Despite suggestions from elsewhere in Electronic Arts, the game developers at DICE who made "Mirror's Edge" refused to even prototype a third-person version of their daring new game.
They declined to do many of the things people might have expected from the creators of the violent and successful "Battlefield" series.
Instead, by sticking to their guns, they created one of the freshest-feeling games of 2008. They did so by creating a first-person platforming game whose protagonist literally doesn't stick to her guns.
I recently interviewed Sweden-based "Mirror's Edge" producer Tom Farrer by phone to talk about the risks taken in this most unusual EA game. It turns out that his team changed quite a few things. And they considered leaving guns out altogether:
"We talked about removing weapons entirely."
The lead hero of "Mirror's Edge," Faith, was originally going to carry a handgun. Farrar said that that was dropped, along with other gadgets and her headphones. DICE wanted to streamline her. And as they streamlined Faith -- who had replaced the game's original male protagonist -- DICE developers also pondered further simplifying their already lithe game. "During development there was lots of discussion about all kinds of things," Farrer said. "We talked about removing weapons entirely, but we said, at the time, that we liked the idea of making a game where it felt good to throw the gun away. We didn't want to lose the action and all of the conflict. We pared it down and made it a lot less than other games. But we still wanted to retain it, to mix up the different gameplay elements in there."
Players of the released version of "Mirror's Edge" also miss out on some other elements that were cut by DICE. With some cuts, it's hard to see anyone complaining. Before deciding to set the game in the striking white-washed futuristic and unnamed metropolis of the game, for example, the developers intended to set the game in real cities. "What we found was we didn't really like any one of them," Farrer said. "We liked bits of them. An easy example is we liked the vertigo-inducing skyscrapers of somewhere like New York, but we didn't like gridded roads because it make the design tricky and boring. We took a trip to Tokyo where we took a lot of reference photos for the game. There, we found, you don't have the same degree of height, but you have more organic road structure and an awful lot of height variation among the buildings." The developers also drew inspiration from parts of Dubai, Singapore and Greece.
As for a potential cut that wasn't cut, the team could have left out Faith's hands and feet. Yes, DICE was making a first-person game about dynamic movement, but they didn't need to show their heroine's limbs. "Mirror's Edge" is unusual in that it's a first-person game that does depict appendages. But Farrer learned the semi-hard way that it wasn't essential to show them. "We did test with attaching cameras to people's heads," he said. "I remember running on a treadmill here at the office with the lead animator going, 'Faster, faster!' You actually don't see that [much of your body] when you're running or jumping." But in the game, to give people the feeling that they were doing amazing leaps and grabs, the developers made Faith's hands, legs and feet occasionally visible. "So much of the feel you build in 'Mirror's Edge' in the first person is: you're kind of faking it. You're trying to create the impression of how you, as a player, feel it ought to feel, if you see what I mean."
"So much of the feel you build in 'Mirror's Edge' in the first person is: you're kind of faking it."
I talked to Farrer for about half an hour and throughout the conversation we talked about a lot of these kinds of choices that DICE had to make. They had talked about pedestrian systems. They didn't use them. They had talked about how to create a first-person game that allowed the character's head to turn first, then the upper-body, then the lower body. And that, they nailed. The nature of the decisions speaks to how experimental this game has been, for DICE, for EA and for gamers.
What comes next? Knowing EA, probably a sequel eventually. But the only thing announced is downloadable content. "I can't talk about what the nature of the content itself is, which is a shame," Farrer said. "I've been playing it today. I don't think it's what people will expect." What he would say is that some of it is coming to Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, and some of it is just coming to the PS3. Even the PS3 offering will have weight, he said. "It's not skinning stuff. It's stuff you can actually play."
As for how unusual the DLC is, we'll see. It's the product of another decision DICE's creators have made, standing on a precipice, taking with their new game, quite a leap.