As E3 looms large on the horizon and the various PR people prepare for the media onslaught of reveal items for this years crop of games, Off Duty Gamers has been putting our thoughts together on what the fourth iteration of the Battlefield series will bring. While we have already seen more destruction from the Frostbite engine and even better graphics the one thing that has been keeping our minds occupied recently are the intel reports saying DICE may be bringing back COMMANDER MODE.
For those of you who may not have played Battlefield 2, you may not have any idea what this mode is all about. In a nutshell each team has a designated commander who can split time playing in the standard FPS mode or flip into the map view and manage the battlefield. Well, let’s give you the wikipedia explanation:
The commander position is an exclusive role played by one member of each team. Any member of a team may apply for the position, but priority is given to players of higher rank.
The commander alone has access to the “commander screen”, an interface similar to that of a real-time strategy game. This allows the commander an overview of the battlefield as a whole, or zoom in and view parts of the map in real-time. The commander also has control of the various commander assets, which include artillery strikes, vehicle and supply drops, and UAV’s. They can deploy them to assist their team.
The commander can communicate with squads either by sending orders, or via VoIP voice communication. These tools allow the commander to strategically coordinate their forces on the battlefield.
A commander may resign at any point, freeing the position for other members of their team; they may also be forcibly removed by a successful mutiny vote conducted by their team (provided the server allows mutiny votes).
Although the commander does not gain points by normal methods (kills, flag captures, etc.), their score is doubled at the end of the round if their team wins.
Many of us played Battlefield 2 and had a love/hate relationship with the commander mode. The mode was ambitious and a little risky because its success or failure rested squarely on the person who was in command as they wrestled with the balance of playing normally or essentially being disconnected into a top down mini-game as the on screen incarnation of the player stood in that telltale AFK stance.In Battlefield 3 or we presume 4, such a person stopping to command may as well hold a sign up offering a knife and dogtag festival.
As our team is made up of active and former members of the military we have all been part of the command structure. We recognize the need for leaders to delegate and we know full well how hard it is for a commander to issue orders and stand by as orders get carried out as well as the troops in the field can execute. What we have done here is to pull together various ideas and concepts that we feel address the commander mode but have further reaching factors. Our goal is simply to offer these concepts to you for discussion. Yes, we are all aware of the challenges of platforms and player counts and of course game programming but the point is to try to rethink the process and spark your own input.
There is a clear sensitivity to having a player from each team pulled away from the action. This is made even more a fine point when you speak with the frustrated console players who long to break the 24 player barrier. Balancing squads evenly after taking a single individual out for the role of commander seems to create an odd imbalance to an already small squad structure.
Our wishlist for any platform is that no squad is less than 6 individuals with 3 squads at the very least. This brings us up to a 36 player format. This format would allow for two light squads and one squad we are calling the HQ Squad.
Anyone with even a passing military experience (including watching military themed movies) will know that there is always a Tactical Operation Center or TOC. This is where the commander works. The TOC is in the rear area, it is typically safe, secure and very well setup to communicate with battlefield personnel and assets. It’s job is to issue orders and aggregate intelligence from all sources in order to coordinate the overall battle-space effort to achieve the mission goal.
In our imaging the HQ Squad houses the commander by default and the commander remains within the confines of the teams primary spawn. Yes, we know that it means you dont get to trade bullets with the enemy or take tags but when you want to sit in the big chair, your role is to give your focus to your team and your success or failure is tied to how well you do that job through your subordinates.
Individuals should be allowed to volunteer for command but the commander role should be limited to those who have surpassed or unlocked certain in game limits. Unlock your ability to volunteer for command by successfully handling various tasks out on the field. Commanders have never been successful without first knowing what it is like to be under command in battle themselves. Serve in squads, become an effective squad leader, learn to issue orders, call for fire, call in close air support (CAS) and direct small groups. These are essential skills that are necessary for a commander to have a firm grasp before taking over the battlefield.
