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Behind the scenes of 'Battlefield 1'

By BRIAN BOWERS | Stars and Stripes | Published: October 21, 2016

While other developers were looking to futuristic science fiction for inspiration, the team at DICE decided to look 100 years into the past. There, they discovered a fascinating world where old ways mingled with new and the world was in conflict.

“We’ve done a few titles which had contemporary settings in a row,” said Aleksander Grondal, senior producer at the Swedish studio. “... We really wanted to try something a little bit different in order to challenge ourselves and maybe challenge the player a little bit as well, and find some new and interesting gameplay that we hadn’t been able to do before.”

The result was “Battlefield 1,” a first-person shooter set in World War I, a conflict that saw the rise of aircraft and tanks but also featured horse-drawn transportation.

However, the decision to focus on the Great War didn’t come easily. Grondal said two members of the team had been pitching the idea for about nine years.

“I was quite skeptical at first,” Grondal said. “… But what I think they proved, after I had slept on it for a little while, is that it had all of the components and all of the ingredients that a ‘Battlefield’ really needs – all the variety of locations, some really interesting hardware … and it was an era that was completed untold.”

It’s easy to see why Grondal would be hesitant. World War I is usually seen as a dismal stalemate shaped by trench warfare — not good source material for a fast-paced action game.

However, reality is much more interesting and diverse than the common perception.

“We actually challenged our preconceptions quite early,” Grondal said. “We uncovered a bunch of information that we were completely unaware of.”

This spurred the team to action.

“We felt like there was an opportunity to tell interesting things about the setting that no one really has told before … not in a game,” Grondal said.

The two DICE team members had already done a mountain of research, picking out weapons, vehicles and facts that could be used in developing the game. But it took a bit more effort to bring things to fruition.

“We spent a significant amount of time actually visiting the locations, doing research on the locations and also trying out the gear that is still functional,” Grondal said.

This helped re-create the look, sound and feel of a century-old war.

But developers remained sensitive to their subject matter.

“One of the things that was important thing was to about respectful to the era,” Grondal said. “So we picked the things that we felt were representative. What we didn’t necessarily want to portray was the darkest side of it.”

But they also kept in mind that they were working on a game.

“We picked … experiences that you haven’t really played in a first-person-shooter game before,” Grondal said.

These experiences include charging with a bayonet, wielding a cavalry sword while on horseback, fighting from a zeppelin and coping with poison gas.

“I’m super excited about the horse,” Grondal said. “I think cavalry charges on the horse is something we haven’t had in a ‘Battlefield’ game before.”

Multiplayer action has been a major component of each title in the “Battlefield” series. Grondal said the team wanted to up the ante for “Battlefield 1.”

“We wanted to challenge the idea of how you play multiplayer,” he said.

The biggest change has been the addition of a multiplayer mode called Operations.

In a typical shooter, players are dropped into the middle of a fictitious engagement with no explanation of why they’re fighting or they’re trying to accomplish.

“What we wanted to try to do is provide some context in that,” Grondal said. “That’s why we created this Operations game mode, which I think is a really new way for you to play ‘Battlefield.’ ”

In Operations, players have given the historical context of an actual battle and then sent to fight in an engagement that can sprawl across more than one map. After the battle, a narrator places outcome in its historical context.

The individual multiplayer maps look great. The visits to the original battlefields definitely paid off because the battle areas are filled with all the detail and texture needed to re-create the cratered French countryside or the Dolomite peaks.

But, even more importantly, the maps are well craft for digital battles. Experienced players will notice that the action is more intense than in previous “Battlefield” games. Grondal said the maps provide a clearer idea of where the fronts and points of engagement are likely to be. “They have a little bit more direction,” he said.

They also bring the combatants closer together. “We wanted to not have people engage at too-far distances,” Grondal said. “… It was a quite personal war in many ways and we tried to capture that because you can get up close and personal.”

Grondal said developers poured a lot of time and effort into “Battlefield 1” but they’re still at work.

“We have a bunch of ideas about where we want take ‘Battlefield 1’ into the future,” Grondal said.

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