Making Battlefield 2142 fair and fun
PUBLISHER: EA Games DEVELOPER: DICE GENRE: Shooter RELEASE DATE: September
WITH BATTLEFIELD AND OTHER SHOOTERS
of its clusterfrag ilk, fair is fun. Tick your firstperson shooter of tomorrow’s feature boxes from top to bottom, battle walkers to Titan hovercarriers, persistent ranking systems to friends-list functionality, and crickets still chirp in those 64-man servers if the give and take aren’t balanced. We grill senior producer Marcus Nilsson on what developer DICE is doing to equalize the easy-to-tip scales of Battlefield 2142’s revamped class system and Titan mode.
>“In the best of worlds, your antivehicle weapon would take out a battle walker with a single shot,” says Nilsson, “but sitting in one of the most powerful monsters on the battlefield and suddenly exploding without a warning is far from fun. We solved the problem by implementing a warning mechanism and skill-based shielding system.”
“OUR JOB IS TO MAKE SURE THAT EVERY POSSIBLE OUTCOME IS BALANCED AGAINST EVERY OTHER POSSIBLE OUTCOME.”
2142 ABANDONS BATTLEFIELD 2’S
fi xed classes for a more modular solution: four fl exible base kits, each comprising two categories of specialization (paired sniper and spec-ops slots, for instance). Crackerjack play nets access to a pool of kitspecifi c, persistent upgrades—40 to 45 varieties of guns and gear that, when combined and
recombined, magnify the infantryman’s means to the enemy’s end.
“The rationale behind the system is simple,” says Nilsson. “Conforming to a small selection
of prefab kits is somewhat limiting, and this way we can make sure things feel fresh month
in, month out. Starting with four core classes establishes a stable, fl exible foundation. Trust
me—a completely wide open, customizable system with no classes doesn’t work. But
beyond that core, we’re handing the customization over to the gamers. Our job behind the
scenes is to make sure that every possible custom outcome is balanced against every
other possible outcome…no problem, right?”
That Nilsson leans more toward tonguein- cheek than cocksure is encouraging, as anyone with experience knows better than to believe in absolutes when teeter-tottering checks and balances.
“Balance is a delicate matter, and we’ve made our share of mistakes. Battlefi eld Vietnam’s
M60/LAV combination made the support soldier totally overpowered; in a split second,
it became the only class people played. Obviously, that isn’t fun. Imagine yourself shouting
for a medic, but fi nding only assault soldiers because their kit is the best.” Nor does variety
in principle guarantee the same in practice. Think Diablo II’s googolplex skills, which promised “unpredictable” PVP contests—in which everyone was either a meteorb sorceress or whirlwind barbarian.
“Nothing substitutes experience,” Nilsson says, “and we’ve gathered info about how people play our games over the years. Our software determines where people play, spawn, die, and what they’re doing during sessions. After we have an alpha version, DICE plays for 12 hours a day to fi nd potential exploits and errors. And again, it demands iteration, as all items are interconnected in ways impossible to assess without plenty of time to play-test and tweak.” Finally, DICE enlists fans to ferret out the unexpected in beta tests. (Now if only they’d meter and curb possibilities for antisocial practices such as forced teamkills in addition to unfair play.)
2142’s mix-and-matchable gear not only offers ongoing incentive to rise through the ranks
(a much more rapid process here than in BF2), but for players to work with one another, too.
Sustained commitment to a single squad (and adherence to its leader’s commands) generates
points for the group, which members can then spend on equipment otherwise accessible only
to those of higher rank. And while access lasts only as long as you stay in one squad (perks
persist across map changes so long as you’re in the same server), the feature insures against
buyer’s remorse, doubling as an opportunity to test-drive before signing on the dotted line.
Suspect the EMP mine, which cripples vehicles and confuses turret traversal, is more your
style? Try it and see.
2142’S TITAN MODE ATTEMPTS TO
predictably channel player activity, especially where public players aren’t always tuned into the strategic and tactical value of specifi c targets. Instead of seizing capture points and sapping “tickets,” you sink the other side’s commander-controlled airborne warship—fi rst nuking its shields Death Star–style, and then boarding the craft in pods before mushroom-clouding
its reactor core.
“While Titan mode makes people think more about the end objective and the importance of controlling sectors,” Nilsson says, “the sandbox experience is still central. We still aren’t forcing players down a particular path; we want to fi ne-tune environments and scenarios that naturally
attract action, while assuring no two games are ever the same. It’s a fi ne line, but one that we’ve focused on nailing throughout the history of the franchise.”
“Taking out a Titan is tough,” he continues, “and we’ve designed it so teams need to spread resources around the battlefield to assure victory. For example, after taking the opposition’s shields down, you still have to think about its strategically placed missile silos that can attack your Titan, quickly turning the tide. Then, Titans are huge maps-within-a-map with multiple choke points, so fi ghting is frantic without feeling forced with overt objectives.”