Feature Article

Battlefield 1 Interview: "It's Not Worth Stepping on People's Memories"

A conversation with DICE's Lars Gustavsson and Danny Berlin about the game's origins, setting, and storytelling potential.

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On Thursday last week, one day ahead of Battlefield 1's world premiere, EA aired a nine-second teaser video which depicted a man's face looking up to the sky, eyes wide and mouth agape, as something out of sight engulfs his head in shadow.

Naturally the question was what, exactly, was the man gazing up at. One hopeful person at GameSpot was praying it was a giant Reaper vessel from the Mass Effect series, leading to his dream scenario of a series crossover. Another thought it could be some advanced manned airship that would push the Battlefield series into the near-future so it could encroach on the space that Call of Duty is occupying.

It was, in fact, a zeppelin; a humongous sky vessel commercialised just before the First World War and had sunk into obscurity shortly thereafter.

In teaser-trailer parlance, a Giant Thing in the Sky is an ideal way to catch the eye, but there's more to the zeppelin than razzmatazz. It is a colossal floating symbol of how fast technology was moving at the time. It was strange and impressive and alien and, when it cast its shadow, a little terrifying.

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Lars Gustavsson, design director DICE, reminds me that WWI had thrust time forward. It triggered the outset of the world war age, it catalysed the fall of empires, and it brought in the industrial age.

"Just imagine being a farmer during this time," he says.

"You've never seen a car, you've never seen a bicycle in fact, and then comes an armoured tank and an airship. It's just hard to imagine that contrast."

But how much of the real time and place will Battlefield 1 tread into? Where will it draw the line between fiction and history? We spoke with Gustavsson and lead designer Danny Berlin shortly after the Battlefield 1 world premiere to get more of the finer details.

GAMESPOT: Prior to this interview I asked some of my colleagues what they immediately would like to know about Battlefield 1, and the most popular question was about the zeppelins.

Gustavsson: Ah.

They wanted to know whether the zeppelins can be piloted, and more about their role in this world you've created.

Gustavsson: Haha, this is a tricky one. These are... [Long pause]

Is it a case of you not knowing the answer yet, or...?

Gustavsson: No it's more than that, we have areas that we are starting to talk about, and there's areas that we're going to talk about later. But just like you see in the trailer, there's a plenitude of vehicle types. You saw the battleship in the trailer, you saw a lot of interesting stuff, so there will definitely be new and cool gameplay in there.

I get the impression from your answer that there will be talk about the zeppelins at some point. Are you holding that information back?

Gustavsson: Yeah we're saving it for a later date.

No Caption Provided

Okay then, let's talk about something else. At the Battlefield 1 presentation, your colleague Alex [Grøndal, senior producer] spoke about multiplayer and referred to a "persistent squad system" - I wasn't sure what that meant and was hoping you could clarify.

Gustavsson: I think, traditionally, we haven't gone all the way with joining people as a group and keeping them as a group all the way through a multiplayer session, but with a persistent squad you get to team up, get into a server together, but also switch between the servers throughout the session. You can jump between experiences without having to break up your group.

Team-play is so important in Battlefield, so knowing that you can still have the same team and same squad as you persist through everything is important. That's the message we got from the community.

So about the name: is the "1" in reference to the WWI setting, or something else?

Berlin: It's not, actually. We're calling it Battlefield 1 for a couple reasons. First off, we've never had a Battlefield 1 before. We started with Battlefield 1942, and went from there. But in the same way, we're also titling it this way because we're going back to our roots. We're bringing back that Battlefield flavour, with sandbox maps and wide open places for you to play. We're seeing how we can take our roots and make them something new again in 2016.

Speaking of roots, multiplayer is often the thing that makes a Battlefield game a Battlefield game. What will be different this time around? You mentioned a few scenarios that lead me to believe you're breaking away from some of DICE's recent series entries.

Berlin: It's more important that you pay attention to the world this time around. There's that rock-paper-scissors Battlefield is known for. With land, air, and sea combat, we're stretching that into even more possibilities.

There's this common misconception that WWI was just muskets or something. But it wasn't. It was a time of new weapons--bolt-action rifles, automatic rifles, semi-automatic rifles. The freedom we have is massive.

There's this common misconception that WWI was just muskets or something. But it was a time of new weapons.

Danny Berlin, DICE

This was the first time ever that people saw light tanks, heavy tanks, armored trucks. If you pop your head up from a trench and see a tank about to roll over you, you should get out of there. In the air, we have bombers to clear the way for your troops. If you're in a bomber, you might want to have a buddy scouting for you on the ground. Dogfights with multiple people in planes, someone in the rear seat shooting at the person behind you. And of course battleships can demolish entire shorelines.

