This interview features in issue 2 of Wireframe, out now!
You would think Lars Gustavsson would be comfortable by now – the creative director has been a part of Swedish outfit DICE for the better part of 20 years; he’s been hands‑on with almost every game carrying the Battlefield moniker. He’s seen it all before.
But Battlefield V brings up the same emotions as every game before: anticipation, almost fear, the same feeling one might get packing their parachute before jumping from a plane.
“If there’s one thing [I feel], it’s definitely anticipation,” Gustavsson tells us. “You can do the best you can, and for every Battlefield we’ve learned a lot and set out new routines and processes for how to finalise, how to have good test practices, and how to continue to push the boundaries.”
There are still challenges to overcome – technical aspects, networking elements, things that can pop up and cause problems and, largely, are out of the hands of the developers.
“We do our utmost to twist and turn, double-check and triple-check,” he continues, “but I think you can never really as a developer feel that ‘we checked everything, we’re safe’. At the same time, having that worry is a good thing in a sense – it keeps you on your toes and makes you continuously strive for better and better, to hit that quality level. The day you become too self-assured, you should probably go work at something else.”
Something of an elder statesman of the FPS – at least of those still working on their chosen series – Gustavsson has seen everything, from top to bottom, change at DICE. Far from fearing that change, though, he embraces it – and feels it does nothing but help Battlefield V as a package.
“With lots of new people coming in, younger people and those from other studios around the world, I learn a lot on a daily basis,” he explains.
“And that’s the beauty of this industry and what I love about DICE: it’s a mix of people from all over the world with a big mix of different backgrounds. And – I’m not getting any younger here – at times it can be daunting to hang on and constantly learn everything new, but at the same time that’s what I love.
“I’ve never had a day when I sit at work and wait for the time to become five or six to go home: it’s a place where you constantly learn and constantly push yourself to do better.”
Of course, it’s not just different faces and a better coffee machine that come as a studio grows and changes over the decades. DICE went from small, independent studio to a part of the EA family – and all along it has been making Battlefield titles.
Battlefield V is the latest, the biggest and, as Gustavsson hopes, the greatest. While the core remains – it’s war, it’s on a battlefield, there’s a mix of on-foot and vehicular combat – there are big changes this year to how everything is being released. In short: everything post-launch is free.
“The big part for us is that we’ve seen over the years that the Battlefield games live for a long time,” Gustavsson says. “There’s very big interest in the continuation of the journey and getting to play more, us taking players to new places, getting new in-game experiences…
“With the beauty of the removal of our premium pass that we had previously, we now build what we build post-launch for everyone, free of charge.” With this freedom comes unification, and as Gustavsson explains, this makes it more natural for what the Battlefield V players get at launch to be a stepping stone: “The first step into the universe of DICE’s portrayal of the Second World War.”
It has to be asked, though – surely free content isn’t ever going to be as impressive as the paid-for add-ons of Battlefield’s past? Not so, says the creative director: “I would still argue that whether we charge for something or whether we give it away for free, DICE doesn’t differ in its approach,” he explains.
“There’s a lot of discipline and pride in doing the best we possibly can, disregarding whether it’s being given away free or not… We won’t make any sort of cheap shots just because it will go out to everyone – it will be the same push for that DICE quality we continue to strive for.”
With so long working at a single studio, and with so much of his personal career focused entirely on one franchise, it’s tempting to assume Gustavsson is tiring of Battlefield; that he has every right to start phoning it in. Perhaps that he wouldn’t be of sound mind were he to still be enjoying making people go to war every few years.
“A shrink would probably say I need to have my head checked after 20 years with Battlefield,” Gustavsson laughs. “But even though it’s been evolving so much, I still feel frustration at times that we still only scratch the surface. There’s still so much more to be done. That’s what drives me, and a lot of people at the studio: that there’s so many more things that we want to do.
“I’m never bored going to work. There’s been hectic times, there’s been a lot of hard work through the years, but I still have so much love for Battlefield and what we do – especially the great people in the studio here, who make it a joy to come to work.”
Battlefield V releases today on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.