EA's iconic games studio is taking a number of big gambles.
It has opened a new LA studio, given Battlefield to another developer, it's trying to re-launch its cult Mirror's Edge franchise and then build the greatest Star Wars game of all time. MCV finds out more from DICE general manager Karl-Magnus Troedsson.
Dead Space developers Visceral are taking charge of the next Battlefield. Are there many elements from Dead Space that the team will be carrying across?
We haven't started talking about single player yet, but yes absolutely. There are challenges as well with this new team, too. It's the first game they have built on Frostbite, so using new tools, pipelines and engines. That's part of the fun, right? Learning something new.
Now you have a second Battlefield studio, are you trying to make this an annual franchise like Call of Duty?
I get that question a lot. We will make Battlefield games if we have great ideas and teams passionate about building them. If that means we have games that will suit an annual release then maybe we'll do that. Visceral had been working in parallel with the Battlefield 4 team in secrecy.
In the past we made a Battlefield game, people played it for two years then they moved to the next one. We're now moving into a parallel way of looking at the IP. We'd be happy if people want to play Battlefield 4 even after Hardline is out, because we are going to continue taking care of the old games as well.
"We're going to build the best Star Wars game ever
created. The franchise deserves it."
Karl-Magnus Troedsson, DICE
DICE has perhaps its biggest ever line-up with Battlefield, Mirror's Edge and Star Wars. How are you managing that?
It's extremely positive but also a big responsibility. One way of doing it is by opening up new studios, like DICE LA. We try to look at it as diversifying who is working on your games, which is what we're doing with Battlefield. The rest of it is about about when you are going to release the titles, how you scope them, how to staff them. All that kind of boring stuff that I do in the background.
Mirror's Edge is one of few games with a female lead. Is that something the team felt was important?
Faith is very near and dear to us. We strongly believe in her and that's part of the reason why we're so passionate about building this game. We're very tight lipped about what's going on in the game, but I can say that Faith in many ways is Mirror's Edge. Having a strong heroine is very important to us as well. And, in this case, not a female heroine that we're stereotypically exaggerate like some other game franchises have done historically.
Mirror's Edge was a cult hit but not a huge one. And it's now six years old. So how do you approach a sequel to a title like that?
We've done a lot of analysing of the old game. Many people found it very fun but very frustrating. We need to make a game that more players will enjoy. It's not just going to be a rehash of the old game.
Your other title is Star Wars Battlefront. What's it like to work on such an iconic IP?
Historically DICE hasn't worked on licenses that are not our own. So this is different for us. If someone came to us with another licence then we'd probably say no but, in this case, Star Wars has a very special place in our hearts. So when the chance to work on this game came up, we grabbed it. But that comes with a different kind of dependency that we haven't had for a long time as we're working with someone else's IP. But LucasFilm has been absolutely spectacular. Everyone is approaching this with the same idea – that we are going to create the best Star Wars game ever. ??
That's quite a statement.?
But it's something that fits us. At DICE we are a passionate group. We always try and remain humble, which comes pretty naturally to us, but what people might not know is that we are very competitive about what we're doing. We always want to surpass what we've done in the past. We don't shy away from wanting Battlefield to be the preferred choice in the first person shooter genre. When we approach something like Battlefront there's only one way for us to think about it and that's: we are going to build the best Star Wars game ever created, if nothing else because Star Wars deserves it.
Your Battlefront and Mirror's Edge E3 videos were behind-the-scenes teasers. Why do that?
It's about how we talk about EA internally, and it's refreshing that we dare to go to E3 and show work in progress rather than perfectly pre-rendered trailers, which is what a lot of other companies have done, which no-one mentioned. We showed movies that are not about a finished game; it's about the people that made it, their passion, and a status report about where we are right now. We want to get closer to the players. Everyone works so fricking hard to create great games and that's because we are very passionate about it. We want people to know that.
What inspired you to do these early concept videos?
There are several things, from allowing people to buy half-finished games in alpha state and allowing them to be part of the development to the crowd-funding of games where people can pay to be part of the process.
We absolutely take cues from gamers: what they can relate to and how they want to communicate with us. They want us to be more open and we will be.
So you want gamers to get involved in making the games?
I strongly believe that you can't design by committee. You can focus group-test a good idea to death if you're not careful. It can't be a democracy where everyone can be part of the designing – especially if it's a new IP. But if you have a long-lasting franchise like Battlefield, gamers know what it is and its core values, and if you create something like this you can listen to core fans and get very valid input as to which direction you should take it.
How have you found making next-gen triple-A games?
No development of a game of this size is a breeze. There could be 250 people involved in doing this and that doesn't count all of the support people in EA that are needed to get a game to market. So it's a huge undertaking. Every platform transition we go through is a challenge from that perspective, but when you have taken the plunge and once you have gotten over the first generation of your games on a new platform, everything becomes easier. It showed at E3 this year. Some people are getting into the groove on the new platforms.
Have you had to change the studio's structure at all?
No. The Battlefield franchise has grown and we have a sister studio that is helping us build a game which is cool. DICE has grown. We have a studio in LA. We built that in order to get the right capacity for the Star Wars game. From that perspective there's been changes going on.
One thing that has changed a bit, but isn't brand new, is that we strongly believe that studios like DICE should not work on one franchise. That's been an idea in DICE way back before we started building the first Mirror's Edge. The theory is this: if you bring a group of talented people and have them working on a big franchise they can do that for several iterations. But at some point these creative people are going to be like ‘I've worked on three Battlefield games, it would be great to try something else'. We don't want them to leave DICE for something like that. We would rather they say ‘Can I go work on Mirror's Edge or Star Wars?' – Yes, we can sort that for you. Or if you want to you can move to LA and get a little bit more sun. We want to create studios where people can see themselves working for ten or 15 years or even longer.