At this year’s Tokyo Game Show an hour outside of Tokyo, PlayStation LifeStyle spoke with Respawn’s Art Director Joel Emslie and Chief Operating Officer Dusty Welch about the upcoming shooter, Titanfall 2. In the interview, we focused on Titanfall 2’s multiplayer component, the recently-concluded tech test, and what they’ve learned from the feedback.
PlayStation LifeStyle: The tech test has seen some mixed reactions, with a lot of online communities saying good and bad things about it. What’s your take on this, in general? Is there anything that jumped out at you? Any users that surprised you or made particularly good points?”
Joel Emslie: Absolutely. We have a history of listening to feedback and can make a better game based on that feedback. I would say the part I found surprising…um, when I was a little caught off guard was some of the feedback was coming from a place of… it’s as if we would never make a change or listen to anybody.
We want to hear this stuff, but I was surprised by the preconception that we wouldn’t listen to them. So I felt that I wanted to say ‘No, no, we’re listening.’ We’re all ears. We listen to everything; we read everything. One of the things I was most proud of — for the team — was that we were able to pivot in one week and make changes to the game. We were able to change it within one week.
And they’re good changes and it’s good feedback and we wanna hear that stuff but… the main message I would want to be loud and clear to the community of gamers and press is that we’re all ears. We are listening. We want to make a better game. We want to hear the most negative feedback possible so that we can react and get that in there and calibrate it.”
PSLS: Can you clarify specifically what was that change was — the quick one that you made in a week?
Emslie: It’s not just one thing in particular. When you look at Titanfall 1, the game was cranked up to 11. You know, we cranked it up to 11 and ripped off the knob and tossed it. So Titanfall 2 is taking that game and refining it and balancing it getting things to feel right and elements and weapons and abilities to have meaning and counters and all that good stuff.
And so I believe that ah… the first game was so vanilla. A lot of stuff was there, but it was so experimental that it just, it didn’t have a lot of meaning to it. I think the reaction from the community was, looking at the game from the way it was balanced and stuff and have some ideas about ah…they would like to have brought bring back this element or that element and ‘that worked really well.’
But yeah. It wasn’t just one thing. It was a range of different things. And I think you can look at the tech test and they were only being vocal about a few things, which is amazing considering how different a game it actually is.
Welch: So, the purpose of a tech test was to — well in advance of launch — understand if there were possible impediments or roadblocks for our server infrastructure. That’s what it was and that’s why we didn’t call it a beta, didn’t call it a demo. It wasn’t for those purposes. We didn’t market this thing or say, ‘hey a million people have come and signed up for whatever.’ It’s nice to have, and we did listen to the feedback, but very successful tech test. Both weekends we were identifying issues that would have been stumbling blocks at launch.
On Wallrunning, there was some feedback like, ‘Okay so in Titanfall 2, these two maps you’re showing us don’t feature a lot of wall-running.’ Well, it was a tech test and we didn’t want to show all these brand new maps we have, which are really high in wall-running and chaining wall runs together
“[The notion of gameplay feedback coming from a test intended to evaluate online servers] is good and bad, I mean it was surprising to see how it came at us, but….”
Emslie: “It’s nice to see how passionate people are.”
Welch: We make these games because we’re passionate about them and we make them for the fans. We do wanna hear (that stuff).
Emslie: And Day 1, launch, the game will be a certain way based on our feedback from the tech test and our experience with Titanfall development — both games — the whole launch experience, and post launch, it’ll continue. We’ll continue to get feedback, we’ll continue to listen to people. We’ll update the game, calibrate this or move that. It’s really important to just keep that dialog going so that the game gets completely refined.
PSLS: Will Attrition or an Attrition-like game mode be back or be available at launch? If not, part of a future update?
Respawn: *Both members grin*
Welch: Interesting question.
PSLS: And you’re smirking. Has this come up before?
Welch: Interesting question. I would answer this way: The tech test was a very small subset of the game. We’re fans of playing (the original) Titanfall and all of its game modes, and just think people will have to wait to see what we provide next. Is that enough of a hint?
But we’re all ears. I know the right people. I know the right guy. I know a guy and I think he’s listening.
(Ed’s Note: Attrition has been confirmed for Titanfall 2 just yesterday. Just in case the hints here weren’t enough).
PSLS: Why do maps like Homestead offer less wall-running? Was this a conscious decision to offer different play styles, or just sort of a coincidence and how that map ended up?
