In Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the ‘B’ company fight their way through snowy mountaintops, dense jungles and dusty villages. With a heavy arsenal of deadly weapons and a slew of vehicles to aid them, the crew set off on their mission and they are ready to blow up, shoot down, blast through, wipe out and utterly destroy anything that gets in their way. Total destruction is the name of the game, delivered as only the DICE next generation Frostbite engine can. Either online or offline, enemies will soon learn there is nowhere to hide.
WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Patrick Bach, and I'm a senior producer for Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
WP: Did you also work on the first Bad Company title?
PB: Yes, I worked on the first one as well.
WP: One of the things that people either loved or hated about the original title was the humor. Some people really got into it and others didn't. In your presentation, you said that the second game is a little more serious. Is that referring to the gameplay or the story line?
PB: It's actually referring to both the gameplay and the story line, but that doesn't change the characters. They still have the same personalities, and there will still be the bantering between the squad members. There will still be elements of humor within the characters, of course, but the whole story line and the settings they are put into are quite more serious.
WP: What about the level design? Not to start off on a negative note, but again, one of the complaints that people had with the first game was that things felt a little too forced or too narrow. Have you tried to open things up at all to make things a little more organic?
PB: What we found from the first game, based on our personal biggest problem and a lot of feedback, was that the game was a bit bland. It felt more or less the same all the time, and like you said, it felt a bit forced when it came to gameplay. Of course, we put a lot of energy into making sure not only the missions were varied but also the gameplay elements, that it feels more natural to go from A to B to C. We also have sandbox elements and driving sections and tried to get more variation into the gameplay.
WP: In the presentation, you described the game as stretching from Alaska down to South America, so that's one snow level and one jungle level. Are there any levels set in North America, or after Alaska, does it occur solely in South America?
PB: Not that much. I can't go into detail exactly, but the main part of the game will be set in South America.
WP: Another story question. It's been quite a while since game developers have used the America-versus-Russia theme. What made you guys decide to go back for an old '80s Cold War classic rather than pulling from current events? So many games today deal with the Middle East and terrorism. It's almost like an '80s flashback, but in a good way.
PB: The idea is that Russia never really died away; they just kind of went to sleep and now they're starting to get bigger again. It's a classic drama if you have the fight between Russia and the U.S., but also the point that Russia is negotiating with the South American countries and building more and more military bases on South American soil. It's like during the Cold War, when the U.S. started to build military bases and missile ramps pointing from Poland into Russia. Russia's now doing the same thing but in South America. If you spin on that idea, you can easily see that, looking at how the economy looks today, things could easily go sideways and turn into a situation like this.
WP: In terms of straight gameplay, how is it going to play out in terms of which character you play for Bad Company 2? Do you get to choose? Does the game follow you? Do you go from one squad member to another based on the story line?
PB: No, you will only play as one character throughout the whole game. We want the game to focus on you being this character instead of jumping between characters and getting all confused. You want the classic storytelling arc throughout the game where you play as one character and you have the other characters around you that you get to know better and better as you go through the game.
WP: From a creative standpoint, on the character side, you obviously got the base of the characters from the first game. When you're bringing the squad back, how did you decide that this is how they're going to react, this is what they're going to do, and these are the weapons that they're going to carry?
PB: In the first game, we already had character descriptions that were quite deep. For different reasons, that didn't always show. One thing that we did now is that by putting them in other situations where they get more stressed and pushed to the edge, you will get other reactions out of the squad members that you might not have guessed when you saw them in the first game. By twisting the situations, you'll get more interesting personal reactions from the squad members.
WP: You've described Bad Company and Bad Company 2 as "sandbox" games, but every developer has a different idea of what that means. What does "sandbox" mean to DICE?
PB: To DICE, it's a classic Battlefield expression. To most people, sandbox means that you provide the playground and then you provide the toys. By having specific gameplay physics on top of that, you can build your own gameplay depending on how you see it. It's more a set of rules rather than a linear way of playing a game. To DICE, I would say that it's a combination of the open environments, vehicles and infantry and on top of that, destruction that would actually change how the world looks and plays over the period of the map session. That's kind of what the Battlefield recipe's all about.
WP: Engine-wise, what's been going on behind the scenes since the first game? What kind of tweaks can we expect to see in the visuals and physics?
PB: We're using the Frostbite Engine, which is DICE's own engine. We've been fiddling with, more or less, all systems, so looking at the graphics, it's obvious that we improved that quite a lot. Physics-wise, the vehicles will handle better. There's a more detailed physics model. The game will sound better than ever before. Of course, it's not only the engine but the work put into creating the assets, and those two things in combination will make a huge difference when it comes to the quality from the first game to the second game.
