Respawn On Titanfall's PC Version, Modding, DLC
Mechs: On PC Before They Were Cool
Titanfall is great. There is no getting around that, much like there is no getting around a giant robot's titanic rhino-SUV foot cuff when it is stomping on you. But Respawn's largely treated Titanfall like an Xbox game, preferring to let the PC version live in its all-too-proprietary shadow. So far, we know that our titans will unfortunately be tethered to Origin and... yep, that's pretty much it. So I sat down with game director Steve Fukuda to find all about PC bonuses, configurations, balance issues that might arise from different control schemes, modding possibilities (probably don't get your hopes up early on), and Respawn's dislike of EA/Activision-style DLC cycles. It's all below.
RPS: We know all about your plans for Xbox One, but how are you catering Titanfall to PC as a platform? What sorts of tweaks and upgrades are you making, if any?
Fukuda: We've got the FOV slider. We've got mouse acceleration in there. Those sorts of things. But in terms of gameplay, the game is going to play exactly the same on PC.
RPS: Hm, that's a bit of an odd choice given that I could see guns like, say, the lock-on-powered Smart Pistol being vastly less significant when everyone can aim really quickly with a mouse. You're not rebalancing any weapons or items for PC in the slightest?
Fukuda: I think the weapon itself works quite well even in the PC context. We've played with it and tested it in the office. It does well with both new players and experienced ones.
RPS: Are you going to allow for private servers or anything like that?
Fukuda: We haven't made any promises to that extent. We're taking into account a lot of feedback from the community and our intention is to evolve the game and develop it further. We definitely have plans. On Xbox, we have the servers of Xbox Live compute, which don't force any one player to take on the responsibility of the host at any one time. Having that operate on a very large scale is key to the game.
RPS: What about modding? Is that on the table? Are there even tables in the Titanfall universe? I don't suppose eternally warring pilots and their mechanoid battlebros would have much use for them.
Fukuda: Technically, nothing is off the table. It's just a question of priorities and time and whether or not we can get to it while working on the game as a whole.
RPS: But you're not barring people from modding the game or anything like that, right? I mean, even if you never get around to releasing a toolset, will you still allow people to reshape Titanfall as they see fit? And what about custom levels?
Fukuda: On launch there's not gonna be any way to mod the game. But it's something we'll definitely look into. Not for launch, though. Not for launch.
I understand there's a lot of desire to adjust a game to be how you want it to be. But something that's very important to me is that we make the game very consistent. It's very carefully tuned. It's very tweaked and dialed in. We don't want someone to get the wrong impression of the game if somebody, say, changes a lot of the properties. Perhaps if we come up with a form and a structure by which we can let people know, "Hey, this is the no-holds-barred Wild West area," perhaps we can look into something like that.
RPS: Are you looking into Oculus Rift support for the PC version?
Fukuda: I can't really speak that much for it, but I know one of the guys in the office is messing with it. But I don't know what we're doing with it long term.
RPS: While I was playing, I noticed that game balance tended to favor teams who got off to a good early start - got their Titans out as soon as possible, etc. It was tough to turn the tide after that. Are you tuning the game such that comebacks will be more feasible?
Fukuda: So we call that the Voltron effect. People assemble - "form Voltron" - and sort of roll the other team. That whole element of it. To a large extent, that tends to go away in practice with matchmaking and putting similarly skilled players together. As players also learn how the game works, there's an initial aspect of [lopsided wins and losses]. But the good thing is that everybody ultimately gets Titans no matter what. There are also Burn Cards to confer various advantages. There's that bit of randomness that allows even new players an opportunity to have an advantage.
But at the same time it still remains a very skill-based thing where you need to remain situationally aware and understand the different nuances of the abilities. You can combine them to form new techniques and adapt to different environments. So it's not like the competitive nature goes away.
RPS: The tutorial in the version I played took place in a sci-fi space pod, and it seemed to suggest some pretty far-ranging story/setting possibilities. How varied will Titanfall's locations be? Will any be particularly exotic or outlandish? So far, we've only seen fairly standard - though very nicely structured - city/nature levels.
