Battlefield 3: What's The Story?

18 December 2011
Battlefield 3: What's The Story? - 5.0 out of 5 based on Battlefield 3: What's The Story? 2 votes
Martin ‘nKM’ Bowman takes a deep breath and jumps into the depths of eSports' latest emerging scene to ask the questions that matter. Oh no, you’re writing about competitive Battlefield again!? It’s been almost 18 months since I last took this heady trip, jumping into a game whose title was suggestively prefixed by the word Battlefield and finding out that times have changed - that word doesn’t mean what it used to mean. Gone were the frenetic 8v8 Conquest battles where it was common to see two of Europe’s top teams, supported by outstanding eSports organizations, duke it out on a well-balanced map using well-balanced weapons and vehicles, those players struggling to keep cool heads knowing that they were playing for prize money and a growing number of fans were tuning into live coverage beamed into their skulls through the wonders of the internet.

 Battlefield 2, the determined and enduring game that had refused to give up and die for 5 years thus far, lurching from one year to the next living only on the love and support it received from the community surrounding it, was replaced by a buggy and frustratingly average pretender. A pretender who couldn’t deliver the same experience or generate the same dogged and sometimes blind support from those that tried to make it competitively viable, and less than a year after its release by Swedish developers DICE, Bad Company 2 died on its arse. Many Battlefield veterans pleaded, begged and threatened those with the power to change things for the better, for there were new games on the horizon, promising to keep those competitive urges we all felt firmly in their thoughts.

The Bad Company 2 scene suffered through lack of competitive functionality and within a year had disappeared from eSports radars completely.

Alas, as we know, DICE did not care. EA, being the putrid, overfilled cash cow that it is, did not care. And the competitive community that helped feed that cash cow were again wondering why they hell they bothered.

Those ... eagerly trying to spot the odd competitive features here and there that might signal the long-awaited and triumphant return of Battlefield to eSports are still waiting, but there is plenty to be happy about at this early stage...

Fast forward to late 2011 and we’re again wrestling with an as yet unfinished release from DICE, the true successor to Battlefield 2, and after all the back slapping and Game Of The Year awards have been dished out by the unquestioning sluts of video gaming journalism, we have Battlefield 3. Those who have shuffled their feet in the background, eagerly trying to spot the odd competitive features here and there that might signal the long-awaited and triumphant return of Battlefield to eSports - well, they are still waiting - but there is plenty to be happy about at this early stage in the story of Battlefield 3, and some could argue that Battlefield fans have gained more in these last 2 months than they ever did with Bad Company 2.

Suddenly, Prize Cups! Thousands of them…

One of the most obvious things that we notice when we delve into competitive BF3 is the support that is coming from ESL in the form of prize cups. The GO4BF3 series boasts of a total prize fund of €10000 to be distributed throughout the series, and already we’ve seen a number of €100 EU night cups being played weekly with a €500 final from the teams who have performed well throughout the series. The final playoff teams are decided by a points system, where teams finishing first in the night cup scoring 100 point, 2nd place scoring 50 and so on. This is slated to continue into 2012 with another group of night cups already scheduled for January.

ESL also announced a €10000 ‘winner takes all’ tournament to celebrate the release of Back to Karkand, the first expansion pack for Battlefield 3 which contains 4 classic maps from earlier games – Wake Island, Strike at Karkand, Gulf of Oman and Sharqi Peninsula. This has been received with great acclaim from veterans of the game as the maps were notable for their good design and balance for competition. The tournament, however, is available only to residents of Germany, Switzerland or Austria which has left the majority of the competitive gamers playing BF3 out of the loop. However, ESL promises that there is more exciting announcements in the pipeline for EU BF3 at ESL and given the stature of the next announcement ESL gave, this is something we should get very excited about.

