Battlefield 2: Armored Fury Q&A - Details on the New Levels, New Vehicles, and the Battle for America
The latest booster pack for the popular PC multiplayer action game takes the battle to US soil, and the lead level designer gives us a peek.
With Battlefield 2: Armored Fury, EA and DICE are going forward with their plan to release new content for their popular multiplayer action game in the form of booster packs. Available online only through EA, these booster packs don't have quite as much content as a traditional expansion pack, but then again, they also feature a price that's less than half that of traditional expansions. In Armored Fury, the ongoing world war between the United States, China, and the fictional Middle Eastern Coalition arrives on American soil, and players will once again have to battle on huge levels, either on foot or in a variety of military vehicles. To learn more, we caught up with Tom Galt, lead level designer at DICE Canada, the studio that developed Armored Fury.
GameSpot: Armored Fury is the second booster pack for Battlefield 2, and Euro Force, the first, was something of an experiment, as it really hadn't been done before. What have you learned from Euro Force?
Tom Galt: That's right, Euro Force was our first title available for download only, and while we all thought $9.99 was a fair price, we really didn't know what to expect. As it turns out, the popularity of Euro Force far exceeded our expectations, and more than justified the release of the second booster pack, Armored Fury. Fortunately, that success also gave us the opportunity to bring our community something else they've been asking for: the ability to defend the homeland and the introduction of the A-10 Warthog.
Looking at the gameplay of both booster packs, we really wanted to punch up the role that armor has on the battlefield and give players the chance to engage in some epic tank battles, of the kind seen in the Tobruk, Aberdeen, or El Alamein levels from Battlefield 1942. What we found with the Operation Smoke Screen and Taraba Quarry levels from Euro Force is that players often had very different opinions of the maps, depending on their styles. The people that enjoy fighting in tanks loved the gameplay, but those that prefer infantry gameplay gravitated to the Great Wall level, which featured some spectacular close-quarters fighting. So there is some division there in the player base around what levels the players enjoy. With Armored Fury we're trying to retain the action and intensity that tank battles bring, while still giving the infantry players a chance to survive and even thrive on the same battlefield by reducing distances and providing more cover between bases, and also giving infantry good cover options while capturing bases.
GS: People don't seem to be adopting the booster pack, or servers aren't featuring them, possibly because they alienate players who don't have the booster pack. How do you get players to buy into the booster packs in numbers large enough to create some critical mass?
TG: Servers do become fragmented with each release, and that is a predictable result when you release optional content such as expansion packs or booster packs into a player base as large and diverse as the Battlefield community. We do our best to cater to the larger audience by identifying what most players like about existing content and what they think is missing. Then we try to fill those gaps as best we can, and get the word out as much as possible.
Getting a booster or expansion pack in the hands of the community is only half of the battle. Getting servers up for them to play the new content is the other side of the coin, and EA does a terrific job firing up new servers dedicated to the new content so players can be sure they will be able to enjoy Battlefield online.
GS: Let's get back to Armored Fury. The Chinese invade America, and drive the long way across the continent toward the capital, correct? Does this mean that it's China versus America on all three maps, or does the MEC get to make an appearance?
TG: The MEC are actually in two of the three maps. The MEC and China have coordinated the largest-scale invasion of North America in history, with a two-pronged attack designed to fracture and confuse the American defenses.
China has cut a deal with Russia to use its east coast as a launching point for an assault across the Bering Sea into Alaska, where it hopes to secure the port of Valdez before securing oil fields further inland. With a strong foothold and access to fuel, China plans to continue south through Canada, securing the Alberta oil sands before continuing toward California. The American forces, already stretched thin from the wars in Asia and the Middle East, are forced to leave bases undermanned in the south to deal with the Chinese threat in the north.
Meanwhile, the MEC has been slowly building up men and supplies in various South American and Caribbean locales for an invasion across the eastern coast of the United States. Severely undermanned, the US forces put up a fierce battle, but it's not long before the MEC have secured beachheads all along the East Coast. The majority of MEC forces have landed to the north and south of Washington DC. The MEC's first objective is to secure major highways and arteries leading into the capital. Once the MEC controls the supply routes, their assault on the US capital will begin!
Tanks for the MemoriesGS: What can you tell us about each of the three new levels in the booster pack? Is one more infantry-focused than the others? Is one more suited for tank engagements?
TG: All three of the Armored Fury levels feature a good mix of vehicle and infantry combat. Some areas are better suited to tanks, while some areas make it advantageous to stay on foot. For instance, there are bases on either side of a river in Operation Harvest, a level set in the farmlands of Pennsylvania. Vehicles can capture these bases, but the terrain and objects create a lot of areas for engineers to hide land mines, and allow Spec Ops to sneak in close to drop some C4 on unsuspecting tanks. That setup is really indicative of the other levels, with each one featuring some cool and unique areas. The highway overpass in Operation Road Rage is a great spot for snipers and antitank infantry to fire on incoming targets, but once a tank gets up there it can be pretty difficult to get it off without some air support. Midnight Sun is in Alaska, and features a small town and plenty of vegetation that offer lots of places for infantry to go where vehicles just can't follow.
