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From DICE to Danger Close: The Man Who Changed Medal of Honor

Gamasutra sits down with Kristoffer Bergqvist, a DICE veteran from Sweden who moved to Los Angeles to join Danger Close as its creative director of multiplayer -- to change the studio's way of making multiplayer games.

The Medal of Honor series rebooted with its 2010 iteration. It raised the series' fortunes considerably, but it felt like two different games. The multiplayer was built by Battlefield creators DICE, and the single player campaign was developed by Danger Close.

The new iteration of the franchise does not take this tack, as mentioned by producer Luke Thai in a recent Gamasutra interview: "In 2010, Medal of Honor was also perceived as two separate games in one box. And we've taken steps this year to really bring those two halves together."

To find out more about this process, Gamasutra sat down with Kristoffer Bergqvist, a DICE veteran from Sweden who moved to Los Angeles to join Danger Close as its creative director of multiplayer. He was charged with changing the studio's way of making multiplayer games.

Here he explains how he changed the way the team develops multiplayer games, what defines the feel of a game and how to try to achieve that, and how the team kept out of the geopolitical situation this time around, taking a page from EA Sports' book, not CNN's.

Why did you move over to Medal of Honor?

Kristoffer Bergqvist: I think there was a really interesting challenge. I just looked forward to work with the Medal of Honor team. I mean, we have a lot of guys who's been there since the first Medal of Honor, 14 years ago. Just working with them is really cool. It was also interesting to be able to sit in the office, work together with the single player team to really define what Medal of Honor multiplayer is.

How do you define what it is? I know you're not starting from scratch again, but in a sense...

KB: We started with a very open, or blank, canvas. That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to take what was good from [Medal of Honor] 2010, of course, but mostly we wanted to really root this multiplayer in the close relationship with the former and active military personnel that Danger Close has. That has been a big part of Medal of Honor since the first days.

So we sat down and talked with the U.S. Operators from the Special Forces community for hours and hours and hours, and just listened to them. One of the first things they talked about was the other guys they met, who had been deployed from all over the world. We are an international dev team and so we latched onto that: "This is really cool, we want to get that in." So, a lot of that is that kind of discussion.

They also brought up the entire concept of fire teams, which I don't know what you've read about that; it's a two-man fighting unit we have in the game. It's you and your friend. With such a small unit, we can share a lot of information with each other. So we share position, we share information on enemy positions, we share ammo, we even respawn each other. But that is also a good example of what came out of the discussions with the consultants that we worked with. So it was really interesting working with the franchise from that angle.


Medal of Honor: Warfighter

Did you work with consultants much at DICE?

KB: We did, we did. We had military advisors, both American and Swedish, and they all did a great job. But at Danger Close, the relationship is on a completely different level. It also helps being in the same country and meeting people firsthand, so you can build trust in a different way, I think.

What does that offer you from a creative perspective?

KB: As an end result it brings pretty cool ideas. It can bring ideas on small levels. So, we started designing -- we wanted a booby trap. We knew we wanted that. So we started sketching on this Claymore mine and they came up to us and said, "We don't use those anymore. We use this thing." And they showed us a little mine, we call it the spider mine, that you place and it fires out tripwires in all directions. It goes off. We're like, "That's cool. That's new gameplay right there." And you'll see it in our game.


How do you balance the real with the fiction? I don't necessarily mean this in a narrative sense, but more on a gameplay design sense.

KB: It is a game. Fun has to be there. It has to be fun. We're trying to always be true to the soldiers that tell us these things. We're very honored, humbled to work with them. We want to show them respect in everything we do.

That being said, we mostly use the authenticity as a source of inspiration. We rarely feel held back by it in the design process. It's pretty cool, actually. I thought that would happen a lot more. But it's more inspiration. "Yes, we want that. We want that." "Oh, you did that?" "That is really cool, we'll lift that into the game as well."

Then all the designers know that we're making a game. It is an entertainment product, and we need to stay true to that. So, it's our own design sense that we need to make those decisions right. Do we want to have a health reading, for instance? Do we want respawns in our game? Now, we don't have that in all game modes, but of course we don't want death to be as definite as it is in the real world. That makes sense.

We don't have rule set or guideline for when to choose authenticity and when to choose fun. Because they don't collide a lot. And when they do, it's up to us as a development team to get together, decide, brainstorm around it, and pick what we feel is best for the product. Does that make sense?

Yes.

KB: I wish I could show you, like, "This is our checklist," this is how we do it. But there really isn't one.

Well, it's good to know there isn't one. I think that's just as useful information if there were one.

Following from that, obviously software and the power of the modern PCs and game consoles is very high. The degree to which you could actually simulate the behaviors and weaponry and physics is also very high. To what extent is that a necessary part of the design of a game like this, and to what extent do you have to say, "This doesn't have to respond like it would?"