ESL Pro Series support confirmed for BF3

ESL Pro Series, the pinnacle of eSports competition for most games, was rumoured to be supporting BF3 and this was finally confirmed by in the last week or so. Battlefield has arguably never seen such support for any BF game, and this development suggests more that it seems. EPS is known to have rather strict requirements for the games it supports when referring to the types of competitive features it contains. Even ESL Major Series stated previously that it couldn’t support Bad Company 2 as it had no demo recording facility and therefore the game was wide open for nefarious types who could bypass anti-cheat streaming, something that was unfortunately possible in BC2. It would be fairly normal to assume that ESL has imposed the same strict protocols on BF3, but the catch is that other than some hearsay and one or two rather reliable sources suggesting competitive support is incoming for BF3, DICE have opted to keep their mouths closed on the matter, even when EAs own community reps are happy to talk about it. So, on top of EPS support, there’s a real reason to believe that competitive support is indeed on the way for Battlefield 3.

Put simply, how can ESL support BF3 with EPS in its current state without demo recording and spectator mode? The answer is it can’t – ESL Wire doesn’t do the job as yet and we all know we can’t rely on Punkbuster and GGC only to keep the games competitive integrity intact. So does ESL know something we don’t? The amount of cash being thrown at the game could suggest that they do.

Battlefield 3 is undoubtedly one of the best looking games ever made, but its feature set is still lacking some fundamentals to be considered a competitively viable game.

Back on the topic of tournaments, there are plenty more cups to be involved in currently, besides what ESL has to offer. Alienware put up €2000 for an online tournament, as well as sponsoring with a tournament where a top-spec gaming laptop is the prize, with LAN finals at Dockyard LAN in May 2012. Gigabyte is currently hosting a €2000 online tournament in the popular 8v8 Conquest format. There are more regional tournaments across Europe with prizes ranging from hardware to cash, so it does seem that many investors are looking to jump on the bandwagon of this emerging gaming scene.

Offline, we’ve already had Multiplay Insomnia i44, which I know was backed by Razer, however business matters between Multiplay, EA and Razer dashed the intended £5K+ prize fund for that tournament. However, Multiplay quickly announced a prize fund of up to £10000 for Insomnia i45; giving new teams a long term goal to compete for some serious cash and lend credence to the idea that full competitive support is just around the corner.

Battlefield 3 as a competitive game?

Whilst it’s great to see that BF3 is getting so much support from hardware vendors and competitive organizations at an early stage of its career, as always we have to look objectively at the game and see how competitive Battlefield 3 is. I mean, a competitive game without demo recording or spectator mode, isn’t a competitive game, right?

From my own experience (at i44 on a good PC, and from a small amount of rage-inducing 20 FPS games I’ve played at home) there is a mixed bag of good and bad points to be looked at. One thing that really bothered people in previous generations of games is the hit detection, and DICE has taken the unusual step of making their hit detection client-side with interpolation. This means that effectively we still see ourselves getting hit with banana bullets that seem to follow us round corners or behind objects, and inexplicable deaths through objects caused when one client sees a slightly different real-time image from another, meaning the server clearly isn’t doing the best job of keeping connected peers on an even playing field. I for one hoped that this anomaly in BF would be left in the last decade where it belongs, but through some oversight on the developer’s part, we are still contesting hit detection as if it was BF2 we were playing.

We can of course counter this by saying that DICE is actively seeking to improve our lot, by recently introducing an in-game menu function which purports to adjust our latency in game, to allow those with faster broadband connections to enjoy a more accurate FPS experience. I can’t tell you for sure whether this had any acceptable change to how the game behaves due to my ailing PC struggling to get above 20FPS on most maps, however I can tell from discussions with those active in the competitive scene that it has had a rather muted response. Why DICE chose this particular method of hit detection I can only attribute to its multi-platform status, however there is still time for DICE to work on this and make it more playable on the PC platform.


Another element of the game that is causing trouble is weapon balance. DICE initially seemed to use a 'one size fits all' approach to the majority of weapons since release, with an even spread of ROF and damage across most of the weapons, with only one or two standing out from the crowd. There have been multiple patches since then which are supposed to have made improvements to this, but it seems that a realistic balance of good and bad points where kits are discernible between each other is yet to be achieved.

