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Titanfall 2 interview: Talking single-player, eSports, and bonding with your titan

Titanfall 2 developer Respawn has learned a lot in the two years since the launch of its debut title, Titanfall. The multiplayer-only shooter won a stack of awards and was relatively well received by critics and gamers alike, but the studio has set high expectations for itself to go above and beyond what the first game was able to achieve.

With the addition of a dedicated single-player campaign, and a stack of new multiplayer features, Titanfall 2 promises to be a true evolution of the first game’s best traits.

Between playing the game on the gamescom 2016 floor, I had a chance to sit down with art director Joel Emslie and Respawn COO Dusty Welch to talk about everything Titanfall 2, from the inspiration of the single-player campaign and the new grappling hook, to the evolution of the pilot-titan relationship.


FENIX Bazaar: So I just spent three hours playing the game, and another 30 minutes checking out the single-player presentation you have set up here. It’s obvious that there’s a big difference in how each mode plays, unlike the first game where the “campaign” was more like a tutorial. How did you start that process of creating a campaign for an experience that was so aggressively competitive?

Joel Emslie: It was really interesting. The community was loud and clear that we should consider doing single-player. We’d been doing single-player for years before starting Respawn and doing Titanfall, but we made it clear with Titanfall 1 that we wanted to tackle online and figure out the server and netcode, really iron that out. It was a new console generation, so it was a huge job to figure that out.  It’s interesting, you normally develop the other way around in single-player first and then multiplayer. At Respawn we have two separate teams, a multiplayer team and a single-player team. Bringing that multiplayer experience into a single-player space was really our goal. The guiding light was listening to players, looking at what they wanted for multiplayer.

FENIX Bazaar: And what did they want?

Joel Emslie: Ultimately what they wanted was a way better multiplayer.

FENIX Bazaar: Obviously…

Joel Emslie: Yeah, we’re on the PS4 now, which is a big deal as well. Fans wanted more Titanfall, but people wanted to explore the Titanfall universe in a narrative sense as well, so that was a challenge to bring the single-player.

FENIX Bazaar: And you worked on Modern Warfare 2, a lot of the Respawn team is spread out across the Call Of Duty franchise…

Joel Emslie: Oh yeah, a lot of the team was there during Medal Of Honor. Dusty was there for Call Of Duty 1! There is a pedigree there, a brain trust there of lots of experience and great ideas. But adapting that to the Titanfall universe has been a challenge.
titanfall-2-3 FENIX Bazaar: That’s a long time between drinks. It’s been, what, seven years since MW2? How much and in what ways has the entire process changed? Because gamer expectations are so different from 6 months ago let alone seven years ago.

Joel Emslie: Was it tough? Massively. Massively. From an art standpoint it’s a huge shift. With Titanfall 2, we’ve added PvR, physical-based rendering, but the last ten years have changed dramatically. I think one thing I miss from six or seven years ago compared to now, is that we used to talk a lot in multiplayer. If you went into a multiplayer lobby, everyone would be talking and telling jokes, there was a sense of community. I feel it’s gotten less like that. Titanfall 2 I believe brings that back in spades with Networks, which is a great place to sort your own network, even a private network. You can invite all of these people. You find yourself playing and talking with a bunch of people, like-minded individuals in a community that allows you to party-up and group up and play a match. So huge changes, Titanfall 2, we had to change the way we developed it because Titanfall 1 was such a step in a new direction mechanically. How do you fit that in the single-player? It was all actually very new for us, which we hope equates to a really unique multiplayer experience.

FENIX Bazaar: And you’re balancing that with a lot of new additions in the multiplayer, something like the grappling hook, which seems like an insignificant, standard addition, but is actually a game changer. Was it a lengthy process to introduce that? How tough was it to really nail such a major addition?

Dusty Welch: There were a lot of iterations.

Joel Emslie: When it was first introduced, it was a game-breaker. The challenge of doing that stuff is adding new mechanics like that and evolving things, and making them better, but you have to add new stuff. Lots of trial and error. They added a cooldown, which … well, what I like about multiplayer now, I actually really like, is that there’s an emphasis on keeping your titan and ramping your titan up to its core. Same with the pilots. There’s cooldowns on things, and something common in multiplayer games is to spam some grenades, die, spam some more, die, commit suicide almost instantly and then run straight back into the fight. We added cooldown, which carries over to your next life. So it tempers the gameplay and keeps it at a good pace I think.

FENIX Bazaar: I think what ties into that pace is the general readability of the titans, which appears to have been ramped up in Titanfall 2, just the general capacity to respond to an enemy titan and really counter whatever attack or defensive strategy they’re using.

Joel Emslie: If you want to talk about a pillar of the whole experience, visual language is a huge pillar for me, it marries up with gameplay language, design language. So it’s hugely important to have core abilities in the titans, on those titans, and have a flash read on those titans. We added a lot of personality.

FENIX Bazaar: In what ways have you done that, and how does it change how the game is played?

Joel Emslie: We added two new rigs, skeletons, so that we could do a fast and nimble type of titan with long, dangling limbs. But we can do a long and stalky titan as well, which plays into the look of the pilots, but more so on the titans because you need people to read those things. For people to tell what type of armor are they going up against, what’s their abilities, what’s their personality that will communicate that. The game should communicate on its own visually, and then it’s easy to understand the mechanics and how to work at those mechanics. Figure it out in a minute and then master it in a minute.



