Well, who would have thought it. There's a new Battlefield game coming out this year, and it uses World War 2 as a backdrop for DICE's chaotic multiplayer sandbox, while also folding in features such as a new co-op mode and character customisation - both of which were the focus point for the reveal trailer - and doing away with the series' long-standing premium pass. Shortly after yesterday's reveal event, I got the chance to sit down briefly with DICE's creative director Lars Gustavsson, a long-standing member of the team and part of the franchise since its very beginning, to talk through some of the changes.
The reveal trailer looked incredible. It almost looks like gameplay, but I imagine it's not, right?
Well everything is shot in-game, and everything will happen in the game - it's all game engine and it's all going to happen, so it's a cinematic take on it.
Will there be a disclaimer saying it's not quite representative of real gameplay?
No! Everything that happens in there will be in the final thing. It's cramming a lot that's new in there, I'm pretty amazed by what the team has managed to squeeze in, in a continuous flow. We've tried so many approaches in our trailers previously, but this one we really wanted to focus on gameplay - what is new, and what you'll be able to experience on the battlefield. Hopefully a lot fo the things we show off in there show off the new possibilities.
The other thing you had which isn't new for the series but it's something we haven't seen for a while is a much lighter tone. It was almost comic in parts.
That's the thing - often when we portray the game it's not until the players get their hands on it that that comic relief kind of happens, when all those crazy moments kind of occur. With this we wanted to portray the opportunities but also what often happens in our playtests, and what we talk about at the coffee machine afterwards.
Yeah, Battlefield can be a very funny game. You have had a game that was lighter in tone before - and you kept dropping the word 'Company' in there and I was like 'you're missing the other half of that! Where's the 'Bad' bit!' Is this a successor in some ways to Bad Company 3, or can we expect an actual Bad Company 3 at some point and this is just taking some of that tone?
It's definitely not to be mistaken for the Bad Company series! We love Bad Company, but this isn't that. The Company thing here is more about building up your own soldiers, customising them over time visually and in gameplay.
We saw a lot of detail about the new animation system as well which looked cool, and we saw a lot of it in third person. Are you going to have a third person option for players in this?
It's only in vehicles - I think we mentioned that we've done a big revamp in terms of the movement set. We had a lot of weak spots before - you'd be prone on a cliff edge then push yourself out and fall over the ledge. We had a lot to improve to smooth out gameplay, but it can't impact the gameplay - so the slipping and sliding you'll see but it won't impact you when you're running in first-person. Before the world and the soldier was kind of disconnected, but this time we hope to connect them much more.
Another big gameplay thing you've got here is construction. There's obviously another big game out there where construction is a key element that you might have heard of. Is it fair to say Fortnite was an inspiration when you were doing this?
It's definitely been there on the radar, but on our side it started in Battlefield 2 when you could repair bridges. Where we hit the turning point was with Battlefield 1 when we had people coming over and playing it, while we were developing it, and they complained that, after many years where people were saying that after Bad Company 2 we lost all the destruction, but now they were complaining that everything was levelled, that there was a stablemate on that map, so that's what led us to introduce fortification, build up those defences again to keep battle going all the time.
And on the flip side that allows you to go more crazy with the destruction.
Yeah. The destruction now has more physicality, it's not happening in one frame - pieces are hanging around and they fall down, throw a grenade into a house and it'll explode out, the material penetration really matters - previously it was heavy machine gunners shooting at a corrugated iron wall it'd have the same impact as a pistol. Now it'll make a difference.
Something that follows on from Fortnite is a battle royale mode. I don't think it's going to there at launch - is it something you'll be able to do post-launch as part of the new game modes you're adding?
I'm getting this question a lot! For us, I play it a lot with the kids at home and we really enjoy it. It's an amazing journey for us, we often come together and talk about how it's a good fit for Battlefield, all of our vehicles and the sandbox and everything. So there's definitely talks happening and lots of excitement at where the market is heading, but there's nothing we can talk about.
What kind of player numbers are you looking at? 64 players has always been the sweet spot it seems.
64 players in all but two game modes, which are Team Deathmatch and Domination - so in more game modes than ever. That's part of the Grand Operations - you want to play that with 64 players continuously.
I know we're not talking about battle royale mode yet - but would 64 players work for a battle royale mode?
We'd have to test! It's interesting, I remember the design document for Battlefield 1942 which I have at home, and it says 128 players. But since then when we came out with 64, the time to battle and everything... We'll see where we push in the future, but 64 players, we feel we have a high intensity on the battlefield.
Another thing you announced today was no premium pass which is great, but obviously it wasn't that long ago that DICE released a game without a premium pass, and I don't think it went particularly well. What have you learnt from that and what are you doing different this time?
Moving away from the past is really... We want, and there's been community feedback for a really long time - and it's been a dev wish as well - to not be counter-productive, splitting the community after launch. We pour out some of the best content we've ever done post-launch, and still we splinter the communities, and it doesn't get properly utilised. Everything impacting gameplay will be available for everyone. And then of course we have cosmetics and so on, and that can be unlocked but you'll be able to purchase them as well.
So microtransactions are based around cosmetics only?
Cosmetics is what we're going to sell.
It was a turbulent time when Battlefront 2 launched. What did you all take from that?
I've been with the Battlefield franchise since the start, and gameplay is what matters - Battlefield is built on the rock paper scissors method meaning that no weapon on the battlefield is more powerful than another, and if that doesn't happen then we've failed as developers. When you get more weapons you get differences, but you don't get better tools. In that we've been walking a pretty good balance on Battlefield. The big thing here is removing the pass.
One last thing on that point. How did that come to pass? It was so clearly not going to go down well, and it kind of staggers me - you're smart people, how could it have made it through all those various levels of approval and make it so close to release?
To be fair I'm probably not the right person to answer that. My focus is on Battlefield - we continue to evolve that and my job is to be guardian, working with the smart people in the studio to make sure we've got a steady way forward, share the love for what we do and ensure that people continue to love it.
I've got one final question, so... Release date - you're going up against Red Dead Redemption 2 which was a surprise because even Call of Duty is keeping clear of that. Is that a concern, are you confident you can go up against them?
There will always be other games. Sometimes we're painted as fierce competitors, but I'm full of admiration for those other games. You need to come out at some time, and we think we've got a strong package that sets us apart. We're confident in what we're building, and looking forward to playing those other games too.
Super quickly before I go. World War 2 and Battlefield screams one thing to me. Wake Island. So - Wake Island when?
Ah, some of my sweetest memories are from there! I have no answer on that one yet.