Fixing Battlefield 4: DICE Talks Launch Issues, Fall Patch, And Lots More

"Our community is much smarter than we probably give them credit for," DICE LA producer David Sirland says in wide-ranging interview.

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It's been one year since Battlefield 4's controversial launch in October 2013. The game was marred with server woes at release that were so severe and significant that some even took legal action against publisher Electronic Arts. Despite the launch pain, the game has been critically and commercially successful, EA has since said--but the publisher is not out of the woods just yet.

In an interview with GameSpot, DICE LA co-founder and producer David Sirland acknowledged that Battlefield 4's rocky launch meant that EA lost player's trust--even if the game's commercial appeal has not been adversely impacted. Sirland spoke frankly about EA's struggles and what it must to do to win that trust back for Battlefield Hardline and future games in the blockbuster shooter series.

He also talks about Battlefield 4's major fall patch (released earlier this month), how the game's fan-focused Community Test Environment has fundamentally changed the way DICE makes games, and more.

You can read the full interview below.

GameSpot: Would you say Battlefield 4's issues are now fully in the past?

David Sirland: Oh, yeah. I'd say we passed that point a little while ago, but this [fall patch] was where we added a lot of improvements and changes as well as fixing issues. A lot of what's in this patch is actually gameplay balance changes and tweaks to systems that we wanted to do. But we felt that we had to do it in a collected way, and that's why this patch is so big and so feature-laden.

What are the main takeaways of the patch?

I think what they're going to notice first is probably that the game plays differently because we made the time-to-kill longer; we made engagement last longer. In combination with the [Battlefield 3-style] soldier movement, that makes the engagement totally different, I would say. You have a chance to get away [after] someone starts to shoot you now. And also the fact you have to find your new favorite again because weapons have been changed quite a lot. So you'll find the best combination of the heavy barrel and whatnot; you'll have to kind of restart that in a good way, I think.

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What are some of the technical, more under-the-hood changes that people maybe won't see directly but they'll benefit from?

On the netcode side of things … it's even faster. We've seen some issues with the server performance causing initial issues just when the patch went out, but over the weekend now it seems to have been really stable and good, so we're getting good feedback on that. So that's under the hood probably the biggest change when it comes to how well the game feels, of course in combination with the other changes. One other thing we haven't touched on is the recoil; this is based on the shaky animation of your gun when you were aiming down the sights. The sights were shaking when you were shooting. And that shake was animated. And therefore we removed that by making the reticle size for close- and medium-range sights stable; and that also changes how easy it is to aim in the game. Even though we've increased actual recoil on the weapons, it's more stable than it was before.

Why didn't the game originally ship with this good of netcode?

I think the way we installed it, it's not a blanket upping of the tick rate. Mind you, the tick rate for client-to-server has always been 30mhz. But server-to-client, we have a bubble; it's a bubble around you and around other players that's updated more frequently. And that of course is a less taxing thing for the server to calculate than blanket just upping everyone. And it updates frequently. The reason we couldn't do it initially was basically server performance.

A server with 64 players and all these crazy vehicles happening at once--it's just too much for the kind of hardware that we're running on, which is top-of-the-line hardware, mind you. So that's the reason. We needed a smarter way to do it, and we found a smarter way to do it. And we wouldn't be able to have done initially either without that Community Test Environment. That enabled us, technically, to feel confident in what these changes were and how well they worked. The same goes for the changes to weapon balance, which [are] kind of big changes. If we just did it without having a lot of play hours, we wouldn't feel as confident in how well it worked the way we wanted it to work.

"I think it's profoundly changed the way we work" -- David Sirland on Battlefield 4's CTE

How do you think the role of the CTE has impacted how you developed Battlefield 4?

I think it's profoundly changed the way we work. Locally, in our studio, we are structured a little bit differently compared to a normal studio. We are basically constructed as a service studio, which fits us really well. This kind of iteration; we can release two updates to the CTE in a week; that kind of work fits us really well. And I think EA as a whole has embraced this more open and iterative approach to making games. So I think it changed all of us, especially looking at how successful it's been for us.

What are the exact differences players will see with regards to the new Battlefield 3 movement-style that was implemented in the fall patch?

