Battlefield Heroes with James Salt
Battlefield Heroes is looking increasingly like it could finally offer Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike some proper competition, even more impressively, DICE's big experiment will be free - the game funded via in-game upgrades, the zeitgeist in gaming-mad South Korea. We sat down with lead designer James Salt to gauge his opinions on the new shooter.
How long has Battlefield Heroes been in development for?
A little over a year. I was working on Bad company actually, because I had just joined. Then they took me into a room about February last year, and said, 'well we're going to have a go at a micro-transactional game in Europe, based around Battlefield', which is cool.
We began work on the cencept, then starting planning the game around August actually. The engine is based on Battlefield 2142, so the technology was already there.
The business model came before the game?
Yeah, I guess. The idea of having the continual battlefield has existed in Lars Gustafson's head as the creative director, for quite some time. One thing he always wanted was something like this, and in the end two ideas came together in the right situation.
Would it be fair to say that games like Team Fortress 2 have been influential?
There were lots of different reasons. We wanted to do something that had these abilities in it. We wanted the silly stuff, but it had to be in the right place, not a dystopian, ice-filled future, like Battlefield 2. The kind of place where it would be nice to spend a lunch break, so it had to be blue-skies, green pastures, etc. The other reason was system specifications, of course.
If you look at a game like Battlefield Bad Company and try and scale those graphics down onto a low-spec machine it looks bad. With the artistic 'painting' style, it looks really good on a low-spec machine.
Does the cartoon style come out of a desire to do something more playful with the Battlefield theme?
Yeah, i guess it does. We certainly wanted to let our hair down, and move away from the semi-realistic look. We never did sims, the games were always arcadey, but yes, the look is more real than this.
Was it a challenge moving from the gritty aesthetic?
Yes, it was hard as a designer - asking 'how silly can we be?'. Asking what is allowed in our game. We had some really crazy stuff, like one character, who could throw all kinds of things at other players from a big bag, random things, cats, etc. Then we thought it needs to be more 'heroic', given the title... so, what's more heroic than sitting on a plane wing firing as you swoop and glide? Its also a lot of fun too.
What didn't make it in?
Well, we've been working so quickly that almost everything has made it in so far! There's a few abilities that we might add later through the live team.
Is it fair to say that lots will be added post-launch?
Absolutely. The game will launch as an open beta later in the summer, and this is really just the start, we're going to have a large team adding new maps, vehicles, weapons... female soldiers. It depends what the community want. We'll look at forums and we'll develop by democracy.
What will cost 'real' money in the game?
Nothing that will unbalance the game. There won't be a special nuke that will give anyone an unfair advantage. So, we'll be selling stuff that make your solider stand out more - customisations. We're selling things that impact the game but don't unbalance. The ability to earn experience faster, for example. To level-up more quickly.
Like the XP points in World of Warcraft levels 1 - 10. If you could get through those faster for a few dollars... you might. We don't expect many people to purchase them, we'll be happy if they don't, but we think a few might.
Are you nervous given the experimental nature of the business model?
Yeah, I mean, the rest of the organisation are happy to think of this as an experiment, its not like we're going to get punished or hung if it fails! I'd like it to be a success. Its a cool way of getting PC gamers out there now, there's a lot of people out there that don't have the latest high spec machines. But we're hoping they'll play this. Work PCs, that kind of thing.
Is PC gaming dying, the format becoming the preserve of MMOs?
One of the reasons the PC is suffering is because it does take some pretty intensive hardware to get the best out of the latest games. This, on the other hand, is low-spec. Is it that PC gaming is dying? Or are we just making the wrong games at present? Especially given the number of PCs out there.
Will DICE's experience in online / web development influence other titles?
Yes, I guess it will. Look at the dog tags in Bad Company. Things tend to roll on from one game into the next. 250 of us sit in our office chatting, so ideas always get shared. I imagine other games will certainly have a better 'web presence', and even beyond DICE ideas might get picked up.
Using the web more smartly needs to be a goal for all game makers.
What is the wackiest element of the game?
They're all pretty nutty!
What element sums up your ethos, would you say?
It would be sitting on the wing of an aircraft, with another player on the opposite wing, firing rockets at the player in front of you. That's pretty insane.
Who do you view as your competitors? Are there any?
Free web-games, mini-clip... or even Pogo I guess. Although this is more expansive. I guess there isn't much... as soon as you say its free, though, that kind of changes things. I guess we're going out into the unknown!
Will there be tournaments and events post-launch?
The game team will go out and setup tournaments. The website doesn't have a section yet though. Personally, i think that would be great to add. Ideally, we could have.. I don't know, DICE vs. Pandemic events, etc. More personal battles.
How important is the social side of things?
The explosion of Facebook I think means that our website should be sticky. Its not for marketing, videos and screenshots - we want people to visit when they should be working - to view the theatre of war, see how their friends have customised, etc.
How will the theatre of war work?
Its quite simple. You nominate who you want to fight for. One of sixteen countries. Then as you fight your score is added to the grand total, and the points are used to cpature territory. You'll then get in-game credits which are dished out weekly to spend on upgrades. The amount you get will depend on how much land you've captured.
Are you worried that one country might recruit million players and dominate?
We're going to watch how the meta-game plays out. We'll see, though!
When can we play it?
A limited beta will begin on May 6th. For techincal check-outs. Then we'll be ramping up until later in the summer when we'll enter open beta, which we're calling a launch.