Until recently, DICE was a developer name synonymous exclusively with Battlefield. Sure, it had laced on some parkour shoes and went temporarily AWOL with Mirror’s Edge, and before the popularity of the Battlefield series, it also did a whole bunch of other titles. But outside of Mirror’s Edge, DICE has worked almost wholly on Battlefield games. But handing the reins of the Battlefield namesake to Visceral Games, if only for a time with the Battlefield Hardline spin-off, has allowed DICE to pull off an incredibly unique act. It has allowed the developer to go full circle on turning a mod for one of their earlier games into a franchise reboot.
Back in the mod-supported days of the Battlefield franchise (*sigh* we miss them), a team forged Galactic Conquest for Battlefield 1942: a Star Wars reskin of the World War II-themed shooter. Understandably, it was quite popular. And much like the popular Desert Combat mod for the same game showed the community interest in contemporary warfare that paved the way for Battlefield 2, so too Galactic Conquest proved that the Battlefield formula could work in the Star Wars universe.
Ultimately, the Battlefront series bounced around between a couple of developers: from Pandemic Studios to Free Radical Design. Free Radical made the ultimately cancelled Battlefront III, which studio co-founder Steve Ellis described as “pretty much done” before it was cancelled in 2008. The Star Wars franchise that was clearly inspired by Battlefield appeared to be dead, and Disney’s decision to close LucasArts in early 2013 didn’t bode well for the future of Star Wars titles.
Five years after Battlefront III’s cancellation, the franchise went full circle and DICE unveiled an incredibly short teaser at E3 2013 officially announcing that it was in charge of a reboot. In many respects, it makes a whole lot of sense that DICE has a turn to forge a team-based shooter with a mixture of infantry and vehicular combat in the Star Wars universe.
For senior producer Sigurlina Ingvarsdottie, there was an internal push for the renowned Battlefield developer to have a crack at Battlefront. “We wanted to do Battlefront,” said Ingvarsdottie. “The people that lead the studio made it very clear to the higher-ups that DICE wanted Battlefront, that it was a great idea given our pedigree in multiplayer shooters and given how we [have] the Star Wars fandom, and in many cases the Battlefront fandom, we felt like it was a perfect fit. We really wanted the game.”
While DICE led with campaign content for the unveiling of Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4, it stuck to its core strength for Battlefront: multiplayer shooters. “We really know how to make multiplayer shooters,” asserts Ingvarsdottie. “There’s a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge that is perfect to apply to a franchise like Battlefront.” But that’s not to say that you should expect Battlefront to feel like a Star Wars mod for a Battlefield game, either.
Ingvarsdottie expressed the importance of having Battlefront stand on its own. “It’s also incredibly important for us that we find our own voice for this game,” reasoned Ingvarsdottie. “The old Battlefront games have a strong legacy, and we really respect that legacy and we’re fans of those games and they inspire us. But we don’t feel an urge to wholesale adapt them into our game. At the same time, while we feel like Battlefield is something that we’re incredibly proud of, and this is a large part of the identity of the studio, the fact that we have a team that’s led by people or comprised of people who are Battlefield veterans, along with new people like myself that have never worked on Battlefield, I think is a good mix, because I think that we need to have a healthy respect for both Battlefront and Battlefield, and then find a unique identity as a game and build that.”
It’s not just the DICE employees who are fans of Star Wars, though, with a big audience of avid fans of the films, which is why it’s clear the developer has put a lot of care into creating a believable Star Wars experience. As was showcased at E3 2014, DICE enjoyed unprecedented access to the Lucasfilm vaults to photograph props and pore over schematics to ensure that nothing was amiss in terms of the look of the game. To guarantee that no dint or crease is overlooked, DICE employed a technique called ‘photogrammetry’ during production to ensure faithful translation from silver screen to new-gen.
This particular technique involves taking a heap of photos of an object to capture as many angles as possible which, as it turns out, has helped increase the efficiency of rendering objects in Frostbite 3 for Star Wars Battlefront. “We have software that you use to stitch these pictures together into a 3D object,” explained Ingvarsdottie, “but you also capture things like texture information from these pictures. So we’re able to recreate a very authentic-looking object. I wouldn’t say it’s simple or inexpensive, but it’s a more efficient manner. You’re able to create a lot of data that you use to create these very, very realistic objects.” The result is an impressive level of visual fidelity that DICE is hoping will reach a photorealistic classification.
Another important part of impressing Star Wars fans is, generally speaking, avoiding the prequel trilogy like the plague and staying as true as possible to the original trilogy. Both EA and Lucasfilm have both made it clear they’re not interested in producing straight film-to-game adaptations, which is why Battlefront is based on or inspired by locations and battles from the original trilogy. “We’re bringing players to Tatooine, to Endor, to Hoth, and we’re expanding on what you’ve seen in the movies,” said Ingvarsdottie. “We’re showing you aspects of these planets and these places that you haven’t seen before.” Nothing shown during the presentation suggested any hint of prequel content.
Aside from including different aspects to familiar locales, DICE also has the privilege of working with Lucasfilm to help shape the look and feel of a planet mentioned in Star Wars canon, but yet to be seen: Sullust. The Outer Rim planet is rumoured to be veined with lava channels (not to the all-encompassing extent of Mustafar planet from Revenge of the Sith), but it appears DICE will have a say in how it looks in a canonical sense. “Sullust is [being] created by us in collaboration with Lucasfilm, in that we are creating what is the definitive look and feel of this planet going forward,” explained Ingvarsdottie.
This may well mean that if Sullust pops up in a future Star Wars film, the look of particular parts of the planet may have been designed by DICE. On this point, another Out Rim planet called Jakku, which will be featured in The Force Awakens, is set to appear in Battlefront, albeit in a different era to Episode VII that’s set 30 years after Return of the Jedi. The Battle of Jakku free DLC has the potential to fill in some of the gaps between the Rebel Alliance’s significant victory against the Galactic Empire at the Battle of Endor, and is described as a turning point when the New Republic defeated a key Imperial group, defiant in the face of their crumbling Empire.
“We’re bringing in this new planet [Jakku] that Star Wars fans around the world are first learning about [at Star Wars Celebration], so we’re incredibly excited about how we’re expanding on the classic universe,” said Ingvarsdottie.
From what was shown of Star Wars Battlefront, it’s clear that DICE is treating the property with reverence, both from the perspective of the filmic inspirations and the same-named franchise that went before. At the same time, DICE hasn’t been afraid to mix things up, with the abolition of a class system and the ability for two players to share their ranking rewards (read my preview for more on this). As far as first-looks go, though, Star Wars Battlefront is shaping up to be a franchise awakening that could well rival Battlefield in terms of popularity.
Nathan Lawrence can be found fragging n00bs in a variety of digital battlefields, but most commonly the ones from the franchise with a capital ‘B’. He loves games with a strong narrative component, and believes in a gaming world where cutscenes are no longer necessary. In his lack of spare time, Nathan can be found working on a variety of wacky script ideas, and dreams of freeing cinemagoers from unnecessary sequels and pointless remakes by writing films with never-before-seen twists and turns. But mostly he’s all about the fragging of n00bs
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