The video game industry is constantly in a state of intense competition between popular game companies and franchises. Think of the 16-bit console wars with Sonic and Mario in the thick of it and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
20 years later it’s not the humble platformer that is king, but these days it’s all about the adrenaline-fueled first-person shooter. Yet among the constant avalanche of shooters the Call of Duty franchise has managed to stand head and shoulders above them all, setting ridiculous sales records on an annual basis. Hell, it even bypassed Halo in popularity on the Xbox 360, something that would be completely unbelievable just a few short years ago. As a result, it’s almost impossible for any shooter with a strong emphasis on multiplayer to go without being compared to Activision’s juggernaut franchise, even those that were popular before CoD4 transcended the franchise to ridiculous levels.
Which brings us here: DICE trying to chip away at CoD with their Battlefield: Bad Company games, which didn’t totally resonate with fans of 2005’s Battlefield 2. With the recent unveiling of Battlefield 3 it’s time to crank the “will this be the game that topples Call of Duty?” machine and think about what steps have to be taken to have a shot at competing with one of the most successful franchises of all time.
Nail Down the Hit Detection
No matter whether you play Call of Duty casually or religiously, one of the biggest annoyances that seems to make it into every release is the sometimes questionable hit detection.
You probably already know what I’m talking about: you’re 120% you shot that guy in the face 11 times, yet he won’t drop. Or better yet you’re pelted with a hail of gunfire, but then you’ll see every single shot miss you on the KillCam.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert when it comes to fixing something like this. I don’t know if it’s a flaw in programming the game’s hit detection or if it’s simple lag, but it’s definitely annoying enough to be addressed. If not by Call of Duty, then hopefully by the programming wizards over at DICE for Battlefield 3.
Have Dedicated Servers
Mind-boggling exceptions such as Modern Warfare 2 notwithstanding, this is something that PC gamers never have to worry about missing from their favorite multiplayer games. For those of us who play primarily on consoles, though, it’s a luxury that can never come often enough, as demonstrated by the excitement over the announcement of Gears of War 3 using dedicated servers.
For those that are out of the loop, console games usually use peer-to-peer connections for their online infrastructure. This leads to annoying host migrations mid-match, or worse yet several minutes at a time lost trying to find a match if the game isn’t extremely popular. With dedicated servers that’s pretty much out the window, as well as allowing for more customizable multiplayer experiences. One of my favorite examples of this was Warhawk on PS3, where you could either go on the official game servers for ranked matches or make your own room and play the maps and match types you want.
Using dedicated servers would be a huge leg-up for the Battlefield franchise, as the connectivity issues brought to light by P2P matchmaking are made glaringly apparent by the millions of people that play Call of Duty on each platform. The only barrier is quite restrictive, though — employing dedicated servers for any game doesn’t come cheap, especially as more and more people hop on to play.
Cut Down the Hacking
With the recent cracking of the PlayStation 3 it’s been quite the field day for online cheaters, with Call of Duty drawing a big, giant chunk of jerks and scum — even a year-old game like Modern Warfare 2 got a security patch recently to combat it. But even before that, and on multiple platforms, CoD has always been a popular playground for people to exploit even the tiniest bugs into giant headaches for the average player.
Of course, this is something that becomes more frequent as the popularity of a game grows, but hopefully DICE put as much effort into making Battlefield 3 a solid, cheat-free environment as they put into every other aspect of their games.
Don’t Try To Be Call of Duty
Far and away the biggest mistake that games make time and time again is trying to beat Call of Duty by trying to be Call of Duty, and the result is always the same: the game falls flat on its face as it tries to hard to match the balls-to-the-wall single player and the addictive, expansive multiplayer that make CoD a hit with millions of gamers every year.
Jim Sterling dove into this recently, doing a great job of saying why the Medal of Honor reboot failed to resonate with CoD players, as well as touching on the potential pitfalls for Battlefield 3. Looking at what’s been released thus far, it seems as if DICE is trying to touch the same bases as far as the single-player is concerned. As we’ve seen before, and as I mentioned above, that may be hit or miss.
However, it won’t do them any good whatsoever if they go with the CoD approach with the multiplayer, because they already have something special that they can call their own in that regard. Battlefield 2 was special for several reasons: it wasn’t as run-and-gun as Call of Duty, it had a ridiculous array of vehicles, and even unlockable weapons before CoD had them. Rather than stray from what made people love Battlefield multiplayer in the first place, it would be great to expand on this with the terrific destructible environments in Bad Company and hopefully some dedicated servers to make something truly memorable.
We’re not saying that these things will guarantee that Battlefield 3 will outsell whatever this year’s Call of Duty game is, because that’s not something you can do overnight with a single game. However, it would be great to see something that’s as replayable as CoD without being CoD.
But what say you? Excited for Battlefield 3, or is Call of Duty what you crave? Let us know in the comments below, or in our forums.