EA DICE has ‘something great’ in store for attendees, virtual or otherwise, of the Game Developers Conference in Cologne today. We know because official Battlefield community management chap ‘zh1nt0′ knows.
Chances are it’ll be a grab-bag of downloadable tank vinyls, or some sort of Windows Mobile top-down cross-over, or a range of limited edition Preston Marlowe keyring figurines, but take pause, reader! Restrain your expectation-lowering till EA’s press conference this afternoon. Now’s the time for hope and the exercise of the human imagination. Now’s the time for frenzied, unrealistic speculation, and heaps of it.
Let’s speculate, then. DICE’s ‘something great’ could be Bad Company 2: Vietnam, the rather robust-looking downloadable expansion pack for the current toast of this year’s shooter party. The pack is slated to drop this winter, so a round of walkthroughs and hands-ons would be timely. And boring. We love Bad Company 2, and providing the price is right, we’re sure we’ll love recreating the helicopter beach attack from Apocalypse Now, but we kind of know what we’re getting there (an RPG from the treeline, probably).
Alternatively, the revelation might concern EA’s much-trumpeted and beard-intensive Medal of Honor remake, for which DICE is developing a multiplayer component. This would be marginally more exciting than a map pack, obviously, but if truth be told, not much.
We’ve seen a fair bit of Medal of Honor now, and while it looks terrific, it also looks rather like the EA version of Modern Warfare, which is confusing, because we thought Battlefield was the EA version of Modern Warfare, and there’s surely only so much Modern Warfare an industry can wage. In any case, if big departures do lurk beneath such recurring themes as zoom-locking, knifing and mortar-tagging, we don’t expect a stage demo to uncover them.
So what else could this ‘something’ be? Well, it could be (deep breath) Mirror’s Edge 2. Cross those fingers.
The original Mirror’s Edge had an uneven debut in November 2008, suffering on the one hand the consequences of being a heavyweight new IP in a time of lightening wallets, and on the other the consequences of sharing a shelf with the likes of LittleBigPlanet and Gears of War 2.
Nevertheless, the first-person parkour platformer broke one million sales the following February and was enthusiastically received by critics, including yours truly. A sequel doesn’t seem beyond the bounds of possibility. After all, HAWX managed it. But if a sequel is on the cards, is it the sequel the game’s fans are thirsting for? Or will it betray the ambitions and inaccessibilities of its predecessor in favour of something softer, more recognisable, more sellable?
John Riccitiello’s thoughts on this count are as inspiring as they are perturbing. The EA boss first spoke publicly about Mirror’s Edge (and its grisly sci-fi stablemate) in an investor call in October of the same year. ‘As for titles like Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge,’ he said, ‘I think you can absolutely expect those titles to come back in one way, shape or form, but they’re not likely to be annual sequels.’
The key phrase, of course, is ‘one way, shape or form’. Riccitiello reiterated his commitment to Mirror’s Edge a couple of months later, commenting to Kotaku that it was ‘a massively innovative product’ and one that ‘deserves to come back’, but questioned the principles of athletic efficiency and quick-fire environment-reading at the game’s core.
‘You found yourself scratching at walls at times, looking for what to do,’ Riccitiello admitted. ‘Sometimes you had a roll going, downhill, slide, jump, slide, jump and then you just got stopped. It sort of got in the way of the fun.
‘It was like we couldn’t quite decide if we were building Portal or a runner. And I don’t think the consumer was ready to switch it up quite that way. You could say it was a sharp and great innovation. I believe that it was. You have to figure out what to do from here if you want it to be a five million seller vs. a one-million unit seller.’
The EA boss was singing a similar tune to Joystiq as recently as this June, taking the opportunity to remark that ‘we’re actually doing a couple of interesting things with Mirror’s Edge’.
‘I think it was atmospheric,’ he said. ‘Environments were brilliant. I loved the character. I, personally, love the parkour gameplay. [But] I thought it felt quirky jerky, halt and stop, rush and get thwarted in a way that wasn’t as satisfying for some gamers that wanted to feel continuous in their gameplay.’
This is an unfortunate point of view because, for many, the ‘quirky jerk’ rhythm of Mirror’s Edge was in fact a facet of its success. As I noted (confusedly) in our review, the frustrations of discovering a route over those glaring cityscapes are outweighed by the joys of eventually stringing together the right sequence of moves.
Ian Bogost puts it best: ‘what initially seems like a punitive design gaffe actually carries a crucial payload: requiring the player to reattempt sets of runs insures that the final, successful one will be completed all in one go.’
While EA’s willingness to keep Mirror’s Edge on the table is wonderful, the price of that willingness could be high. If DICE’s ‘something great’ does turn out to be white, bright and clad in ninja trainers, we hope the trial and error bits haven’t gone the way of the Dodo.
Over to you, readers. What’s up DICE’s sleeve? And is Mirror’s Edge doomed to become conventional?