Battlefield fans take note. 1943 deserves your attention. Yes it's a download only game that'll be cheap as chips, but that doesn't mean it won't be any good. Still sceptical? Allow DICE's Patrick Liu, lead producer on the follow-up to Battlefield 1942, to change your mind. Here he discusses everything from the franchise's potential to rival Halo and CoD, to the problem with developing shooters on the Wii.
VideoGamer.com: Why are we seeing a download only Battlefield game?
Patrick Liu: It's an experiment for us in every sense. It was just after Bad Company was done, or I was done with my part of Bad Company, we had a couple of guys just hanging around with nothing to do. Speaking to our creative director, Lars Gustavsson, he was involved in the original game, 1942, as well, we figured why not try to remake one of those maps in Frostbite? We have an engine now that's done and things look great in it. So we just tried that and it worked out pretty well. So we decided to make something more of it. It was too good not to release it in some way. It really wasn't planned. We needed to squeeze it into our SKU count somehow and ended up with this downloadable thing. Business wise it's experimental as well, to reach new market and new fans this way and try to make a downloadable game on console, because we haven't done it before.
VideoGamer.com: So you see 1943 perhaps bringing new people into the franchise?
PL: Exactly. We've made some tweaks to make it more accessible, and the price point is really low, so I think it's a good entry point shooter.
VideoGamer.com: Where does the Battlefield franchise sit in terms of profile with other FPS series like Halo and Call of Duty?
PL: It's hard to tell. I think we have our niche in a way, because it's always been heavily vehicle based. There are very few games out there as big and vehicle based as our game. A lot of people focus more on infantry gameplay and a lot of players. Instead we have gone with more vehicles and open maps. There have been a few other games that have tried to do the same thing, the same concept as Battlefield, but I don't think any of those games are as successful as Battlefield yet. Call of Duty is very different in its gameplay, and Halo as well.
VideoGamer.com: Battlefield is very successful, though...
PL: It is, definitely. Both 1942 and Battlefield 2 are still being played. It's still in the charts in some countries, even after so many years. It's quite incredible actually.
VideoGamer.com: What are the key values of the Battlefield franchise? What makes the Battlefield experience unique?
PL: We tried to find the answer ourselves! This game in particular, because it's so scaled down, so focused, we needed to nail the core gameplay of Battlefield. We can't put a lot of unnecessary stuff on it. We're actually removing it. It's not about the number of players. It's not about the setting. It's not about specific vehicles, weapons or specific game modes. Bad Company had this new one, Gold Rush, but it still felt very Battlefield. I think it's about the openness of the game. You can do whatever you want. You can approach your goals in many different ways. If you're a gung-ho soldier and want to go right into battle with your guns blazing you can do that. If you want to be more laid back and more supportive then you can do that as well. I think it caters for so many different players and everyone can contribute to the end goal of the game, which makes it Battlefield.
VideoGamer.com: The franchise is big already, but how far does DICE see it growing? How big can Battlefield get? Can it rival Halo? Can it rival Call of Duty?
PL: I think so, yes. In time I'm confident that we will get there. Once we were at the top. With BF2, there's still nothing out there like BF2. It's still best in its class. I think we're going to reach there again, sooner or later. I think we definitely have the potential. Obviously I don't have the right answer otherwise we would be there by now!
VideoGamer.com: How do you realise that potential? Does Battlefield need comic books, a movie, the more big budget mainstream stuff?
PL: No I don't think so. Personally I don't think it fits the franchise to do things like that. All we need to do is focus down on the franchise, what the core is about and just hammer it, and make people understand that this is Battlefield. Right now Battlefield is a bit all over the place. There are so many different Battlefields. Some people are a bit confused on what it is about. Just make very polished games, just focus on making a really good game. You don't need to do anything else. If you have a good game, that's what you should focus on.
VideoGamer.com: What is in development at DICE right now in terms of Battlefield? What can fans expect to see from the franchise in the next year or so?
PL: I can't say much about that! I can only comment on what we have announced. Battlefield: Heroes is coming. This game. Bad Company 2 was announced. Yes I can confirm that we're working on more games and we're working on several projects.
VideoGamer.com: Battlefield related projects?
PL: Not necessarily. But more games. The thing is, all these games are directed at different segments of the market. Hardcore gamers are into every section of the market. What you have to realise is the hardcore gamers are in most cases a minority. The wider market is much more than the core gamer. Heroes is aiming towards the casual play for free market. Those people are not aware of the other Battlefield titles. They only know this title. Bad Company 2 and 1943 may be closer, actually. If you're a console player, if you know Bad Company you probably know this as well. But still this is at a much lower price point, is download only, and a great entry point for new players.