The vehicles as well, are imbalanced. It seems that jets > tanks > infantry at this moment, as any team with a good jet pilot has a more than realistic chance of winning an 8v8 battle. In Battlefield, the map design was very important as you’d often find that in order to take down a jet you’d need another jet, or a ground based anti-air weapon to balance the play. BF3 doesn’t currently have that, as helicopters can sit high and out of range of surface-to-air weapons and simply fire on targets with a heavy machine gun, and jet fights seem to hinge on the first encounter where whoever wins the first dogfight can expect to easily take out the opposing jet before it gets anywhere near a dangerous position.

The tanks are also points of contention, as they can be disabled without them being unusable, meaning that two different tactics are employed. You either stack engineers on the tank to ensure that it is always repaired quickly and never reaches a stage where it cannot manoeuvre out of fire, or, you don’t bother with tanks and rely on the rest of you hardware to win. The problem is that realistically you can be hitting a tank with 2-3 RPGs every ten seconds or so, and the rate of repairs dealt out by the opposing engineers means that these are largely useless. The engineers can repair the tank faster than you can damage it. This creates a standoff type situation that is difficult to overcome, especially on the more linear maps such as Damavand Peak, where the majority of fighting occurs inside a cavernous tunnel with few options to flank an opponent.

Some of the map designs don't lend themselves well to balanced competition, though DICE are responding to feedback to improve this and the Back to Karkand expansion pack does give competitive players a better map pool.

Talking about maps, some of the maps have come under fire from the competitive scene. Operation Métro, the map that featured in all the trailers and the BF3 Beta, in reality is a rather boring standoff inside a railway station, with about 3 points to defend and attack across an open ticket platform. The reality is that one team gets to the middle flag first and starts building a brick wall which is rarely penetrated, as the map design doesn’t have many options except to try and go through the middle and die from 8 assault rifles at once. Some of the larger jet maps such as Operation Firestorm have also been slated for their less than dynamic gameplay, with huge capture zones meaning most teams cannot do anything other than hide inside buildings and hope they are winning the air and armour battle outside.

It’s not all doom and gloom, as the introduction of the four BF2 maps with their better layout and design has got a lot of players excited with the possibility of dropping the bad maps from the pool and replacing them with familiar but updated BF2 maps. It also opens up better opportunities for infantry play as these maps were especially popular in 5v5 infantry.

DICE does have some work to do to balance the game a bit better and make the fight a fairer one. I would have to concede that for the most part they do tend to get this one right eventually, so all is not lost in the same way BRINK maps pretty much destroyed any chance of the game being playable competitively.

The future for BF3?

So what can we expect in the next few months for BF3?

I would say that there is a real chance that with the expected demo recording and spectator mode appearing early in 2012, we could see a rather sizeable competitive scene growing from its current state. The game, despite its flaws, is immediately playable and for most casual gamers it is an impressive and engaging game. It may have garnered all round applause in a rather predictable fashion pre-release but those media outlets weren’t wrong when they described the game with the array of superlatives they used. The graphics are fantastic, it doesn’t feel too terrible to play if your computer can handle it and with some tweaking and improvements that will inevitably it is easily a game that should last 2 or 3 years before something notably better comes along for Battlefield fans.

We won’t see a shift of financial support towards BF3 until it can stand on its own two feet as a competitive game.

Hardware vendors and the competitive organizations have thrown their hats into the ring, and some orgs like Epsilon ESports, TCM Gaming, Team Thermaltake and more have already picked up strong teams to represent their brands. I do expect more organizations to get involved but this is where things get hazy – we won’t see a shift of financial support towards BF3 until BF3 can stand on its own two feet as a competitive game. Right now it’s being held up by crutches such as ESL Wire and GGC, but the game cannot rely on proprietary solutions to get to a stage where it can be considered seriously. That missing piece has to come from the developers themselves. By their own design, they have left the long term fate of the game in their own hands.

The signs are good: EPS support, £10000 LAN events, lots of teams forming and orgs looking into supporting the best ones, but as with every new game this forward motion in competitive BF3 will soon run out of steam unless DICE holds up its end of the bargain.

