EA Australia had a large presence at EB Games Expo 2013, with what was voted as ‘Best Game of Show’ in Titanfall, The Sims 4, FIFA 14 and more. But even more eye-catching and attention grabbing than the fallen mech from the former – in the back corner of the Xbox booth, mind you – was the life-size tank in the centre of the expo hall. And while t-shirts were being shot from its cannon into the crowd, and others lined up to play Battlefield 4, I was interviewing DICE Creative Director Lars Gustavsson. It was a real pleasure to speak with the man on the game, who came to Sydney all the way from Stockholm, Sweden.
The first thing I wanted to ask about is Levolution. We keep seeing, with the Siege of Shanghai map and all the beta footage that’s been released, the huge tower crumbling into the bay, but just far does Levolution go in the levels, in both single-player and multiplayer?
So we made it very clear to ourselves early on that Levolution isn’t just that epic thing that’s happening, and that it ranges from, on some levels it’s less epic, and on some it’s more epic. But the key thing is that it should alter how you play the level. And equally important – or sometimes even more important – is all the interactive components sprinkled around the world. And then in combination with the networked water – the new water that can change – improved destruction, and a lot of other things, it should make the battlefield more interactive.
But yeah, we truly hope people will use these tools and, just like they’ll have different weapons, different gadgets, different vehicles, they can also use the environment now to seal off entrances, to be warned by metal detectors, to flooding a whole city in order to get it your way! And maybe you’re better at piloting helicopters, then you’ll definitely want that skyscraper to still be there and dominate the skyline, keeping it up there so you can have that control point. While if you’re better at boats and ground warfare, then you’ll want it to go down quickly in order to have it your way.
And then we’ve got Battlelog, which is being overhauled and enhanced, with the second-screen integration thanks to Smartglass and the like. What can you tell us about how Battlelog has been improved?
So, what we saw when we shipped Battlefield 3… I mean, we were called crazy by many people for having that integrated on PC. And overall we saw it was a success, but we also saw that it was mainly PC players that got that. So the big focus has been to get it into all platforms for Battlefield 4; to give to the same feel as the rest of the game, but also extend it. You know, we have not only the Commander screen, but the battle screen which lets you overview the map you’re currently playing on so you’re squad leader can give orders on it. And this extra map is something we’ve been asked for, for a long time by the community; to be able to change your loadout, to be able to have your social network there and to challenge friends on leaderboards.
And now, with the Geo Leaderboards… many times leaderboards land somewhere in the middle and it’s not so relevant, but now, you can actually look at the same street where you live, or same city, or same country. So we keep on building this social hub. Before Battlelog, people usually went elsewhere to find the latest news for Battlefield. But now we’ve managed to become the central hub for news, feedback, forums, friends and you now, you can also challenge friends in specific missions and so on. So really building a hub by having it on PC, but also on current-gen and next-generation. It’s a lighter version on current-gen, but full integration on next-generation hardware. So a huge step forward.
Something you just briefly mentioned is Commander Mode, which was last seen – although in a somewhat different configuration – back in Battlefield 2142. Was the whole motivation for bringing it back and revamping it the rise of this second screen experience and it just being the perfect timing for the perfect fit?
Yeah, it started in Battlefield 2 and went away with Battlefield 2142. Yeah, I mean the whole reason for bring it back was – well, there’s many reasons… we lost it while we went into the Bad Company era. And looking back, I mean we learnt a lot from that era, but we also lost track of a couple of things that the community really missed. So it’s been a big request from the community to get Commander back. We have upped the number of players in our squads, we’ve introduced a field upgrade system which lets you pick your specific career for unlocks – whether I want to play defensive, offensive and so on – and as you play together, you all go up, but if you get wiped the whole squad goes down. So we’re building a whole ecosystem of teamplay and to get that Commander in-game to work, but also to be able to provide it on tablets, and hopefully make it seamless to players on the battlefield – whether they’re sitting in a cafe playing or if they’re home on their sofa – it’s been a very interesting challenge but we’re very happy with what we accomplished.
We’re also seeing a trend now with what has been revealed for next-gen of the merging of multiplayer and single-player modes. Everything seems to be one cohesive, drop-in, drop-out experience. DICE are also doing some things to blend the two, mostly linked through Battlelog. Can you tell how how you are doing this?
So overall, when we had done Battlefield 3, we got a lot of feedback on the single-player campaign – both positive and in areas of improvements. I mean, the biggest one we took away was that the only thing we had to do was more battlefield. So we stepped back to the drawing board and looked at what elements from multiplayer could we introduce into single-player. So now, you play with a squad; you can use them to engage the enemies. Instead of ‘pick this one up to take that one out’, it’s more of ‘here’s a variety of tools, you do it your way’ where your own kind of battlefield moments start to take shape and you come up with crazy solutions of taking out enemies.
