While there’s a lot to like about Star Wars Battlefront II and how it improves over the original, it has caught a fair bit of stick over the last few weeks, in particular from its system of loot crates and microtransactions, which did appear to influence character progression very strongly during the beta.
However, DICE have reacted quickly and we went hands on with the full release’s rendition of player progression at a review event earlier this week. Following that, we spoke to John Stanley of Criterion and Dennis Brännvall from DICE about how that feedback has shaped the game’s launch, how it will affect their seasons of content and events – the first season has just been unveiled here – and how they’re striving to bring something fresh to familiar battles and locations. Also chickens.
TSA: I kind of want to dive straight in with the more awkward questions coming out of the beta and the feedback from the microtransactions and loot crates, but I also want to look at the more human side of things. How was it for you to get that negativity when this is going to be, for a lot of people in the team, a real passion project to be working on?
Dennis Brännvall: Oh, I think we’ve been through far, far worse. For us, the reception so far has actually been amazingly positive, considering, and on the human side of things, that’s how we see it. It’s been superbly positive all across.
Sure, there’s things where you really want to drill down on something that you hate, but that’s cool, we can change that. That’s part of being a game developer in my opinion. We’re obviously passionate about things, and I think we hate our game in terms of all the things we need to finish right now and make better, better, better…
TSA: That’s the pull quote right there: “We hate our game.” [laughs]
Dennis: So I think that’s where you hate it until it shines and it’s lovely. That’s part of the appeal of being a game developer and even being excited about working late hours and fixing all this stuff.
I go to Reddit every day to talk about the game and chat to people on Twitter and all that, so for me I’m blown away by the positivity.
I think the clones and the battle droids certainly help to counter the stuff about wanting to change the loot crates, but we’ve done that too.
TSA: So then, taking an overarching view, how have you gone about adjusting to that feedback, in particular with the loot crates and the microtransactions in the game?
Dennis: I think it’s been about adjusting the franchise to make sure that we’re responding to feedback in the best possible way. Going back to the first Battlefront where the main feedback was that we don’t want paid DLC that splits the community up, and we agree, so let’s try and figure out the best way to do that.
We had one iteration of the loot crates in for the closed alpha and that didn’t get a lot of traction because it was a closed alpha with all the NDAs and contracts you need to sign in order to get it, but that was still feedback that we adjusted to. Then for the open beta we had a new iteration and we got feedback, and now for launch we’ve got a new iteration and I’m sure there’ll be feedback again, and then there’ll be a new iteration. That’s just part of creating credibility between us and the community, making sure that we’re listening to what they’re saying and trying to take all the steps necessary so it makes sense for us as a company to continue supporting it for as long as possible.
TSA: You talked earlier today about Season One and even one of the points there was ‘Week 4 – Player Feedback.’
Dennis: Yeah, for sure!
TSA: Can you go into how player feedback is actually going to shape the kinds of things you put into the game in future?
John Stanley: Yeah, it’s going to affect things hugely. With us being now a live service and actually being able to, as Dennis said, go on Reddit, go on Twitter and actually hear what people are saying, that can directly inform what we’re working on.
So if players are leaning one way to a particular game mode, maybe we’ll make some more stuff for that. From a balancing point of view as well, if there’s something that’s not quite sitting right within any of the game modes, we can be reactive as opposed to being like, “Yeah, there’s a patch coming in a couple of months, don’t worry about it!”
TSA: So, how long until the Yoda nerf comes in? [laughs]
John: [laughs] But yeah, really it will be about our great community managers out there who can be feeding this information through for us to sift through and then look at what’s on the list, what we need to hit now and what players are really yearning for.
TSA: Sticking with Season One, it’s something I wasn’t really expecting. I was thinking it would be about regular content, but really it’s about the daily challenges, weekly events, in a similar way to Destiny or something like that?
John: I think to start, we’re kicking it off [in December] and it’s about Light vs. Dark, and that’s such an iconic thing within Star Wars itself. Bringing that into the fold and really seeing where you get that alliance and get those water cooler moments and bragging rights where it’s like, “I’m with the Imperials.”
So that kicks it all off, but then it’s about always making sure there’s something for players to do each week, so there’s always going to be something for them to return to in the game, something for them to come back to and new for them to dive into each week.
Dennis: It’s going to be interesting, not just educating ourselves but our community too in what it means to be in this version of Battlefront. It’s not paid DLC, it’s not about X amount of maps, X amount of heroes and these quarterly drops. Instead it’s sometimes going to be about a totally new thing that you asked for, this left field thing that when you play it you realise that should be the core of the game because it’s awesome!
It’s fun for us too, because we don’t have to worry about the same tried and true formula, the back of the box “DLC 1 contains this”. It’s more about saying, “I’ve always wanted us to be doing this, can we just try that?” And then we do it and if it’s awesome we release it, and then if they like it, it stays, and if they don’t like it, it goes!
TSA: So, there could be the kind of playfulness that you see in Overwatch’s Arcade? Where you can just try out a game mode and it’s there for two weeks?
Dennis: Yeah. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. Either way it’s cool!
TSA: And you said that Season One is going to start with Light vs. Dark? Does that mean we’re going to end up with things like Splatoon 2’s Ketchup vs. Mayo? [laughs]
John: [laughs] I was more alluding to the fact that when you get into Season One, the first thing you’ll do is pick a side. You can read into that what you want.
TSA: I’d love to have a fight between Space Ketchup vs. Space Mayo!
John: Yeah, it could be like Bantha Milk versus… I dunno!
