Respawn On Titanfall, Departing From Call Of Duty

By Nathan Grayson on June 20th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.

After eons of hush-hush legal drama and remarkably silent tinkering, Respawn Entertainment finally revealed Titanfall during E3. Gone are the rah-rah-rah military men – neck veins like titanium from a lifetime of barking orders – replaced by futuristic commandos and the mechs who love them. Or at least nearly bro-fist them into their cockpits. There’s some unintentional silliness involved, to be sure, but this one actually looks rather promising. It has agile, Hawken-esque mechs, fleet-footed infantry, a campaign that intriguingly fuses single-player and multiplayer, and – tornado hurricane sigh of relief – it’s not a Windows 8 exclusive. But how exactly does all of that come together? And how far along could the game actually be given that it was caught in the crossfire of a legal battle between Respawn and Infinity Ward until not too long ago? I spoke with Respawn’s Joel Emslie to find out.

RPS: Titanfall’s not a modern or near-future military shooter. I think that, alone, surprised some people – even after all the Infinity Ward departure drama. Why’d you pick this idea and setting?

Emslie: Well, I think we sat down and said, “OK, everything that we’ve all done in the past… let’s just try to do something as different as possible from that. Get away from it. We’re fatigued from all [the modern military stuff].” Respawn is 50 percent brand new talent, too, so we all just got in and tried to come up with something new.

We said, ‘Let’s just try to do something as different as possible from [Call of Duty].’

The real concept is, “Try to do something new, but build a bridge [from our previous works]. That’s really hard to do. We love multiplayer, and we had to build it from scratch. We’re working with a heavily modified version of the Source engine, so we had to go in there and really tweak things. We took a lot of the guys from the team to the gun range and got them to feel the guns. “More like this, more like that.”

The other thing we went after is the frustration with how fast you die in a lot of modern multiplayer shooters. It’s gotten to the point where you drop into a multiplayer match in some games, and you just get headshotted immediately. You just get dropped. There’s no chance. So we started experimenting with that, but without being cheap and turning people into bullet sponges.

So the concept of putting people in hard shells and trying to make that cool and giving them a second chance, we started messing around with that. The first iteration was a dude in a suit – like a diving suit. But then it quickly grew into this thing where it was like 20 people designing levels that could support both [human and mech] scales, which is crazy. Just getting the FOV of the camera to feel right and everything [was a challenge].

The other side of the game was making sure that pilots could interact well with mechs. We had to make sure the pilot could catch up, that the mech wasn’t moving too fast but also not too slow. Then we had to make sure the pilot could have the maneuverability and agility to take these things head-on.

So we took that core combat loop and experimented with it hard. It took a crazy long time to get right.

RPS: You said you wanted to move as far as possible from your previous works with Titanfall. Was there ever a point where Respawn’s first game wasn’t a shooter?

Emslie: I think that, when you’re just starting out and you have a crew of people with a talent for doing a particular thing really well, it’s good to try to pursue that. We have a DNA within the crew, and we played that card. We went for it. So there’s a lot of ideas on the shelf for Titanfall that we haven’t gotten to yet. Some of them go way out, and some of them come closer into the FPS genre.

Really, for the designers, doing something different meant, “Let’s not just do the same old single-player/multiplayer dynamic. Let’s try to integrate this stuff.” Which is incredibly difficult. To try and have AI in the multiplayer game space takes tons of work. We have skits happening. You can go into rooms and see pilots fist-fighting. You can help a guy if you want to. The AI is written in such a way where it really acknowledges the players. It acknowledges good and bad. You can come in [to where your guys are] and you’ll get a fist bump. Or enemies might see you in a Titan, and they’ll kind of stumble and run away from you. They get intimidated.

RPS: Relative to Call of Duty, what’s your typical map size like? It still looks a bit confined compared to, say, Battlefield, but it seems like the mechs also necessitate some pretty wide open spaces. 