These vehicles and weapons and methods will all play into each other, in true Battlefield fashion.

Will that open nature that you're returning to be present in single player as well? You mentioned on stage that the campaign aspects might give us more freedom as well.

Berlin: We can't talk a lot about single player yet, but yes, we're trying to lend that feel of a Battlefield match to the single player as well. There are stories we're telling, and they lend themselves well to those larger areas and maps you've come to associate Battlefield with over the years.

Let's talk more about World War One, because it appears this game will be set within the events of that conflict. Are you building fiction or is the game based on historical facts?

Gustavsson: It is set against the backdrop of World War One. As we started this, after Battlefield 4, we asked ourselves how can we build new experiences and new fun gameplay. I've been doing this almost half my life now, for seventeen years, and with that I feel we have an obligation to find new ways for people to have fun.

So when we started to look at the different possibilities, we quickly saw that there was something there [with World War One]. Ever since we've had mods, in fact there was a very important one called Battlefield 1918, we have nurtured the dream that we should do this [set a game in World War One].

What we realized when we did our research was that this [WWI] really was the dawn of all-out war, it was the dawn of modern warfare. A lot of hardware was created during this time, from mechanized warfare and camouflage, so to depict it is such a great opportunity.

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What should players expect to see in terms of historical accuracy?

Gustavsson: As always since Battlefield 1942, we have done extensive research into finding the authenticity and picked out the core gameplay pillars. One of those core gameplay pillars is perceived realism.

What do you mean by that, "perceived realism"?

Gustavsson: It is that we base the game on authenticity, and we extract those pieces to create a game, meaning that we don't get bogged down by history.

It's interesting you say that, because what immediately springs to mind with World War One is trench warfare, operational paralysis, trenchfoot, a severe lack of progress, near-suicidal attempts to go over the line.

Gustavsson: From a certain point-of-view, that was one of our fears as we walked into the project. But when we started to look at it, this was a worldwide conflict. It stretched from China to Europe and all over the globe. Trench Warfare was just a small part of it. The fights in the deserts, the fights up in the mountains of Italy--there were so many things that I, at least, hadn't heard about.

I always thought the battle for oil started later, in the Second World War, but it started within this era. So we went from the picture you're painting, but realized that there's so much more to World War One than trench warfare. There was the invention of new technology, the need for new weapons, the creation of light machine guns.

The world changed during WW1. There were four great empires that ceased to exist just because of it. Lots of great inventions came about during it, even things you don't think about like trench coats and zippers and teabags.

When you were on stage with Alex, he said that this war would be told through several different perspectives. So the implication is that the single-player campaign takes you across the world and shows you their stories through different battles. Would that be accurate?

Gustavsson: Yes, you get to follow their views of the war. Through them you get to see how the war changed the world, and how people were changed by the war. It really was the death of the old world and the birth of the new.

So these several heroes, will they be fighting battles that actually took place?

Gustavsson: I can't go into too much detail; it's something we're saving for later. I'm really looking forward to digging deeper into the topic.

Okay, so generally speaking then, is the wider idea inspiration or is it replication?

Gustavsson: [Long pause] Let's start with inspiration.

I noticed one inspiration in the trailer; a bright red triplane. Just from a legal perspective, are you allowed to name a character The Red Baron?

Gustavsson: In anything we do, just like with treating history with respect, we need to double-check all our decisions. It's easy to make those mistakes.

No Caption Provided

Is it the Red Baron, then?

Gustavsson: I will be talking about this at a later date.

What, do you think, are the ethical challenges in making entertainment out of a real war?

Gustavsson: So I've been part of the full journey since Battlefield 1942. And being a Swede, who had stood on the side during the world wars, many times you can find we were a bit naive because of that.

We realized this when we created Battlefield 1942. We got input from players all around the world, saying it was insensitive. Very quickly in this project, we realized that it's not worth stepping on people's memories for building a game.

Since Battlefield 2, in fact, we've been doing that. When we released that game, things in the middle east were sensitive, and so we created the Middle Eastern Coalition.

We're trying so hard to treat it respectfully. We want to depict the era, but with the purpose of building fun gameplay with variation. In the end, it's entertainment, we're not trying to make a statement.

We do want to surface the fact that there is more to the war than trenches. It's something that dawned on us, and I think it's going to be interesting for players as well as they get to play it. Hopefully it will broaden their horizons with what took place.

I imagine yourself and the lead designers would need to make those judgement calls all the time, as in what does and doesn't cross the line, about what's respectful, what's entertainment. It must be hard.

Gustavsson: It is. It's super hard.

