After the big reveal of Battlefield 1 at the tail-end of last week, we had the chance to sit down with DICE Software Engineer / UX Designer Nathalie Ek, who told us a little bit about the WW1 shooter coming from the studio towards the end of this year. Naturally, the bold historical setting was one of the main talking points:
What are the benefits and potential drawbacks of the World War I setting?
Nathalie Ek: One of things with choosing the World War I theme is that it can be on a huge scale. The battlefields can be really epic, because just imagine going back a hundred years with a fresh feeling to it. It would be quite epic.
Choosing to go back to that era is pretty much a dream to come true, somewhat, because we've been thinking about it for so long. It's not until now that the time is actually right for it.
After Battlefield 4 we felt like we wanted to do something new and challenge ourselves and just mix it up a little bit. And when we researched this era we just found it to be perfect, with both weapons and vehicles and where it took place; pretty much all over the world. And I think that will, not shock people, but surprise them, because I think most people think it's all about trench warfare and being in Europe.
So you said to yourself that in order to keep the series feeling fresh you'd do something fairly drastic?
NE: World War I has been "on the wall" for a couple of years, so it wasn't like 'oh, let's do something, let's do World War I because we never thought about it before'. Because we have thought about it before, it's just that it hasn't been the right time until now.
In terms of the real events of the Great War - how much of that has made it in? Is it more of a backdrop or will there be historical figures in it?
NE: We're trying to stay true to it. We want it to feel authentic and look authentic. We're trying to stay true, with respect, of course.
In World War II era games people are more familiar with the famous beach landings and that kind of thing, but World War I is less known to people so they wouldn't really pick up any of those beats. As a general theme it's really raw...
NE: But I think it's part of it, even if people don't know that much about it they will maybe learn something from it. It wasn't that we need to do something that people know about, it was more 'let's teach them about this and make them curious, read up on it and find out more things about it.'
How does making you feel really close to things, like the fact that you're handling a bolt-action rifle, affect how you play the game?
NE: We want to be authentic, of course. They sound and they look as they do. However, we do want a fun game so we're kind of designing it to fit the actual gameplay. It's a mix of tweaks, and finding the right balance.
One of the questions that came from the audience was: Will there be weapons customisation and that kind of thing? Is that more like tying a dagger to a rope, because you don't have the same degree of... well, natural customisation.
NE: We can't comment on any details on that. We want to have something to show.
When you've got to a modern day tank in a Battlefield game there is a tremendous sense of power there, but World War I tanks are quite different. Is that something you're trying to convey?
NE: There's always the rock, paper, scissors... There's always some sort of counter action, weapon, something. Is that what you're asking about?
We were thinking more of the visceral feel of it. How it's more crude and clumsy.
NE: One tank compared to the other might be completely different. And you have to realise this and learn both strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to gameplay I think maybe you have to think about it a little bit more, and not just grab whatever if you want it to fit your squad and the game you're playing. I think the player needs to be more into the game.
How do you make the player feel like a hero, while being presumably very vulnerable on say a horse with biplanes incoming?
NE: I can't really comment on that, but I can go back to what Lars [Gustavsson, design director] said about rock, paper, scissors; there will always be some way to counter attack, even planes. I cannot comment on how or what, but there will be ways. And it won't feel like you're just on your own, and you're really vulnerable. There are things you can do to maybe bring a plane down or do whatever.
Combining efforts with the rest of the team then?
NE: Yeah, not only being on your own, but you know playing with your squad and using teamplay to take down whatever you want to take down. Because teamplay is... Battlefield 1 is at its best played when played using your teammates.
The five player squad, the persistent squad, can you explain what that is?
NE: Imagine you and I joining a squad, we're playing on one server and then we realise maybe we should join another server, because our friends are there. So you and I can just join the other server as one and we're still in the same squad. So you never have to leave your squad, join a server, and then join another squad. So it's pretty much going to follow you around.
And there's no special mode catering to that five-man squad?
NE: I can't comment on that... you're sneaky.