Emslie: The beauty of mixing your multiplayer and bringing single-player in there is the fact that the crew isn’t jockeying for resources [between the two modes]. Everyone gets everything. So, with that said, the map sizes are really dependent on the type of story we’re telling with that map. Multiplayer campaign tells the story from both sides. We’ve shown a thing for the Fracture map where you’re seeing it from the militia side and you’re in a dropship coming down, but that’s just one scenario. We have others as well, and the map will expand and contract based on that.

But really, it’s about trying to get it so that players can maneuver in and get a cat-and-mouse thing going. Also, not making it so densely packed that [it becomes unmanagemable]. With AI grunts plus player characters and Titans, it’d just be annoying at that point.

RPS: Have you tried to beef up infantry characters as well? Make them less quickly killable – especially with all those mechs running around?

Emslie: What we’re showing right now is not really a shield, but it’s a regenerative bit of health. There’s lore behind that in the game that we’ll go into later.

RPS: Has the team done much research on Splash Damage’s Brink? It had a very similar goal – meld single-player and multiplayer while telling a big, ever-evolving story – but it produced middling results at best. 

Emslie: Well, we play everything. There’s some hardcore gamers in the office, there’s some casual gamers. But the entire team as a whole has a voracious appetite for games, and we’re always drawing inspiration.

RPS: But Brink had longevity issues that I think could crop up here as well. What happens when players finish the story? Is the story just a shell for the traditional multiplayer grind of unlocking and posting 1080 no-scope dubstep videos to YouTube? 

Emslie: There are definitely other modes that we’re gonna go into detail on later. Right now, there are two sides that we’re showing: the sports side, which you can probably easily see happening already, and there’s our multiplayer campaign side.

We’ll go into more detail on [the longevity issue] later, because I think it’s a really good question, but it should be answered properly. When we can really break it down in detail.

RPS: At Infinity Ward, you guys pretty much pioneered the modern videogame setpiece with Call of Duty. Will Titanfall go for any super scripted moments of pure ridiculousness, or are mechanics the main focus here? Because to be frank, lots of scripting seems like it’d be pretty annoying in a game like this.

Emslie: We’re stepping away from that stuff as best we can. Honestly, though, we have huge scripted single-player moments happening in multiplayer. The current demo has an intro and an outro, and we can go further with that. More details to come.

RPS: Is there any pressure to top what you did with Call of Duty? Coming from the game development studio meltdown of the century – and a creatively motivated one, to boot – do you feel like you have something to prove? 

Emslie: The pressure we put on ourselves is, we’re a start-up. It’s really hard to be at a start-up and survive and ship a game. That’s the pressure we feel. We’re also doing a brand new IP that no one ever heard of prior to these last few days. So we put pressure on ourselves to make Titanfall a success and keep our company going. That’s the goal.

RPS: After all that craziness, how long did it take you all to get back into a place where you could just make a game? I mean, the game looks nice, but is it really all that far along?

Emslie: On day one we were doing it. Like I said, there were other people that weren’t dealing with old stuff, old drama. It helped once we finished the lawsuit. When we were done with that stuff, it was a big relief. But the whole time we were in the middle of that, the crew was business as usual, miring away. Doing that in our spare time.

When we first began, we were essentially squatting. We hadn’t worked out a lease yet. So the first year of Respawn was really just getting our bearings, getting our tech together. Then we developed an idea and pursued it. So we’ve been around for just over three years, and Titanfall is the result of maybe a year-and-a-half or two years of just heavy thinking and experimentation. It’s only been hardcore development toward the end here, leading up to E3.

RPS: [PR then informs me that I'm out of time, and I spill hot tears all over my remaining questions about things like mech customization and modding.] Thank you for your time.

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74 Comments »

  1. PatrickSwayze says:

    Not windows 8 exclusive?

    TIME TO GET MY FUCKING STOMP ON.

    Can’t wait.

