LOS ANGELES — Electronic Arts has made a big bet with its Battlefield franchise, a modern combat first-person shooter video game whose latest edition appeared at the giant Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow this week in Los Angeles. Instead of pitting soldiers from armies against each other, as is the norm in the series, Battlefield Hardline pits cops against criminals.
The new game coming this year from EA’s Visceral Games studio features missions like bank heists where criminal stage elaborate jobs and then have to evade helicopters, armored vehicles, and heavily armed SWAT teams. Will gamers go for it? We talked with Karl Magnus Troedsson, the general manager of DICE, the traditional development house for Battlefield.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Magnus-Troedsson.
GamesBeat: Did you get some good reaction to Hardline?
Karl Magnus Troedsson: Absolutely. We’re cautiously optimistic. It seems like a lot of people like the game. Of course, it’s extra special now, where we can allow people to play it in the beta as well.
GamesBeat: If you have these large chase scenes, that works in an open world like Grand Theft Auto, where you have all that space for the chase to go on a long time, but it seems like this isn’t quite an open world. How do you handle that in a more limited space?
Troedsson: The element of the cops versus criminals will be very present in a lot of the game modes we create. They’re going to be focused on the specifics about this new setting we’re introducing. But we’re building an FPS and we’re going to stay true to the core values of a Battlefield game, which means that we’re not building environments as large as a Grand Theft Auto or something like that. That’s a different genre of games altogether.
Will there be car chases, vehicle chases? Absolutely. But it won’t be over such a long, extended map. Going back to the modes, there will be game modes that are specifically focused on that kind of thing, driving vehicles, in line with the fiction.
GamesBeat: What are some of the things that inspired this?
Troedsson: When we started working with Visceral, they were helping out with Battlefield 3 and some other things. As we said on stage, we started talking about whether they’d want to build a full stand-alone Battlefield game. They came up with this idea, that they wanted to take it into the cops-and-criminals fantasy.
Immediately, I was like, “Yes, let’s do this!” All the way back in 2006, just after Battlefield 2 was released, we discussed this a bit inside DICE as well. We did some early prototypes. But it never really went anywhere. When Steve and his team took this on, they nailed the whole idea of bringing this new setting to Battlefield.
Over the years, Battlefield has visited very different kinds of settings and fantasies. For us it feels very natural to take the Battlefield formula into this setting as well, so long as we stay true to the core ideas of team play, destruction, vehicles, open environments, and so on. So long as we stay true to the core recipe of Battlefield, we can absolutely do this. What we’re hearing from players now is that they definitely agree.
GamesBeat: There are competing kinds of games out there. I wonder what you’re more like or less like. Sony Online has the Payday series. You pull off heists in that game. It’s an online game. That’s one example. Grand Theft Auto is another. It’s a well-populated genre, I guess? What do you feel like is the opportunity here?
Troedsson: I’m actually happy that we’re in this setting now, because I don’t think it is that populated in the FPS genre. If you look at a lot of shooters today, they’re going sci-fi, or near to it. I’m glad we’re not there with them. Naturally there are some smaller games out there in the cops-and-criminals fantasy, but we’re building a Battlefield game here. It’s not something where we look at what they’re doing, per se. That doesn’t really interest us. We have a vision for what we’re doing with our game and that’s what we’re going to build.
GamesBeat: How do you balance single-player versus multiplayer? How much emphasis does each get?
Troedsson: We haven’t announced much about the single-player just yet. We have a lot of new cool things we want to talk about there as well, but this is a typical big production where you have tons of people working on both sides. It’s not a real balancing act, per se. It’s just a matter of how many people you put into each experience to build it. I wouldn’t say we have made a distinction there between the two.
GamesBeat: Cops and robbers seems to lend itself more to multiplayer. I suppose you could create a story about one side or the other, though.
Troedsson: It fits multiplayer really well, but it goes well with single-player too. Look at the popularity of crime drama in TV and movies. It’s probably one of the biggest fantasies out there for that kind of entertainment. There just haven’t been that many games around it, at least in the FPS genre. That’s one of the reasons we’re eager to take it on and see what we can do.
GamesBeat: You guys have stepped up the quality of your stories in more recent games. Are you still shooting for something that’s what you might call emotional or powerful?
Troedsson: We’re not going into specifics on the story, but what I can say is, Visceral has done a lot of single-player-focused games in the past. Even if it’s in a very bloody sci-fi setting, Dead Space has featured stories that are more personal, more built around characters. I hope you’ll agree, when we show the single-player, that they’ve added their flavor to the single-player campaign.
GamesBeat: Is this a good way to keep players happy without, say, overfeeding them? Call of Duty comes out every year, and now Battlefield comes out every year.
Troedsson: I get that question a lot, about annualizing the franchise. Yes, this game is coming out one year after the other one. We haven’t announced in any way that this is the strategy moving forward, though. What we have said, and what I was trying to get across in the press conference, is that if we have an idea for great Battlefield game and we have a team that wants to build it, we might build a game whenever. If we don’t, then we won’t release anything.
In this case, we had the team, we had the idea, and when we saw what they came up with, we said, “This needs to be built.” Naturally there’s a business element to this as well, but what I’m trying to get across is that first and foremost, it’s a focus on building on great games.
If people can get too much Battlefield, well—Let’s say that someone’s playing Battlefield 4 today and having a great time. They say, “There’s no way I’m buying Battlefield Hardline, because I won’t be done with Battlefield 4.” You know what? I’m happy with that as well. At least they’re still playing our game.
