It's no secret: Titanfall is about to drop, and everyone knows it's going to take the gaming world by storm.
The beta has finished up, and we're only a week out from release. I had a chance to speak to the man himself, Respawn co-founder Vince Zampella about how they came up with the idea, what the "power of the cloud" really means, and what the company hopes for Titanfall in the near future.
MMGN: When you moved on from (Call of Duty 4 developer) Infinity Ward to found Respawn, how long did it take you to kind of sit down with the crew and say, “Okay, this is the idea we’re going for, this is what we want to do!”?
Vince Zampella: You know I think it was more about, when we founded the company, there was an idea about what we wanted to go with. We got the team together, started coming up with ideas and it actually took us a while. Longer than it probably should have.
MMGN: And was it about looking at what you did really well, and taking it from there?
Vince Zampella: Once we kind of settled down on the core of what we wanted to make, it was about thinking, okay well what’s this team good at? This team’s good at multiplayer, we’re good at shooters. What can we do to push that forward? Do we want to do something familiar or do we want to do something that pushes the boundaries? So that was the main core: doing what we know, but also finding a middle ground where we could push those boundaries.
MMGN: Was there much discussion about the risks of creating a game like this? Even though it’s also coming out on PC and Xbox 360, both with such large install bases, this certainly seems like an ‘Xbox One’ game, a console with a comparatively small community.
Vince Zampella: Yeah well, like you said, the install base is at a point where we will be limited in terms of what we sell. I think everyone on Xbox One should buy it [laughs] but there is some limitation there.
MMGN: What are your sales expectations? Do you see Titanfall as the foundations for a franchise moving forward, more in line with as you said a small install base on the main console you’re pushing it out on, or do you imagine it could burst straight out of the gate?
Vince Zampella: We’re building a foundation as a studio, as a franchise. And if it does well, we’ll talk about it, we’ll look at a sequel. If it doesn’t, you know, then we’ll push it aside and look at where to go from there.
MMGN: Your experience is well-known within the industry, among gamers: everyone has jumped on Titanfall because of your history. From [Medal of Honor] Allied Alliance to Call of Duty 4, Modern Warfare 2. Those are big expectations. How can you balance the risks from a development perspective, taking in the ways in which the market has become so fractured and vague in the past decade, with gamer expectations?
Vince Zampella: Well I think the biggest risk would be if we made a game that would alienate one core audience.
MMGN: Do you think that audience has changed much in the past decade? Have expectations changed? Has the genre really changed at all?
Vince Zampella: I would say that the shooter genre hasn’t grown hugely over the past decade, so obviously now there are more people out there with different expectations, which makes it harder to meet those expectations. What we’ve seen so far with the success of this game, what that proves is that people know what they want, and it’s our responsibility to offer that.
MMGN: Okay, I want to hone in on the game itself, how it plays, how it feels. My experience thus far - about 15 hours - is that it feels good. I think that’s made CoD4 so great, and what helped kind of set the standard for that genre: it felt balanced, accessible, clean. What I am most intrigued about with Titanfall is how you balance player empowerment across two such differently controlled environments: how do you balance the power of the pilot, with that sense of empowerment the titan offers?
Vince Zampella: A lot of that took a long time to get right.
MMGN: Yeah, I spoke with [producer] Drew McCoy last August, and he told me about how the team would tweak the titans, then the pilots would be too powerful, then the titans would be too powerful. Was it something you guys were able to nail down quickly, or has it been a consistent struggle throughout development?
Vince Zampella: Obviously, progressively, we get closer and closer and closer, and there were times where we thought, ‘Okay, we’re 60 percent there, we’re 90 percent there’, and to find a place where it felt good. There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of arguments. It definitely wasn’t easy.
MMGN: I’m just really intrigued by it because I feel equally as energetic, powerful when I’m controlling a pilot, as I do when I’m in a titan. I mean, it’s apples and oranges, really, but there’s a level sense of empowerment I thought.
Vince Zampella: Yeah, I think that there’s even some … you know, if you take different snapshots during development, there would be people arguing one way or another: ‘Oh this is too powerful,’ or, ‘We need to limit the numbers of titans on a map,’.
MMGN: [laughs] Yeah I actually thought that …
Vince Zampella: Well look, there’s every different type of variation that we’ve tried, and what we’ve come up with is what we think is the perfect balance.
MMGN: The beta just finished up and I think a lot of gamers are curious about how the feedback from a beta influences development. What sort of feedback were you received, and how does this weigh on the sort of changes you make between now and releases?
Vince Zampella: To be honest it’s hard to use the beta as a full measure of feedback or how the final product will be, because it’s not the entire game.
MMGN: Of the feedback you did get?
Vince Zampella: What we have to look at, yeah, there was, where there were a few weapons that need to be tweaked down. So we’ve done a couple of tweaks. We’ll have to look at that mostly, though, when we ship the game. Once people start leveling up and unlocking everything -- the weapons, reaching maximum level -- we’ll see then if there’s anything that’s out of whack. At that point, it’s important that we’re not being too reactionary with a limited beta. That’s probably not the best way.
MMGN: There’s one thing I keep getting mixed responses about when I speak about Xbox One development, and that’s the “power of the cloud”. I don’t think gamers really understand -- or believe -- what’s being said about it. How has Microsoft’s cloud technology shaped Titanfall , and how can it evolve, or perhaps improve?
Vince Zampella: Well the entire back-end of our game relies on it and really helps shape your experience. You’re going to connect to the big data centres. I think most people know what to expect. I’m going to get a 100ms ping to my closest data centres. There’s not this scenario where, ‘Oh, I’m host, I have 0 ping,’ and then the next game where Jimmy is host and I have 200 ping. So we’re moving that host advantage. But really importantly we’re doing a lot of things we couldn’t previously do. All the AI is being run on the server. Previously it would be a case where we said, okay, we’ll reserve x-percentage of everybody’s system just in case there’s a server. Now we can say, ‘Okay, offload that’. We can do more. We can put in that AI. We can expand what the world is and not have to worry about any advantage for any one person. It’s really part of the core of the experience.
MMGN: Great. Well, we’re close to release now, I’m having withdrawals.
Vince Zampella: [laughs] Yeah, well I’m glad you enjoyed it.
MMGN: Thanks for the chat and good luck with the launch!
Vince Zampella: Thank you.