Battlefield Hardline Interview With Visceral Games – Single Player, Branching Story Paths, Launch Stability, and More
At the Tokyo Game Show, I spoke with Ian Milham, creative director for Visceral Games, the team behind the upcoming first-person shooter Battlfield Hardline. We talked about developmental nuts-n-bolts, the Battlefield Hardline single player experience, sequel potential, and more. Here is a complete transcription of our conversation.
Heath Hindman for PlayStation LifeStyle: Okay, so, Battlefield 4…I feel like a jerk starting out with this topic.
Ian Milham: No, not at all.
PSLS: Another Battlefield coming out, we know that Battlefield 4‘s launch wasn’t Visceral, but franchise fans might be hesitant because
of that game’s problems. I wondered, is it going to be the same thing again?
Milham: The disastrous launch?
Milham: What you’re basically asking is, “Is your game going to work?”and the answer is yes, it’s gonna work. We actually started on this more than a year before Battlefield 4 came out. We’ve been working with the DICE guys for a long time; some of our engineering work is actually in Battlefield 4 and things they’ve been doing since then. It’s in pretty great shape now and all that work is gonna come into what we’re doing.
We already had one very successful beta, we’re going to have another beta on every platform we ship on, we take shipping a working game pretty seriously. So, yes, the game will work.
Milham: Now, you can’t do anything at this scale and not expect some
PSLS: In this day and age….
Milham: Yeah. When you ship on five platforms with this much content… I’m sure there will be hiccups with it, but we’re taking every possible measure and things have been running really, really well.
PSLS: You don’t expect anything on the Battlefield 4 level?
Milham: No. The game has run for thousands and thousands of hours at these trade shows with almost no crashing. We’re feeling pretty good.
PSLS: I didn’t prepare to come to TGS with Battlefield Hardline at the front of my mind, I have to admit, so I hadn’t personally followed what this was. I thought it was an expansion or alternate take on BF4, or like DLC that lets you play as cops. Forgive my unfamiliarity here: did this start out as its own game?
Milham: Was its own game from the start. I think people just didn’t know at first. It’s such a big thematic shift that people are sort of like “What is this?”
PSLS: “I am sort of like ‘What is this?'”
An assistant asks Heath: Did you see it at E3?
PSLS: I didn’t go to E3. I live in Japan so it makes a lot more logistical sense to send our American staff members to E3 and PAX stuff.
Milham: We started work on this in February of 2012, but because it just got announced six months after Battlefield 4 came out, people thought it was… maybe they saw an expansion pack timeline, but no, this is a full title.
PSLS: I know that with Battlefield there are the numbered games and sub-series like Bad Company, so is there a chance of, say, a Hardline 2?
Milham: I think there’s the potential for it. First we want to make one great thing. If it goes really well and people love it, then I think yeah, we could continue. The Battlefield pillars are so flexible, you know: teamwork, giant levels, destruction, ‘Levolution,’ the whole thing. You could apply that to a bunch of different worlds. And it has been, when you go back to 2142 or Vietnam or World War II or any of those things.
I think there’s a lot of flexibility there, maybe there’s even other ones. I can tell you that there is no prescribed plan like “Oh now it’s always gonna be Battlefield 5 and then Hardline 2 and then this and then that.” There’s no plan like that. Not even plans to have one every year or anything like that.
PSLS: It just tends to unfold that way or…?
Milham: Well who’s to say how it’s gonna unfold? We just thought this was one really cool idea.
PSLS: When you say “We…”
PSLS: You were in the room right there when the idea came up and–
PSLS: Who was it that first said, ‘Hey you know what we should do? Cops.
Milham: What happened was that the GM of our studio Steve was at a fancy people meeting with the GM of DICE. They were just having a late night fan session of each other’s games — you know cause I’ve played every Battlefield going back to the first one — Dead Space 2 had just shipped and they were having a whole pow wow about that. We were thinking about the future and diversifying and I said, ‘Hey you know ah, would you ever think about letting someone else do a Battlefield game?’ And to our surprise, they were into it.
But we kinda felt like just repeated what DICE does didn’t seem very appealing for them or us, so we started thinking about different worlds and stuff and yeah, a couple of us were in the room and we said we don’t wanna do modern military cause DICE has a pretty good handle on that. We had just made a bunch of sci-fi games, and our friends at Respawn were making Titanfall, so it felt like sci-fi was pretty well taken care of. So let’s try something else.
What was appealing about cops-n-robbers was that it’s super relate-able, you know, everybody could get it. And the experiences like what vehicles it should have in it, modes, experience systems — they just suggested themselves. We asked DICE if they’re be cool with it, and away we went.