One thing I’ve been telling anyone who wants to listen here at E3 is that we’re dedicated to taking care of Battlefield 4, even after Hardline comes out. We’re going to move more from a serial way of looking at our games to a parallel one. We have teams all over the world now. We’ll keep taking care of Battlefield 4 and we’ll keep taking care of Hardline when that comes out. We’re happy as long as someone wants to play Battlefield. We want them to play the latest one, but if they don’t want to, they can keep on playing Battlefield 4. Naturally the post-launch content will be more focused on the latest game, but if a lot of people are still playing the old game, maybe we’ll do some more there as well.
GamesBeat: Omaha, was that a deliberately deceptive code name? It reminds me of Omaha Beach and World War II.
Troedsson: The teams always come up with different code names. Sometimes there’s a deep thought behind it. Sometimes they just had a few beers at the pub and dreamed it up.
GamesBeat: Do you feel like the server problems that Battlefield 4 had are understood at the point? Can you apply that knowledge? Or are these games still very difficult to keep up?
Troedsson: We acknowledge that we had certain challenges with Battlefield 4 when it launched. It wasn’t on the server side. It was more on the client side, just to be picky about it. That’s why we’ve been so dedicated, and still are, to taking care of Battlefield 4. We have people in Stockholm, L.A., Uppsala, and Redwood Shores as well helping out and taking care of this product. It’s the same way we’re going to take care of all our products. We’re dedicated to making sure people have a good experience.
One of the things that’s crucial is that we’re changing how we do things. One factor is very present here today at E3. We’re letting people into beta right now, which is very early for us. That is a direct change. We understand that we need to do things differently to make sure we have a stable launch of this game when it comes out. We’ll do more things like this going forward.
GamesBeat: What are some of the things that you can learn earlier on?
Troedsson: There are many different facets to the difficulty of launching something as huge as a Battlefield game. One of them is just communication. We need to talk to our players. We feel we want to get closer to our players.
That’s easy to say – people then ask, “How are you going to do it?” Well, we’re doing some of that in the background. We invite people to the studio to play the games under NDA. The other part is just getting the game out there, so people can get hands-on with the code and see how the client reacts, how the server reacts, how all the backend systems work. That’s more of the technical part, of course. But there’s a lot of different things. A lot of learning is coming out of the games we’ve done in the past, which we’re now applying to this game.
GamesBeat: It sounds like you need more and more analytics.
Troedsson: That’s been going on for some time. We have very advanced data collection going on in the background. We can track players and help them out if we see they’re having problems. If they reach out, we can help them out.
GamesBeat: Could you continue this after the game launches, monitoring how people are doing in the game and modifying it?
Troedsson: We need to do that. We need to know what’s going on. If someone calls in to our customer experience and they allow them to check out their account, our people can look in and see if they had problems. We’re going to do more of that in the future.
GamesBeat: This is your second crack at next-generation hardware. How are you able to improve that experience?
Troedsson: As with all game teams and all games and all code bases, the more you work on them, the more they mature. Making games for new technology platforms is always a big challenge. You always need to overcome a lot of unknowns.
Coming in with our second generation of next-gen games, if you want to call it that – I wonder when we’ll stop saying “next-gen,” by the way – is definitely going to be a different ride for us as game developers. We’re in a better baseline when we start out building a second generation.
GamesBeat: Is it still an easier process than the PlayStation 3 days?
Troedsson: I shouldn’t answer that. You should ask somebody who actually works hands-on with it on the teams. From what I hear, yes, absolutely. In everything from tools and pipelines to how the hardware is set up, people say it’s much easier.
GamesBeat: Will you make the cops and robbers more well-equipped, in order to make the military players happier? Can I break into a bank with a tank?
Troedsson: That was like, what was it, Kelly’s Heroes? But no. That’s part of the fiction. Part what’s interesting is that there won’t be tanks, per se, in the multiplayer. There might be heavy vehicles that you could consider the equivalent of a tank, but there won’t be the tank exactly. That’s what I think a lot of people are going to appreciate about the gear and the vehicles and the gadgets and the weapons in the multiplayer. It’s very specifically tied to this new fantasy that we’re putting together.
GamesBeat: Some people may like it. Some people may miss some things about the military Battlefields.
Troedsson: True. Some people may say, “No, I need to drive my Abrams tank.”
GamesBeat: Taking the criminals out with a fighter jet.
Troedsson: That’d be a bit of overkill. We could do military versus criminals, I guess? We’ll see. We have a tendency to do something crazy every now and again.
GamesBeat: In what way would you say you’re having fun with this new fiction?
Troedsson: One very specific way to look at it is when we introduce the new two new gadgets, the zipline and the grappling hook. When you talk about it like this, it might not sound like much, but when you play the game it’s a huge differentiator compared to something like Battlefield 4. It changes your minute to minute gameplay.
It starts with your question – how can we have fun with this? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could zipline in between skyscrapers? Sure, let’s do that.
GamesBeat: Do you have more vertical environments like that, maybe?
Troedsson: Definitely, at least in the urban maps. Not all the maps are going to be as urban as the one we’re showing here at E3. There will be other, more open, spaced-out maps as well.
We’re really excited about this game. We gave a sneak peek into Battlefront and the new Mirror’s Edge game as well. But there’s not that much to say about those. We’ll have more to come in the future.
GamesBeat: What’s it been like working with Andrew Wilson as CEO?
Troedsson: It’s great to have Andrew on board as our fearless leader for this company. He’s involved in what we’re doing, of course, as is Patrick Soderlund, my boss. They’re game-makers themselves, which is really cool. But it’s down to the game teams to get this together. Naturally we get feedback on all this stuff, but it’s down to them to get the games together. It’s down to the team, their vision, and what they want to build.