You’ve seen the Commander Mode video from E3, and you’ve seen it in action at gamescom in the live stream. In this in-depth blog post, learn everything about this fan favorite feature straight from the developers.
We’ll also be going in-depth on the very beginning of Commander Mode when it was first introduced in Battlefield 2. You’ll see how it has evolved while staying true to its roots, hearing first from Lars Gustavsson as he gives a retrospective on it in BF2, and then from Multiplayer Designer Valerian Noghin with a look towards the future of Commander Mode in Battlefield 4.
Commander Mode in Battlefield 2
After having made Battlefield 1942, many of us in the dev team felt that we didn’t really get the same experience online as we did when playing in the studio. The constant chatter, the orders screamed out, the confusion online in regards to what was being talked about…the magic wasn’t really there. That’s where we quickly realized that teamplay would become the foundation for Battlefield 2.
Me, as the new lead designer for Battlefield 2, and Romain de Waubert de Genlis who was the lead designer for Battlefield 1942, sat down and spent months talking about how to push the boundaries for teamplay. Two of our programmers, Mattias Hörnlund and Christian Grass, had already done a first prototype for the “communication rose” and how to give orders, and from there we kept refining the concept. We started by splitting up the teams into squads with one squad leader on each side, which helped players get a better focus in the huge 64-player servers as they all knew what area to attack or defend.
But we quickly saw that quite often many squads attacked the same base as it fell into enemy hands, leaving the rest of the bases free for the taking. That’s where the thoughts around Commander came in and the vision of one player per team that had an overall view of what happens on the battlefield. This meant that each squad could know that the orders that were given were usually based on additional information that they lacked. We wanted squad leaders to be 90% on the battlefield and just occasionally focused on ordering and communication with the commander, while the commander was intended to work the other way around – 90% focused on ordering and communication, and 10% focused on the battlefield.
These are mockups that were created with the help of DICE New York at that time. This was the old Desert Combat team that had joined DICE and now helped us prototype our ideas in regards to teamplay. It was a great and hard-working team with good design thinking which made the weekly iterations on Commander and teamplay really fruitful. As you can see on these mockups, there are a lot of elements that made it in to the final version.
Having been part of the initial introduction of Commander Mode in BF2, I am super proud to finally bring it back to the battlefield where it belongs, just as the community so many times has reminded me of it. Battlefield 4 delivers so many unique experiences that quite frankly cannot be found in other games and to be able to top it off with two commanders, head-to-head, in the service of their forces, battling it out until one of them has been declared the winner makes this game the most complete Battlefield game ever.
Commander Mode in Battlefield 4
Now, eight years after BF2’s release, Commander Mode is coming back. There were a variety of reasons why we wanted to bring it back to Battlefield – and not just including our own passion for it.
Commander Mode was well-loved by fans in BF2. We realized just how much fans enjoyed it after all the positive feedback from the announcement we released at E3, which we were very glad to see. For us, Commander Mode is the ultimate level of teamplay. It takes you one step above the established squad leader chain of command and gives multiplayer matches something unique that you don’t see in your average shooter. We saw a great opportunity to innovate on a fantastic feature from the past and bring it into modern multiplayer.
Of course, we didn’t want to just take Commander Mode from BF2 and throw it into BF4. We went through a thorough process of updating and perfecting Commander Mode, keeping the core ideas and feel from BF2 while bringing it into the modern gaming era.
In Battlefield 4, one of Lead Multiplayer Designer Thomas Andersson’s main goals was to create more Commander vs. Commander gameplay (similar to what can be seen in RTS games) than we’ve had before in the series. We also wanted to make it accessible on many platforms. When we had the technology to do real-time 3D and bring the hectic Battlefield to the Commander’s screen, we knew we wanted to focus on that and give the Commander live feedback on his actions in-game. More importantly, we wanted the Commander to be able to see his teams’ actions so the Commander could better support them.
We also decided to make the very important change of making the role of Commander a full-time job. There is no possibility of going between 1st person and Commander Mode like in BF2. We wanted to ensure the Commander is dedicated to supporting the whole team, not just themselves. We all remembered the BF2 “Commander supporting himself while in a tank ignoring his team” worst case scenario, and that’s something we wanted to avoid happening again.
