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After a brief 24-hour delay, Electronic Arts’ DICE studio is releasing Battlefield V‘s Overture chapter in the Tides of War series today. DICE spent time stamping out a bug, and now the game update will be live on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC today.
The update adds new multiplayer and single-player content for those who bought the game, which debuted on November 20, and we talked with DICE executives about the release in an interview. I spoke with DICE single-player producer Lars Gustavsson, engagement and core gameplay producer Ryan McArthur, and single-player design director Eric Holmes.
Overture has a new mission from the War Stories single-player vignettes dubbed The Last Tiger. That story is one of four War Stories in Battlefield V, and it depicts a German Tiger I tank crew in the latter stage of the war.
Gustavsson said The Last Tiger features a crew with a seasoned Tiger tank commander with a mix of veterans and new recruits as the “German war machine is crumbling.” DICE took a risk with that setting, as it didn’t want to retell Nazi propaganda. But The Last Tiger conveys the German perspective of the losing war effort without sugar-coating the horrors of the war, Holmes said.
I reviewed the full game, and felt like it wasn’t finished. But it has been growing on me, as I’ve enjoyed the immersiveness of the huge multiplayer battles on maps in the Netherlands and North Africa. This new update, coming so soon after launch, should bring some welcome changes.
Overture will be coming with Panzerstorm, a new multiplayer map with a huge field for tank battles. The battle is set in the historical location of Hannut in Belgium in early 1940. As many as 17 tanks can battle at the same time. Air support will be a critical factor in stopping those tanks. Overture also has cosmetic options for vehicles, allowing players to add nose art to airplanes, as well as two arcade modes dubbed Shooting Trial and Driving Trial, where you can test drive weapons and vehicles on the Hamada map.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Last of the War Stories
GamesBeat: Can you talk about the tone of the story, the general setting in Last Tiger?
Lars Gustavsson: On the high level, what we set out to do with this game and the War Stories was to build on the anthology format. As such, we wanted to do a couple of things. One, to portray the fact that it’s a world war, to capture locations and events from all over the world to bring different perspectives on the war. We also had the mantra of the unseen, the untold, and the unplayed. With that, we’ve been working hard to capture events that took place, or to be inspired by events that took place, that players most likely are less aware of.
We launched with three missions — Under No Flag, Tirailleur, and Nordlys — and now the time has come for The Last Tiger. With this one we’re meeting up with the crew of a Tiger I tank that find themselves holding a last stand along the bank of the Rhine during the later part of the war, as the German defense is crumbling. We get to experience the chemistry within the crew as you find yourself trapped and start to reflect on your actions.
Eric Holmes: It really came out of the tank. The Tiger is such a legendary vehicle from the war. It has this very brutal visual design. It has a kind of utility to it. It looks like what it does. It has this big heavy powerful sheet-metal look to it. It’s an impregnable structure with an enormous gun in it. There’s this legend to it from the war. Not many of them were made, but when people thought they saw one, they would panic, because they knew their weapons couldn’t get through the armor.
It was a powerful icon to reach out and touch as a representation of the German forces, and also, we wanted to tap into — it’s a powerful part of what you need in tank-oriented single-player gameplay. You need something that’s capable of just generating a lot of gameplay, because it take on a vast number of adversaries. The Tiger lends itself to that.
What we found as developers is we had to figure out how to tell a story that’s authentic to the values of War Stories, like we’ve done before — something that’s driven from the German perspective, but that isn’t apologetic, that isn’t propaganda. Something that’s true to the sort of people that served and fought, and that’s also something players can enjoy. It touches dangerous territory, but hopefully it’s also an enlightening and engaging experience.
For example, the opposite of what we want — we wouldn’t want to do something where we glorify or heroically present the Tiger crew that goes out there to win the war, like they’re just a bunch of happy-go-lucky chaps who happen to speak German. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re trying to tell something that reaches out and touches, hopefully, through the Battlefield lens, what it was like to be on the side that was losing, that had been fighting for many years. Their morale is breaking. There are a vast array of people involved in the fight, from young people who don’t know what it’s like to veterans who know exactly what is going on, but are afraid to say it.
GamesBeat: You’ve mentioned that Das Boot was a good example of what you were trying to convey.
Holmes: I’ve touched on this continually, because there was so much debate internally. How in the hell would we do this? Our touchstone was Das Boot. That particular film, a film from the early ‘80s, it’s about a submarine crew at the end of the war, when the momentum has absolutely tipped away from the Germans and toward the Allies. You have a crew that’s up against it, and a wide array of people in there with different attitudes and perspectives. Meanwhile, the captain is trying to hold it all together, just trying to get them through the day and keep them alive. Sometimes he’s just telling them what they need to hear to keep going.
