Despite the original Mirror’s Edge game being praised for its clean minimalist aesthetic in 2008, one of the common bugbears that many had with the game was its frustrating parkour movement in a world that suffered from frustrating level design. Despite these factors playing a huge part in curbing the game’s sales potential, DICE were still able to convince Electronic Arts to give the studio one more chance at rectifying the game’s core problems whilst also building upon its many strengths. And with a reboot allowing the team at DICE to wipe the slate clean, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a game that DICE hope finally lives up to the franchise’s potential. I spoke to Erik Odeldahl (Design Director of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst) about this where he talked about how the game was a labour of love for DICE and why more people should give the franchise a second chance upon the game’s release in May 2016.
You’ve probably been asked this about billion times before, but why did you decide to name the game Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and is it a prequel or a sequel [to the first game]?
It’s a reboot of the whole game. We took the themes that we love from the first game. We have the beautiful city, the wonderful art direction, Faith [Connors] the Runner, the first person parkour… Basically, we took all those themes, but we wanted to rebuild the game on a stronger base and have a richer lore and have more texture to the world. Just have more depth to the world and what it does to people who live in this world. It’s not a sequel so that’s why we didn’t want to call it Mirror’s Edge 2.
The game delves into Faith’s back story where it almost implies that it’s a prequel. Given the fact that Faith’s history is being emphasized in such a dramatic way where the game places a lot of importance on Faith as a female character, does that maybe signify Electronic Art’s attempt to get more female gamers into gaming, or ensure that the sexes are a little bit more equally represented? Because if you think about it, Faith’s quite strong as a character and she’s not one of those brainless bimbos as it were…
She’s a super strong character. I’m not sure that it’s a conscious decision to get more women to play. Everybody on the [development] team believes in diversity. We want everybody to play this. Personally, I find it really stupid to just focus on one segment, and it’s a waste to just blindly focus on one segment of your player base. Games are great for everybody, right? Faith is a woman, and she’s a super strong character, and that’s just part of what the game is. It’s not a conscious decision to attract more women. It’s just to attract more players.
So it’s not like FIFA where you’ve gotten female players on board… I understand that EA is a massive company and that you’ve got shareholders to take care of, but this whole Gamergate thing, especially with the whole issue of excluding and / or including women, that’s obviously had bearings with the inclusion of female players as part of FIFA 16. Because of the timing, you could almost argue that there are Gamergate related politics involved as part of the industry’s attempt to maybe appear to be a little bit more progressive than it actually is. With so much emphasis being placed on Faith and her backstory, which obviously implies that you’re fleshing her out as a character, is this your way “in” of trying to legitimize female game characters and even gaming in general?
I’ve followed Gamergate from a distance. I believe in equality. I also believe that you shouldn’t treat people like shit regardless of what your opinion is. The fact that we’re creating a rich backstory for Faith is mainly because we want to create a rich backstory for the main character. We would have done the same thing for a male character. In fact we have rich backstories from most of our characters in the game. It’s not something we’ve done just because she’s a woman.
Faith doesn’t have the ability to use guns in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. Can you please explain why, and is this Electronic Arts’ attempt to maybe “sterilize” its future gaming products?
First of all, using guns didn’t fit with the Faith character that we’ve created for this game. It just didn’t fit. We didn’t want her to use guns. Also, guns and first person shooters are often games that while you’re shooting, you tend to stand still way more than Faith is doing. Mirror’s Edge is a game about momentum. It’s a game of just continuously propelling yourself forward and chaining moves together, and we wanted combat to reflect that too. That’s another reason we removed the guns. We wanted Faith and the players to get up close to the enemies and basically knock them on the head. So first of all, from a gameplay reason, we didn’t want the player to stop. We didn’t want to have flow breakers like that. And the second big reason is that it didn’t fit with the story we wanted to tell about Faith.
The first game was criticized for its clunky parkour movement. With games like Brink and Dying Light taking the parkour concept and building upon and even possibly perfecting it… in what way is the rebooted Mirror’s Edge Catalyst taking steps to address the control issues that the first original Mirror’s Edge game suffered from?
We’ve rebuilt the movement system from the ground up. Our intention, and we’re delivering on, is to make a system that is way more responsive than any other game out there. It’s something that we’ve continuously worked on. We want the game to be as responsive, smooth, and as unrestrictive as possible. If it looks like you should be able to jump or go somewhere, get out of a move, you should be able to. It’s been a core philosophy for us to have it be as responsive and as smooth as possible. It’s the core of our game. If the movement doesn’t work then nothing else really matters.
You are the Design Director for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, but you’re not the original director from the original Mirror’s Edge. Does the original director have any influence at all in terms of how the reboot has manifested itself?
We still talk, and we discuss designs, like I did with lots of other people at DICE. DICE is a big company and people move about between teams all the time. Of course, yes. We talk and I listen. He’s got opinions. I’ve got opinions. We have other members from the original team on our team. We have a rich discussion at DICE about what the game is supposed to be. We absolutely talk.