The reason we call it Battlefield 3-esque is because the numbers, looking at the soldier physics which control how quickly you can move, how quickly you accelerate sideways and forwards and so on--those numbers are very close to the BF3 numbers. And that part of the engine hasn't changed much. Initially, they were very slow and you were very sluggish, especially sideways. And I'd say acceleration in any direction before was pretty slow. So you probably don't notice [the changes] immediately. The best way to notice it I'd say is to aim down the sights and strafe back and forth; it's much more responsive now. In terms of gameplay, what this gives you is that if you react to someone starting to shoot you, now you get away much more from that. You can run around the corner and get away. Before you would get killed behind the corner. It was a combination of the [netcode] update being slower and the fact that you moved slower [that] caused a lot of those things to happen.

Battlefield 4's fall patch has been the game's most important yet, Sirland says.
Battlefield 4's fall patch has been the game's most important yet, Sirland says.

Another thing that's come up is I've seen people describe the fall patch as the game's biggest and most important patch so far. Would you agree with that?

I think so. It's a collection of everything we've done on the CTE that we couldn't get into Dragon's Teeth because of time issues basically. We opted for a bigger patch, but could have done several smaller ones. But in the end we wanted to get more features and more updates in there. So we opted for a bigger one and kind of collected it. It enabled us to change bigger things like weapon balance, soldier movement, and visual recoil, which go hand-in-hand. We couldn't really do a visual recoil change without the other two because it would be unbalanced. There's so much here; the amount of how much changes are in it, absolutely [it's the most important patch]. How it affects the game in a positive way, we believe. It feels more like Battlefield now than it ever has, I would argue.

Have you seen a bump in players since the fall patch has been released?

Yes, we have. We've seen a bump in players, we've seen a bump in played hours, we've seen a bump in daily active and weekly active users as well. Actually, almost equivalent to the Dragon's Teeth release in terms of increase in numbers. So it's really good to see that and we hope it continues as well.

"It feels more like Battlefield now than it ever has, I would argue" -- David Sirland on impact of BF4's massive fall patch

The patch has now been out for a week. Do you think it's done its job?

I absolutely think it's done its job. We changed the stuff we wanted to change. The feedback we've gotten is mainly, a lot of it is just really positive, which is a breath of fresh air in some regards. And normally, it's also very constructive. [People are saying] 'I like this a lot, but this little thing, couldn't you have done this differently?' And we're starting to see the discussion sway towards game balance and decisions made, instead of these players having problems. So I'd say it's done its job; we haven't created a lot of new issues or anything like that. We have to monitor it, of course. We have a planned server update that addresses some small issues that we've found. But other than that, it feels like the patch has been our best patch so far, I would say.

This might be kind of a basic question, but can you explain to me how the feedback loop works in general for BF4? Are issues brought to you by gamers, or do you find them yourselves, and how do you go about implementing those changes?

So when we started out with the Community Test Environment, there was no feedback loop; we kind of had to create it. We knew we wanted to make it really personal and really open because we think honesty is the way to go here. We're working on this thing [and we say to the community] 'What do you feel about our decision to do this? [The goal is to] be early and more open about it. The CTE was initially [planned to be released] slowly because we needed to grow it and we wanted really constructive and good feedback. And the players who kept on coming there were really constructive. Now we are obviously listening everywhere--I have reports every week from the forums and whatnot; I have been really, really active on Twitter and Reddit and forums and everywhere I can be active.

Answering questions and directing people to where they should be giving feedback. So right now it's an actually a really manual process that's tied directly into the landscape, which is a huge change for us. We also have a select few community members that we bring in regularly; we have the YouTubers, but we also have direct chats with some of the top pros of the world, the community, people who have big communities that create tournaments; and stuff like that where we kind of ask questions when we are planning to do a change in an area where they would care--to gauge their reactions early, and then even do collaborations with them. It's been a great feedback loop, but it's also been a lot of manual work. So we need to build some kind of reporting system or something like that, so we're planning to do that, too.

How would you say Battlefield's launch and the updates you've done to it will affect future games?

It already has, to be honest. We are sharing this knowledge deeply and profoundly. Almost daily we have emails going back and forth. Part of the netcode fix originally came from the Hardline team, from one of their engineers. He said this is an idea I want to try, now that we have the Community Test Environment, let's do it. So it kind of started organically as a full EA organization thing. And also for future titles, we're trying to do the same thing. Sharing as much as possible to utilize our strengths where they are in the world.

Battlefield Hardline
Battlefield Hardline

How would you say the somewhat problematic launch of Battlefield 4 affected what you would otherwise be doing in this point in the development cycle?

