That Battlefield 4 trailer out of Gamescom did a pretty awesome job of demonstration the game’s graphical prowess, but I found myself lost in the buzzwords and theories behind one of its core new philosophies: the intriguing “Levolution’ idea.
I thought I’d have a better understanding after actually playing the game. Having gone hands-on with both the PS4 and PC versions, it was clear that the destructible elements of the Battlefield universe an iconic part of the series’ experience since the Bad Company games had been taken to new heights with DICE’s Frostbite 3 game engine, and the fascinating drive behind wanting to turn the series’ iconic action into satisfying drama.
“When we started”, begins Battlefield 4 creative director Lars Gustavsson, “we thought, ‘How can we add drama into action to multiplayer matches where the stale feeling of people running around killing people in a rigid world doesn’t push boundaries we want?”
It’s a question all too common for anyone that casually played Battlefield 3, but never fell for the rigidness of its destructible environments. Ideally, according to Gustavsson, DICE wanted to create a world that was two-times interactive, one-time destructive.
“Since Bad Company we’ve been trying to push those boundaries, and now with the concept of Levolution, we’re starting to sprinkle the world not only with more destruction, but with more interaction,” he says. Finally, after days of confusion and an hour or so of thinking I had grasped what the hell Levolution actually was, I'm starting to wrap my head around the idea.
Thinking back to when Battlefield 3 was being promoted and then its eventual release, one of the most anticipated aspects of the game wasn’t so much how it played, and maybe not even necessarily how it looked, but rather how it fell apart: how gamers were able to use the environment to change the face of the battlefield. As history shows, Battlefield 3’s destructible environments didn’t quite have an influence on how a battle played out, at least not on the level that I’ve seen so far in Battlefield 4.
And therein lies, faithful readers, the theory of Levolution: using the environment to change the way the enemy approaches the battlefield.
“If you talk about each and every single aspect of what Levolution influences, it could be boulders that you blow up out of the street, it could be a grenade thrown into a car and the alarm going off,” Gustavsson passionately explains. “Starting the sprinkler system to disorientate your enemy, turning off the power. All of these things, when you talk about them like that, it’s almost too simple.”
And it is. Let’s create a hypothetical here: you’re in an office and you’ve been flanked by the enemy. What do you do? Firstly, you might try to compromise their vision, their capacity to see you. Then, you might try and disorientate them, distract them by using a sprinkler system. Previously, these choices may have been presented to you, but not so far as to genuinely change the face of the battle.
But in Battlefield 4, Levolution looks to change that.
“We want people to quickly asses the battlefield and see how they can interact with it,” says Gustavsson. “To do it, to set the trap, to get the upper hand, not only by their record and skill, but by using the environment in a smart way.”
The standout moment from that trailer is undoubtedly the skyscraper collapse, an extraordinary moment all-too-familiar to gamers, who were understandably hesitant to take in what seemed to be a pre-determined occurrence. Only thing is, the entire thing was player initiated.
“We had a lot of good feedback, but it’s just a trailer,” Gustavsson admits. “What is dear to me is that what’s in that trailer is player initiated.”
I spent a bit of time playing the PlayStation 4 version of Battlefield 4 and experienced first hand one of my very first “Battlefield moments”. It’s been taken to a new level, removing the scripted, aesthetic inclusion of environmental factors, and replacing them with interactive elements that have the potential to completely reshape the look of a battle.
“We’ve talked about ‘Battlefield moments’”, began Gustavsson, “and I don’t want that to sound like a marketing pitch [laughs], but it is a fact that anyone that’s played Battlefield has usually had one of those moments.”
My moment happened on the water: after spawning offshore, I jumped into a jetski and casually sped off into the rough waters. The waves pushed me in all directions, unlike any influential way I can remember in a game. Then, suddenly, the whisk of bullets blasted through my headset. In the distance, as the waves thrusted me into the air, I could see an enemy crouched down on the beach, patiently shooting at me.
“Sometimes in games you’ll see the waves, and that’s where we started,” explains Gustavsson. “We started building single waves, but the challenge was if we could metric it. Could we create flowing waves? So we looked at the gameplay to see how we could incorporate the waves, and we think we’ve managed to pull it off.”
In my instance, I used the waves to gain an advantage: I rode them closer to shore, but ensured I remained hidden beneath the tide as they streamed towards land. Then, with every new push forward, I would accelerate, get some air, and eventually have the leverage to aim down the sights, perfect my view, and known down the enemy. Gustavsson was impressed. My Battlefield credentials had reached new heights.
“A lot of the time people would just jump into the boat, drive it up to the shoreline and jump off it. It was just transport. That’s where the concept the idea when we started to build the water came from.”
I’m still, admittedly, a little unsure as to the extent of Levolution’s true influence on the Battlefield 4 experience. It sounds amazing in theory, and a collapsing skyscraper is impressive, even as out of context as the trailer was. But from my own experience I think it’ll take players a while to embrace the environmental influence the idea can have on a battle, which can certainly be seen as a good thing.
Gustavsson’s interpretation of the idea seems simple enough, and the idea of breaking a levy to flood a map sounds almost too awesome to be true. We won’t be able to fully comprehend the extent of which the environment can reshape the battlefield until the game is released this October. But it’s intriguing enough to propel Battlefield 4 to the top of the end-of-year most wanted list.