That informed us a great deal, as to how to tell the story, and how not to whitewash anything — not to reject the truth, but to try and get behind their eyes a bit. It’s a moving and powerful film, and it does feel true. It feels authentic.
GamesBeat: As far as playing time, is this similar experience, two or three hours, to the other War Stories? In some ways it seems like you don’t have the time or space to tell as big a story as a feature film.
Holmes: Absolutely. It is about the same length as the other War Stories. We do have the curse, I suppose, of having to very quickly introduce these characters and try to make them connect with you. One advantage we have over the other War Stories, though — with this one we have the cast of characters inside the tank all the time. We can do a lot of storytelling during gameplay between those characters in a way we couldn’t so easily do in the other War Stories, where at times you’re alone.
You get to expand a lot more on the tension inside the tank and how the characters depend on each other and communicate about what’s going on. They’re not just talking about the damage the tank’s had or the ammunition they might have left. We can add a lot of subtext in how these guys are communicating, how the crew starts to come undone as the pressure of what’s happening around them reveals their true values.
The Tiger tale
GamesBeat: How did this one make the cut out of the different kinds of stories you wanted to tell? You started with a large number of concepts and whittled it down to this handful. Why did this one make it?
Holmes: I think I’d go back to the start, where we were. The Tiger is the iconic tank of World War II. If you look at what we launched at the start of Battlefield V, we have the German forces and British forces under the Axis and Allies headings. We wanted to tell a tank story, and if you look at the vehicles out there — at the start you have the Panzer II on the German side — which is more like an armored car, really — and you have the Panzer III, which is fair for what it is, but we didn’t actually feature that in the launch of the game, because we went for the Panzer IV as the entry tank. That’s good, but it’s not really distinctive. It fought across all the fronts, but it doesn’t jump out at you the way something like the Tiger does.
The Tiger is kind of like — in this kind of situation my mind goes to strange metaphors. It’s like fighting as an ordinary vigilante versus fighting as Batman. There’s an iconic value to building on a name like that and the feeling that you get as a result from it. If you look at the vintage vehicles in there, you have the Valentine and the Churchill. The Churchill is the closest to having something like a name, but overall the British tanks don’t have the best name for themselves in World War II. Most British successes were really found with the Sherman, an American tank that came along later.
When you break all that stuff out, then, it’s the Tiger that really jumps out at you. Then it became a question of, how do we tell a story that’s authentic to that setting and not mess it up? How do we tell something that delivers on your expectations? That’s a big decision you’re making there. How do you make it feel authentic to that side and not pave over the obvious–not paint them as heroic, but also not dehumanize them to the point that they’re just cartoon Germans?
GamesBeat: Without giving away too much of the story, how did you decide to address that? Did you find a way to humanize those characters, but not necessarily decriminalize them?
Holmes: I think you could get a perfect answer out of Steven Hall, our lead writer, but I’ll do my best. Trying to channel him, I think what he would say is something about putting human beings in that situation and finding a way to expose yourself to how they would think and feel, so you can relate at some level.
There are four characters in the tank. First of all, there’s the loader, Hartmann. He’s the youngest guy in the tank, and he’s very shaken by what’s going on, to the point where he seems almost shell-shocked by the combat he’s been in. He’s fragile. Then we have the driver, an older character named Kertz. He’s close friends with the commander. He’s able to call him out if he’s stretching the truth, shall we say, but he’s also a close supporter of his. The newest character who’s joined the crew, right at the start of the story, is the gunner, who’s just replaced a gunner that they’ve lost. He’s someone who’s believed in what he’s been told. He’s there to say those things that he’s been told, and also to listen to what other people are saying and say it back to them. And then there’s Mueller, the captain, who has to do what he has to do to get this crew to move on their missions and keep them alive. That’s who you play in the story.
We have themes in our story about consequences, consequences for actions, and also about truth. Without spoiling anything, I think those are the pieces we move across the board, to try to hopefully make you relate to these characters, but also hold up who they are to themselves and hold them to account for the things that they do.
Gustavsson: To Eric’s point previously, talking about the work the commander of the submarine in Das Boot goes through, basically getting his crew through the day with what he says and what he does — I think it’s very similar to that. I think it shines through here, how Mueller works so hard to just keep his crew members together here and fulfill the mission. What he says and what he does, his actions–all that dawns upon him, and all of them, as they face the truth.
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.
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