If things went more to plan [the fall patch would be released] earlier, yes, I think so because then the Community Test Environment would have been out earlier as well. It was tied up with us having to work directly on the game [to fix the bugs] and the biggest issues that we saw. So it would have been a little bit earlier, probably, I would say. Not that much, though. We made up a lot of time in how we worked. Since we saw the change in how well our updates were received so quickly because, you know, basically because of how badly it went initially. We kind of accelerated even more with even more support from the whole organization. [The launch issues] helped us in one way, of course it was bad … but in the end I think the end result would have probably been more or less the same.

Do you think you lost any kind of trust from fans?

I can absolutely say that we lost [player] trust in the game's launch and the early parts of this year, yeah. We still probably have a lot players who won't trust us to deliver a stable launch or a stable game. I can only say...I don't want to saying anything because I want to do. I want them to look at what we are doing and what we are going to do and that would be my answer. I think we have to do things to get them to trust us, not say things to get them to trust us. Show by doing.

For the coming games, I am certain that these won't be repeated because we've changed the way we work and we changed how we react to community. We're not as secretive anymore. And I think that's the key. It's just a giant project, any Battlefield game is a giant project. And the more input you can get early, the better, and the more you can be open with changes you're making or ideas you have, the better, I think. Because our community is much smarter than we probably give them credit for.

"I can absolutely say that we lost [player] trust in the game's launch and the early parts of this year" -- David Sirland

One of the Battlefield trends that I've noticed is that every game is bigger and bigger; more features and more perks and things like that. I can understand why you guys want to do that. But do you also face greater challenges and bottlenecks when you work this way and make things bigger and bigger?

Absolutely, yeah. Personally, and this is not an EA statement, but personally I think we should make smaller games and build them out as a service and make that part bigger. Start with a solid, solid core and build on it. Much like we did back in the day [with] the older Battlefield games. The expansion packs were more giant. Almost like Bad Company 2, I guess. Going smaller in terms of at least the number of features, key features, and staying true to the core of Battlefield should be first and the most important, after stability and performance.

What, for you, is the core or the essence of the Battlefield series?

I think it's an approachable FPS where the hardcore and noob alike can have fun in a giant sandbox; that's Battlefield for me.

Is the size of your backend/infrastructure/network team...how does that compare to where it was last year?

It's still the same backend team, as they're operations and they're based in Stockholm. We are working with them on releases and maintaining the backend systems. A lot of the backend system is EA-wide, so that goes for any game. And that's the same as it was at [Battlefield 4's release in October 2013]. The action team that works on issues and bugs and whatnot is obviously smaller, but then the features team is much bigger.

When you launched the DICE LA studio, I was kind of confused about exactly what your role within EA and within the Battlefield franchise is. Could you clear that up?

The reason to start an LA studio is because there's a lot of talent in LA [laughs] of course. And we had no DICE presence here and we wanted to attract quality developers and quality people; and DICE is a strong brand and they wanted to expand in a way that covers the globe. So in that sense, that's the reason for creating the studio. We're a smaller studio, and we started with a different outset. I think we kind of set the studio up in a different way...because normally when you make games [with] two-year span cycles there's a lot of work at the end of these projects and it burns people out and you have all those ups and downs. We can't really do that if we're supporting Battlefield games for the foreseeable future; we have to do it in a different way. And I think that's the biggest difference between us and Stockholm.

DICE LA's office
DICE LA's office

If you could go back to October 2013 on the eve of Battlefield 4's launch, did you think at the time that the launch would go well?

I wasn't part of the core Battlefield 4 team then. But I was part of the development team of BF4. Looking at the beta, which went, to be honest, really, really well; it was super stable and everything worked. We were stoked to release the game and we thought it would be a great launch. Sure, there would be issues, there's always issues. But we didn't think there would be issues to this degree, obviously. The beta kind of through us a curveball, for sure, at least me, coming from the [operations] side of things. The numbers, stability, all that kind of stuff looked really good.

How would you say the launch issues shaped DICE as a studio; what have you learned?

We probably learned a lot about our community. [We] probably wouldn't have been as open as we are now if it was a regular launch, if you will. We probably wouldn't have learned as much as we have. But we probably wouldn't be as close to them [fans] as we are either. So that's a positive result out of this. Other than that, I think we had to do more general, base game work as a studio than we were [planning] to do. We would have probably helped more on the other expansion packs that came out of Stockholm and that kind of stuff instead. So doing work on China Rising and Naval Strike, Stockholm made those two packs; maybe we would have helped them more on those packs instead of just doing base game stuff.

Do you think the Battlefield franchise overall has been damaged in any kind of way as a result of Battlefield 4's troubled launch?

