Battlefield 4 is but a few weeks away yet developers DICE are already chatting about Battlefield 5 and how they’re planning on focusing less on the storyline, and more on the gameplay experience. Yet what they’ve said worries me a little.
Speaking to the New York Times DICE were very open about the development process, Battlefield 4 and where the series is going. They admitted that telling a story is not their strong point, something which won’t surprised anyone:
“I hate to say this, but storytelling does not come naturally to Swedes,” said Patrick Soderlund, “But we’re good at designing systems, and that’s what these games really are. Minecraft puts a box in front of you and says, ‘Do whatever you want with it.’ Battlefield is a system designed for entertainment rather than for telling you a story.”
Mr. Bach has this to say: “The story is just the coating on the game. The game is now the experience of playing it.”
Here’s the main qoute that concerns me, though. When asked what could make Battlefield 5 a bigger deal than Battlefield 4, Bach said:
“More features. More extras. More destruction. Every new game needs to be the next big thing.” According to the interviewer, Bach said this with a touch of frustration shading his voice.
This reflects my own irritation at the current industry and its practices: every game needs to have a more money thrown at it, a bigger budget with more explosions and set-piece moments. A game can no longer be what it wants to be, it has to conform to these rules. And with ever increasing budgets we’re seeing even more demand to follow those rules in order to meet absurd sales targets.
DICE’s comments concern me because it sounds like they’re trying to become even more Call of Duty. Activision’s hit series has told stories that I honestly enjoy, but the focus since the original Modern Warfare has been more on the spectacle than anything else. Battlefield 3’s poor singleplayer felt like it tried to mimic Call of Duty and failed because of that. Battlefield doesn’t need to be Call of Duty, it needs to be Battlefield. Clearly, though, where DICE feel they’re better is in creating those epic set-pieces, yet I would argue they’re not: Call of Duty has set-pieces down pat, and while Battlefield 3 has some cool moments there’s just something missing. Where DICE excel is at creating freeform emergent gameplay that stems from having larger maps with vehicles and plenty of player option. Bring that to the singleplayer and it could be amazing. Happily they seem to be aiming to do just that.
But does that hint of frustration suggest that DICE are starting to get tired of trying to make Battlefield bigger, of always trying to compete with Call of Duty? While EA throws millions upon millions at Battlefield to try and topple Call of Duty, Treyarch and Sledgehammer can make each new game for a fraction of the price due to reusing assets and make massive profit.
Not everything needs to be the next Call of Duty.