Battlefield 1 Lead Designer Erik Ortman Talks WWI Accuracy, New UI

Hardcore Gamer was recently given the opportunity to head to DICE in Los Angeles to get extensive hands-on time with the upcoming World War I shooter, Battlefield 1, and talk to the development team about the game. Lead UI/UX Designer Erik Ortman was kind enough to have an extended chat, sharing his thoughts about what will make Battlefield 1 successful, the work that went into making one of the first World War I shooters and everything new the game brings to the table.

[Hardcore Gamer] So let’s get it out of the way; why the decision to shift to WWI?

[Erik Ortman] It’s a game we’ve been wanting to do for a long time and when the team came out of B4 we all felt that kinda wanted to shift in pace and setting. We also felt that the shooter market was ready to try something new and we’ve been kind of stagnant on that modern shooter for some time. So there were a couple of guys in the studio who pitched this idea about WWI and I think that a lot of people were very skeptical in the beginning. People don’t really know about it, it’s untested, and the preconceptions you have about it doesn’t really fit into the shooter genre. When they started talking about and really started looking at what that era had to offer we saw how well that could fit into the Battlefield formula, so we went for it. The more we started building on it we saw that it  works really well with Battlefield.

With technology being more dated than WWII, was it difficult to find the right technology to make sure you still have the big action scenes?

Not really, I would say. Even if the technology was a bit more basic it was also very physical and brutal in ways and a lot of was very instrumental and first off. So you get a lot of these big hulking absurd tanks and machinery that you never really saw since. They’re very iconic in the way they looked and the way they kinda play.

From what we’ve played of the single player thus far, it seems that there’s a lot of emphasis on the horrors of war and how tough this particular war was. Was that a big thing you wanted to push with this game?

For single player the main thing we wanted to portray and push were the personal stories. The era was so complex and large and that’s what we wanted to portray. You know these are human beings placed in these extreme circumstances, and tell the story of how did they act and how do you evolve as a human being when you’re thrown in these extreme situations. I think that’s what was most important to us.

As the designer behind the UI, what did you want to bring to the table with this game?

Yeah for sure. One of the things we still wanted to stay true to is that we are a modern shooter. We don’t want to go back in time in terms of shooter design or gameplay, even if we travel back in time historically. We decided to go for this very modern lens approach; in the same way that these weapons and vehicles are not old and rusted they’re brand new out from the factory for these people holding them in their hands. We also wanted to have a lot pristine, clean, and also a very minimalist approach to the UI because we do all this work to create this beautiful world and the UI can sometimes get in the way of it. One of the most beautiful things about this setting is the way it kind of handles in that everything is physical and basic. You get that kind of wonderful what you see is what you get effect. So there’s a lot of cases where we don’t need to throw UI in your face all the time, the game kinda speaks it’s own story of what’s happening and going on around you.

How did the WWI setting influence the multiplayer? It definitely changes the dynamic versus WWII.

One of the biggest impacts on the multiplayer in terms of the era and setting was the diversity and the contrast that you get. This was an era where people rode in on horseback and then four years later they went out in tanks in this very short period of time. So you have this huge contrast of this old and very brutal and physical with melee combat and people on horseback, and then you have giant planes in the sky and then you have these behemoths which are the biggest vehicles we’ve ever done in a Battlefield before. So I think that contrast really shows itself in the gameplay as well, it creates this sort of unique multiplayer experience.

What was designing the horseback like? Considering it’s a departure from other Battlefield gameplay, was it difficult or did it fit right in?

Yeah, they put some much effort into the animations and the physics. Getting a horse to behave the way as you would expect the horse to behave because you know a vehicle you are in control. You can drive off a cliff if you wanted to. You can drive it into water, but a horse wouldn’t do that. You can walk up to a cliff and a horse wouldn’t be like “yeah okay I’m gonna jump off this cliff,” right? So getting those little behaviors right has really been challenging, but I think it’s also turned out really cool in that you are on horseback and you’re riding around really fast compared to a lot of these really old tanks and machines. So you work really well as a hit and run guerrilla. When you spawn in on the horse you became this unique Calvary class and it comes with anti-tank grenades and the saber and a long range rifle. So one of the most effective approaches is running behind enemy lines with your anti-tank grenades and kind of get going on the enemy tanks and then get the hell out of there and loop around becoming this kind of guerrilla warfare style gameplay.

What kind of research went into creating the game? It’s been about a hundred years since the war now, was it more difficult to research it versus going into the future or even back to WWII?

We have some amazing history buffs on the team. They both have the knowledge about the era and everything that was going on, but also make the rest of the team excited and educate us. A lot of us including myself knew almost nothing. WWII we learn about in school, there’s a lot of pop culture around it, but that’s not really the case with WWI. I knew nothing. I think it’s been a learning journey for all of us on the team, but I think you come out of it and it’s been really great. That’s frankly one of the coolest parts for me is that you go on Reddit and you see people like “oh my great granddad was part of the war and he had all of these looks, but I never really knew about it. Until I played the open beta and he was there exactly on that level that I played.” They’re all based around the real world places and battles that took place, and that stuffs great.

Are you glad that with the younger folks playing the game that you can kind of inspire their generation to research WWI and become more knowledgeable about it?

I hope so, that would be amazing. We do kind of try to implement some of those tools. I don’t know if you saw some of the codices’s that we had in the game. So we have these codices that you basically unlock by doing specific things in the game so there is sort of a collectible approach to them. These codices also all contain true historical information about a specific gameplay element or a level or an army or anything like that. We also have the operations table which is new to Battlefield 1 where we try to create sort of a narrative journey around the gameplay. All these battles and operations that we’re doing are based around actual battles that took place. So you get to sort of experience that historical context by yourself as a player and create your own story and your own journey within that context.

Do you think Operations will be the centerpiece of Battlefield 1?

I think it will be one of the big pillars for sure. Conquest is always the bread and butter of Battlefield and I think a lot of players love that game mode, Battlefield was born out of Conquest in a way. Operations will bring a new sort of epic scale experience to it.  It’s one of our bigger game modes, it’s 64 players. We also have a 40 player variation of it because some people like it a bit more readable and slower pace. It plays in a very unique way and it’s play style is really strong in contrast to some of the smaller game modes such as the War Pigeons one which is also new and you’re going to play this afternoon. So yeah placing you within that narrative context has been a really interest experiment for us because we haven’t really done that in a multiplayer setting, it’s something that you do in single player a lot. Giving your character and yourself as a player a bit more meaning to why are you there and what are you fighting for and who are these people you are with? In the best of worlds hopefully that can make player care a bit more about who they’re playing with and maybe impact the way they play.

The single player skips around and tells different stories. Was that purposeful because the war was on such a big scale? Did you want to tell different time periods at different parts?

Totally. We went through a lot of different variations of how we wanted to tell these stories in single player. We found it exactly like you said the era was so complex whereas in WWII you can kind of go, “oh here are the bad guys and here’s what happened.” Didn’t really work in WWI. So telling these different personal stories using this sort of anthology set up has really allowed us to both explore some of the more untold stories of the era and the conflict and it also shows all this variety and diversity that existed.

Battlefield 1 will be released on October 21 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. To learn more about the game, be sure to read our review.

  • Joe

    I sigh at the english world’s declining educational standards when it comes to history. No wonder so many of the mistakes of the past are being repeated if so many computer programmers don’t even know anything about World War 1, let alone the countless other wars through human history.