The Battlefield series seemed like a strange fit for consoles, given its rich heritage on the PC side -- that is, it did seem like a strange fit, until Battlefield: Bad Company came out and became one of Electronic Arts' larger hits of this generation.
Here, senior producer for the series at EA's Stockholm-based DICE studio, Patrick Bach, discusses how the philosophy behind the series has evolved as it has made the transition to consoles -- and how that transition has fundamentally shifted the way the developers think of the series as a whole.
Bach, who "make[s] the quality decisions on what should be in or out of the game" is the perfect person to discuss these shifts, as well as the evolution of the gaming audience on both PC and console.
How long as your development cycle been?
Patrick Bach: We actually started right after, or actually a couple months before, we ended Bad Company 1. It's been 18 or 19 months.
And how big is the team?
PB: The team has of course been scaling up and down depending on where we are, but I think we peaked at 70 or 75. One of our big focuses in the studio is to have the team as small as possible at all times.
You get more focused, you get better traction, and you have high quality if you have the right people. We talk about ownership a lot -- owning the quality in the end.
Coming onto this right from Bad Company 1, did it feel like a direct continuation? Were there big things in particular you wanted to change or retain, based on lessons learned during that project?
PB: [When] building a Battlefield game, we have a lot of history. Since Battlefield 1942, we've kind of known what the formula is and what the strengths are, but when we went out to consoles, the audience changes. You know, the PC audience is much more forgiving in some ways, but they're much more demanding in other ways.
I'm a PC gamer, so I know what you mean.
PB: Yeah. You know exactly what I'm talking about.
I always see PC gamers as more forgiving when it comes to certain types of technical polish, but not as forgiving of certain design aspects that they find very important to the platform.
PB: Yeah, right. That's of course a balance. Going over to the console, we had to take it to that console audience but also retain the values of what Battlefield is.
When we added destruction to Bad Company 1, we were actually thinking, "In five years, what will every game have? We need to build that now." Then five years later, no one had it. We were the only ones who had destruction. So now, that's of course one of the things that we've said, "We can do this even better."
Another thing we brought with us from the first game is all of the tweaking and tuning of Battlefield. Even if you're a console gamer, you still want that high-quality, fast-paced action. I think console games are starting to be more like PC games, and PC games are starting to be more like console games.
You still want the usability of console games on a PC, and you want the nitty-gritty detailed action of a PC game on a console. We learned a lot about that from the first game to the second. It makes it more hardcore in a way, while also more accessible.
We focused a lot on variation. [Bad Company 1] was a good first try. It was a good game, but not more than good. There are a lot of things that we've improved -- for instance, you have the variation not only when it comes to visuals but also the gameplay variation, game modes, multiplayer, and so on.
For example, for the multiplayer "hardcore mode," we changed all the game modes into something else. That's a nudge towards the PC audience, and that will be a part of the PC package as well.
It's hard to point specific things out. The goal was always to focus on quality, and achieve more of what Battlefield stands for.
You mentioned the notion of the heritage of Battlefield. Obviously it almost single-handedly created a genre. But Bad Company was a different kind of game. When you speak of what Battlefield stands for, what are the particular tenets you mean?
PB: As far as the core tenets of Battlefield... If you see a vehicle that looks like it can work, then you should be able to drive it or fly it or whatever it might be. The infantry experience is another core piece, but a lot of other games have that as well, so we can't really say our shooting experience is unique.
But everyone is aiming toward the same goal; there are just different ways of getting there. The sandbox -- the multi-dimensional gameplay that you get out of infantry and vehicles together with a sandbox environment -- gives you that recipe.
When we added the destruction, which turns the tables as you play, it changes the way that Battlefield plays. That's something new that Battlefield: Bad Company [brought] to the Battlefield recipe. We can probably never go away from that now.
Over time, you accrue more onto that formula, and then you always have it as a minimum baseline.
PB: Yeah. But we still have the same goal: the ultimate battlefield, where anything that you would like to happen could happen. You know, "Hm, I wonder what would happen if I do this?" You don't want the invisible walls all around you all the time. You want to have a dynamic environment.
I think that gets to that traditional aspect of PC games that's now becoming much more widespread.
PB: Yeah. It's that anticipation about what you see. Will it break? Yes. A big gun will make a big hole. That's kind of our focus.
So a couple of months ago, after Infinity Ward dropped dedicated servers, there was this whole meme among game developers to come out and say, "Hey, our game supports dedicated servers! Don't forget!"
