The Battlefield series is taking a big risk with its next iteration, Battlefield: Hardline.
This is a series that made its name recreating historical wars and modern-day high tech battlefields, such as World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and it turned Swedish studio DICE into one of the most popular in the world.
Hardline will take the familiar Battlefield recipe but transplant it to modern day Los Angeles, where police wage war against heavily-armed bank robbers and organised crime syndicates.
Messing with the formula of a popular and long-running video game franchise is always risky, but the stakes in this case are unusually high. 2011's Battlefield 3 sold a staggering 15 million copies, but its immediate sequel sold around half that number, partly due to being plagued with technical problems that hampered online multiplayer.
However, one of the people most responsible for making Battlefield what it is today does not agree that this is a risky move.
"I don't think it's a far out, crazy kind of idea," says Karl Magnus Troedsson, a DICE alumnus now promoted to Group General Manager at EA. "I mean, we built Battlefield 2142, and that was pretty far out there, with mechs walking around and titans in the sky. I think this is a very cool, contemporary setting that lets us make a bunch of cool new game modes that are suitable to the fiction, and new gadgets and vehicles."
If anybody knows the Battlefield series, Troedsson does. He was first hired by DICE in 2001, the year before the release of the game that put the Swedish studio on the map: Battlefield 1942. The World War II online battle game gave players a gigantic space to fight in, and gave them tanks and jeeps and even fighter planes to pilot.
Since then the series has travelled forward in time to modern day wars, and to a climate change afflicted future. Now Hardline brings the franchise to modern day Los Angeles for pursuits between criminals and police across gigantic, destructible maps.
Troedsson admits that the idea of a Battlefield with cops and robbers has been considered before. "Back in 2005 when BF2 was released, there actually were some prototypes done on a cops and criminals Battlefield which never saw the light of day," he recalls. Which is good because they weren't very good!"
Considering the variability of the series, what is it that ties the series together? Put simply, what is it that makes Battlefield Battlefield?
"We have four central design pillars for a start," Troedsson explains. "It's the team play, the large open environments, the vehicles, and the destruction. Those are the main ones, and then that's all thrown into this huge sandbox, basically, where you can just have a lot of fun."
"What I like, though, is that Battlefield is not one thing. Battlefield has a spectrum. We've made some gigantic maps, but we've also pulled in and made much smaller, tighter maps. We think of Battlefield as a spectrum, from large to small, from vehicle to infantry, from vertical to horizontal. We think that breadth is an extremely important part of our core recipe."
As for why this new title is being developed by US-based Visceral Games, the first Battlefield title not made by DICE, it is easy to imagine that the Stockholm-based team is just too busy. After all, they are working on a reboot of the long-dormant Star Wars: Battlefront series, as well as a new Mirror's Edge. One might think they simply farmed out work because they had too much going on already.
Troedsson, however, says that the concept for Hardline came from Visceral themselves. "When you have a passionate team and they want to build something, and they have an idea, then what will usually happen is they'll come to you and say 'We want to build this game!' and that's basically what Steve and the guys did from Visceral."
"We said 'You guys should work on a Battlefield game. Have you thought about it?' And Steve said yes, they actually had, and they presented this idea for cops and criminals, which resonated extremely well for me and my boss and several key people at DICE."
"What I really like is that we have a fresh approach," Troedsson adds. "We have a game coming out that's very different from the last one. when it comes to the style and tone, and the fiction and setting."
"As game developers, at least at DICE where I come from, we have a history of not being happy with what we're doing. Maybe that's a Swedish thing, I dunno, but as soon as we're done with a game we keep tearing it apart and saying, oh that looks like shit, we should have done that differently, etc."
"That's how developers become better at what we're doing, by challenging ourselves."
Gamers will be able to judge for themselves whether Battlefield: Hardline is a breath of fresh air for the series or a poorly judged departure when it is released for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows PC in early 2015.
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez