You can't make a first-person shooter without a story driving it. Gone, it seems, are the days of Battlefield games that are just that: A virtual battlefield.
That doesn't mean that Battlefield 3 will be any less a Battlefield game, just that it won't just focus on the multiplayer gaming that made the series so popular, said Patrick Soderlund, DICE executive vice president and general manager of first-person shooters and driving games.
"Battlefield 3 needs to have a competitive single player campaign and a genre defining multiplayer," he said.
But aside from the modern setting and first-person shooter genre, Soderlund promises that Battlefield 3 won't be another Call of Duty.
The campaign will be a character driven story, reminiscent of movies and tv shows like Generation Kill, Hurt Locker and Black Hawk Down. It is five minutes before the first shot is even fired in the campaign, Soderlund says.
"We want you to experience a game that goes up and down in pacing," he says. "We want you to pay attention to the dialog between characters. We want you as a consumer to care about the characters in the game.
"We focus a lot on the fact that the characters have a personality," he said. "That you care about them."
In the snippet I saw of single player gaming, the scene opens inside an armored personnel carrier, the men inside talking about their home life, one joking that he hasn't paid his taxes yet.
That scene leads to a typical close-quarters run through a market, and then drops players into a much wider engagement packed with 60 to 70 soldiers.
"It's a totally different feel," Soderlund says. "You will get the more urban-type environments that some people love to play. And you will also get the big tank battles, the open areas."
The game, I notice, takes place in the Iraq of 2014, an odd choice for a game coming out in 2011. Soderlund says they made the decision to set it a few years in the future to avoid politicizing the game.
"We don't take a political stance," he said. "We're not at all interested in real war, we distance ourselves."
Because of the near-future setting, all of the weapons in the game will be real, nothing fanciful.
I point out to Soderlund that there are first-person shooter players who never touch the campaign, who have no interest in single-player gaming. Battlefield is, in many ways, a game that made its name on mulitplayer, not single player experiences.
He knows that, but says to remain competitive in the genre, games need to include that experience. But Soderlund can't say just how robust that element of the game will be.
"It's hard to say our game will be six or ten or 12 hours," he said. "I know how many people are working on the single player part of the game, so I feel sad for the consumer that doesn't want to experience that."
Multiplayer, the thing Battlefield veterans are most hungry to hear about, remains still unknown. Soderlund says the team wants game's multiplayer to be genre defining, but he declined to explain how the developers would do that.
More to come on the game being developed on the PC, but due out for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 too, he promises.