Return home from E3 and one of the first questions you’re likely to receive is, so what did you see? And while the biggest game expo on earth tends to give its attendees many answers to draw from, for me, there was only one game to start with this year.
, or at least the carefully assembled demo that I played, provided so many moments of wide-eyed awe that I briefly forgot that EA had plunged me into another berserk and shouty pew-pew-fest. I was, in fact, in Hoth, blanketed in a white snow sparkling in the sunlight, gazing up at a Star Destroyer suspended in the sky, charging across the frozen plains with an AT-ST at my side, neutralising rebel scum. I might be done with online shooters–the grind, the murderous angst of waiting to respawn, the boys who spit abuse from their bedrooms–but I am absolutely not done with this.
Following an exhilarating demonstration of Battlefront’s multiplayer mode, I sat with Patrick Bach, general manager at DICE, to discuss EA’s biggest game of E3.
GAMESPOT: How has your E3 been? You must be very happy with the reception to Star Wars: Battlefront?
BACH: Yes it has been amazing. We have set very high standards, and you plan everything you want to achieve, and heading into E3 you focus on what you want to show, and you try your best to make sure it all works. So honestly, things have been very good.
It must be very hard to create demo build that is representative, not misleading, and also entertaining.
Yeah exactly, and also when you haven’t even finished making the game yet. DICE has been going for quite some time now, and we have always been very proud of the fact that when we show our games, we are actually showing ‘the game’. I don’t think we’ve ever done a CG trailer. We’ve done in-game rendered cinematics, but we’ve always used the game’s assets.
Now that you’re showing it to the world, I gather that the response from fans has been rather strong. That must be uplifting, because there has always been a curse with Star Wars games, in that they tend to show so much missed potential.
Yes, you want it to be as good as the films, which means that if we don’t do that, players will be very upset. They will be very clear about that fact.
How much pressure does that put you under?
It’s a different pressure, and of course it’s stupid for us to put ourselves under more pressure. There’s a very… avid Star Wars following, who all want Battlefront to be great. I’ve never heard the expression “do not f*** this up” as many times as I have with this. So that’s where it starts. We get it, “don’t f*** this up”.
“I would agree with you, our single-player has not been as strong as our multiplayer.”
Have you reached a point in development where you’re worrying less?
No, but I think we’ve reached a point where we’re worrying less about what we are doing and what we have done. Before you show a game to the world, there’s ongoing speculation about it. There are 10,000 ways to f*** this up, and people are super detailed on how we will screw up. And I read these posts and I think, hey, I think fans are going to be super happy with what we’re doing.
So, to come here, and to show the game to real people. I mean, actual real people…
And not just Reddit threads…
[Laughs] Exactly, speculating on a trailer, or something. To actually show this to real people and to get their feedback, and to read their emotions, you realise that, oh, these fans are describing the experience that we actually wanted to make. Yes! Now we just need to finish it. But I think we have given people hope.
A New Hope.
I’m so sorry. That was really, really bad.
Don’t print that [laughs].
It’s been a long week.
I’ve had a lot of Star Wars puns all week.
Have you smiled politely at them all?
Okay, moving on. In the past 18 months, many next-gen games have been delayed, and I think it’s quite clear why. By the final years of the last gen, studios had become so familiar with the tech that two-year turnarounds were totally achievable. Today, studios have the same deadlines, but need to build for completely new hardware, which is still quite exotic to them. And so, we have many delays.
But . Battlefront needs to come out when Star Wars Episode 7 comes out, really.
So, considering that hard deadline and relatively quick turnaround, is this why there is no main single-player campaign mode?
“I’ve never heard the expression ‘do not f*** this up’ as many times as I have with this.”
Well, I would say the deadline did influence our decisions early on, at least a bit. But I would like to argue that, a longer dev cycle does not equal a better game. Our experience is that, if you have too long of a development cycle, you will actually start to slip behind the competition, because the idea you started with will begin to become old. It means that you’re getting passed on the inside.
So, we look for sweet spots in game schedules. Generally speaking, if you require more than three years to make a game, you need to reboot the project. What happened at E3 2012? If you decide to make a game at that stage, for delivery right now, it’s going to look three years behind. The point being, compressing the development time, just enough, is super important. It allows us to be current and effective.
With regards to Battlefront’s hard deadline in relation to the movie, y’know, honestly I don’t know if that was discussed at all.
