordnance on the infantry. Since it’s slower, you really have to rely on your friends in the other seats to keep other planes off you, or at least get one of your buddies to jump into one of the scout planes, the really nimble ones, to tag (along with you), so if someone comes along you can just have [your friend] go at them.
PSLS: What will desert combat encompass?
Dan Berlin: We’re not going to be talking about those maps, but we will be fighting in the deserts of Arabia, and in terms of level design, and how we approached that, we wanted to cater different maps to different play styles. We wanted to have smaller maps that are more like close-quarter combat focused, and other maps that are really open, which are really catered to tank combat, for example. You can get in a tank, and you’re kind of peeking over the rolling hills of the desert, and shooting long ordnance at each other, around the dunes, so that’s the kind of stuff you can expect. We have a lot of different types of buildings in the desert as well, villages and stuff like that as well.
PSLS: What is Battlefield 1’s dynamic weather system like?
Dan Berlin: It’s dynamic! So you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s not always going to be rain, fog, end. You can play (a map), and the first time you play it’s all sunny, and the next time you play, it’ll start with rain and then become foggy, you don’t know what to expect. What we wanted to with that, we wanted to push player to change their play style, and adapt to the battlefield. This makes it feel dynamic. Snipers that have really long engagement ranges, when the fog rolls in, they can’t be that effective anymore, so they have to switch to the pistol or hatchet, and it kind of creates a close-quarter sphere all around the map. It changes up the pacing. So that’s been the main approach with the weather.
PSLS: Is the Community Test Environment going to continue for Battlefield 1?
Dan Berlin: I don’t think we’re going to go into any details for that right now, but we are launching the open beta later this year. We’re hoping a lot of people are going to come in, help us stabilize and give feedback, so we can make that last-ditch effort into the game to make sure it’s super-stable when it hits the market.
How many maps will be available at launch?
Dan Berlin: I can’t talk numbers right now. What I can say, there’s the Alps, the (Arabian) desert, just what we’ve seen today, the Western Front, there’s just a bunch of different biomes. The goal has been to not just make every time you enter a map, you want it to look and feel different, but we also want it to play different. So there’s a lot of different gameplay experiences to be had in the different biomes and open space.
We would like to sincerely thank Dan Berlin for taking the time out from his busy E3 schedule to talk with us. Battlefield 1 is currently scheduled for release on October 21, 2016.