PB: Oh, yeah. [laughs]
That kind of points to a larger issue: does it feel that, these days, if you're making a military-themed game, you're living in the shadow of Modern Warfare?
PB: I would say that of course we care about it. It's a great game. No doubt. The thing is, we don't really see ourselves that way... We would never want to make that game. It's not in our DNA to make a game like that.
Particularly when it comes to the single-player, it is almost the opposite of the Battlefield mentality.
PB: Yeah. You know what? It is. We want a game with personality. If you were in the war, how would you behave? If I was in a war, if you were in a war, what would you say? What would you do? You would do unorthodox things because real people do real stuff, and we would never change that. Bad Company is a game with personality. It's not something else.
And if we tried to mimic other games, we would have to cut features away. We have a wider array of things in our games than most other shooters. That's kind of what Battlefield is about. But I don't think [their approach] is all negative. It's a different way of seeing things.
We want with this game to prove that you can do both. You have a guided dramatic experience, but that doesn't mean you have to lock people in. That doesn't mean that you can't give people choices. That doesn't mean that you can't just let people pick. Try to go through that wall instead. Don't use the path that is ahead of you. Try to plan. Try to find another way.
I think, hopefully, consumers will see that I can play this game in the way that it's "supposed" to be played, but I can also play it in a way that it's not supposed to be played, because that's the kind of system Battlefield is. You can play it in your way.
Have you found, across developing two single-player games, you've had to adjust how far along the sandbox spectrum you are?
Looking at Crysis, it definitely seems Crytek came to that determination when moving to Crysis: Warhead. Warhead is still more open than most action games, but not in the massive sandbox way as Crysis, for example. You can definitely tell they decided, "We've got to ratchet back a bit."
PB: We have adjusted in both ways actually. We have made more open sandbox parts, and we have made more narrow passages.
A movie is linear. That's why it's dramatic. You need a linear progression to make a really good and tight drama. But games are more than only tight, linear drama. If I want to watch a movie, I can watch a movie. I don't have to play a linear game.
In games, it's a variation between both. You open up for the player and make it into a wow moment. [The player] thinks, "Wow, all of the sudden I can do anything. And now I'm funneled into an experience that gives me something else." It's about playing with emotions more than anything else.
I imagine that would be an important tool for metering the game's pacing; often, open-ended areas, even though the player has a lot of choice, can be more relaxing, because there's less of that rollercoaster feel. Then you can start to gradually crank it up as you move into an on-rails section.
PB: Yeah, exactly. Did you read our design docs? [laughs] That's how you need to think. There have been games that only try to make it big and open, where you have to find your way through this whole world. In general, people don't like that, and it's not because people are stupid. It's because people don't have all the time in the world to just sit and learn how the game works. They just want to get into a game. Obviously, I want to shoot someone in the head. Tell me how to play it.
Without a guided experience, you're just demanding of people, "Invest your life into this game to figure it out." You can't have that demand on consumers. I think that's naive. We're trying to show people the road to Battlefield and the open sandbox gameplay by guiding them into the experience. It's not always easy, but we're trying.
What led to bringing this game to PC simultaneously after the first game was console-only?
PB: We released it first on consoles because it's not the sequel to Battlefield 2. It's kind of an offspring. We thought, "Let's make a console version of Battlefield with single-player, destruction, all these cool things. This is not the sequel to Battlefield 2."
But people started to moan, "Why aren't you releasing this on PC? This is quite good. This is a pretty good multiplayer experience. Why didn't you release this on PC?"
We said, "Well, we thought you wouldn't like it. We thought we had to scale it down or change it in different ways." But when we released it, [the response] was actually, "This is pretty good. This is a proper Battlefield game." So, we just said, "Let's go ahead and make this for PC, and focus on tuning it more to the PC audience and that kind of gameplay." So there's more open gameplay, more detail in the shooting experience, and all of those things that the PC audience would like.
But it's also for the console audience, because the console audience has grown up -- not only metaphorically, but also people get older and they keep playing games. I want that experience that I have on the PC on the console now. We're trying to build that game.
There are a lot of people at DICE that have been working on PC with Battlefield for a very long time, and they're now on this PC version as well. So I can promise you it's been a big focus on getting a true PC version of this game.
Are you planning a more "mainline" Battlefield sequel -- a Battlefield 3, or something like that?
PB: We haven't announced anything in that direction. But Battlefield is Battlefield, so you never know. [laughs]