The Battlefield franchise has a pretty big following, and each time Battlefield has brought something new to the first-person shooter market. What would you say that is for Battlefield 3? So far I've seen the cinematics are drastically different, way more impressive, and it's very realistic this time, as well.
Aleksander Grondel, Producer: I think we've always been trying to create something that feels it's a classic. All games try to be immersive, but we're not only talking about it, we're actually really trying to find the things that make a game more immersive. Like you said, the cinematics feel more believable. We put a lot of focus on the animation system, and trying to find how you actually take that to the next level.
...the game itself is not about the features. It's about the experience of being on the battlefield.
Audio has always been important to us. Making sure that the images you see actually fit the sound you hear, and creating that true feeling of being on the battlefield is also a big part of Battlefield 3. Firing a gun is quite an intense experience, and it's really hard to get that feeling across in a very two-dimensional gaming experience, so we used all the tricks we can and tried to invent new tricks to enhance that experience. I think even though we have a ton of new features in the game, the game itself is not about the features. It's about the experience of being on the battlefield.
How do you balance that realism between what it really feels like to be on the battlefield and what works better for gameplay?
I think fun is always number one. If it's not fun, then it doesn't matter really. If it's not interesting to play, then real is dull. Why play a game when you can go out in the real world? To me, it's important to always focus on how to make the game more fun. If that works, then you can see how you can make it more real. Authenticity can also add to the emotion, making it feel more fun to play because it feels more authentic. So it's easy: fun first.
If it's not interesting to play, then real is dull. Why play a game when you can go out in the real world?
Where do see the first-person shooter genre going from here? At a point of time, innovation has to reach its pinnacle. But where do you see the innovation going from here?
I see developing this new technology as a stepping stone for us. To us, this is the first game on this technology. So from that perspective, we just started. We can only get better from here.
Of course, if you look at it from a gameplay perspective, we want to build a battlefield - that's why we call it Battlefield - so it needs to have the ingredients of a Battlefield game. Like you said before, we're trying to innovate within what Battlefield is all about. So I'm already hungry to build another Battlefield game or to keep improving on Battlefield 3, because we have some things in the pipeline right now that we want to add.
Are there things that you and the team wanted to implement in the game now that were just better saved for the next iteration?
No, not really actually. I think we tried to implement everything that we could possibly implement within the budget of a project like this. It's quite expensive to build games nowadays, so we really tried to find ways to fill the game with the things that we thought were more important.
... it's very important also to cater for different play styles, and that grows exponentially as you're trying to find how to keep certain types of players for 6 months.
We have more weapons, more accessories than we've ever had in the game. There's tons of stuff to focus on when you play the game. I think it's very important also to cater for different play styles, and that grows exponentially as you're trying to find how to keep certain types of players for 6 months. Of course, sometimes that needs to end because you need to ship a game, but I think we didn't save anything for later. We really tried to put everything into the game.
Was there anything that you were experimenting with that just didn't end up working, that was scrapped from the table?
We looked a lot at our original Battlefield games, what features we had there and how they worked. When you look today at the things that you loved almost 10 years ago, it's like, "Oh, wait a minute. We can't do that."
So we actually looked at all the features that we've had in all previous Battlefield games, and we actually scrapped quite a lot of them saying that it was cool then, but we need to move forward. We tried to integrate the emotion of using some of those features and create new features with a more modern touch focusing on the player, usability, stuff like that.
What were some of those features that the predecessors might have had that couldn't be implemented?
Well, the Commander mode was very interesting in that field, too. The problem with the Commander mode was that you had two people out of sixty-four that could use this feature, and if you had a commander that didn't do well, the rest of the team had to suffer. There was no, "How do you get to the vehicle?" or "Where do you sprint up to?" and turn into a commander. You didn't have to do anything specific.
So what we did was we took the cool part of being a commander - "I can send in mortar, I can spot the people, I can do all these things" - and moved that down to the action players. So all players have a part of the commander in them, rather than trying to separate them from the commander mode, but turning everyone into a little commander so to speak.
How does the team look at other games like Call of Duty and other competitors. Is that a form of research for you guys?
We play a lot of games, of course. We take inspiration from a lot of games and all media. I think other shooters are of course more interesting to look at. Seeing how they solve a problem we've been struggling with to fix, but also in even more cases we get surprised with. "Oh, you can do it in that way, as well. That's cool, and that's a completely different angle on the same problem."
Since we're building what we're building and other shooters are building their stuff, you can easily see when you get the awkward crossover in some places.
Since we're building what we're building and other shooters are building their stuff, you can easily see when you get the awkward crossover in some places. You have the same inspiration, but you did it in two different ways. In other cases, you have two completely friendly implementations that have no resemblance, but you will still get compared.
What did you learn from other media or other games that was particularly important to you?
It's really hard to pick out any specifics. I think in general you learn that consumers change. Ten years ago, a gamer wasn't the gamer that we see today. I think people are more used to quick fixes. You need to keep people's attention. The common view is that people are not ready to invest in stuff, but I don't think it's true. I think people are willing to invest in stuff, but they’re more picky on quality. If you don't attach to the product - and this is not only with games, it's in general - if you don't like it within the first ten seconds, you won’t dedicate yourself to it.
...our job is to make you like the game the first ten minutes, and then keep investigating how do keep the player’s interest.
