EA DICE producer Aleksander Grondol was lording over a bank of the popular demo stations when I ran into him. The busy man was kind enough to step away from his duties, allowing me to pick his brain on Battlefield 1942 similarities, Team Fortress 2 comparisons, wing-riding, and more.
Shack: How long have you been with the Battlefield franchise?
Aleksander Grondol: Oh not that long. I came to DICE last summer. I've only been a Battlefield developer professionally for the last 10 months, but my mind has been with the Battlefield franchise since it was born.
Shack: Were you a big fan of 1942?
Aleksander Grondol: Yes. Very much so.
Shack: Me too.
Aleksander Grondol: In many ways, that was where my multiplayer experience started. At least with shooters. So I'm very happy to be with DICE, working on one of my favorite [game series].
Shack: It seems like you kept a lot of the 1942 flavor in Heroes, but with the hit-points streaming above player heads and third person perspective, it also seems like you're adding a little World of Warcraft-style presentation to the mix.
Aleksander Grondol: Yeah, I guess, yeah. You might say that. I guess the numbers thing, we wanted to give people more feedback. So basically, I don't kill the guy, but at least I get something. That's the idea with the numbers--you don't feel as bad when you don't kill him. Usually when someone else gets the last shot, you go, 'Oh man, he's kill-stealing.' But [in Battlefield Heroes], you got all the points when you did the first few hits on him.
Shack: So there will only be two maps initially, correct?
Aleksander Grondol: That's correct. Basically what we are trying to do with this game is we are providing a foundation.
Shack: A "live update" philosophy?
Aleksander Grondol: Yeah, we'll do live updates based on community feedback, and this will all be for free obviously. There will be no charging for maps and things. What we will charge for in this game is the possibility for you to buy new cosmetic items, and convenience items, which are the double-XP boosting items that will let you to level faster.
Shack: How does that experience booster item work, exactly?
Aleksander Grondol: Well it's actually an item that when you apply it, it applies to your character for a given time. Basically we will provide you with some different options for how long you want to keep this item. When it comes to these items, we won't be doing any items that are game-changing. I think it's really important to stress that. We don't want to have a nuclear weapon, or an "I Win" button. That's not what we are trying to do with this game.
Shack: Do you know yet the sort of price range you'll be looking at for these items?
Aleksander Grondol: We are looking into some different options, but we don't have anything concrete right now.
Shack: Every time we cover this game, we get a number of comments from people remarking on how it reminds them of Team Fortress 2. How do you guys feel about these comparisons?
Aleksander Grondol: First of all, it's an honor to be compared to a great game like Team Fortress 2, and I think the art style in TF2 is awesome. If they want to keep comparing it to TF2, I think that's perfectly okay. I think once you actually start playing it and see the difference for yourself, then it becomes quite apparent that it's not TF2. We're obviously not trying to take anything from TF2 in terms of gameplay. _PAGE_BREAK_
Shack: The wing-sitting on planes is a nod to the 1942 bug that allowed players to stick on plane wings and go for a ride. How exactly did that get into Heroes? Did someone on the team just pitch that one day as a joke?
Aleksander Grondol: Yeah, pretty much. Our guy implemented it, and basically everyone was laughing for three hours. Yeah. We were trying to do the wing walk, to make it easy to do, but we actually had some problems with that. I think it's better now, because now you can just sit there and fire away.
Shack: The infantry movement speeds seem fairly slow. Was that a conscious decision, to sort of keep things simple for the casual player?
Aleksander Grondol: Yeah, that's one of our goals as well. This isn't supposed to be a twitch game, it's supposed to be a game that everyone can handle. We're trying to even out the game for people who aren't the 100% precision shooters. I think that's more the hardcore crowd. Since we're trying to broaden our audience here, we need to make it a bit more accessible to them, and I think that's one of the steps, making it so you can actually hit something that's moving.
Shack: Is the game based on dedicated servers?
Aleksander Grondol: Yeah. It's matchmaking based, similar to Xbox Live, but it is running off of dedicated servers. The server we're playing on now is running in Virginia. Basically our matchmaking system takes your player skill, and tries to match you with people of a similar skill. For our audience, that is more relevant than actually picking a server by itself. But we'll definitely look into the possibility of allowing users to be able to join--if you rent the server yourself, you'll be able to join it, and have your friends join it obviously. We'll be trying out some of those things.
Shack: Who do you see playing this game? Obviously you're reaching for a broad demographic, but do you see people who aren't traditionally PC gamers picking it up?
Aleksander Grondol: Yeah, most definitely. I mean, the specs of this game are so low that you'll be able to run this with an integrated graphics card even. Our core audience, we're looking at the sort of a younger demographic, perhaps [ages] 12-16. That would be one of our demographics. But also gamers who have been around, playing perhaps 1942, who don't have as much time anymore, that just want to go in and shoot some people and get out. I am in that demographic.
Shack: Yeah, I am too.
Aleksander Grondol: I don't have time to sit and play eight hours every day like I used to. So, I think that demographic is also one of our potentials. But I think the primary demographic is the younger audience.
Shack: The ad-supported business model is a pretty untested avenue for a project of this size. Is there a lot of risk involved in this venture, or do you feel pretty secure going into release?
Aleksander Grondol: I think we're pretty secure in thinking that this will work out. I think so. It might also fail, who knows. [laughs]
Shack: [laughs] I hate to bring it up, but it is such a new approach.
Aleksander Grondol: You're absolutely right, there is a huge risk that is involved with this. But I don't want to go down the avenue of 'Will this fail,' I want to look at how we can do this and make sure that it doesn't fail. That's how I prefer to look at it. [laughs]
Shack: What are you looking at for a release timetable?
Aleksander Grondol: What we're seeing here right now is actually the closed beta. We're going to gradually escalate the number of players in this beta until we feel we're so secure that this can actually handle a potential mass of people coming in. Then we'll move on to a full open beta, which will have basically everyone. We're looking at the end of summer [for that].
Shack: Thanks for your time, Aleksander.
Don't forget to check out the whole of Shacknews EA Spring Break coverage which includes Hands-on time with Battlefield Heroes!