KB: I think the most important thing when designing gunplay is to sell the power of the rifle -- what it feels like when you're actually firing a rifle. Because it's the sound of it, it's the kick, it's the feel of gunpowder smoke coming to your face. All of that. That is pretty much all our systems coming together.

It's a designer who makes all these things, it's an effect artist that does both what happens to the gun when they shoot it. Is it just a muzzle flash, is it smoke, is it a powerful shell action? But also, even more importantly, what happens over there when you hit something. I think that's the more important part for an effects artist.

And of course this is where we can use Frostbite's pretty amazing sound system. Our guns sound absolutely fantastic. We did some really advanced sound recording shoots. We've been out in the desert, we've been on the Warner Bros. backlot to capture what the gun sounds like in an urban environment.

I think on the desert shoot, the microphone we had that was furthest away was almost a mile away. And the mic we had that was closest to the gun was taped to the gun. So, that's where Frostbite really helps us, I think, to build this entire experience of what it is like to fire a gun. It's pretty cool to sit down with that and all the opportunities that are there.

Working with an engine means we had a stable platform to start with very early in the development process. So we could start playtesting features very early. So we could take more risks than we've traditionally done, I think. We added a lot more gameplay features. We have six classes as opposed to three in the last game. Every class has its own weapon system, of course, also different abilities, grenade types, even different run speeds. I mean, we could never have done that if we weren't able to playtest from day one.

Did you design to a certain, you know, "We have to have this many weapons, classes, maps," or was it about finding, actually, what would make the core of a great game? Because I find when things are designed in numbers and checklists, just because you're hitting them doesn't mean you're succeeding, right?

KB: No. That is true. The classes, we started off with four. We thought that was a good number. And then we had one of our consultants, who we were listening [to] -- a lot of cool ideas about what he was doing. "Oh, yeah, let's make that class as well." And then we were up to five. This was very early in the design process, and then the sixth class was created out of a gameplay. We saw there was a hole in the layout.

With our weapons, like, the number of weapons? A lot of that comes from the authenticity part. That's where that comes in. We know that if I'm a Swedish assaulter, he would use that gun. Okay, then that gun should be in that game. If I'm a Korean sniper, oh, he should have this gun. So that, the weapons, and a lot of the weapon parts, that design, came from the authenticity. Which was really cool. That was a cool way to look at it as well.

We also saw that -- weapon customization came out of the global concept, because one of our Polish consultants came, and he showed his M249 -- M249 is a light machine gun -- and I noticed it's very different from what a Swedish M249 looks like. I was in the Swedish Air Force for a short bit.

So what we did was we added the functionality both visually and gameplay-wise to customize the weapon to make it look like a Swedish 249, or you can make it look like a Korean 249, or a Polish 249. I'm not sure how many gun parts, but I just know there are hundreds of thousands of combinations you end up with. It's cool to let authenticity drive gameplay, in that sense, a lot of times.


It's interesting to hear you talk about this stuff because we're talking about very concrete things, like people going into other countries fighting each other, killing each other, but at the same time it's abstracted out in this creative process. How does that interface for you in terms of looking at these situations as though they're real situations? Versus looking at them as though they're exciting gameplay designs.

KB: For us, we're pretty focused around the gear. We know that the players out there. They want to use this gear. They want to be in the boots and use the equipment that these guys do. So we want to get that absolutely true and authentic. Like I said, a Swedish M249 has to look like as a Swedish M249 or that feels false.

So, our take on the multiplayer is [that it] turns into a sport really fast. Immersion, in a big way, kinda goes away after an hour or so of multiplayer gaming. What we have done is that we've taken this sport take on multiplayer, because that's what it turns into.

I need to backtrack a little bit -- the international Special Forces I talked about. When we heard our Operators talk about them, there was a lot sense of pride of them. They were very honored by being close to them; they did a great job. But every single Operator we talked about was assured that "my unit is the best one." Some of them in the Army, "The Navy Seals are great, but we? We are better." Same thing for the Seals. They say the same thing.

So, we started working with that, and this rivalry. So we decided to take a page out of the FIFA and EA Sports book and let you represent your nation in a more red versus blue scenario. So I can have my Swedish clan and I can go out and compete with a Navy Seal clan to show who's best. So, where I'm going with this is that, we're trying to stay out of the politics, where we were, to this. It's not about -- you see what I'm saying?

You're saying it's not about the geopolitical situation.

KB: It's more about the units, what they do, their training, their equipment, and them battling it out to see which is the stronger one.

The players want to feel like they're, as you said, in the boots of these operatives. They want authenticity. How much of your audience do you think plays it for that sort of aspirational fantasy, versus people who just play it because, as you said, after an hour, it becomes a sport to them, and they just enjoy the fun of it. Are those mutually exclusive or not?

KB: I don't think they are... I don't think they are. I think the authenticity of the gear is really important, it's important to put the player in -- even if we stay out of the geopolitical situation, I think it's important to put the player in a narrative that makes sense, that he can understand and relate to.

