The Battlefield 4 beta is now out in the open (check out our console and PC impressions), and with the game set for release in only a few days, you'll be excused for being a little bit overwhelmed with Frostbite (sorry ...).
We recently had a chat with Battlefield and DICE creative director Lars Gustavsson about the upcoming shooter, the possibilities of the next generation, and the evolution of the Battlefield narrative.
MMGN: The Battlefield series started out on PC and has made what I would say a slow transition to consoles, in that it always seems like you’re refining the Battlefield experience for that audience. How would you define the approach to the console development of Battlefield 4 compared to the PC focus?
Lars Gustavsson: Modern Combat was our first console experience back in 2005, so that was a while ago, really. Then when we did Bad Company in 2008. In some areas we almost dumbed it down too much. We underestimated the console gamer. And I think from there we’ve come to realise that it’s definitely a hardcore audience.
MMGN: Does that change the philosophy of the design team? I mean, was it once a group of PC gamers, now more console gamers?
Lars Gustavsson: Many of the team only used to be PC. Nowadays, it needs to be a mixed bag. To be honest I think I’m a better shooter player on console than PC [laughs].
MMGN: The core pillar of the Battlefield experience, the one thing I think is the most appealing -- at least for tech heads -- is the engine in Frostbite. This is the third iteration now. What I want to know is, how has the engine’s most significant advancements allowed you to improve the Battlefield experience?
Lars Gustavsson: When we started working with Frostbite 3, one of the main changes was to do a big overhaul. That was in order to make the scale to cater for delivering the game across five platforms and take it to the next-gen hardware, while still guaranteeing the experience on the current consoles. So that was one of the primary focuses. Then we started looking into feedback. We wanted to know how we could continue to push the boundaries for destruction. It’s dear to me that we started with nothing and ended up working and evolving it with such passionate feedback from the community.
We keep pushing those boundaries of destruction. Now with the concept of levolution, we started to spring up the world not only with more destruction, but also with more interactive points - Lars Gustavsson.
MMGN: Is Levolution a big part of the change, and that desire to push the boundaries, as you say?
Lars Gustavsson: The concept of Levolution allows the combination of two big areas that bring combat and battle to life: destruction, and large, engaging environments. In combination with 60fps on next-gen consoles, 16 different players on consoles, and the next generation overall, there are things we couldn’t have done for the first time without Frostbite, and Levolution is one of those things. It’s a huge leap for the franchise, not only on console, but also for the idea behind Levolution, and how it can evolve beyond this game.
MMGN: Can you explain Levolution in as simple a way as possible? Because I think the trailers and previews have done an okay job of showcasing what’s possible in the game, but I’d love to hear what it is about the idea that makes it so unique to the Battlefield 4 experience.
Lars Gustavsson: Levolution, in the simplest form, is a design concept. It’s a concept about the interactive battlefield. When we started on Battlefield 4, we thought, how can we blend drama, interaction and destruction into multiplayer matches? How can we blend all of these together, and create an engaging, exhilarating experience? Many games are often quite stale. It’s all about running around shooting each other in a world. Battlefield has always, since Bad Company and Frostbite 1, been known for destruction. We keep pushing those boundaries. Now with the concept of Levolution, we started to spring up the world not only with more destruction, but more interactive points.
MMGN: Is it something executable on a large scale only, or can it be refined down to a really simple act with a large, influential execution?
Lars Gustavsson: If you’re talking about each and every one think you can do -- it could be the alarm in a car, metal detectors, starting a sprinkler system to disorientate an enemy, turn off the power -- a lot of these things, when you talk about them one on one, they almost sound too simple, but that’s the beautiful thing, that we want people to quickly assess the battlefield, and think, “I wonder if I can interact with that”. To do it, to set the trap, to get the upper hand on the enemy. Not only with their weapon or vehicle.
MMGN: Well we’ve seen in the trailers how a skyscraper comes crashing to the ground…
Lars Gustavsson: We’ve tried to build the idea in different ways. New ways, with new tastes for every level. So you can break a levy and flood a city. Reach areas you couldn’t reach before. Drive boats around the city where you couldn’t drive your vehicles. Beautiful, sunny days turning into a stormy, raging sea.