Also I'm guessing that the more research you put into this, the more you find out about what happened, the more you're humbled by it. The more it gives you this profound sense of perspective, about what's really important and what isn't. And I imagine that makes your job harder still.

Gustavsson: Yeah, it does. Soon into the project we said let's not start by coming up with things, let's research everything. And we realized there were just so many things that inspired us. There was so much invention during this time. We even found out about fake trees used as camouflage for snipers.

There was so much invention during this time. Steampunk grew out of it. Tolkien was inspired by it.

Lars Gustavsson, DICE

Steampunk grew out of this. Tolkien was inspired by the war. There's so much that grew out of this inventiveness that, to be honest, you wouldn't need to come up with anything.

You also mentioned on stage that your destruction effects will be broader. This is something which you have reigned in on, at least a little, in recent Battlefields. Just how destructive will environments be in Battlefield 1?

Gustavsson: We're still holding back some elements of what we're doing, but as a whole, we have tried really hard to ensure that this is a really destructive environment. But as you heard during our presentation, one player controlled the dreadnought [Royal Navy battleship] and was levelling entire levels. I really hope players will appreciate it.

I wanted to turn attention to Battlelog too, EA's catch-all service for multiplayer games. It's been criticized for being laggy, for getting in the way, for causing more fuss than being useful. Will it be employed in Battlefield 1?

Gustavsson: It's an area that we'll be starting to talk more about later, but for us, Battlelog has been a great central hub that ties players together.

It's interesting that Battlefield has returned to its roots concerning pre-modern war. When you look at the future for the series, and indeed the genre, what do you see?

Gustavsson: It's always tricky to guess. But at least for us, the future is about enabling the players more and more, to shape their own experiences. To dictate the rules and guidelines for what they want to do. So I think it will be less about us telling the community what the game will be, and more seeing them as the directors of the experience.

Of course we still need to be at the helm of the ship. The famous line by Henry Ford springs to mind, in that if you asked people what they wanted before cars were invented, they'd ask for a faster horse.

I'm not saying the community doesn't come up with fantastic ideas. They do. But I think that to shape something great you still need to have a vision.

What you're saying reminds me that Battlefield is one of the bigger franchises where multiplayer superseded the single-player campaign in terms of importance. How important is the one-player story in Battlefield 1?

Gustavsson: To me, it's like both multiplayer and single-player have different roles to play. I think it's incredibly important to tell the story of this era. You have so many ways of telling that story. So I think both have important roles to play.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

crossleyrob

Rob Crossley

Rob Crossley was GameSpot's UK Editor between 2014 and 2016.
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THOMJOHN3

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The fact that they seemed to get the message (delivered ever so eloquently) that being able to squad up with friends and stay with them from match-match is a HUGE thing for competitive squad-based shooters such as BF is heartening, considering that was my chief reason for putting BF4 down - a constant battle to join and remain joined with friends.

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ASADF

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I really want Battlefield 1942 Remake

Please give it to us as an expansion to Battlefield 1

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jasonw1978

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@ASADF Just go away:

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rosinmonkekyx17

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@jasonw1978: For sharing his opinion?

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k41m

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Edited By k41m

This game is going to be SO GREAT.

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RogerioFM

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"So we decided, well the best way no to step in anyone's memories was to find a war where everyone had already died, once our temp employee had this idea we high fived him for a week"

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rosinmonkekyx17

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This brings up a good question

How will trench warfare work? How would you get everyone on your team to go over the top at the exact same time?

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k41m

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@rosinmonkekyx17: I imagine unless it's a specific gametype like some kind of trench warfare type of gametype (knowing DICE there will be a gametype specifically directed towards the trenches).. but for conquest and alike I would assume trenches are going to be optional.

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bbq_R0ADK1LL

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Wait, so we're getting a WWI story told by Berlin?

I smell propaganda!

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Smosh150

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@bbq_R0ADK1LL: I'll take it as a nice change from the Allied and Entente propaganda. Gotta change up the bias at some point.

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rob909e

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Dice and EA have leaned that people will pay extra money for a lot less content. This game looks great, but be prepared to have the game broken up into pieces and sold back to you later. They could care less that it splits their player base because they've already got your money. EA makes great looking, shallow games; carrying a shelf life no longer than a month or two.

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LTJohnnyRico

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@rob909e: Do you mean COULDN'T Care Less ? Or are you saying EA do care .. if So I agree with you .. no need to hate them anymore like some angry child !! Also played BF4 last Night (as I do Most nights) and there are thousands of people playing loads of full servers .. shelf life of 2 months .. I think Not !!

