Battlefield V: How DICE walked a tightrope on the The Last Tiger
After a brief 24-hour delay, Electronic Arts’ DICE studio is releasing Battlefield V‘s Overture chapter in the Tides of War series today. DICE spent time stamping out a last bug, and now the game update will be live on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC today.
The update adds new multiplayer and single-player content for those who bought the game, which debuted on November 20, and we talked with DICE executives about the release in an interview. I spoke with DICE creative director Lars Gustavsson, engagement and core gameplay producer Ryan McArthur, and single-player design director Eric Holmes.
Overture has a new mission from the War Stories single-player vignettes dubbed The Last Tiger. That story is one of four War Stories in Battlefield V, and it depicts a German Tiger I tank crew in the latter stage of the war.
Gustavsson said The Last Tiger features a crew with a seasoned Tiger tank commander with a mix of veterans and new recruits as the “German war machine is crumbling.” DICE took a risk with that setting, as it didn’t want to retell Nazi propaganda. But The Last Tiger conveys the German perspective of the losing war effort without sugar-coating the horrors of the war, Holmes said.
I reviewed the full game and felt like it wasn’t finished. But it has been growing on me, as I’ve enjoyed the immersiveness of the huge multiplayer battles on maps in the Netherlands and North Africa. This new update, coming so soon after launch, should bring some welcome changes.
Overture will be coming with Panzerstorm, a new multiplayer map with a huge field for tank battles. The battle is set in the historical location of Hannut in Belgium in early 1940. As many as 17 tanks can battle at the same time. Air support will be a critical factor in stopping those tanks. Overture also has cosmetic options for vehicles, allowing players to add nose art to airplanes, as well as two arcade modes dubbed Shooting Trial and Driving Trial, where you can test drive weapons and vehicles on the Hamada map.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Last of the War Stories
GamesBeat: Can you talk about the tone of the story, the general setting in Last Tiger?
Lars Gustavsson: On the high level, what we set out to do with this game and the War Stories was to build on the anthology format. As such, we wanted to do a couple of things. One, to portray the fact that it’s a world war, to capture locations and events from all over the world to bring different perspectives on the war. We also had the mantra of the unseen, the untold, and the unplayed. With that, we’ve been working hard to capture events that took place, or to be inspired by events that took place, that players most likely are less aware of.
We launched with three missions – Under No Flag, Tirailleur, and Nordlys – and now the time has come for The Last Tiger. With this one we’re meeting up with the crew of a Tiger I tank that find themselves holding a last stand along the bank of the Rhine during the later part of the war, as the German defense is crumbling. We get to experience the chemistry within the crew as you find yourself trapped and start to reflect on your actions.
Eric Holmes: It really came out of the tank. The Tiger is such a legendary vehicle from the war. It has this very brutal visual design. It has a kind of utility to it. It looks like what it does. It has this big heavy powerful sheet-metal look to it. It’s an impregnable structure with an enormous gun in it. There’s this legend to it from the war. Not many of them were made, but when people thought they saw one, they would panic, because they knew their weapons couldn’t get through the armor.
It was a powerful icon to reach out and touch as a representation of the German forces, and also, we wanted to tap into—it’s a powerful part of what you need in tank-oriented single-player gameplay. You need something that’s capable of just generating a lot of gameplay, because it take on a vast number of adversaries. The Tiger lends itself to that.
What we found as developers is we had to figure out how to tell a story that’s authentic to the values of War Stories, like we’ve done before – something that’s driven from the German perspective, but that isn’t apologetic, that isn’t propaganda. Something that’s true to the sort of people that served and fought, and that’s also something players can enjoy. It touches dangerous territory, but hopefully it’s also an enlightening and engaging experience.
For example, the opposite of what we want—we wouldn’t want to do something where we glorify or heroically present the Tiger crew that goes out there to win the war, like they’re just a bunch of happy-go-lucky chaps who happen to speak German. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re trying to tell something that reaches out and touches, hopefully, through the Battlefield lens, what it was like to be on the side that was losing, that had been fighting for many years. Their morale is breaking. There are a vast array of people involved in the fight, from young people who don’t know what it’s like to veterans who know exactly what is going on, but are afraid to say it.
GamesBeat: You’ve mentioned that Das Boot was a good example of what you were trying to convey.
Holmes: I’ve touched on this continually, because there was so much debate internally. How in the hell would we do this? Our touchstone was Das Boot. That particular film, a film from the early ‘80s, it’s about a submarine crew at the end of the war, when the momentum has absolutely tipped away from the Germans and toward the Allies. You have a crew that’s up against it, and a wide array of people in there with different attitudes and perspectives. Meanwhile, the captain is trying to hold it all together, just trying to get them through the day and keep them alive. Sometimes he’s just telling them what they need to hear to keep going.
That informed us a great deal, as to how to tell the story, and how not to whitewash anything – not to reject the truth, but to try and get behind their eyes a bit. It’s a moving and powerful film, and it does feel true. It feels authentic.
GamesBeat: As far as playing time, is this similar experience, two or three hours, to the other War Stories? In some ways it seems like you don’t have the time or space to tell as big a story as a feature film.
Holmes: Absolutely. It is about the same length as the other War Stories. We do have the curse, I suppose, of having to very quickly introduce these characters and try to make them connect with you. One advantage we have over the other War Stories, though—with this one we have the cast of characters inside the tank all the time. We can do a lot of storytelling during gameplay between those characters in a way we couldn’t so easily do in the other War Stories, where at times you’re alone.
You get to expand a lot more on the tension inside the tank and how the characters depend on each other and communicate about what’s going on. They’re not just talking about the damage the tank’s had or the ammunition they might have left. We can add a lot of subtext in how these guys are communicating, how the crew starts to come undone as the pressure of what’s happening around them reveals their true values.
The Tiger tale
GamesBeat: How did this one make the cut out of the different kinds of stories you wanted to tell? You started with a large number of concepts and whittled it down to this handful. Why did this one make it?
Holmes: I think I’d go back to the start, where we were. The Tiger is the iconic tank of World War II. If you look at what we launched at the start of Battlefield V, we have the German forces and British forces under the Axis and Allies headings. We wanted to tell a tank story, and if you look at the vehicles out there–at the start you have the Panzer II on the German side — which is more like an armored car, really — and you have the Panzer III, which is fair for what it is, but we didn’t actually feature that in the launch of the game, because we went for the Panzer IV as the entry tank. That’s good, but it’s not really distinctive. It fought across all the fronts, but it doesn’t jump out at you the way something like the Tiger does.
The Tiger is kind of like–in this kind of situation my mind goes to strange metaphors. It’s like fighting as an ordinary vigilante versus fighting as Batman. There’s an iconic value to building on a name like that and the feeling that you get as a result from it. If you look at the vintage vehicles in there, you have the Valentine and the Churchill. The Churchill is the closest to having something like a name, but overall the British tanks don’t have the best name for themselves in World War II. Most British successes were really found with the Sherman, an American tank that came along later.
When you break all that stuff out, then, it’s the Tiger that really jumps out at you. Then it became a question of, how do we tell a story that’s authentic to that setting and not mess it up? How do we tell something that delivers on your expectations? That’s a big decision you’re making there. How do you make it feel authentic to that side and not pave over the obvious–not paint them as heroic, but also not dehumanize them to the point that they’re just cartoon Germans?
GamesBeat: Without giving away too much of the story, how did you decide to address that? Did you find a way to humanize those characters, but not necessarily decriminalize them?
Holmes: I think you could get a perfect answer out of Steven Hall, our lead writer, but I’ll do my best. Trying to channel him, I think what he would say is something about putting human beings in that situation and finding a way to expose yourself to how they would think and feel, so you can relate at some level.
There are four characters in the tank. First of all, there’s the loader, Hartmann. He’s the youngest guy in the tank, and he’s very shaken by what’s going on, to the point where he seems almost shell-shocked by the combat he’s been in. He’s fragile. Then we have the driver, an older character named Hartz. He’s close friends with the commander. He’s able to call him out if he’s stretching the truth, shall we say, but he’s also a close supporter of his. The newest character who’s joined the crew, right at the start of the story, is the gunner, who’s just replaced a gunner that they’ve lost. He’s someone who’s believed in what he’s been told. He’s there to say those things that he’s been told, and also to listen to what other people are saying and say it back to them. And then there’s Mueller, the captain, who has to do what he has to do to get this crew to move on their missions and keep them alive. That’s who you play in the story.
We have themes in our story about consequences, consequences for actions, and also about truth. Without spoiling anything, I think those are the pieces we move across the board, to try to hopefully make you relate to these characters, but also hold up who they are to themselves and hold them to account for the things that they do.
Gustavsson: To Eric’s point previously, talking about the work the commander of the submarine in Das Boot goes through, basically getting his crew through the day with what he says and what he does–I think it’s very similar to that. I think it shines through here, how Mueller works so hard to just keep his crew members together here and fulfill the mission. What he says and what he does, his actions–all that dawns upon him, and all of them, as they face the truth.