The timing for EA’s Battlefield: Hardline was not great.
The shooter game, a police-and-SWAT-focused spinoff of the long-running war franchise Battlefield, was announced at E3 in June 2014; two months later, after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., warlike police and SWAT officers greeted largely peaceful demonstrators. A coincidence, of course, but one that cast a shadow over the game’s simple definitions of good and bad, cops and criminals.
Now, in the run-up to Hardline’s launch, EA has made some changes, executive producer Steve Papoutsis said in a recent interview with Re/code. Among them: A recently announced single-player mode that mimics a TV police procedural, down to calling levels “episodes” and packaging each with short “next time on…” and “last time on…” trailers for returning players.
Re/code: Would you say the game is more inspired by works of fiction, or by the real world?
Steve Papoutsis: I would definitely say we’re more aligned with the works of fiction, the TV stuff. It’s not a commentary on anything that’s going on in the real world. Think of it as, hopefully, a season of your favorite show.
There were numerous critics of the early marketing for the game as militarized police came to dominate the headlines. Did the events in Ferguson or elsewhere affect any choices you made with the game?
When that stuff was happening, it was quite off-putting to us, because we set out to make this game many years ago. We had no idea, or no intent, to have a social commentary along those lines. One thing it has done is help us be conscious of certain things that could be misinterpreted.
For one, we really put an emphasis on non-lethal takedowns in the game. So, the act of arresting somebody, saying “freeze!” and taking that person down, is a very viable approach to the game. You’re actually able to play the game completely — I’ve done it, personally — you can play it completely non-lethally through every encounter except three.
And that’s in the single-player mode?
That’s in single-player. You’re able to go through arresting people, handcuffing them or using a non-lethal weapon like the Taser, to take down the enemies completely. That was one thing that — when that stuff that was going on, in unfortunate circumstances that are happening, we really made sure we were being conscious of.
But again, when we started the game out, we didn’t expect that stuff to happen. When it started occurring, it really made us scrutinize what we were doing to make sure we were balanced in the way we let players approach the game. One of the things we did in the game from the get-go is allow for a variety of different play styles, so we have a non-lethal approach, as well as being able to support your traditional first-person shooter player that wants to run and gun their way through the experience.
Did you have any feedback from, or work with any advisers from, the real-world police or SWAT teams?
Yeah. We did. Some of the team members went to some SWAT exercises where they played the roles of criminals or hostages in their simulations. We also worked with some experts with our actors to show them the proper way to handle a firearm and things of that nature.
What about the story? Was that all written in-house?
What we traditionally do as a development studio is come up with a top-level idea of where we want the narrative to go, and work with a variety of different writers. Since we were doing something more episodic and similar to TV, we connected with Wendy Calhoun, who was one of the writers for the “Justified” series on TV.
She helped us construct the episodes, and then Tom Bissell and Rob Auten were writers who we worked with directly to create the dialogue for the game, and the story beats for the game. One of the goals we had was to have dialogue that felt realistic, that didn’t feel forced. We wanted it to sound like something people would actually say.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.