USAS 12 Frag Rounds: Tale of the Tape

Following up on his last “Inside DICE” post, Alan Kertz returns with the inside story on the much discussed Battlefield 3 USAS 12 shotgun and FRAG rounds: Where the inspiration came from, how it was balanced shortly after launch, and how we’re rebalancing it based on community feedback.

I often get the question “who thought 12g FRAG rounds were a good idea?” Well, that would be me. 12 gauge FRAG rounds stem from two places. First, like nearly everything in Battlefield, FRAG rounds are inspired by an authentic shotgun ammunition (developed for military use and tested by the USMC). A FRAG round is a 19mm High Explosive round, making it of a similar caliber to the rounds fired by the cannons on the F-18!

The second inspiration comes from an Easter Egg weapon for developers in Battlefield: Bad Company 2. The developers (or anyone who picked up their kit) could fire 12g FRAG rounds, with a similar ballistic performance as a standard shotgun slug, though slower. So popular was the round with developers and players alike that the FRAG round was made an unlockable ammo type for shotguns in Battlefield 3.

The addition of suppression in Battlefield 3 as a gameplay mechanic gave 12g FRAG rounds a clear target design. FRAG rounds would allow players with shot guns a round with limited combat effectiveness but the capability to harass and suppress opponents at longer distances. It almost worked.

Straight out of the gate, as players ranked up a bit of fun was had with FRAG rounds in the first unlockable shotgun, the 870. As players continued to rank up, the FRAG rounds were put to the test in the semi-automatic shotguns, with greater but still limited success. Enter the USAS-12. Arguably the FRAG round was developed primarily for combat shotguns, especially automatic weapons capable of quickly putting multiple rounds on target, since each round is of limited damage itself. It was clear that in order to remain balanced, and despite it not being completely authentic, the automatic and semi-automatic shotguns would need to have their own version of the FRAG round. It was quickly patched in, for balance.

And so it seemed that all was well again, at least for a time. The FRAG rounds are an interesting bit of study, statistically speaking. On the PC, USAS-12 kills account for just 1.8% of all kills (all ammo types are included in that figure, not just FRAG rounds). On the PS3 that number climbs to just over 3% and on Xbox 360 it climbs to nearly 4%. This is a unique behavior, as not only are the FRAG rounds and the USAS identical on all three platforms, but only the stats for USAS-12 and 870 vary so drastically between platforms. Furthermore, the 870 is most popular on PC and then drops in the same order of PS3 and 360. I’ll let everyone draw their own conclusions as to why this is, though I certainly have my suspicions. Statistically, there is a worst case scenario of dying from the USAS-12 1 out of every 25 deaths.

It’s important for us to fine-tune shotgun balancing at close range, especially with the upcoming expansion pack Battlefield 3: Close Quarters this June.

So why does it feel so frequent? Primarily, the FRAG rounds are most effective in Battlefield 3 exactly where they would be in real life: close quarters, urban combat. When broken down by map and mode, the USAS-12 is clearly more popular in TDM and CQB maps like Grand Bazaar and Operation Metro. Players in those modes are more likely to be killed by FRAG rounds than players who run around on Kharg Island Conquest.

And what do I plan to do about it? Well, one very little, but very effective change will take place in the near future. On all other shotguns, using FRAG rounds reduces the effective rate of fire. For semiautomatic shotguns this rate drops from 200-220 rounds per minute to 180rpm, a 10% reduction. The USAS simply did not have this reduction in place. As of the next update, it will have its 275rpm reduced significantly to 200rpm. I’m actually a bit worried it’s too much, and I’m eager to hear how players react to the change.

Shotguns are easily the most difficult weapons to balance in Battlefield. Given the wide range of combat distances in Battlefield 3, shotguns must feel powerful up close, without being over powered, and weak at medium distance without being under powered. Furthermore, each map has a unique combat distance feeling, yet the performance of the weapons must feel consistent. The relatively random nature of pellet spread, or FRAG round accuracy, makes this especially difficult. The update also includes some more minor tweaks to try and help players consistently identify the effective range of their shotgun by reducing the random factors involved.

Rest assured, this won’t be the last update for balance issues in Battlefield 3. I’ll be monitoring the situation closely, and working directly with the team to make additional updates and tweaks to keep the Battlefield balanced. Let me know what you think of the latest balancing tweaks here in the comments section on the blog.

Alan Kertz
Core Gameplay Designer

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