VideoGamer.com: EA's CEO recently said he will devote half the title count to Nintendo platforms. How does that affect DICE? Do you have to now make games for the Wii and DS?
PL: I can't say so much about that actually. DICE as a studio is quite autonomous. We focus on what we think is best for the studio. If that involves Nintendo or not, well we'll see about that.
VideoGamer.com: Your hardcore fans will have heard your CEO's comments and might be concerned that DICE will leave them behind with a focus on casual games. What do you say to those concerns?
PL: I can say we currently don't have any plans for the Wii. The Wii is a very difficult platform, not just because of the performance but mainly because of the controls. There haven't been any successful shooters so far, as I see it, on Wii. So I think it's very difficult to make it. We are definitely still making PC games, we've not forgotten about that. 1943 is announced for PC. BC2 is announced for the PC, so obviously we got the engine running on PC. We just recently released Mirror's Edge on PC as well. I would say that we will continue to do what we are best at. We are not going casual, just because that is the trend. We're not good at that. It's not our core focus for the studio.
VideoGamer.com: 1943 seems to be a title that might work in terms of cross-platform play. Could that work?
PL: You mean PC and Xbox? No. It's more about fairness and balancing than anything else. The three different platforms have very different input systems. Obviously the mouse and keyboard is much more different, but even the PS3 controller and the 360 controller are different in terms of sensitivity and input and so on. So it wouldn't be fair. PC would obviously own everyone else!
VideoGamer.com: When is the game due out?
PL: This summer.
VideoGamer.com: Will it be a simultaneous release across all platforms?
EA PR GURU: Hopefully! That's the aim but things change if there are slight tweaks.
VideoGamer.com: 1943 doesn't look like a downloadable game, because it looks too good to be a downloadable game...
PL: That's actually the only concern I have. It looks too good so people compare it with full boxed products.
VideoGamer.com: Is there a danger that it will fall in this odd middle ground where it looks too good to be a downloadable game but it doesn't reach the graphical fidelity we're used to with Call of Duty or Killzone, and people won't be sure what it is?
PL: Maybe. That's a matter of communicating with consumers and the fans. Hopefully we will get the message across. This will raise the bar for how people see arcade games. There's nothing like this. If you compare this with, for example, any 2D game, there's a lot of difference.
VideoGamer.com: Would you say it's the best looking downloadable game?
PL: I would like to believe so, yes. Yes, definitely. The production value is off the chart, basically, compared with other games.
VideoGamer.com: Some people are disappointed with the number of players you can have online. Do you have any message for them?
PL: Yes! I understand their concerns. It's not 64 players like the original game. I've been following the forums all weekend. I try to convince people that the number of players doesn't make a good game. The number of players doesn't make Battlefield epic. What does matter is a number of systems and design mechanics that contribute to that. One of them being level design. If you cram a hundred people into one small room obviously it will feel very full, but if you put them out into a street a hundred people isn't a lot. It's the same thing here. The level design is custom made for this number of people. The pacing is made for that so it's perfect. Looking back at the original game, not a lot of servers had 64 players. Those that had were usually not full or had very bad performance.
VideoGamer.com: So why do people want it?
PL: It's so easy to look at a number and say, oh this is the number we should have. It's some sort of magic number, 64. Most people aren't game designers so they don't realise what actually makes a game feel epic. Even though you have 64 players on a map, usually you don't see them all at the same time anyway. You see maybe 10 people at the same time. You can still achieve that with 24 players. If you look at professional and clan players, most of the clan matches back then were eight versus eight, or 12 versus 12. At most they were maybe 16 versus 16, but usually they were eight or 12 on each team, which makes 24 players at the end. I really wouldn't worry about the game feeling empty or too slow because there are 24 players. It's designed for 24 players.
VideoGamer.com: The Battlefield franchise has a rich history and there's lots of interest. Fans are asking when you are going to make certain games. Do you keep an eye on the forums?
PL: Oh yes! I feel a little sad sometimes when people say they're lazy or they're not listening to the fans. Yes of course we keep track of what the forums are saying. I can't say anything really, but we have plans. Definitely big plans. The fans don't need to worry.
VideoGamer.com: Where does 1943 sit in terms of quality in comparison with other Battlefield games? Hardcore fans might look down their noses at it because it's download only.
PL: I think they should give this a try, really. It's definitely not a casual game. It's not easy. It's not a stupid game. The trial version is free. If you give it a try and see what you think, then you can say if you like it or not. We've done quite a few tests with non Battlefield players and also old fans. Overwhelmingly good, positive feedback on the atmosphere and the spirit of 1942. It's really in there.
Battlefield 1943 is due out this summer as a download only title on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.