On 6 May, at London's Gfinity Arena, EA announced this year's entry in the Battlefield first person shooter franchise. Battlefield 1 takes the series to World War 1, with era-specific weaponry, vehicles and new features including cavalry and vehicle classes.
Following an early preview and before the main event livestream, IBTimes UK sat down with EA Studios executive vice president Patrick Soderlund to talk about the decision to depict The Great War, the single player campaign and the difficulty to bringing horses into Battlefield.
Can you talk a bit about the decision to take the series to World War 1, where it has never been before and where few games have gone before?
It wasn't, maybe, the most obvious choice in the beginning. Obviously with [Battlefield] 2, 3, 4 and the Bad Company series we've been in the modern era. We started looking at many different alternatives and were looking at what gameplay we wanted to achieve and build, and how we can build a game that's more fun to play.
Two guys – Stefan Strandberg, director on the game, and his associate – came and pitched World War 1 to me, and I said, 'No, I'm not going to do that'. Then they came back with an incredible pitch, and gave me a glimpse at World War 1 and how different it was and what happened from 1914-1918. Basically, you went from swinging swords from the back of a horse in 1914 to flying bomber planes and tanks and submarines in 1918. The technical revolution or evolution during those four years is probably unmatched in the history of mankind. That, coupled with, it being the Great War, a global war that was everywhere, gave us locations that were different – and slowly pieces started to fall together.
We also wanted to make a more upfront, personal, visceral game so we looked at melee combat in WW1 and then we were like, 'This is it!'. Once we started to realise what gameplay we could deliver and how the era would be portrayed in the [Frostbite] engine and the grand scale of everything, we were sold on it.
Clearly concessions will have to be made in some areas, but just how realistic a depiction of WW1 will we see?
You know how it works. When you play the game it's as fast-paced, maybe even more fast-paced, than Battlefield 4. So we're going to depict WW1 through a modern lens. It's a game after all, let's not kid ourselves, so it has to be great and fun to play but we want to stay authentic with the vehicles we have... the weapons, there's no fake stuff in there. Everything did happen – maybe their weren't 5000 units produced [laughs] and they were experimental, but we're cool with that and it's true to the era.
We see Zeppelins in the trailer and in promotional materials. Can you tell me how they will factor into gameplay?
Vehicles generally are where we've taken some of the biggest leaps in the game. We even have horses in the game, mountable things, it's crazy! We have probably the biggest ships we've ever had in Battlefield before. The Zeppelin is also part of that vehicle series, but I can't give you much detail right now.
You mentioned horses, and for some reason gamers love horses in their games. That must be a difficult thing to implement, especially if, presumably, it's first person as well.
It was one of those things where we started, tried it, and were like, 'No, it doesn't work'. Someone, maybe me, said: 'We must have horses in the game,' so we went back and found a very cool solution for it that you'll get to play.
Moving on to the single player. Battlefield has always been multiplayer focused, but it's recent single player campaigns haven't exactly been well received. With this game, is there a renewed focus on the campaign?
We're not talking specifically about the single player today, but what I can tell you is... there's a couple of things. We've taken a very different approach to single player this year. There are a lot of new people working on the single player, who were frankly recruited for that specifically, from very experienced teams around the world.
The other thing is, when Battlefield Hardline came out, the DICE team got an extra year to work on [Battlefield 1] so for the first time since Battlefield 2, we've been on a three year development cycle – which has given us the opportunity to prototype, play around with ideas and be a bit more creative on how we approach to single player. And frankly give it more time to polish. You saw a lot today and if you consider what others show off when they reveal games – you saw a lot of stuff – multiple maps and it almost looked like a finished game. There was a lot in there and that's a credit to the longer lead-time. Anyone who builds games knows that the more time you get to iterate, the better game you get and I hope we can apply that to single player.
[At this point the interview was cut short]
Activision announced a Modern Warfare remaster recently which was a very popular decision. Would you ever considering revisiting an older Battlefield title in a similar way?
I wouldn't say never. We're not doing it right now, we're focused on Battlefield 1 – but if we think the fans want that I see no reason we couldn't.