How Battlefield Hardline Heats Up Its Cops-and-Robbers Fantasy

story on IGN about how and what visceral changed to fit the cops and robbers mentality of a BF game. interesting to read why they made the speed faster and TTK longer.


It’s a tough ask for Visceral Games to build new multiplayer maps for
its first Battlefield game that escalate on everything that’s come
before. Vehicles, destructible environments, and explosive arsenals
unite to complicate the tried-and-proven three-lane design approach of
other multiplayer shooters. And that’s just in terms of military-themed
Battlefield games.
Taking away some of the explosive vehicles and various boom-boxes of
your average soldier class and replacing them with cops and criminals in
Battlefield Hardline
further impacts the overall design of this latest Battlefield’s
multiplayer component. If you look at the latest trailers for Hardline
you’ll note it’s being branded as the fastest Battlefield game yet. Evan
Champlin, senior multiplayer designer at Visceral Games, explains why
this is so important.

“Our rock, paper, scissors is very different from the Battlefield 4
rock, paper, scissors,” says Champlin. “We focus much more on that
higher speed transport vehicle, using them to get around the map, but
we’ve also increased the character movement speed slightly to help the
infantry experience.”
“When you select your sidearm now, you actually move even faster, but
there’s also our perspective in terms of getting players into the
experience faster from the front-end, all the way into deploying and
getting into battle as fast as you can.”
In practical terms it means that legging it between capture points,
or from a vehicle-less spawn, feels a whole lot faster. It’s a welcome
change to the Battlefield formula.

Visceral has been tweaking more than just movement speed and there
have been some potentially controversial changes to how the
all-important ‘time to kill’ factor operates in Hardline. When I played
the game, the time to kill felt higher than Battlefield 4.
“With some of the latest tunings, we’re probably very similar [to
other Battlefield games],” says Champlin. “A lot of it depends on range.
The way that the system works in Battlefield is relatively complex
because we’re modelling a lot of different stuff, [such as] the range of
the weapon. I would say we’re pretty close to where Battlefield [4] is
now; maybe it’s slightly longer, depending on the weapon.”
Additionally, headshots in Battlefield games traditionally tend to
kill in one hit, but that’s not always the case in Hardline. Players
will know every time they’ve scored a headshot when the hit indicator
flashes red, although it’s jarring to not have that result in an
“The short answer is balance,” says Champlin when I quiz him on the
philosophy behind this particular design choice. “Because the time to
kill was something we wanted to make sure isn’t super short. We want
players to be able to compete with skill, and the randomisation that
comes from the single headshots, even though you’re putting [rounds] on
target and you feel like you’re getting that shot, the randomisation
creates an experience that isn’t particularly fun.”
During my time with the beta I noticed that lower-calibre weapons
such as semi-automatic pistols and sub machine-guns weren’t killing with
a single headshot at range.
“It’s tuning the weapons to make sure that every weapon feels like it
has a role and is also effective,” explains Champlin. “With sniper
rifles and stuff like that, it’ll be a one-hit [kill].”

To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the lack of a kill from
certain headshots, especially at range, had the indicator not flashed
red. In terms of time to kill, Hardline doesn’t feel too dissimilar from
Battlefield 4, with shotguns in particular dominating in close
quarters, and sniper rifles causing havoc at long range.
Similarly, I noted the suppression mechanics have been retooled.
Aiming is no longer negatively impacted when under fire, removing the
first-shot advantage of gung-ho spray-and-pray players with questionable
accuracy. Instead, the edge of the screen bleeds in – with an eyelid
closing-type effect – to indicate when a player is under fire. With
field of view impacted when suppressed, instead of accuracy, it gives a
player under fire a stronger fighting chance to survive and retaliate.
These types of alterations to the Battlefield recipe reflect changes
necessitated by the reduction in explosive military-grade hardware and
an increased emphasis on infantry combat.
“Hardline is a unique experience,” says Champlin. “Even though it’s
truly a Battlefield game, it’s something from the get-go we wanted to
focus a little bit more on the infantry and make sure [it] was just as
much fun as the vehicle stuff. We’ve used a lot of those tried and true
philosophies in terms of level design to make sure that infantry
experience has a little bit more of an established frontline. You don’t
feel like you’re being flanked constantly. You’re getting into a little
bit more of what I’d call competitive gunfights where it’s man to man.”

