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Beyond the Brand: DICE’s Lars Gustavsson, Pt. 2

DICE's love affair with modern combat isn't exclusive. Patrick Garratt talks to creative director Lars Gustavsson about the developer's other paramours.

Speaking to VG247, Gustavsson gave a rare insight into some of DICE's projects that have slipped under the radar a little: its history with racers, success in the freemium realm, flirtation with futuristic settings, and of course, the in-demand Mirror's Edge sequel.

Catch the first part of this massive interview here.

You went into the future with 2142 in 2006. It didn't review quite as well as Battlefield 2, and it was pushed out very quickly after Battlefield 2. It came out a year later. Was there a quality issue there, or did it come too quickly after Battlefield 2? Would you go back to that futuristic battlefield?

The main thing is what you hit there, it is the fact that it came out a year after. We weren't fully clear in the messaging of what it is. Is it Battlefield 2.5? Is it Battlefield 3? What is it?

For that, I think we got lower reviews. In the end if I look at the game itself it's a very solid game. Many errors have been polished far beyond Battlefield 2.

Then of course we've noticed throughout the years that the contemporary warfare is very popular among a lot of people, while sci-fi might be a bit more edgy.

In the end, I'm very proud of what that game made and we tried to do so much with it. I know there's a lot of people who played it for a long, long time after - and are still playing.

I think it was really good for the studio as well. When people heard about the fact that we were actually going to make a game where there would - up till that point we hadn't really done concept art. I have some old concept drawings from 1942 of soldiers in bunkers. I have probably some level concept art. But otherwise it's kind of, well, it's in any history book. Ot it's like, well, what does a tank look like nowadays?

Whereas for 2142, we had to create a full universe. I think that's what people loved. It was Johannes Söderqvist - the lead artist there was the art director on Mirror's Edge. I think he and the team really loved trying to do something different.

What are your thoughts on the rise of Call of Duty? What was it like to watch that? Obviously they're very different products. You've always been mindful of your fan base. You've always been focused on multiplayer. And then all of a sudden, Infinity Ward's product just accelerated with this cinematic shooting experience. Was that painful to watch? Or were you happy with what you're doing?

We've always been doing what we like, and what we know we're good at. You could argue that the early Battlefield games were less accessible for newcomers, while the Bad Company and these games have taken that problem and reduced it to nothing.

"It's like any musician; without other people singing in the same genre - or even in other genres - you wouldn't be where you are today."

For me, it's healthy competition. It is. It's like any musician; without other people singing in the same genre - or even in other genres - you wouldn't be where you are today. It's the same thing for us. We play the competitor's games, and we're all gamers. We get influences from right and left. So it's an admirable achievement to do what they've done, and we're extremely proud of what we do.

I looked at the list of Battlefield games, and I think you've put out a product every year since 2002. Patrick Bach said recently to annualise Battlefield would be to kill it. Do you think releasing a product every year is simply a reality of building this size of franchise? Is it something you have to do, or is it something you actually want to do - to keep pushing out expansions and new games?

Looking back, I think you hit on it with 2142 and Vietnam - it got lower reviews because it wasn't a full-blown game. As long as you're clear in your messaging, people have always been hungry for more content for Battlefield.

Yes, we do release something every year, but it's not always a full blown product. One of the key areas there is the fact that our games have a tendency of having a very long tail. You know, people are still playing 1942, but specifically, Battlefield 2.

We want to give people time to play and love the games that they already bought, and when we do release a title, a new major title, it's not the end all be all. A lot of people play multiple titles.

Battlefield as a franchise has expanded quite rounded directions - you've managed to cover all bases. I suppose the most recent addition to it would be the free-to-play games. You were one of the first core studios that got into free-to-play shooters on a large level; can you talk through the reasoning behind that? Did you just see an opportunity and go for it? If it hadn't worked, would you have scaled it back?

It was a test bed to see if we could do it. By now, I think it's proved that we can. As a studio, we're constantly wanting to challenge ourselves, and this was one of the areas. Battlefield 1943 as a downloadable game was another one, which turned out to be extremely successful.

Going back to the previous question, we have released something every year - but it's not always the full, default title. And as always, every title doesn't necessarily hit everyone's taste, so I think it's just a possibility for everyone to play what they like.

It's interesting that Play4Free has focused on the more core shooter experience. Do you think that there is room for the casual shooter, or do you think the shooter genre is all core as the core, male audience?

It's an interesting question. Battlefield Heroes has been possible in itself and continues to be. We've seen in the Battlefield franchise, through the years, that many times, even though you're new to shooters, you might have friends, or friends' friends, or older brothers and sisters who play one of the other more core titles, and so many times you have those as your heroes, or you want to beat this one or that one and you hear about people who win competitions, so it is probably very easy to at some point want to challenge yourself and be a bit more hardcore.

It's like if you play football; it's nice to fiddle around for some time but in the end you want to play a game and see if you have what it takes. I think the same goes for free-to-play games. I don't say that "that one's going to overtake the other one", but I think a lot of people will find that compelling, to see what's in there. And it's a good game.

You've got a long history of supporting Mac OS. This is something I really noticed looking at the release history; there are Mac versions of lots of them. But there's not a Mac version of Battlefield 3.

No. That's not currently being planned.

Can you explain the reasoning for that?

At this point, ah… What should I say?

Is it a financial thing?

To be honest, it hasn't been on my table. I'm not sure what the proper answer would be, but-

PR Minder: You can answer, that's fine.

No, I can't freely answer, it's more Patrick Bach who can.

I'll ask him later. As a studio, you've made a lot of racing games - DICE isn't just Battlefield, there have been a lot of really famous games that have come out of DICE. - so it must have been really interesting for you to work on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit with Criterion. Did you enjoy that? Is racing something you might like to go back to at some point?

Watch on YouTube

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
Co-developed by DICE and Criterion.

I started out at Refraction Games, who then got bought up by DICE, and at that time we knew basically DICE by - or I'd played a lot of their - racing games and pinball games, and then later on coming out with Rallisport Challenge and Rallisport Challenge 2.

Who knows? Who knows, in the future? I think there's a lot of people who'd love to do it again. And yes, we do get to do a lot of vehicles in Battlefield and so on, but it is something that's dear to many of us, and many times when I relax to go home, I really love racing games because it's just … sheer joy if you see what I mean. it's a driving experience, it doesn't demand anything from you.

Many times when you sign up for a game, you do MMO or something, it feels like you have obligations to your game. But the driving game is just sheer fun. For the moment, it's Shift 2. That's my relaxation - if it's not the Lego games, with the kids at home.

You made Mirror's Edge, which I see plastered everywhere - it was clearly a labour of love for the studio.

Oh, yeah.

"I miss being in the Mirror’s Edge universe, sometimes I need to pick up the controller and play a bit, just to be back."

If there's one product that I hear constantly when the community talk about dream sequels, it's Mirror's Edge 2. It's always on that list. Is it something you'd like to revisit - this is something that comes up constantly for us, as journalists - is it something that you'd like to go back to, or has the dream slipped away?

No no - the dream is definitely still there. I think you hit the sweet spot. It's a game loved by the studio. I think it's one of those games where sometimes you miss the universe. Shadow of the Colossus, or I really liked Alan Wake, for example. I miss being in that universe. I miss being in the Mirror's Edge universe, sometimes I need to pick up the controller and play a bit, just to be back. So well, who knows what the future brings, but I would be really happy to see it out there again.

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