WP: Aside from the obvious "We have to ship it" deadline, how do you decide internally at DICE when the game is done? What is that moment when internally, the team decides that it's done?
PB: We tried to set that quite early. You have a lot of different milestones on the project where you lock down the scope of the game. It's also based on the routine from the actual developers, that you know how much you can build. When you have the scope, you can easily say that, "We can get to this quality level based on this scope with this set of talent that we have in the company." It's hard to give a specific date that, 50 days before launch, you make this decision. It's more of a gut feeling from all the talent that you have in the game, whether you'll be able to pull it off. Yes or no? If you get a "yes" and you have a lot of trust in those talents, you just go.
WP: Getting that intuition, knowing that talent, how much of that is knowing the systems themselves? It's 2010, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are almost pushing five years. Are your developers still pulling more out of the systems, or do they know what they can do and there aren't a lot of questions or last-minute surprises?
PB: I think both. If you look at the console platforms, the PS3 and X360, if we had another go in making a new game on the same platform, we could probably make it feel almost as much more as this game looks to the previous one. There are a lot of small tricks and quirks that you can take advantage of in both systems, so there's still a lot of gold to be found in the consoles.
WP: Looking at console versus PC, since the advent of digital distribution with Steam and broadband becoming more common, it's almost like we're seeing a resurgence in PC gaming. As a developer, is console versus PC really an either-or question, or has it gotten back to the point where you need to develop for all of them?
PB: At DICE, we never really let go of the PC. Bad Company 1 was an exception because we initially designed it to be a console-only game. We got a lot of negative comments about that when we released the game because people asked, "Hey, this is a real Battlefield game. Why aren't you releasing it for PC?" This time around, we decided, yes, let's make Bad Company 2 for the PC so that the audience can enjoy the game as well. We're not taking it lightly and just making a port. We actually have a big PC-focused team just working on the PC version of the game. I think the PC gamers will be amazed with the quality that we get out of the PC. We have DirectX 11 support, we support all the latest sound and graphics, and we even have support for nVidia's 3-D screens, so there's a lot of cool stuff going on when it comes to the PC version.
WP: You mentioned a new multiplayer mode and a new hardcore mode in your presentation. Can you briefly expand on both of those?
PB: Well, first of all, the squad rush game mode is a very competitive game mode that is more or less squad versus squad. It's designed to have you and your friends meet another group of people and have these quick and fast game sessions. It's a very quick and aggressive game mode.
We also have the setting that you can use for all game modes, and it's called hardcore. Hardcore means that we double the damage of the weapons so it's more or less one shot, one kill. We remove most of the hub elements, so there's no reticle, no ammo counter, so in that way, it turns into a more visceral and realistic experience.
WP: Is that a per-user experience? When you create a multiplayer game, if I want to, can I play on hardcore and get that experience? Or does everyone have to be on hardcore?
PB: It's a server setting so everyone has to be in on it, so you can choose whether you want to play hardcore or not in any of the game modes: conquest, rush, squad deathmatch or squad rush. It turns the game into something that is a lot more fast-paced and dangerous. You change your play style immediately when you get into it.
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Battlefield: Bad Company 2 a game that's worth playing?
PB: If you like a very deep and long multiplayer experience that competitive, easy-to-use and high quality, then this is the game for you. If you want a single-player that is dramatic and varied, with cool storytelling and cool characters and all these cool environments, it's all part of the same package. I don't see a reason why you shouldn't pick it up.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
PB: One thing that's also very interesting is how we see our customers. We see the game as the first step to a longer experience. We have an in-game store where you get free content or you can buy new content to the game, so it's a very integral part of the game that we will have a long post-launch campaign. I think people will be thrilled to see what's in that already. On day one, you will get some really cool stuff.
WP: We saw the launch of Battlefield 1943 on Xbox Live Arcade, and that went well. Has there been any more talk at DICE about going back to those older PC properties for PSN and Xbox Live? Were you happy with what happened, or was it an experiment that didn't work out?
PB: It started as an experiment, but it turned out to be much bigger than anyone could have anticipated. I think we're the best-selling Xbox Live title ever produced, and we got pretty good reviews. The customer feedback has been extremely good. From that perspective, it's a complete success, and you never know what will happen in the future. It's definitely something that we got a good taste from, so you'll never know what happens.
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