You might have been introduced to him on stage at EA PLAY this June, but Dennis Brännvall has been a core member of the EA DICE Star Wars™ Battlefront™ team for years. Today, Dennis is responsible for how all aspects of Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II are designed – from gameplay to user interface and player interactions – as the franchise’s Design Director.
To give you a peek behind the curtain at EA DICE, we’ve picked Dennis’ brain on his own journey, his thoughts on game design, and the ongoing work with Star Wars Battlefront II.
Dennis’ Star Wars™ Battlefront™ History
“I started with the franchise with our first Battlefront released in 2015. I came in early on that project to design levels and game modes, primarily Walker Assault. From there, I was trusted with taking care of the game as we launched and with leading the development of the four post-launch DLCs,” Dennis begins.
“When that came to its conclusion, I took a little break as my kid arrived.”
Coming back from parental leave, Dennis jumped right into the development of the sequel to provide additional design direction, and took on a role leading a much larger team toward the launch of Star Wars Battlefront II.
“Now, I work together with a couple of super-talented designers who are big fans of Star Wars™. We’re thinking of cool stuff we could do in our game, while also improving on features and gameplay either based on community feedback, or what we ourselves feel should be added and improved upon.”
The Considerations Behind What’s Being Added and Improved Upon
Community feedback is essential to the ongoing development of the game, but there are a few other factors considered around what’s being added.
“Sometimes, the content we’re adding is just a nice fit with whatever theme we’re going for at the moment. For example, early talks with Lucasfilm revealed that Solo™: A Star Wars Story™ would feature a sequence where a coaxium payload was pushed out of the mines of Kessel.”
With this insight, plus knowing how much players enjoyed Extraction mode in Battlefront (2015), the team felt that revamping and adding the Extraction mode to the Han Solo Season of Battlefront II made a lot of sense.
“As for Ewok Hunt, I’ve always wanted to do more of the nostalgic modes from the earlier Battlefront games. Even though the ruleset wasn’t super advanced back then, a hunt mode always stood out as something uniquely Star Wars to me. It also felt like the development team and the community both were ready for something a bit more light-hearted,” Dennis says.
“Obviously, Heroes vs. Villains is a very popular mode. But, some feedback from the community revealed a sense that it could get so chaotic and fast-paced, that some of the strategy and tactics were removed from it.”
To scratch that itch, the more intimate and slower-paced Hero Showdown was released.
“It has proven really successful, and we’ve managed to keep a healthy player base around both modes, which is great!”
Sometimes, there’s a void that just needs to be filled. Making it easier to level up hero starfighters was such a need, one which July’s addition of Hero Starfighters answered. “Now, you have a better chance to level up Yoda’s Jedi Interceptor, or whichever hero ship you fancy,” Dennis says.
And, as Dennis revealed at EA PLAY, a new large-scale, multiplayer sandbox experience focused on capturing command posts and taking out capital ships is in the works, opening up for more non-linear and grand Star Wars battles.
He concludes: “So, there’s always a bit of everything that we need to consider when adding content to the game.”
How Competitive Gaming Helped Shape a Design Director
When Dennis first started at EA DICE, he was put to work on Battlefield™ 4 and its expansions. Going back even further in time, Dennis has a solid background within the world of tabletop miniature wargames and competitive gaming.
“Growing up, I was really into competitive gaming. I played a lot of early first-person shooters quite extensively and competitively. The word ‘esport’ did not exist, but we were still climbing ladders and competing in tournaments,” Dennis says.
The prize money that we see in competitive gaming today was certainly not around. “We got some spare computer parts. You know, it was really in its infancy.”
Dennis points out how fairness is hugely important in game design, especially if you’re doing a shooter game. This is an example of his early days of “esporting” coming to good use in his daily work.
“Having played at quite a highly competitive level, you kind of get a sense for balance and how we can compete without the feeling that it’s unfair.”
The Art of Making a Game Fun
“On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve been a long-time table top gamer and role-player, ever since my super-early teens. That’s something that I do very actively up until this day. Sometimes, it’s nice to do something that’s more analogue as I’m working in the digital space, sitting in front of the computer screen,” Dennis says.
“Shaping me as a game designer, it’s been really useful to do both of those things. Table top games and role-playing are focused on non-visual mechanics and rulesets. It’s useful to get that solid understanding of why things are fun, even though the graphics are awful . . . because there are none!”
When you think about a professional designer, a person creating something visually appealing might come to mind first. But, as opposed to a web designer making a web page pretty-looking, a game designer is more concerned about what actually makes the game fun to play.
“I’m a non-visual designer when it comes to what I do well. The roles within game development teams have obviously evolved over the years. From originally consisting of programmers and artists, to needing someone to ensure that the game has solid mechanics, is fun to play, and that the teams are collaborating,” Dennis explains.
“A pronounced Game Designer plays a really important role in making games.”
This marks the end of the first part of our interview with Dennis. The second part will be published here on Monday August 13. Come back to read more about Dennis’ favorite moments from the development of Star Wars Battlefront II, plus his advice for aspiring game designers.
–Daniel Steinholtz (Follow Daniel on Twitter @dsteinholtz)
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