Video Game Wars Should Feel Real, EA Says

Video Game Wars Should Feel Real, EA Says

When I talked to EA’s Frank Gibeau earlier this fall about the making of Battlefield 3, the words that kept coming up were realistic and authentic. Yes, the ambitious war game still counts as fiction, what with its earthquake-aided insurrection and nuclear terrorism. However, it’s not quite as popcorn as the plot presented in the competing game Modern Warfare 3 released by rival publisher Activision.

“We had a concept about what it was like to be a Marine and being a part of very large events. It was really important for us to capture that emotional feeling of being swept up into things that are bigger than just one person,” said Gibeau. “The technology allowed us to do that in some really interesting ways with the animation systems that we have, and how you can make the environments more complex, larger, beautiful, immersive.”

But, how real would EA get? In my talk with Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg, I’d asked him if there’d ever be a documentary-style Call of Duty that’d perhaps recount a real-world military engagement. He balked a bit at that, saying that “we’ve told the stories that the developers want to tell.” So, I asked Gibeau the same question. Would EA re-tell the story of an actual conflict in one of their games?

Gibeau says they’ve already come close to that approach. “Medal of Honor frankly was ripped from the headlines more than a little and told the story of the SEALs that were helping us build the game.” Again, reality’s the guiding light here. “As the fidelity of the experiences get better, people might ask, ‘Is it real or is it Battlefield?'” Gibeau offers. “In terms of narrative structure,” he says. “I think you can do that now if you felt like that’s the story you wanted to creatively pursue. I think it’s possible to do in a lot of different categories, too, like sports or a modern crime story. As a studio exec, I wouldn’t have any opposition to somebody saying, ‘No, I want to tell the real story as it unfolded.’ I’d be totally open to hearing that pitch; it would certainly be a twist on what’s out there in the marketplace.”

The observation about differentiation made me think about the heroes players control in games like Battlefield 3. Right now, we’re living in an era that’s seen the repeal of the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy, which had homosexual soldiers tasked with hiding part of themselves even as they risked their lives for their country. If authenticity and reality are so important to EA’s modern war games, could Gibeau ever see a gay soldier being a hero in the Battlefield 3 and Medal of Honor franchises?

Frank: “I don’t see why not,” he answers. “We’ve explored that concept in games like Mass Effect from BioWare. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t pursue that storyline or that kind of character in a more realistic title if it made sense for the game that you’re building. Sure.”

Lots of different experiences are had by lots of different kinds of soldiers in the conflicts being fought around the world today. Gibeau’s remarks indicate a desire by EA and the developers who work there to reflect those experiences as realistically as possible. There’s no telling where that might take them — and us — in the years to come.


  • I agree. War games need to feel like war games. I think BF3 was most of the way there, i felt immersed in the gameplay most of the time and even in multiplayer. Sound design in games is really becoming more and more important these days, especially for war titles. Its amazing how much the sound added to the gaming experience, especially when cranking up the 5.1 surround sound in the living room 🙂

    • I feel that sound design is as vital as sweet graphics when it comes to immersion. I play BF3 using PX5’s and the soundscape is just incredible, isn’t it? I can not only work out what direction a sound is coming from, but even estimate it’s distance from me. It add so much to the experience.
      I bought Black Ops last year (my first and probably last CoD game) and I was so disappointed by the sound! In an otherwise fine game, I just could not get past the guns sounding like snare drums and the grenades that went off like a door being closed a little too hard.
      The sound is a critical and undervalued part of games, for me at least.

  • Right… so (to quote Yahtzee) sit behind a chest high wall and wipe the strawberry jam off your face is realistic?

    I don’t think Video Games accurately depict war, there’s definately a ‘Hollywood’ element present to make them entertaining. BF3 realistic? So my tank can slowly repair itself over time and if I’m shot and bleeding out a buddy can ‘shock’ me back to life? Fun yes, realistic no.

    If you want to get closer to realism I’d say try the ARMA series. Definately not as entertaining in the same vein as a BF3 or MW3, more a simulation.

    My 2 cents plus GST.

  • If EA wants more realism, they should start putting army and navy flyers in their games.

    Games are virtual – there is nothing real about them.

  • Interesting this article should arrive today, a day after a documentary about the lives of Australia’s elite soldiers currently fighting in Afghanistan screened on One.
    It was one of the most honest pieces of war journalism I’ve ever seen, especially compared to the documentary about the death of Osama bin Laden.
    No hyperbole, no exaggeration, just soldiers doing a job in difficult conditions.
    However, one soldier talked about being caught by shrapnel to his face after a bullet struck his gun. Got checked by the mdic, thumbs up, went back to it.

  • I think they’re going in the wrong direction completely. If I wanted to know what is was like in war, I’d watch a documentary or movie. When it comes to games I want to be entertained, have a consistent experience between both single and multiplayer. This is why Bad Company’s campaign was great. If they can’t tell a better story than their competition, they should make better gameplay.

  • I think games should be games and war should be war. war games are fun, but we don’t need them to be uber-real.

  • What a load of crap.
    If they wanted the game to feel real, they would have gone down the path of ArmA.

    The thing about these games is that they don’t accurately portray the distance, setting or scenarios of real wars.

    Everything is close quarters where you can always see your enemy

    With a real war, you generally don’t know where your enemy is, the fear element is missing. The risk of being ambushed, the civilian populace being sympathetic to the other side etc.

    Those are the key things that make up a real war, not just the shooty shooty side

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