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How DICE Does It

September 10, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Something that I think interested our audience is when we spoke to Patrick Soderlund about how Battlefield 1943 came out of the labs project in the studio. Have you been involved in that?

KMT: Yeah, I was the EP at the time, for the franchise.

So what do you think of that? First of all, in terms of both the intelligent use of resources within the studio, but also in terms of keeping people satisfied, interested, engaged?

KMT: Well, the coolest part for me about Battlefield 1943 was that the whole idea started with, at the time, we had the engine -- we had Frostbite 1. We were making Bad Company, and looking at those products.

And then we just thought... There was me and a couple of others sitting in a room, and over a couple of weeks, the ideas were tossed around like, "Oh, you remember 1942? You remember World War II? Wouldn't it be cool if in this brand new engine -- and the capabilities that we now have -- to have like a spitfire just skimming the surfaces of the tree foliage, and just dropping bombs on a Tiger tank?" Or something like that. It was like going back to old memory lane.

And we just felt like, "this is so good that we need to do something about it." And we have those ideas -- a lot of those, all the time -- but making these big games as we are, it can be quite hard to actually realize them, because so many people are working on the products that it's usually better to take those people and put them into the big project as well, to make that a little better.

At this point in time, like I mentioned, we were just between projects, so we had a lot of free people in the studio. So we just started. "Are you free? Do you want to do something?" "Yeah, sure!" "Okay, go talk to that producer over there, talk to Patrick Liu," who was the producer that ran it. "He needs people."

So people came and went -- there were very few people that were actually on the product all the way from the beginning to the end. From the development standpoint of the process, etcetera, it was an innovative way for us to work. But it was also a challenge, because not having that continuity from people in the team made it much harder for him to actually get the product together.

What did you learn from doing this experiment?

KMT: That we should probably experiment more. That's probably the most important one.

Have you thought about doing more experiments?

KMT: We have since then, but none of them have really seen the light of day.

But I mean I'm assuming you still learn from them...

KMT: Oh yeah. It's like I mentioned in my GDC talk, that we really take things -- like the movement, or part of the movement, from Mirror's Edge, and put into BF3, for instance. That's a typical example. And there are those examples that have gone into big products that people don't really know about, but they actually came from smaller, other, more innovative test experiments inside of DICE.

If you talk about it that way, it's obvious the benefit it could have, but you still need management buy-in to make it.

KMT: Oh, yeah. In the background of everything, we run a business, of course. But with the success we have had, there are opportunities. It's quite easy for us to explain to upper management that, "We want to do this. We want to try this out."

And EA is actually very prone to try out new things, and I have to say that sometimes I think we get too much crap for not being innovative. We do release new IPs, and we do take care of IPs that have been out there. And perhaps not so successful, but we try to get new things out there as well.

Now, that might sound strange coming from me, working on Battlefield. We've been around for 10 years, and we just keep doing more of the same, but being innovative in that space. But EA is quite easy to convince -- for us, at least -- to do more experiments, etcetera.

It actually comes down more to our own discipline, like I mentioned: "Okay, we have five guys that are free over here. Should we do an experiment with them or, you know what, they actually need more help over there, to figure out that new feature that they're working on." What do we do? We usually put them on the project. So it takes discipline, as well.

It also takes, when you look at the project, you need to be mentally prepared to have some slack in your production -- the amount of people who are actually working on something.

Okay, so some flexibility in the staffing.

KMT: Yeah, exactly.

When you talk about innovation at a studio that works on these kinds of games, how do you define that?

KMT: It's tricky. Innovation is something that actually changes something for the better, renews something -- and I think we do that all the time. But some of them are big and some of them are small, and some people disagree, saying, "That's not an innovation!" and it's like, "No, maybe not for you, but for the people playing the game it's a big thing."

But it comes down to, the longer a product has been running, the more you need to challenge yourself to actually do something innovative. At the same time, as I mentioned before, as well, it needs to be the right level of innovation. You need a couple of them and then you feel like, "This is really, really good", and, "This is going to be interesting", perhaps, for both our core audience, but also hopefully attract new players into being interested in playing the franchise.

How do you identify those targets?

KMT: That's, again, quite emotional actually, and it goes back to knowledge of our products and then feeling like, "Is this the right thing for us to move forward?" That's one big source of it. And then we seek validation -- we could test it with a marketing group, or something like that. But we also keep very close tabs on what people say in the "interwebs" -- what people actually are talking about out there.

We spend a lot of time just reading up on the forums and the comments, etcetera, and that can be pretty harsh; it can be a bit of like beating yourself on the back, going out there. But even though there's a lot of negativity sometimes, every now and then you'll just find gems like, "That's so good. What he just said right there is so good; we need to do something", and either fix what he's talking about, or add what she brings up, or whatever it might be.

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