DICE showed off the latest Tides of War content update for Battlefield V at the EA Play event ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big game trade show that’s happening in Los Angeles this week.
Battlefield V’s Chapter 4: Defying the Odds features a variety of new maps starting with Marita, which launches in July. This map puts an emphasis on close-quarters combat with light vehicles, and takes place on a rocky Greek mountainside with cobblestone roads overlooking a river.
On June 27, the studio is launching Al Sundan, which is a North African map that fits with the Under No Flag storyline in War Stories. DICE is also planning some close-quarters battle arenas, with the maps Provence and Lofoten.
The DICE team also showcased more from Al Sundan, Operation Underground and more of what’s in Chapter 5 including the Pacific Theater.
On June 27, the studio is launching Al Sundan, which is a North African map. In addition to those more traditional maps, DICE is also planning some close-quarters battle arenas. That will come as a pair of maps called Provence and Lofoten. DICE also teased what it will do in the Pacific theater. I spoke with Ryan McArthur, senior development director at DICE, about these updates. We also talked about the Firestorm battle royale map that debuted in March.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: You guys have more stuff coming for Battlefield V, it looks like. Can you summarize that?
Ryan McArthur: Hopefully that’s an understatement. [Laughs] There’s a lot of stuff coming. The big thing for us is a lot of new maps coming. A lot of new gameplay, new features.
If we start from the beginning of the list, we have a new map coming on June 27. That’s based on the War Story Under No Flag. It’s a big huge classic Battlefield multiplayer map, with six flags when you’re playing Conquest. Each of those flags almost offers a different type of gameplay experience. In the middle you have a village, a radar site, and a bridge, all requiring a lot of good infantry play — speed, following flanking routes.
As you move out toward the outskirts, at the far end you have the aircraft hangar. If you want to control the air on the map, you need to secure the hangar. There’s a big marsh in the middle as well, great for tank versus tank gameplay. Lots of long travel distances between these flags, so you have a lot of nice gameplay pacing. The guys have done a good job of taking an experience that was built to tell a War Story and turning that into a core multiplayer experience.
As we get into July, our colleagues at DICE Los Angeles built Marita, which is the next step in the Battle of Greece that the guys are building. You have a map that’s based in the mountains of Albania and Greece, where the Axis pushed into Greece when they started their invasion. You have this neat U-shaped or banana-shaped map. It’s quite narrow, and it creates a lot of head-on collisions. It’s built around infantry gameplay. There aren’t a lot of vehicles on the map. You have a beautiful village with cobblestone streets on one side of the map, while the other side is more like a farm area, less densely populated.
A lot of these buildings allow for more verticality. You can get up in the windows, get up on the roofs, and create different dynamics. While you have guys fighting in the streets, you can sneak around and get above them. It can be utter chaos, but also allow for stealth and sneaking around the sides. It’s completely different from the last two maps that have come out.
In October we have Operation Underground, a re-imagining of the classic Metro. This is a project that the original designer from Operation Metro took on. He’s really wanted to build something that he wanted to build, so he went away and came back with this idea and showed it to the team. We all thought we had to build it. It’s such a great idea. The best part of the story is that a lot of the guys were asking us, when we came to the event here, “Can we have some concept art for this map?” And none of that exists, because the guys just built it one day.
This is the classic experience. You have proper Battlefield chaos. On the street level you have big open courtyards and some narrow streets as you wind down into the subway. You have the big open area where the subway cars are, and then you have sub-basements and lots of tunnels and offshoots that create opportunities to flank and surprise and ambush. This can hopefully give the feeling that players got from those maps in Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4, but in a new way that fits with the style of gameplay in Battlefield V.
After that you have the big release for the Pacific. With that package you have a brand new army. You have the U.S. and all the gadgets and classic gear that comes with the U.S. army, and the Japanese army as well. The big goal for the Pacific is to create a new identity for that specific theater. If you look back on history, the war in Europe and the war in the Pacific were completely different experiences. In one you have that drive through Europe, the big push, and in the other you had amphibious invasions, island-hopping, and trying to take small pieces of territory.
GamesBeat: It’s so different that I almost wonder why you didn’t call that Battlefield 6.