In Battlefield 2, the commander mode view felt a bit like a 2D mini-game. Each time you accessed the interface your felt that all the explosions, impact and action were gone. It led to a players who spent much of the time flipping back and forth between playing and commanding which led to frustrated squad leaders looking for support and wondering where the CO had run off to.
For our commander we suggest that the view of the battlefield provides an experience that is unique to the role and in line with the visuals that the frostbite engine provides.
It’s the 21st century and our commanders use satellite imagery to make strategic decisions. A ‘live’ view of the battlespace would be the default view. This view is non moving and allows enough magnification to see the entire area. This is a LIVE view so explosions, large vehicle and other elements would be seen but without enough resolution to identify distinctions or individuals.
The ‘active’ view for our commander is the UAV view. This view is much like the AC-130 standard orbit we see today in Battlefield 3. The commander UAV however is a Predator or Reaper UAV variant. This means that the UAV can loiter over the space for the extent of the battle and remain out of ground fire range (susceptible to fixed/rotary wing attack).
The UAV manages a camera that can be panned and zoomed through the orbit of the UAV and allows for the commander to utilize the on-board ordinance (Hellfire missiles and/or laser guided munitions)
Commanders are able to see unit markers indicating the location of all squad leaders, HQ assets (armor/aircraft) and any spotted enemy position. Of importance here is that the space is not littered with individuals. In the real world commanders rely on local commanders to manage troops so they don’t have to know the exact position of every individual. In Battlefield this would lend itself to a commander that would require teamwork from squad leaders or risk dropping ordinance or support out of position.
The commander should have the following capabilities.
There comes a time when a person or group knows that it’s leadership is not up to the task. A good commander must know this and effective leaders will experience this as battlefield confusion mounts and effective teamwork fades. Commanders can relieve themselves of command or a vote of no confidence can be initiated by individuals. In either case the promotion to commander goes to the highest ranking individual who has indicated that they are available for command duty.
There are some assets there are simply too big for any one squad. These assets are usually limited in number, frequency and as such should support the overall effort of the mission across all squads and at the discretion of the commander.
These assets are available to those who occupy the HQ Squad with the commander. The squad members are free to move about the entire battlespace as a unit or individuals as necessary and should answer target and mission designations made by the commander. Fixed wing pilots should orbit and assist in intelligence, take out air threats and execute a strike package on ground targets when squad leaders make the request and command approves.
You cannot use what you do not have. The commander can call for HQ assets but unless they are manned the order cannot be executed. The concept is for teams to work together which means paying attention to orders, manning primary mission assets and making timely responses.
The exception to this is heavy artillery. We could find no solid mechanic for manned heavy artillery so commanders should be able to call this asset from ‘off map’ locations and be limited by a ‘reset time’ between available volleys.
I believe the holy grail of military first person shooter games has to be finding a way to teach, promote and foster teamwork. Gamers rarely have the luxury of gaming with the same group of people every time in order to develop that military ‘six sense’ that lets you know what your buddy is going to do in a given situation. You are forced to play with people you don’t know, with varied levels of experience, maturity and attitude.
The points made in this article wont solve this, but our hope is that in developing ideas that allow individuals to play yet offer greater rewards and effectiveness through coordination, more people will learn that communication is greater than any other weapon you can deploy. The crutch of larger and more chaotic weapon systems seems to simply cater to the problem as users attempt to do as an individual the damage that could be done if they worked with the others around them.
You can be the scalpel or the sledgehammer. There is a time and a place for the sledgehammer of course but nothing comes close to a surgical strike that is coordinated and executed by people who act as one.
In our discussions about Commander Mode we realized that like any chain of command, the ripples move outward. There are some impacts from some of these discussions that presented unique rethinking of how Squads might be reworked. If you’re interested, read how that shook out here.
As always, you are the gamer and these are games. They are meant to be enjoyed. Our coverage is meant to provoke discussion, instigate change and hopefully offer a new perspective. We don’t know that the technical limitations are or what YOU might find fun or interesting so we place this out here and then ask the question. WHAT DO YOU THINK? Let us know.