Finally, we wanted to bring Commander Mode to mobile platforms. We made sure the mobile versions of it were on par with console and PC versions, to ensure any Commander can effectively support their team even when they’re away from home.
Commander Mode in Effect
There are basically two ecosystems/loops running in parallel when you play as the Commander: the squad loop and the main Commander assets loop. On top of these you always have a basic palette of assets available to support your ground troops.
This basic palette includes UAVs for scanning and EMPs (jamming), as well as the Cruise Missile Warning, which designates an area where the enemy missile will strike, allowing your friendly troops to move out of harm’s way before it’s too late.
In addition to this, you’ll also be able to designate High Value Targets, useful for pointing out especially dangerous enemies on the battlefield. An enemy on a kill streak of six or more will appear on the Commander’s screen as a selectable unit. This player’s location can be relayed to the entire team for a period of time (45 seconds at the moment). The Commander can add this aspect to a game where most players will shift focus for a while and hunt/protect this HVT player, as both teams are alerted about this Commander “promotion” when it happens. The attackers will receive additional bonuses when taking out said target, while the target will receive bonuses when performing kills while being HVT – thus both parties have something to gain from this. GTA’s classic “wanted stars” system is what we used as an inspiration for this, we think the highly skilled players will accept this challenge as the ultimate proof of becoming a lethal threat on the battlefield. As far as personal favorites go, the High Value Target is probably mine for the rush you get when you know that potentially the entire team is after you!
Main Assets Loop
These assets can be obtained by your team by owning the objectives and are gone once the objectives are lost/destroyed. The more aggressive and impact-heavy assets are located here. Depending on map and game mode, these are:
-The Cruise Missile – launched from fixed positions on the map, they will fly at cruising altitude before dropping in an arc at the designated point, wiping out anything in the vicinity. Their power is substantial, and this is why a good Commander will use the Cruise Missile Warning asset whenever possible.
-Two types of Map Scans – Vehicle and Infantry Scan, used for long-term highlighting of enemy units on the map for your team.
-Finally, the AC-130 Gunship – as seen in the Commander Mode videos and in BF3’s Armored Kill, this powerful plane provides ground support from multiple weapons, as well as a mobile spawn point covering a large section of the map.
These assets are earned in a similar way to Field Upgrades for your squad, so an experienced squad player will feel right at home with these: all the Commander scoring events are fed into the Squad Assets bar.
Each asset costs 1, 2, 3 or 4 chunks of the bar. On a maxed bar, the Commander can use the most expensive asset or four of the least expensive asset, depending on the situation at hand. Similar to the Squad Wipe, a chunk of this bar will be depleted when the asset is used – again, having a similarity to the squad field upgrade bar was important for us when designing this.
The assets available in this loop are:
-Squad Promotion – boost the squad members’ individual field upgrade bars towards the next unlock.
-Vehicle Drop – deploy a Quad Bike or a light Boat (depending on terrain) via parachute.
-Rapid Deploy – cut the squad’s spawn time in half for a fixed period of time.
-Supply Drop: deploy a large crate that will heal, resupply and repair friendly units. In addition, friendly units will be able to change kits on the field which we think is an interesting tactical addition to the game.
We think both newcomers and long-term fans of the Battlefield series will enjoy the strategy layer Commander Mode brings to the table. We’ve added exciting new features such as the squad assets, the impressive top-down 3D view, and the long-term Commander career options (dog tags, medals, etc). Plus, interacting with your friends on the field and knowing the impact you can bring to the table is very cool.
We can’t wait for you to try Commander Mode. This feature is where all systems in the game meet, collide and join forces. I sat down and realized that the only discipline missing from the mix is probably AI – everything else from graphics, sound, scripting, networking, etc. is involved. The challenge is to align all these disciplines and make sure they all push for the same goal – the best Commander in BF!
Just like the rest of MP, this feature is a long-term investment from DICE and we truly look forward to seeing it in the hands of our community.
-Lars Gustavsson and Valerian Noghin
Stay tuned to “The Road to Battlefield 4”, where we’ll continue the journey towards launch by diving deeper and deeper into every nuance of the biggest Battlefield game ever developed at DICE. Next episode we’ll explore Weapon Customization in Battlefield 4.
Until then, let us know what you think about this blog post, and what questions you want us to answer in the upcoming posts. Thanks for reading!