I think from a trust perspective, absolutely. I think we have to earn that back. That's why I'm here. That's my end goal. I want to earn our trust back and I want to make them happy and like Battlefield again.

After the teases from Battlefield 4's Final Stand trailer, what kind of potential does DICE and EA see for a future-focused Battlefield game?

There's always a potential, I guess. I don't know how much we can talk to directions or anything like that. In this pack, we still wanted to stay within the modern realm, if you will. Just looking at any prototype weapon out there that gets announced, that the military's working on; they work on those for like 25 years. So that's kind of the idea we went with here. If the future is 2142, what would a future prototype weapon look like today that ends up being the rail gun or the hover tank, and what not? That's kind of where we wanted to go with this pack. We still believe it's in the modern era; sure, we're totally hinting and winking towards 2142, and that's where we would end up going down this road. But we don't see that this all-future, either.

<><><>

Battlefield 4's DLC season comes to a close later this fall with the release of the appropriately titled Final Stand. EA also plans to release a $60 Battlefield 4 Premium Edition that includes the main game and a Battlefield Premium membership that gets you the game's four previously released expansion packs (China Rising, Second Assault, Naval Strike, and Dragon's Teeth), as well as Final Stand when it finally does launch.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Avatar image for jonath01
jonath01

Eddie successfully put 11 links to is own articles in this article...achievement unlock!

Avatar image for jonath01
jonath01

Yeah, its true! I've counted it too!

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coolguyhero

still the problem is there pistol trigger not working properly,matchmaking is worst.all the high lvl players on one side & all the low lvl player at one side due to which high lvl player rapes the low lvl players.it happens lot in domination.

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PinchySkree

Autumn.

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blackothh

"I can absolutely say that we lost [player] trust in the game's launch and the early parts of this year, yeah. We still probably have a lot players who won't trust us to deliver a stable launch or a stable game. I can only say...I don't want to saying anything because I want to do. I want them to look at what we are doing and what we are going to do and that would be my answer. I think we have to do things to get them to trust us, not say things to get them to trust us. Show by doing."

Thank you! Finally someone who realizes once you dig a hole, it takes time to get yourself out if you really want to get out.


"I think we should make smaller games and build them out as a service and make that part bigger. Start with a solid, solid core and build on it. Much like we did back in the day [with] the older Battlefield games. The expansion packs were more giant."

Please take over leadership of EA........

Avatar image for Reagan2791
Reagan2791

And yet I STILL have to reset my loadouts in every class every time I end up in a new server. You know how frustrating that is, DICE???

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himoura32

Really like what they did with the fall patch. Sat down to read this article ready to throw my support behind Dice and then David Sirland starts the interview off with a big fat lie. (He said Battlefields issues were fully in the past before the fall patch release)

Way to keep it classy David. I heard bungie is hiring for their PR machine.

Avatar image for MJ-X
MJ-X

Can't Eddie proof read his own articles?

The article is laden with typos, grammatical errors, and misuse of brackets.

Unprofessional journalism.

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barto300

Next time please don't add so many vehicles in everymap! 80% of my deaths are by vehicle, 5% by bug/glitch/my own fault, 15% by infantry. and I have a k/d of 2.1 so don't think i don't know how to play the game. I just think that vehicles should be a luxury object. That's what i loved about bf 2 and 3. It had a great mix of infantry and vehicles.

Avatar image for TehMasterer2
TehMasterer2

Interesting interview, but this is pretty poor journalism - whoever wrote the transcript seems to have no conception of how square brackets should be used. I lost count of the times words were basically put in his mouth without any good reason. If you must use square brackets for clarification, they should be used sparingly and only when not easily discernible from the context.

None of this:

If things went more to plan [the fall patch would be released] earlier, yes, I think so because then the Community Test Environment would have been out earlier as well. It was tied up with us having to work directly on the game [to fix the bugs] and the biggest issues that we saw.

Avatar image for blackothh
blackothh

<< LINK REMOVED >> [I hate those square brackets], [they end up making articles sound silly.]

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canuckbiker

I really hope final stand is better than naval strike, or dragons teeth. They really did nothing for me.

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battlenonsense

There is a major error in that article "Mind you, the tick rate for client-to-server has always been 30mhz. "


It is 30Hz not 30MHz.

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blackothh

<< LINK REMOVED >> I was wondering about that, 30mhz seemed to me like an awful high number lol

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bluebird08

people will still trash this game, even after the fixes. but i dont care what other people say cause im enjoying the game.

