[In this extensive interview, executive producer Patrick Bach explains how his team at DICE built Battlefield 3 from the ground up, and what techniques enabled the team to create the game they wanted to create, and stay inspired -- from 2006 onwards.]
Battlefield 3 isn't a yearly update to a popular franchise. While some of the team that worked on this game also contributed to last year's Bad Company 2, the game has been in the works since 2006 in one form or another -- or perhaps even longer, if you count conversations that happened when 2005's Battlefield 2 wrapped up.
All eyes are on this game; in a world where the number one title in the console space has been a military shooter for the past few years, and the rivalry between Activision and EA remains hot, there's no question that people want to know if Battlefield 3 has the power to compete.
Executive producer Patrick Bach of Stockholm, Sweden-based developer DICE, and his team are well aware of this pressure -- though as he tells Gamasutra, the real push for success comes from within the developers. External pressures hurt, not help. Fortunately, he says, EA knows to trust its developers.
Bach, in this interview, discusses exactly how he manages his team, how work is delegated, and why working autonomously with an experienced team is key to the way in which the Battlefield series is created.
So, Patrick Liu, who I spoke to before -- you're his boss?
Patrick Bach: Yeah, you could put it like that. (laughs) We have a very loose hierarchy in the office. We try to, more or less, let people do what they're good at, and let them live out their urges to create great games. We don't really see it as like, who's boss or not. Even though you could argue that, yes, we have a hierarchy.
How do you do that on a project of this size?
PB: I would actually turn it around, and say that it's the only way to create a game like this. Because if you would have someone that controlled every little part of it, and tried to be the master of all the details, you would definitely fail.
Because the game has so many features, and so much depth in almost all areas, you need everyone that is working on the game as more or less an owner of that area. Which then feeds the creativity, and makes people do even more.
How did you control the scope? This is a very immense game.
PB: Yes. (laughs nervously)
And we all know that there tend to be things like feature creep and planning problems.
PB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm super experienced in feature creeping. That's one of my best traits actually. I'm awesome at that!
When everyone loves what they're doing, everyone will feature creep. And that's both good and bad. It's good, because everyone will try harder to get even more things into the game, and find ways to do that, and put that extra energy.
The bad thing is that when you have a lot of stuff getting pushed into a game at the same time, stuff breaks, and it takes forever to get people off the project -- because the more people you have working, the more problems they will add.
This is the game that everybody's eyes are on this year. I think this game is the one everyone is paying attention to -- to see, "Can EA pull it off?" or "Can DICE pull it off?" On one hand, that does inspire that level of people wanting to put everything they possibly can into it, but…
PB: Well, I think it's more of a challenge. People put a lot of pressure on themselves to just make the best game they've ever made, and adding this pressure on top of it is not always helping. Some people get really, really scared, because they feel some kind of demand on them -- that they need to please someone that they might not understand.
We try to build games that we love to play rather than building games for someone else. Because we have so many different types of people in the studio, so if we like it, we think that we are a pretty good average of what the consumers are as well. So getting all this extra pressure is not always helping.
When it comes to scoping the game, was there a lot of external, publisher-side focus testing and that kind of stuff? Or was it all primarily internally decided upon?
PB: It's actually quite interesting, when you mention it, that we didn't do that much consumer testing. We did some consumer testing on the style and tone of the game, "What kind of style and tone do you want in a game like Battlefield 3?"
But we haven't really done much more than that. We get a lot of trust from EA that we know what Battlefield should be. And getting that trust makes us do even more -- because we want to prove that our view of a first person shooter is the best way of creating games.
You sound pretty confident. Do you feel confident about what you've achieved at this point?
PB: I'm always confident that I know what the team I'm working with can do. They can do miracles. But I'm never confident that I know that other people will like it. So to me, just seeing people playing it makes me nervous, because I don't know if they will like it or not. Just because I like it, doesn't mean that other people like it. So I'm probably very bad at understanding consumer research, but I'm very good at gut feeling. So I'm hoping that if I like it, if my team likes it, then everyone else will like it -- but my confidence is not that others will like it.