Alex Mann sat down with Battlefield 4’s Creative Director, the amiable Lars Gustavsson, at EB EXPO ’13 to talk all things Battlefield.
I’m currently waiting on Lars Gustavsson, a name that’s been associated with Battlefield since the original prototype. He isn’t late, far from it, he’s been talking Battlefield all morning with various media and gaming personalities – but instead of a rest he’s taken the few precious seconds between interviews to talk with some passing fans. They approached eagerly: backpacks in tow with straps pulled taught, causing their t-shirts to ride up awkwardly. But they couldn’t care less about this fashion faux pas – they’re shaking hands with the guy responsible for a game that is obviously so close to their hearts. Lars greets them fondly – and as they talk strategy you can see a genuine happiness behind his classy specs.
“I’ve had a number of life changing stories from people” Lars says when we finally sit down. “Not only that they love Battlefield, but how Battlefield has changed their lives.” He would have modestly left it at that, but when I press him for more he gives in. “One guy talked about how, without Battlefield, he wouldn’t know what he’d be doing today – but because of Battlefield he got into the games industry and now has a solid career.” He smiles and reverts to the back foot, feeling the need to explain. “[Hearing this] is important for us. Just because we’re part of EA and, you know, DICE is a big studio and Battlefield being around for a long time, a lot of people assume that we’re just a big factory spitting out games.”
“But what happens on the inside is we still get just as hurt when there’s bad criticism. We live and bleed for our games and we’re still as passionate, it’s just that we have more possibilities than we had before. So to get to here is extremely healthy for me and for the team back home who often don’t get to have that direct contact. ”
While the DICE crew may be starved for contact in its physical form, they’re undoubtably rich in its digital iteration. “With Battlefield 3 we’ve learnt a lot and we’ve brought in so many new players. There were an amazing number of players in Battlefield, I think the official number is 17 Million?” Lars says, before adding “… but I think it’s more than that to say the least.”
But what’s new in Battlefield 4 that the other series didn’t have? The next generation for starters, and it seems technology has finally caught up to DICE’s ambitious visions. “Two of the things that I’m most happy about is the fact that we can finally go to 64 players at 60 frames per second. All the way through, since we did Bad Company and Bad Company 2 on the current generation, during those days we couldn’t do 64 players because we didn’t want to sacrifice the destruction, we didn’t want to sacrifice vehicles. To be honest if we did we’d be selling out and it wouldn’t be Battlefield anymore. It’s not until now that we feel that “Yeah, it’s the time”. For us, the next generation is really the generation for Battlelfield.”
This point is blatantly reflected through the varying Battlefields 4 releases. While they share similar functions, it’s now evident that the PS3 and XBOX 360 copies will be lacking in certain areas that goes beyond mere frame rate.
” [For example], on all platforms we integrate the Battle Log into the game, that social connectivity that we introduced in Battlefield 3. To be honest it was mainly PC players who used it. It’s where you have your friends, you can see the battle reports and a plot of these things. We’ve integrated a light version into the current gen and then the full integration into the next generation so that, to me, means a lot in terms of building that social loop – in terms of playing with your friends and competing against your friends.”
Lars spots something in the distance. His eyes light up and he points excitedly “It’s Faith! Mirrors Edge! The girl with the yellow bag!” He’s almost giddy, but as the moment passes he casually falls back to the conversation.
“If you’re new to shooters or new to Battlefield we’ve introduced a test range that’s been lost for a long time. Basically it’s an offline mode where you can just go in and try out all the new vehicle types and as you start unlocking new weapons and gadgets you can go in there, try them out and basically get used to them before people start shooting at you. You can shoot at targets and so on, learning to predict arc on your tank. You can even learn to fly the transport helicopter before you have the responsibility of your whole squad [laughs]”
“Overall, we’ve worked a lot with the accessibility, trying to ease people into the game better, explaining game modes better. We have the introduction of team death match, we have domination in there from the start this time around – so more smaller modes, giving the possibility for those who aren’t used to big battlefields, to not force you, but give you the freedom to play as a lone wolf or a team player.”
“We’ve worked a lot with input latency and so on to give you more control over your soldier. We’ve reworked the kill-cam to get a better understanding of why you die, better understanding of what customisation does to your game, and overall I would say – I truly hope and believe – that we’ve removed a lot of the obstacles that people might have felt injured/inhibited them from being comfortable getting into Battlefield. Once you get in there you get your first kicks, but then you’re free to open up and see if you want more of the bigger battles: try out the vehicles, try out the team play, why not trying out commander in game or on the tablets … It’s, it’s an enormous game.”
When asked what games have particularly influenced his vision for Battlefield over the years, Lars draws on a wide range of sources – but one title in particular shines through…
“We are products of the society we live in, the upbringing we have, what happens around us and we can definitely see that, from Battlefield 3 for example, we took a lot of inspiration from Mirrors Edge and how you interact with the world so it is a constant evolution. I try really hard to play not only FPS but to play all types of games. We learned a lot from RTS games in how to build commander mode for example. One of my favourite series of all time is the first Most Wanted. I played it to doomsday, and Shadow of the Collossus is one of those universes that I…” his eyes glaze “to be honest, Mirrors Edge. I was Creative Director for the studio but I wasn’t on the actual team. And when the team came with the first prototype I was sort of blown away which, it’s one of those universes that I’m really longing to go back to so I’m super happy that we’re now building Mirrors Edge 2.”
The Battlefield 4 Beta has closed, but the official launch is not far off. The various releases are as follows: October 31 for XBOX 360, PS3 and PC, November 22 for XBOX ONE and November 29 for PS3. For more Battlefield news, check out Lars Gustavsson’s EB Expo presentation below