Single-player is something we take pretty seriously at Visceral. What we thought [the police setting gave us] a lot of opportunity for was to open things up spacially and tactically, so it’s not just different objectives. The other guys don’t already know you’re there. In
military stuff, everybody knows you’re there and everybody’s shooting at each other. The soldier fantasy is: “There’s bad guys! Shoot ’em!” Right? But the cops and robbers fantasy isn’t like that. Cops and robbers are in the same room a lot; they don’t want to immediately start shooting each other. It’s a whole different deal.
We wanted to provide a lot more detailed single player, and that’s what we’ve gone for.
PSLS: So, the single-player fan, a consumer, a few months from now, goes into a shop and buys a new PS4 or Xbox One and decides to also buy a shooter, would it be better to go with Hardline than Battlefield 4?
Milham: Well I’m not gonna make any direct comparisons to the work by the fine people at DICE, but I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done on the single-player side. I think yeah, a single-player enthusiast is gonna like what we’ve done. We’re trying to provide a deep and replayable single-player experience as well as the multiplayer side.
PSLS: I’m usually a fan of campaigns more than online stuff myself. I feel outdated though, like everybody’s doing multiplayer more.
Milham: Well, I think people are just demanding more. There’s great stuff in the roller-coaster story of single player, but they see more sophistication as they see more choice. So that’s what we’re trying to add to the single player experience.
PSLS: So would there be something like branching story paths, based on things like decisions or dialogue?
Milham: Well, ours is not a game where you’re making, like, dialogue
PSLS: Right, it’s not Oblivion.
Milham: Yeah, it’s not an RPG, I don’t think that’s our… I don’t think that’s what we wanna do. There’s a main story, but there’s also plot B and plot C and related things to discover. All kinds of stuff in the world that will have consequences in the gameplay.
PSLS: Do you mean different ways to approach the same mission, like choosing to go up the stairs versus a different path or…?
Milham: There’s the tactical layer, yes, there’s a bunch of different approaches like: I can finish this whole area without anybody having seen me, or I could arrest everybody, or I could just go in guns-blazing like traditional battlefield. But you could also find hidden clues for subplots and hints as to what those people were up to. You can complete investigations and sort of make bookings as a cop. That can lead to monetary rewards and unlockables and all kinds of stuff.
PSLS: So as you find these clues during gameplay, is it a pretty subtle thing or is it like “Press X to pickup: THE CLUE.”
Milham: It’s a little bit of both. Ideally, there’s a whole mental loop that single-player people will go through. Maybe they’ll be in a room, say, and hear something right on the scanner. But we’ve also made things that have a certain amount of… “Well now that’s strange…” about them.
Milham: You might just look at something in the game — in the artwork — and go “What’s that all about?” It’s not just: turn on the magic scope, find the thing. It’s “What’s going on over here? I’m going to investigate this.”
PSLS: Can you, say, wander away in the middle of a mission?
Milham: Right, yeah, they could just decide to see where some footprints lead or examine something else, and those clues are not just isolated one-off things; they’re part of bigger sub-plots that span levels. They come together to form a case.
PSLS: Hypothetically speaking — because I don’t know if this happens in Hardline or not — if you figure out that you’ve got a rat in the group, and you’ve figured him out with clues and things like that, and you get him alone, can you just waste that guy?
Milham: It doesn’t work quite like that.
PSLS: I wondered.
Milham: Yeah, none exactly like that, but there’s all sorts of different permutations. Some of them will have ramifications with the NPCs and stuff like that.
PSLS: So how do you go about actually pursuing the different plots and things?
Milham: They’re just around. It’s not a discrete activity like “Now I’m going to pursue: these things!” The idea is that it’s there for people who want to do those investigations and go into deeper layers. Collect the investigative clues and you’ll find that, oh, you’re missing one, and say “There has to be something around here…” and when those cases are closed, then you’ll get rewards.
PSLS: Will you know which is which? Like if my brother and I play the same mission, and I play through what I think is the regular story,
but then my brother asks, “Hey, how’d you like mission #3 when THIS happens?” will I possibly say, “No…that’s not what happened to me at
Milham: It’s possible. There are gaps and the various cases can overlap. So you don’t just say “Hey I did my one, and now I’m gonna start another and here it comes!” They can overlap and have all sorts of different stuff going on.
PSLS: Are there different endings, then, that you work towards?
Milham: Not gonna spoil any endings.
PSLS: Okay. I almost said “I won’t ask you to,” but I did ask you to, just seriously like eight seconds ago.
Milham: You did, you did.