The Frag Limit


Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – The Importance of Graphics
December 23, 2012, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Side Strafe | Tags: , ,

A few months ago I wrote a short blog post discussing the importance of sound in Bad Company 2. After playing the game some more since that time (bringing my total time played close to 150 hours) I have also come to realize that there is more than just sound at work in the game. Due to this epiphany it seems that now would be a good time to discuss the importance of graphics in this game (and in all modern day FPS games for that matter).

Similar to how sound operates in Bad Company 2 the graphics of the game help create an “added value” to the gameplay experience. While some believe that the gorgeous graphics may not be necessary, I tend to disagree and think that the graphics of the game are an integral part of the entire experience. The graphics lend themselves to creating a better game instead of distracting players from it, as critics suggest. While I understand the argument about perserving the purity of gameplay, I can’t agree that graphics, in the case of Bad Company 2, detract or distort the overall gameplay structure. Let’s take a look at why I have come to this conclusion.

In older competitive games, and even occasionally in newer ones, gameplay was king. Quake 3, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Counter-Strike, Tribes, Unreal and so forth all emphasized gameplay. Gameplay was first and graphics were second. Sure some of these games had decent graphics, but the graphics were always part and parcel to the gameplay experience itself. The graphics never rose above their lot in life than to just “pretty up” the place where the action occurred. In the overwhelming majority of these cases maps where created for gameplay purposes alone and graphics were added to just “put the lipstick on the pig” if you will. This approach was widely accepted through the “caulk block” style of mapmaking (a term from the Quake mapmaking lineage which focuses on designing maps for gameplay first and then for asthetics).

Nowadays we have an almost reverse situation: Graphics are king. In most of the important games today (Call of Duty and Battlefield series) most of the emphasis is on graphics and perhaps less is on gameplay. While gameplay is still strongly considered, it has probably lost a lot of clout that it once had – or, at least, it is not as “critical” as it once was. Gamers today appreciate great graphics and, as long as the games play well, they are not so concerned with really outstanding gameplay (this of course refers only to competitive, multiplayer FPS gaming). To get an example of what I mean here simply consider the older games to the newer ones (Tribes 2 to Tribes: Ascend, RTCW to Wolfenstein (2009), and Call of Duty: United Offensive to MW3, etc).

But what about Bad Company 2? Or in that case, what about all of these other games which I just said focused less on gameplay than on graphics? Does Bad Company 2 really suffer gameplay wise because of its graphics? Or does it just seem like that (especially when studied from the lens of a late 90’s/early 2000’s point of view)? Is Bad Company 2 really any less of a game (gameplay wise) because of it’s superb graphics? Perhaps the game is just different; and as a result of its focus on providing high quality graphics the gameplay is different as well. Perhaps it is not even fair to consider the two seperate eras of multiplayer gaming in the same way in the gameplay department. I believe this may be true because; the graphics of today’s FPS games lend themselves to increase gameplay opportunities. It is the very graphics which are despised by some groups that lend themselves to manifest an abudent gameplay environment. Let me explain.

In Bad Company 2 (and in other contemporary titles), the graphics are often “bettered” or “improved” by adding additional world objects. For instance, if we look at the video above, we see a comparision of the same map in both Battlefield 1942 (2002) and Battlefield 3 (2011). One thing that is immediately noticeable when comparing the two maps is that the original map has far less world objects than the newer version of the map. The BF3 version contians a whole range of different objects which “litter” the landscape. Such things as busted-up concrete walls, oil drums, fences, crates, wires, antennas, shrubs, signs, billboards, heavy machinery, light machinery, rock structures, garbage and so on and so forth. All of this stuff which makes the game “better” in a graphic sense (or, at least, makes it more realistic), also adds to the gameplay experience. In essence, all of this stuff allows for more opportunities to hide and conceal oneself. And due to this new opportunity to hide and conceal the tactical and strategic opportunities for the overall gameplay aspect increase. Indeed, the gameplay increases proportionally to the amount of junk littering the landscape (to an extent). For this reason, one can now say that the graphics are not just there to make the world “prettier” or “more realistic”, but instead are there to also help encourage a finer gameplay experience.

