Battlefield Hardline News: Writer Tom Bisseell Talks About Dialogue, Characters, Tone Of Game (Seriously)

By Luca Saitta , Updated Sep 11, 2014 02:19 PM EDT

Battlefield Hardline writer Tom Bissell, a video game critic who also wrote non-fiction gaming book Extra Lives, has expounded upon his writing for the upcoming installment of the celebrated first person shooter series, and how it's not just the setting that's taking a hard turn left.

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Story in a shooter? Yeah, right. Especially Battlefield. Who cares! Turns out, that's what Tom Bissell thought as well, at first. "Here's the deal: I like and play military shooters. [Writing partner] Rob [Auten] does, too. But I was also getting bored with them, and had said as much publicly. As a game writer, especially, the military shooter poses real problems, not only in terms of verisimilitude but in the paucity of potential storytelling scenarios. Simply put, I never wanted to virtually invade China, Russia, or Iran again. We started to tell Ian [Milham, creative director at Visceral] that we didn't have much of a desire to write "whisky-tango/target-down"-type dialogue, so good luck with the project."

But wait! Two magic words were then spoken by Milham. Elmore. Leonard. "Something like that," [Milham] said. "Tonally, that's what I'm looking for." 

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You may or may not know this American literary giant (if not, hurry up to the library or bookstore), but surely you've seen a movie or TV show based on his works. Tarantino's Jackie Brown, Justified, Get Shorty, ... and many more. (I've only recently dug into his work myself and am making my way through his debut western The Bounty Hunters. It's a heck of a read - not grim 'n gritty as much as grim 'n witty. Rough stuff happens, but everyone has a droll - yet never overtly silly - disposition about it all.) 

"If there's a thing I'm proudest of in this game, though, I'd have to say it's the ambient thug dialogue, which is the kind of sentence only someone who writes video games will ever find himself saying," says Bissell. "Because we wanted our gameplay to encourage players to observe and monitor potential combat encounters before going live with gunfire, we needed a lot of guard and thug chatter. Hardline is stuffed with so much ambient guard and thug chatter -- the total game script is well over a thousand pages -- I suspect several people on the audio team would pelt Rob and me with spoiled food if given the chance. But all of us at Visceral wanted to breathe at least a little life into every possible corner of the game. So when you sneak around, listen to and watch those guards. I promise they don't talk about the weather or how they hate being guards. There are Easter eggs galore in their conversations, and other things, I hope, that simply make people laugh."

"People over plot" is the mantra for this game. Bissell concludes: "Video games are at their storytelling best when they introduce you to memorable people and give you memorable things to do, and everyone at Visceral did their best to ensure the Battlefield Hardline campaign had plenty of both."

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