For now, I’m looking forward to 2012 and will happily get stuck into the many good things competitive BF3 has in front of it.

So, I’ll see you on the Battlefield, shall I?


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  • Comment Link klasbo Monday, 06 February 2012 20:30 posted by klasbo

    PART 2
    Game mode balance is the big one. If objectives are placed properly on a map, and the type of objective suits the location, you get good balance. This rarely happens.
    Let's take conquest as an example: With 3 flags in a straight line both teams rush for the centre, and whoever gets that flag wins, unless there are good opportunities to sneak around (Environment tweak). With 4 flags there are more opening moves, and sneaking around becomes much more viable (see Jalalabad 16 for BF2). Flag placement has to take travel time and visual cover into consideration (See MEC advantage on Oman 16), and vast open areas tend to favour those who do not have to traverse it (see water on Dalian 64). Oman 16 just needs to move the city flag close to the train tracks, and add more cover in the large open area on the east side. Dalian 64 would work better if the flags were rotated 90º.

    Rush Game mode does not work, ever: Standing still, scouting, and defending (basically camping) are all much easier than moving while attacking, scouting, arming/capturing, and then transitioning into defending a spawn location. The defenders always have an advantage, no matter how many Environment or Avatar tweaks you do; the game mode is inherently flawed.

    So I’d argue that the problem is Game mode. While the maps aren’t great, they’re still workable with game modes tailored to the specific maps. Creating a suitable game mode on the existing maps is very doable, but the do-ing has to come from DICE, and they won’t do. 8v8 CQ or 5v5 inf will never work on neither Rush, SquadRush, or 3-flag CQ, and this is the balance problem that BF3 has. Weapon balance has to come secondary.

    If we want a high-skilled epsorts community we need design that exclusively favours the skilled, not the one with more unlocks or those who spawn on the favoured position on the map.

  • Comment Link klasbo Monday, 06 February 2012 19:30 posted by klasbo

    [quote name="R3DT1D3"]I can't for the life of me understand why people think small (5v5-8v8) conquest games with vehicles would ever be balanced in any BF game ever without making them useless in the 64 man games that most people play. You want games that small and it needs to be I/O Conquest or Rush.

    As for balance, I think some gadgets need tweaking but assuming they'll differentiate 10 firearms for each class at a competitive level is ridiculous.

    I would love for BF3 to become a real competitive E-Sport but you have to pick your battles wisely.[/quote]

    PART 1
    Balance is achieved through tweaking three different and independent parts of the game: Avatar (movement, damage, health, hitboxes, etc; includes those of vehicles), Environment (map design, art direction, openness vs cover, etc) and Game mode (objective placements, objective types, etc).
    Tweaks to the avatar category are what most people think of when they hear "balance", but this is just part of the story. Once you have something that feels "about right" in terms of how movement and damage/health works (high damage/low health for slow-paced, low damage/high health for fast-paced), you can move on to Environment and Game mode. Getting X number of unique firearms is unnecessary (DICE wanted so many unlocks, and shot themselves in the foot in the process), as long as none of them has any massive advantage. The result is just that everybody uses it, and it becomes balanced again.

    Environment balance is entirely dependent on the interaction with the two other categories. A map isn't inherently good or bad, but rather the decisions taken in the Avatar and Game mode categories decide how the flow of the game work on that specific map. Environment balance are the final tweaks, such as adding or removing an extra static object here or there, or uniformly distributing the objects that affect the next category: (PART 2)

  • Comment Link drdubs Sunday, 29 January 2012 07:55 posted by drdubs

    BC2 is 10x better than bf3.....better gun play, more teamwork, more fun. Sadly all the bf2 fanboys and their input made bf3 even worse. Bc2 never got the respect it deserved and i will hope for the best that if they do make a bc3 eventually, they dont screw up the great gun play that game had.

  • Comment Link R3DT1D3 Wednesday, 25 January 2012 18:36 posted by R3DT1D3

    I can't for the life of me understand why people think small (5v5-8v8) conquest games with vehicles would ever be balanced in any BF game ever without making them useless in the 64 man games that most people play. You want games that small and it needs to be I/O Conquest or Rush.

