Battlefield 1 represents a new era for the famed franchise. Series creator and developer DICE is taking the shooter from the modern battlefield to the trenches, controversially tackling WWI while others in the genre obsess over futurism.
I sat down with DICE’s Robert Sammelin to talk about the setting, how it changes gameplay, and the direction the studio is taking the Battlefield franchise.
FENIX Bazaar: Hearing other members of the team talk about Battlefield 1, it really sounds like a passion project for DICE. I’ve heard it mentioned that it was something that was in the pipeline for years, a decade. How has that changed your approach to making a Battlefield game?
Robert Sammelin: It didn’t really change. We wanted to build upon our strengths, take the franchise forward, and still provide that signature Battlefield stuff that people play Battlefield for: vast multiplayer maps, all-out war. People also expect us to offer new gameplay opportunities.
FENIX Bazaar: How much of Battlefield 4’s identity is in Battlefield 1? In terms of the sort of jump — or change, I guess — that you wanted to make as to how the game plays out? Because the changes in era, setting, arsenal are so different between the two games, at least compared to Battlefield 3 going into Battlefield 4.
Robert Sammelin: Well this has been around as an idea for a while. Since this has been at the back of our heads for a long time, going all the way back to Battlefield 4, this was really the perfect fit to get all this in there. It’s still a Battlefield game at its core.
FENIX Bazaar: What I mean is that it’s a pretty significant change in what players use and control.
Robert Sammelin: Yeah well it’s ranging from a lot of previously unseen gameplay features like horses, and just the wide array of arsenal that we have, and behemoths, the big airship armored trains, battleships. And just seeing as though it was the first global war, and it was the inception of modern warfare as we see it today. Tactics and weapons that we use today, they were really invented back then. But at the same time alongside people wielding medieval weapons, that kind of hand-to-hand combat combined with really advanced tactics, it was a treasure chest to take from, just to make new gameplay and further enhance what makes Battlefield great.
“Since this has been at the back of our heads for a long time, going all the way back to Battlefield 4, this was really the perfect fit to get all this in there. It’s still a Battlefield game at its core.”
FENIX Bazaar: I’m fascinated by your choice in WW1, but also the reaction to it. We’ve heard that some of the higher-ups at EA were a little more hesitant, but DICE took it on confidentally. What have been some of the hurdles in creating a game based on this particular era?
Robert Sammelin: A lot of the focus for the project was to challenge a whole lot of preconceptions about World War I. Most people had a really one-dimensional view on it.
FENIX Bazaar: Well I’m not alone in thinking it was only trench-warfare, which is certainly a one-dimensional way to look at it…but DICE has been quick to correct that. It’s been a history lesson for me, I won’t lie.
Robert Sammelin: Well upon doing research and really digging into it you can see that it was extremely varied from weapons to technology to tactics. How do we build upon what is basically the core of Battlefield, stick to an authentic feel, but also focus on really fun gameplay? That’s the challenging balance of it.
FENIX Bazaar: And how have you addressed that?
Robert Sammelin: Well, I mean, an army would have a certain number of tanks in the actual war, but we focus on fun over authenticity, yet still keep it grounded in real life. We haven’t made anything up, it was all there, we just put it into a bigger context and focus on gameplay.
FENIX Bazaar: I guess the “1” in Battlefield 1 makes sense for obvious reasons, but it almost seems like an ode to Battlefield’s past, to its roots. In what ways does Battlefield 1 harken back to the series’ best entries?
Robert Sammelin: Well obviously it represents more than just WWI, the first world war, but it makes sense in that regard in the simplest way. We also wanted to focus on something that we call intuitive play. You can intuitively know how something’s going to function and work, just by seeing it. Keeping it more intuitive in that sense. But also enforcing in what makes Battlefield great throughout the years, that rock-paper-scissors gameplay.
FENIX Bazaar: Okay well I’m doing a 180 now and turning to something a little more modern, quite far removed from those earlier entries. The last time I spoke to DICE about Battlefield, it was three years ago for Battlefield 4. All the talk was about Levolution. Destructibility has obviously played an important part in recent Battlefield games, and the term has become somewhat of a PR fluff term. Can you just explain how the system has changed, or evolved, and how it works in Battlefield 1?
Robert Sammelin: We’ve upped the ante on constant destruction, and the dynamism of it all. Destruction is again more intuitive and more natural, more effective and reflective of the gameplay than before. So you can utilise it to break cover, make cover, almost landscape the environment.
FENIX Bazaar: Add the weather system ties into this, right?
Robert Sammelin: Yeah, the weather system adds to the dynamic of having a real unpredictable match environment. A clear day can change into a thick fog, in which you’ll have to change up how you play, and maneuver in a different way. But also rainstorms, and then there’s the desert and a sandstorm. That limits your sight and hearing. It adds to that dynamism of one game never being the same.
“Destruction is again more intuitive and more natural, more effective and reflective of the gameplay than before.”
FENIX Bazaar: Going back to the era itself, I want to focus more on how it has actually changed the gameplay. Because it Battlefield 4 you can’t take down a fighter jet with an assault rifle, but in Battlefield 1, you’ll cause some major damage.
Robert Sammelin: Yeah, definitely. So, we’ve constantly been tweaking and balancing gameplay to make it as fun as possible. We have that rock-paper-scissors thing so that every measure has a counter-measure. But also, looking at the era and the tactics, these weren’t jet pilots as they are now. You know, sure, they were a lot more maneuverable based on the design, but you could take them down in completely different ways. There were more options. They were vulnerable. This allows us to have true air, sea and land gameplay that really works and plays into it. So if you see something and think, “I can do this, I’ll take that down,” you probably can.
FENIX Bazaar: Finally, being a Battlefield game, the persistent squad system that DICE has been talking up seems like a significant change, or improvement to the team-based experience. What has the team learned about team-based play from past games, and why was this new system needed?
Robert Sammelin: It’s one of the cores of offering a great multiplayer experience: playing in-depth, and playing with your team. It has to work so you can play as a lone wolf, but still support the team. Like playing as a scout and picking out people, or supporting with ammo and health. It’s really rewarding to play as a team. The persistent squad system allows you to stick with your squad during a session so that you don’t have to squad up again during a session. You stick together for an entire session. It’s also rewarding you with in-game boosts and completing objectives for when you play as a team.
FENIX Bazaar: Great. Thanks for the chat, and I look forward to playing the final product this October!