SgtLewis247, we've never properly met. But I think I love you.
Battlefield 4 might be the strangest high profile video game release I've ever come across. An odd state of affairs, considering it's about nothing more leftfield than shooting people, blowing stuff up and working out what attachment to slap onto your newest, shiniest gun, but Battlefield 4 is strange for reasons that go beyond its premise. A year after its release, it has finally exited its own Early Access period.
29th October 2013 A day that should have been one of pride for all at Electronic Arts and DICE, but one that has to surely go down in infamy. The day Battlefield 4 hit shelves, and set in motion a series of events that has shaken the company and its prized development studio, and punctured waning public faith.
Wouldn't it be great if you could get a pre-launch taste of the next-gen visual experience using nothing more than your PlayStation 3 or PC? That's exactly what we aim to achieve with this new Digital Foundry series, Next-Gen Now. As 1080p60 captures finally start to roll in, we aim to deliver a selection of them to you in h.264 MP4 format, using an encoding profile designed to balance bandwidth with quality, allowing for smooth, high-quality playback of next-gen gameplay on a range of devices.
"The biggest thing in terms of the number of compute units, that's been something that's been very easy to focus on. It's like, hey, let's count up the number of CUs, count up the gigaflops and declare the winner based on that. My take on it is that when you buy a graphics card, do you go by the specs or do you actually run some benchmarks? Firstly though, we don't have any games out. You can't see the games. When you see the games you'll be saying, 'What is the performance difference between them?' The games are the benchmarks." - Microsoft technical fellow, Andrew Goossen.
The Battlefield series has always been a cartographer's dream. Whereas other shooter franchises are content with densely packed arenas in which players can scurry about like well-armed lab rats, head-shotting each other over each piece of cheese, Battlefield maps have always felt like, well, like maps. Actual places, theatres of war, where terrain and elevation can play a tangible role in victory - or defeat.
It's been a long console generation but the end is in sight with the release of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One set for this November. But the PS3/360 legacy lives on - the sheer size of their combined installed base means that publishers can't leave the old machines behind just yet. Hence the arrival of "cross-gen" games; titles developed for current and next generation consoles simultaneously. Battlefield 4 is, perhaps, the most anticipated of these releases, with the promise of delivering the full PC experience on both next generation consoles at 60fps. Expectations are high for the new platforms but what of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 experience? Does Frostbite 3 bring anything new to the table for these ageing consoles? How do these versions compare to Battlefield 4 running on a more powerful PC? And with the arrival of last week's beta test, can we extrapolate anything about the next-gen console versions from the PC game?
To begin with, the beta includes just one map, Siege of Shanghai, available in two variations according to the selected mode. In Domination the map is reduced in size to allow for a smaller player count while Conquest mode purportedly delivers the full experience. Unfortunately PS3 and 360 owners remain limited to a maximum of just 24 players per map. With Battlefield 4 it is more apparent than ever that this low player count simply isn't adequate for a full size Conquest map. Shanghai winds up feeling dreadfully empty with huge swathes of empty open space dividing skirmishes. The PC beta allows for a full 64 players - something DICE has also promised for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 iterations of the game.
But first, let's attempt to address a next-gen controversy surrounding the game. In the last few weeks, statements have been floating around suggesting that Battlefield 4 operates at 720p on the new consoles, or 900p on one but not the other, depending on which unsourced comment you read. With the PC beta in hand, we decided to take a look at the game running at various resolutions to determine what it might look like when operating at lower resolutions which are then upscaled back to 1080p. The PC version includes a resolution scaling option that allows you to maintain a desired output resolution (optimal for fixed pixel displays and for reducing input lag) while altering the internal rendering resolution. As it stands, BF4 is a demanding game on the PC and with the promise of 60fps, it's no surprise that compromises may have to be made. If the new consoles are able to deliver a level of detail on par with the PC version at 60fps, the drop in image quality could prove an acceptable trade-off.
I want to see the skyscraper fall down, but I just keep missing it. One moment it's there, a gleaming, glass and chrome monument to capitalism right at the centre of Battlefield 4's Siege of Shanghai map. Then, inevitably, I get bored, killed, distracted, wander off in order to capture a flag, or - if I'm feeling particularly brave - commandeer a tank, and when I get back to check in on the towering building, well, the skyscraper's already gone.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a complete failure: I caught the dust cloud once. A huge, billowing mass of debris and particles that seemed bigger than the skyscraper itself, and also intensely evocative of real-life disaster footage. But the actual moment it falls keeps eluding me. Once, I was manning a gun turret in helicopter, circling the colossal structure as it (I think) slowly started to tilt, wrenched itself off its foundations and collapsed into the waters below. Sadly, the turret I was manning was on the wrong side of chopper.
It's pretty frustrating, really. I want to see the Siege of Shanghai's centrepiece, a terrifically huge, destructible structure, fulfil its gimmicky raison d'etre. But of course, my repeated failure to see it happen also brilliantly sums up what Battlefield does so well: its jaw-dropping blend of scale and spectacle. In how many other games can an entire skyscraper fall over and yet somehow I miss it, every single time?
Just two years ago, during another typically sunny morning in Los Angeles, ex-EA boss John Riccitiello walked on stage at the Nokia Theatre to announce an unprecedented relationship with Nintendo.
Microsoft's stunning U-turn on its controversial Xbox One policies has delighted gamers and retailers - but are developers and publishers just as happy?
At E3 last week, in a behind closed doors presentation called Xbox 101, Microsoft engineering manager Jeff Henshaw - not a member of the PR team, he points out - tells a small gathering of journalists that Xbox One's 300,000 server cloud gives the next-generation console a unique advantage.
At long last, we have a clear visual on the next major Battlefield title, with developer DICE unleashing a full wave of Battlefield 4 details last week in its whopping 17-minute Fishing in Baku trailer. Visually, this extended cut of in-game footage succeeds in its mission to dazzle like few other games can, and crucially it shows us what results the latest Frostbite 3 engine can achieve on both high-end PCs and, presumably, next-gen consoles. This isn't just about first-person shooters, however: with Bioware also keen to chip in that this technology forms the basis of follow-ups to its Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, its advances represent much more as we look to the future.
Having just an hour earlier listened to Sony delve deep into the power of the PlayStation 4, it comes as a bit of a shock to hear Battlefield main man Patrick Bach tell me that DICE is moving on from technology during our meeting at the Game Developers Conference.