We introduced scoring and persistence in single-player to give you more to strive for, and a lot of new, interesting ways to try and do more and be more. Also, we worked with the story to make it more relevant for you as the player, with good actors… but also, what’s really great to see is that, with a lot of the initiatives that brought over from multiplayer to single-player, we then also started thinking about how to build multiplayer. We saw how we could build drama in Battlefield 3 single-player, and we brought that into Levolution. We had an intern project of building interactive water, and then we said ‘yes, we want that for single-player’.
You can see it in ‘Fishing in Baku‘ where the water kind of wades around you. Then we saw that storming water and said ‘we must do this for multiplayer’ and then said ‘no, we can’t do it – yes, we can do it!’. And then we came up with a design inspired by tanks combatting among sand dunes and getting line of sight – we managed to pull it off. So that, to me, is an enormous pool of potential and crossbreed between single-player and multiplayer. In the end, hopefully the customer definitely benefits from us going at Battlefield from so many perspectives or angles.
I’m more of a single-player admittedly, but when I do get online to play Battlefield 3 or what-have-you, I sometimes feel daunted because I’m going up against guys who have mastered their strategies for each individual map and it sometimes feels like a losing battle from the get-go…
Yeah, you will hopefully be able to try out more things now in single-player first, get a better hang of it… we’ve introduced a test range, where you’re offline and can try out all the vehicle types. So learn how to pilot a transport helicopter before it’s full of players that you don’t want to clash with. You can shoot the targets, customise and so on and try out the things that you’ve unlocked. So hopefully that will also ease people into the game.
And if I’m correct, there’s also been a change to the classes?
Yeah, we have… I mean, overall, we had an overhaul in terms of customisation, both in vehicles and in general we’ve given the possibility of – sort of in racing-game style – when you add a scope to your weapon, you can see what you lose and what you gain in order to see what impact it makes. In Battlefield 3, to be honest, it was very hard to know what new attachment did for your weapon. And I think that’s important to help the players kind of find their way into the battlefield.
And you’ve got the dual-scopes on many of the rifles…
Yeah, we have lots of nifty tools and gadgets. You can have the range adjustments in your scopes… so a lot of depth. And hopefully we’ve done a lot to ease you into game modes with instructional game mode movies. We reworked the whole deploy screen for better accessibility. In customisation, we re-organised unlocks for vehicles, introduced new vehicles classes and so on and so forth. And overall, what goes across the whole game – and you usually don’t talk to media about – but all this hard work has gone into improving network code, input latency, controls and so on. So far, a lot of people say that it feels like a new game, which makes me super happy. That’s usually not something you put on the back of a box, but there’s endless hours that have gone into it.
So the closed beta has been going on for about 3 days now. It’s early, but have you gathered any feedback already? I saw a funny video online of people who had stayed in that skyscraper as it was going down and were mysteriously killed as if shot from invisible sources.
[Laughs] Yeah, there was supposed to be an environment change there that didn’t happen. So overall – I’ve been a part of Battlefield since 1942; the first prototype 14 and a half years ago – we know that, even though we have the biggest QA or testing department ever, and we do double, triple playtests every day, it’s nothing like when hardcore gamers get their hands on it. During the first hours, days, we get more feedback. So with an extremely active forum, we already now have gotten a lot of feedback on drivers, glitches, tweaking, tuning, balancing, so we’re monitoring it closely. And today we’re opening up for the open beta, so it’s going to be super exciting when I get home to the hotel tonight to see if the whole backend and everything holds up.
The last thing I wanted to ask about is the fact that, on the promotional video, your plans for post-launch support show “new content weekly”. That’s obviously a huge, continuous commitment and I imagine that would range from camo and additional customisation amongst the more spaced out bigger expansions and DLC?
Overall, what we’ve learned is that, in the old days you shipped a game and it was over. We always have been trying to keep on updating the game. But, since 1942 with the expansion packs, we’ve always seen that the lifetime for Battlefield games are really long and how our premium was received for Battlefield 3… it was just enormous. So now we have an operations team, that is probably bigger than most game studios, that just work with everything from cheating hacking, maintaining servers and ensuring that you have a good experience, building the new content, expansion packs, working with the community and messaging and all of that. So yeah, it’s a big undertaking and commitment but it’s all worth it. The way that premium and the whole post-launch journey has been on Battlefield 3 – it’s a joy to see, it’s really amazing.
I have to thank you for taking the long flight over to Australia. I can imagine the fatigue and the jet lag, but it’s just been amazing to have so many developers from the studios come down for the event.
Thank you. I mean, to be honest, the honor is all on my side. I’ve said no to most trips on this game, just to be able to finish the game and take care of the family and to ship and sell the game, but – and I’m not sucking up here – you have an awesome community down here. People are extremely positive, and it’s a great event. EA Australia are doing amazing things. They took me for a ride here… we had ‘Dine with DICE’ here with the hardcore gaming community; special dishes, great entertainment. So it’s just a joy to be here. Jet lag… I have no seconds to rest, so as long as you don’t sit down you won’t feel the jet lag.
Thanks to EA Australia and Lars Gustavsson for the opportunity. Battlefield 4 releases for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on October 31st; the Xbox One on November 22nd and the PlayStation 4 a week later, Australia-wide.