You could argue that there’s no direct connection between what we’re doing and what the movie is doing. Our game is based on a movie that was released in 1977. So, we’re late [Laughs].
But there is a strong commercial incentive to release Battlefront around the same time as the film. One that’s probably too great to pass on.
But I would also argue there is a strong creative reason to be fast too. You don’t want to miss that party. Because it’s an awesome party. We want players to experience episodes IV, V, and VI, before they are able to see VII.
The real challenge for us is, there have been so many Star Wars games in the past. There have been so many Hoth levels.
Sure, it’s .
No exactly, we’ve done this many times before. What we want to do is create an experience that is emotionally on par with the movies. When you play it, it’s supposed to be as awesome as watching the movies. We want to build the most authentic Star Wars experience.
And that’s the key word I took away from the gameplay demo. It felt authentic. Everything, from the Star Destroyer in the sky to the smallest sound effects, screamed Star Wars. Look at it bare-bones, and it’s forty people in a multiplayer arena with some AI. But you’ve detailed the world so excellently that it feels like you’re in the movies.
But still, there’s no single-player game to enjoy. And I wonder if you realised you actually didn’t have the time for it under the strict deadline.
To be honest, single-player was never in the plan. It was never the concept. The concept for us was always that we wanted players to re-live the battles. We wanted them to play the battles from the original movies. And DICE, coming from its Battlefield background, knows how to make awesome battles in that context.
We were also thinking about the Battlefront franchise, which has multiplayer at its core.
DICE is famous for its multiplayer games. I don’t think anyone would deny your team’s pedigree for these amazing, modern, online shooters. And I don’t wish to seem rude, but I would say that people aren’t as enamoured by your single-player campaigns. It leads me to think that, because DICE is becoming more and more important to EA, and is taking on the big jobs, don’t you think the studio needs that talent and personnel to create single-player games of a similar standard?
Yes absolutely, and it’s not as though we haven’t done single-player before. I would agree with you, our single-player has not been as strong as our multiplayer. But then again you could argue that we are comparing our campaigns with what some say are the greatest multiplayer games in the world. If you try to match that, you are probably doomed for failure. Or at least, it’s very, very hard.
I must confess that I also ask this for selfish reasons, because I don’t really enjoy playing online shooters anymore. For example, at the Battlefront booth I was transported to your vision of the Star Wars universe and I was blown away. The sights, the sounds; it all was so wonderful. Then someone camping at my spawn point shot me. And I thought, hmm, that’s not really Star Wars.
[Laughs] Actually, if you’re a Storm Trooper it very much is Star Wars.
Would you like to make a Star Wars single-player game, or would you rather stick to your strengths?
Hmmn, no, we don’t want to stick to our strengths. That’s boring. That’s why we’re making Mirror’s Edge.
If you look at what Battlefront stands for, it’s to recreate these battles. But we’ve also added in some offline missions, that you can play alone or with a friend. Because what you told me about what you loved about playing the game was not describing the story, it was about the world and the actions. The sights and the sounds. That is exactly what we’re giving you.
I get it though, you also want a parallel Star Wars narrative experience. That is not what we’re building. But we are building these small missions too. If you like our world and mechanics, but you don’t want to play with strangers on the internet, then you can still enjoy this game.
One of my colleagues , and he explained it was rather like a horde mode.
That’s Survival, which is one of the types of missions that we have, which is what we showed your colleague. But there are other types as well, such as Battles, where you and a group of AI will fight me and a group of AI, which makes it a sort of online-offline hybrid. So, killing all those AIs will make you feel very powerful, until of course, you meet me [laughs].
Changing the subject to something I’m sure you’ve been asked about many times already: How has it been working with LucasFilm?
“Generally speaking, if you require more than three years to make a game, you need to reboot the project.”
Extremely exciting. Working with someone else’s IP can of course be limiting, because you can’t do all the crazy shit you might have in your head. But it’s also good to be guided in a very clear way. I would say we probably have the same goal as LucasFilm.
When people ask that question, they often do so because they think that working with another IP is horrible. I think in this case, there’s no conflict in interests. And we have been given access to things that will make this game much better, things that make us all giggly. So I would say the experience has been surprisingly smooth.
Well that is a surprise, certainly. My instinct would be that working with LucasFilm would be a nightmare. . They must be, at the very least, a little precious about their IP.
Yeah absolutely, and obviously they are a bit precious and cautious about certain things. But that’s what makes Star Wars, Star Wars.