Newer tech and smarter AIs break new frontiers for Battlefield: Hardline

Relying on smarter NPC and deeper gameplay experiences are the key to the evolution of first-person shooters

Reload. Hide. Fire. Simple concepts for first-person shooters. But when you bring in the reality of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, it’s no longer a game of keyboard and mouse clicks.

Gaming is no longer a simple affair, not with gamers’ higher expectations for more immersive and detailed gameplay. More pixels and better rendering mean little to a true gamer who craves for a challenge. And when the line between virtual and reality is getting thinner, the future of gaming is at stake. Hence, the need to evolve gaming design beyond the graphics capability.

Take Battlefield: Hardline as an example. On the surface, it seems very much like another first-person shooter based in an urban landscape. But from what Visceral Games’ senior designer Travis Hoffstetter told us, it’s more than that.

Unlike previous Battlefields, Hardline now has two in-game sensors for the AI to react, one that looks really far and another for peripheral vision. Even a slight sound in the environment, like those made by a falling impact, can trigger reactions from the artificial intelligence.

Into the battle!

“Different things can react to sound or sight. Shoot a zipline, the AI might see and react differently. There’s now an investigate state and search state, which cycles back and forth,” said Hoffstetter.

Such non-player reactions are just one of the many that give designers the necessary canvas to create a more immersive gameplay. The very thing that gamers are critical towards. In Battlefield: Hardline’s case, the canvas is even wider, what with the way players can now choose how it’s played, based on reactions of non-player characters.

“Another pillar of Battlefield: Hardline is strategy, we call it player choice too. We want you to stop, assess and think of different situations,” added Hoffstetter. Different hiding spots, relying on friendlies to inform you of the situation, use of lighting and all sorts of strategy creates the bigger picture for players to map out their gameplay.

“It’s up to the player. We designed the AI to have individual reactions to the player choices. Jump behind a guy, and you’ll get a different reaction. Even a dead body could trigger a different routine,” said Hoffstetter.

That, by his estimate, could stretch from 10 to 12 hours. Depending on how player approaches each situation, such as a silent move or an all-out, guns-blazing attack, the replay value for its single-player mode adds up to twice the usual gameplay time.

As if that isn’t enough, purchasing the season pass will grant you access to more downloadable content (DLC), which includes gun benches to customise your weapons and more map packs with new game modes.

Creating such immersive gameplay has made Battlefield: Hardline more than what you expect from a first-person shooter. “When you have AI that respond to you in a sandbox kind of way and players use tools to create different outcomes, we are creating an immersive experience,” added Hoffstetter.

The next step, however, would move beyond the keyboard and mouse - specifically virtual reality. Hoffstetter cautions that expectations for VR needs to be managed, though he hints that it poses a lot of exciting things for the future.

“It’s still too early and probably won’t affect the way AI functions. But it’ll change the player experience,” he said.