Is it mostly emotional, creative decisions, or is it also data-driven? Or does it vary depending on what part of the game you're talking about?
KMT: Single player is very emotional, I would say. The team at home, they have their... almost like a powwow, they just lock themselves in a room and they look at the mission, and listen to other kinds of feedback coming from the outside, as well. It's very emotional, I would say, like trying to get the experience to a higher level.
But in multiplayer, it's much more data-driven. After the playtest, all the multiplayer designers, they can get heat maps, and they can see where did people get shot on the map, how many kills? Is it the same team that always wins on this map, and why is that so? Is it because they have a better home base or something like that, better location, or etcetera?
So multiplayer is much more data-driven than single player, I would argue. However, single player is definitely getting there as well. Similar telemetry data systems that we have on multiplayer, we are applying on single player as well, so you can see a playthrough, you can see all kinds of people get to Mission 7, and then there's a huge difficulty spike here. "Okay, we need to do something about that as well."
Do you have formalized playtests? Does everyone in the studio play the games, or is it more just who has time?
KMT: Who has time. It's sent out to the entire studio. But it's definitely a challenge, because we know that playtest means quality if you do it the right way, with iteration and feedback, etcetera. But especially now, when we're getting more and more players into matches as well, and it starts to get harder and harder... We have test locations within EA and Europe, of course, that fill up the servers if we don't have enough people.
Is there too much data? Can you balance a game into blandness using that kind of data?
KMT: I think you can. This is one of the reasons why I think that people still like Battlefield, is because we have a recipe that we stick to pretty closely. We change things all the time, both in a new title, but also post-launch, where we feel something is wrong.
But the one thing we have learned is that when you do these kinds of changes, you do it in smaller steps. In the beginning, when we didn't have that much experience, we went from 1 to 10, and then from 10 to 3, and from 3 to 5, and then, okay, maybe it was four and a half we should've been at. But over the years, we're getting more and more experience with it.
So I think it's important for those people to find their niche of the kind of games, and then stay true to that. For instance, to your point, if you take all the weapons and you balance them so it doesn't really matter which weapon you use, then you'd probably reach some kind of a blandness. At the same time, you have the challenge -- at least for us on Battlefield -- that we don't want any super weapon; we don't want any weapon to be substantially better than the other ones.
So we look a lot at, like sniper rifles, they should have about this range, about this damage, etcetera, and then we work with attributes. So this is a bolt action, it has a slow reload; this is a semi-auto, then you need lower damage, because you can get more shots fired quickly, etcetera. And you look at those features around it -- the weapon, the gadget, or the vehicle.
There must be tremendous amounts of institutional knowledge in your design team, at the point where you can jump off with a reasonable idea. You're not starting from zero.
KMT: No, it's incredible. It's one of the things that really fascinates me when, [creative director] Lars Gustavsson -- I usually call him the granddad of Battlefield, I don't know if he likes that or not -- but he's amazing. He's been with us since Codename Eagle. He was part of doing that as well. And we've actually formalized this over the years, now. So we have a Battlefield core group where all these designers and a lot of that knowledge actually sits, but a lot of it is in our DNA, in the walls in the studio.
How do people in that core group transfer that knowledge to the rest of the company?
KMT: Well, we have seen this first and foremost when we put new teams on making a PDLC pack or something like that. And a lot comes from participating in the playtest, and then just sitting down and have discussions saying, "Okay, what you do in here, perhaps, with the shotguns, maybe you shouldn't do that. Look at the core product, or look at the product we did before. Shotguns should have this kind of range, not what you're suggesting here." A lot of it is very much verbal, and playing the game together, and putting people physically to sit next to each other is also very important; physical space is very important when you develop games, actually.
How do you organize your physical space?
KMT: Well, we care quite a bit about our office, and I don't know if you've been there...
No, I haven't.
KMT: You'll really love our office, and we're spending a lot of time taking care of it. Both in keeping people happy in the studio, but also because of what we'll be talking about here. We have semi-open areas. We have a room where maybe you can have 12, or another room where you can have 24 people, and then we have smaller rooms. And depending on what kind of pod we have -- because we do organize the teams into like, you can have a narrative pod, or maybe a bigger single player pod, and then you can have a multiplayer group, and these kinds of things.
And then we try to put cross-functionality people in there, so you have programmers, and designers, and artists, everyone sitting together. It doesn't work having all the artists in one corner, and all the programmers in one corner -- that's a recipe for disaster.