    Call Of Duty 4 Modern Warfare was a game changer at the time, and I’ve never got along with CoD games since then.

    That was the last one about the horror of war – complete with quotes; before it became the constant tacticool nonsense.

    I always wanted a future COD (I don’t count the Treyarch games, the gun play always feels dreadful) and I’m looking forward to Titanfall highly.

    • Alextended says:

      The gunplay in Treyarch games was identical to the IW games that preceded them though.

      • eliza321 says:

        up to I looked at the draft four $6308, I have faith that…my… neighbours mother was like truley taking home money in their spare time at there labtop.. there dads buddy had bean doing this for under twelve months and as of now cleard the loans on there villa and bourt a great Jaguar E-type. this is where I went, kep2.com

    • LionsPhil says:

      Don’t worry; EA have got their mitts on it, so there’s room for publishing hatred and stupidity yet.

    • rapier17 says:

      Likewise, CoD4 was my last CoD game, it was great. I still regard ‘Crew Expendable’ as one of the best opening missions of any game I’ve played.

      Be interesting to see how this develops as time goes on – looks quite interesting from that E3 video.

  2. GunnerMcCaffrey says:

    “We said, ‘Let’s just try to do something as different as possible from [Call of Duty].’”

    Then we made a military shooter.

    • pakoito says:

      With hitscan weapons and autoaim.

      • ch4os1337 says:

        Hitscans fine and I doubt there will be aim assist on the PC version….

        • pupsikaso says:

          You mean you doubt there will be a PC version.
          I mean if it’s not Piracy then surely the geeks on PC are so broke they cannot even afford PCs that are powerful enough to run modern games! It’s not as if any PC bought in the past 3 years is more powerful than “next-gen” consoles.

          • Brun says:

            They’ve already confirmed that there will be a PC version. I know it’s trendy to hate on anything related to CoD but seriously man, now you just look like a troll.

          • Alextended says:

            He’s just trolling at all directions, not COD specifically. Every major COD has been on PC.

          • dmoe says:

            Look up your sources before talking shit please.

          • Primey0 says:

            They have confirmed a pc version you retard

    • botd says:

      It’s exactly like that Plants Versus Zombies shooter dev interview the other day. They wanted to do something different and came up with a shooter.

    • derbefrier says:

      becasue all military shooters are the same amirite?

      Arma 3 = Call of Duty = Red Orchestra=Battlefield

      • pupsikaso says:

        In many aspects they are equivalent, yes.

        • Alextended says:

          He’s talking about them being the same, not if in many aspects they’re equivalent or have similarities. Obviously they’re military shooters. Is your final “yes” directed to that? If so, it’s quite obviously wrong. Much like every other genre and style of game encompasses tons of different experiences in the form of different games. If playing one game in a genre meant you’ve experienced all it has to offer the industry would have died over a decade ago.

          • pupsikaso says:

            If you haven’t noticed the “AAA” industry HAS died a decade ago. Hollywood syndrome had taken over around 2003 or so.

          • Alextended says:

            You’re right, except it hasn’t died, you’re even saying that yourself right after claiming it did die correcting it into being taken over by whatever, and you’re once again adding qualifications the poster you reply to did not, as I never spoke solely of the AAA side, whatever you want that to mean in this case, just as the poster you replied to before wasn’t merely talking about similarities among games in the same genre. You’re such a silly and cutely desperate angsty troll.

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        Um. What? Are you saying that all those military shooters are “something as different as possible from” each other? If so… then I think the games industry would like to hire you.

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          darkChozo says:

          Personally, I was expecting Respawn’s first game to be a toasted blueberry muffin and am highly disappointed.

          • gi_ty says:

            Indeed that would have been pre-ordered ASAP. Day 1 DLC Creamy Butter!

    • LionsPhil says:

      With dreary “realistic” graphics and angry mans.

      • subedii says:

        Subjective and all but jump pack parkour and ultra-mobile mechs put this squarely outside of “realistic” for me.