TSA: One of the things that you’re doing with Battlefront II is returned once again to the iconic battles of Hoth and Endor, and when I heard that, I kind of rolled my eyes at how it would just be the same map, the same fight. Seeing it in the final game though, you’ve really managed to put a new spin on things, such as with the sun setting on Hoth, Endor being set at night… You’ve basically started from scratch?
Dennis: Oh yeah, certainly. It was alluded to in the presentation, but we thought, if this is Battlefront II, do we not redo anything from the first one? Early feedback was that fans still want Hoth in a Battlefront game, that you can’t not have it.
So then it was how do we make a new Hoth? How do we make it better? So yes, on Hoth there is a Walker Assault phase with the AT-ATs marching through the snow, but then there’s also going to be tauntauns running around, so that’s cool, and the second stage means that you’re actually breaching into the Rebel base now and there’s objectives inside the base that you need to fight through, deep inside the hangars of Echo base. It’s different, but still very familiar.
On the Endor side, we know there’s walkers there, but how can we make that more special? We already did Walker Assault on Endor, but what if we flip it around, so this time around it’s night time and the Rebels are actually attacking? The point for them is to steal an AT-AT and use it against the Empire. They’re using their weapons against them to break into the base and capture it. We tried that out and it really caught on internally and we really liked it. It just felt really different.
TSA: It’s just a nice narrative to it as well.
Dennis: Yeah, exactly. We have the Imperials walking around with their smaller chicken walkers, the AT-STs, and then it’s like, “I’m going to shoot you with an AT-AT!” We finally get that moment where you’re using it agains the Empire.
John: And just changing the lighting, like on Hoth, allows for a different feel. One of the biggest things is trying to make the players feel immersed in the Star Wars universe, and if you’re showing them something that’s a little stage left from what they’re used to, then it’s great. What is it like to be on Hoth when the sun is setting?
TSA: Well, now we know! I want to come back to the Star Cards and the progression within the game, and it’s something that even with the explanations I and several others playing today found confusing with card level, player ranks and things like that.
It’s a case of breadth as opposed to the linear and straight forward path, so how are you trying to ensure there’s a satisfying feeling of progression when a lot of it can feel very randomised with the loot crates?
Dennis: So there are initial Star Cards that you’re getting are actually tied to progression, so you need to complete challenges and milestones to get the basic cards of things. So to get you started, there is a clear path to get you what you want.
Outside of that, you do get crafting parts from completing other missions and some of the daily quests and stuff like that, and also by opening a loot box you can get crafting parts in the loot box. So crafting is then your most direct path, but if you’re not sure what you want but kind of like troopers, then you can get a Trooper Loot box and see what you get, but if you read online that you’re going to really like this thing and want to try it or want to upgrade something that you really like, then you can do that with crafting parts.
There is a direct path for doing it, and we’ll continue to iterate throughout the rest of the game’s lifetime.
TSA: I think personally it was that you see a number next to a class and you think that’s the class’ level, but it was only once someone stumbled upon that it’s just the number of cards you own for that class that we understood what it was doing, and that we needed five to unlock the second Star Card slot. There’s just a lack of clarity for something that’s a little bit different to expectations.
Dennis: We’ll work on that, for sure. That seems like an easy fix for us to do as soon as we can.
TSA: And just your general philosophy and how that affects balance, when lots of cards are all about boosting you, but with none of the downsides and tradeoffs that you might expect? That obviously affects balance…
Dennis: Absolutely. Boost cards, and even the rarity scale of cards, it is a progression system where you get better. If you’re just starting out with your Darth Maul, someone who’s played it for a bit of time will have a better Darth Maul. That is how the system works.
In terms of balancing, we take your inventory rank and collection rank into account when we do matchmaking, just as much as we do skill. The goal is that if you’ve got all the purple Epic cards in the world, you’ll only be facing people who also have all the purples in the world. That’s the sort of tradeoff that we’re looking at for balance, but it’s certainly a system where you do get better.
TSA: And finally, while we were playing, I spotted that there were some actual, Earth-like chickens running around, and was just wondering if that makes chickens Star Wars canon? Or, sorry, Star Wars authentic as you’ve been saying?
John: I don’t know what you’re talking about…
So, all of the flora and fauna in the game is approved by Lucasarts, so they are happy with said creatures in the game. And the all have names.
TSA: They all have names individually? [laughs]
Dennis: All the races have names, but I don’t know them all! I consider myself a Star Wars expert, but I don’t even know all the names.
TSA: So, I did search for “Chicken Star Wars” and did come up with something called an Endorian Chicken, but where I saw these wasn’t Endor, it was Takodana, and they look like ordinary chickens, where the Endorian Chicken is a weird mix of a chicken with Orville’s head on it.
Dennis: So my favourite story with the chickens was at E3, where the public were able to play the game, and there’s a dad with his son and they’re both playing. The dad is having a good time, but the son is struggling a little bit and gets killed a couple of times. Eventually he finds his way to the side street of Naboo and he finds the chickens that are in the water, and he spends ten minutes practicing shooting the chickens.
His dad looked over in the middle of being Darth Maul or something, and he’s like, [pulls a confused expression] “You be you.” [laughs] It was amazing.
Thanks to Dennis and John for chatting to us. We’re working toward out review of Star Wars Battlefront II for next week, but you can dive in and play the game right now on EA Access and Origin Access for Xbox One and PC with a 10 hour Early Access trial.
This interview came from a review event hosted at DICE for which EA paid for travel and accommodation.