    As for balance, I think some gadgets need tweaking but assuming they'll differentiate 10 firearms for each class at a competitive level is ridiculous.

    I would love for BF3 to become a real competitive E-Sport but you have to pick your battles wisely.

  • Comment Link its no game Wednesday, 25 January 2012 16:59 posted by its no game

    worse game ever!!! 19 patches up to now 19 x problems 19 x same BS , everyday something new now all payers get banned by GGc and pb with fake bans , a real paradise for hackers Bf3 , worse than MW3 and that is a pain in the ass game . the ones that make the game have only one thing in mind ,to make money in a fast way , the whole is worth nothing

  • Comment Link klasbo Monday, 02 January 2012 11:49 posted by klasbo

    [quote name="dLIGHT"][...] The majority of the updates have been weapon balances which hardly take up much time or effort, so what are the devs doing?[/quote]
    And it's not the same people who do weapon balance/gameplay tweaks that do feature additions/coding (at least not in sensible studios). You put a statistician who is also a high-level player (or at least watches a whole lot of demos/replays) in charge of balance, and you put your best coders and UI designers on the new features.

    But DICE wants to do balance by "community feedback" instead of statistics and professional feedback, and they don't have a good replay/demo system that the balance designers can use (does DICE even [i]have[/i] balance designers?). And new features are a pain in the ass to add because of how the frostbite engine works (guess whose fault [i]that[/i] is), as well as developing for consoles with all the restrictions and software verification that comes with that.

    Solution: Develop for PC only, use a tried-and-tested engine that is actually moddable (instead of this baked archive mess), and support a competitive scene that gives you instant and [i]valuable[/i] feedback on the gameplay, rather than the drivel from random scrubs on the EA forums.

    DICE never made BF2 great, the community did. Now DICE is actively preventing the community from helping out by leaving out mod support or basic features for competitive play, which means that BF3 can [i]never[/i] be great. GEE GEEEEE.

  • Comment Link dLIGHT Monday, 02 January 2012 01:53 posted by dLIGHT

    What I find most frustrating is how simple it is to get competition moving in this game. Spectator is already in the game in some form so they just need to tweak it to be user friendly. I could perhaps accept the argument that they have other things that they would rather be working on (to make the mass audience happy) but so far the fixes and additions have been trivial. The majority of the updates have been weapon balances which hardly take up much time or effort, so what are the devs doing?

    I'm hoping that devs will soon switch focus from fixing things to improving the game, and in those improvements i'm praying for competitive support.

  • Comment Link klasbo Monday, 19 December 2011 13:38 posted by klasbo

    The map design is horrible, and I have a feeling they fucked up the Back to Karkand maps too. And if I know DICE correctly, they [i]never[/i] modify maps post-release.

    I mean, 3 flags in a straight line? Somebody wasn't thinking... And no flanking options as well? Now that's a whole level of incompetence I didn't know they were capable of. I don't think the term "visual cover" is in their vocabulary.

    What was wrong with the weapon and vehicle balance in 2142? The thing that made 2142 worse than BF2 (for competitive play) was slow movement speed (and high bullet spread) and the unlocks system. But the balance was close to perfect (except maybe the voss :P). How hard is it to copy-paste something you [i]know[/i] works?


    Other things that need fixing are framerate issues and input lag. All the movement is sluggish, and I only get 60-70 FPS on low settings (I get 250+ in CoD4.. How hard can this be?). 4-player squads need to be expanded. Unlocks need to be specializations, not improvements (Defib, stinger, rockets, etc are not unlocks, and vehicle unlocks are always available to everyone, always.) Unlocks are just imbalancing the game on purpose, giving better stuff to those who play more. This is just stupid. You never needed unlocks in BF2, and there were no unlocks in 1942.

    So a game that is fundamentally broken, with developers that don't care, and an esports network that want this to be so much more that it ever will be (because DICE won't suddenly start caring). Yeah, I'm moving over to Starcraft 2. This is just stupid.

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