There’s no pressure on Karl Magnus-Troedsson. He’s just the guy who has to beat rival franchise Call of Duty, revive Mirror’s Edge, and work on the next Star Wars game. The general manager of Electronic Arts’ DICE studio in Stockholm has to juggle multiple blockbuster games under design. But the big one coming this fall is Battlefield 4, the next installment in the modern-combat series coming on next-generation platforms including the PC, PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One.
Magnus-Troedsson’s job gets easier because all of EA’s major games (except sports titles) are now using the Frostbite 3 engine as the common development platform. Battlefield 4 will feature a new commander mode and 64-player multiplayer. Its graphics and destructible environments will be far better than in the past generation if EA’s demos are to be believed. We talked about all of DICE’s big games in an interview with Magnus-Troedsson at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. Here’s an edited transcript of our talk.
GamesBeat: How’s your E3 going?
Karl-Magnus Troedsson: It’s going very well, actually. It’s E3, so it’s chaos of course, but everyone has to deal with that.
GamesBeat: What’s the feedback been like on your demo?
Troedsson: We’ve been catching up on the Internet and hearing what people have to say on the floor. It’s very positive, both for Battlefield 4 and what we teased out there with Mirror’s Edge and Star Wars: Battlefront.
GamesBeat: Yeah, I don’t think anyone was really expecting those.
Troedsson: A lot of people have speculated about it. Some people have said that they were 100 percent sure that they knew it was going to show, but in hindsight it’s easy to be smart, right? It was a big day for DICE at the press conference, showing three games like that.
GamesBeat: It’s a diverse lineup there. Is there something in common there, besides the Frostbite engine? What else helps you do all three games at the same time?
Troedsson: Frostbite is a very strong common foundation to build on. It’s good for all of EA. We’re very happy about that, of course, since we built the engine from the beginning. We custom-built it for the first Battlefield: Bad Company a long time ago. Actually, during the last generational transition between consoles, that’s when we built it. Now, having that as a technology used by so many game teams within EA is very positive to see, and it’s also a strong force for us. If we need help with it at some point, a lot of people can jump in. They know the tools and so forth. That goes for all of EA. It’s easier to have everyone on the same engine. But that’s not what we’re counting on to deliver these games. It’s going to be built by DICE.
GamesBeat: I guess this isn’t an easy thing to do. With Criterion, it didn’t quite work out. RenderWare just didn’t fulfill the need. How do you think you’re able to be successful with this kind of technology?
Troedsson: There’s a couple of things. First and foremost, Frostbite is driven by what the game teams need. We don’t just sit around fiddle with stuff because we want to. We’re focused on building an engine and editors and workflows and pipelines that are driven by the game teams – what features they want and what improvements they need. We’re driving a whole community of developers now inside of EA that all together work on the engine. We have the core Frostbite team, of course, but then every game that we make on the engine makes the engine better as well. It’s a cool thing to see happening, a very collaborative way to work.
GamesBeat: How has it been upgraded for the next generation? What does the engine get better at doing?
Troedsson: There’s a lot of things happening under the hood when it comes to lighting and shaders, especially if you look at characters for instance. We’ve done some upgrades to animation and made that even better. A.I. and so on. You can probably find an engineer who can answer that much better than me. But one of the really important parts is scalability. We’re releasing Battlefield 4 now on five major platforms – [PlayStation 3] and PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and PC — which range quite a bit in their capabilities. If there’s one thing Frostbite does well now, it’s scaling up or down so you can make use of all the power of those different platforms.
GamesBeat: So the Wii U is the one that just isn’t able to do it?
Troedsson: There are lots of different reasons why we won’t be releasing Battlefield 4 on the Wii U. The input control is definitely one of them. We’re making a shooter, which is very twitch-based. The controller needs to match up with that. In this case, we feel that it doesn’t really work on that platform.
GamesBeat: The competition this fall looks bigger than ever. How do you sell the consumer on Battlefield 4?
