Beauty in the Battlefield

The Battlefield –series by DICE hasn’t really been on my radar until recently when I finally made myself familiar with Battlefield 3 (2011). Unsurprisingly, on a decent PC, BF 3 is a thing of beauty most of the time, even though the heavy post-processing can be quite overblown and visually taxing for some people. Nevertheless, in terms of technology, somewhat art direction, and other systems like vehicles and destruction, BF 3 is so far ahead of the competition (Call of Duty) that it isn’t even funny, and soon to be released Battlefield 4 seems to widen that gap even further.

BF 3 makes so many things right visually, especially on the department of what I dubbed as Simulation of Style in my thesis, meaning the simulation of how the world appears through devices such as a thermal vision. Granted, Call of Duty did it first, but BF 3 makes it so much better with more dynamic rendering in place, like more nuanced noise and the cool over-exposure artifact that appears on the screen when depicting explosions. The effect is brutal and beautiful.

Also, the various HUD (Head-Up Display) elements are carefully designed to convey that gritty, functionalistic feel with low-resolution graphics, low-frame-rate updating, and subtle flickering. I’m always impressed when I catch a subtle effect that yet reinforces the overall concept further. In addition, the HUDs genuinely appear to reside within the simulated world clearly apart from the user interface graphics, which isn’t always the case. In fact, I would argue that the HUD treatment BF 3 provides is one such detail that may go unnoticed, but yet demonstrates the developer’s profound understanding towards the real-time image and the concept of simulation at large. The devil and the understanding are in the details.

However, putting all the “superficial” visual excellence aside, I was surprised to find aesthetical pleasure from a place I never would have thought of: the online multiplayer. I’m sure that beauty isn’t necessarily the first concept that comes to mind when brining up a modern military multiplayer, but for me it was. The thing is, I’ve never been an online multiplayer gamer until recently, only a casual observer every now and then over the years. So my mental image of what an online multiplayer is and can be was based on visions of technical glitches and other such difficulties.

Soon I realized that my view was remarkably outdated.

I just couldn’t believe how flawlessly a modern online multiplayer did work at best, and to me it occurred especially when watching smoothly gliding helicopters in the sky, knowing that real people operated them. For some reason, it was indeed the motion of hovering helicopters that made me awe the most, and as always, the fascination stems from the perceived framework of limitations through which the piece is experienced.  Apparently, the smoothly fluctuating motion of a helicopter breaks, or at least, pushes the boundaries of what is possible in my mind within the online framework, which makes it so beautiful to look at. In the end, it comes basically down to the logic of magic, as in everything that goes seemingly beyond one’s understanding of reality, is fascinating and remarkable.

Often times, one to appreciate the beauty of a thing, one must understand the history, or in the case of real-time image, the technological struggle behind the thing. The online multiplayer gaming has come a long way and personally it was fascinating experience to jump in at a point where things are finally starting to come together seamlessly and, yes, beautifully.

Next gen titles such as The Division and Destiny are strong signals of the dying sole single player experience, and if the tech is there as it seems to be, I’m all for it.