Popular first person shooters such as Call of Duty and Battlefield have pitted soldiers against enemy armies and terrorists, though Respawn Entertainment’s upcoming Titanfall brings robots into the mix. With the studio’s founders responsible for the wildly successfully Call of Duty franchise, expectation is high for the new franchise to deliver the same or better level of action. The game is already eschewing a dedicated single player campaign to focus on multiplayer, and the popular warzone setting has been traded for a fictional universe featuring titans and robots.
We caught up with Respawn Entertainment community manager, Abbie Heppe, to talk about the development of the studio’s multiplayer focused FPS game.
What’s the attraction of bringing a new IP such as Titanfall to a next generation console like Xbox One?
Respawn Entertainment community manager, Abbie Heppe (AH): It really fit in with our development cycle. It’s a bit of an awkward period when new consoles are coming out and the old ones are on the way out, and you want to reach people on both. It is always a unique period to be a part of, a part of video game history and the beginning of something new. We’re not a launch title, but close to the launch window.
What in particular was it about Xbox One that made it a good fit for Titanfall?
AH: After we talked to Microsoft, we established that we were going to do the game for Xbox One, as we saw the benefits of doing that. For example, we can have the physics and AI calculations done in the Cloud. With the new changes to online, it is also easier for us to update the game and the friends cap has been increased. We can also have dedicated servers across all platforms, including PC and Xbox 360. Microsoft has made some tweaks to the social and community aspect that enable us to create a more persistent experience.
How has it been working with Microsoft exclusively?
AH: We’ve had a great relationship with Microsoft, both in the past and now. One of the reasons why we were looking to do something with them was because we’re not a big studio. We started with approximately 30 people three years ago and went to 75 before settling down to 85 staff at the moment. When you’re a small studio like that, it is really nice to focus your efforts and concentrate on doing one thing instead of doing several things and supporting all of it. This is particularly true if you have a limited amount of engineers.
How close will the gaming experience on the Xbox 360 be compared to the Xbox One version?
AH: We’re trying to get as much parity as we can. We’re not working on the Xbox 360 version ourselves, but we’re collaborating with another studio that is taking care of it. We’re seeing updates on it and it is coming along very well. Both versions of the game are still in active development, so it’s hard to say what the actual difference will be, as we don’t know what’s there yet.
Was there any consideration to do a story based campaign? Or was it always designed to be a multiplayer title?
AH: We didn’t start game development knowing exactly what we were going to do. Everything evolves naturally over the course of development. For example, we didn’t have the titans at the beginning of the game. It was about making the decisions that made sense for the game and that way it played. It is a multiplayer game, but we do have a single player mode that takes the player on missions to each of the maps. There is also traditional modes that let you play competitively with your friends. Everything in the game naturally evolved over time, and it has been a fun challenge for our design team, particularly our designers that have previously made single player games, to figure out how to bring what they’re best at to multiplayer. It has been a really good fit for us, as we have many multiplayer designers and the studio’s DNA has a history of it. So it made sense to make a big, multiplayer focused game.
What are the benefits of making a multiplayer focused game over a single player one?
AH: For one, people end up playing the game for months on end. Multiplayer is also what our team is good at, and what they love to do. A lot of us are multiplayer gamers as well, and we play games such as Battlefield and Halo. That is what we love to play, and the very beginning of the studio started out with the intent of creating something that is fun, as well as something that we ourselves would like to play, and multiplayer definitely falls into that.
What is the challenge of going with the multiplayer only route?
AH: There are so many single player games that come out and people don’t really care that it has a multiplayer aspect to it, and vice versa. When you’re doing something that is online only, you have to worry about the player experience, so that is why we’re operating dedicated servers. You also have matchmaking, networking, and community challenges.
What are the community challenges?
AH: Multiplayer games are a completely different beast when it comes to the online community and fans. We all know that sometimes people aren’t at their nicest when they play online, and you definitely want people to go in and have the best experience they possibly can. With a single player game, you play by yourself offline and don’t interact with other people. So we have to think about that and how to encourage good online behavior by players, which is a unique challenge outside of pure technical considerations.
Titalfall features robots instead of human characters. What was the reason for this design choice?
AH: When that entered the game, it was on a smaller scale. We looked at modern military exoskeletons with the design and art team, and one of our artists builds amazing statues out of parts in his free time. He was building a smaller scale model that had the potential to be scaled up to human size. From there the idea for the characters came about. So it was not like we suddenly had the idea to do mechs. Instead, it happened more organically in the time our designers were working on concepts and experimenting with gameplay. We particularly had time to play with the art and see where it was going when the engineers were working on the engine.
The film industry has shown an aversion to have robot themed characters. Was there any concerns players would not identify with the robots in Titanfall?
AH: It was a bit controversial in the studio itself. There are a lot of people who heard the word mech and have all of these associations with it. People think that may mean the game is slower and more complicated controls, and Titanfall really isn’t that at all. Fortunately, the reception now is completely different to what we thought it could have been. It definitely did worry us, but now it is positive.
What changed that perception?
AH: Films such as Pacific Rim and Elysium suddenly came out. We thought the art style was similar when we looked at the trailers, even though we took inspiration from other sci-fi materials. It made us wonder if something was going through the global consciousness and this was trending at the moment. We weren’t talking to those filmmakers, and they weren’t talking to us, yet you started seeing mechs everywhere. [Laughs]
What aspect of the game is shaping up to be the most interesting?
AH: For me, it’s seeing all of the new abilities and the new stuff going into the game, because it gives gamers a tool to create unique moments during gameplay. All of the work put into balancing and to make it work is nice to see, and the wall running mechanic never gets old for me. It’s always exciting to see all of the new content going in, and the animations are not what people are expecting from a multiplayer game. I’m a hardcore shooter fan, but there is still so much in the game that is new to me.
Considering the studio’s heritage, is there anything in the game that long term Call of Duty players will pick up?
AH: It has a fluid frame rate running at 60 fps. We have several people on the team that used to work on the Call of Duty games, as well as other big franchises such as God of War. In the end, we’re really doing our own thing. For us it was all about starting over, beginning afresh, and not being worried where everyone else is at.
Want to read other video game interviews with key figures from Sony, Microsoft and more? Then check out Good Gear Guide's complete interview archive.