Gameplanet: What’s your background, how did you get into the games industry?
Lars Gustavsson: I did all kinds of different jobs, everything from T-Shirt printing, ventilation ducts, economy, you know – God knows – but then I went to New Orleans with friends in a Blues band and they more or less said, “Come on, you need to live the dream, you can’t have these types of jobs.” So I started, and I had to choose between the games industry or movies. There was a company in Stockholm called Refraction Games, where I got a job. I haven’t regretted it once since then! Refraction Games then got bought out – this was in ’99 – by DICE.
Gameplanet: So you worked in ventilation ducts, have you applied that knowledge to crawling scenes in Battlefield 3?
Gustavsson: [Laughs] No, but I do think we bring some fresh air!
Gameplanet: What would you call the Battlefield series’ greatest contribution to games?
Gustavsson: I would say the all-out war experience. The fact that it’s a game for everyone: if you can’t fly a plane or drive a tank, you can sit in an anti-air gun. Its always been, “this [role] didn’t work, I’ll try out this one.” So I think, compared to many other games, it takes much longer before it’s at risk of becoming stale.
Gameplanet: So Battlefield 3’s lead development platform is PC. What’s your take on the current console cycle and do you expect we’ll see more PC-led development in the years to come?
Gustavsson: It’s definitely a possibility, but on the other hand – even though we talk about the fact that we lead with PC – every SKU is getting its own love and attention. So whatever your tech set-up is, you’ll get the best possible game for it. For those who buy extremely expensive graphics cards, it would be evil not to give them something extra. But I think we’ve really proven that buying it on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 is a great experience as well.
Gameplanet: How does Battlefield 3’s singleplayer distinguish itself from other first-person shooters?
Gustavsson: We have quite a mature storyline, staying within the style and tone of the game. We also have the ingredients of Battlefield’s gameplay, which is quite unique. So I think you can see a certain variety that doesn’t appear in other games, which is something I’m really happy with.
Gameplanet: Are you able to elaborate?
Gustavsson: You’ve seen the Thunder Run, many games have tanks but there are so many more there, and in style with that there are other [sections] in the game that deliver different experiences in the game that utilise the endless possibilities Battlefield can provide – without ruining too much of the singleplayer campaign!
Gameplanet: Where do you see the Battlefield series five years from now?
Gustavsson: Hopefully we will have gained quite an audience with this game. I think with the Frostbite 2.0 engine and key learnings from this game, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another Battlefield or two out there. As long as the audience stays dedicated, we see so many possibilities that we have to restrain ourselves from doing too much. I think there’s no end to it.
Gameplanet: Do you think videogames are in danger of taking themselves too seriously?
Gustavsson: Sometimes, yes. I have kids at home, two little boys of four and six – it’s a joy to sit down with them and play games from their perspective. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily bad to create something you truly believe in, whatever it is – that’s everyone’s right. But at the same time you need to know the limitations of the media. I think at the same time it’s trying to do something that no one has done before; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t work. It’s always the ones that succeed that you remember, but many times there’s all these 40 to 60 rated games that come out with great features, they just didn’t have the time or the budget to take it all the way. So I do think that for big budget games such as Battlefield 3, we need the games around us as it really introduces fresh blood into the industry, people who dare to do different stuff, crazy stuff. It won’t always fly, but I think you should respect people for trying.
Gameplanet: You mentioned you were in a Blues band, which reminded me that we often hear a lot about the sound design in Battlefield games and yet for Battlefield 3 we haven’t heard so much. Can you tell us a little about the audio?
Gustavsson: I can’t go into extreme specifics, but I think there’s everything from optimisations and smarter ways of doing things but still getting equal or better experiences out of, for example, our hand weapons. I loved the fact that this year BAFTA gave us an award for Bad Company 2 sound design. That’s really testament to what the sound team has accomplished. The beauty is – the curse and the blessing of DICE is that no one ever rests. In a way it’s a tough climate since there are no holy cows in the studio. We always look for improvements and if you’re not careful that can come across as, “that didn’t come out very well, did it?” followed by, “but I designed it!” But at the same time, that’s a common language and we all know why we do it. I think that’s why we manage to keep pushing the boundaries constantly.
So one of the things I’m really proud of about the sound design is that it's gone from just building an immersive experience to really providing gameplay feedback, replacing a counter with a ticking sound, footsteps, to hear when someone’s about to stab you in the back. But then all these things we have with the suppression system, different sounds from bullets depending on how close they are, what type of weapon [is firing].
We’ve had great cooperation with Andy McNabb, the former SAS veteran, and [with Andy] you get insights into a life that you didn’t know existed. To sit down with him and talk through what happens when you go out on a mission, how do you react? Just the fact that they can’t do very much about the bullets so they listen for ‘fire’, ‘crack’, ‘fire’, ‘crack’, and then they estimate distance. A lot of things that sometimes we can turn into good gameplay and sometimes it’s just something we can use for additional immersive value.
Gameplanet: What games have most informed you as a developer?
Gustavsson: There’s an old Formula One board game that I played with friends when I was on vacation many years ago, before 1942—
Gameplanet: The game, right?
Gustavsson: [Laughs] So we went to France and played this board game then couldn’t find it in any store. I went back and sat down and tried to – from memory – kind of reconstruct this game. Year after year I did modifications, so to me that game was probably one of the things that sparked my interest in game design. Other games that truly captivated me? The first Need for Speed is definitely one. I played so much that it’s painful! And I still bring it out, even though the graphics are slightly dated, it’s still good fun!
There are so many games out there and I try to play as much as I possibly can. Again, it doesn’t have to be the 80-90 rated games. Many times you find more interesting stuff in the low rated titles where you see things no one else tried before.
Gameplanet: What would you like to see in Battlefield 3 that hasn’t quite made it in?
Gustavsson: I’m not sure I can tell you! Something that we are talking about but still haven’t opened up for any more official discussions is what we can do with eSports. That’s something that’s truly a potential future for Battlefield. Right now though we need to focus on shipping a great game, since without a great game there’s no reason for eSports. So first things first!