EA’s Microsoft exclusive multiplayer mech combat title; Titanfall, is almost upon us. Shane the Gamer’s Australian Editor, Darren Price, spoke with Respawn’s community manager Abbie Heppe about the upcoming game.
Darren: Hi Abbie. Now, Titanfall is a story-based multiplayer game, how does that work?
Abbie: It is, there’s a mode in the game that’s called campaign multiplayer and that’s what we’ve been showing off. We also have some more traditional multiplayer modes if you’re the kind of person that likes to just hop in and play with your buddies; in these you can get straight in and play your favourite mode or map.
In the campaign multiplayer you play as both sides, you are shown the story of each one. We didn’t want to make one side the good guys and the other the bad guys. Not just because it’s unrealistic, but also because people may find it hard to identify with bad guys and thus may not enjoy the story campaign from both sides of the game.
You are going to have characters that are going to be with you for the entire narrative. Each map has a different mission, a different part of the story that is told through that one. There are introductions and outros that show you escape and get out and characters that are going to give you context and narrative throughout the entire thing as well.
Darren: It sounds like a lot of thought has been put into the direction of the game, by why is there no single-player campaign?
Abbie: Yeah, that’s a great question. We have a load of really skilled single-player designers on our team. A lot of the core of our team is also good at multiplayer. It became the sort of challenge halfway through to see what would happen if we combined the two. What if we put our single player developers and designers on multiplayer and we start trying to do something that was more ambitious?
It was sort of risky because when you say there is no single-player a few people are always going to say “Really? Well screw you I’m not playing this”. We knew when we made the choice that it would alienate a certain type of gamer, but as the same time multiplayer is huge and I’d like to think that we are good at it. We’ll find out, obviously, when the game comes out, since this is our first game. But you know we had some really great opportunities especially with the ability to have dedicated servers and stuff through the cloud to really make an awesome robust multiplayer game.
Darren: You are obviously trying to convert a few die-hard single-player gamers over to multiplayer. How is a gamer that prefers playing single-player campaigns going to enjoy Titanfall?
Abbie: One of the things with bringing single-player stuff into the game, and this is something that I’ve been watching as they we show the game to people, is that even if you are not the most skilled shooter person you are still going to have a good time. You are still going to be able to do all of the cool stuff; all of the wall-running, all of the jumping on the back of the mech and all of the stuff that we show you in our trailers and our videos.
The hardest thing about playing multiplayer games right now, especially ones that are in their however many iteration, is that if you haven’t kept your skills up you spawn in and you die. You get shot and you are like “I wish I had time to get good at this but I don’t”. Players tend to have lot longer life cycles in Titanfall; between getting in the Titan and being armoured and being very powerful for a few minutes, to just being able to escape quickly. You don’t just spawn in and die.
I’ve had matches where I don’t die at all and it’s not necessarily uncommon. I’ve been paying attention to feedback from people that are more casual and they are like “I ran on the walls and I jumped on the back of a Titan, I ripped the thing opened and I ejected, I went really high and it was really cool”. And that’s awesome because I have lots of friends that are single player to and normally they are “I’m not going to even try to get into the multiplayer”. So I make them play it and they have a round like that.
But it could be any round, because it’s built for you to have a longer life and not just die right away, unless you just walk directly into the street and get stopped by a Titan. I tell people all the time you want to get a little room, scale the walls and you’ll be OK.
I think that there’s still quite a few people that just don’t ever want to get online, and I don’t know what I can tell them except to try it out it out because it’s meant for people who don’t like to spawn and then die.
Darren: Games like Call of Duty have always felt somewhat grounded in reality, albeit a bit action-packed. I often find sci-fi shooters can overdo it with the weapons. Did Respawn put any rules in place in order to ensure that game didn’t become too fantastical?
Abbie: It was a very conscious decision to have it be a very grounded, a very real piece of sci-fi. Especially when you are introducing new mechanics to players you need to have an anchor point. Players need to go into this world and know that a bed is a bed and a chair is a chair. When we are throwing twenty-foot robots and all this other stuff in, yeah we could go totally crazy and off the walls.
When stuff started leaking about the game and they found out that it was a sci-fi game a lot of people balked at it. I don’t know if it is the Star Wars sci-fi fans or the Star Trek sci-fi fans but there’s definitely an audience that likes the lasers and all the crazy stuff. There’s really like two types of sci-fi fan and they don’t always meet, aside from being generally sci-fi.
We went for the grittier type of sci-fi and I think that comes from the guys being used to making more realistic games. I don’t think that we had to say “stop putting glowing lights on everything. That looks ridiculous. Don’t make it so shiny.” It was sort of an aesthetic that a lot of our team already had. There’s always a process with iteration and design, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. We didn’t start out there and then have to rein it in. We started here and thought maybe we should make it more sci-fi.
