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Battlefield Hardline creative director on the game's 'spiritual center,' police militarization

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The newest multiplayer mode for Battlefield Hardline, Visceral Games' cops versus robbers spin on the Battlefield franchise, takes players on high-speed car chases. Dubbed Hotwire, it's a gameplay addition that's new to the Battlefield series. And coming up with something new to do in Battlefield can be tough, creative director Ian Milham says, because the genre has been so thoroughly explored over the years.

Hotwire, he says, is at the "spiritual center" of Battlefield Hardline. It's also the mode he believes might ultimately be the game's most popular.

"If you're making a cops and robbers Battlefield game, you want to get into some cool car chases," Milham told Polygon. "We've been working on it for about two years now — this mode, among other things — because it was actually really hard to get right."

Hotwire is "like a factory" for crazy moments

In Hotwire, the cops attempt to stop the criminals from stealing marked cars. It's a fast-paced marriage of capture the flag gameplay and racing with cars, motorcycles, trucks and even airboats.

"One of the things that people always talk about Battlefield is that it's got all these disparate features, all this kind of crazy crap that can happen, all these things that can interact," Milham said. "What's been really gratifying is that [Hotwire] is like a factory for those moments. It feels like it's spiritually part of the Battlefield universe and yet it's not like any other mode they've had before.

"What I like about it is it's so gettable. Something like this, people understand intuitively what to do. But what's so great about Battlefield is that you can contribute to success ... in a bunch of different ways."

If Hotwire truly is so different from what Battlefield players expect — Milham called it "a genuinely new multiplayer moment" — why not show the mode earlier? Why not try to help differentiate Hardline from Battlefield 4 more? Why not counter criticism that Hardline looks like "just a mod"?

"What our worry was was, before announcing the game, we didn't want the opposite problem where people go, 'Well, that's cool and everything, but that's not Battlefield. I know how you work, EA. You probably had some other cops and robbers game, but you wanted to put Battlefield on the box so you could sell more. Visceral, you make good single-player games but what do you know about multiplayer?'" Milham said.

The team at Visceral wanted to answer two questions with Hardline's reveal around E3 2014, he said: "Is this Battlefield? Does it have good multiplayer?"

"So, that was our real thrust at E3. And we may have been too successful at that, because the response was 'Yeah, it's got good multiplayer, but it's Battlefield.' But we knew we had time to show people more."

It turned out they had more time than they'd originally anticipated. Less that two months after the game's unofficial reveal, EA and Visceral delayed the game from October to early 2015.

Battlefield Hardline - Hotwire

In the midst of showing people more about Battlefield Hardline, Visceral's game became a touchpoint for a larger discussion: Its use of a militarized police force in an American city looked like a distasteful reflection of real-world events. But Milham was adamant that Hardline was not social commentary or a "realistic tactics simulator." It's a "romp," he said, a blockbuster cop drama.

"The issue has come to the forefront in a way we didn't anticipate," Milham said of U.S. police militarization and Hardline's in-game representation of the trend. "But from the beginning it was something that we had to think about. I think we've tried to choose the scenarios and content we're showing to be responsible, and to be honest about what we're trying and not trying to accomplish with the game.

"It's not cops and protesters. It's cops and robbers."

"To be a responsible person in the media, you have to know what's going on in the world and how what you're producing fits into that larger landscape. At the same time, it was never our intention and it would be sort of clumsy to try to make this a realistic police tactics simulator. It's not cops and protesters. It's cops and robbers. From the beginning we've been targeting much more of a TV crime drama kind of vibe. We felt like people haven't had a chance to see everything we're doing yet. They're understandably passionate about some of the issues, so I thought for what people knew about what we were doing, the reaction to it, I could understand how people got there. It was a little frustrating to have the conversation be about so many things we didn't intend or try to make any comment on..."

Milham's response seemed both well considered and well rehearsed. It's likely a line of questioning he's gotten used to at this point. But though he was clear to point out that "there are no riots, no innocent bystanders" in Hardline and that "cops also don't jump off the top of skyscrapers with parachutes," he seemed happy to field the topic one more time.

"The debate over whether the police need to have a tank, that's something that's happening outside of our game," he said. "In our game, you need the tank because you're trying to recover the thing the bad guys have and it makes sense.

"When you're making a game about an isolated man on a spaceship, you don't get these questions. It's easier. But that doesn't mean that people are wrong to question this... it's something we have to think about."