E3 2014: ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Battlefield’ developer makes character push

June 11, 2014 | 11:36 a.m.
A scene from the multiplayer portion of "Battlfield Hardline." (DICE/Visceral)

A scene from the multiplayer portion of “Battlefield Hardline.” (DICE/Visceral)

Electronic Arts studio DICE is best known for its “Battlefield” games, titles that have sought to hone the video game art of humans destroying other humans.

Today, however, the Stockholm-based studio is deep into the development of some of its most ambitious projects in its decade-plus existence, including a new “Star Wars” game, and studio principal Karl Magnus Troedsson says the company is starting to grapple with bigger topics.

In working on a sequel to its 2008 game “Mirror’s Edge,” a futuristic thriller in which its female protagonist Faith is always on the run, DICE is using the time away from its multiplayer-focused “Battlefield” to create a more character-driven-story.

“DICE is perhaps not that well known for games with a strong character. In ‘Battlefield,’ it’s usually a bunch of guys. Multiplayer has very little focus on character,” says Troedsson, DICE’s VP and group general manager. “We are very intrigued with the fact that we now have a character, Faith, who is so strong. She’s a strong young woman with a very interesting past.”

DICE brought three games to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), which runs through Thursday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Its cops-versus-robbers shootout “Battlefield Hardline” is currently in beta for the PlayStation 4 and PC, while its “Star Wars: Battlefront” and new “Mirror’s Edge” likely remain a long way off.

In a teaser for the minimally styled “Mirror’s Edge” that was revealed on Monday, the game’s senior producer Sara Jansson said the title would seek to expand on Faith’s past and better explain her motivations. Faith is what the “Mirror’s Edge” universe refers to as a “runner,” a rebel who acts as a courier of sensitive information in a city where all communication is tightly monitored.

Getting to the character’s core, says Troedsson, won’t be easy, but it’s a quest that’s proving increasingly irresistible for ambitious game designers.

Early concept art for a new "Mirror's Edge" game. (Dice)

Early concept art for a new “Mirror’s Edge” game. (Dice)

“Characters and human beings are some of the hardest things to replicate,” he says. “It almost seems as if we as human beings are a bit obsessed with replicating ourselves, if you look at people building robots or investing in artificial intelligence. There’s something fascinating about building replicants of ourselves. Inside the game industry that takes the form of asking how life-like can we create these virtual actors we have in the game.”

The task for game designers is more difficult than, say, the teams behind animated films, says Troedsson. Since the game world must be interactive, it’s a challenge to fashion a universe or fluid character movement that doesn’t at least once break the spell of immersion, especially in games of high action that allow the player to freely roam.

But it’s a goal worth pursuing, and one DICE is attempting to tackle. “A lot of us build games because we want to tell a story,” Troedsson says. “The best stories are not X happened and Y happened. It’s about why someone is going to do something and why someone is involved in something.”

He continues, “Take the modern TV series. Sure, it’s about zombies, but after a while it’s not about zombies. It’s about the characters. We’re seeing that in games. People put so much emphasis on characters because they want to tell a story. They want the actors to deliver upon something. We haven’t seen the end of this. This is going to continue.”

While Troedsson isn’t yet discussing the single-player campaign of “Battlefield Hardline,” a game stylistically similar to “Grand Theft Auto,”  he says an urban rather than a war-zone setting will provide more varied options for storytelling — to a point. The game is a joint development with “Dead Space” studio Visceral Games, with the latter taking a leadership role.

“I’m not going to pass judgment on anyone, but we would love to have characters who are more relatable and a little more human, if you will,” Troedsson says. “At the same time, we are making entertainment and entertainment is fiction. In a fiction, you need to every now and again turn it up to 11 or minus 1. That goes for the characters as well. This is fiction. It’s action. It needs to be bombastic at points.”

To that end, locals shouldn’t take it personally that the multiplayer portion of “Battlefield Hardline” sees criminals and police officers essentially engaging in all-out war on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.  It’s not social commentary, Troedesson says, simply a love for the movies.

“We take a lot of cues from Hollywood,” he says. “I won’t shy away from that. We were born in the ’70s, we grew up in the ’80s. We were watching old movies, action movies, crime dramas, etc. L.A. is a very signature city when it comes to this kind of entertainment, so it felt natural we should include this in the game of course.”

– Todd Martens| @toddmartens | @LATHeroComplex

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