Fukuda: There's gonna be a variety of environments. One of the things that was tricky about this game was figuring out where people would focus their attention. What would they take at face value or for granted? We don't want people going, "Why are there Titans? Why do people have wall-running? I don't get that." We want people to sit down and have it all click. "Of course they have wall-running! How else are you supposed to stay away from a Titan?" At that point you've already got them. They're not thinking, "Why, why, why?" So one of the last things we want to do is add more potentials for distracting players like that.
So that meant a lot of discussions with artists, a lot of heated debates about how far to push the look of the levels. Should we make things look like an alien exotic world? No, that's too crazy. People are gonna be totally distracted by that. So we've got coffee shops and cars with four wheels. Trees look like trees. There are stairs. It's not super fancy high-tech. It's a very relatable, grounded, used kind of future. It's not futurism. We're not predicting the future in any analytic, scientific way. It's about making people say, "I get it." Having that kind of gut reaction.
RPS: What about in the future? Do you think you'll release more exotic levels as DLC or something?
Fukuda: I think there's definitely a possibility we could do something like that. As players become more accustomed to what Titanfall is, that gives us more room to try and expand on its world. Take more risks, basically.
RPS: How will DLC function in general? Is it going to be a regular flow of map packs ala what you did back at Infinity Ward on Call of Duty? Or are you going bigger and more ambitious?
Fukuda: We haven't announced any of the exact details yet. We definitely have a really long list of things we'd like to do. Right now, though, we're focused on shipping Titanfall and getting to that point. But we have a long list of ambitions we'd like to pursue.
RPS: How will you treat it as a whole, though? Are you looking at Titanfall as a platform, a game you can evolve for years to come? Or are you going to do a DLC "cycle" and then put it out to pasture?
Fukuda: I think the notion of a traditional DLC cycle is kind of a knee-jerk thing. It's a thing publishers insist upon. They want it at a certain time. There's a pattern to it. Personally speaking, I'm not too thrilled about how rote it is. I'd definitely like to do some new things with respect to Titanfall. I'm not sure how soon we can break out of that pattern, but our intent is to do something different. Perhaps not right away, but eventually.
RPS: What are some of the craziest ideas you scrapped for the game's initial version?
Fukuda: Hmmm. Well, I can't say too much because we might still use some of them, but for a while we were very into the idea of getting people who don't like shooters to be involved in our game. We tried some pretty wild experiments involving players who weren't even shooting things. We got somewhere with those experiments, but it wasn't quite far enough. It was little too far off-axis.
RPS: Would they have controlled movement or something? Multiplayer mech QWOP?
Fukuda: I don't want to get too far into details. That's an example.
RPS: But you are eschewing single-player entirely, which conventional gaming industry wisdom would tell you is a big risk. Granted, obligatory single-player campaigns are, in my opinion, a blight, but Top Industry Execs probably think you're mad. But you still have a story. How does it work?
Fukuda: I've been making single-player a long time. We needed to do something different. We couldn't just keep doing what we always did. I'm sure the audience would love to see the same thing from the same people - see the band play the same song - but we didn't want to do that. We still want to bring back that cinematic experience, but we also wanted to challenge ourselves. We decided to go into multiplayer land and bring the cinematic experience with us.
We want players to accept our universe. That they'd take it for granted when they smoothly transition into the Titanfall universe. And one of the ways we made that possible is by taking a cinematic multiplayer approach where you have intros and stuff for levels that set the stage. They answer questions like, "Why are you fighting? Who are the characters? Who are the players?" And then having scripted sequences and special dialogue happen in those levels. It gives a sense of context that's very important.
You also sometimes get story bits in the lobby. And we have these little cameras that pop up with characters during the levels. They give you info on how you're doing. In campaign multiplayer, you also get some back-and-forth banter. There's unique sequences in those levels that show what's going on. There's a lot of hit and miss in the experience, to be honest. You could be trying to kill something and occasionally you'll see something happen behind the person you're fighting. You're picking up story info in a fairly serendipitous, emergent type of way.
RPS: Do we get to bond with a pet robot dog over the course of campaign multiplayer?
Fukuda: Only in your imagination.
RPS: Out of curiosity, is there any interest at Respawn in making a single-player extension of the universe?
Fukuda: Nothing's off the table. It's possible, but we haven't really thought about it. I think for now we'd say no, but nothing's impossible.
RPS: Thank you for your time.