Why a big update
GamesBeat: Was there a reason to do this a little later than the others, rather than shipping it with the first three stories?
Gustavsson: I think the main intent here is that we’re building the Tides of War and the continuous journey of our game so that the launch is really just the beginning of the journey through the war together with our players. We removed the premium pass, so we’re providing this gameplay to all of our players in their journey through World War II. As such, we felt that in order to allow The Last Tiger to become everything it can be, it was a good first building block on our journey.
Ryan McArthur: We wanted each of the chapters that we release to players to feel really meaningful. More than just a map or a game mode. We want them to feel like each of these releases is a big, meaningful change in the game to go along with these meaningful changes in history. When you look at the four key content pillars that are going to come with the Overture update this week, with The Last Tiger, it’s a powerful story. We believe it’s something that can stand on its own, stand out to players as a great story. It gets to stand by itself.
It goes along well the the new map as well, Panzer Storm, which is different from any other map in the game currently in that it focuses a lot on tank gameplay, similar to Last Tiger being about tanks. That will also stand out in multiplayer as something that plays in a very different way. It sets the tone for where we want the live service to go, which is constantly evolving gameplay, constantly changing the expectations of players. We thought these two pieces of gameplay experience really do that well. It sets the tone of where we want to go with the game.
GamesBeat: Is the Last Tiger setting actually turned into that multiplayer map?
McArthur: No. The Panzer Storm map, the new map, is set in Belgium. It’s based on the Battle of Hannut, which is where the first major Allied/Axis tank battle took place on the western front. It’s the biggest map we’ve ever created in a Battlefield game, and we wanted to make the focus of the map about what players can do when you put a bunch of tanks in a big open field.
This particular map, each team has seven tanks, more than any other map in the game. It allows these wide open spaces for vehicle engagements. It’s going to be really interesting. But we thought the vehicle theme tied well with Last Tiger, giving people a chance to explore what the Tiger can do in multiplayer. Both of these things will be very different from the game players have been experiencing for the last few weeks.
Telling a new story
GamesBeat: It seems like one of the distinctions people may have forgotten about is this distinction between the German army and the Nazi party. Is that part of the point of view you’ve chosen?
Holmes: This isn’t a story which is about that. I’d say this is a story — how to describe it without spoiling things? It’s hard to dance around. We don’t distinguish between Nazis and Germans. We’re not trying to get anyone off the hook, or represent, shall we say, good Germans versus bad ones. I think what we’re exploring is what spread in that society, what was communicated, and what that did to people. We’re not trying to split that point down the middle. We’re exploring what it was like for a fictional crew of a real vehicle, and try to use that as an exploration of, what does that mean to them?
I think we’ve got something that’s really — I think it has something to say. It’s moving. It’s not a bubblegum story. It has some power to it. I’d actually love to talk to you about it after you’ve played it. [laughs] But we’re definitely not trying to split hairs or be apologetic in any way. We’re trying to explore four people fighting for that army. What brought them there? What are they like? What was it like to be there? What is exposed about them?
Gustavsson: That’s the overall mantra for the game and the War Stories. It’s not necessarily a heroic war story. It’s about people — real, human people — in this global war. Portraying them, rather than just telling a heroic tale of soldiers taking on an army.
GamesBeat: Can we expect more single-player War Stories in the future? Or will this finish it for you?
McArthur: As far as what we’ve communicated right now, there are no additional War Stories to come in the next three chapters. But as we move forward with the live service, we’re looking at what players get excited about and what communicates the changes we want to make. As we run through the live service and look at how people are playing the game, how the game is evolving, we always have opportunities to go down other paths.
GamesBeat: Does this fit together with the other stories in any particular way that you haven’t mentioned yet?
Holmes: Without spoilers, well….
GamesBeat: We can figure out some of what’s going to happen with this particular cast of characters. They’re not going to win the war.
Holmes: With our stories, we’ve always said — they’re never about winning the war. They’re about people caught in that specific role. There’s a fair amount of dramatic tension still. Obviously you know there won’t be a happy ending with flags waving and a big parade, but there are lives at stake here. In a way you have even more dramatic tension than in the other ones, because of what you do know going in.
This story’s sound, because of the amount of voice-over we get with the crew always being around — I think our V/O really deserves attention here, because we have so much dialogue for the crew, and it’s all in German. With all of the War Stories we made the decision to go with the original language for each of them, and I think this is the one where it pays off the most, because it’s there the most. There’s something very powerful about the sound of these guys expressing themselves in that tongue and the player being immersed in that.
