David Sirland breaks down Battlefield Incursions
While we all eagerly await Battlefield V later this year, we spoke to Producer David Sirland about Battlefield 1’s competitive mode: Incursions.
Battlefield V is gearing towards esports with a wide array of competitive changes in place. Until we can get our hands on it, however, we can get a great idea of how the Battlefield team is approaching esports via Battlefield Incursions -- which you can play right now.
Two five-player squads duke it out on a smaller, purpose-built map for frags, flags, and the pursuit of victory. We here at Red Bull sat down with Battlefield Incursions Producer David Sirland to pick his brain about the franchise’s first competitive mode. Read on for the full interview.
A Different Kind of Battlefield
Red Bull: So, I got to play Incursions yesterday, and I got annihilated.
David Sirland: We have a manual matchmaker [for the preview] that knows nothing about your skill.
RB: I’m pretty good at Battlefield. I’ve got 150 hours under my belt, so I thought, ‘I’ll fit in.’ I didn’t. One of the things I was confused about was the scoring system; can you explain that to me in comparison to what people know from the core game?
Sirland: Absolutely. So, one of the key differences and why we have this scoring system built on top of the mode, almost, and what you regularly call Battlefield. We still have tickets, kills, and it’s important to capture flags, so you can always have a comeback. So, we needed a system where that was possible. I guess we looked at tennis, because it’s based on tennis sets, with a reset, [which] makes us able to do that. And what it does to the game and to the players playing it is, once you figure it out, it helps you know what to do next. Should we push? Should we stay back? Should we defend? Should we wait for the next attack? And that’s sort of what we want to reach with it. This version, for the closed alpha, we really honed in on the highly skilled players. We’ve had the best players [playing here] – that’s probably what you played against – testing that out, making sure we have that depth that they need and require for this to flourish, even at the highest level, and making sure the alpha, going forward, that this is accessible to players that like Battlefield. Because, in the end, you’ll matchmake with players of your skill and in your skill range, and it’ll be a lot of fun, and a lot of fun to watch.
RB: How did you go about determining the right player count? Because I feel when a lot of people think of Battlefield, they think of 64-player conquest. When I first heard 5v5, I was like, ‘Not in my Battlefield!’ So, what was it about that kind of squad size that made you think that’s the right size, and not something like 10 or 20 or even 30 players?
Sirland: I think 5v5, it’s a squad size, so it’s a good starting point, but it’s also standard in the business, and it’s for a good reason: that is matchmaking times. Most people don’t want to wait more than two-and-a-half minutes for a game when it’s matchmade on your skill level. Even the biggest game in the world has way longer times, when you get up the skill ladder, it exponentially increases that time. Probably the biggest reason, but I don’t think size really is what defines Battlefield. I think it’s important, I think 64-player Battlefield, the big sandbox where you can go with your squad and do what you want, is one piece of the puzzle. But I think that squad is something we can take out of there, put them against another squad with a vehicle, and make it work, and it still feels like Battlefield. We’ve learnt through the process of making it, it really is about tempo, the sort of anticipation of that first bomb, and everyone runs into the map. And that happens in small maps, and we really want players to test this, to make sure, ‘Hey, we are Battlefield. This is Battlefield.’ It feels like Battlefield to most players. Obviously targeting a subset of our full player base, because you need to want to compete to play this over going out and blowing up tanks in the regular server, or whatever.
RB: What is your intention for approaching the fixed class system? You can’t stack medics and things like that. Are people going to ensure they get the class they want, and how are you going to settle disputes?
Sirland: I can’t answer the last bit: that’s going to be tricky. But we want to, of course, make sure that you have enough tools to communicate. There is a draft phase. You sort of saw a hint of that in here. That will be a place where you build your team. And the reason we have limited kits, as we call them – which is a subset of a class – is that we can make sure that there is a deep and strategic meta game that can form under this. It’s what the really good players have been asking for and ourselves, as well: something that we need to have and something that can keep evolving over time. All the systems that we have built, including the vehicle kits… which is really what we should be calling them, because they are versions of the vehicles in the game, and they rank up as well and change into the more specialised role, as you get to the end of it makes for that. You can get a meta game out of that. You sort of see it already when you play the second time and the third time and the fourth time and they [players] start doing it in a different manner.