FENIX Bazaar: Was titan variation a major focus for Titanfall 2? I personally felt it was solid, perhaps a little shallow in the first game, but I guess with a campaign, you’re setting higher standards for what a titan should be, how it should respond.

Dusty Welch: Look, I think Joel’s team did a nice job of putting uniqueness in for each titan. In Titanfall 1 you had the battle but you really couldn’t counter. Maybe you could evade but you couldn’t counter. Now, each titan is different when you go up against them now.

FENIX Bazaar: Yeah well a big issue in the first game was just being constantly outnumbered and unable to really respond to enemy titans and their attacks, regardless of skill level.

Dusty Welch: Well in Titanfall 1 you might have been outnumbered and felt as though you were going to lose. The goal in Titanfall 2 was to make it so if my skill is there, I can actually counter and maneuver around and actually come out of this thing alive. There’s a nice balance I think that the team has put in in creating the uniqueness of the titans.

FENIX Bazaar: Staying on titan design, one thing I remember Drew McCoy talking about with the first game was the “bond” between pilot and titan. How important is that transition for the relationship between multiplayer and single-player?

Joel Emslie: Hugely important. It took us seven months to develop the visual language of BT-7274, which is in the lineup of titans and is very specific to single-player. With BT we had to work on and figure out, how does he emote? Is it a boy or a girl? In multiplayer, if you happen to hawk onto Ion, Ion’s a she, Scorch is a he, so there’s a different layer of personality for that titan. But it also helps you build that bond with that character.

FENIX Bazaar: Was this a conscious direction, where you kind of wanted to build a relationship, a bond between pilot and titan?

Joel Emslie: I think that it was kind of a happy accident. I forget where it came online, but during single-player, we’re telling this story on the move. We don’t like to lock the player in place and force them to watch a movie that they can’t interact with. So storytelling was important to us, and the bond between you and your titan, BT, in single-player, was a core pillar. We added this mechanic where you can converse with the titan as you move. So you can take it or leave it as a player. You can choose to delve more into that story and that lore by doing that, or you can choose to just shoot through and play it another way, but it’s there if players want it.


FENIX Bazaar: How does that work in terms of actually expanding the story and broader lore?

Joel Emslie: It helps them build that relationship. BT actually says some pretty hilarious stuff. He’s an analytical character, with some humanity and some humour, and I think there’s some sympathy you’ll feel for this titan early on in this game. The titan ends up losing its pilot, meaning it has no choice but to pair up with you. So there’s a story to tell and it’s really cool, because in single-player you have to earn the titan’s respect. He’s basically had to settle for you and you’re trying to prove yourself to him.

Dusty Welch: It’s an interesting balance because Titanfall 2 is several games in one. With the single-player being very unique, very original. It’s not quite what the team has made in the likes of Call Of Duty, in which you go down to the corridor, walk down the hallway. It’s very different. It harkens back to, say, Half-Life 1. We want to let you as the player explore that bond between the machine and the man, and explore the universe. In multiplayer, it’s great that you say you could feel that bond, because the team tried for that and it was always a fine line. In multiplayer you’ll see more of the bond. It doesn’t carry over from single-player nor should it, but the fact you can deeply customise your pilot and titan, there’s a layer of personality that’s going to translate into the multiplayer and you’re going to build a relationship with your titan and try to preserve it.

FENIX Bazaar: Okay so just before we wind up, I want to talk about the future of Titanfall 2 post-launch. First up with DLC: you’re going in a different direction with this because while the first game’s DLC was fantastic, it ended up dividing the community a bit.

Dusty Welch: Yeah, well that’s why in Titanfall 2, everything like maps and modes will be free, because we want everyone to play together.

Joel Emslie: We don’t want to split everyone up. I certainly think it’s an easy thing to compensate for now. Titanfall 1 was a great experience for us, trying a lot of new things. Listening to the communities is extremely important. Even our technical test, which drops later this week, it’s huge. We’re not doing it for marketing purposes, we don’t get anything out of it that way. We do get a lot out of working with the community and getting them with hands-on with the game, and trying to fix it for a really solid launch.

FENIX Bazaar: Okay so finally, eSports. I want to touch on this because yesterday I stood at EA’s launch and watched this really engrossing encounter between two teams. The match was being commentated by two eSports callers, and it was really great to watch. Two years ago I spoke with [Respawn community manager] Anne Heppe about eSports, and she said it was always a matter of ironing things out and looking towards a sequel. We have a sequel now, so what’s the go with Titanfall and eSports?

Dusty Welch: For Titanfall 2, our focus was always on improving the multiplayer. Enhancing it, making it unique. The [single-player] campaign took up a lot of time. It’s a very robust task. We wanted to listen to the player, listen to the tech tests, improve the game, launch it, see how people play with it. Neworks is a huge feature that should unite player basis, make it easier for them to connect, play, stay and interact with each other. And if that takes hold and the gameplay and multiplayer connects with audiences, you’ll see us embrace the competitive landscape on a quick timeframe. Perhaps a future Titanfall. Or maybe future DLC could emphasis it a bit more. But it’s safe to say there’s a future for esports and respawn as a company.

FENIX Bazaar: Okay guys, great, thanks for the chat, and good luck with the launch!

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