Battlefield Heroes Interview: Ben CousinsBattlefield Heroes
is a rather radical step for DICE, developers and creators of the Battlefield
franchise. Eschewing the traditional retail model and the usual expectations for a realistic shooter like Battlefield 2
, the company has taken the game into a whole new format. It is cartoony. It is web-based. It is fun and it is completely free to play, with no hidden costs for weapons and bullets.
It was also the surprise hit at the EA Showcase we went to recently. Though there was a whole load of EA-published games on show, such as Left4Dead
, Mercenaries 2
and even a super-secret, yet to be announced title, it was Battlefield Heroes
which perhaps had the most interest. It seemed to be that although most people had turned up expecting a too-casual disappointment, they'd actually found a fast-paced and enjoyable game that rolled together all the best parts of the series in an easy to swallow pill.
So, while everyone else was having a go at the game and choosing whether to be in the Royal or National Armies, we snuck away and sat down with Ben Cousins, executive producer for the entire Battlefield
franchise. Over a beer or two we pressed him for answers, trying to get our heads around this most startling of moves for the series. Here's what Ben had to say...
<coughs> Ugh, let me just get a drink before we start.
Bit-tech: Your voice is going already?
Well, I have been talking about the game non-stop for the last three months.
BT: It could be worse – I’ve been talking about people talking about the game for the last three months. At least you can say something original!
<Laughs>, <coughs>, <sputters>.
BT: So, Battlefield Heroes is kind of original in itself and is an unusual way to go with the Battlefield franchise especially. Why did you decide to make a free game anyway? It’s a very odd business model.
Yeah, well it is an odd model in the western world and we are the first people to do it properly over here, but if you go over to South Korea and visit a Seoul Internet café then you’ll find 50 or 60 very, very popular games that are all free to download, free to play, on PCs which are all funded by microtransactions for a small number of users.
So, it is actually a very popular idea and it’s the only model which really works in Korea and Korea is the world’s biggest gaming market right now. Some of the guys from DICE went over there a few years ago on a business trip and they came back with this idea that they wanted to experiment with and we decided we wanted to do that with the Battlefield
A lot of these free games in Korea are shooters as well, so we thought maybe it could work and we could fit into that market. It’s an experiment really. Because we’re a successful studio it’s kind of easy for us to set some money aside for a little experiment like Heroes
. It really was the Korean experience that led us to where we are.
BT: And it’s PC only?
It’s PC only at the moment, yep. There are no plans at all to take it onto consoles I think that we’re kind of committed to PC, that’s where DICE has been successful in the past and that’s where our engine and our game works best.
In terms of the game and the website, the online front-end, the community features and how they all tie together, on PC we control everything. If we were to go onto PlayStation Network or Xbox Live then we’d have to be submitting the game to them for approval, we couldn’t have the website, we couldn’t have the community and the forum features that we’ve embedded in the game itself. At the end of the day, this game just works better on PC.
BT: And the cartoony presentation of the game – I mean, that’s inevitably going to draw comparisons to Team Fortress 2. Did you deliberately try to clone TF2 or was this always planned?
Well, we –
BT: Actually, how long has the game been in development anyway?
Well, this is the thing; it’s been in development since January 2007.
BT: Oh, I see. I think Team Fortress 2 was still trying to get a realistic and gritty look back then. They drastically changed art styles quite late on.
Yeah, but even so we’re talking more than a year ago and back then there wasn’t all that much about Team Fortress 2
out there in those days. We went down the cartoony route ourselves, then TF2
came out and within the team we thought about whether we should go back to realistic or not. In the end, we decided that everyone
is realistic, so we decided to go with what we believed in. Besides, I don’t mind the comparisons. They don’t bother me. It’s expected, but the reality is we decided as a team to go with what we believed in.
The technology is also an important factor – this is a low-end game. It’ll run fine on 512MB of RAM and a 1GHz processor, so a realistic look would look awful. We needed an art style that would look good with flat-shaded graphics and very little complexity.