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Autodesk chatted with EA DICE‘s Arvid Burstrom, Technical Artist; Jhony Ljungstedt, Art Director; Mikael Linderholm, Technical Art Director; and Amo Mostofi, Producer, about their Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and its stark aesthetic. It’s worth noting that the studio used Autodesk Maya for modeling, as well as MotionBuilder for motion capture. Check out this interview below.
How did DICE become DICE as we know it today?
It started with a demogroup of 5 students who were developing Amiga games in 1988 in their spare time and released their first big game, Pinball Dreams, in 1992. We actually still have pinball machines in the studio to remind us where it all began! We were originally named ‘Digital Illusions’ and eventually tacked on ‘Creative Entertainment’ – that’s where DICE comes from. The company grew as it was merged with fellow Swedish developer, Refraction Games, in the early 2000s. The next game we developed that gained a significant following was Codename Eagle, but the first major game we released was Battlefield 1942. That game established us as a AAA studio and it was the beginning of a big hit series as we went on to make over a dozen Battlefield games in the years that would follow. Outside of the Battlefield series, Mirror’s Edge was released in 2008, and we made Star Wars Battlefront last year. We’re now in the process of completing Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
So what is Mirror’s Edge Catalyst all about?
This game puts the player in the shoes of the young runner from the first game, Faith Connors. She’s essentially a messenger/courier who takes part in corporate espionage in the city of Glass. When the player takes over and starts playing as Faith, she’s just been released from juvie and one of the early missions that she takes part of begins pretty standard but proves to be far more complex. Through that particular incident, she realizes that this beautiful façade [the city of Glass] can be stripped away relatively quickly and beneath it is this much more sinister underbelly being run by a number of corporations… But that’s all I’m going to tell you! Players can find out the rest for themselves.
In the first Mirror’s Edge game, we didn’t get to know Faith Connors much. Does Catalyst build up on that?
Catalyst is a reboot of the first Mirror’s Edge game, so it doesn’t really build on the story from the original. When we initially decided to make Mirrors’ Edge Catalyst, we looked at the original game and asked ourselves what was strong about it. Upon closer inspection, we established that Faith was that key element. The character, the gameplay in terms of movement, the art direction and the audio – the four pillars – were what had made the first game a success. Our narrative director Christofer Emgård has built this fantastically rich world where Faith is the center but there’s so much more happening around her in terms of story, world and supporting characters.
What are some of the new elements that help us get to know Faith?
With Catalyst, we wanted the players to connect more with Faith so we moved away from the 2D cutscenes that you see in the first game and opted for realistic motion-captured cutscenes created with Maya and MotionBuilder. This level of realism and intimacy helps the player better relate to Faith, as we see her expressions, her emotions, everything that makes her strong. One of the tricky parts of making a first person game with a strong character is that you don’t see yourself [the character.] So we ensured that the player would be able to see a lot of themselves throughout the game via reflections. By seeming themselves in reflective surfaces, they’ll constantly be reminded that they’re this strong character and unlike the first game, Faith Connors will feel extremely present.
The one thing that always comes up when discussing Mirror’s Edge is the unique and clean look of the world. It’s completely different in contrast to the gritty and cluttered environments most games portray. How did the city of Glass and its stark aesthetic come about?
We reflected on the look of the first game – it boasted this beautiful white world and it was distinct and very unique in its appearance. It was hard for us to break down what made it look beautiful, so we started listing keywords to describe it. The word “elegant” stuck early on, and through association, elegance became minimalism, and minimalism is something that is very controlled. Control is a major theme in the game’s totalitarian world, so for us, it all fit together. We stripped down as much detail as possible in efforts to make everything in the world essential to the game, important and relevant to the player. We feel that this aspect makes it feel unique in contrast to other games, which tend to put in as much details as possible to fill up the environments.
What was most challenging in developing a reboot? How do you still keep it fresh the second time around?
It takes a lot of thought process and understanding of shapes and forms and how they relate to one another to decide what makes a certain prop or a character look good. And this was the true challenge – keeping that signature clean look consistent throughout the game.
We wanted to create a world that was rich, bigger, and that you can do much more in. We wanted to give the player a better understanding of Faith’s power and capabilities by strengthening the storytelling, giving them a better sense of this totalitarian world. We played on the idea that looks could be deceiving – the more you look at this world, the more you realize it’s not all nice and it’s actually quite hostile. We wanted to give the players a fresh experience, so we’ve created this massive city where they can run free, giving them more freedom to play and more room to explore. The other way we switched it up was by adding new elements to the game, for example, the Social Play function which allows players to compete against one another.
What are you most proud of upon completing the development of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst?
Just being able to get everything together was a huge feat for us, seeing all the awesome parts come together to build that experience we intended to build from the get-go. It looks amazing, the audio is amazing – we managed to build a very auteur style of game that drastically differs from what’s out there. The team was probably the most fascinating aspect of all this. Seeing them come together to build a super innovative game while overcoming a number of challenges together, despite the many moving parts.
We’ve seen you pull through time and time again so we’re no surprised! A lot of studios stick to developing one type of game. We’ve noticed that isn’t the case for DICE. How do you keep your games so diverse yet successful?
That comes down to the talent that we have at the studio. The Mirror’s Edge series is DICE’s passion project, which allows us to push the design, art and gameplay boundaries that we set on ourselves for our other franchises. At DICE, we always maintain that underdog mentality despite the fact that we probably are one of the biggest studios in the world right now. We’re always looking for something that’s going to be more fun, interesting, and innovative that we can push forward.
I think that’s how we keep tons of diversity in our series. We also have a pretty wide array of backgrounds and disciplines in our studio team that in of itself brings a lot of different flavor to the table. The level of experience varies from fresh-out-of-school juniors to very senior artists and developers: we have some people who are relatively new to the industry and bring in fresh ideas, and some who have worked here for 15 to 20 years.
And in the end, it comes down to maintaining a certain standard. We always want to push ourselves – it must be the Swedish mentality! We’re never fully satisfied with our work, which keeps us pushing ourselves. I think that’s how we maintain the quality of everything we do. We know that when it comes to visuals, we’re quite good at making beautiful looking games – but it doesn’t mean that we’re done. You can always push further for the next project.
Source: Autodesk’s Area