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AusGamers Battlefield 4 Developer Interview with DICE's Lars Gustavsson
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:07am 18/10/13 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to sit down with DICE's Lars Gustavsson to talk all things DICE, Battlefield, Mirror's Edge and Battlefront. Read on for what he had to say...

AusGamers: You must have been on the road for a really long time now. Do you hate this part of the job? Obviously it’s really good to get the game out into the community and consumer hands, but at the same time, you’re not back in the office helping with all the bug-fixing and stuff like that.

Lars Gustavsson: I definitely don’t hate it. Had I been a bachelor -- I have a wife and two little children -- I would probably be out on the road much more, but yes, sometimes you can feel that it’s a bit daunting to be everything. You’re supposed to be a good leader, you’re supposed to be a good designer, you’re supposed to be a producer, QA, a little of everything, and then you’re supposed to be good in interviews, and you’re supposed to be good on stage, and God knows what.

But to be honest, I’ve done so many other jobs, and I wouldn’t like it any other way. For Battlefield 4, I’ve actually said no to a lot of events, just to focus. At the last minute, I said no to E3, and left the guys to… we have so many good people working… just working so hard to make sure it all ticks. So I love going on the road.

Like the story at the dinner that caught me off-guard, and another one in here yesterday, of how Battlefield had changed the life of people. And getting gamers’ feedback, whether it’s positive or things they want to improve. But it means a lot, because of a lot of the time we are just sitting there and focusing on the creative side, and it’s good to get a reality check.

AusGamers: That’s a really interesting point, the reality check side of it, because there’s no denying that EA treats Battlefield as this flagship franchise. It’s got biennial iterations now; and Frostbite is a big thing that is becoming almost ubiquitous for most EA teams.

Do you ever feel like you’re losing sight of what it was to begin on this franchise, with a smaller team, smaller budgets, and working all hours, whereas now it’s a multimillion dollar franchise? Do you ever feel like you lose sight of that a bit?

Lars: It’s a good question. To be honest, part of my job is to be that old grandpa in the office who reminds about the old days. I think also that the perception from the outside, versus the inside… I was talking to Abbie, the Community Manager from Titanfall, about being outside and inside a company. Even though we have ginormous EA, and even though DICE is a big brand, we’re just as passionate about making the game.

Yes, we have more money, but we also have much more to deliver upon, and much more expectation. So yes, there’s definitely times where I think: [Battlefield] 1942, 23 people at the most, plus a few who helped out -- you can overview the whole project easily. But then, on the other hand, I’ve never worked so hard. I work super-hard on this project as well, but on a different level.

I think it all comes with its pros and cons. The possibilities we’ve had with Battlefield 4 are endless, and to see the team managing to get it all together in there -- on five platforms, where two of them are new, and trying to do so much in-game, and with Battlelog, Battlescreen, Commander -- I’m just full of admiration, and just grateful for working with these people.

AusGamers: It’s a pretty interesting time to be a part of gaming culture. We haven’t seen a console transition in quite some time, and I don’t think many people expected this current generation to last as long as it has. But there’s other opportunities moving forward as well: things like Microsoft’s cloud services is really interesting and could potentially change the landscape definitively, and now we’ve got rumblings from Valve on SteamOS and its new controller.

Are you guys across all of that stuff? Well, obviously you kind of have to be, but are you excited by it? Is it more daunting? Is it “Oh, now we’re going to have to pour more resources into areas that we don’t really want to”?

Lars: It’s a fine balance. I think I look upon the world as two perspectives: one as the gamer, and one as the developer. As the gamer, I’m super excited, and also as the developer… sometimes it can be mind-blowing and always trying to cling on… the market is always changing. Even though we have done Battlefield for such a long time, I still feel like I’m learning my job every day, but that’s also the beauty of it.

I do think that with everything coming, especially with this new console generation… if we step back a few years, it felt like a lot of the gaming industry was just leaning towards only Triple-A titles would survive, and I found it kind of sad. But then the whole… when we shipped 1943 and managed to get a bang there, and a lot of [Xbox Live] arcade started to kick off, and then all the mobile gaming started, and lots more indie again. So I think it’s quite a healthy industry right now.

Then of course, there’s the… I wouldn’t call it constipation, but there’s anticipation for what the next generation will bring, and it feels like nobody really dares to say what it is, and everyone is working around it and not willing to commit to “Yes, I think that’s next-gen”. So it’s really exciting times. I think it’s nerve-wracking for a lot of people, and they don’t know what they want to bet their money on, and so on, but to me, the future looks extremely bright.

AusGamers: It’s arguable that Battlefield 3 was more heavily pushed as a PC frontrunner, with the consoles… I don’t want to say second, because I know that’s not what you’re going to agree with, but ultimately the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 simply aren’t powerful enough to have delivered the original vision that you guys had for it. So the PC version was obviously that kind of flagship version of the game.

Now you’ve got Xbox One and PlayStation 4 that are so much closer to modern spec PCs, do you feel like now with BF4, it’s a time for you guys to probably grab that other untouched audience that you might have only cracked a little bit with BF3? And is that exciting, and something that you’d like, or is it sad that you’re letting it go to an audience that… there’s no mouse and keyboard, and it’s a very different kettle of fish.

