Friday, November 30, 2012

Why the Maps in BlOps 2 Pwn those in BF3



[WARNING 1: Image heavy blog posting follows!]
[WARNING 2: BF3 fans should be prepared to have their minds blown!] 

When I had moved on from the tried and true Battlefield: Bad Company 2 to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, something immediately struck me about the difference in maps: those in MW3 were so much more vibrant than those in BC2. MW3's maps were not only more colorful, but the locations had a "lived in" feeling. That is, the art design of the maps successfully communicated the idea that people had actually lived in these locations prior to the arrival of the bad tempered soldiers; that the terrain players merely saw as a good camping spot or a wonderful sniper's nest were much more than that: they were formerly homes and businesses of the now displaced citizenry. it just made everything seem much more believably tragic.

Unfortunately, the maps is BC2 lacked similar depth to them. While they superficially resembled homes and storefronts, in reality they all comprised little more than a sort of electronic Potemkin village. Why? Because when you entered one of these structures, you found emptiness on the other side. No beds. No display cases. No art. No carpeting. Just empty boxes seemingly built for destruction - sort of like a Hollywood set, come to think of it. I always found this a strange and sad oversight to the BC2 art direction. After all, who wants to fight over nothing?

When Battlefield 3 was announced, and even more importantly, the Frostbite 2 engine, I was hopeful that this strange (lazy?) art direction would be shown the door; that we would no longer be asked to shed virtual blood over a mere facade of civilization. Alas, I now know that is not the case. Things, it would seem, have not changed all that much in BF3 (which is just one of the reasons why I continue to find that game to be a stagnant disappointment). Check this out:




When I first encountered this building in BF3, my mind immediately boggled at the opportunities for destruction. All those floors! Alas, the truth is sadly limited:


All you get is a small lobby with a bench. Wow.

This is the perfect example of why all the maps in BF3 are so disappointing. There is no sense of place to them, just empty boxes disguised to look like actual residences and shops.

Here's another example:


Cool! An office! Let's check inside and see if we can hide under a desk:


Nope, you just go into a warehouse...which is almost empty as well.


Surely this two storied structure has an interesting interior!


No. Just two floors of emptiness.

What about that storefront with the hole blown in its side?


Uh...no. Must have been closed for a few years seeing how empty it is. The previous occupants must have also used the same tile guy as the hotel. 

More:



Are you starting to see the problem here? Mother Hubbard went to her cupboard...but the cupboard was bare. Really DICE? This is the best you can do?

Now feast your eyes on this:


This is the entrance to the "Plaza" map from Black Ops 2. As you can see, it "pops" with light and color right away. But it gets even better:


This is the jewelry store in the Plaza. Based on the fact that jewelry is still in the showcases, not to mention the pleasant showroom music wafting from unseen speakers, this place was open for business mere moments before the player got there. Something like this can change the entire vibe for a gamer because it provides an immersive realism.

What is more, having the clutter of day to day life in a map makes for a much more interesting tactical experience. All this stuff makes for wonderful cover, after all. Only in BlOps 2 can you dolphin dive behind a jewelry case to escape some incoming fire! 

Here is the security office for the map:


Wow, it actually contains stuff you would expect to find in an office, things like monitors, and phones, and even a personal fan!

Here's the nightclub in Plaza:


Again, not just an empty box! Dance lights, a bar, a turned over table...even dance music is heard emanating from the wall mounted speakers.

Such wonderful detail is seen across all BlOps 2 maps. Here's one from Slums:


Unlike BF3's maps that all look like they're from the same generic Middle Eastern city, right away the gamer can tell he is not in the cosmopolitan Plaza anymore. Not only does everything have a Latin American look to it, but the Spanish propaganda being announced over a loudspeaker sort of gives the game away. The change in lighting is also very noticeable - compare the moody nighttime ambiance of Plaza to this sunny scene.

Here's one from Standoff, a fantastic East European map:


 Now that is a properly appointed bedroom - complete with tourist luggage! - and most definitely NOT just an empty box.

Here's an important one:


I love this bit of detail from the Aftermath map. Notice the dropped bottles and cards? This artwork tells a story: two workers were using their lunch break to play a card game...when something bad happened. Hence, the reason why you are here.

What a refreshing difference from the blah and indifferent settings of BF3. The gamer actually wants to fight here because it feels real, and not just like a plywood movie stage. But it gets even better....

There is a shipping yard in BF3 called Noshahr Canals, and it makes for a great summation of the artistic distinction between the two games. Here it is:


Again, sort of blah with lots of empty space.

Here is BlOps 2 version, called Cargo:


Again, colorful and loaded with detail.

Let's look at a building in BF3's Noshahr Canals:


You weren't really expecting anything different, were you? Okay, okay, there is some scattered paperwork in the corner - I guess a DICE artist put in some overtime on this one.

Cargo from BlOps 2 again:


An office, with chairs, lighting, file cabinets and, yes!, even something like BF3's Frostbite 2 powered scattered paperwork!

Wait! What's this....


An underground loading dock, complete with forklifts! You mean, this place is actually used by people and not set up just for the convenience of soldiers?!?

And what's this?


A cargo lift that works? That actually re-arranges the map in a dynamic fashion?!? Impossible! We have only just begun to unlock the secret of rendering furniture in a game...well, according to DICE anyway.

See my point? Noshahr Canals exemplifies everything that is uninspired in BF3's artistic direction. It is boring and devoid of life, while Cargo is vibrant, and filled with the detailed suggestion of messy industry. And it moves.

I know a lot BF3 fanbois like to beat their chest over how great that game looks - and make no mistake, it has a wonderfully sharp touch to the graphics - but what good does it do to have such great graphics when they aren't used for anything other than to piece maps together from drab empty boxes? And here's the tragedy: if I remember correctly, Battlefield 2 actually did have much better scenery than subsequent titles. I even recall entering a few well appointed apartments - similar to those in Black Ops 2 - for that matter. What happened in the intervening years, DICE?

Whatever happened, DICE could now learn a lot about artistic direction in map design from the fellas at Treyarch and Infinity Ward.


BONUS CONTENT: I forgot to include this shot of a warehouse from BF3's Noshahr Canals:


It's like a running joke. :)

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