Behind closed curtains at an EA event a few weeks ago, I received the opportunity to view one of the most hyped games and game engines of 2011—Battlefield 3 and Frostbite 2. At the super secret demo I had the chance to preview a new age of macro and micro destruction, gameplay, and lighting and audio effects that can only be experienced in order to understand—all thanks to DICE's new Frostbite 2 engine.
The Battlefield 3 demo was being played on a Maingear custom boutique tower that was most likely tricked out with liquid cooling, several graphics cards (Nvidia or ATI, they wouldn't tell), high-end processor—the works. Needless to say, Battlefield 3 and its Frostbite 2 engine are made for the PC.
I sat down with executive producer Patrick Bach from DICE to talk in more detail about the Frostbite 2 engine and why it makes Battlefield 3 one of the best shooters in town.PCMag
: What's changed from the first Frostbite engine?Patrick Bach:
I would say, actually, we rewrote it from scratch. Because we came to the end of the road when it came to that technology. We did some really, really cool stuff with the first Frostbite engine, like really cool tools, a lot of lighting solutions, and its destruction. We had to get that engine to build the Bad Company 1 and 2 games, but we had problems with taking a big step forward. Because of new rendering technology, we needed streaming for everything in the game, also a lot of the tool sets didn't quite work as they should.
So, we came to the conclusion, more than three years ago, that we needed to rewrite. Because we want to move into the next generation, because PCs are there, but there's no software to prove it. There's all these tech demos, but there's no "killer app" that proves what the PC can do today with the CPUs and GPUs. So we just said we wanted to do a sequel to Battlefield 2, which actually pushed the envelope quite a lot, we need to do the same thing again. The problem is that, though the world is getting much more complicated with the costs of [developing a game] now [they] are much bigger than what they were five years ago, so we just said if we have the money to do it, if we have the time to do it—let's do it. We've had some successful projects, so let's go for it.PCMag:
During the demo, on the rooftops, the vast expanse made me reminisce of Mirror's Edge, did you build off of that tech at all?PB:
Mirror's Edge was built on bought technology, that's Unreal.
But of course we like our own games and we get inspired; a lot of the physicality of Battlefield 3 comes from the thinking behind Mirror's Edge. So the fact that your hands are a part of the world—it's not just a gun on a stick—it's actually a character that moves around. You can see your feet, you can see your hands, you can touch stuff, you can interact with the world. A lot of thinking comes from Mirror's Edge and that's what you want.
We see [the Frostbite 2 engine] as an investment. The Frostbite engine can deliver quite a few games once it's done, and since Battlefield 3 is the flagship title that will more or less release the first version of the engine, we dictate what that engine is by designing our game. So we are in a very good position of having a great big technology team building the engine and a game team building the game and can work together very closely, so we sit in the same building, on the same floor.PCMag:
How have you improved the AI (artificial intelligence) from the Bad Company series?PB:
It's the classic stuff, you need to find the weak spots and get rid of them. It's a combination between actual—it's nav[igation] data, plus AI behaviors, plus animation, generally. If you get the nav data right you can generate and have dynamic destruction, and on top of that you need to have good robust AI behaviors that you can control and tweak. Then the animation system, which we are now borrowing from our friends at EA Tech, it's like FIFA and those animation systems, which is probably the best on the market and we built it—EA, so let's use it. So we took that and pushed it into the engine. And the AI, you could say that the AI looks good even doing stupid stuff (Laugh).
So you get away with more by having great animation, to be honest. AI, to be honest, has very little to do with AI in games, because it's a perception on humans rather than artificial intelligence. Because if it was really intelligence it would own you, it would make sure that it won against you, and that's not what want as a gaming experience. You want to have a controllable—PCMag:
So have you implemented more of a game director?PB:
Yeah you could say that, you can call it a game director, but it's actually different behaviors that read the whole sensing system of an AI you could say is the director of it. Because the sensing system is based on hearing and seeing, but also seeing and hearing other NPCs. So depending on what happens, it will change direction and change behavior, so it's not only you that can change the behavior of NPCs, it's NPCs affecting each other. AI is a very blurry thing to talk about since AI is...if you look at it from a chess computer worst case scenario, that's not what you want in games. You don't want it to be too clever, so you want to dumb it down in a good way, so it still feels natural.
