Titanfall 2 Interview: Respawn talks the challenges of creating a campaign

By Alex Donaldson, Tuesday, 6 September 2016 15:10 GMT

Titanfall 2 art director Joel Emslie chats with us about all things campaign.

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While Titanfall 2 developers Respawn are dealing with the fallout and making changes to their game based on the mixed fan response to the game’s recent technical test, one side of the game has yet to be tested by fans: Its single-player campaign.

Some of it has been shown publicly while a little more still has been shown behind-closed-doors to media, and the campaign looks interesting. Considering the Call of Duty lineage that’s tied to Respawn the campaign looks to take a surprisingly open-ended approach, mingling that with the over-the-top set pieces that Respawn’s founders made their calling card back on Call of Duty.

We sat down with Joel Emslie, Titanfall 2’s art director, to talk about what the campaign brings to the table. Here’s our chat in full.

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VG247: The headline new addition to the game must have had you pretty excited as an artist. What does having a single-player campaign unlock for you and your team?

Joel Emslie: The assignment from Steve Fukuda, our game director, was to ‘Make a postcard-worthy environment’ in the levels for Titanfall 2.

This really gave us the opportunity to explore huge environments and also the opportunity to artistically have a game space where the player has the chance to actually appreciate it; they have the time to see all the hard work and the detail we put in there. Well, my other art director on the project, the environment director… He became obsessed with exotic environments and just going absolutely ape-shit crazy with the environment team.

“That was the best part about doing a really robust single player – we could focus in and build a really cohesive world that actually links together level by level.”

Then there’s building those, like, set-piece moments where you walk into an area and are like ‘Holy shit, look at how big this is, it seems to go on forever.’ That was fantastic. I was really excited to do it. In multiplayer it’s different. That was the best part about doing a really robust single player – we could focus in and build a really cohesive world that actually links together level by level.

You mention having moments to slow down – is the pace such that you think some people might be taken aback by it?

I think that single player has this really surprising… it’s surprising to even have been part of the development for single player even, because for Titanfall 2 we really had to reinvent and take completely different approach to single player design – the designers brought us along for the ride, and to watch it evolve… They started with these mini action blocks where it could be as simple as moving panels around in the environment with a crane and then linking jumps – puzzle solving. That was really cool.

There were over 100 different action blocks that they went through. There’s more – there’s lots of ideas that didn’t make the cut for Titanfall 2; for some reason or another they didn’t seem appropriate or we couldn’t refine them enough, but… there’s so much there.

What that gave us was this really incredible diversity in single player where it’s surprising number 1 in how long it takes to complete, but also people will be surprised at the aggregate – the variety of single player, both visually from the environment and mechanically from the gameplay itself.

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Shooter campaigns are quite often one-and-done affairs, but to hear you guys tell it there’s quite a bit of potential variety, right? Can you tell me a bit about that?

Definitely. There are areas of the game where you’re not with the Titan. There’s of course areas with the Titan too, but you always have the option of getting out. Exit at your own risk in this area, and if you’re a super bad-ass player you can exit at your own risk in such an area and still be successful just based on your own skills.

It’s really interesting to see… there are areas in single-player that act as arenas. they’re throwbacks to the original Titanfall’s multiplayer AI. We had our fantastic AI system that we evolved for single player, we bought that in there… but they happen to work really well for arenas.

“There are areas in single-player that act as arenas. they’re throwbacks to the original Titanfall’s multiplayer AI. We had our fantastic AI system that we evolved for single player, we bought that in there… but they happen to work really well for arenas.”

We took advantage of that and just built out different types of AI – airborne AI, grounded AI, we added these characters called reapers that are just like half-sized Titans. If you corner a reaper, he’ll actually deploy these ticks – little spidery drones that’ll run up to you and just explode in your face. They can traverse and do all kinds of crazy stuff. Really doubling down on the visual language and getting all that stuff to be readable has been really exciting for us.

There’s areas of the game where just last week I discovered an arena I didn’t know existed. I just happened to get out of my Titan in a spot where I hadn’t before, and I was like ‘Whoa, there’s a whole area over here I didn’t know existed, and there’s some cool weapons I would’ve had to wait to find later on in the level.

So I can fight these guys, do this, then hop back into my Titan. It’s kind of crazy. It’s a really wild variety in how you approach the game. You can fight in tandem in some areas with the Titan, or you can just stay in the Titan, hunker down and fight that way too. It gets very interesting.

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Do you find that to be a significant shift? The lineage of this team is obviously closely tied to Call of Duty, which is more known for being a linear shooting gallery.

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. We’re dealing with a smarter, more clever community now. They expect better from us as developers, and I think that’s the goal when you’re designing a game like Titanfall 2. You’re listening to that community of players, and you’re doing your damnedest to get all of that stuff covered and worked in while being innovative at the same time.

We could’ve gone down the checklist of items for single player, but thank god we didn’t. We went and did something really cool with it, and I think created a single player that really is the next level, at least for me. It’s certainly the reason I got into the industry, this type of game – we’re all very, very proud of it. We’re a little bit close to it because we’ve been working on it for so long so I want to see what happens when the community gets it in their hands, see if the community feels the same way about the single player. So far the response has been really positive.

People that have played the entire game through in whatever form it was at recently have really given a positive reaction to it and the variety that it brings to the table.

“What we’ve shown so far is actually very conservative – some of the other stuff that you’ll see in single player is absolutely insane. There’s some cool moments in there that I love replaying because I just want to experience that stuff over and over again.”

What we’ve shown so far is actually very conservative – some of the other stuff that you’ll see in single player is absolutely insane. There’s some cool moments in there that I love replaying because I just want to experience that stuff over and over again. It’s Titanfall. You had to have that chaos factor that happens, but we also needed to have those moments where we could slow things down and even do a bit of parkour puzzle solving, and maybe working with your Titan on that kind of thing too.

And after lacking a single-player last time the pressure is really on.

I’m a multiplayer guy, I love it, but really — stepping out of Titanfall and coming into Titanfall 2, I’ve been really happy that the design team has embraced the single player. It’s a fantastic way to really explore the universe. That’s probably one of the things I’ve been most excited about – building the universe and rendering it and showing everybody, inviting them into that universe to play and have a good time. And being able to play offline. It’s really exciting to be able to enjoy it at your own pace. I’m actually really excited for the replayability of it, that’s really crazy for me.

I’m thrilled at the concept that we’ve always been building two games in one – the pilot and the Titan. You do that in multiplayer and you add all that crazy stuff, and then you go to single player and we focus on the Titan and its relationship to the player. We’ve created a very special Titan just for that, and we’re really excited to see how that plays out with players.

Last time we were grappling with trying to create a debut title, do it on a brand new title… y’know, netcode, new server code, all that stuff. Now we have all that stuff under control it’s a fantastic opportunity to just go in and say let’s do this.

Let’s create a really robust multiplayer but a really robust single player as well and definitely have them work off each other a little bit – bring those mechanics and everything we’ve learned from multiplayer, slap them into single player but do it in an innovative way that’s really fun to play, not frustrating… yeah. It’s really — we’ll have to see. I’m really anxious to see people experience the crazier parts of single player. It gets really cool.

Titanfall 2 will be released on Origin for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on October 28.

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