        That and, it’s hard for me to call the footage dreary. Actually, despite not liking the games too much that’s something I’ve always felt the CoD guys did right, they didn’t deliberately GrimDark everything and turn the visuals to monochrome (except for maybe Chernobyl). I mean yes, destroyed landscape and all, but in general the colour scheme is fitting for the setting.

        Angry Mans I’ll grant, but then off the top of my head the only multiplayer FPS I can really think of that doesn’t ‘do’ Angry Mans is TF2.

    • KhanIHelpYou says:

      Having given it some thought, maybe they should try to own it instead.

      I mean really, looking at the gameplay with the snappy, bullet lazer, super quick TTK gunplay and xp bubbles over everyones heads along with “SECURE THAT LZ SOLDIER” type comms chatter they arn’t fooling anyone. This is still very much still Call of Duty.

      But what if we think of it this way:
      This is the sequel Modern Warfare SHOULD have had.

      If the series had gone COD:MW -> COD:Black Ops(maybe? They were bound to milk it for at least one direct sequel) -> COD:Titanfall would that not have saved the series from all the hate it gets for stagnating. Hell, it might have even lead to the popularisation of jetpacks in new FPSs (surely jetpacks could never outstay their welcome)

    • Syra says:

      That was my first thought… Yay military online shooter!

    • JackShandy says:

      Yeah, they’re a company who’s very good at making shooters, so they made a shooter. Within those confines, it’s pretty different.

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        colossalstrikepackage says:

        I’d love it if they could recapture something special to this game space. Like lying in a field waiting for a line of pissed off soviet dudes and armour to not step on you. Something that blurs the line between man and machine would be interesting.

  3. pupsikaso says:

    “Departing from Call of Duty”
    Looks at screenshot.
    Looks like Call of Duty in space to me…

    Also, people dieing too fast in modern AAA shooters? What? It takes like half a clip to kill people in the last CoD that I played. AND THAT’S NOT FAST ENOUGH. Player characters need to die from ONE hit. Like in good ol’ instagib games in Q3 and UT/UT3.

    That way the emphasis is more on skill and movement (and skill with your movement, of course), and not the modern kind where your movement is purposely restricted as if you’re walking in mollases and the only real skill involved is keeping your crosshairs on your target for long enough for it to die.

    • kwyjibo says:

      Watch the videos, don’t just look at screenshots.

      Call of Duty is not about movement or agility at all.

      • pupsikaso says:

        How astute of you. As if nobody knows that Call of Duty is about beeing an on-rails shooting gallery.

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          darkChozo says:

          Yes, because a criticism of Call of Duty singleplayer is totally applicable to a multiplayer-only title.

          • pupsikaso says:

            Who’s talking about singleplayer? Who even PLAYS singeplayer? The last CoD game that I had installed and played (CoD4) had two shortcuts – one for multiplayer and one for singleplayer. For some reason after installation only the multiplayer shortcut was put on my desktop, and it was a year before I even found out the game HAD a singleplayer.

            But back on point – CoD multiplayer is “W+Mousebutton1″

            That or you camp, at which point it doesn’t even have rails.

          • Brun says:

            CoD’s multiplayer is all about knowing the maps and where the best places for non-stop camping are. It’s about as close to on-rails as you can get in a multiplayer environment.

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            darkChozo says:

            “On-rails” is a nonsensical criticism of a competitive multiplayer shooter, at least without some serious square-peg-in-round-hole-ing or some crazy new direction in map design. The entire point of an on-rails shooter is that you don’t have any choice in where to go, while in CoD MP you arguably have the opposite situation, in that the maps are largely web-y and mostly directionless. There may be optimal paths and locations and such, but that’s hardly on-rails, that’s just every competitive thing ever.