Troedsson: We’ve been building Battlefield games for so long now – over a decade. We’re very sure of ourselves as far as what the Battlefield formula is and what people like. That doesn’t mean we’re getting fat and happy, just sitting around and saying, “Crank out another one.” We challenge ourselves quite a bit. We took a look at Battlefield 3 when we started production on the new game and said, “That wasn’t good enough. That wasn’t up to standard. We need to fix that.” At the same time, we keep a close ear to the ground for what the community says out there. We decide which areas are the ones where we really need to drive quality and which areas we want to innovate and so on.
There are a lot of things coming in Battlefield 4. Some of them are on a very grand scale, feature-wise — things that people notice immediately, like the skyscraper coming down. There are a lot of other smaller-scale innovations, though, that we know are important for our core gamers. Small things like how you can sprint-swim now. It might sound silly, but for people who will invest hundreds of hours into this game, it’s important. We’re going to build the best game that we can. We’re going to put the appropriate amount of innovation into it that we believe is important. If we do that right, hopefully all these players will come and play the game.
Troedsson: The modern day used to be the future not long ago. If you start looking into what technology is doing today and what we’re going to be using tomorrow, it’s pretty advanced stuff.
GamesBeat: How do you manage a lot of this, with all the corporate directives? EA has had a lot of layoffs. You guys have been expanding. You expanded in L.A., [and] executive chairman Larry Probst has also signaled that operating costs are going to be stable throughout the year – they’re not going to go up during this transition to a new generation. It sounds like a hard thing to balance all around. You can’t hire too many people, but you need to work on next-gen. You need to move onto more platforms.
Troedsson: Naturally, there’s a need for more investment when you’re making games for new platforms. At the same time, he’s absolutely right when he’s talking about how we need to manage our costs. Battlefield is a great success, and EA is a very generous host to us when it comes to letting us build the games that we want to build. But at the same time, we know that at some point, when the teams get too big, it cuts into the traction that we have. So we try to stay top of it. We’re focused on building the best game we can but also on doing it as efficiently as possible.
GamesBeat: Has DICE really tripled its size because you’re doing three games right now?
Troedsson: We’re continuing to grow. We grew a lot last year in Stockholm. We’re going to continue growing there, and as you mentioned, we’re opening the studio in L.A. as well. We do this to be able to build the games that we’ve announced — all of them. Not only is it the games, but as you know, we have a long heritage of taking care of our products afterward as well, with a lot of expansions and updates coming out. We take this service very seriously. We need to continue growing so that we can build everything we have on our plate.
GamesBeat: Are you happy with the consoles as they’ve turned out now?
Troedsson: Well, they haven’t turned out yet. [Laughs] They’re not quite done, so I can’t answer that question.
GamesBeat: They seem like they’ve taken similar hardware but very different approaches with that hardware. Microsoft is talking about having three operating systems in there, and the cloud processing that can change over time as they upgrade their servers. Sony seems to believe in focusing just on games, using GDDR5 and all that. Do you detect any sort of difference at this point in their approaches?
Troedsson: It’s still early days. Our game isn’t done, and the consoles aren’t done either. The software for their consoles isn’t done. We don’t know everything that’s happening. People might think that we do, but we don’t know everything.
We approach the issue pretty agnostically. We can do that because we have Frostbite 3 in the background. We feel pretty safe thanks to that. The engine allows us to scale up and down and release on the various platforms with just the core platform that we built the game on. What we do with the game team is very much focused on building the game itself. Then, if the console manufacturers change their specs up or down, we can manage around that.
Troedsson: DICE has an outspoken strategy of not just building Battlefield games. We do this because we love making games and because we’ve been building Battlefield games a long time. We want to build other games as well. We have people that have been in the studio since the first Battlefield game came out. Some of them want to move over and do something else, and then it’s really good to have other titles for them. We’re very passionate about the Mirror’s Edge franchise, the world, and especially the main heroine, Faith. Bringing this franchise back to life feels like a very natural thing for us to do, and now is a very appropriate time, with Frostbite 3 available and with new consoles coming. We’re not saying when it’s coming out, but we are working on it, and that’s something we’re glad to finally be able to announce.
