DICE introduces the latest Donya Fortress map to Battlefield 3: Close Quarters
About a month ago at the 2012 Game Developer's Conference in San Fran, Electronic Arts mapped out its rough plans for the future of Battlefield 3. There are three packs for the shooter just over the horizon. The trio begins with Close Quarters - due a June release - and is followed by a vehicle-centric multiplayer map, Armored Kill. End Game, the last one in the line-up this year, is still something of a question mark.
The staggered release of, at least, the first two known packs suggests an experiment of sorts back in developer DICE's HQ. If the question every competitive first-person shooter developer asks themselves is "what's our niche?" then DICE's response is to try a few on for size, a response that maybe shows a deeper understanding that a one-style-fits-all-tastes approach isn't necessarily the way appease a growing fanbase.
In this case their themed map approach serves different gamers, and Close Quarters, which comes with four maps, is designed for the discerning Indoor Infantry palate.
"This is purely focused on the indoor battle gameplay. It's very, very tight. It revolves around small rooms and corridors, small interior environments. It will be a very action-packed, very tight style of gameplay," says executive producer Patrick Bach.
The map is influenced by the style of combat scenario that came out of Battlefield 3's Operation Metro map, one of the smallest maps available in Battlefield 3 and similarly designed around a system of corridors and choke points. Likewise, he tells me, the new Donya Fortress map is developed to induce a kind of claustrophobia in the player.
"It's like an old palace that has come under siege. It has an old cellar, a garden, a number of interesting areas to explore. It's really very small, and that was the aim. It creates a new kind of combat feel in this game."
In reality it's a small two-floor building with a central courtyard outdoors. If the Ziba Tower map shown by DICE earlier this year gave the impression of a '70s era drug lord's bachelor pad, Donya Fortress has an ornate albeit ship-like quality to its architecture, where halls are more like galleys that emphasise the lack of any real space. While small rooms can be found inside, it quickly becomes apparent that the map has not been designed for snipers or camped users. Its design forces constant movement, continuous activity, then within seconds everything is rubble.
"We have the HD destruction which lets you really turn everything to rubble, it piles up everywhere on the floor. This is something we were very interested in honing for multiplayer maps," says Bach.
Walls are shredded if they're in the path of a bullet, grenades leave behind their individual fingerprints of destruction, while furniture is left strewn across rooms as collateral damage. It's as much a mark of your presence there as it is DICE's, who chose to develop a small map for this round of downloadable content to showcase the full extent of the Frostbite 2 engine's destructive capabilities. The smaller the map, the bigger the mess you can make, is their current philosophy.
"This is what we wanted to put into Battlefield to begin with," Bach tells me. "This kind of close quarters style of gameplay. It is what we finally really managed in this DLC."
The minimalist design also highlights just what kind of destruction is possible with just a normal gun. Walls will explode and splinter in chunks without the use of heavy weaponry like RPGs. Close Quarters emphasizes the cause and effect of a building being shot through at close-range.
The mode on show, Conquest Domination, is inspired in part by a love of Unreal Tournament's own Domination mode, which suggests this is developed with a level of nostalgia for an older school of multiplayer.
"It's a marriage of both old school Domination and Conquest modes," says Bach .
"Only we've made this an infantry based, indoor version of Conquest. Domination usually took place on a small map so we developed Conquest style play for a Domination map."
Players capture and defend strategic points across the map, which serve as spawn points for their team. The characteristics of Domination mode rear their head in the minimalist scale of the map, which encourages more defensive tactics to play out when trying to keep a tight grip around these points.
It's not a revolution in multiplayer mode design, but it's an experiment in how Battlefield 3 plays at its most minimalistic. DICE has gone from focusing on large scale combat to a scaled-down map that's been scrubbed of BF3's heavier artillery and tanks. While not necessarily built for every fan of Battlefield, it demonstrates exactly how the game can be played on a completely different scale than normal.
"This speaks to how vast the Battlefield experience now is. There is a lot available for us to play around with, this is just one side of the game."
This is just one of the maps available in the June release of Close Quarters. The expansion pack also offers 10 new weapons that can be brought back to the base game, 10 new Assignments and five dog tags.