McArthur: [Laughs] One of the things, as we move into — the way we want to build games nowadays, the way we want to build these live services, is constantly creating new experiences within the games. Rather than asking players to re-up and buy a completely new product that’s fairly similar to the one they had before, just in a different location, we want to take them through this journey. They want to invest in what is WWII, and the Pacific is definitely a part of that.
The great thing is, what we’ve tried to do with that is, for a year, to tell this story around the European front. Now we can move on and tell this completely different story with a completely different style of play, a completely different set of fantasies. The soldiers on the American side in the Pacific were so much different than the way they had to be in Europe. It’s a neat way for us to evolve the service and evolve the game. We want to keep our players into it.
GamesBeat: Do you view the Japanese launch as a bigger package than you would normally deliver?
McArthur: If we look at it relative to how we’ve run — the big decision with Battlefield V was to shift away from this premium model with big packages dropped every four to six months or whatever it may be, and to move to pace where we’re constantly giving the entire player base access to new maps and new content as we go forward. But what we do know is we want to create these moments of reset, these opportunities that almost feel like we’re starting anew.
The Pacific allows us to do that, but in order to create that effect, you have make it feel big enough. Just creating a map of Iwo Jima isn’t enough. You have to introduce this new army and this new style of play, give them something almost like a relaunch at the end of the first year of Battlefield V.
GamesBeat: A lot of the content seems like it’s geared around what you’ve learned from the fans. What are some things in these new products that you learned because you saw what the fans liked?
McArthur: One thing we learned a lot about is that changing the gameplay experience is necessary for us to move forward and keep fans interested in the game. One thing we said is, new maps are an important step for us to get people excited about the game again. You see today that a lot of the core fans are excited about these new maps. But we’ve learned that a new map isn’t enough. The map needs to be different, to feel like it plays differently, to offer a new experience in the way it plays.
Recycling a familiar experience in a new location isn’t enough to keep the fans interested. We want to keep them in there, keep them entertained. All of these maps, from Marita to Operation Underground to the Pacific, the three maps coming in the Pacific, each one will feel different and play quite different. That’s one of the big learnings we’ve had as part of the live service.
The other thing we’ve found — I don’t want to say this was a surprise, but a nice thing we learned is that we introduced a new mode somewhere in chapter two called Squad Conquest. It’s a small mode with eight-on-eight gameplay. It’s not something that a lot of players had historically attached themselves to. But what we found is that players really liked that and gravitated toward it. We took it away after two weeks to do some work on it, and the response from that was that players really liked that experience. They liked it enough that it could survive on its own.
Now that game mode is going back into the rotation, and we see some of these smaller experiences really creating a nice group of players to play with there. You see some of the smaller maps we talked about, like Lofoten Islands and Provence — those two maps are designed around smaller, more intimate, infantry-focused experiences. Rather than developing a bunch of very generic experiences, we’ve learned that if we can take a few maps and craft around the two or three experiences they really fit, players like them a lot more. They’re designed to play that way. We’ve taken some time and developed some maps to fit a particular play experience, instead of making one map that has to fit them all. We’ve noticed that those have become more enjoyable over time.
GamesBeat: Are you finding out anything about the graphics along the way? Are people playing more on RTX machines now? Is anything changing that might motivate you to try to up the graphical quality?
McArthur: The big thing with us with visual fidelity — the one thing that the guys at DICE really pushed for is that maximum quality in the graphics they create. We’re pushing the limits most of the time with most of the computers out there. At the moment there’s a lot of effort to make sure our PC fans have the best experience as far as graphics quality. Because you have such variety in hardware, we’re still supporting the newer systems and new experiences, but we’re making sure that players who haven’t upgraded yet still have a quality experience. We’re making sure we have a balance as we try to work our way through.
We’re always trying to push the quality as best we can, but only at the times where it makes good sense. Visual quality in our games is always important, but we need to make sure it supports the gameplay we create.
GamesBeat: As we see new consoles, new machines coming, I think everyone is going to revisit this question of how realistic we want violence to be. Call of Duty is definitely going a notch up on that. How do you guys feel about that? How do you discuss that at DICE?
