With a thunderous walk and a hell of a punch, Titanfall appears destined to be the next big thing on the multiplayer front. Never one to shy away from those that have helped define it — the Call of Dutys, District 9s and, for those gaming relics out there, the late-’80s Sega gem, Abrams Battle Tank — here’s a game ready to take on the genre heavyweights.
We sat down with producer Drew Mccoy to talk robots, map design, and the pressures of the next generation.
MMGN: The first impression people have of Titanfall is “Call of Duty with mechs”, which I don’t think is a bad comparison because in some regards it certainly feels like that. What I’m most curious about is how you manage to balance the power of a Titan -- these massive, robotic beasts -- with the power of a human soldier, in a fast-paced, closed environment similarly designed to the maps of the Call of Duty franchise.
Drew McCoy: That’s been a really hard road to travel, but it’s flip-flopped like crazy. We didn’t want the Titans to feel like that massive, “Oh, I’ve gotta get a Titan, I’ve gotta get a Titan, as soon as I get it I’m going to obliterate everyone”.
MMGN: I went in thinking like that, and, yeah, the Titans are powerful, but it felt like a completely new approach to the battlefield, without really giving me any sort of advantage...it’s hard to explain.
Drew McCoy: Well we wanted it to be a choice, a play style, a change up. It’s actually really been hard. That’s where the mobility of the pilots came from. You’ve gotta be able to climb to the top of a roof, and get safe, or jump down on top of them. We spent months on making the interactions between smooth and awesome: Jumping on the back of a Titan and ripping the panel off and shooting them, or picking up these pilot weapons, or abilities that let you take on a Titan.
MMGN: Was there ever a moment where you had to stop and say, “Hmm, no, the Titans are too powerful, or not powerful enough”, because you say it’s been tough to find a good balance.
Drew McCoy: For a while the Titans were way too powerful. And we started scaling them back, and then the pilot’s were way too powerful. It’s this crazy walk we’ve had to go through. It’s taken years, but we’re pretty close now.
MMGN: Well it’s one of a few games I’ve rushed back to play. It has that fast, addictive, opportunistic style of Call Of Duty that I think a lot of people don’t “get”, but both that and Titanfall I feel are designed in such a way that they embrace that sort of gameplay. Which brings me to my next point: is there a philosophy of map design behind the drive of the gamestyle and pacing?
Drew McCoy: All maps have to take into account the Titans’ size and speed, as well as the pilots’ needs to hide and get away. It’s also been a huge learning process.
MMGN: More trial and error than with the Titans?
Drew McCoy: We went through so many different types of map design that a lot of our designers had to rethink and relearn all new strategies and figure out how they’re going to make an environment that can encompass both of these scales. It’s really two maps just kind of squished together. And it’s resulted in some of my favourite maps of multiplayer games, and I’ve been playing them since Doom. The instance something is out of line, you feel it and everything’s out of whack. So it’s a huge task.
We came out of E3 really excited, but also realising, 'Oh man, we can’t drop the ball on this'. This has to be perfect. - Drew McCoy.
MMGN: When Titanfall was initially announced, I was dragged in my its imagery, I thought it would make for a really strong narrative. I actually very naively just assumed it had a single-player campaign component. I’m curious about how the game’s story -- the need for a consistent, coherent, memorable story -- can be balanced next to the complexities and competitiveness of a multiplayer component.
Drew McCoy: Well, it’s not a thing we’re you’re always playing a story.
MMGN: Yeah, so how do you blend it into the multiplayer experience?
Drew McCoy: We don’t want the thing where it’s the tenth time you’ve played a piece of the story, because you’ve played every night for a month. Where you know who says what, and what door opens, and where something explodes. We don’t want it to be that. It’s a story you’ll play through but it is a multiplayer game. So you will be able to opt-in with your buddies in a Team Deathmatch with no story. But there are maps in a certain order, with certain story elements and certain characters. It’s not something we expect people to play the campaign mode in every day for a year.
MMGN: Has the technology pushed you towards the multiplayer-focused ideal? We always hear about the “power of the cloud”, but I still think it gets lost in translation in going from Microsoft to the every day gamer.
Drew McCoy: Out of E3 we briefly said, “Yeah, we’re using the new cloud thing it’s going to be cool,” but no one knew what it was or what it does. We’re using it for stuff that other studio’s COULD use it for -- but basically what it boils down is, Microsoft has data centers all of the world, with tonnes of servers in them, just sitting in a giant pool of resources that we can say, “Hey, you’re in Germany and you want to play? Here’s a German server for you”. It dynamically allocates German servers for you based on where you’re playing from.
MMGN: So it’ll help it delivering a better online experience?
Drew McCoy: Yeah, it will.
MMGN: There’s certainly a consistent level of confidence in the technology. The next generation has been lingering in the minds of gamers for a while. I think expectations are really high. Is this something you and the team think about and consider often?
Drew McCoy: We think about it all the time. I think the next generation makes it a little bit harder. It’s been eight years since the last generation started, so people are just clamouring for new hardware. New experiences. I think the last few years, games have stagnated a lot. People are holding back their new, big ideas. Gamers feel that. They know that. They’re waiting. All they want is that next awesome thing to grab on to . What better time than now? It’s like, oh man, we can’t screw this up. Especially when we came out of E3 with that sort of great response. We came out of there really excited, but also realising, “Oh man, we can’t drop the ball on this”. This has to be perfect.
MMGN: Well good luck with the launch, and I look forward to playing it again soon!