Battlefield 4 Interview with Patrick Bach

Do you really believe your work with the single-player campaign for BF4 will mean those who dismissed it in BF3 will give it a shot?

Patrick Bach: Yes, absolutely. We see single-player as a very important part of Battlefield nowadays. We had a lot of people playing single-player. Not everyone finished it, but not everyone finishes the best single-player only games either, which is a bit sad. Thus the debate on how long a game should be. If people don’t finish them, who do they have to be 40 hours?

We see single-player also as a training ground for multiplayer. And we want people to have the opportunity to try things out and experience stuff you will experience in multiplayer. There are also a lot of people – some evil people call them noobs or lame – who don’t want to play multiplayer, because it’s very competitive. You end up in a session where everyone just shoots you in the head, and you feel daunted by this competitive landscape. People want to have an experience, and if you’re afraid of all these people who are flying around and shooting at you, single-player is a way for you to get that experience without feeling completely bashed in the head.

There are a lot of people who are really happy we are building the single-player. They don’t even dare to say it out loud, because all their friends will mock them. But Battlefield is no longer a multiplayer-only game.

There are a lot of people who are really happy we are building the single-player. They don’t even dare to say it out loud, because all their friends will mock them. But Battlefield is no longer a multiplayer-only game.

Patrick Bach

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You’re saying people will just have to accept that?

Patrick Bach: Yes.

Some have suggested you shouldn’t bother with single-player at all and just make a multiplayer game, since that’s what almost everyone loves most about Battlefield.

Tobias Dahl: There are so many single-player only games out there that would love to have the amount of people playing their campaign as we have. Honestly. It’s a huge IP we’re working with and there are a lot of people who are playing our single-player campaign. They might not be as outspoken. We have a huge fan-base we want to satisfy. It’s a perfect opportunity for new players who want to start playing Battlefield and see if it’s something for them.

Patrick Bach: We sold 18 million copies of Battlefield 3. I haven’t read 18 million comments. The ones I’ve read are only from a thousand people. Should those thousand people be the spokesperson for all the other players? Or is that just a certain type of player, which we are trying to take care of?

There are so many people who play games who don’t write on forums. Either they silently agree on everything that is being said on the forums, or they just don’t care. They just see it as a great piece of entertainment, and they play it and enjoy it and then they’re done with it. The other people live Battlefield. Those are our avid fans we’re trying to please the most, because we are avid Battlefield players as well. But there are different types of Battlefield players, and we have to accept that.

Even back with Battlefield 1942, there were people who were extremely avid, but there were some casual players as well. But no-one cared about them, really. They just played the game and everyone was fine with that.

Some Wii U owners are disappointed to see Battlefield 4 is not coming to the console. What, exactly, is the reason for that?

Patrick Bach: The biggest problem we have right now is we don’t want to back down from what we see as our low spec machines. We right now don’t have support for the Wii U in the Frostbite engine. The reason for that is it takes development time. What should we focus on to create the best possible Battlefield experience? We are now focused on PC and the current-gen platforms, and then there might be other platforms in the future that we can’t talk about…

One of them you can.

Patrick Bach: Yes, in theory, but we won’t. But it’s important to understand it’s about focus and setting the bar. Where do you start? What’s the minimum? What’s the maximum? What’s the scale in-between.

Tobias Dahl: We have long experience with scalability. We’ve always been making PC games. But we don’t want to ship different games dependent on the platform. We need to set the limit somewhere, to have the lowest spec for this title.

Patrick Bach: We could probably make a Wii U game in theory. But to make the most out of the Wii U, that’s a different game because of the different peripherals. We want to utilise all the power of each console.

Are you saying it’s not about the power of the Wii U itself, rather, it’s about the controller?

Patrick Bach: It’s everything. We could potentially make a Battlefield port for the Vita. But what would that game be? Is it something we could scale down from what you saw in the gameplay video, or would it have to be a complete redesign of the whole game?

It’s about, where do you put your focus? And the Wii U is not a part of our focus right now.