Tanking the team
RB: I was, unfortunately for my team, playing as the Tanker.
Sirland: Yeah, that is a very key role.
RB: Yeah, and I’m more of an infantry guy, and I rushed into battle to support, and I realised very quickly that that was the wrong idea. Have the vehicles been made a little bit squishier? The tanks seem to be disabled with almost every hit.
Sirland: In regular Battlefield 1, the tank disable state is triggered by a random factor, a little bit, it has a random factor to it, and it has deflections. We turned that off because what we need is a predictable manner. So, what you played against was probably someone that knew what they were doing, because if you aim for the tracks, that’s more or less, if you hurt them enough, that’s going to be a disable of the tracks. If you hurt the turret, that’s going to be a disable of that. There needs to be a predictable response from the game, and they are weaker. You play from the beginning, and it shoots much slower between the shots, and reloads are also longer, and you have less armour. As you rank up in this current version of this light tank, you get more powerful. It’s a late-game version of a tank, so in the end, you’re powerful because you have two weapons, you can switch between them in a way that you can’t in regular Battlefield 1. You can shoot and insta-switch and shoot again. In regular Battlefield that’s connected [in terms of a reload cooldown].
RB: Are you a bit worried then with the Tanker specifically, that that will encourage people to hang back, snipe…
Sirland: No, that’s the role of that tank, really.
RB: Support from behind?
Sirland: Back line, support tank, initially. That becomes the behemoth that runs through the house eventually. That’s the journey that we want from that specific role. And the same goes for many other classes, or the anti-tank class, for instance, which has to be on par when it comes to power levels, even though it’s very specific. In the anti-tank class that we have in this game that you played now, and in alpha we have another one, as well, his special rank up for level three is limpet charge. So, it’s the charge of the bayonet, but with a limpet, which you kill the tank if you get that on, essentially. It’s really hard to get that on.
RB: Yeah, I was killed by that.
Sirland: Oh, you were?
RB: But I was out of the tank, and I killed the guy with the limpet, but as I turned back to fix the tank, there was a limpet charge on the ground. Boom. Dead.
Every Choice Matters
Sirland: So, what we want is, really, that every choice matters, and every decision you take has an impact. Five-on-five really helps there, too, because you’re one out of five instead of one out of 32.
RB: Is there any reason why you’d pick the armoured car over the light tank?
Sirland: Yeah, absolutely. You would probably have to be more experienced than playing the first time. The light tank is more generic and allows for more mistakes because you have the armour and all of that, it can drive through things, and you don’t get stuck as much. The armoured car is more of a going a little bit further into that specific role, is very much a backline disturbance and really powerful when you rank it up to the max level. It gets the flanker shots from the light tank, more or less, on its minigun, and the splash damage, it kills everything. But you can take nothing. You die from one shot.
RB: It’s a glass cannon.
Sirland: So, you need to really work with your team and know, ‘Where is the tank? Where is the stationary gun? Where is their AT? Is he dead? Okay, let’s push.’ But you can really wreck a full team with that if you know what you’re doing. And we wanted that in the closed alpha, to really show intent, and show this is where we could take almost any vehicle, but we want to have a good mix of everything. So, it’s a start, and we don’t want to go super wide too early. We need to make sure that the base of everything is there first.
RB: Are the buildings intentionally not fully destructible?
Sirland: That’s inherited from the main game. That is absolutely something we want to work on, and especially the language of what is destructible and what’s not. I mean, in competitive it’s really important to have indestructible objects in a much higher sense than it is in the regular game. So, we are going to have build new objects, and we want to look in to making sure that you understand that if I throw a grenade here that will destroy the thing. If I throw a grenade here, that won’t do anything. If I shoot here, that will, actually, bullets will travel through. If I run into this, it falls over. So, we need that language to be much clearer, to make sure that you know that if I shoot here now this is going to happen. So, therefore, maybe I shouldn’t, so I circle around…
RB: So, you’ll be approaching that with changes to the visual language?
Sirland: Yeah. And clarity across the board. That’s what we’ve learnt from getting to this point with this map. It’s like iteration 50 or something, internally, is really important. So, we’re probably going to look into lighting and maybe having a more clear-day weather, for instance, and things like that, to make sure that you really see your enemies and you can act accordingly.
