Titanfall beta: EA and Respawn open next-gen development to the players

Monday, 17 February 2014 16:36 GMT By Matt Martin

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Matt: I’ll welcome any new spin on something familiar. Burn cards also add a neat, almost tactile element to customisation that I like. It’s easy to be wowed by the big graphical punch of Titanfall but the small illustrations on those cards are just as important to me.

How about the Specters and Grunts? They feel like a smart addition – the battlefields are busier and give the sense of a full-scale conflict, without the madness of 12-a-side real-world players. I’m not the greatest at online first-person shooters and this limit to 6 versus 6 is perfect for me. The Grunts and Specters are also handy for those extra points. Although they’re not just cannon-fodder – I’ve been killed by them a couple of times and felt deep, deep shame…

“I hope the way EA has handled Titanfall online is representative of changes that have happened at the publisher since Sim City and Battlefield 4″

Dave: Yeah the AI grunts are a nice touch, and I really feel they’re more about fleshing out the play-space. They’re fodder used to chip seconds off your next Titanfall. If you had 64 versus 64 in those maps the game would suffer. I always use the example of the zipline in Black Ops map Kowloon. You were so visible and open to many players while using it, without the option of returning fire, that nobody used it. Now, if you had 32 players looking skyward for jumping or wall-running Pilots in Titanfall, you’d be melted by their gunfire every time you left the ground. Jumping and going up would lose its advantage, so 6 versus 6 is ideal for now.

The cloud AI definitely got tripped up a lot for me. It rarely killed me, and sometimes it was just standing there doing nothing. In those instances I got some easy kills, but it broke the illusion of them being somewhat formidable and more than just easy points. You also see them grappling with bots from the other side, which looks cool but again it’s like, ‘Here’s your free kill: brought to you by the cloud.’ I think they need a degree of work, to make them feel more ‘seamless’ if that makes sense?

Matt: AI bots are always going to look out of place to some extent. It’s like shifting from single player to multiplayer in a game like Call of Duty or Battlefield. There’s no comparison between AI and real-life opponents and any training with bots is in no way representative of how the game will unfold online.

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I wanted to talk about the whole online beta experience because I think it warrants praise. It’s easy – and usually justified – to crucify games developers and publishers when they release a game that’s a complete mess. We’ve been there before with EA, with the debacle that was Sim City and the online problems with the most recent Battlefield. But honestly, I hope the way they have handled Titanfall is representative of changes that have happened at the publisher since then. The beta process has been smoother than I would have expected and both EA, Respawn and Microsoft have been really communicative. I can’t image some other big name publishers (who will remain nameless) taking such time and care to listen to and answer players’ problems. It’s easy to act privileged and forget this is a free beta. I’ve already played Titanfall and enjoyed it a lot longer than some games I’ve paid £40 for. It’s too easy to say “this is how it should be done in the future” because not all games have such a mega budget, but it’s clear to me that money is being really well spent, not just on the talent at Respawn, but the upcoming infrastructure to keep this game running smoothly come launch.

Dave: Yeah that’s absolutely right actually; Zampella and the Respawn crew have been responding to fans on Twitter and forums with real transparency, and they’ve made no promises that – so far – haven’t been honoured. They were even honest about 6v6 which, as we now know, got them no end of flack from those worried about the game’s scale. The beta itself is chunky too. I managed to max out at level 14, fiddle around with my load-outs and more. They seem to get what a lot of developers don’t; that to get the best kind of feedback from a beta phase you need to actually let players play your game and not restrict too much content. In a shooter that only has online play, this is utterly vital to ensure the balancing is on point.

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