Darren: I’ve played mech games before and always felt like a man-sized robot running around a tiny city shooting tiny men. When I played Titanfall, it actually felt like I was piloting a huge machine. How did Respawn achieve the sense of scale in the game?
Abbie: That’s such a crazy question. I think having the AI really helps, having the guys on the ground starts to give you that sense of scale. It’s probably a question that a designer or an artist is going to answer about a million time better than I will. It’s a feeling and to try to build a feeling requires components from different department. It’s partially an engineering question, partially art and it’s partially design.
Darren: You know what I mean, though?
Abbie: Yes, I do. I think the physical act of getting in your Titan gives you that perspective, because you are not just in a big vehicle; you get to transition into the Titan. You are also seeing buildings that are at your height, so you are getting and idea of how tall you are and how big you. Also, as a pilot you can climb up higher and see the map from more of an overlook. I think the combination of all of those things achieves that sense of scale.
I know what you mean. It’s almost an intangible way that the game tricks you into feeling like that. I’m probably giving you the worst answer right now, but I get it. It’s just a very difficult thing to articulate.
Darren: When I played the game I saw that there were three Titans. Are there more? Can you give me any details on customisation?
Abbie: Those are all the same class of Titan but what we’ve done is chosen the builds for you because we want you to come in and be able to choose something quickly and get out into the game. In the actual game you will be customising your abilities, your load-outs, your pilot, your abilities, your special stuff, your guns and all of that. We set them up ourselves for the demonstration so we could get you them straight into the game with a couple of load-outs.
Darren: I suppose it’s persistent, so people can level up and choose their abilities.
Abbie: Yeah, there’s a lot of progression stuff that we just haven’t got into talking about, partially because we are still tweaking all of that stuff. It feels like such a cop out to say we’re not really talking about that yet, but the reason is that we are not finished with a lot of that stuff. It’s there, it’s just not done.
Darren: Are there any other vehicles in the game?
Abbie: There are more Titans, we are just not showing them yet.
Darren: But just Titans?
Abbie: Yes. Titans are essentially a vehicle, because you are piloting them. There were some people that didn’t understand the game and thought it was pilots verses Titans. You are piloting a titan.
Darren: About the game mode, I’ve seen the domination capture-point style matches, what other game modes are there?
Abbie: We’re not talking about that yet. You played our deathmatch game and there’s our hard-point one. What I like about that are all the AI guys that you have. As soon as you capture a spot they rappel in and they go. It’s kind of awesome.
Darren: Titanfall is coming out on the Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC. Why no PlayStation version?
Abbie: You’d have to ask EA, but we did originally choose to be on Microsoft’s platforms. For us it was really nice to be able to focus on one platform, because we are not doing the Xbox 360 version, we are working with a studio to do that.
We originally started out doing current-gen. When we were making the transition to doing next-gen stuff we decided we wanted to focus our efforts on one platform. It’s also so nice because we’re working with a new engine, new for most people at the studio, it’s Source but we’ve made a lot of adjustments to it ourselves.
Being able to focus on one platform like that was key to making something really great. Since then a lot of the other stuff that’s usually a problem, like dedicated servers across all platforms, has not been an issue- which is a total bonus; but originally the decision was that we could narrow our efforts and focus on one platform.
Darren: And finally, a multiplayer games success depends on its community following. What is going to keep players coming back?
Abbie: If the gameplay is fun enough and the feeling of progression is there. There are a lot of gameplay elements that’ll keep people coming back.
On the community side we try to be as absolutely active with our community as we possibly can be; answering questions and having developers active on the forums. Later on we will be able to have events and things like that that we haven’t been able to do yet.
We go out and attend shows to meet the community and to meet fans. To be able to meet fans from all over the world and to get their feedback is awesome; to build those relationships now. We have fans that have been on the forums since day one and that’s like crazy because that was two years before we even announced the game.
We also try and do a lot of reach-out with our fans. We’ve got fans creating some really cool fan art this one guy is making these awesome Lego weapons. We have a bunch of fans that are doing video content and I basically try and keep in contact with all of them. I work with cosplayers and give them stuff to help them make costumes. I always provide assets and videos for fans to use as well as media, so they are not shut out of anything.
I want fans to always feel that they active participants in the story of Titanfall. There’s many ways to reach fans nowadays, so we need ways to engage them. It’s overwhelming and at the same time probably the most rewarding.
Darren: Thanks Abbie.
Abbie: You are so welcome.
Titanfall drops for Windows PC and Xbox One on 13th March in Australia and 14th March 2014 in New Zealand with the Xbox 360 version arriving in both territories later in the month.