Battlefield Hardline is not a replacement Battlefield 4, Visceral Games tells us, but something quite different from DICE's games.
Battlefield Hardline creative director Ian Milham was on site at Tokyo Game Show 2014, where EA fronted a huge booth in promotion of the new shooter from Visceral Games.
It's easy to focus on the incongruities of Visceral making a Battlefield game - it's never done a first-person game, DICE has never lent the IP out before - and not think about the positive possibilities. DICE (bless it) more than deserves its reputation as an incredibly fine multiplayer developer, but I don't think it's too controversial to say that its single-player campaigns are pretty rubbish.
Visceral, on the other hand, is all about single-player campaigns; the Dead Space series has won high praise for its cinematic storytelling and world building.
"There were aspects that we thought we had been pretty successful with before, specifically with single-player and some of the cinematic presentation, that we thought would be an interesting addition to the Battlefield formula, that took a lot of figuring out," Milham said, citing the example of cutting from gameplay to cinematic in first-person view.
"[Story driven games are] certainly something that we love. We started as and have traditionally been a storytelling studio. It felt like something interesting we could do in the Battlefield universe, in this sort of different flavour of it.
"It was never our intention to make a realistic police tactics simulator. We're playing cops and robbers. It's always been a crime drama, exaggerated," - here Milham put on a TV, loose-cannon cop voice - "'I don't have to live by your rules' kind of thing, not a realistic thing."
That's pretty different from Battlefield, which is considered one of the more serious shooters, if not quite on the same level as ArmA or Red Orchestra. According to Milham, this is quote deliberate: Hardline isn't intended to replace the core Battlefield series so much as provide an alternative kind of game.
"Battlefield is great. DICE does such a tremendous job - but they're already doing it," he said.
"We started this in February 2012, and DICE was still a year and a half from being done with Battlefield 4. It kind of felt like they were doing their thing and there was this opportunity to take some of the DNA of this great franchise in a slightly different direction.
"That meant the world, the tone, the look, the everything. So yes, it's different. It's not like ours is funny, but our inspiration is the American writer Elmore Leonard, and the various things that have been inspired by his work.
"It sort of fit with our goal to not do this convoluted plot about someone trying to take over the world. We're not going for cheesy. But it's a different tone to Battlefield."
In discussing Visceral's take on the Battlefield formula, it's worth remembering that DICE has worked closely with the other team, nurturing it through the transition from one type of game to another.
"DICE comes from a different gaming tradition than we do. They come from a hardcore, PC, demo scene background, and they're passionate about the systemic multiplayer. We're coming from more of a single-player background. It's quite different, and nobody realises how different it is until they try," Milham said.
"We'll sort of say, 'Oh, to do the single-player, we do it like this' and they look at us like we have two heads, like 'wow, really? You do that?' And when we say 'we're gonna have this map' or 'we're gonna do it this way' [in multiplayer], they say 'yeah, we tried that and it didn't work. You need to do it this way instead.'
"They were like, ‘I dunno man. We tried bikes and those are super hard physically to do. But, okay.’ We ended up making it, and that was the motorcycle that shipped in the expansion pack for BF3. That was one we won.”
"The times when they've been more strong in their - not opposition, but in their desire to have us learn from their mistakes, has usually been when an idea has been really seductive. It seems like it would really be a good idea - and that usually means that they had the same idea, five years ago.
"We'd go, 'why hasn't Battlefield ever had one of these?' And they'd say 'Yeah well, we tried that.'"
There was one instance where Visceral stuck to its guns in spite of DICE's objections - and was proved right.
"They have a deep background in racing games, DICE does. We wanted to make a motorcycle for Hardline. They were like, 'I dunno man. We tried bikes and those are super hard physically to do. But, okay.'
"We ended up making it, and that was the motorcycle that shipped in the expansion pack for BF3. And that was the base for the motorcycle in Hardline. That was one we won."
EA, sprawling mega-publisher that it is, seems to be massively keen on inter-studio collaboration. The Frostbite engine is turning up everywhere, and so are DICE staff, working closely with the teams using the tech - especially Visceral, which has benefited hugely from the experience of its sibling studio.
"I've spent a lot of time in Sweden, as have a lot of our team, and they've come over with us. We've found that the best way is to just get in there and make stuff. We had initial creative meetings, but then a large number of us contributed to Battlefield 4, because nothing actually replaces working on stuff. We worked a lot on that," Milham said of the collaboration.
"They've been contributing to this since the beginning. Nothing replaces that one-one-one relationship, working side by side together."
Visceral has also benefited from another collaboration, with the franchise's passionate fan base. Visceral's plans to support Hardline post launch are reactive, Milham said.
"We’re not gonna listen to everything. We also got fan feedback like ‘oh, cops and robbers wouldn’t have parachutes’. Sorry everybody, parachutes are fun."
"As evidenced by delaying the game, we're trying to integrate as much fan feedback as possible, keep that dialogue open. We've already had fans into the office working on it with us. We're mostly taking a responsive approach to it," he said.
"The game's gonna come out, we're gonna see how people are playing it, see what aspects are most popular, see what's going on - and react to that, have things going based on how things go, rather than having us dictate.
"In the beta, there was a lot of feedback that explosive weapons didn't feel special enough, and their ubiquitousness was a little bit of an ill-fit towards the police world. So we changed them so they are available in the maps and in the trunks of police cars and stuff like that, but they're not part of the common load out anymore. So they're a little bit more special now.
"We're not gonna listen to everything," he added. "We also got fan feedback like 'oh, cops and robbers wouldn't have parachutes'. Sorry everybody, parachutes are fun. So they're staying."
Those same fans have particular expectations of the Battlefield franchise, and those expectations don't necessarily include seeing a new entry in the series pop up before the dust has settled on the last one. But Milham isn't worried about that; in fact, he seems quite pleased by the reaction, given the alternative.
"Just the idea of a Battlefield game coming out a year after hasn't been historically for Battlefield - although it's pretty common for other franchises," he said.
"So there're certain people who are like 'wait a minute, I'm still getting used to or I'm still committed to this one'. That's cool.
"I think part of the reason we wanted to make it quite different was to provide some different value for people. Actually we were worried really early on that we would have the opposite criticism - that people would say 'This isn't Battlefield.'"
Hardline isn't the Battlefield we know - but we already have that. Look for this new kind of beast in March 2015.