With the new trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ only just being released this week, the mounting pressure for EA couldn’t be any greater as the company prepares to release what is arguably its biggest game this year. Releasing for PS4, XBox One and PC, Star Wars: Battlefront marks the beginning of a 10-year partnership between EA and Disney and eschews any of the single player trappings that previous Battlefront games were known for. Focusing entirely upon multiplayer shenanigans that consolidate many of DICE’s innumerable strengths, Star Wars: Battlefront is aiming to build upon the studio’s previous Battlefield successes and be considered a veritable tour de force when it comes out next month. But with concerns centered around DICE’s previous launch failures, just how ready will Star Wars: Battlefront be when the game comes out on 17 November 2015. To answer this and more, I spoke to Craig McLeod (DICE, Producer) and also got to ask him about DICE’s plans for future Battlefield releases.
I understand that Star Wars: Battlefront is its own thing. But a lot of people have argued that Battlefront is almost like a re-skinned Battlefield. Can you maybe elaborate as to why these type of accusations have come about?
I think it’s a natural comparison that the people make when you think about the studio. So DICE is obviously very well known for the Battlefield franchise and has been very successful for it. A number of people, including myself, have actually worked with the Battlefield franchise. However when it comes to Star Wars: Battlefront, we really have built this game from the ground up. It’s not a re-skin, we haven’t ported over any code, we’ve written it all from scratch. We are using new technologies that haven’t been seen before, like our photogrammetry which allows us to bring in these incredible visuals. We’re introducing new features such as splitscreen. We’re bringing the Frostbite [engine] up to a new level and are using the latest version of Frostbite. We’re doing everything possible to make sure that this game stands out on its own as a completely different experience and that’s what we have… that’s the response that we have gotten from the players who are playing it. They’ve come in a little bit skeptical but as they walk away, they’re like “no, this is a completely different experience. This actually plays really well”. And the accessibility, which is one of our pillars, has really shone through. That ability to build a game that appeals and plays well for all players of all different experiences, whether it’s your first game and you love Star Wars, or whether you’re a veteran.
DICE was responsible for the Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 3 games which were arguably broken upon launch. I know that EA’s Peter Moore has stated that if push comes to shove, Battlefront will be delayed, and that he doesn’t want the game to suffer the same fate as the aforementioned Battlefield games. As the Producer who is in charge of the entire project, how confident are you that Star Wars: Battlefront will actually ship in November 2015?
So we’ve set that launch date and the reason we’ve set that launch date is because we do feel confident that we will hit that launch date. You mentioned the past launches that happened with Battlefield, which have had certain issues attached to them, and yes, we hold our hands up and say that they do exist. However we’ve been working incredibly hard within our studio to make sure that we don’t… that we take the learning from those and make sure that we act upon them, and that we have as smooth a launch as possible. We’ve already had a closed alpha where we were stress testing and bringing it out to closed members, the studio, EA, as well as the public and certain influencers. It’s been fantastic. It’s been incredibly stable, it’s been really good. There is still some stuff that we’re addressing and making sure that we fix, but it’s one of our top priorities to ensure that we have an incredibly smooth launch and I feel very confident that we can do that.
I know that DICE’s employees number into the hundreds, and that explains why you are able to work on AAA games, but the thing is that when you have games like Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 3, and without trying to disparage those products, one could argue that the studio was almost stretched too thin in the given time-frame [for those projects]. Now that you’re working on Battlefront, you’ve also just announced Mirrors Edge which was shown at Gamescom. From a studio perspective, and in terms of resource-management, given the fact that people are sceptical, and you’ve given assurances to allay those fears that the game will come out on time, has there been any difficulty in bringing Battlefront to fruition now that DICE are also openly working on Mirrors Edge?
So yes, we are working on Mirrors Edge and we are also working on Star Wars: Battlefront, which are two fantastic projects that we’re all super-excited to work on. We have expanded the studio and whilst I can’t talk too much on studio operations and how it all works behind the scenes, I can speak on the project itself and [say that] we have staffed up to the numbers that we need to make sure that we deliver on the experience and quality that we need to and that our players expect. The quality that you see in the game and what we’ve shown, I understand that there may be some skepticism, but we’ve made sure that we’ve made the right decisions in the right places so that we can bring the best quality game to the player.
You stated earlier about how you’re taking steps to draw in new players. Battlefield as a game has quite a high learning curve in multiplayer, and obviously once you become good at the game it’s supposedly great. But you did say as to how you’re trying to bring in new players and attempting to make them feel as accommodated as possible, so in a round about sort of way, you’re almost making Star Wars: Battlefront more like Call of Duty where CoD has a lower learning curve and therefore the mastery level isn’t really that high and where it plays more like an arcade game. Do you think, especially given DICE’s roots, that your trying to make Star Wars: Battlefront more like a Call of Duty game?
No, I don’t think that’s a fair statement. Obviously we know a lot about Battlefield because as a studio we work with it, and we have had a lot of feedback which has said that it does have a steep learning curve, so that was one of the things that we wanted to make sure that we addressed, and the direct way we are doing that within our game is through our missions. So within our missions… these are more of our off-line component, so they’re not part of a story-driven mode, but do allow you to play off-line on your own, cooperatively online, or split-screen as well, and we have three different sections. We have training missions which are a fantastic way to learn the mechanics, such as how to fly an X-Wing. We have Survival where you can play on your own or partner up with a friend, play against AI only and start to learn the weapons and how they function, and challenge yourself against 15 intense waves. Then we have Battles, which is head to head action where you’re up against another player supported by AI, or where you’re on your own against just AI. So we have the ability to take you out of that more hardcore multiplayer environment where you can learn and get better, bring yourself up to a level where you feel confident before taking yourself into multiplayer, and I think that is the important thing to remember is that this is a game that we feel is quite easy to pick up, quite easy to learn, but it is difficult to master. So those players who enjoy that competitive multiplayer environment will really thrive within our game. But those who are new to multiplayer or new to even first person shooter gaming, we have this environment where they can learn and practice and get much much better.
Obviously the omission of a single player campaign is a bone of contention for some people. I know that DICE has a history of supporting its products post-release with pretty substantial DLC packages. Do you think that post-launch there ever would be a DLC package that does incorporate a single-player campaign?
We’re not actually talking about our post-launch intentions at this stage. What we can say is that we are supporting Star Wars: Battlefront post-launch, because as a studio as well as when you think about games [in general] these days, it is very important to make sure that that we do support games post-launch, but we’re not going to go into these details at this stage.
What’s next for DICE going forward?
There’s obviously a lot of top secret stuff and a lot of things going on within DICE. Right now, we’re fully focused on delivering the best Battlefront experience. The Mirrors Edge team is doing exactly the same for them [and their game]. We’re just committed to delivering top quality games that everyone would enjoy, and Battlefront is a prime example of us doing just that.
I know that Star Wars is a bigger brand name than Battlefield. Given that Star Wars: Battlefront is being launched this year, how is DICE going to play the Battlefront / Battlefield [dichotomy of releases] going forward? Will Battlefield be shafted across to another studio like how Activision has done it with their [three tier studio setup] Call of Duty releases?
This is a studio strategic question that unfortunately I can’t answer. I am focused on the Battlefront franchise and making sure that we deliver the best experience we can with this game. Studio strategic questions unfortunately are out of my realm.