The Mechanics of Competition
RB: Okay. What other tweaks to the mechanics have you had to apply to make this more of a competitive mode?
Sirland: I think, across the board, we are going to influence the regular game, as well, because what’s good for competitive is, regularly, most of the time, good for the regular game, too. We’ve just been forced to accelerate that change. Things like suppression, how quick the time to kill – a popular term – and other things like that, will be affected, influenced by us, doing the competitive side. But we want this to stay one game. We cannot diverge, go on our own way. This needs to be the same thing. If you’re good at this, you’re probably good at the regular one. The other side of that might not be true, but it might be because you haven’t played enough, because we want that depth to be there. So, you have to dig your way into the nitty-gritty.
RB: So, does that mean Incursions has a lower time to kill?
Sirland: No, it doesn’t, no. But, for instance, it does not sway [your view] when you stand still on your weapon when you ADS in Incursions, because it is a random factor that we want to remove. If you start moving yourself, then you start moving the gun. But if you stand completely still, the gun is completely still. It’s not the case in the regular game.
RB: And that will feed back into the regular game?
Sirland: Maybe, but it’s something that we are constantly looking out for. We will have to diverge in some cases, of course, when it comes to the tick rate of our servers is 120 on PC here, and that will be the base line.
RB: For this mode?
Sirland: Yeah. You cannot do that in a 64-player game. It’s too taxing and too performance heavy. So, I think the word we’re looking for is fidelity. We want to have higher fidelity, and higher quality of everything because we are, we have less features, we are smaller.
RB: I overheard someone talking about the sniper shield as a healing device. How much have you had to tweak and change equipment to fit the mode?
Sirland: Quite a lot, actually. But I think it’s also us testing the water a little bit. We haven’t totally invented something from scratch. It’s more assets that already exist and making sure that it’s role can be inferred. Obviously, in the sniper shield’s case, it needs to be more clear that that’s actually the case, maybe have a little med bag on the back of it, and stuff like that. Maybe it’s not a sniper shield in the end; maybe it’s something else. What we need is a cover that’s really good for your friend, the Support [player] with the LMG, who wants to lie down. It’s sort of that tag-team mentality that we want to have between the kits.
RB: Okay, you talked earlier about the tank getting up to level three or the armoured car getting up to level three and it being super powerful. Does that mean then for the other team to have a hope of fighting against level-three vehicles, they really need their anti-tank class or other tank to be at that same level?
Sirland: No, not at all. If you team up, you will always trump rank. Always. And that’s not even a question, almost, because it’s such a big difference. You will never have more damage, most likely, maybe damage over time, but your grenades are still going to be grenades, and it’s all about hitting them. But if there are three of you being able to throw grenades, it doesn’t matter if two of you miss. You hit slightly, then he’s going to be down for the count anyways. So, it should make you more specialised and more powerful in the specialisation, but not all across the board.
RB: So, even with the different classes and the tweaks to those classes, everyone can equip an anti-tank option so they don’t see a tank and think, ‘I’ve got to run away from this fight, I can’t do anything’?
Sirland: We have, of course, tested the very left-field setup, where there is no anti-tank. We don’t even have a guy spawning in a vehicle. Can you win? Yeah, you can. But it’s going to be hard. You’re going to have to really know where the tank is. But he can only be in one place at one time. And you capture the flag way faster when you’re five people on it than you do when you’re one. As long as you can deal with the other infantry, you could ignore the tank, if you were really skilled, that’s possible. And we want that to be the case. It does not have to be that you have to use the tank, and we want people to be creative with this, creating that metagame once again. You might have noticed when you played the current vehicle operator kit, that he has the Frommer Stop Auto, and that’s one of the more powerful guns in this mode right now. We’re trying things out here, and we really want the feedback from the community to make sure that we get to a good place. Obviously, we’re looking for a fun gameplay experience with any kit, and that’s why we have a weapon choice, even though it’s limiting.
Terms of En-Range-ment
RB: Is the intention also to reinforce those weapon engagement ranges? One of the things I really enjoy about Battlefield 1 is that if you’re Assault, your weapons are mainly only effective at close range. If you’re a Scout, you’re mostly long range. It forced you to play not just to your class, but to the engagement range of the fixed class weapons.
