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DICE 09: Mirror's Edge And The Perils Of Innovation Over Execution

D.I.C.E. Studios' Lars Gustavsson admits his team's appetite for innovation has sometimes come at the expense of execution, and discusses lessons learned from Battlefield: Bad Company to Mirror's Edge and more.
D.I.C.E. Studios has a strong commitment to innovation, says Lars Gustavsson, creative director for Mirror’s Edge, and it’s always been so, even in the old days. And sometimes, this innovation comes at the cost of execution -- or developer sanity. When creating Battlefield 1942, "We had the scope from hell," said Gustavsson, at a DICE talk attended by Gamasutra. "We made a new engine while we were building the game. And we were to have everything from submarines to B-17 bombers." "It’s innovation over execution that we aim for," he added. "We’re almost running after the disc as it goes to master to slap on another feature. That’s both a blessing and a curse." Learning From Mistakes -- Or Not "Over the years, our concept of innovation changed," he said. "In the old days it was numbers on the back of the box. Now it’s online features, emotion, and experience. I think you can see in our new titles how our minds have changed." "But the question is, did we then learn from our mistakes in terms of scope in 2000?" The answer -- not really. They again made an engine while developing the game in the case of Battlefield: Bad Company, while also tackling a single player campaign, which they hadn’t done before. Then came Mirror’s Edge, which was a completely original title. "Mirror’s Edge -- interesting game, interesting for our studio," he summarized. "The first risk was the choice of engine. Initially it was intended to be released on our Frostbite internal engine, but we saw that Bad Company was having trouble with it." This prompted the move to UE3. "The second was searching for the key of innovation for the game," he continued. "When we started it, the company was in need of a new IP. We didn’t want to put all out eggs in the same basket with Battlefield Bad Company." Finding The Fun The team came up with three ideas, and prototyped -- and then scrapped -- each one. "What the team quickly found out when we played it was that it’s very hard to control or see your limbs in first person shooters," he said, and at this point ideas from parkour and Prince of Persia were introduced. "The team stepped back, and started with paper and pen, trying to sort out all the problems with the first person view," said Gustavsson. "Once they had it on paper, the next step was animations, trying to prove that it could work." Eventually, they prototyped it and found it to be fun. "There were loads of iterations to perfect the moves, and the flow of movement," said Gustavsson. The team built a room in which you could do all the moves -– getting this proof of concept down was a galvanizing moment for the company. Looking Ahead Looking forward: "What innovations lie ahead for us as a studio?" he posed. "New ways to [reach the] customer, and new business models. Not a product, but a service. Data-driven development." For example, the free-to-play Battlefield Heroes, and the XBLA, PSN, and PC title Battlefield 1943. "For us, we wanted to do something new, so we’re delivering a slice of a full experience,” he said. Multiplayer, so there’s lots to do. "Do you have to innovate?" he asked. "I would argue that there’s still high demand for innovation." But as a designer, "in the end you have to ask yourself -– is this self-fulfillment, or will this actually make the product stronger?” But is innovation possible, or even desirable in a bad economy? "Even though it’s bad times, I don’t think we should stop innovating," he said. In bad times we should definitely go for innovation. The key thing is that you need to work wisely with it." "Innovation itself is not the problem. It’s not the search for innovation, it’s the search for fun."

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