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analgrin

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@ltjohnnyrico: I keep seeing people write "I/They could care less. . . ". Annoying. Don't they realize what they're saying?? Maybe it's just rob909e that says it all the time and I keep bumping into his comments, Oh and as I write this there are currently 88,834 online playing BF4 right now across all formats according to bf4stats.com

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LTJohnnyRico

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Edited By LTJohnnyRico

@analgrin: I love Games .. Love playing BF4 .. always find loads of people playing it !! And yes I don't think people do realize at all "I could care less" really annoys me .. Why say something if you have no idea what you are saying ? !!

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DLaney34

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Edited By DLaney34

@rob909e: What utter rubbish. That's why, almost 3 years into it's game cycle, Battlefield 4 has playing, as I speak on A thursday afternoon : 114,211

Get a grip, whiner.

Source : bf4stats

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NBKNAS

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Edited By NBKNAS

I hope that red plane is the Red Baron, would be a badass foe hehe

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LTJohnnyRico

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@NBKNAS: The Red Baron was great because he chose his battles well .. He was Smart not the best pilot but certainly one of the smartest !! Now Max Immelmann was a Badass Pilot !!

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WarFox89

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Edited By WarFox89

"Since Battlefield 2, in fact, we've been doing that. When we released that game, things in the middle east were sensitive, and so we created the Middle Eastern Coalition."

Translation - Back in BF2 we had balls. Now we don't therefore Russians is always the bad guys in all new games.

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jonnyfresh712

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@WarFox89: To be fair, China was a great idea for an opponent in BF4 and DICE chose not to wimp out there- despite a ban from the Chinese government. This was unlike Homefront and the Red Dawn movie, both of which chose the laughable idea of North Korea instead after pressure from higher-ups.

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asifah30

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@jonnyfresh712: Thank you for spoiling the plots of the games you mentioned.......

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thequickshooter

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@WarFox89: up you go+

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Senor_Kami

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Edited By Senor_Kami

"At the Battlefield 1 presentation, your colleague Alex [Grøndal, senior producer] spoke about multiplayer and referred to a "persistent squad system" - I wasn't sure what that meant and was hoping you could clarify."

The interviewer really had no clue what this could be? Did he need an explanation that the HUD has nothing to do with housing and that touching the D-pad isn't innuendo?

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jonnyfresh712

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I'm curious if they will be integrating the Eastern and African fronts into the game, those could introduce some great map variety and I'd be disappointed if they didn't make it in; I haven't seen them being mentioned yet.

To be honest though, the war was pretty much won in the trenches; the other fronts, while varied and at times important, did not determine the war like the Western Front did.

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k41m

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@jonnyfresh712: Judging from the black soldier on the cover I assume there will be African front maps/levels because if im not mistaken andi could be. Frontline soldiers who were black were not very common at all during WW1 and 2.

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munchy22

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Edited By munchy22

Battlefield 4 became a great game eventually (BARING THOSE STUPID BATTLEPACK STUFF). But unfortunately it brings up some very important questions for me concerning battlefield 1 which looks awesome too.

1) WILL IT WORK out of the box or will I have to wait t2 years before it becomes playable? And I was using great pc desktop machines.

2)Are you gona do a BATTLEFRONT DLC BLASTER on us and release maybe very few maps and charge us through expantions for the rest?

3)Are we gona ge that STUPID BROWSER CONTROL PANNEL or are you wise enough to go back to bf2 and intergrate it into the game?

4)Are you gona alow me to ignore servers that kick me because someone that runs it wants to use the helicopter or are you gona give me the choice to remove that server from my searches in fiture, a black list cause theres plenty of unfair people out there. Give the user some control too it might stop there being so many bad server people.

5) and lastly Is bf1 gona work on release day, and if 6 months later its stuill crashing all over the place will you give us a full refund instead of just laughing at us?

I know I should be basking in the glory of the bf1 trailer but bf4 release was monument terrible and it remaind terrible for a long time, we as gamers need to know that the product we buy works cause you, that's dice and ea took it too far with both bf4 and then battlefront dlc, way to far. I just hope players of today remember what happened and wait at least a week or 6 before rushing to buy the game, at least that would be a clear message to the makers and publishers that think its alright to release crap.

Ill be buying the game but ill be waiting a few weeks to see what people say about its reliability after all games aren't cheap at the best of times.

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LTJohnnyRico

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@munchy22: BF was playable pretty quickly and has been great since .. also point 5 is a repeat of point 1 .. you don't have many points !!

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CorporalTurner

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@munchy22You asked two Identical questions (1) and (5) about if the game will be working out of the box on release day. I'm guessing you've been burned alot when it comes to AAA titles on release.