Welch: I think first, people haven’t seen this, but we offer a wide variety of maps that accommodate different play styles. Some of them are very heavily focused in chaining wall runs together and playing that way. You’ll see those pretty soon. Maps we showed in the tech test were shown for different purposes — for testing out different gameplay elements.
Emslie: Yeah, the designer that did Homestead, Geoff Smith, he’s responsible for some of the best multiplayer maps in the industry. He was on [Call of Duty 4] with us. He did Crash and Backlot and a lot of really killer multiplayer maps. I think he was really focused on each environment having its own identity and how a Titan would play on that map, with a pilot.
You’ll see maps that are more focused on Titan play and others that are heavy on wall running. But it’s really…it’s in an effort to create a group of maps where you’re not always doing the exact same thing. You learn the maps and use different tactical abilities and Titans to take advantage of those maps.
PSLS: (I fumble with how I want to word the question) Some people haven’t been happy with the transition(of Pilots) into and out of Titans, like with the third-person view and the… is there a plan to…(change it)?
Welch: Well it’s a change, right? (I take this to refer to the fact that any change brings division, but that’s just me.) There’s an artistic element to it and the problem that it’s trying to solve is that there’s these really kickass animations going on that you’d never see, other than in a trailer. So you wouldn’t see the executions that you do in third-person, so it’s a stylistic choice.
Most importantly, having added so much visual customization to the game, it’s very important to get the artwork and animations to a point where the player can actually appreciate it and see what they’ve done with the Titan and know that they’re climbing into THAT Titan that THEY customized, themselves. There’s a few different reasons why we did that.”
PSLS: Speaking of customization, will Titan and/or pilot skins be part of paid microtransactions? Or free? Unlockable? What’s that looking like?”
Emslie: Day 1, we have a massive amount of camos and we actually call them ‘war paint.’ There’s war paints for very specific… not just camo, but different like, chromed-out stuff and different stylings of decals and stuff like that. We also have nose art which goes over the front of the Titan, which in most cases is custom to each type of Titan. Pilot… Pilot weapons, you can throw camo on. Titan weapons, you can throw camo on. There could be, based on where we go with DLC, there may be a point where we charge for cosmetics, but we’re not there yet.
Certainly, our focus has been day 1, in the box, cramming as much as we can possibly get in there so that people are really feeling like they got the value of their money — like they got their money’s worth.
PSLS: So it’s not specifically planned at this time?
Emslie: It’s not decided on yet. We’re still…. here’s also an element of ‘Let’s release the game. Let’s wa–‘ We’re working on DLC. But we still have a curiosity to see like, what type of DLC do we really focus on, rather than just chucking out some stuff that we think [players] might want.
Welch: Important to say here is that we’ve done this before and announced again that all maps and modes will be free. We give that stuff out for free as DLC.
Emslie: Yeah, we do not want to divide our player base. We need to make sure everybody’s on the same playing field and has access to the same maps and game modes.
PSLS: How did the original Titanfall’s sales compare to your own expectations? I have seven million written here. Is that accurate?
Welch: EA released at some point, 7.5 million. I think we’re at almost 11 million unique players. For a single platform early on in the hardware cycle, that’s extraordinary. What I’ve heard from EA is that it’s their best-selling new IP ever. So I think back to my early days with all of the Call of Duty games, you know, Titanfall 1…well ahead of the sales curve of Call of Duty. The attach rate was much higher.
For us, we weren’t expecting this high level of sales at all. I think if we’d been multiplatform, that’d have been extraordinary at launch.
PSLS: I was gonna ask that as well. If it had been either higher or lower or… what would it have taken for Titanfall to stay only on Xbox? Can you give some insight into (the franchise’s) transition to multiplatform?
Emslie: That decision is one that was out of our hands — the EA decision with Microsoft. We would always like these to be multiplatform. The more consumers that can play ’em, the better. It’s not about money, it’s about the audience base, which is important.
PSLS: To confirm, you had no say in it not being on PlayStation before?
Welch: We would have loved to have been with PlayStation from the beginning. But I think Joel made a good point earlier, which is that Titanfall 2 is a really refined, robust, well-balanced game, so we’re excited that the PlayStation audience, seeing it for the first time, is getting an incredible, highly-rated game.
PSLS: Has Respawn ever considered making the grappling hook a default ability for every class?