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canuckbiker

Yep. Bethesda games are buggy as hell on launch, and for the most part remain that way for good, yet they get a pass on it every time. I'm not saying the state of this game on release was justifiable, but I bought it on ps4 four months after launch, and still enjoy playing it now, and then to this day. Meanwhile my girlfriend can't resume any of her saves in skyrim on the PS3.

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Graham_Cracka

David Sirland is the real deal, the guy even answers tweets on the weekends. I couldn't imagine a better person to be in charge of fixing Battlefield.

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XNEXUS666X

See! No one chillin on the deck chairs by the pond, they're all inside working hard to bring you the next quality installment of Battlefield...

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blackothh

<< LINK REMOVED >> Sirland is, but I guarantee EA is just looking for another milking. I doubt much will change.

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Pyro77

Those excuses were painful to read. Still, good news for those still playing it.

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JediMasterJ42

Well I enjoy the game, now. The new fall patch is definitely welcomed and I can notice the improvements. I don't expect I will purchase Hardline because it doesn't seem like the Battlefield that I like; warfare on a giant scale, whereas Hardline has that whole weird cops and robbers thing going on. Whenever BF5 comes out I will most likely get it though - they don't "have my trust" - but I like the Battlefield style of game play enough to over look that.

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blackothh

<< LINK REMOVED >> Check out Planetside 2 If you have a capable PC, Large scale combat all the time. Plus it has a very good free play model.

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spartanx169x

Played all last week with no issues.

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collingtonuk

That just highlights their epic fail, if a year after release you feel that that is worth mentioning

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wasabi50

Anyone knows what are the recommended internet specs to have a good online experience?, I live in a country with one of the slowest internet speeds, on a good day I have a 77 ping, 8-10 Mbps dl speed and 0.75 upload (best plan available), don't know if that's enough, seems like I empty a clip to opposing players and the damage is greatly reduced and viceversa...

Avatar image for blackothh
blackothh

<< LINK REMOVED >> 77 ping should be able to give you a good play experience. Your up and down speed are more then enoughfor good gaming. Is that 77 ping from a speedtest website or from the game?

Avatar image for voltedgamer
VoltedGamer

<< LINK REMOVED >> That should easily be enough. I get max 1mbps of download and god nows how slow of upload, and can play it fine. Sorta... ish.... :D

Avatar image for canuckbiker
canuckbiker

Same here. I get some dumb, laggey deaths, but I still have a lot of fun with the game.

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drysprocket

I started reading the interview...but then realized that I'm not going to believe a word he's gonna say. All I hear is the peanuts whaa-whaa-whaa talk.

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shanoobergloobe

lets take this time to remember BATTLEFIELD 3/4 is *NOT* made by the same team that gave us the amazing BAD COMPANY series!!!!!!

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bluebird08

<< LINK REMOVED >> uh... yes it is, DICE has made every battlefield game, except for hardline.

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hampton2003

pretty interesting read until this: "Looking at the beta, which went, to be honest, really, really well; it was super stable and everything worked."


no the beta did not go well and was not super stable, I was getting tons of crashes and other bugs/issues; as were others according to the forums. it was a beta, so we thought all those crashes/issues got identified and would get fixed by launch or at least quickly post launch. other than that load of bs the rest of the article was promising. still gonna take a wait and see approach for the next sequel, and im not even counting hardline.


Avatar image for voltedgamer
VoltedGamer

<< LINK REMOVED >> Dude, the base game crashed a lot, which was fixed (on my end anyway), it was SERVER wise that the beta went fine, which I can agree with.

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Techtroll

Funny how no one asked why dice Sweden never finished fixing the game and went on to make new games. Dice LA didnt even make BF4 they just got assigned the job of fixing someone elses problems 6 months after release.

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WarFox89

Lol this guy talking so much BS!!!

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RainIsMyDrug

now just just need to fix the problem where you get stuck at doorway, windows etc.. if there a raise of more than 5 inch off the ground

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rhenom

Clearly a lot of gamers are going to be looking at the Hardline launch to see if Dice really has their act together. This guys is certainly right about one thing; he can assure us that everything is fixed until he's blue in the face, but no one cares until Hardline proves it.

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chaos-commander

@rhenom Fail it's Visceral Games making the game not Dice there just using frostbite 3 to make Hardline Dice has nothing to do with Hardline. Not only that but Hardline is like a slap in the face to the BATTLEFIELD franchise.

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