It's been almost three years since Jason West and Vince Zampella walked out of Activision's flagship Infinity Ward studio amidst a vicious legal clash with the publisher over creative control of the Modern Warfare franchise. The pair wasted no time finding new work, founding the provocatively titled Respawn Entertainment, reportedly with the benefit of millions of dollars of seed capital from EA.
"This is a total reset," Zampella said at the time, in an LA Times report. "We're starting again from ground zero. It's daunting and exciting." He later added: "We have learned the hard way that the best way to ensure the integrity and quality of your work and make sure the fans get what they deserve is to own the intellectual property."
As the legal wrangling continued, a significant number of West and Zampella's colleagues at Infinity Ward jumped ship for Respawn. Excitement as to the new developer's activities was high, despite misgivings about whether it could escape Call of Duty's long shadow. "We're going to create entirely new games and entirely new universes, worlds," commented West in an interview with Joystiq. "This is a hard reboot for us."
That was then, and this - you may be surprised to hear - is now. The Respawn revolution has resulted in a tiny handful of purposefully blurred-out screenshots and photographs of studio facilities. Staff have maintained a resolute silence as to the nature of their forthcoming project, perhaps fearful of attracting the scrutiny of Activision's lawyers. The nearest thing we have to a concrete detail is EA Games boss Frank Gibeau's vague reference to a "sci-fi oriented shooter" (via CVG). According to Gibeau, EA is taking an "opportunistic" approach with Respawn's debut game, rather than committing to a hard release schedule.
"It allows us to pick and choose the best of the sci-fi shooters," he explained. "It allows us to compete with things like Gears and Halo and put them on places in our release calendar where they're not cannibalistic to the core business and that's the essential strategy going forward."
Avoiding established competition is always a good move when you're a new IP - and the competition is stiffening. Respawn and EA have more than Gears and Halo to worry about, nowadays. Science fiction is where it's at, next-gen-wise, and no publisher appears more convinced of this than old nemesis Activision, which has signed up Bungie to produce a series of fearsomely large-scale interplanetary blasters. In what could be a hint as to Battlefield 4's direction, DICE's general manager Karl Magnus Troedsson has opined that the modern day setting is "getting stale", and predicted an industry-wide rush to capitalise upon futuristic settings. Even Call of Duty, that bastion of contemporary military scenarios, has edged ahead of the present tense in the shape of Black Ops 2.
EA will need to time the announcement and release of Respawn's game carefully indeed - though it's possible the long wait for updates has more to do with development difficulties. "I would keep in mind we started from scratch." CM Abbie Heppe recently wrote on the developer's forums. "No engine, no assets, no nothing, none of the things which make iterating on a game (or starting a new IP) able to be accomplished in the same time frame a developer with all those tools could make a game in. We're good, but that would be super human!"
The studio has reached out to developers laid off as a consequence of THQ's collapse into bankruptcy - a promising omen, perhaps, more promising at least than the cloud of uncertainty hovering over the equally elusive Prey 2. In the meantime, the news blackout continues. By all means ponder those blurry teaser shots again.