Where does DICE get its inspiration? Looking at the Battlefield series, you might guess the answer is dark and gritty war films, the latest developments in military technology, documentary footage of actual battles and the like. But the answer, of course, is ballet.
It's certainly what inspired one of the most important features in Mirror's Edge. As you'll know if you read Christian's recent preview, it's an action-adventure game for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. It's set in a dystopian world where crime has been eradicated at the expense of personal freedoms and stars an acrobatic heroine called Faith.
What sets Mirror's Edge apart from all those other action-adventure games with dystopian settings and acrobatic main characters is the fact the game is played from a first-person perspective.
This sort of thing is all very well in shooter games, where the emphasis is on scanning for enemies and firing at targets rather than navigating complex environments. But what about games where you're constantly running, jumping, rolling and sliding? And in the case of Mirror's Edge, doing all this at an extremely fast pace? After watching the trailer, it's hard not to be concerned the continual camera movement will leave you disorientated and more than a little bit sick.
However, the trailer doesn't show the feature that was inspired by the pretty ladies in the tutus. In the actual game, a tiny blue dot is ever-present in the middle of the screen. It's there to reduce simulation sickness by naturally drawing your eye back to the centre of the image and prevent your brain from becoming bewildered, as producer Nick Channon explains. "When [ballerinas] do pirouettes, they find a focal point," he says. "They look at that point every time they come out of that revolution, and that makes a massive difference."
Channon is demoing Mirror's Edge PS3 at E3, where we're finally getting the chance to go hands-on. From the first moment you pick up the controller, the game feels fresh yet familiar. Just as in a first-person shooter you see the gameworld from the main character's perspective, and use the left and right sticks to direct movement and the camera. But the field of vision is wider than usual, and the landscape ahead of you appears more open and expansive as a result.
We're playing the skyscraper level from the trailer, in which Faith must navigate from roof to roof. At first the blue dot is distracting; it's the only non-environmental object on the screen, as there's no HUD, and you find yourself consciously focusing on it to centre your vision. But once you start moving around and figuring out the control system, your brain takes over and uses it as a point of reference without you noticing. Or feeling sick.
The controls are simple and context-sensitive. L1 makes Faith jump if she's on the edge of a rooftop, or grab if she needs to pull herself up a ledge. L2 is used for sliding underneath barriers, and also for rolling to break Faith's fall after big leaps. It's all fluid and intuitive, which makes it easy to move around at high speed. "You can get through just using the basic controls, and finish the game doing that," says Channon. "But where the depth comes in is going through those moves very quickly."
Like most action-adventures leads, Faith can also climb poles, shimmy along ledges, run along walls and leap over huge gaps - but she's no superhero. "She's a completely normal person in an extraordinary situation. The point is she's only limited by your skill," says Channon. "You can't power her up in any way; you can't give her a boost pack, or armour to make her less vulnerable or anything like that."
You can, however, arm her with a weapon - at least temporarily. Channon explains how Faith can slide into enemies' shins to knock them off balance (L2), then follow-up with a punch (R2) and disarm them (triangle). On my first try I mess up the angle of the slide, then panic and hammer the R2 button too much. The man is battered to the ground before I've had a chance to grab his gun, but never mind. Proves the melee combat works and besides, it was highly satisfying.
More skilled players who are able to disarm enemies without getting over-excited will find guns come in very handy. They're only useful for as long as the bullets left in them last, however; you won't see any casually discarded full boxes of ammo lying around. The other problem is guns restrict your movement. The extra weight prevents Faith from being able to pull off the more spectacular leaps, for example. So you're unlikely to hang on to any particular weapon for very long.
This is designed to ensure Mirror's Edge feels like a first-person action-adventure game, and prevent it from feeling like a first-person shooter with lots of jumping. Combat, Channon explains, is about the environment and your movements within it more than anything. "Yes, you can disarm people in the world to get a weapon. But you only have it temporarily, so it's about your skill. The idea is to try to isolate the enemy." As is often pointed out, Mirror's Edge can apparently be completed without ever firing a gun.
And while the combat system works well, it's clear that exploration is where Mirror's Edge really stands out. The first-person perspective does make it feel more like it's you who is zooming down that zip line or hanging off that ledge, rather than a member of the aristocracy with unfeasibly large bangers or a prince in ridiculous trousers. True, the controls, camera and wider field of vision take a little getting used to, but that's part of the fun - working out how to move around Faith's world and realising all the things you can do. It's seems likely that over time, you'll be able to make her move even more fluidly and at greater speeds.
Here's hoping we get to spend longer with Mirror's Edge soon and find out.
Mirror's Edge is due out on PS3, 360 and PC "this winter".