Sirland: I think that is the case here, as well. And, like I said with the tank, the example, that the engagement range actually changes over time. That’s exactly what we want. We think it’s super important, and it will help players play better in the regular game, as well, when you realise, ‘Oh, these weapons are made for being close up, all the other stuff I have, I’m the revive guy, I’m this medium-range thing, I shouldn’t be going into the house alone. But if I have my shotgun, then I will.’
RB: Have you had to or are you approaching the killcam and the option if you’re down but still waiting for a medic, you can still relay information to your team from that position? The enemy team can’t really control because they can’t kill you again. Are you looking at killing the killcam or dimming the screen?
Sirland: We sort of already did. The killcam we have now is basically a drop-dead cam, I would say. Where you would die, it just stops there and then. It doesn’t follow. It doesn’t highlight. So, if he killed you from behind, you don’t know where he is.
RB: But can you still see the live view, so if he ran over your body…
Sirland: You see the live feed, so that’s information. But we don’t see that as that big of a problem. It’s more getting the exact spot of that sniper in the backline, that you wouldn’t, because it’s not going to swivel the camera towards them, it’s where you looked last, essentially. You’re not down, you’re not out, you’re just down, you can still relay information to your medic. And we kind of like that. It’s a good enough trade-off there. We don’t want to take it all the way where you look up and there’s a black screen.
The Team Dynamic
RB: You talked about the idea of 5v5 being that perfect competitive number. I’m thinking a lot of Rainbow Six Siege right now, just on the idea that information and intel-gathering is more important than the shooting. It’s not something that I would say was true of Battlefield in the past, where shooting is more important than intel – intel helped, obviously – would you say there’s been a definitive effort to push the intel game over the shooting game for Incursions?
Sirland: Yeah, I think you have to if you want to make a competitive experience. I think that’s what makes it interesting, the teamwork, if it’s five-on-five. If it’s a duel, a one-on-one, there’s a different kind of take on that, but in a five-on-five mode, really, is what you want to power up. And communication is a giant part of that, I think, and intel as a subset of, or filtering of that information. And what we currently have in the closed alpha is very much our hardcore version of the HUD. We have every information piece possible in there right now, and you probably saw that summary, as well. The only thing missing is how many revives your team negated points on the other side. That’s probably what the highly skilled will look at most of the time. We will probably tone that down for the average player, you can open it up, or click for more info, and that kind of stuff. So, we wanted to start in that and to make sure that we didn’t miss any of that, because that information war part is so key.
RB: And for the infantry, I know we talked earlier about the Tanker being a back role, for the infantry, are they supposed to be together, or is there incentive for that lone-wolf player to make those bold plays?
Sirland: We don’t want to totally remove the lone-wolf thing. It’s part of Battlefield. You can still go for that back cap, if you’re pushed back, because we have locked flags. It’s when you’re at a disadvantage… so that’s still possible under certain conditions, not all the time, because we want you to stick together with at least one more person. The vision for the mode, and how we want it to play out, is you have a series of full squad-on-squad clashes, with or without vehicles, in an ever-changing environment, which is why the destruction is so important, and the fact that we have vehicle wrecks staying behind forever, essentially, for the rest of the game, so that there’s this added information there, too, or cover, that way, too. We need to be really careful not to remove something that may be a big chunk of our player base consider Battlefield. It’s very much a balancing act between them both, and we’re taking it very seriously.
RB: When you’re building a competitive mode, you’re also thinking about the idea of how will this be viewed by the audience who wants to watch these top-tier players. Have you had to make any changes to the spectating tools?
Sirland: We have a spectator client in Battlefield 1, which I helped produce, actually, so it sort of has a starting point for that, as well. And it is really important. One of our pillars is that it has to be as fun to watch as it is to play. And that has influenced quite a lot already in the design, not only is it why we have a linear layout of flags, because you have clear directionality, it’s also why we locked some of the flags because you don’t want a lot of the lone wolf back-flag capping because this splits the focus. So, it needs to sort of have a football, if you will, focus and we really take that into consideration across the board. But it’s also very much something we will have to work with the players in figuring out. One thing I think is key building this community up is not only building the players up, but also the players that will cast this, or be the new generation to cast these games, is equally important.
RB: Thank you very much. I’m really looking forward to playing more.