Seeing an M16, for instance, makes the player associate with everything he learned about an M16 from other games, from videos. So I think it adds a lot to the experience even if you're not a gun nut, to know that this is real, this is the real equipment that is being used out there. It's a big deal for me, personally.

I've been told there's a big push this time to have cohesion between the single and multiplayer. I'm curious about, first of all, at a creative level, why that was undertaken.

KB: I think a lot of it was very fundamental stuff. That we wanted to have the same feature sets. The last game didn't always have that, and we got a lot of feedback from players, like, "You can do this is in single player, I want to do it in multiplayer as well."

So it started from there. "I want the guns to feel the same." "I want peek-and-lean functionality to be the same." I think that's just basic player behavior. We teach them that this button does this thing, that this button does A, then that button means to do A, even if the player goes over to multiplayer. I think came from there.

It was also about defining Medal of Honor multiplayer. Then we felt that the multiplayer needs to fit into the Medal of Honor shape. It came from there. But most of all it was just to make sure that the player feels they're playing the same game, you learn how the M16 works in single player, nice, you can step into multiplayer and use it here. Different kind of challenge, but I know how my toolset works.


We all know there's kinds of players, some people really want multiplayer, some people want single player, some people dip in and out of one or the other. How do you look at your audience, that split? Do you see a split?

KB: There is a split. We're a single player franchise. Traditionally we've been a very strong single player franchise. That's also one of the reasons why I think it's so important that the tools that the player learns when you play single player applies to multiplayer: to make that transition as smooth as possible.

Of course we want players who mainly play single-player, once they're done with it, "I'm gonna try multiplayer." And they feel at home. It's a different arena, it's a different kind of challenge, but at as I said, at least he knows how to play. I think that's extremely important to this franchise.

You worked on Bad Company, which was DICE's really breakthrough single player experience for Battlefield. But DICE has much more of a multiplayer culture, whereas I guess Medal of Honor, as you said, has had a long history of single player culture. Is that a shift in thinking?

KB: It was really interesting, because I've seen this situation at DICE already, but reversed. DICE did a great transition into single player. It was a lot of work, of course, there were a lot lessons to be learned, but I think it turned out great, I had so much fun with the Battlefield 3 single player.

And it's very interesting to just take everything I learned by looking at it over there and apply it, but in reverse to this studio. A big part of my job is being to build a multiplayer culture within Danger Close -- or rather, expand the one that was there.

But it's fun, so we've been working a lot with player tests, getting players in from all departments within the studio. We've had daily playtests for a couple of years now. It's really fun to see everyone come together.

Did you port DICE ways of doing things -- essentially, best practices -- into the studio? Because, obviously, it had its own way of working before you got there.

KB: I think so, in a way. I've been at DICE for many years. The senior development director for multiplayer is also ex-DICE, Christian Grass, so obviously there are ways of how -- everything we learned, of course, that made sense, that happened at DICE was applied into this culture.

But it's really interesting to come here because you meet a lot of people who've done things differently, to great success -- and this exchange we had, "We did this at DICE", "We did this here". We've had many discussions and we found a good way of doing it.

We took a lot of lessons from DICE and applied it to how they were already doing rings at Danger Close, and we ended up somewhere great. We're very happy with how this development process has looked.

We had a very Agile way of working at DICE. Scrum. That fits very well with multiplayer development; single player can be a little bit different. We took that over to Danger Close, which traditionally didn't adopt Scrum like that. So it was really interesting to get that into the studio. It's one of those things that more directly addresses your question about what we brought from DICE as a multiplayer studio to Danger Close as single player studio.

Every game has its own intangible feel to it, right? You sit down at any game from any franchise -- especially ones you like -- and you can feel what game it is. And you know from iteration, from sequel to sequel… how do you define a feel for Medal of Honor as a multiplayer product?

KB: It's really hard to put words on it. Of course it comes from playing the earlier games a lot. I played so much of 2010, I played so much Allied Assault, Frontlines, and Airborne. And just tried to figure out -- I don't have words for this, but it's more about figuring out what is defining this franchise and try to keep that while we evolve.

I'm very happy with where this game ended up. Because it's not an easy balance. It's not an easy balance at all. But I think, once again, it helped being on Battlefield for many years. Battlefield has evolved a lot, but it's still Battlefield. It still has the essence of it -- I really wish I had better words for this. But it's more about feeling, It's more about playing it.

It's hard to articulate. It's like a "know it when you see it" kind of thing.

KB: Most of this happens in the fine, fine details. Like, what does the gun feel like when you run with it? How snappy is the ADS [aim down sights], bringing the gun up to your shoulder to fire? What kind of millisecond delay do you have when you go out of a sprint cycle into a weapons-ready pose? I think that's that where the magic happens. That's what determines if this game has correct gameplay or feel to it. And luckily, we'd had time with his product, has to spend a lot of time on those details. Much thanks to the regular playtesting I talked to you about.

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