MMGN: Well, the water is definitely something that has a far more dynamic feel to it...
Lars Gustavsson: Well that’s the last part of Levolution I want to talk about, that interactive, dynamic water. I don’t think I’ve ever seen water interact like that. You certainly see it in an interactive experience, and that’s where it started for us. But the question was, how can we implement it for multiplayer? How can we play hide and seek on these waves. In a way, that’s where Levolution began: with the water.
MMGN: I’ve seen the game on current-gen, as well as next-gen (PS4) consoles. I’ve heard from a few developers about their experiences working on the new hardware, and the general consensus is that, on a broad scale, they’re more similar than what the 360 and PS3 were in the early stages. Is that a sentiment you agree with?
Lars Gustavsson: Even on an extremely high level, I think they have more things in common. It’s much easier to develop and to deliver on five platforms, which is good for us. With Frostbite, being able to work so long on the current generation, it’s allowed us to ensure that the engine, whatever platform we have it on at the end, that it’s able make the most of the platform, so that’s been the good thing of the extended generation. But overall we don’t know what to expect with new hardware, even when we’re working on it. I think we’ve been extremely privileged to have the time to work on this generation, and embrace the possibilities it’s presented. It’s helped the transition.
MMGN: I feel that the game is smoother, more refined on next-gen consoles, but that’s just me, and I think that’s to be expected. I still went in knowing what to expect, and came away getting the Battlefield experience I think many people have come to love. Is the hope that something like Levolution -- or the idea behind it -- will evolve the experience, but still keep it grounded in the “Only in Battlefield” type moment?
Lars Gustavsson: Well, usually anyone that plays Battlefield has a special moment to tell, and that will never change. It is a marketing pitch, the whole “Battlefield Moments” [laughs], but it is the fact that anyone that’s played Battlefield has usually experienced something that no one else has, and that’s really special to us.
MMGN: I had an experience like that myself on the water against another boat. It’s hard to explain but advantage alternated between myself and the enemy as the waves and weather shifted.
Lars Gustavsson: Well previously, the water was rough but it may as well have been flat. Whoever fired first, land or sea, usually won the battle. It was just used as transport. That’s where the concept of dynamic water came into play during development. When we started building it, I tried to inspire the team by talking about old Battlefield games, with tanks fighting in the sand dunes, and how the weaker tank would have to run around and hide, came out, shoot, go back into cover. And that actually makes for a very competitive, engaging experience. So I said, let’s start with that. They went and looked at the boats, and we approached them like they’re tanks. I think what you experienced was a combination of that.
MMGN: Okay, so I know there are a few people out there genuinely interested in single-player. How is the team looking to improve on the narrative and character development for the campaign?
Lars Gustavsson: We’ve worked a lot with the characters. We’ve tried to build a script that is more relatable to the emotions and feelings of the people around you, and what they go through together in this journey, rather than big things that neither you nor I will ever experience.
MMGN: How do you do that though without compromising the explosiveness of the experience?
Lars Gustavsson: Of course, we put them under extreme circumstances that might be a bit over the top, but when you correlate them with feelings and emotions that we can associate with, it makes the story more believable. I think the team has done a great job in that regard.
MMGN: Is there much carry-over from a gameplay perspective -- and maybe even narrative and character sense -- between single-player and multiplayer?
Lars Gustavsson: Definitely! That’s actually a really important thing for me, to be being able to share between single-player and multiplayer. Just as we take things from the campaign to online, we’ve taken a lot of gameplay from multiplayer into single-player. So there’s more freedom in each situation to take your own approach in how to solve a problem. It shouldn’t be, “there’s the RPG - take out the tank”. If you want to use a mine, or run up and place C4, you can use your squad to engage the target in different ways. A lot of these things help shape the battlefield and narrative that can transcend both single-player and multiplayer, which I feel has allowed us to create a more coherent story and campaign overall.
MMGN: Thanks for the chat, and good luck with the launch!