To us, it's very important to get something that is attractive when you play the first five minutes, but also attractive six months later. We know that players will keep playing Battlefield, and that's what Battlefield has always been. It’s the longevity and the dedication of doing everything that you can do, and experience all these cool Battlefield moments. But, if you don't like it, you will never get to it so our job is to make you like the game the first ten minutes, and then keep investigating how do keep the player’s interest.
What kind of research did you guys do beyond just looking at different mediums and games?
There's a lot of stuff actually. It's everything from military advisers, movement, lingo, and particularly getting that feeling of being on the battlefield. The idea of "what is that, really?" Because if you look at us, we're Swedes. We don't go to war, that's how we are. But the fiction of what we're building is still very interesting, and very attractive. So, everything from sound to visuals.
It's not, "What do we have? How can we be what others are?” It’s “Where do we want to be in five years?”
In general, every aspect of the game has been worked on quite extensively. There's no area where you can't find improvements. To achieve that, you need to be able to open your eyes and not look at the other games, but look at, "What do you want it to be in five years?" That's often how we discuss it. It's not, "What do we have? How can we be what others are?” It’s “Where do we want to be in five years?”
That gives you a more visionary view on games rather than just focusing on the money part of it, the, “How can we sell a game and make money?” That’s not why we make games. Because then we would make really, really bad games, I’m quite sure.
What do you want the game to be in five years?
Right now, this is the game we’ve wanted to build for five years, actually. We don’t know what we want in five years right now. We only know what we could do. The next time, that could be even better – small bits and pieces. But it takes some time to string that together and turn it into a product. So right now, I don’t have a clear vision of what the future would be.
I’m hoping, of course, that people will keep consuming games like this. It’s a wonderful experience to not only build these games, but to play games of this magnitude. It’s also interesting to see that the battlefield idea that we had back in 1999 still works. It’s still attractive to have the infantry, vehicles and sandbox and play that out to see what happens. Every game is different. That’s kind of what Battlefield is all about.
How did the team pick those cities and countries featured in the game? A lot of them are very controversial, especially now, like Iran and Iraq.
It goes back to what we feel is a believable setting, rather than defining what’s the “cool” setting to if there was a war here. That’s more of a fantasy, popcorn movie view on things. Instead of looking at the current situation in the world and saying “What if?” We’re trying to keep it at a kind of “boots on the ground” level rather than how can we sell this game.
It’s easier to just throw something out there and say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if...?” and then just make something up. But we want to attach that to something that is current, that could happen within a couple of years without making it feel too forced.
I wouldn’t say it’s too controversial to be in the Iran and Iraq area compared to us being in Paris, for instance. That would be more controversial in my book.
I wouldn’t say it’s too controversial to be in the Iran and Iraq area compared to us being in Paris, for instance. That would be more controversial in my book. But both from a story perspective in the single player, but especially from the multiplayer locations perspective, I think we picked the maps that we felt are both fun to play (since that is our priority) but also that they are connected to a real, believable background.
Battlefield is a game that mainstream media would have their eyes on because of its violence. Are you worried at all about that? And how do you guys react to that?
Of course we’re worried. We don’t want people to dislike our game or try to claim that it’s bad for people. I’m actually more surprised that there isn’t an age rating on books. I read books sometimes that it makes me very upset and I think, “Can children read this?” But since that medium is so old, it’s kind of okay to let anyone read anything even though it’s super-graphical and it’s super-violent. It’s horrible.
I read books sometimes that it makes me very upset and I think, “Can children read this?”
If you turn it into a video game - which 20 years ago was a child’s toy and that is now still for some people perceived to be a child’s toy - and if we say that we’re making a game that has the context of war, people get very upset. Because you shouldn’t have children play this. They don’t understand that, no, it’s mature rated. It’s 17 plus. Depending on where you live, you need to be a grownup to play it.
But I don’t think people see it that way. Having an age rating on games is way, way more harsh than movies, or books especially, which have no age rating. So to me, we’re very happy to have an age rating because we don’t want children to play this game. But then again, it’s a work of fiction. We’re not trying to make a simulation.
There’s some interesting things that one of your teammate characters says in the game. It was something along the lines of, “This country was founded for terrorists by terrorists.” Many people would stay away from that because that's insinuating something about America that people aren't comfortable with. Why take that risk?
Well, I wouldn't have put it as a risk. If you would have read that in a book or seen it in a movie people would connect that to the character and see that it's not the words of the dev-team, it’s the words of the character in a story that is being told in this game.
Opinions by these characters are connected to their characteristics and not connected to anything we want to tell the players. We try to build a believable group of people that have different beliefs, different personalities, and strong personalities because we think that creates a more interesting drama rather than having bland characters screaming “hoorah” and agreeing all the time.
Opinions by these characters are connected to their characteristics and not connected to anything we want to tell the players. We try to build a believable group of people that have different beliefs, different personalities...
As you can see in the game, you have conflicts within the group. They are friends, but they do not always agree, and some of them have more controversial opinions than the others. As you play the game, you will get to know these people and sometimes like them more, sometimes like them less. We don't try to sell something to the consumer that is an opinion from the game team. This is, again, a work of fiction and these are characters in this fiction.
I would be a bit sad if people got stuck on something like that, because I don't think they can get hung up on comments like that in movies, for instance. They would go, “Yeah, that guy is a bit weird. I don't like him.”
Battlefield 3 releases on October 25, but you can check out our upcoming preview this Friday.