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munchy22

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Edited By munchy22

@CorporalTurner: Yeh I did it deliberately to get more focus on the main issue, a working game. both my 5870, 670 and my gtx 970 g1 gamer with the i7 3870k cpu and 16gig memory played all other games absolutely flawlessly, its only bf4 that crashed every other game and crashed too much in 2 years that made it unplayable. Gtx5, wither 3 Wofienstien, tombraider, all the assassin creed games, fallout all work fantastic on both my systems.

Also if you google battlefield 4 youll find I wasn't alone, it was a massive issue with a unusually high number of gamers.

I think bf4 was a first in my 15 years of buying pc games that a game was so badly bugy and for so long.

Today when io play bf4 its near perfect. The kinda game I wish I had back on release day.

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analgrin

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@munchy22: Just had a thought regarding crashing problems. Are your gfx cards overclocked? Either by your self or factory? Only ask because I tend to go for factory overclocked cards and there have been a couple of games that didn't like them. Like now, to play just cause 3 I have to underclock my card by a mere 8mhz and JC3 plays fine. If I forget to do that it crashes within 30 mins of play. Same with F1 2013 on both my new card gtx 970 and my old one gtx 670 which were/are both factory oc'd

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analgrin

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@munchy22: Don't think BF4 ever crashed on either of my systems (i7 930 & i7 6700k, paired with gtx 970). Was very buggy tho for a loooong time, so much so I went back to playing BF3 online. It still plays better imo. Destructible objects in BF4 would go from being destroyed, to being fully repaired, to being fully destroyed again. All while I was taking cover behind them.

I think a lot of that was due to Sony and M$ putting pressure on them to release the game as there wasn't many games on either system back then. This time I reckon they'll actually finish the game before releasing it,

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deactivated-5ad5af79a96e8

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I hope they have done their research. My Grandad was in the Machine Gun Corp in WWI on a fixed machine gun. When they had to retreat, he told me you took the firing pin and threw it as far as you could before you ran. So that those same machine guns couldn't be turned on you as you retreated. He also said because they were utilising what was seen as new technology then, any machine gunner that was caught was immediately shot. It would be those sort of levels of attention to detail I would like to see in the new game. But I imagine it's just another Battlefield game ...

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LTJohnnyRico

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Edited By LTJohnnyRico

@Fallenlords69: They shouldn't follow too closely to history as it will not make for a good game .. can you imagine in game when you leave a machine gun to have to throw the firing pin away ? or having to search for the pin that someone else has thrown ? .. They still have to make a fun game !!

That being said .. it was a pleasure to read the insight into your Grandads WW1 history .. thank you for sharing it !!

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deactivated-5ad5af79a96e8

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@jasonw1978: Wasn't a request. I just hope they have done their research and the game takes into account the nuances of the time.

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StokeMeAClipper

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@Fallenlords69: I very much doubt they'd go into that kind of detail (especially in the multi-player). They're going to borrow elements that make a fun game rather than make a painstaking simulation of WW1 style combat. I think that is more the realm of an indie dev or a mod team.

Hardcore military sims tend to be a bit niche because the majority of players don't communicate effectively or have the patience and dicipline required to work effectively as part of a team. In some of the more hardcore sims, to play effectively people need to stick to their roles. The majority of people hate being told what to do by another player, so they wouldn't take orders from their in game superior and the whole thing would fall apart due to lack of organisation and lone wolf types.

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deactivated-5ad5af79a96e8

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@StokeMeAClipper: Yeah I can see your point. I just hope they don't do this era a disservice by going over the top (no pun intended) and not basing it in some sort of realism.

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StokeMeAClipper

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@Fallenlords69: I'll be interested to see how the whole thing pans out. I think a factor in how true combat will be to that of the era will be dictated by the way the game is played. There may be the potential for going over the top in a death or glory style charge, but as mentioned, that would probably require communication and organisation.

As far as I'm aware, the over the top charge is a somewhat outdated tactic. So again, it is dependent on whether players choose to go for authenticity and get into the spirit of it. Through history and even other video games we've been exposed to more modern combat tactics, so it's possible players will employ them in an attempt to win.

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93ChevyNut

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Edited By 93ChevyNut

@Fallenlords69: Sounds like you had a great opportunity to hear first-hand stories of WWI. I think it's so incredibly humbling to hear history come alive like that. My dad was in Vietnam, but he doesn't talk about it much and I don't ask.

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RekkerDIMA

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Battleships sound cool, . . . but how about U-boats!! Submarines really took off ( submerged perhaps) in ww1. I would love to see naval warfare that includes u boat, counter those battleship campers!

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