GS: Still, with all of those tanks around, how do you balance things so that the guys on foot have a chance in the relative open?
TG: The key to making sure levels are fun and balanced is to ensure that paths between bases offer both vehicle- and infantry-friendly routes. We don't want to split the infantry and vehicles into exclusive sections of the level, so usually we make these tightly integrated to keep the action focused. For instance, the highway in Operation Road Rage is a long, open stretch of the level, the main path of tanks and jeeps. Usually a death trap for infantry, the concrete divider in the center of the highway actually gives the antitank player a distinct advantage, as he can use it as cover and is able to jump over it to switch sides, making it impossible for the tank to fire on him.
GS: How do the new vehicles come into play in Armored Fury? There are now scout helicopters, so what are their capabilities? And what other new toys are there to play with?
TG: There are two new classes of vehicles in Armored Fury, with one of each for the US, MEC, and Chinese forces. The ground attack aircraft include the A-10 Warthog for US forces, the SU-39 Frogfoot for the MEC, and the Q-5 Fantan for China. These are slow-flying jets that feature nose cannons and carry a payload of four heavy bombs. The slow speed gives the jets a longer time on target than the faster jets, yet this also makes them more susceptible to antiaircraft fire, something I'm sure the ground pounders will appreciate!
The scout helicopters include the MD 530 Little Bird for the USMC, the EC 635 for the MEC, and the WZ 11 for China. These are very fast and agile choppers that feature side-mounted mini cannons controlled by the pilot, and include two exterior seats where passengers can use their personal weapons. While the guns on these helicopters can only penetrate light armor, players working together turn them into pretty effective antitank platforms by dropping C4 and land mines onto unsuspecting enemies. To help fill their role as scout helicopters, they have been outfitted with a radar sweep that identifies enemies within its radius to all players on the pilot's team. This makes them a very valuable asset to the team when used properly, and complements the commander's reconnaissance nicely.
GS: Are you doing anything about airpower in this expansion? The helicopter and fighter pilots are dominating the current BF2 maps. Antiaircraft missiles seem useless, and good luck getting your pilots to help...they're too busy working over the enemy's infantry and ground vehicles.
TG: The ground attack aircraft are slower than existing fighter jets and bombers, so they are easier for static and mobile AA to get a lock and take them out. No gameplay changes have been made to existing Battlefield content for Armored Fury.
GS: Armored Fury will require the new 1.3 patch, which was released this week. What's new and cool in this patch? Can you explain the changes to the squad mechanic? For instance, players seem to have been abusing the "spawn on squad leader" feature, somehow? Can you explain?
TG: We introduced a few cool new things in version 1.3. The biggest addition is the inclusion of a new co-op game mode. This lets users play all of the single-player levels online, with a mix of human players and computer-controlled bots. A new commander tool has been added as well, and that is the ability to drop light jeeps anywhere on the battlefield. This comes in really handy when you're stuck in a field somewhere without a ride. As commander though, I have the most fun dropping jeeps on enemy snipers! For all you snipers out there, always remember: fire and maneuver!
Spawning on squad leaders has been a hot topic lately, and it's the type of issue that only arises after we get thousands of players spending thousands of hours experimenting with new strategies and tactics. Unfortunately, a tactic has arisen that exploits and unbalances the squad mechanic. Let me explain. One of the coolest features of Battlefield 2 is the ability to join a squad and use the squad leader as a spawn point. This has encouraged more teamwork and makes the squad leader a key member of the team. If he dies, the squad has to wait until he respawns before they can use him as a spawn point. So the strategy is to keep your squad leader alive while the squad assaults the enemy, who in turn need to hunt down and kill the squad leader to stop the assault.
Prior to 1.3, players have been able to join squads and choose the squad-leader spawn point while dead and waiting to respawn. This has allowed dead squad leaders to leave the squad, and another player rotates into the squad-leader role. The old squad leader could then rejoin the squad and use the new squad leader as a spawn point. Rotating squad leaders in this way has made squad leaders redundant by essentially allowing any member of the squad to serve as the squad spawn point. Furthermore, this meant that in order to push back an assault, a defending player must kill every member of the squad before any of them could respawn. Killing six enemies within the usual 15-second spawn time is not easy!
So, for 1.3 we wanted to put the emphasis back on the squad leader by only allowing players to join or leave squads when they are alive. Battlefield is all about choices, and it's important that the choices players make have an impact on how they play the game. To be truly effective as a squad leader, you can't play the same as you would as the member of a squad. You need to be a little more cautious, sending orders to your crew, sending requests to the commander, and perhaps, most importantly, providing your men with a safe place to spawn before heading into battle. This change is going to allow the good, organized teams to really shine, and in particular teams with good squad leaders that know their role will flourish.
GS: Thanks, Tom!