Dropping ideas and cutting content is a natural part of game development - indeed, of creating an entertainment product full stop - and that's no less true of Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall, out for Xbox 360 and Xbox One in March.
Speaking to OXM as part of a ma-hoosive preview in our latest issue, on sale now, designers Fairfax McCandlish and Justin Hendry took us through the broad strokes of the editing process. They also let slip a few particular ideas that didn't survive development. Players used to have much more control over Auto-Titan behaviour, for instance.
"Yeah, we definitely thought about being able to send them out, put them in an aggressive kill mode, so that they seek other players out," Hendry told me. "But the things that were the most useful to players were being able to say 'wait here, I'm going to come back for you', essentially like parking a car, and 'come look for me'.
"A lot of times when you sent them out, they'd go off and get themselves killed. It was cool, but players didn't really manipulate [Titans] or understand where they were going to go, whereas if you put one in Follow mode, you know he's going to walk a path towards you, so you can make sure there aren't any Titans there, and that it's safe for him to make his move. And Guard mode is just your standard 'I want you to be here when I come back'."
Respawn also experimented at some length with different Titan classes. There are three in the final game (that we know about, at least), which correspond to some well-trodden class conventions: the Stryder is speedy but fragile, the Ogre is tough but slow, and the Atlas is a middle ground.
"We knew what kind of playstyles we wanted to support," Hendry explained. "We knew some people would want something a bit faster, some people would want something a bit heavier. And we experimented with some things for sure, different values in terms of how they move, different abilities, and we did a lot of experimentation, and ended up with the three that we had."
Other ideas were abandoned because they didn't fit Titanfall's rough-and-ready breed of science fiction. "A lot of things that would break the aesthetic of the universe were things that we wouldn't push forward without an extremely strong gameplay win," said Hendry. He declined to go into specifics, but noted that "there's weapons that we ended up decided we're not going to ship with, whether because it didn't work, or... I don't want to talk about it."
The leanness of Titanfall's arsenal is surprising, given the developer's history with the notoriously unlock-stuffed Call of Duty. Senior artist Ryan Lastimosa has offered a pretty robust explanation for this over on the Xbox NewsWire. "Well, we boiled it all down. You don't need 20 different swords to do the same job. Also, there's so much going on in Titanfall, why would you want to sort through dozens of weapons? All you really need is one specific weapon to do one specific job."
Achieving that level of specificity hasn't been easy. The project's focus changed significantly during development, as Respawn pondered how to distinguish Titanfall from other first-person shooters. "There was a part where the story was the primary focus, and we were figuring out characters and figuring out how to write a better story," McCandlish recalled during an interview with our US colleagues.
"And there were other times were it was purely: what are new ways to play a shooter that we can give people, that they've never played before? And we playtested a lot of different gameplay concepts and then kept the parts that worked the best with each other."
No single element of Titanfall should be considered in isolation, he went on. "It's not that the story is more important or that the gameplay is more important, it's that they both have been created to complement each other. The parts which stayed in were the parts that were the strongest.
"The cutting room floor is three feet deep on this game, you know? It was a bit of a bloodbath, but that's how you get the actual best possible content, and that's how you can create a new IP that will actually stand out and be compelling to play."
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