Battlefield Hardline brings Visceral’s flair for narrative to a franchise notorious for its lack of storytelling.
Written by Rob Auten and Tom Bissell. In addition to their individual credits, the pair have penned a number of games together, including Gears of War: Judgment and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
Auten has also worked on Rainbow Six and a wide number of FOX-owned properties such as Aliens and Family Guy. Bissell contributed to Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
Creative director Ian Milham is a very patient man who has had to endure multiple interviews with me so far. He was Dead Space’s art director before stepping up to helm Hardline. This is his first “real world” game, he said.
Milham offered the writing gig to Auten and Bissell during a friendly catch up, taking them by surprise. Auten said he leapt at the chance to work on the Battlefield franchise.
The Battlefield series has a heck of a lot going for it, recent disasters aside, but one thing nobody’s ever said is “you know what? That new Battlefield has a great story, really well told.”
It’s so weird, then, that Visceral – a studio all about narrative-driven games – is making Battlefield Hardline. Weird and also awesome; one can only hope that DICE will learn as much from its stablemate as Visceral has from DICE in producing a rip-snorter multiplayer suite.
There are few triple-A, multiplayer shooters with a really good single-player story. This morning I dialled in to have a chat with creative director Ian Milham and co-writer Rob Auten about what it’s like to try and write a compelling story for a genre generally dominated by explosions, bigger explosions and people going “WHOOOOOOOO! YEAH BABY” after explosions.
“Shooters are tough, because the primary activity in shooters is shooting,” Auten said. “It’s kind of hard to couple that with a realist attitude.
“I think particularly the problem is compounded when you throw in the realism and attention to detail that we wanted to bring to the police genre with this game.
“There were a lot of landmines, I guess. We tried to respect them by making our characters based in realism but still able to react in a somewhat hyperbolic way to sort of exaggerated situations. The kind of scenarios you’d find in buddy cop movies, like Danny Glover on the toilet in Lethal Weapon 2. Slightly bizarre situations.
“The characters react in accordance with the tone of the overall story. They don’t always necessarily need to react with that overly-quipped delivery I think you find in a lot of military shooters.”
Visceral and the writing team were given the opportunity to talk to consultants with both military and police backgrounds, and got some good advice and insight into making them sound more realistic.
“One of the things these guys say – especially the military guys – is that soldiers these days don’t tend to talk like video game characters,” Auten said.
“When people come into their units and talk like a character out of a video game, they sort of ice that guy out until they realise it’s really not about being cool on the battlefield. It’s about looking out for your companions. It’s about safety, not swagger.
“We tried to make our characters based in realism but still able to react in a hyperbolic way to exaggerated situations. The kind of scenarios you’d find in buddy cop movies, like Danny Glover on the toilet in Lethal Weapon 2.”
“One of the reasons [military shooters] get criticised is because they overdo this fantasy of making it cool to be a soldier. Certainly it is an honourable thing to be a solider. But we wanted to tell a story that didn’t rely on this sort of perceived cool.
“[Bissell and I] feel we’ve been lucky to sidestep that a little bit. We love the Battlefield franchise, but it’s really hard to avoid those tropes. And there’s a lot of pressure from audience expectations, from an internal perspective, to reinforce those tropes – despite their not being all that accurate.
“This was a great opportunity for us to talk to actual cops. Actual cops are a lot of fun; a lot of them have really funny stories. If you call up a cop, a really experienced officer, and say ‘What do you say when a guy is running away from you,’ he’ll say like ‘I don’t know, I say, hey asshole, stop.’ There’s no posturing about it. It feels like something that guy did a hundred times over the course of a 15 year career.
“It was nice to be able to service some level of realism while at the same time making sure everyone was playing in an environment that they knew was potentially for fun.”
Next: Building characters, and putting choices in gameplay, not quick time events.