PAX East 2014: Respawning Combat Games

Titanfall is one of the freshest entrants in the first person shooter genre in a very long time, and Respawn Entertainment was out in full force at PAX East 2014 to discuss the trials, tribulations and ultimately the triumphs of launching their first game after the well documented split from Activision. Led by CEO Vince Zampella, the team broke down the development process as well as their future roadmap for one of the year’s most critically acclaimed debuts.

The team discussed the formulative period after founding Respawn, when they weren’t necessarily going to dive back into the FPS genre that defined their time at Infinity Ward. Once they made that call, the team committed to focus on multiplayer which they knew from experience was the most popular play experience for that style of game. A step after that, the concept art and first models designed by Joel Emsile (and I believe also Justin Hendey) were key on selling the team on the idea of Titans roaming the playing field.

The Respawn team talked about their nerves heading into E3 2013, where the worldwide reveal of Titanfall would determine if the team had made the right overall decisions on “3.5 years of bets” as described by producer Drew McCoy. Requested demos of the game from interested entertainment icons such as Steven Spielberg and Shigeru Miyamoto quickly assuaged their concerns, and Respawn also noted that their alpha build was one of the first games running on real (albeit still work in progress at the time) Xbox One hardware. If you experienced the game last summer at events such as PAX Prime 2013, it was almost definitely running on (preview state) Xbox One hardware.

The team also spoke about their huge amount of pride in minimizing problems from the March 11, 2014 launch and going forward, for a game that ambitiously launched in most markets simultaneously. Described by Jon Shiring as specifically designed to flexibly hide errors, Titanfall’s wide distribution of Azure powered servers allowed the Respawn team to quietly adapt and discreetly fix issues as well as deploy patches in the background without secret downtime. Combined with a lot of 22 hour days after launch to support the worldwide audience as well as this week’s launch on the Xbox 360 (although an informal show of hands from the audience revealed a strong preference for the Xbox One version), Respawn’s engineering team has quickly and dramatically scaled up their underlying infrastructure with a very high uptime.

New content is also arriving, starting in May! Titanfall: Expedition has been revealed with 3 maps: Swampland which will allow pilots to wall run on trees, War Games as a practice environment (described by Hendey as “like Tron”) and an additional one that has yet to be fully revealed. A new 2v2 Wingman variant of Last Titan Standing is also in the works, designed to provide a more intimite combat complement to the normally chaotic Titanfall launch mode experiences.

Other ideas percolating at the developer include new Titan themed burn cards, hashtag identifiers to form groups based on shared interests (but limited per team to prevent boosting), cosmetic Titan customization and additional stat tracking for eSports and other data driven insights. Daily challenges (like Hearthstone) may also be added, as well as week long variants as pseudo-ongoing beta tests that were jokingly (but accurately) described as akin to the McRib sandwich.

The team at Respawn Entertainment seems incredibly close knit: it really shows from their beginnings as a circle of chairs in an unfurnished office and bringing in supplies from Costco to their proud team launch photo in front of a built-to-scale Titan model from E3 2013. The Looking Back & Moving Forward panel featured a Main Theatre packed with enthusiastic fans and an equally enthusiastic team on stage, which bodes very well for the future of Titanfall.

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