Emslie: I think people love (the grappling hook), but there are abilities in multiplayer that, in my opinion, once you get to know them, rival the grappling hook. It also depends on what type of map you’re playing on. Is the grappling hook, like, an appropriate tactical ability there? So I think that the way the pilot abilities are strung together, and the way they reflect the way the Titan abilities are done…. There’s a gameplay language There’s a gameplay balance to how all this stuff works together. Like imagine if all the pieces of a chess set were queens and could do anything.
Emslie: You start losing the value of gameplay. There’s a counter balance to everything. There’s a way that these things plug into the mutliplayer experience. Tech test only showed a few abilities. There’s a lot more to it than that. There’s a lot more… uh, there’s the entire game. There’s a lot more weapons than we showed and customization within the weapons. We scratched the surface, we released a sample of content. I believe there are stronger things in the final content that maybe people will realize, ‘Oh, this fits here, but it might not fit over there. There’s something cooler that fits over there.
Welch: Coming out of the tech test, when you read the data for what people are doing with your tech test, which is awesome to do, grapple was number one and then stim was number two. But then, once you experience different maps and different play styles, grapple probably won’t be your default. Let’s put it that way.
Emslie: Yeah. I like to use it sometimes, but I’ve been getting destroyed by people using cloak. And that’s another element to it: what type of pilot do you combine with this Titan, now that you’ve got access to all six, once the game ships? So there is a gameplay duality that happens there, in how you’re running tactics and things and upgrading the AI of your Titan sometimes.
That’s another thing: we didn’t show all the upgrades for a Titan. That stuff may evolve post-launch as well. There’s a lot there; just a sample is what we showed. We’re really pumped to actually release it. I want everybody to actually see the whole thing and then comment on that. You know? Chew on this for a while.
PSLS: Is it a little bit annoying to see comments (based on a tech test) as if it were the final product? Do you wanna just get in there and say ‘No, you don’t understand!’
Emslie: I don’t know if it’s an annoyance, it’s more of like… it makes me scratch my head. You know, I think it’s more about… I wonder why they thought that. Like, I saw a headline that said we ignored our fans, absolutely, and didn’t listen to a word they said. I just was–
PSLS: Was that headline referring to the original Titanfall or the Titanfall 2 tech test?
Emslie: The tech test. I was really… I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t hurt or anything, but I was confused by it. Maybe we’re not getting the message out to everybody — press and game community alike — that we’re insanely flexible. We listen and agonize over every piece of, you know, NeoGAF, and people saying things. Sometimes it’ll be sent around the office. It’ll go out to artists and design teams and say thing like ‘Hey this person had a REALLY big problem with this? Why do they feel that way? How can we make that better?’ That’s what we’re really interested in.
So hearing a bold statement that we just ignore everything and make games all day in a bubble seemed absolutely confusing and completely inappropriate.
Welch: It’s an ignorant comment, unfortunately.
Emslie: I didn’t understand it. I don’t understand where it came from. It doesn’t help make the game better. What we’re really looking for is some constructive criticism. That’s the stuff that we really love. And if it’s constructive and it comes from… you know, ‘Hey, I hated this. I hated this part of the game and I wish you could do something different.’ Like, that’s the stuff that we’re really after. That’s the gold that we’re after.
PSLS: Last one real quick, what’s the level cap?
Emslie: Oh, level cap? I don’t know where we’re at with a level cap. I do know that we’ve completely change the way you level up in Titanfall 2. You can play it the way you want to play it; you can use the weapons and the Titan that you want and then completely evolve that character or progress that character. There’s visual customization, there’s cosmetics that go into that, there’s gameplay to it, there’s all these little parts you can unlock for things. How do we estimate a level cap?
Welch: I don’t know. It’s so different. The progress is–
Emslie: Yeah, it’s a waaaay different style than Titanfall 1. There’s so much there to keep going and going and going. We really listened to the fact that people wanted more stuff or more choice and took that to heart. I’ve said it before and talked to some other people here: I’m not kidding. From adding artistic cosmetics to the game, and other things, Day 1, launch. I found out we had an extra week and I told the artists, ‘Everybody keep adding stuff and don’t stop until I tell you to.’
Really, to me, it comes down to making sure that the community understand that we listen. And then proving it. Not just saying ‘Hey we listen to you guys. Here’s a game.’ It’s more like, let the game and what’s in it one day one explain itself. Let that transmit the fact that we heard you loud and clear. Having all of that in there and having that nailed down is really important to us.
PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank the crew at Respawn for taking the time out to speak to us at the event. Titanfall 2 is scheduled for release on October 28.