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Battlefield 1

DICE: From Pinball Dreaming to Battlefield's Conquest

We take a look at the studio's past, and chart how it has led them to the success of Battlefield 1.

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DICE is one of the most famous studios in the world, working closely with EA in recent years to produce a number of games, among which is the famous Battlefield series, of which Battlefield 1 is the latest entry. With many players engrossed in Battlefield 1 right now, and with Star Wars Battlefront still supported by DLC after last year's release, we decided to take a look back at the origins of the studio and chart how it went from a small project in Sweden, transforming into the powerhouse that it is today.

Pre-Battlefield 1942, DICE can be usefully summarised by the short paragraph found on DICE's own website:

Founded in 1992 by four friends from the Amiga demo scene, DICE (then Digital Illusions) created the cult hit Pinball Dreams for the Amiga. Ten years later, the pivotal Battlefield 1942 would change the future of online gaming and DICE forever.

Yep, that's right, the industry heavyweights started as a small group in Sweden 24 years ago, eventually moving to Gothenburg in 1994, and hitting the big time with Battlefield 1942 in 2002.

But it wasn't all pinball from 1992 to 2002. Motorhead, Codename Eagle, and S40 Racing were also produced in that time, and there was even a platformer called Benefactor in 1994. Motorhead, most notably, raised the visual bar for its time, running at 60 FPS and impressing the likes of Nvidia. DICE said goodbye to 2D Amiga games and said hello to high quality 3D games, following Motorhead with even more 3D racers. There was even a horse-riding game called Riding Champion: Legacy of Rosemond Hill, but we doubt that's what many people remember DICE for these days.

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Motorhead pushed the visual boundaries of 3D racers.

It wasn't until Battlefield 1942 that DICE started to take the shape of the studio we know them as today, and by that we of course mean providers of online warfare. In 2002 DICE moved away from racers and pinball and moved into the world of war and the FPS (they did release other games like Shrek that same year, but that's not quite as important). The team built upon what they had done with Codename Eagle, but that's not the main reason why Battlefield 1942 was such a success. The reason it was a hit is because players loved the multiplayer side of the game, experiencing warfare up close and personal. It was the beginning of the Battlefield multiplayer experience that set the series apart from others even now, and the little things like repairing vehicles were (and still are) iconic parts of the gameplay. It sold four million copies and won many awards, unsurprisingly, and there is even a thriving modding scene, introducing everything from Star Wars to pirate ships.

At the heart of Battlefield 1942 was something that really made it stand out. If you look at other popular shooters from that year alone, such as Timesplitters 2 and James Bond 007: Nightfire, being a lone wolf was the order of the day. In these games you could tackle an army by yourself and take everyone down like a hero, but in Battlefield the player-mentality was dramatically shifted, making it necessary for people to work as a team and co-ordinate for objective-based game modes like Conquest. You could no longer rely on your own sharp aim to survive any more; this was real war.

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Vehicles were a key part of the appeal for Battlefield 1942.

The following years saw new Battlefield games and expansions, such as Battlefield 1942: The Road to Rome and Battlefield Vietnam, and DICE even returned to their racing roots with Rallisport Challenge 2 in 2004. The studio switched to modern warfare (a phrase that would become much more important later on) with Battlefield 2 in 2005, offering a shooter that was no longer based on historical warfare but that was instead drawing upon the warfare happening right now, using modern weapons, vehicles, and factions.

The scale of the series was kicked up a notch with Battlefield 2. Now up to 64 players could play on the same map, with three different variations for each map depending on how many people were playing. Truly epic wars could be waged, and squads, squad leaders, and commanders were all added to keep order on the battlefield. Teamplay was taken deeper as well, giving points for team actions such as healing. Once again, it was about working together as a cohesive unit, not being a lone gunner.

That's not all though, as Battlefield 2 saw the introduction of a progression system, one that would persist throughout the series. Statistics were recorded centrally, rank promotions were given based on points, and weapons could be unlocked with each level. Medals, pins, and ribbons were also awarded, providing that hook to keep players coming back for more to level up their characters, the same hook that we see so often in online shooters now.

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The modern setting marked a change for the Battlefield series with Battlefield 2.

In 2006, after declaring their intentions to do so in 2004 and buying a significant amount of shares, EA acquired DICE for around 175.5 million Swedish Krona (roughly £12.7 million at the time). The studio was subsequently renamed to EA Digital Illusions CE, and the CEO Patrick Söderlund then took the position of an EA Studio General Manager. DICE Canada, overseen by DICE co-founder Fredrik Liliegren, saw less fortunate times, however, as immediately after the deal was done EA closed the branch. "We've been working very closely with EA for the past five years, and this is a very natural step for us as we move into the next generation of gaming," Söderlund said after the acquisition, and the next project would certainly be in the "next generation" mindset.

Battlefield 2142 was the first game to come out of DICE after the EA acquisition, and this was truly something that Battlefield fans hadn't seen before. While the previous entries had been grounded in some form of reality, whether past or present, this threw the series into the future, where a new Ice Age threatened earth and two factions vied for control. Sci-fi weapons came in, big new futuristic vehicles, and an asymmetric Titan game mode, however, it still retained a number of features that made Battlefield fans love the series, such as the ranking system and a large player count. While Battlefield 2142 was well received and popular with fans, it wasn't a direction the studio stuck with, and it was last game in the Battlefield series to go into this futuristic setting.

