In DICE’s “Ask DICE” series, 3D level artist Linnea Harrison (@Dhiel) answered questions on level design, sent in by the Battlefield 4 community.
Q: Can you explain the whole process of map design from start? First you must have an idea of location… and then? How do you test the gameplay of a new level design?
A: After the main setting of a game is decided, everyone at DICE sends in their awesome ideas for locations and interesting gameplay hooks. We had hundreds of ideas submitted for levels in Battlefield 4. The level designer/artists then starts blocking in some spaces for the level based on neat locations near the reference. The larger spaces (bases) are shifted around, reworked, reworked, and reworked until they are as fun as possible. We also have destruction in at this point, so that when we are playtesting the game, we do so with destruction in mind.
Then we go about making the level look awesome. Set dressing the level, adding really good lighting and effects, and polishing often takes a while but it is well worth the effort. Usually a lot of our testing is done here at the studio by our team. We take an hour or two each day to sit down and playtest levels and give feedback. This helps us get suggestions and ideas from everyone in the studio, rather than being stuck with just our own ideas.
Q: Will you be introducing any night maps or night variations? These maps don’t need to be pitch dark but I think a number of players would like to see a setting where IRNV and FLIR scopes, along with flares, would be useful to blind enemies better.
A: Good question! In general, we tend to think that night maps look pretty darn cool. You can implement some really neat lighting effects and encourage use of gadgets that generally aren’t used as much, with some really fun results. But there are a few things we considered with creating night maps.
Statistically speaking, most people don’t play night maps – maps set during the day get played more. We know this from tracking the numbers of maps played through on Battlefield 3 and Bad Company 2. Even if the map is really well-designed, players tend to gravitate more towards day-time maps.
Furthermore, players that crouch, take cover and wait forever to shoot someone running by in most maps gets even more common on night maps, where it’s tough to differentiate between objects and people. This has proved to be quite annoying in playtests. It’s possible to balance this – better heat vision, better spotting and so on – but for Battlefield 4 we focused on day-time maps. Future nighttime maps are absolutely something we’re always considering, though.
Q: How do you design a map to work well with multiple game modes and what are your biggest challenges when doing so?
A: Given that Battlefield is a vast game with many vehicles and open areas, we first try to make sure that the level is overall balanced for Conquest (this means working on symmetry in terms of base location, perfecting infantry routes and cover, vehicle routes, main routes, flank routes, and visibility). Conquest is our most basic game mode, and designing levels with that in mind tends to create a fairly balanced map.
The greatest challenge is to determine what sort of balance we want in the maps. We aim to have awesome infantry, vehicle, air, and naval gameplay on all maps, but some game modes will be more popular on certain maps. Take Operation Locker for example, where we wanted to focus on infantry combat and Rush. We decided to make that map more linear in nature to allow for better Rush gameplay. With that in mind, we created side routes and flanks for each base, and made sure the distances allowed for a variety of weapons used (outdoor versus indoor distances are very different), but would focus on shorter range combat.
Q: Why didn’t you include a random weather and Time of Day system in Battlefield 4? Making it randomly generated, wind, sun, storm, dust, and dawn would really increase the replay value of the game.
A: Even though each Battlefield game is unscripted in many ways, we wanted the experience to still have an emotional impact and match the adrenaline arc of a normal gameplay round. That way, as more buildings get destroyed, the tickets count down and the gameplay gets more tense, so does the level.
Q: I was wondering if it is possible to add maps that take full advantage of the Rush game mode more? I feel the maps at the moment seem to suffer in this mode because of all the other game types.
A: Rush is a game mode that is really fun to play on many of the Battlefield 4 maps, and it’s also one of our favorite game modes in the Multiplayer team. However, our maps are generally built for Conquest, as this is a game mode that is played by the majority (around 70%) of our players. This means that we always need to make sure that the map is 100% awesome in Conquest first-hand, but that being said, we also work hard to make Rush a good option on every map.
Q: How many people are involved in the creation of a map? How long does it take to complete a map like Paracel Storm? Do you use greyboxing to playtest the level before its fully ‘painted’?
A: It depends on the map – some maps only take 2-3 people to create. Others take around 8-10 people, like Siege of Shanghai. Paracel Storm took a whopping 6 months to complete – but that was partly because it also got redone a few times before being finalized. That being said, some maps are created in just under 2 months. And yes, we often do greybox when we start playtesting, just to make sure the larger spaces and shapes will work.
Q: Say I wanted to get a job at DICE as a level designer, what sort of requirements would I need?
A: Usually we look more at skills than requirements. If you want to design levels, you should have a website/portfolio that shows some levels you have designed. Grab a copy of UDK or Unity and start making levels and playing them with friends. Read about level design and game design. Learn about game theory and hardware specifications. Try doing a map remake on one of your favorite Battlefield maps – how would you change the layout? Do a sketch or top down design. Ideas are great, but if you can explain them and back them up with an understanding of why the idea is a good one, that is even more impressive!