Today we’re gonna talk about update 1.4's new tug-of-war inspired PvP game mode Frontline that was added to the game a couple weeks ago. We’ll cover what it is, how it plays, the challenges we encountered in its implementation, and its history in our previous games. Frontline is available now on the live version of the Sandstorm and can be found under the PvP “Versus” section of the Play menu.
Though we’ve only just added the mode to Sandstorm, Frontline has actually been around for a while. It first started as a game mode called “Battle” way back in the Half-Life 2 mod version of Insurgency, which was called Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat. It played pretty similar to as it does today, like a two way Push mode, where both teams progress linearly through the map one objective at a time trying to push each other back. There was, however, no weapon cache as there is today in Frontline. The mode had a special flavor to it. It was unpredictable, hectic, and high in intensity, but still had that tactical hardcore Insurgency feel to it.
Our WWII shooter Day of Infamy in 2017 saw Battle’s official return, but this time with its new and current name “Frontline”. This version introduced a radio objective that needed to be destroyed as the final defense objective for either team if they were pushed back to the edge of the map. Our aim with Day of Infamy was to create a more “war-like” experience as opposed to the security operation feel of Insurgency, so Frontline was a perfect fit. It was a great big world war after all, and we were excited at the idea of seeing the fire support drop as teams shoved each other back and forth on a map like Bastogne or Foy.
Frontline, like Push, saw a lot of popularity. Players took well to the higher speed action, the shifting of tide of combat, the objective trading, and the overall atmosphere. We decided the mode might have a place in Insurgency: Sandstorm, and set it up for internal testing as early as the pre-alpha version. As we went along in Sandstorm’s development however, we determined that we needed to cut down on game modes and focus on the ones we had. Push, Firefight, and Skirmish were felt to be the stronger most popular Insurgency experiences, and if Frontline were ever to be added to the game, it would require more work than we had time for.
But what is Frontline exactly, and how does it play? The quickest way to explain it is that it’s two way Push. In a Frontline match, there are either 5 or 7 objectives depending on the map. Objectives are laid out in a long linear fashion, as opposed to in Firefight or Skirmish modes where they are contained in certain areas of the map. Every objective in Frontline is captured in order and one at a time, much like Push or Checkpoint. At the start of a round, the middle objective is neutral, and the rest of the objectives are split half and half between the two teams, represented below as red and blue.
When a round begins, only the neutral middle objective is active, and so both teams must scramble to capture it. This is the most dense part of a round, with up to 28 players piling into a single building, hill, or whatever other landmark it’s been decided they must vye over. When a team finally captures it, it becomes theirs that they must defend while simultaneously attacking and capturing their enemy’s next adjacent objective. In Frontline, after the neutral middle objective is captured, there are always two active objectives: one to attack and one to defend.
In the image here, you can see that the blue team has captured objective C, and now must capture objective D while also defending C from the red team’s attacks. If red takes C, then blue is forced to fall back and defend B. Both teams are in a constant struggle to move this frontline forward and not get pushed back themselves. It’s expected that a round will involve trading objectives back and forth across the map. Regularly spawning reinforcement waves keep the action flowing, and a wave is added to the wave count every time a team captures an objective.
Each team’s final objective, the blue and red diamonds at each end of the line, is a weapon cache that the other team must destroy to win. If a team gets pushed back to their weapon cache, they’ll lose all their remaining reinforcement waves and be forced into a last stand, just like in Push mode. This last stand has two key differences however. First, in Frontline, vehicles will spawn in, giving a better chance for a comeback and a successful weapon cache defense. Second, unlike in Push, a team can gain ground back by capturing their enemy’s objective, saving their weapon cache and pushing back toward the enemy’s. This is, of course, a tough scenario to come back from, but it’s possible, especially in the later stages of a round when waves on both teams are mostly depleted. An alternate win condition is to simply kill off the enemy and their reinforcement waves. When all of the enemy are dead, regardless of where the line is, your team will win.
In our early stages of testing Frontline for update 1.4, this secondary win condition actually presented a problem. Our vision for Frontline was to have back and forth and objective swapping that took place all across the map. In practice however, it was just a brawl at the center. Both teams would slug it out over the neutral middle objective, and whoever won that objective typically won the match without even capturing anything else. This is because of a few reasons:
- Capturing an objective originally gave you too many reinforcement waves. Once a team had a lead in waves, they could dig in and bleed their enemy of all their waves.
- Reinforcement wave respawns would be triggered quickly. This meant there would always be people occupying an objective preventing its capture.
- Capturing objectives took too long. Enemy players would make it to the objective too quickly even after you had cleared the objective and thought you secured the area.
To address this, we reduced the amount of waves gained from a capture, first to 2 waves and then to just 1. We also made reinforcement waves wait a little longer for more players on your team to be dead until a respawn was triggered, and upped the amount of reinforcement waves a team had at the start so rounds wouldn’t end so quickly. Finally, we made objectives able to be captured faster, so people could more easily move the line.
These changes made it less important who captured the middle objective and more important who was actually playing all the objectives and pushing the line forward throughout the whole round. Simple as those changes may sound, it took a lot of playtesting, iteration, and feedback to identify and address those problems. The Community Test Environment was a huge help in realizing what changes needed to be made to Frontline, and we thank all of you who took part in that testing for sharing your feedback. Even with that though, as with any of our modes, we are always open to feedback on how to improve. If you’re liking Frontline, then please, let us know on the forums or on Reddit. If you aren’t, then let us know it can be improved.
Thanks for reading everyone and take care!