When designing the multiplayer suite for Battlefield 3 it was important to appeal to a diverse player base with different competitive preferences. With a game mode as established as Deathmatch and its variants, the multiplayer team set out to provide a familiar experience that also retained the Battlefield aesthetic deep into the core design. In this week’s Inside DICE article, level designer Diego Jimenez explains one of the ways we’re continuing to fine-tune and improve on that design.
With Battlefield 3, the multiplayer team at DICE was eager to bring back Deathmatch to the series after a long hiatus. We wanted to provide players with a simpler, more focused combat experience that still retained the unique flavor of Battlefield. While we were quite happy with the end result, spending lots of time playing the game online as well as listening to the community’s feedback made it clear to us there were specific areas with room for improvement. Spawning too close to enemies when playing Team Deathmatch or Squad Deathmatch has been a common point of feedback, and is an area we’re improving. This is how we’re going about it.
Team Deathmatch Spawning 101
Due to the stripped-down nature of Team Deathmatch, a player spawning system that effectively shuffles players about the map as they die and respawn becomes absolutely critical for a good gaming experience. This system includes both the spawn system game code as well as the individual spawn points and spawn zones the level designer places by hand. Rather than trying to alter the level layout, we knew we had to focus on these items in order to improve the experience.
The way the spawn system works in Battlefield 3, the whole map is divided into different spawn zones corresponding to areas of the level that a team will naturally fall into or attempt to defend. As combat progresses, the system tracks which team controls which zone and attempts to spawn players close to their team mates. A good level layout will naturally encourage teams to move constantly throughout the map, while the automated spawn system ensures that, whenever possible, as players die they respawn near their team mates. The idea is to have the teams fighting each other around focused frontlines that ebb and flow as the combat rages on.
The first step: Back to Karkand
As the level designer responsible for the different Deathmatch setups in our levels, I had some lingering concerns in the weeks and months following the release of Battlefield 3. These problems centered around a few of the maps which were either showing an unacceptable rate of players spawning close to nearby enemies, or were prone to certain players spawn-camp opposing team members. Players would often die soon after they respawned into the game, making for less than enjoyable combat.
On a personal level, watching someone putting up YouTube clips where they spawn-camped some poor player over and over in say, Noshahr Canals, made me cringe. We want people to have fun, and if they don’t, we have to take it upon ourselves to improve our design.
The first step we took to address these issues was rolled out on the client and server updates that came with the Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand update back in December. Our spawn system is designed to randomly consider any potential spawn points within a given zone and reject those that include nearby enemies within each spawn point’s so called ”Protection Radius”. Since this radius was relatively big for some of the smaller levels like Noshahr Canals and Kharg Island, we decided to reduce it by half in order to avoid one wandering enemy suddenly invalidating a large amount of potential spawn positions for a given zone.
Another big improvement came from redrawing the spawn point configuration on Caspian Border, Damavand Peak, Noshahr Canals and Kharg Island — we essentially pulled a lot of unsafe spawns away from the high-traffic central areas of the map and shifted them towards the safer zones in the periphery.
The challenge: Kharg Island
While the Karkand update generally improved the spawning-related issues for the aforementioned maps, we felt over the following weeks that Kharg Island was still not up to par. Players proved to continue experiencing some issues in the form of spawning close to enemies, or being forced to engage in combat uncomfortably soon after spawning.
Here are two overview pictures contrasting the version of this map shipped with Battlefield 3 (picture 1.1) with the one included in the Back to Karkand update (picture 1.2). Spawn zones are denoted by colored geometries, while the yellow circles mark potential spawn locations.
As you can see above, we decided to remove almost all of the spawn positions in the container area — aiming to discourage players from spawning in high traffic areas. We also took away one of the spawn zones (shown yellow in the picture) to reduce the density of players on the northern end of the map.
The next step
After we rolled out the Back to Karkand update, we continued to monitor how players reacted to the changes. With Kharg Island, for example, we could see tangible improvements from the aforementioned changes. But the experience of spawning into the map still didn’t feel up to the same level as some of the other maps, and so we got right back into it.
One of the proposals we had involved to further distance the spawn zones from each other in order to avoid players meeting hostiles too soon after spawning. As such, the new version of the layout we came up with involved opening up a previously blocked off area on the west end of the map (see picture 1.3 below). The extra space allowed us to add a new spawn zone on the southwest (colored as light brown below), bring back the yellow-colored spawn zone, and simultaneously shift the original blue zone farther to the west. We have been play testing this setup internally as of late and have found it to both significantly improve the flow of the level and relieve the spawn-related issues some players have been experiencing.
Bigger or smaller playable areas
Aside from Kharg Island, we have also been busy with improvements on other maps. As far as post-release updates go, altering the playable area is one of the most drastic changes we do, as this can have the knock-on effect of affecting the game in unforseen ways if you are not very careful. Sometimes the characteristics of a map necessitate a bigger area — and the added frontlines and spawn zones that come with it — while others benefit from compressing the effective size of a layout in order to bring players closer together.
Tehran Highway is a good example of the former. Our feedback was indicating a general repetitiveness of combat due to a limited amount of available frontlines to fight on, and a lack of rotation among the different spawn zones — teams would often spawn and fight in the same areas. Through our recent playtests we’ve found this to be much improved by allowing access to the western half of the map and effectively establishing spawn locations on the other side of the highway. As players can now engage each other across the highway, or fire from elevated positions like the pedestrian overpass or the construction site, the action feels more unpredictable and caters to a wider range of playing styles.
The opposite approach proved effective when dealing with the Squad Deathmatch layout on Damavand Peak. In order to address community concerns about the fighting being too spread out due to squads spawning too far from each other, we have now play tested a version of this level that removes two spawn zones we judged to be too out of the way (see the now removed orange and dark green areas on the pictures below).
We have also managed to fix a code bug where a small amount of players would spawn within a cluster of enemies at the start of the round, and I have been busy with a whole slew of tweaks to individual spawn points and spawn zones for other Team Deathmatch setups in maps like Seine Crossing, Strike at Karkand, and Sharqi Peninsula. You can similarly expect significant improvements on the Squad Deathmatch layouts for Noshahr Canals and the aforementioned Damavand Peak.
Refining the Team Deathmatch and Squad Deathmatch experience remains a learning experience for myself, and for the whole multiplayer crew here at DICE. I strongly believe Deathmatch is a valuable addition to the Battlefield repertoire, and I am committed to continuing to listen to feedback from the community regarding Deathmatch game modes moving forward.
Multiplayer Level Designer