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IGN: GDC: Battlefield 3 is Beautiful
No more spin-offs. Finally, a true sequel.
March 2, 2011
by Charles Onyett
EVENT COVERAGE GDC 2011
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was an amazing first-person shooter. But with every Bad Company release and spin-off, I couldn't help but wonder what DICE was doing with its main Battlefield franchise. As it turns out, it had something to do with earthquakes.
The core games, including Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2, helped define what's possible in multiplayer first-person shooters. It's been more than five years since Battlefield 2 on PC, and now DICE is finally getting ready to deliver the next numbered entry. Battlefield 3 has a release date for this fall on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, and from what's been shown off, it looks incredible.
That's because Battlefield 3 is being built using all-new technology developed in-house at DICE. It's the next version of the Frostbite engine used in the Bad Company games, appropriately called Frostbite 2. It allows for a range of advanced graphical effects and destructible terrain. "We actually started with the engine three years ago," said executive producer Patrick Bach. "When we finished Battlefield 2 and 2142 we talked about what's the next big step that changes gaming. We're good at technology and we wanted to create something that scaled better than Frostbite 1 did. The PCs were already -- three years ago -- starting to get ahead of the consoles. How could we make good use of that?"
The result was, at the end of a demo recently shown to members of the press, a detailed scene of a US Marine unit getting tossed around on a quaking bed of asphalt in a war-torn city on the border of Iraq and Iran. Buildings crumbled into pieces, sending up plumes of smoke and dust as the ground fluttered like a flag in the wind. One even toppled over onto an attack chopper hovering in mid-air. It looked strikingly realistic.
"We knew we could do better stuff with audio, we needed a core streaming system for the whole game," said Bach. "Everything from animations to objects to textures to audio we can stream. If you look at the consoles today they still have the same amount of memory, so how do you make a denser experience with the same amount of memory? You need to be able to flush things in and out of that memory that you have. Frostbite 2 was more or less a necessity for us to be able to build Battlefield 3. If we didn't build the engine we couldn't build the game because then it would just be an iteration instead of a big step forward."
So far DICE isn't showing off any gameplay footage of the multiplayer component, which is too bad. I really wanted to see jets streak across the sky and launch precision strikes against unsuspecting targets. But even without the spectacle of controllable vehicle sequences to gape at, the story mode still looks pretty good. The characters are in no way related to those in the Bad Company games. What you get in Battlefield 3 is a fresh start. It's set in 2014, and an early mission follows a squad of Marines as they charge through cramped, dangerous streets and take cover from sniper fire on rooftops. "It's based on a 'what if' scenario," said Bach. "We see the world as quite unstable. We see it as the shot in Sarajevo where a small event can create a butterfly effect to start a world war." Even though the mission was early in the game, it sounds as though the scale of the conflict shown is going to ripple out into the rest of the world.
Though the mission features a group of Marines, DICE notes that these characters won't necessarily be in subsequent sorties because it's not a squad-based game like Bad Company. You play as Sergeant Henry Blackburn who, at the mission's outset, emerges from an armored personnel carrier with an M16 equipped with an ACOG (that's a scope). The road ahead is packed with smoke and fire, cowering citizens, military humvees and an LAV reconnaissance vehicle.
According to Bach it's not possible to simply hop into these vehicles and start driving, as many Battlefield veterans may want to do. While there will be several vehicle sections in the single-player portion, the game makes it clear when you're meant to hop into a machine and when you're supposed to proceed on foot. "When you tell a story you need to control the player in some ways, even though we have very sandbox-y elements as well. We make sure you get to try out everything…so we pace the game as a tutorial so when you go into multiplayer you don't feel scared. If you play through single-player you will feel quite safe to go online because you tried everything once."
The PC version was beautiful even in its current pre-alpha state. DICE is focusing on using lighting and animations to create a more realistic look for Battlefield 3. For animation, DICE is utilizing Electronic Arts' technology called ANT, developed for sports games like FIFA. So what does that actually mean? "We can now more or less blend from any animation to any animation without any glitches. Some animation systems are very rigid. The cool thing with this is that you can blend from one animation to another at any time. You can see that with FIFA --, it's super quick and nimble."
The animations were especially impressive to watch during a first-person hand-to-hand combat sequence. Black was underground in a bunker attempting to disarm an explosive device when he was accosted by a waiting enemy. To subdue the assailant you need to hit buttons at specific times to deliver viscous strikes and chops. The attacker eventually crumples to the ground, but not without getting in a few solid shots on Black, which causes the perspective to tilt and whip appropriately with the force.
