Battlefield 1: Why DICE Ignored Science-Fiction and Returned to the Past

Retroactive progress.

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In the grand scheme of things, Battlefield 1is a bold direction for developer DICE. While many modern shooters seem obsessed with science fiction--from the dystopian cityscapes of Overwatch to the spacefaring skirmishes of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare--Battlefield 1 seems content to bring us back, to the antiquity of World War I. As design director Lars Gustavsson tells it, though, this adherence to history is proving fruitful.

"Every time we open the research books, we find a new weapon or technique we didn't know was used during World War I," he told GameSpot at Gamescom 2016. "The misconception is that it was all trenches and slow-paced combat--but this was a war of 'firsts.' These empires were experimenting every chance they had."

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This has given DICE the chance to experiment as well. Judging by Battlefield 1's closed alpha and a recent demo with the shooter's new Sinai Desert map, surprising combat methods abound: airship assaults, cavalry charges, and even armored-train attacks. There are numerous nuances to multiplayer matches, from the bullet-drop of semi-automatic rifles to the explosive radius of bomber planes’ payloads.

Even the weapons commonly associated with the Great War, such as bayonets, mustard gas, and water-cooled machine guns, add new wrinkles to the classic sandbox combat of past Battlefield games. There's a older feel to Battlefield 1's arsenal that, ironically, feels fresh.

"It's an era we've been wanting to explore for a while," Gustavsson said. "We've all learned about World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War. But World War I often goes unnoticed, despite how huge it was. It's an older time, but in this case, it feels new."

Returning to the early 20th century also allows DICE the opportunity to explore cultural and geopolitical issues that created massive ripples in the 100 years since. Aside from the fact that Battlefield 1 will shed light on the unsung heroes and battlegrounds of World War I, DICE has yet to mention many specifics when it comes to the single-player campaign. However, Gustavsson said the studio is going to make use of the turbulent era here as well.

"Our research isn't confined to weapons and vehicles," he said. "We've sat down to watch movies, talk with experts, page through books as we tried to figure out which story to tell from this time period. The empires involved in World War I were massive, and in a way, each of them was greedy, trying to gain something more as the war continued. There were a lot of different motives we want to explore. It was a complicated time."

It's a sign of the times that a game set in the 20th century is something of a novelty. 10 years ago, you couldn't throw a stone without hitting a World War II game. But now, the past seems new again--shooters might be taking to the stars these days, but Gustavsson and his team seem confident down here.

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