If we look at the same video that I posted in my “Bad Company 2 – The Importance of Sound” post, we can see some of the things that I am describing here in action. While the player in the video is mostly “running and gunning” like a maniac, we can still notice how the abundant world objects in the map landscape help “sheild” him from other players. Likewise, he is also “sheilded” from seeing other players to a certain distance. In his first kill in the video, for example, due to the thick shrubbery and forest, the player cannot see the enemy until he is almost right on top of him. In an older game, that enemy would have been spotted a lot earlier due to less world objects in the landscape. If we examine the rest of the video in the same manner we will notice a number of different situations which all have the same type of tactical asthetic to them. The player and the enemy (or enimies) typically don’t spot each other until they are at a somewhat closer range.

The “closeness” of these types of experiences in contemporary FPS games creates a whole new range of gameplay opportunities. While the orginal intention to add these world objects to the landscape may have been driven by a desire to have “better graphics” (or, more “realistic graphics”), the end result is a world environment which is much more lush, dense and finer grained. This “lushness” has, as we have seen here, created a whole new range of gameplay opportunities and situations – ones that we indeed cannot dismiss as being trivial. The lush world of our modern day games has created a whole new gameplay experience. To hide in the thick brush, to take cover behind a low concrete barrier with concrete rumble laid asunder, to sneak up behind an enemy from the maw of a burning pile of tires, to camp out in a destroyed bunker, to wait and then strike and attack from the cover of a pillbox or small antenna radar room – these are the things which make modern games great. These are the things which have been created for “graphics”, but have incidentally improved, to an impressive extent, the world of modern day gameplay.

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Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – The Importance of Sound
July 31, 2012, 11:18 am
Filed under: Side Strafe | Tags: , , , ,

Perhaps more than any other game Battlefield: Bad Company 2 requires gamers to pay special attention to sound and the aural environment.  This is particularly true when playing the “hardcore” squad deathmatch gamemode.  In hardcore SQDM, players must use their listening abilities to do a range of a number of different things – from finding enemies to developing offensive tactics to simply staying alive.  The sound is so important in this gamemode because there are no objectives required other than to simply kill the enemy squad members.  Players must focus on things like locating, surprising, routing out and ultimately attacking the enemy instead of doing such things as planting a bomb or capturing an objective.  This shift in gameplay coupled with a game environment that relies heavily on the absence of almost all HUD elements gives gamers a perfect arena to hunt, track and slay enemy opponents.

The use of sound in this multiplayer FPS is quite unique.  Not only is it one of the first games to really focus on delivering a cinematic, high-definition aural experience, but it is also one of the first games to promote the importance of sound as a tool for winning online battles.  Sure other games in the past have had decent sound (like the Call of Duty series) and sure other games have used sound as a gameplay device, but no other game has done it this well and to this extent.  The sound quality in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is by far the best for any multiplayer FPS to date and the use of sound as a tool is also seminal.  Indeed, some of the greatest multiplayer FPS experiences this blogger has had to date has come from playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s hardcore squad deathmatch.

While the more popular Conquest and Rush gamemodes in Bad Company 2 are fun and engaging, nothing comes quite as close to the immediate and extremely personal experience of hardcore squad deathmatch.  In this gamemode everything is real.  The space you occupy is no longer virtual.  Instead, you are “in the game” and the incredibly detailed maps with their lush, sun-lit landscapes consume you.  The sound of a firefight off in the distance piques your interest and gives you a beacon to seek through the fog of war.  The clap of a sniper rifle signals the presence of a recon in the building next to you – hadn’t it been so loud you would have never known how dangerously close he really was.  In another instance, you are in a forest and standing still for a moment you can hear some bushes rustling up ahead – the enemy has just revealed their position.  Little scenarios like these pepper the hardcore squad deathmatch gamemode in Bad Company 2 and give the whole experience something vastly more than the sum of its parts.

This gamemode is a totally different game altogether from the more popular parts of the Battlefield series.  This gamemode isn’t about strength or firepower or even strategy so much.  Instead, this gamemode is about tactics.  And these tactics are all about what you can see and, more importantly, what you can hear in the world immediately in front of you.  It’s not a world for the faint of heart and most players end up dismissing the gamemode as “too difficult” shortly after first playing it.  But for those who stick around, and except the brave new world of multiplayer gaming, it can be quite an amazing experience and not like one that gamers have ever experienced before.