Gameplay versus game quality: A netcode debate

During the years with Battlefield 3, there was a change in the way that players complain about the random and aggravating parts of the game. It was mainly centered on getting shot around corners or through objects. What we once blamed on lag became focused on the Battlefield franchise’s new dirty word: netcode.

So what does netcode really mean? Network code, or netcode for short, refers to the communication from the client to the server (and back to the client). It deals with all the elements going on in the game and how and when we see them while we play.

In our recent podcast with LevelCap, we talked about netcode and how it is affecting Battlefield 4. That discussion led me to a line of thinking about the state of online gaming and the future. One I’d like to share and hopefully generate a little debate, but more importantly, discussion.

In Battlefield 4 there is so much going on that needs to be quickly relayed between every client involved on the server; every player’s shots (velocity, bullet drop, distance to target, etcetera), every vehicle shots and damage, hit detection, building destruction and damage to players from building destruction and more. Gamers want these bits of information to be communicated instantaneously to make the game accurate (often cited as ‘fair’), but the reality is that it just isn’t possible with a game as complex as Battlefield. There is simply too much going on for the netcode to be perfect. Can it improve? I honestly don’t know, but every time I’ve heard DICE developers talk about the netcode (here’s JackFrags talking with Patrick Bach where the first question is about netcode) they say it will never be perfect and that it’s the best that it can be.

I personally believe the franchise is at a tipping point. Either the game needs to regress in terms of complexity or we wait for netcode advancements to solve the problem, however long that takes.

If you want a game that is truer to what you’re seeing on your monitor, what are you willing to give up? Better features? Improved graphics? Bullet drop? Destruction?

And how many of these things would it take to fix the game?

That leads me to the ultimate question: Where does the Battlefield franchise go from here given the limitations of the netcode?

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