Titanfall Interview: Abbie Heppe On Evolving the FPS Formula

At a preview event a few weeks ago, I got the chance to have a chat with Abbie Heppe, the community manager of Respawn Entertainment. We discussed the Beta, which you can read about here, but also went on to talk about the way that Titanfall differs from the games that have come before it.

While not exactly a revolution introducing a whole new genre, the blending of freerunning and mechs into the competitive First Person Shooter is undoubtably an evolution of the formula of one of the world’s most dominant styles of multiplayer games.

Evolving COD’s Formula

I said that I thought that Titanfall would require a rethink of tactics from the standard competitive First-Person Shooter; “It’s an action game. It’s a hybrid of all of these other things; It’s a first person shooter, but it’s not a straight first person shooter. It’s action games, it’s fighting games. When you’re in the Titan, there’s a lot of those things that you employ, like spacing people out from you, and recovering your health, and using your super because each of the Titans has their own core that has their different special ability, and so you’re really having to combine a lot of different thought about what you’re doing in the world.

“There’s not necessarily the best tactic of running in and being the first person there and spraying bullets. You can have a lot of thought to how you’re playing the game. You can use the eject to get to places on the map that are otherwise inaccessible. If you learn to chain your wallruns together, you move really quickly through levels and get the jump on people.

“We have this idea that we call vertical thinking, which is when you’re in some of the maps that we haven’t shown yet where you can get a lot higher up and do wall-running that’s higher up, but coming down on people and attacking from above. It really keeps you on your toes.

“I felt like gamers would be really worried about how fast the game is, because it is fast, you move quickly, Titans move quickly, pilots move quickly, but at the same time what that allows you to do is live a lot longer, because if someone’s shooting you, you can get out of the way. You can drop down a hole, you can go down an alleyway, and you can be away from that, turn around, get behind them, and take out whoever is after you. You don’t have to strictly adhere to a couple of paths that go through a map because you can utilise walls, ceilings, roofs, buildings, cloaking, and you can really make your own way.”

Respawn-Entertainment-Titanfall-Statue-At-E3-2013

Piloting Empowerment

For anyone that regularly listens to the BRB UK podcast, you will know how much I like to talk about player empowerment. We discussed how elements such as the AI characters in the game helped make Titanfall feel more inclusive; “The design team has always put a lot of effort into making sure that not only will people who are great at first person shooter games enjoy Titanfall, but also that person that maybe only has a few minutes a day to play, and doesn’t have the twitch reflexes they used to have when they were younger.

“I’m not speaking from experience at all here! To make sure that they’re gonna have a really good time and they’re also gonna be able to pull off all the really cool moves in the game, like rodeoing Titans and dropping Titans on people.”

I mentioned the quantity of ‘wow moments’ and times where you just want to scream “Oh my God, did you see what I just did?!”; “Design has been really conscious of that, because one of the really big goals of Titanfall is to create, and this may sound strange, a really fully-fledge multiplayer experience.

“Often times multiplayer kind of doesn’t get the same quality of animation and art and everything that a single-player game would have, and we’ve really strived to make all of those things in all of their full glory available in a multiplayer mode, where then you’re creating these incredible action sequences that you don’t normally get outside of single-player.”

Perhaps not all of these changes will be immediately obvious and perhaps some will be unwelcome from an audience that is very vocal about communicating any problems they may encounter and also have become accustomed to some factors being a certain way. The introduction of Burn Cards in favour of Kill Streaks is a factor that should make the game more inclusive for some, but could risk alienating a hardcore group of gamers that are use to getting things their own way.

Elements such as the need for the losing team to retreat on a dropship seem generally widely popular and to fit neatly in with the design document that Respawn drew up for themselves. Time will tell how big the impact of Titanfall on the future development of FPS multiplayer is, but I want be at all surprised to see other games follow suit with the extraction point idea. I also expect that the speed of gameplay and fluidity of movement will be another factor that future releases will try and measure up to. In a highly competitive market, it pays not to stand still.

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