I guess the flip side would have been them speaking English with a German accent, which would have undermined the whole immersion effect and the power of the setting. It would have had a kind of TV-movie feeling, rather than that authentic drama feeling. I think that’s something to look for. I speak barely any German, but I love hearing it in this story. I think it’s very potent.
Walking a tightrope
GamesBeat: How do you think this might go over with German audiences? As I understand it, you don’t have to tiptoe around the symbology as much anymore, if they’re in a certain context.
Holmes: That’s something that changed very late in our development, almost as we were bringing the game to a close, so it didn’t really enter into any of our decision-making about that. It just didn’t appear early enough. But in terms of German representation, we have several German people on the team in key roles. Our lead cinematic animator is Austrian. She was enormously vocal about how things should be represented and how that culture should be conveyed, among other people.
We also reached out across the organization, within EA, to get lots of consultation about how — not only what we can do, but how people who are natives of that country respond to it. I’d say generally we’ve had very positive reactions. It was a very constructive conversation throughout.
Gustavsson: I’d agree. It’s been a constant conversation around the topic. Already, with Battlefield One, there was interest in seeing us portray more sides of the war. We felt that with this story, we had a very — capturing, as Eric mentioned, the Tiger during the war as almost the Spitfire of tanks, but also to be able to portray the German side with all the implications that comes with that. We worked hard at validating — how do we walk this line with topics that are still relevant today, portraying them in a respectful way?
We reached out to a lot of people within the organization, and also, the team here is quite large. The studio is quite large. We probably have somewhere — I haven’t counted recently, but 20 or 25 nationalities within the studio. The mantra is always that when you go home from work, you should feel proud of what you do. If anything feels off, you should speak up. It’s been a constant conversation within the team and within the organization to ensure this is something we can be proud of.
I’m really proud of what the team has managed to pull off, both from Eric’s side — the narrative side, the creative vision of it — and the execution. As Eric mentioned, it’s one of the strongest in terms of the V/O design and how we constantly build up the personalities of the crew as time passes.
We hope that it’ll land well. The War Stories, like the prologue, portray the breadth and the different perspectives of the war. Hopefully we’ll finish on a high with all these different human destinies during the war, giving you a wider perspective. What we managed to pull off in Battlefield One sparked a lot of interest in finding out more about events that took place. Hopefully we’ll manage to do that with this game as well.
McArthur: One of the things we really want to see — we’ve never tried this before, in my recollection. Putting a War Story at the forefront of our first update and pulling more people into that world that Eric and Lars have created I think is something — we see that the people who go inside these things really enjoy. It was something we wanted to try, to really get people into it. For people who may not have tried something like this, the opportunity to showcase it now and let it stand alone–I hope it has the impact that we believe it can. I’m excited to see the world’s take on it, because I think it does a good job of telling a really difficult story.
GamesBeat: I know you like to listen to your fans, but how would you react if they said, well, we want a happy war story?
Holmes: I guess — a happy war story? I suppose I’d start by asking them what they meant by happiness. If you look at something like Under No Flag, you have humor in there. There’s certainly a lot of character humor. I laugh when I play it, even now. Something is going right there. But would I classify it as happy?
In Battlefield One we had Friends in High Places, which was very tongue-in-cheek and wink-and-a-nod as well, because it was based on a character who was an unreliable narrator. But at the same time, that story had a character going through no-man’s-land and seeing horrors. I think we can find tones that are different, and yet still feel like they’re grounded and connected to exploring that world, if that makes sense.
Gustavsson: In the end it’s about being respectful. The world wars didn’t happen all that long ago in large parts of the world. We’re interested in elevating these stories and getting our players to be part of that in a way that, quite often — games don’t often take that perspective. It becomes more about a hero’s story. We like this slightly different angle, where we show a more human side to it.
GamesBeat: It sounds like you had more tightropes to walk than ever on this one.
Holmes: Oh, yes. But in a way, I think that also makes it — it’s dangerous to assume we pulled it off, but if we were to pull it off with everything that goes out, I think that makes it potentially worthwhile. You experience feelings you haven’t had before. The ultimate safe bet would be to do the same thing everyone has always done, and not break any new ground, not try anything new. You end up with something that’s very vanilla, very plain and stale, and then you wonder why anyone bothered to make it? It’s just a remix of a remix.
One thing that we challenged ourselves with this game was to say — World War II is vast and diverse, and while some part of it get covered a lot, other parts don’t get explored. The value in that, as we learned from Battlefield One, is great. People hadn’t seen a lot of the things that were in that game, ever. The challenge was to bring that angle of attack to a war that’s more frequently explored, but then also to find new angles on it.