It seems so obvious now that the sequel to Battlefield 1942 would set itself in the here-and-now of contemporary military conflict. Less obvious is how well the game would again lead the way, further honing the balance of man and machine with regard to war, and introducing a concept of character persistence that in BF2142 is about to reach a level more characteristic of your typical MMO.
In no small part, Lars Gustavsson deserves some credit. He's been around since the early days of Codename: Eagle, produced Battlefield 1942 and was the lead designer during the making of Battlefield 2. He must have done something right because he's still in the job, now as the creative director for the Battlefield franchise...
Gustavsson: When we were done with Battlefield 1942, we looked at a number of options; whether we would remain with the WWII era, go Cold War or even try Vietnam - this was before we even started making Battlefield Vietnam. We could probably make games about WWII forever - people don't seem to tire of it, but as a developer you want to create something that you're interested in, which means trying to bring some novelty into it. So we always kept an eye on contemporary warfare. I guess what made us hesitate to begin with, was if we were to go there, we'd want to go all the way, with wire-guided missiles and all that - and we knew that to do all that would be a challenge. But in the end, after Battlefield Vietnam, we decided to go for it since it was something we all wanted to do.
Gustavsson: We'd talked to Trauma Studios while they were making the Desert Combat mod. As a designer, I love talking to the modding community in general. I tend to look at games from the root up - from a designer's perspective - while they look from the surface and try to dig in and see what we intended to do. Having those two different perspectives makes it very interesting to discuss the game, so lots of meaningful discussions went on and we felt that those guys could definitely contribute.
They helped us a lot with prototyping. We wrote, designed and had lots of things we wanted to try out, so while our time was spent in Stockholm creating the new engine, we had these guys implementing our ideas into the old Battlefield 1942 code. They worked really hard, delivering a new build once or twice a week, which meant we had massive playtest sessions. It was a very good way of proving gameplay before we spent time implementing it into the new engine.
Gustavsson: We had thought about setting the game across many real-world places, but for every day we were designing the game - where we picked a city or area that we felt could work well - we'd research it and then a bomb would go off there. With all that going on, we realised we shouldn't really be making a game out of it. So we made BF2 into the sandbox that Battlefield's always been about: you pick a location that's a decent approximation, you pick the hardware you've seen on Discovery Channel and you let people have some fun without having to step too heavily into the dreadful reality of it.
There are still people around who experienced WWII, but in that war it was easier to distinguish between good and bad. Nowadays the whole world is a gravestone. For us, it's about having fun. We don't do 100% realistic real-world simulations - we have real-world recognition instead, with action.
Gustavsson: We went to shooting ranges, museums with old and new stuff; we also went to Duxford to look at the aeroplanes. I actually had three weeks holiday in England and went to see the Fairford Air Show with all the modern jets, which was amazing. I'd love to get to fly a modern jet fighter, by the way!