You don't want a shooting gallery, it's a delicate balance on how you build that AI, because what I'm saying is it's not that it's easier to build something that has less AI, it's actually more complicated, because then it's more based on psychology. What are my expectations of a human behavior? And since you can't simulate that. So anyone that tells you 'Oh we have a perfect AI,' they're lying.PCMag:
I notice there's more concentration on the micro and macro scale of destruction, where as in the Bad Company series it was more: You shoot this wall and this pre-rendered section falls down. So how were you able to get that together?PB:
That's something we learned a lot from the Bad Company series and what is the most effective way to do it. Like all entertainment, it's a lot of different systems that help to create this illusion of things happening around you. So the destruction system is actually built up from different destruction systems where you can actually chip off pieces of stuff, but if you have a house falling that's not the exact same system, so you combine all these systems with the effect system, with the actual moving around polygons system together with sound and other tricks to create this illusion.
We were more or less alone in doing it. If you look at other games, having destruction is ... eye candy only where there's no tactical change in the gameplay, or it's more of a gimmick where it's about destruction. To us destruction is a part of the world, it's as natural as footsteps or gun sounds. If it looks like it can break, it should break. So destruction is definitely something were pushing the envelope on.PCMag:
Are you at worried about how consoles are going to be handle this, how do you think it going to translate?PB:
I think it's going to translate well, since we've built console games before, so we know what we can and can't do. The whole engine is designed to be scaleable from PCs to consoles, so I'm not too worried about it. It's just the question on where do you draw the line on the feature sets. The experience should be the same, so we won't remove the animation system from the consoles, we won't remove the structure from the consoles—all the components will be there it's just a question of the quality of the different platforms.PCMag:
Is there anything else I should know?PB:
Well, there's a lot you should know but I can't tell you (Laughs).
Audio is something that we are extremely proud of. Since we more or less invented what we call HDR audio system, which gives us a more vivid sound scape than in any other shooter. It's not only me, we're getting a lot of awards for it. Just compare any shooter with us and you will actually hear the difference. And the cool thing with the core of that system is that, like HDR lighting where you can only see a certain amount of light at one time. You have the really dark areas and you have the really bright areas and depending on where you look, your eyes will adapt to the situation.
That's the exact same thinking with the audio system where we [have] decibel zero and decibel 200, and we have a sliding scale of what you can hear at one certain time. So if everything is completely silent you can hear a pin drop, but if someone blows a grenade next to you then the decibel on that grenade is so much higher so then the whole scale moves up to a higher end on the spectrum and you can only hear the loud noises. That creates a very dynamic world and it also gives our sound designers freedom to design the world based on what it actually sounds like. So you don't have to spend time changing volumes dynamically as you play, because the game will do that automatically. [The sound designers] can spend more time with the creative stuff, creating the sounds or adding more artistic layers of music or video that everyone should hear that should be center speaker /mid-range for instance. So there's a lot of cool tricks we're doing that no one else is really trying to do...yet, which is weird because we've been doing it for quite some time now and we are getting credit for it, but no one is—I think the problem is no one is rewriting stuff. Because they are building on the old stuff, you can't do these things.
We are just setting all these values and you create a very natural and dynamic environment, so we are just doing the obvious I would say.PCMag:
So is there any rating on the game yet? I imagine it's going to be rated M for mature, since I counted two 'f*cks' in the beginning of the demo.
We actually were talking about this before, asking for permission to not have any boundaries on what we are building, because we want to build a cool game. And if we need to adapt to a 13 or T then that starts to cut away stuff. We've done that before where it's like 'Oh you need to cut away this stuff and this stuff' and it's like 'Well, we want it to be like this, our audience can handle it' move it up to 18, whatever. So to us it's not like 'Oh we need to add more gore and cursing' it more about us letting us do what we think fits the actual experience. Again, we are trying to build a more mature game, as in a game for grown up, rather than a game for 13 year-olds. So I'm OK with that.
Battlefield 3 will be available Fall 2011 for PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2380794,00.asp