Battlefield 1's closed alpha a few weeks back gave us a chance to crank on a multiplayer map in this World War One shooting game. At the time, I said it augured well for the game, which has a beta starting this week.
Development team DICE has worked hard to give the game an authentic 1914-1918 feel within the constraints of a fantasy shooting game. But one alpha player went a little further in order to grab that in-the-trenches feeling.
These monochrome shots from the alpha were taken by Petri Levälahti, 35, a Finnish gamer who enjoys in-game photography. Some of them have a feel of WWI photography, something which we've seen a lot recently, with the 100th anniversary of the war.
Levälahti, a graphic designer, writer and artist, played the alpha for 80 hours, capturing these images and editing them. He has a strong following on Flickr, where he displays collections from games like No Man's Sky, Crysis 3, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Overwatch and The Division.
"I used the cinematic tools, created by the awesome Hattiwatti," he told Polygon. "These tools give you access to free camera, field of view, depth of field and tons of other options, everything from removing the in-game vignette to spawning your own spotlights.
"I edited the images in Photoshop. But since I'm not an expert, emulating the correct look and feel of the photos from that era proved to be impossible for me. Shutter speed was a big issue too, that's why my relatively sharp action shots feel way off."
Soldiers who fought in the First World War often brought cheap cameras with them to the front. We're all familiar with shots of uniformed pals posing and smiling together in front of some monstrous gun. But there are also many famous photographs that show the desperation and violence of that war. In time, the generals banned cameras, fearing that the images might be of use in enemy hands or could have damaging propaganda consequences.
When undertaking his photography project, Levälahti looked into the technology and the creative work of the time. "I did some basic research and learned about the Vest Pocket Kodak, one of the first compact cameras that a lot of soldiers carried with them. Mostly I just browsed old WWI photos to get inspiration. Some WWI enthusiasts might notice a homage or two. I also deliberately stayed off from the common 16:9 TV/gaming aspect ratio and tried to compose the shots in a more traditional 3:2 ratio."
Levälahti's images, while clearly from a video game rather than from real life, do a good job of capturing Battlefield 1's grime and destruction. There are times playing the game, particularly when sat in a vehicle and watching the world whizz by, when I thought I was watching a colorized news reel from a century ago. These pics have a similar effect.
Levälahti said that, being Finnish, he was mostly taught about World War 2 as a boy. His country fought bravely first against an unprovoked invasion by the Soviet Union and then with the Allies against Nazi Germany. But his interest in WWI has increased of late:
"I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful Gallipoli exhibit in Wellington, New Zealand. I learned a lot there, and hopefully some ANZAC stuff finds its way to BF1. There seems to be a newfound interest towards WWI now that Battlefield 1 is approaching. Although DICE is taking some creative liberties regarding historical accuracy, I think it's still very positive that a video game can get people interested and learning about WWI."
He's also a fan of Stanley Kubrick's 1957 movie Paths of Glory, in which Kirk Douglas stars as a French Colonel who faces up to the incompetence and folly of his superiors. "It's amazing," said Levälahti. "Everyone should watch it right now.
He added that the images have mostly been received well. EA's Peter Moore tweeted them out recently. "Reaction has been mostly positive, people have seemed to enjoy them," said Levälahti. "Some deemed them to be a bit gimmicky, and I understand that."
I asked if he thought the game might benefit from a mode in which it is played in black and white, or if players might reset their screens to mono. He's not so sure that's a good idea: "It would be fun for a round or two, but the novelty would soon wear off."
Scroll down for some more of Levälahti's images, or visit his Flickr page for color images. Battlefield 1 comes out on Oct. 21. You can find out more about the game from our post-E3 report here. Look out for our coverage from the beta soon.