Lars: It’s a good question. I came from the world of PCs, and it wasn’t really until Bad Company 1… or first off, Halo, that kicked off the first-person console world for me. Then with Bad Company 1, we as a studio kind of shifted mindset to see if we could learn more from that part of the world. I think that we entirely underestimated the console gamers, that while we were… I wouldn’t say dumbing the game down, but we were reducing a lot of things, to make it a more slimmed experience. I think that backfired because the console audience had gone far beyond what we thought they were.

Since then, people have been requesting 64 players constantly, and we definitely want it, but we’re not willing to sacrifice destruction, and vehicles, and so-on -- then it wouldn’t be Battlefield any more -- just to reach the numbers.

So now, with the next generation of consoles, it’s definitely one of the things with Battlefield 4 that makes me most happy: the fact that we can deliver 64 players, 60 frames per second, and we’ve worked the full integration of Battlelog into the game, the social networking. So there’s so many things that we can finally do, and it feels like we can almost give something back to all of those who always wanted it, but couldn’t get it.

AusGamers: Going back to my question before about Valve’s SteamOS and the new controller, have you guys had any discussion with those guys at all?

Lars: That’s more than I can say at this point. Initially for us, that kind of communication goes on between the Frostbite team and companies around us. I’ve been living in my happy little bubble shipping Battlefield 4 [laughs].

AusGamers: Battlefield 4 is just around the corner; it’s a couple of weeks away. Obviously, it’s no secret that there are two other projects going on at DICE that people are very excited about. Can you give us something, anything, even just your thoughts on those two projects?

Lars: First off, it’s very exciting. Being in the games industry isn’t easy, and there’s so many studios that struggle on a daily basis just to get by and to get to exist. And we have been so fortunate for such a long time to have a secure world with Battlefield. But the next-gen can always be your last if you don’t do your homework, so we’re always extremely nervous.

But with Mirror’s Edge, I can basically not go to an interview without getting around Mirror’s Edge. To me, it’s one of those Universes that I love to come back to. Mirror’s Edge: the movement, the art-style, so I’m super happy that we’re working on it, and I’m really looking forward to when we can start talking more and showing more. The team is brave, and they’re doing a lot of cool stuff, so, soon.

I know with Star Wars: Battlefront, there’s never been a bigger roar and scream in a company meeting at DICE as when they let out the news to do it, and for many people it’s a dream come true. For us, having our own IPs are extremely important, but it’s an absolute honour to get to work with Star Wars, so we have a lot of people in the studio now working around like kids in a toy store, researching and meeting up with the people on the other side to learn about The Force.

AusGamers: It must have been humbling for you guys, because it was such a sad day when Disney shuttered LucasArts, but to know that you’re now carrying on the videogame legacy for Star Wars is a really, really, huge thing.

Lars: Yeah, it’s probably bigger than we have grasped so far. Coming home and telling my kids, they were jumping up and down like crazy. I have the deepest respect for… to be honest, it’s dual: firstly when I studied computer graphics to get into the industry, we had a lot of people from ILM come talking about how they made the Star Wars movies, so that inspired me to study computer graphics, and to get to work with them on Battlefront is amazing. Secondly, my earlier years of gaming, and always to me, LucasArts stood for so many good games, that to your point: it’s sad to see what happened.

AusGamers: One more question for you Lars, and this kind of goes back to the concept of Triple-A that we were talking about before, and you guys are probably one of the largest Triple-A studios in the world. You’re right that indie has not only survived, but it’s thriving at the moment. There are big independent studios that are arguably Triple-A now, just doing their own thing.

Do you feel that the industry is separated a little bit, between Triple-A and indie, or do you feel that they’re actually one entity? And if they are separate, do you feel that that’s a good thing or a bad thing?

Lars: I do think overall, that when you get that big, like some of the bigger indie companies out there, I think that what they face, and what we face, on a daily basis, are many times the same problems that they have to struggle with. I think, with us being part of the EA organisation, and me being part of it since we did 1942, since 2001, and during those days, in many ways, we had to prove ourselves more. Nowadays, it’s more of a tight corporation, but we’re separated halfway around the world from the mothership… it’s freedom and responsibility. So I don’t feel like I have my hands tied in any way.

Sooner or later, you’re going to have to prove your concept to the consumer in order to make them want to buy it, so you might as well get eyes on it sooner or later. So I think once you do get big, whether you’re indie, or part of a bigger publisher, we share a lot of things in our daily struggle in order to get the game out.

Then definitely there’s benefits of both sides. When you’re a small indie studio, you definitely have the freedom, and the small team you can overview. Everything is possible, but you’re also fighting everyday to know whether you’re going to have bread on the table tomorrow or not. I can definitely miss those days, but at the same time it’s good, when you have two children at home, knowing that hopefully they will be eating tomorrow as well.

AusGamers: Ok, awesome. Thank you so much for your time today Lars.

Lars: Thank you.
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