Past Battlefield interfaces have been plagued by problems of unresponsive buttons and highlights, weird nonstandard interfaces, unreadable type and strange placement logic. With Bad Company 2 these issues began to slowly resolve into something more usable. Battlefield 3 introduces a much more complex upgrade tree as well as a camouflage selection option. Unfortunately, the interface hasn't kept up with the depth of options available, and this makes for an awkward experience when trying to spec out your soldier for battle.
My argument has 3 points:
1. The "Customize" tab exists. Every action needed to handle re-specing on the fly should be able to happen in the "Deploy" tab. Currently the "Deploy" tab contains a hobbled method of re-specing fast along the bottom right, but with weapon accessories becoming an important part of gameplay, this feature is obsolete in its current form. Also the rudimentary customization under "Deploy" completely ignores camouflage options.
2. The "Customize" menu is too deep. By not utilizing screen space correctly, the Customize menu is forced to be three levels deep (four if you count the number of clicks down from the main menu). The first menu is a generalized "choose kit" selection that only looks like it does anything more. The design of the "loadout" and "appearance" buttons is no more apparently clickable than the non-clickable (and much larger) weapon/gadget readout. A little separation between the kits' bars would have made this a lot more easy to read and navigate quickly. Keep in mind this is the whole point: you're supposed to be able to re-spec with some degree of speed to be able to come back with ammunition, health or anti-vehicle firepower to keep your squad alive. Extra time finding and clicking small screen areas is detrimental to smooth team-based gameplay that is the core of the experience.
The second level in "Customize" is general kit layouts or "appearance" depending on what you've clicked. "appearance" is a required visit at least once per round since the game doesn't appear to remember your previous camouflage settings. An interface for assigning camouflage patterns per-level would be ideal. Including an option to "always use" a certain pattern is also a possibility. For "loadout", this menu is easy enough to use, simply clicking left and right through your various options. The only problem is to further customize a given weapon, you now have to go to ...
... The third level of menus wherein you attach gadgets to your primary weapon. The distribution of slots here is somewhat unintuitive. The first of three is easy: these are your scopes. I like that there are a lot of options and they're usually named clearly enough that you can distinguish them before being stuck with them for a spawn and restarting this process. The next two slots are less clearly defined. I often find myself paging through one menu only to find what i'm looking for in the other one. Off the top of your head, can you tell me whether the bipod belongs in the third row or the fourth? (... and if you can, good on you. I can't.)
They've thoughtfully put a "deploy" button here on the third level to prevent you having to back all the way out. The problem is that this deploy often ends me up at my side's uncap, having been given no choice to select a spawn point. Thus, this button becomes useless for those trying to save time by diving straight into the re-spec options. Selecting a squad member or control point beforehand becomes useless as the viability of those points changes very quickly.
3. The overall tendency of these menus is to take you out of your previous context. There are a lot of tabs and buttons, but throwing away the previous screen's tab set eliminates all sense of progression and context. Granted it's a complicated set of menus with a lot of options, but it can be done well. Especially for a game with this amount of development time and budget. The whole thing generally needs another pass to ensure consistency of structure and placement.
What can be done?
1. Build an all-in-one solution and eliminate "Customize" altogether. Having this more complex system work in one bar in the deploy screen (similar to Bad Company 2) would be a challenge, but can certainly be done by a team this talented. "Customize" feels like a catch-all and a cop-out.
2. Use screen space in "Customize" more efficiently. Notice that the active area in "Customize" is about 1/4 to 1/3 of the screen space. Allowing the menu a little more room to work on a single plane rather than burying layers would make the user experience a lot more streamlined. Do we really need that giant model of the player's soldier over on the right?
3. Move this process to BattleLog. One of the more popular topics on the Getsatisfaction feedback system the Battlefield team is using suggests just this. And it makes sense. For better or worse we're stuck with BattleLog for key in-game functionality. Why not let users tinker with and save their loadouts in BattleLog and access them by name through a quick menu while waiting to deploy? I could make an assault loadout called "long distance" that has my accuracy-enhancing accessories built into my M16A4 and switch to it quickly. This would speed the procedure for even a simpler operation like grabbing your Stinger to take down an aircraft that's after your squad. This is something that Call of Duty allows even on consoles and it's very convenient.
You'd still have to have some sort of system in-game to fine-tune for situations that come up unexpectedly but having a system of preset loadouts on-hand that the user himself sets up would be a powerful and convenient tool.