Even though Mirror’s Edge had its problems, it was still a game that received a lot of love from a certain niche segment within the market. I assume it did well enough [commercially] hence the reason why it’s getting a reboot, but I also know that DICE had a lot of love for its Mirror’s Edge creation. Given that Electronic Arts is a public trading company that answers to shareholders, and given that Mirror’s Edge wasn’t as successful as Electronic Arts hoped for it to be the first time round, what steps did you and DICE have to take in order to persuade Electronic Arts to give you a second chance, especially with Catalyst being a reboot?
Everybody at DICE loves Mirror’s Edge and it shows in what we do. Everybody felt that this concept that we had was really strong. It was the right time, the right concept, and a lot of pieces just came together. So here we are.
What lessons have you learnt from the first game to ensure that the reboot is as strong a product as it can be when it does launch?
We played the first game to death and there were a lot of really good things about it. We got lots of feedback on the first game about people wanting to explore. People wanted to be able to choose more freely on where to go and what to do. That’s one of the core philosophies for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst where there’s not just one path to a location. There are multiple paths. You can choose when to do it. Also working on the movement system to make it more responsive. And finally, to have a richer story with more texture and with more life in it. I think those are the things.
Are you using the Frostbite 3 engine [to develop the game]?
We’re building the game on Frostbite 3. That gives us an opportunity to do some things that would have been harder with the old engine.
Catalyst looks graphically phenomenal. It looks beautiful. It’s been able to retain the clean minimalist aesthetic of the first game but still have all these crazy effects that could only really be possible with our current generation systems. With that being said however, given that a typical game’s production values are so much more higher in order for it to live up to current-gen standards, and with the original game not being as successful as Electronic Arts hoped for it to be, in what way has EA’s expectations in terms of financial and production assistance been tempered? Because ultimately, the Mirror’s Edge franchise is not Battlefield. It’s not Star Wars. It’s a second chance. Otherwise you’d be building upon the first game’s legacy by calling it a sequel quite confidently.
You can call it a “second chance”. The first game was actually quite successful over the long run…
“Over the long run”. But given the Electronic Arts is a public company, ultimately the shareholders want their money now. Is that true or not?
To be honest, I don’t have any insight on that so I wouldn’t know.
The first Mirror’s Edge game had quite a high production value in relation to whatever the benchmark was for games coming out for consoles at the time. According to [time and technology] scales, how high are the [relative] production values for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst [on this occasion]?
I can’t talk about money or budgets like that, but we’ve been working on it for quite a while. We’ve got a good-sized team.
Yes, that’s the thing… I know that you guys have been working on it for quite a while and I also know that it’s a labor of love. And when something is a labor of love, you don’t get paid for it. Does that make sense? One reason as to why people liked the first Mirror’s Edge game, despite its clunkiness, was because you could feel the passion, and that’s something that money can’t buy.
I think there’s room for all kinds of games, and I think it’s good for a studio to have a diverse portfolio. It’s good for game developers at a studio to have different types of projects to work on. I’ve personally worked on several Battlefield games and Medal of Honor. Doing something like this, it basically lets you exercise your design muscles for different types of genres and different types of games. Mirror’s Edge is a project we love just like we love Battlefront. There’s room for different types of projects at one studio.
Battlefield 4 launched with a myriad of problems. The game was fundamentally broken in many ways, and Electronic Arts / DICE issued a public statement stating that every single member of [DICE’s] staff was put on Battlefield 4 post-launch to ensure that the problems were fixed and that consumers would be satisfied with their £40 purchase. It’s a reputation thing where reputation in this industry is everything. Nintendo have shown that a company can’t rely on a 10 year old reputation, which explains as to why they are where they are right now [with their abysmal success of the Wii U]. But when every single person in DICE has worked on Battlefield 4, and Star Wars Battlefront only just came out two years later… Given that all those people worked on Battlefront in order to ensure that it shipped on time, in what way has the production for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst been affected over these years? It can’t be that many people who have consistently worked on the game as DICE’s resources have needed to go towards games that have kept the lights on and have paid the bills. I understand that [as a franchise] Mirror’s Edge is a commercial product, but it’s not the golden goose, which is why it required a reboot…
Maybe… We helped out. I personally helped out on Battlefield 4 to fix stuff. It’s what we do. We come together as a studio because it’s our games and we want our games to be good. We want them to be stable. It’s a matter of pride as well. Everybody comes together to fix things. That’s one of the good things at a studio like DICE. When we need to, we work together and we fix things. Battlefield 4 turned really, really good in the end.
I’m speculating that the game may have had cutbacks in terms of its production budget relative to all other AAA games coming out on today’s consoles. What I’d like to ask is how has Mirror’s Edge Catalyst‘s development been affected by Battlefield 4 and its associated problems, as well as the pressures that EA faced in ensuring that Star Wars Battlefront shipped on time?
I can’t really comment on that. I’m sorry. I can’t do that.
Going forward, how will Mirror’s Edge Catalyst be supported? Will there be any DLC?
We’re not talking about that yet.
What are your hopes for the franchise if Catalyst is successful? If there is a sequel, would we be seeing a sequel to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst or would it be a sequel to the original game?
I really hope people like this. I would really like to make more games in this new universe we’re building. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is definitely the start and that’s the ground-work. That’s what we’re going to build on and that’s what we’re going from in the future.