A lot of work is being done at DICE on the moment-to-moment mechanics of gun fights too. When you open fire the screen shakes, your weapon effects dominate the speakers, and the bits of user interface flicker when . "The challenge with weapons is actually not to get them to look realistic or record sounds, the research is quite easy. The hard part is to transform the emotion when you fire a gun and turn that into picture and sound."
The user interface shown off so far is not final, but it's clear DICE is hoping to minimize its appearance during play. Displays for ammunition and grenades are down at the bottom of the screen and take up only a small amount of space. An objective listing pops up only briefly when a goal is completed or added. There's a small compass in the bottom left that points you towards your current objective, and onscreen there's a single, unobtrusive icon to designate the fellow Marine you're supposed to follow into combat.
The UI will also let you know what's possible with any selected weapon. With the M16 you can switch between three firing modes – single shot, semi-auto, and full-auto – and can flip on a flashlight. At certain points there are also button prompts when, say, a teammate falls over and you have to drag him back to safety. According to Bach, dragging bodies will not be a feature in the multiplayer component.
DICE is also putting significant effort into tuning the artificial intelligence in Battlefield 3. There will be no respawning waves of enemies here. Every encounter has a finite amount of hostiles that react dynamically to the demands of battle. "I think the core to any AI is a good sensing system where you prioritize on vision but also sound. And then of course they need to exchange information between them. So when they scream and yell, that is actually stuff that is happening on the scene. We don't have random chatter. Some games do that quite a lot, but it doesn't reflect what's actually happening." In Battlefield 3 when enemies scream they're reloading or taking cover, that's exactly what they'll do. The idea is for DICE to create enemies that are challenging because they're smart instead of numerous.
The presence of smart enemies means you can expect to get shot quite often. DICE isn't yet confirming what type of health system will be implemented. It might be regenerative, it might be a hybrid style, or something else entirely. "We know there are pros and cons. We want to make sure that when we talk about that, we take it seriously. For some people that's a very important part [of the game]."
One aspect of video games that gets less attention from the press is the audio. DICE knows what it's doing in this department based on the sound design in Bad Company 2, and is hoping to improve on that tradition with Battlefield 3. This includes making sure every weapon is not only recorded accurately, but also recorded accurately depending on whether it's being fired in an indoor setting or outside. DICE is using what Bach calls HDR audio. "It's not about volume anymore, it's about decibel. If you go from 10 decibel to 120 decibel in real life, you would not hear the whisper as the explosion went off. Our brains are adapting to the audio landscape at that moment."
"What we're doing is we give all sounds a decibel and then we have our sound engine move your digital ear through that spectrum in real time. That's why we don't have to mix audio manually because the game engine does that for us." Essentially that means while enemies fire their weapons, they'll be loud up until the point where you fire your weapon, which will dominate the audio and drown out other lower decibel sounds, such as footsteps. "It's not that we cut out the footsteps, they're still there, but your ear doesn't pick that up because there are so many loud sounds."
I can understand if some are reading this and already worrying how expensive a system they may have to craft to take advantage of all these features. According to DICE, the demo shown was running on hardware that can be purchased in stores today. Considering the game hasn't been optimized yet it ideally means the game won't require a preposterous setup to look nice and run well.
Some may not care as much about a single-player experience given Battlefield's multiplayer-only roots. DICE has already said that there will be jets, the ability to go prone, support for up to 64 players specifically for the PC version (24 on consoles), as well as a tweaked unlock progression so you can customize your class in a bunch of ways. It doesn't sound like the Commander mode from Battlefield 2 will return in the same form, which hardcore PC players may be a little ticked off to hear. "This is not Battlefield 2, so people might not love all the choices that we've done," said Bach. "The world has moved on, so has DICE. We are changing stuff for the better, but you never know what the fans will say."
There's little quite as satisfying in an online match of Battlefield as dominating the map through expert manipulation of the in-game vehicles, specifically those that take off into the air. It sounds like, for the jets at least, there'll still be a bit of a learning curve so not everyone will be able to hop into a plane and instantly turn the tide of a match. "I think the goal for all the Battlefield games and all the vehicles is that it's easy to control but hard to master. Everyone should be able to take off and fly, but not everyone should be an elite pilot. We're not building a simulation, but also we're not trying to make a stupid, dumbed down experience for vehicles."
