Star Wars Battlefront II has a fine balancing act to pull off when it launches on 17th November. Can the multi-studio team behind it add the depth and skill that so many fans asked for after the first game, while keeping the accessibility for people that just want to pick up and play.
Having gone hands on with the game, we spoke to Craig McLeod, Battlefront II’s Multiplayer Producer about how the sequel has evolved since the first one, with a much broader game. Hopefully it can keep the fans (and most importantly John Boyega) happy this time around.
TSA: Having played Battlefront II, I think it’s a big step forwards and evolution of the first game, and it’s interesting to see such a big shift from a game to its sequel like this. Can you talk a little bit about the push that led to this expansion on all fronts?
Craig McLeod: Absolutely. This is such a big answer, I don’t know if I’ll touch on all the points!
Community feedback is massive, right? What we want to do is create a game that lives and has a community that wants to be with us every single step of the way. The first way to get that is to listen and to embrace it. So we got a lot of feedback from the first game such as that they didn’t like pick ups, saying that they want it to be more skill based. Saying it’s cool that you’ve got star cards and you can customise your troopers, but what about more? We had Star Wars fans saying, “We love Walker Assault on Hoth, but it’s strange to see it on Tatooine.”
Our ability to be able to listen and react to these different segments, as well as learn from our season pass, when it’s live and we’re working with our community there, it allowed us to take a lot of leaps on a lot of fronts. When I think about the collaboration that we have with Criterion and Motive, and of course with Lucasfilm, it gave us more opportunities to create a wider and larger game.
TSA: I feel that is one of the key things, where it’s not just you at DICE, but getting others to come in with their own specialties.
Craig: Yeah, absolutely. The great thing is we actually had Criterion on board and supporting us with the first game. They worked on the Speeder Bike mission and some of the vehicles…
TSA: And the VR mission!
Craig: Yeah, and the VR which was fantastic.
We’ve worked with them a lot anyway, but we’ve developed these relationships within the franchise. So that step for us [with Criterion] was not that big a leap, but bringing on Motive, this was a new studio with some incredible talent in the single player genre, and what it allows us to do is, like you say, specialise in areas we are strongest. DICE can really double down on multiplayer and really add that depth and breadth, because Motive are doubling down on that single player and honing that authentic experience. It just opens up doors and opportunities that we didn’t have before.
TSA: A lot of the changes to the game feel, and this is a very broad and simplified statement, but they feel like there’s a lot more in common with Battlefield, where you’ve got the classes, the more squad-based play. Are you wary of going too far and losing some of the pick up and play accessibility of the last game?
Craig: I think that’s definitely one of the challenges, to make sure that we don’t lose that appeal, because there’s a lot of Star Wars fans out there that would love to engage with this kind of medium, but are somewhat nervous of a first person shooter.
There’s two sides to this. We can call it a Battlefield thing to have classes, but lots of games have classes. This isn’t a mechanic that’s unknown in the genre, we’re just naturally paired with this within our studio. But how does this fit within our game? We could just copy and paste it, and then we’ve suddenly got a Medic and and Engineer, but then it doesn’t quite fit and I now need vehicles on all of my levels…
TSA: Just one quick point; wouldn’t an Engineer be a Medic for the Droid Army? [laughs]
Craig: Ah, see? There we go, another problem!
But what do they have? Well they have officers, great, so how do we make use of that? We’re creating similar experiences through team play and through being able to specialise your character, but in a way that really fits Star Wars.
TSA: The squad spawning in this game is rather different, as it’s not the kind of hard squads system as you have in Battlefield 1, I don’t believe, but you’re grouped up with others spawning at the same time. Can you explain a little what’s going on there?
Craig: Yeah, so we create spawn waves.
If you are the type of player who likes squads and wants to join up with a group party and play together, you can do that. We have a partying system, where I can join my party, play with my party, see all my friends and coordinate.
But we wanted to encourage team play in the wider audience, knowing that a number of casual players are actually nervous of this kind of environment. So it’s like, “Oh! Now I’m in a group of four people, am I good enough? Do I have to pull my weight? Are they going to get mad?” When you start to force it, you create a lot of this feeling and that creates a slightly higher barrier to entry.
So creating these spawn waves is actually an organic way of pulling players together and having them hopefully stay together by providing bonuses for them do that. We encourage it in a more organic way while still having a hard party system if you still want it.
TSA: Turning to Fighter Assault mode, I really like what you’ve done to take the kind of form of Galactic Assault into space and the class-based roles as well. However, I find the heroes a bit odd in how crashing into things a bit too hard kills you and also the way you’re often in much bigger ships that are easier to target. I feel there’s a bit of a disparity in skill level compared to the heroes in ground combat.
Craig: One of the things that we’re doing, because we’ve had that sort of feedback. Not that exact feedback, but feedback related to players having earned these points, spent them and been super excited to use these heroes, but then dying in an accident or something like that.
So what we’re doing is we’re implementing a sort of refund system, essentially. We want you to have a good Star Wars experience, and if for whatever reason it got cut too short, then we’ll refund some of those battle points to help you get back there as soon as possible. That’s just one of the ways we’re looking at to make sure.
TSA: Just in general, there is that step up or at least difference in required skill with Fighter Assault. I guess the way you’re really combatting that is to still have the mix of real players and AI fighters flying around?
Craig: Yeah, so there’s two sides to it. One is absolutely that we’ve increased the depth of starfighters, so there’s manual rolls, leading target reticules and things like this, so that people can really have a much better skill ceiling that they can strive for and even surpass. But we need to make sure that we don’t create this environment where only the skilled can enjoy it.
AI is one way to do that absolutely, so there’s always some easier targets and you can feel like you’re contributing, but another thing is that you can still tweak and play around with the handling system so it’s easier and more simplistic like we had previously. We still cater to that audience, but this allows the people who want to push the boundaries and want to take the time to become masters of starfighters to do so as well.
TSA: I’m also really quite intrigued by the shift away from the season pass model and toward providing free content. It feels like the industry as a whole has gravitated toward this, but it’s positive I think for you to be embracing that.
Craig: Yeah, I’m actually really proud that we’re able to go down this route. I think it’s the right way to go. We talk a lot about how Star Wars is for everyone, and to be able to back it up in this way is fantastic.
We found that with the season pass you can have the challenge of where some people pay, but then your friends don’t play, so you can’t play with them anymore. We want to remove those barriers and we felt that it fragmented the community too much, to the point that some people were struggling to find games. These aren’t experiences that we want people to have.
When we release content, as creatives we want as many people to experience it as possible, and so to be able to keep the community together is really powerful us. It’s a really great shift and I’m really happy to be a part of it.
TSA: Finally, is John Boyega happy with Battlefront now? [laughs]
Craig: [laughs] Oh, that is an awesome question! I can’t answer because I haven’t talked to him, but that’s an amazing question!
I definitely hope so. I think from my perspective, he wasn’t alone when he was saying he wanted to see some kind of a single player story; a lot of fans said they wanted to see that, so the fact that we can deliver that is incredible. Not just a random story, but a truly authentic story that we’ve weaved into the universe with Lucasfilm. So I sincerely hope so!
Thanks to Craig for speaking to us about Star Wars Battlefront II and its evolution. The multiplayer beta starts today, 4th October, for those who’ve pre-ordered the game, and opens for all on 6th October.
This interview occurred on a preview press trip to DICE in Sweden with travel and accomodation provided by EA.