GamesBeat: Battlefront has had a long history under other developers. What made sense about doing that game?
Troedsson: That decision was also born out of pure passion, I would say. When the opportunity came up, we sat down with the senior people and talked about it. The basic conclusion was that we really want to do this. It might sound weird, but a lot of us are just Star Wars nerds. We grew up with the first movies. We passionately wanted to be part of building something like this. It came to us quite naturally.
GamesBeat: You have some very interesting people as resources. There’s the Danger Close people and the former Lucas people. Are you interested in some of these people as potential contributors?
Troedsson: We’re not targeting them specifically. We’re always looking for great game developers. We’re definitely out there with a big sign saying, “We’re hiring.” A lot of the people from Danger Close, we’ve hired them into the DICE L.A. studio. We’re out there trying to hire even more people. If they come from an old Lucas studio or some other company, that’s less important than them being really passionate about making games and good at game development.
If you take the DICE L.A. studio as an example, it’s quite important that we build the studio based on core values like what we’ve had at DICE before. We strive to always build quality games with innovative new features. The umbrella over it all is the fact that we’re passionate about making games. That’s why we’re in this business. Money matters as well. That hopefully comes out of it in the end. But we believe that good products and happy consumers come first. If you do that right, then you’ll make money as well.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about adding on projects like mobile games or mobile companion products? Things that could be online or free-to-play. You have a lot of places you could take these franchises.
Troedsson: Oh, absolutely. We have done in the past. We have free-to-play games in the franchise. We’ve also tried making smaller titles, like for Xbox Live Arcade. If you’re asking specifically about mobile, we’re definitely very interested there. You probably saw the press conference where I was standing on stage with a tablet, demoing what we call the Commander mode. That’s one way for us to make the Battlefield experience bigger, this connected experience that we have. Battlefield has always been an online game, so it comes very naturally for us to connect other devices into it.
This is one aspect of the next generation of gaming that’s really interesting. We know that people are not just sitting on their couch playing with their console. They usually have a second screen or even a third screen next to them. We’re looking into how we can make the best use of that. The Commander app is one example.
We also have our Battlelog app, which we’re making much more directly connected to the game this time around. Naturally, you can take part in Battlelog in your client, especially on the consoles, but you can also have it on a separate tablet if you want to. Not only will it receive information but it will also push information into the game. While you’re playing and waiting to spawn, you could select a new server, point at the server, click, and it changes on your Xbox or whatever it is.
GamesBeat: At this point, what stage is Battlefield at? Is it pretty close to being done?
Troedsson: It’s in that typical alpha state. We’re very meticulous about reaching quality and driving ourselves to make a better game than we did the last time. That means we’re always pushing the boundaries of how much we can get into the game. We’re going to be working hard on this game all the way up until the end. For us, it’s typical to work this way. We don’t finish it off and then take it easy. We try to really push the boundaries. That means we need to use every single week we have before the game comes out.
GamesBeat: Anything else coming up in the news this week for Battlefield?
Troedsson: I think we’ve announced most of it. [Laughs] It was a busy Monday, I have to say, showing both single-player and multiplayer and Mirror’s Edge and Battlefront. Hopefully, we’ll see a lot of people playing the game on the floor and enjoying it. I’m interested to hear the feedback on Commander and of course this concept of Levelution.
We introduced destruction in Battlefield: Bad Company, but now it’s so much bigger than just destruction. It covers everything from microdestruction all the way up to skyscrapers coming down, but it’s also this idea of a dynamic battlefield that changes depending on how you play. You can use that tactically. Things like elevators or boulders coming down to the ground and blocking the tanks or metal detectors going off — you can see your spatial awareness increase because of the environment reacting to other players. This concept of Levelution is very important to us.