In the same breath, destructibility – one of the core pillars of the
Battlefield experience since the release of Bad Company – has been toned
“We have less stuff in the game that is destructive,” reasons
Champlin. “There’s a lot less explosives and things you might expect to
blow up; buildings and stuff like that. We spent a lot of our time
focusing on the smaller things; shooting at a guy, and then following
him through the wall and having the wall disintegrate as you’re
shooting. We also have some large-scale more spectacle ‘levolution’-type
stuff you’ve seen in previous Battlefields, so changing weather [in
Dust Bowl], and Downtown, one of the maps that’s in the beta, the crane
coming down.”
The former example is automatically activated at a certain point during the round, while the latter requires player interaction.

These sorts of departures from the familiarity of Battlefield gameplay
haven’t been made lightly at Visceral, either. Producer Scott Probst
emphasises the importance of internal play-testing for striking the
right balance in Hardline’s multiplayer.
“We play-test as a team and we get feedback from the entire team
every single day,” said Probst. “A lot of that feedback can be negative,
[or] it can be positive. One of the ways we’ve used the ability to
gauge how far we do or don’t go in a certain direction is usually just
to floor the speedometer one way and then we’ll go, ‘Whoa, that’s a
little too much. Let’s back off.’ Or we’ll take it out of the game
completely, and people will go, ‘Why’d you get rid of that? Bring it
“We never land on an extreme usually, but I think one thing that’s
been key to our development is utilising those play tests and listening
to the team and, in addition to that, listening to the community in
these open betas and the Game Changers – who are a group of people we
bring in and listen to – and understanding what the core problems are we
want to solve with how cops and criminals we want to go, versus how
Battlefield we go. We push or pull the lever in directions that need to
be pushed so we can force conversations that may be difficult, but
ultimately what happens is we usually end up in the right place.”

In terms of determining what might work for Hardline at the earlier
stages of development, Visceral devs are required to create pitches to
first capture the interest of their peers.
“One of the most important things we developed is an X for the map:
what is the core statement that this map lives and dies by?” explains
Probst. “Usually what you’ll find is those things are inspired by a
number of different movies or TV shows, and those things help to guide
the development of those maps. If we really have something we can hang
the hat on for that map, we can say this doesn’t belong, or that doesn’t
belong, because we want it to be this. It’s really important to know
your core so you can stand by it, and then you can justify why you do or
don’t want certain things in there.”
The influence of TV shows is particularly evident in the
single-player portion of Hardline, especially given the episodic
structure of the campaign. Visceral has also pushed for a greater
feeling of overarching narrative cohesion in the multiplayer experience.
Those who’ve played the beta will notice news report voice-overs before
each map on the loading screen, while dedicated fans can expect to find
narrative nuggets scattered throughout multiplayer. After knowing looks
and awkward laughter between Champlin and Probst, the latter hints at
what form this might take.
“There are some narratives in there [multiplayer] that definitely
crossover, but we’ve also tried to, in some cases, bury those things to
make them more fun for players to explore over time,” says Probst. “I
don’t want to get into too many details about what those stories are; we
left them in there for players to find because we think that’s one of
the cool things that has been done in the past. Little Easter eggs where
people can go, ‘Well that’s cool. I saw that in single-player and this
makes sense,’ and let players connect the dots. There’s a lot of stuff
in the game, whether it be in single-player or in multiplayer or in
both, that will cross over and you’ll start to see hints of, okay,
there’s some other things at play here. We have that stuff in the game,
but we’ve kind of tried to duck out from it a little bit to let it be
more of an organic thing.”

Visceral is also taking inspiration from Hardline’s multiplayer mechanics and feeding that back into single-player design.
“One of the big things we’ve done on the campaign is try to provide
players a new way to play and to provide multiple paths to achieve
things,” explains Probst. “That’s very similar to multiplayer core
design, because multiplayer’s much less scripted. We wanted to look at
single-player and say, ‘Okay, if we took that concept, how could we
integrate that into something that’s inherently more of a scripted
experience because it is single-player?’ The things we know players love
the most, we tried to take those things and implement them into
single-player, but in a way that makes sense to the [solo] player, not
just open it all up and say do whatever you want. I don’t think that’s
what a single player wants. They want the ability to approach things in
different ways and we wanted to provide that.”
Emergent narrative, the little moment-to-moment stories that occur in
Battlefield’s multiplayer, is the real player-influenced storytelling
gem of the series, and it hasn’t been stolen from the formula amid the
cops-and-criminals fantasy. Battlefield Hardline’s multiplayer feels
different in the right ways to stay true to the ‘war on crime’ motif,
yet it’s still an undeniably Battlefield experience with a stronger
emphasis on foot-soldiery in a way that DICE should take note of when
forging its next inevitable military-themed Battlefield title.

I still don’t know what to do about this game.