Even though only the single-player has been put on display so far and DICE didn't want to talk about co-op at all, it's hard to be anything but excited for what's sure to be one of the most talked-about games of 2011, don't you think? It sounds like DICE is going all-out for Battlefield 3.
Ars Technica: Battlefield 3 first footage: the humans move like humans
By Ben Kuchera
EA's Battlefield 3 event was everything wonderfully terrible about being someone who writes about games. I waited in line, herded like a cow until I put on a name tag, was shown the open bar and was handed a piece of meat on a stick to eat until the game was shown. The crush of people was fantastic, EA seemed to have underestimated the amount of people who would be interested in the game. At one point they separated those who were press and those who weren't, those without a press badge were asked to leave the main floor, and they had to be content with a lesser seat while still enjoying the free drinks.
"Ears plugs are not a bad idea," I was told before the trailer began. There is a reason they wanted those of us who wrote about games on the floor, it was part of the sound system, bashing the bottom of our feet with the rhythmic sound of gunshots and explosions. My ears began to ring instantly. The screen was large and the graphics were overwhelming. We learned nothing about the game.
The best part of the demo was the fact that every control on-screen was a mouse, and we were told that the PC was the lead platform for the game. Seeing such a high-profile game shown to the press at an event on the PC is a rare thing these days, and it made me very, very happy.
The game looked great, the character models are amazing, and the environments crumbled and were blown away in a very satisfying manner. The game looks absolutely astounding, well above what we're used to from first-person shooters, and it may give gamers the excuse they've been looking for to upgrade their systems.
So go ahead and take a look at the trailer, tell us what you think, and get out the Motrin... I have a terrible headache. The event did what it was supposed to do, we were rocked by the video and everyone left suitably impressed. Now I just wish we had the chance to play the damned thing.
The event was mostly flash with very little substance, but the flash is enough to get us excited. There will be time for more information, and we're sure to know more around E3, but for now the hype trains continues. We saw a little more than than the trailer shows at the event, but we won't ruin the rest of it. Enjoy, and tell us what you think!
I want this so bad
Mercury News: Battlefield 3 raises the visual bar
Posted by Gieson Cacho on March 2nd, 2011
I’m a little bleary-eyed after my first real day at GDC. Most of it was spent with Electronic Arts and their partners. The highlight of the night was this Battlefield 3 demo. Much has been made about the title ever since it graced the cover of Game Informer. The pictures looked too good to be true. There were some instances I wondered whether I was looking at a video game or real life.
Whatever the case, I was impressed by what I saw of the game moving live tonight. Executive producer Patric Bach showed off what EA’s technology and the Frostbite Engine 2 could do. One of the interesting things is that the game uses the ANT animation sytem that’s also incorporated in FIFA Soccer. This makes movements more realistic. I saw soldiers sliding to a stop in the dirt. There are a few other scenes in the video above that shows players being tossed around like a rag doll by explosions and getting up as if they were pain and they had weight.
As for the lighting, it was gorgeous. The way it catches the dust makes the scenes on the Iran-Iraq border feel real. There’s so much that DICE captured in the details that it’s almost unbelievable. But the most impressive thing in the game is the next-level destructible environment. Battlefield 3 seems to emphasis urban warfare, and DICE up the ante allowing players to destroy whole buildings. There’s a scene that I saw where soldiers were pinned down by a sniper, and they had to go prone and crawl across the rooftop. Then your squadmates provided covering fire so that you could launch an RPG at the source. The explosive obliterated the side of the building. It even lit a few fires here and there.
When it comes to the mood, the tension and the danger reminded more of The Hurt Locker than anything else. I say this a lot, but there’s a grittiness to the game. Maybe that’s how EA plans to take away that shooter crown from Activision.
Anyway, I have no idea how this will run on a console. The game is reportedly coming out for Xbox 360 and PS3, but after watching the demo that ran off a gaming rig, I have my doubts. Maybe the PC is the only platform that can show off what Battlefield 3 can really do. And that makes some of the console-ish parts of the campaign look weird. To be more specific, there’s a quick time scene, where you’re in a fistfight after trying to defuse a bomb, and seeing mouse clicks instead of button presses threw me off a bit. But I figure that’s a minor quibble compared to the potential the game has to shock and awe the gamers at large.
Last edited by GullyFoyle; Mar 2, 2011 at 12:01 PM.