            Likewise, “shooting gallery” suggests that you’re firing at a large number of low-threat targets from a mostly stationary position behind cover (you know, like a real life shooting gallery). CoD certainly has some of that in its multiplayer (well, if you ignore the “low threat” bit), but very much not to the degree that the singleplayer does.

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            Lamb Chop says:

            The best CoD players move constantly, track, flank, and definitely do not camp. It does encourage it for other players though, since people with faster reflexes/higher skill make it hard to stay out in the open and encourage people to keep static, advantageous positions. But campers as such can never make an individual impact on a game in the way that people who move dynamically do. Of course, I haven’t played any CoD since MW2, but I’m sure the core mechanics haven’t changed at all.

    • Alextended says:

      Those screenshots do not look like “space” to me. Well, I guess earth or whatever given planet is called in a game’s lore is in space, but still, lol…

      Also, go for headshots, then they go down quite fast in most modern shooters.

      While instagib was fun in Quake-likes I wouldn’t call that their achievement which was in balancing all the different weapons, pick ups, maps and so on in the normal modes.

    • riverman says:

      the last multiplayer shooter I played was CS:S, which well I enjoyed to a point, failed to captivate me the same was that 1.3-1.6 did.

      anyhow, what I hate about 99% of modern shooy games is the fact that a bullet to the chest Ain’tNoThang. motherfucker, if you shoot me with a bullet, I want to be killed, not need to duck behind a crate for a moment while I squeeze out the bullets

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        xao says:

        So, like every Call of Duty’s hardcore mode?

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        Lamb Chop says:

        Just think of it as a way to shrink the hitbox. Really, everybody’s aiming for heads, and the body’s a kind of consolation prize. Sorry, you missed but not by so much that we can’t give you a little bit of damage as a reward. It is a little silly though because it makes it more obviously a game of whack-a-mole.

  4. The JG Man says:

    Watching the initial game-play trailer, I was interested. It looks like a fast paced MP FPS, but it looks pretty damn slick. The movement in and out of a mech looked silky smooth and the jet-packs well, who doesn’t like those? It screams more “Drop in, 15 minutes of play” per session, as opposed to a serious “Must plan out 2-3 hours where I can play this game” sort of thing. And that’s fine.

    Besides, jet-packs and mechs in one game. Sweet.

  5. kwyjibo says:

    Is this the Source 2 engine? Or just Respawn’s version of the original?

    • Alextended says:

      The official word is parts of the engine have been rewritten (presumably by themselves). I suppose eventually it could be revealed that it’s actually Valve’s own work on updating the engine for future use. Either way, it looks solid and I would have never guessed it’s Source as it doesn’t seem to suffer from its issues.

  6. pupsikaso says:

    Creative bankruptcy.

  7. engion3 says:

    What is this obsession with combining multiplayer and singleplayer? Bungie’s new title is trying to do this as well. Did Dark Souls spark this? It seems like it will lessen the overall experience. Instead of being focused solely on one player all mission objectives and story elements must be more generalized (such as giant boss bullet sponges) and if the game is actually dependent on cooperative gameplay it could be frustrating with stupid teammates. Maybe it’s just me but I see no positives to forced co-op experiences.

    • subedii says:

      IIRC They’re trying to take their cue more from titles like Left 4 Dead in terms of multiplayer campaigns. Although with less zombies, and presumably, the opposition played by humans. Although I suppose it’s possible they’ll also have a comp-stomp mode.

      Judging by the trailer, even though it’s clearly multiplayer gameplay, it does also seem to have a heavy narrative element to it

    • Brun says:

      Destiny is unabashedly an MMO/Co-Op only game, I don’t think there was ever any reasonable expectation of single player in that game.

    • aldo_14 says:

      I’m tempted to be cynical and suggest it’s a way to keep people online and, ergo, prevent 2nd hand sales by linking copies to user accounts.

      On the other hand, I remember loving coop in the original serious sam, so I can’t really criticise too much.