McArthur: I don’t think the stance, from a Battlefield perspective, will ever really change. For us, we want to create — one of the pillars of Battlefield is a believable experience, but the one thing we always want to feel — it’s important for us to maintain a level of respect for the subject matter we have. That core essence is something we always believe in and we always review. No matter the visual fidelity, we have to balance that against a level of respect for the subject matter. We’re telling a story about World War II. It’s an impactful, profound part of history. We need to make sure that how we tell that story and how we envision it comes with a level of respect for the people involved.
GamesBeat: Does anything in the new maps resemble Wake Island or other successful maps in the past?
McArthur: The big one is obviously Operation Metro. When you look at that, the way I always think of it is that the best, most successful maps are the ones that are more of an experience than they are a map. You look at how people talk about Operation Metro, they don’t say, “I played Conquest on Operation Metro.” They played Operation Metro. It comes with that combination of both game mode and experience coming together as one.
With Operation Underground, we’re pushing into — how do the fans react to something of a nostalgic throwback, but can we make it different enough that it offers a different experience? The Pacific, obviously, we’re going back to Iwo Jima. There’s two other maps coming in the Pacific that we’ll keep hitting. But we’re always looking at how we can play on what’s been successful in the past, while making sure it doesn’t feel like we’re just rinsing and repeating over and over again.
We do learn from a few maps in the past. Marita, with the unique shape, that draws from some classic maps. You see similar experiences in Battlefield 3 and Bad Company. Al Sundan, as Lars talks about, is very similar to El Alamein. A lot of the guys in the studio — we have a nice mix of young, fresh designers who bring their own flavor, but you also have guys like Lars and Inge Joran, the designer for Operation Underground, with some of that experience from previous games that’s worked really well. It’s a nice balance right now in the studio around understanding what our players love, but also trying to push the boundaries more and finding other things we can do to get them excited.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about the reception for Firestorm? What have you learned from that?
McArthur: The reception for Firestorm was actually — we were really happy with it. It brought back into the game a bunch of players who were interested in looking for a new experience inside the Battlefield theme. That, for us, was a really nice moment for the team and the franchise. We can introduce something new that hasn’t been core to the Battlefield experience and make it our own. It had some really nice elements of the Battlefield sandbox that we were able to try out, things we hadn’t tried out previously in Battlefield V.
What we learned, and what Firestorm showed us as a team, was that these elements of the sandbox and the fun are really important to the fans. We’ve used some of those learnings to not only push Firestorm, but also to push other elements of the game, trying to create some more of those opportunities that make Battlefield different from any other FPS games.
GamesBeat: What’s the popularity level of War Stories? Do people want more of that?
McArthur: War Stories, especially the way that Battlefield has done them in Battlefield One and Battlefield V, fans like them because of the stories they tell and the way they do that. They can do them in more of a jump-in jump-out way, because of how they’re structured. We do get a lot of requests to do more. Obviously the core fans want Conquest and more maps and more content there, but we’re always looking at other ways to satisfy all of our fans. At the moment we can’t go into too much on new stuff there.
GamesBeat: Did any one episode seem to resonate the most?
McArthur: I think each one of them offered a different experience. Obviously, for me Under No Flag is interesting, because it simulates a multiplayer experience in quite a different way. It’s more of an open sandbox. Last Tiger was very dramatic, very dark. The way that story was told by the team, I don’t think you could have done anything like that any better. From a personal perspective, that’s something that was done in a way that only the guys at DICE could have done. Tirailleur tells a story that people don’t know much about.
Each of them has their own level of popularity depending on where they are. It’s interesting. Each of them are liked for different reasons. None of them have stood out as more popular than the other, though.
GamesBeat: Do you ever think about revisiting Omaha Beach, something that people already know very well?
McArthur: We’re always looking at that. I think there’s always a balance between the unseen, untold, unplayed and that classic history. There’s always a conversation there. For us, one of the reasons we look at the Pacific as a great jumping-off point is because it’s a very well-known story with very similar elements to things like Omaha Beach. You have the invasion fantasy. But we get to tell it in a different way, without going back to things that players are expecting. We always make elements from everything we can and try to shift them in a way that might be slightly new. As far as Omaha Beach specifically, though, nothing to announce yet.