It’s about, where do you put your focus? And the Wii U is not a part of our focus right now.

Patrick Bach

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What version of the game did we see with the gameplay video?

Patrick Bach: PC.

I assume you’re still using the PC as the lead platform for BF4, as you’ve done with previous versions.

Patrick Bach: All our tools are on PC. The editor is on PC. So it’s easier for us to test and play on PC. The workflows are super optimised, so it’s very easy to test on any console we have, but still you’re working on a PC. And since we’re trying to push the boundaries of what is possible and then find ways to scale that back into the lowest spec and then the full range of consoles, we see PC as the natural target platform for the super high-end when it comes to graphics.

You can just add more memory if you need to. You don’t have to fit it in memory. We have all the GPUs we want and if that doesn’t work we just add more GPUs. So it’s easy for us when we create prototypes and we create testbeds to use PC.

We have a heritage of being PC driven. So PC is the core platform. That doesn’t mean we switch focus back and forth, because we want to create a great experience on all platforms. It’s not only a PC game anymore. We sold plenty of copies on console for BF3. So the argument it should only be PC for instance is not valid. This is a multi-platform game. And we need to focus on each platform at certain times.

We hear people complaining about us having BF3 being a console port to PC. It couldn’t be less true. It’s the other way around. That game was built from the beginning as a super high-end PC game, and then the Frostbite team gave us the toolset to be able to scale that down and fit it on consoles. The game wouldn’t have looked and played as well on consoles if it didn’t have the high target of PC.

It’s easier to scale down rather than up. You’ve seen games that try to scale up. It’s still low fidelity but with high-res textures, or some new shaders, but you don’t get the high-end experience on the low-end consoles.

Tobias Dahl: Going back to the Wii U, it’s also a matter of scope. We can only work with so many platforms per person per day. It’s a time-consuming thing to be a multi-platform title.

Have you been able to improve the frame-rate for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, or are we looking at 30 frames per second again?

Patrick Bach: I won’t go into detail on exactly what we’re doing. Let me put it like this: the Frostbite 3 engine is not only about high-end. It’s also about workflows. So it’s easier for us to optimise and create better experiences on consoles, due to the fact we’re pushing the bar and simplifying and creating easier ways for the developers to build the games in general.

30 or 60 frames per second on consoles is a discussion on fidelity, still. What is most important right now? Are you willing to cut down on features to get it to run? If you remove destruction and vehicles of course we could increase the frame-rate. But that’s a core part of the game experience. We still have 24 players on the Xbox 360 and the PS3, which still is a high number compared to other games. There aren’t that many shooters with a higher number, and those games don’t have destruction and vehicles.

I would never sacrifice the core Battlefield experience to get higher frame-rate. But then again, higher frame-rate is something positive. So, we’ll see what happens.

Patrick Bach

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It’s a balance. I would never sacrifice the core Battlefield experience to get higher frame-rate. But then again, higher frame-rate is something positive. So, we’ll see what happens.

Tobias Dahl: There are so many other things than just frame-rate. There are so many things going on in the background, such as how the camera behaves and how often the server updates, that we can enhance the smoothness of the experience. But let’s talk more about that later.

Patrick Bach: There are more things than only what you see with pretty graphics and what the guns sound like. That’s the top level. When you see a demo everyone sees the graphics. But there are so many things under the hood you won’t notice until you’ve played the game for a couple of hours that we are working like crazy on.

Previously when Battlefield was only big, we struggled to feel confident that people would actually play this game. Now we’re confident people will play it, because we see the numbers every day. People are still playing Battlefield 3 quite a lot. So we’re hoping we will prove we will make an even deeper experience, not only when it comes to the graphics, but also, when you’ve been playing for X amount of hours, we want it to open up and become this great experience.

The graphics will fade away. Audio will fade away. You will stop thinking about it, and you will go deep into the core game mechanics. That’s where we want people to see the big change. It’s not only about pretty graphics and all the things we’ve shown in the demo, but there are things under the hood we’re doing that will improve the experience.