October 20, 2018

Interview with Battlefield V's Eric Holmes - Design Director for War Stories

Electronic Arts recently held an event in Sydney for Battlefield V and invited me to attend, we got to play the game, at least the single player content and I got to have a sit down with Eric Holmes, Design Director at DICE.

Maxi-Geek: Can you explain how the decision for these stories were made?

Eric Holmes: Oh that’s a good question, how long do you want the answer to be?

MG: As long as you are willing to talk.

EH: It’s jus that I could suck up a lot of time with that answer. So there is kind of a gameplay answer and then a narrative answer and then there is a ‘as the parts relate to each other’ answer. I guess I will start where we did, we knew we wanted each one to occupy a different space, we did not want four tank stories, or four plane stories or four submarine stories, we wanted each one to be different, like flavours of ice cream.

So the more one is something, the more others need to gravitate out from it, so for example, the two you can most clearly see, from a gameplay example would be Nordlys, where you are a ski commando effectively and Under No Flag, where you are a naval commander. Each has their own unique parts, but they still feel connected, however in Nordlys, you are a teenage girl, not a commando, just a young girl who is trying to rescue her mother and the location is white and sterile, because of the winter, but it is still a very beautiful location. The characters are very loving to each other, to her mother, they are depicted as good people.

Swapping over to the SAS one, Under No Flag, the first thing you do, once you have control is first person vomit onto the floor, you are not noble, you’re under handed. You are not quite, but boisterous and loud, maybe a little toxic to each other, it is funny, in a black humour kind of way and the characters are obnoxious, they do like fighting. So it was like ok, they are going in two different directions, and you can find any other stories in there and identify points, you can see they are pushing away from each other.

The idea was to create a world for them to exist in and create a world of contrasts. One of the thing we found in Battlefield 1 was that players really liked the different stories, there wasn’t a best one and a worst one, other than the Australian people, really liking the Australian story, it was pretty consistent. We tried to embrace that, they hey you like to play stealth, there is one for you, though if you want to use the machinery, we have that for you as well. That is kind of dividing up the quadrants kind of way, but the other is the locations.

The history of the war told us what the places would be, so when we are looking at Norway, the first thing we looked at, was doing a commando story, because they would be inserted from the air, parachute in, get around on skis, but when the team went and started digging into it, they started finding that hey, there were a lot of women involved, and that would be unexpected and unusual and so the commando got thrown and away and it became a story about family, rather than army. So using all that, and the Battlefield toolkit, we ended up with these.

MG: So with these stories and maybe the ones you didn’t include, were there any singular elements in each story, that made you realise that they worked? Or was it more just to do with the gameplay?

EH:I think you are right with the first part, the special sauce in this is a writer named Stephen Hall, who we worked with this time and last time, and where he is really good is finding good character journals through stuff.

What can I do without spoiling anything, ok, so this won’t spoil Under No Flag, but it will be a good example. What does a player do, in an open world space, where you can go and mess with things, lets look at ‘Nothing is Written’ from Battlefield 1, where there are three different bases, that you can attack in anyway you like, what do you do?

MG: For me, first thing is scouting.

EH:Yeah, keep going

MG: Once I know what is at which base, then make a plan of attack, for the order they will be targeted in. So hit that one, then the next and then the final one, but it could change, depending on equipment I find in the first one.

EH:Ok, you just described a great plan, if it all works, but usually what happens is, you start and then it all goes to hell and you have to improvise and you either improvise a fix, you die or you create yourself an exit. I think this is where Stephen’s super power lives as he manages to get stuff, story that connects with players, so in ‘Under No Flag’ this is a guy who never gives up, that’s who that is. Someone who messes up, but manages to connect that to the player, you will see that in the opening scene, you will see him get pulled out of prison, because he robbed the same bank three times and got arrested for it. There is something special about a person who can rob the same bank, three separate times and that jibbing of him, at the start of the story is his weakness. But by the end, he works out how to make it work for him and uses that determined nature, to make plans work.
I think all of our stories have a journey in them, that special connective tissue that connects to the gamer.

MG: How authentic would you say that these stories are? You have to have suspend your belief for a little bit, to make them interactive and playable for gamers, but are they 1-to-1 recreations, or is it more that this is the overall story and this is our interpretation of how it may of happened?

EH:So what we tried to do, is always make sure that our stories, is always built on this bedrock of truth, so if you go looking for location names, places or such, you will find that this stuff, could have happened. You will find that they didn’t happen as they are not based on a specific person in history, but for example Nordlys, takes place between a thing called Operation Graus, where some commandos were gliding in and crashed them, many died in the wreckage, but the ones that did not were captured by the Gestapo, tortured and then executed and through that happening and the interrogations that followed, your family member was implicated in what was going on. That is what kicks of the events in Nordlys, it didn’t happen, but it could have happened.

In The Last Tiger, it takes place on the banks of the Rhein in 1945, Americans did come to cross through many cities, over key bridges and near certain landmarks, that could be interpreted to be any number of cities and we never name which one it is. But that place, the Rhein rue region, is the front door to Germany, and Patton and Bradley were both busting to be the first across it first. So there is even examples of things that we were creating that drew parallels to real life, maybe a tank was a different one or the time of day was wrong.

MG: So with he way that each of the War Stories unfold, is player choice going to impact the overall result, or is it a fixed point, but how you get there is on you?

EH:So all the narratives, but one are fixed, there is one thing that is flexible by, I don’t want to say anymore cause it will spoil something. But you are right, the meat of the player choice is in the gameplay, and they are choosing how to do things, how to approach them. We tried to make sure that there is in game narrative, VO about what is going on there, for example, Solveig in Nordlys is very quiet, but Bridger in Under No Flag never shuts up, he is always muttering to himself.

In the Last Tiger, we always have the crew interacting with each other, as you might expect a crew inside of a tank to and in Tirraleau we have a framing narrative device, where the older player character talking about the past, so not only do you have your character who is this young guy who wants to fight and become glorious and succeed, that is offset, by this very fragile looking old man, whoi seems to have been broken by something, so you know he has to become him, but you don’t know how he gets there.

MG: World War 2 was much more global than the first world war, with Japan and the Pacific theatre, are there any plans with DLC to delve into those stories?

EH:So, all I can talk about today, is the stuff that we’ve got here, but the mechanism for rolling out more things is the Tides of War, which, I think is the next big beat we are going to be talking about. I am not sure of the details, as it is not my thing,

EA Lady – Stay tuned, we’ll go with that. There will be more about it though. Your question makes sense and we will address it soon.

MG: I figured it was a safe question, because it's either a hard no or a maybe.

EA Lady – It’s not a hard no, but we will talk more about it.

MG: Ok then, my final question is, what sort of takeaways do you hope players will get from the stories?

EH:There are so many, one thing I was really happy about, well, not just me, one thing DICE was really proud about last time, was hearing about how much people started reading up on and following up on World War 1, after they had heard about the game. So for the gamer generation, maybe this could be something to open their eyes, that might have only been a name before.

So with World War 2, I don’t want to go out there and say that we are making that statement or this statement, because I don’t think it’s the role of the creator to tell someone what they should get out of it, but I think there are good messages and all, they have something to say and they are there for a reason, so be more aware of what happened in those areas, especially considering the messages themselves and getting something out of it

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