      • tnzk says:

        I’m of the opinion it’s the new fad that developers want to try mine the shit out of. If I was a game dev, I’d find it a good challenge. If I was a smart dev, I’d realize that thousands of my colleagues are thinking the same thing, though.

  8. ch4os1337 says:

    I showed this game to Heaton at Dreamhack recently, he said what we all should be saying. As long as as the shooting mechanics are good the game looks great.

  9. ResonanceCascade says:

    Looks like a silly, fun multiplayer FPS. Considering the fact that almost NO ONE bloody makes those anymore, I am intrigued.

  10. FakeAssName says:

    How come no one has mentioned section 8?

    Minus the better visuals & some details of how things are implemented, it sounds just the same.

    • pupsikaso says:

      Perhaps because Section 8 was such a huge failure? Both in terms of design and execution.
      “Hey, let’s create a game where auto-aim is the main mechanic! And let’s slap on GFWL, too, that’s modern and hip right?”

      • FakeAssName says:

        You are an idiot, you have no clue what you are talking about.

        Here’s a cracker, parrots like crackers right?

    • Alextended says:

      Thankfully for these guys, games are played, not just listened to, so this is bound to get some fans if it’s competently created by virtue of playing well, differently to anything else, superficial similarities and on paper bullet points be damned.

  11. subedii says:

    Personally I was intrigued from the footage largely because the mechs reminded me a LOT of Patlabor. Basically not mega-sized and lumbering, but just big and armoured enough to be infantry support and designed to be mobile and versatile.

  12. Viroso says:

    “Is the story just a shell for the traditional multiplayer grind of unlocking and posting 1080 no-scope dubstep videos to YouTube? ”

    And this is why I like RPS.

    • lijenstina says:

      Are these kind of interviews with developers just a shell for creating publicity for a game that has yet to be released and prove it’s worth ? :)

  13. Jimbo says:

    It’s a shame they weren’t asked about which features will be missing from the PC version. Seems kinda important.

  14. SuicideKing says:

    The dude sort of dodged your second question entirely, didn’t he?

  15. TT says:

    So they made Cod again, while claiming they are working on something completely different humm..
    Where they blushing N. Grayson?
    I did enjoy the first Modern warfare so maybe its all good in the end

  16. Eggy says:

    Looks like COD to me.

    Weightless weapons without any recoil.
    No teamplay, run and gun.
    Mech or infantry gameplay looks the same to me.

    I’m more a BF guy.

  17. kaffis says:

    I breathed a sigh of relief when I read “Not Windows 8 Exclusive” — then, I had a moment of panic, skipped to the end of the trailer, and moaned. EA.

    So, am I to infer that it’s an Origin Exclusive, which is probably even worse?

    • Maniac says:

      They’re not a studio owned by EA, EA is simply helping them publish the game (Through the now-defunct-to-new-additions EA Partners label), Respawn even get to keep the entirety of the IP and whatnot, AND EA Partner games do indeed tend to show up on steam and your various other sites…

      And then theres the bleedingly obvious fact that theres no way in hell, (atleast I doubt) that Valve would let them utilise the Source engine without the game being put on Steam…

      So there, had you read the interview you’d know most of this… I think… Thats what interviews are for, mind you, not just to show the shiny new trailer :P

      But yeah, good news all around, in my opinion.
      And really, I dont specifically hate EA when its the partners label, since games published through it arent under much control of EA regarding things such as DRM, DLCs, where the game is put and how they utilise the IP (Since they get to keep it just about every darn time… Luckily.)
      So all in all: Respawn got lucky on this ‘un.

  18. medwards says:

    I thought the Brink question was really good and I appreciate pushing through the “We play all kinds of games so that should vaguely address your question right?” response. So annoying too, like how does that address the fact that Brink tried something similar and it bombed? Then later “Oh this is a really good question but we need more time to answer it properly” which I figure is code for “You ask annoying questions so we’re going to reschedule you for never.”