'Battlefield 1' steps into past to advance franchise's future

When EA DICE and Electronic Arts wanted to move the Battlefield franchise forward, they decided to look backward. Rather than dive into a crowded field of futuristic shooter games, the development team dove into the past to World War I and immerses players in a totally different, but vaguely familiar, type of war in “Battlefield 1.”

The idea of taking a classic and historic war and turning it into a Battlefield game was not new in the halls of EA DICE. But when the pitch was made over the past decade, the developers never felt it was quite right, from a fan perspective and expectation, for fully developing into the next title in the franchise.

Aleks Grondal, senior producer at EA DICE, said it took historical researching and digging into the locations, weapons and emotional feel of World War I to spur work into what would ultimately be “Battlefield 1.”

“This actually enables us to do a more interesting Battlefield,” Grondal said. “A Battlefield that has new gameplay to it, because the gear was so unique. The locations were quite interesting. We could really make a Battlefield game that stood out.”

An internal demo that showed the era’s weapons and tactics showed how it could all fit together as a game. Grondal felt “Battlefield 1” takes all the elements of a good Battlefield game and showcases how they all work in harmony to create an amazing gameplay experience.

Because of the technology of warfare in WWI, the game is very much an in-your-face adventure, with weapons that didn’t fire as far as current weaponry or create a wide area of destruction. Even the planes of the time needed to be closer to their targets in order to maximize the firepower, putting the player even closer to the action while flying.

“The good thing is we had all this cool and interesting hardware that we can play with,” Grondal said. “We can pick the ones that we felt were giving the most unique experiences, like riding a horse next to a tank while a biplane is swooping over your head and an armored train approaching in the distance. These types of combinations not many games can offer.”

During the early 20th century when the war was occurring, the mood of the battlefield was not very pleasant. The world had never seen the scope of conflict on this type of scale before, and the Great War showcased the brutality of trench warfare and the technological advancements in the machines of death.

Grondal said they wanted to capture some of that feel of dread but retain the hopefulness in the soldiers who fought in the war and want to be part of the greater good. He said the duality of the world is very evident in the single player campaign.

“Naïve heroism met grim reality, where there is both optimism and pessimism existing at the same time,” he said. “We’re trying to represent that in different people where there are very much different reactions for the different characters that you meet, the environments around them and how they change with it. That’s what it was. That’s an accurate representation of what many people have described feeling at the time.”

By choosing something from the past with vast amounts of recorded history of the time, the team had to pick and choose what they wanted to use and how they wanted to integrate it into the gameplay. While it was important to preserve historical accuracy, there were changes, creative liberties, that needed to be made to create a Battlefield experience.

For example, tanks weren’t used widely in the beginning of the war in 1914 but became more prevalent in the latter stages in 1918. However, for gameplay purposes, they can be used in early war scenarios.

“When we are introducing people to a new era, people need some sort of curation, some sort of context as to why things are there. When that context happens to be authentic, it adds another level of believability to the game,” Grondal said. “Some of where we’ve stretched the rubber band is mostly in the hardware, but all these things did exist and all these things have been documented over the years.”

“This time is so unexplored for many people. We have to acknowledge where we have taken the liberties so people can go and read up and understand why we’ve done it. If by somehow people playing this game work enough interest to go online, go into the libraries and start digging into the source material, they will find a lot more detail in the game (than they realized).”

Grondal said they aren’t trying to teach history, rather create an experience for people to explore that segment of history in a unique way and possibly understand how warfare today evolved from that early conflict. But first and foremost, he wants people to have a good experience immersing themselves in that era.

“Battlefield 1” will be released worldwide on Oct. 21 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles as well as Windows PC. The game is rated M for Mature due to blood, strong language and violence.