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The Northern Strike expansion for Battlefield 2142 brought the fight to 2145.

2007 saw the release of a game that would change not only the world of FPS games, but the gaming world as a whole, but this time it wasn't from DICE. Call of Duty did what Battlefield 2 had before, and brought their WW2 shooter series into modern day with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and it would be an understatement to say it was an immense success (you can read more about that by hitting this link). The representation of brutal current conflicts, intense and addictive multiplayer action, and a gripping narrative led to rave reviews and everybody was playing it. Call of Duty 4 made contemporary conflict the go-to theme for shooters hoping to emulate its unprecedented success, and that is where DICE returned with Battlefield: Bad Company.

Narrative came more into the spotlight with Bad Company, and instead of a big army, the plot focused on your tight-knit squad, a group of friends. In this way the campaign provided something new for players to explore, but the multiplayer stayed with the tried-and-tested Battlefield formula, even if DICE initially tried to deviate a little by removing Conquest. Eventually, they reinstated Conquest following the demands of fans, and again they hit the magic formula in terms of multiplayer, with critics and players alike heaping it with praise, especially in terms of the new feature of destructible environments. Yes, you could now blow a house to smithereens with explosives, make craters in the floor, and generally wreck the place, and who wouldn't love that?

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Battlefield: Bad Company took destruction to a whole new level.

The next year saw DICE briefly return back to its WW2 roots with Battlefield 1943. Moving players to the Pacific theatre, Battlefield 1943 brought online play back to a historical setting via the medium of Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Despite not being a full release as such, this proved popular, including the same lovable brand of action with vehicles and large maps.

This return to history would be short-lived, however, as the majority of games releases between 2009 and 2014 would take place in the modern era. First there was Battlefield Bad Company 2, building on the success and destructive intensity of the first game. Then you had Battlefield 3 and of course Battlefield 4, both of which came with a lot of expansions. Although the games weren't always perfect, Battlefield 4's multiplayer being in a particularly choppy state at launch, all of these were received with relative positivity, and Battlefield's success kept on coming.

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Battlefield 4's multiplayer was full of glitches and bugs on release.

2015 saw the release of something even bigger for DICE, in the form of a game that tied their speciality in online warfare with a gigantic franchise of immense status. That was of course Star Wars Battlefront, and DICE had no shortage of pressure when developing this mammoth title. Star Wars Battlefront was a beloved franchise that debuted on consoles in 2004, and many were expecting big things when the decision was made to revitalise the series.

The result was a game that was mostly positive, although not without issues. There was criticism levelled at the game for shallow combat, a lack of content on release, and for favouring casual gamers over the hardcore crowd, but for the most part people liked the merging of the Star Wars universe with DICE's brand of warfare. Some described it as a "Star Wars Battlefield" game, which is by no means an insult. In fact, it was popular enough to warrant a sequel which should be coming next year.

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Although not without flaws, Star Wars Battlefront is a fun game that is still receiving content.

This year saw DICE release two major titles as well. Firstly, Mirror's Edge Catalyst brought the cult series back for another outing after the 2008 original. What was a far bigger release for DICE, though, was Battlefield 1. When Battlefield 1 was announced, anticipation was huge. Deciding to go for WW1 as a setting - a war that is largely under-represented in video games - was a bold move for DICE and EA. How could they translate the war into a game? How could they make a conflict famous for static trench warfare accessible? How would they approach the horrors that tore apart countries and left millions dead?

In regards to the latter point, they came under fire a few times. Their social media campaign, including tweets and a picture of EA's chief competitive officer Peter Moore in a Battlefield onesie, didn't go down well with many people, and several others expressed distaste at the representation of certain parts of the conflict, such as the Italian Alpini in regards to the Monte Grappa setting.

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Battlefield 1's World War One setting was relatively surprising when announced.

Despite these issues, Battlefield 1 was (and still is) a success for DICE and EA, bringing back a historical setting that fans had been demanding from shooters for a while, while still retaining that Battlefield style of gameplay that people love so much. Vehicles, squads, large-scale battles, and everything that made Battlefield what is came to several of the theatres of war that defined WW1, and a much-improved single-player campaign was the cherry on top of the cake.

What's more is that DICE and EA have changed the way they approach the game post-release as well. EA plans to build a competitive platform around the game and there is also a commitment to keep bringing content, activities, and more for fans (including livestreams, custom games, Battlefest events, new maps, new weapons, and much more). There has always been a commitment to produce DLC for Battlefield games after release, but there is an extra emphasis on new content, updates, and longevity for Battlefield 1, especially since there has also been word that no new Battlefield game will be coming to us for a while.

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Battlefield 1 is here to stay, and DICE and EA are committed to keeping it alive.

So what else is in store for DICE's future? Plans certainly extend beyond Battlefield 1. Star Wars Battlefront is still receiving new content, with Rogue One: Scarif accompanying the release of the spin-off film, and a sequel to Battlefront is also coming as well, including the new trilogy too. Next year should be pretty busy for DICE, then, if they continue working to add content to their existing games while working on future releases.

Beyond a Battlefront sequel, it's impossible to say what DICE will do next. It will certainly be interesting to see which direction they take another Battlefield game when it's time for us to hear word of that. Could we see another historical setting? Will it be a return to WW2? We'll have to wait and see on that front, but for now it seems like DICE has their hands full, as does EA.

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Which direction will the next Battlefield go in?

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