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Titanfall: three years of secrecy finally laid bare

Titanfall has finally been revealed to the world, after three years of utter secrecy surrounding the Respawn title. During E3 2013, Phil Owen spoke with a studio relieved to finally bring its creation out of the shadows and into the glaring spotlight.

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Titanfall - E3 2013 Gameplay

Slowly but surely, from the moment Call of Duty 2 was released on the Xbox 360 at the launch of that platform back in 2005, there has been one franchise that has pretty much owned the shooter space on consoles, and while Treyarch and Sledgehammer and those folks have certainly contributed to the world coming under the control of Activision, it all started with Infinity Ward, the actual creators of Call of Duty.

While Infinity Ward is certainly the studio responsible for this year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts, and while, yes, there are folks who have been with IW through the long haul, as we all know a not-insignificant portion of the IW DNA left to form Respawn with EA, where they’ve been working for three years on the project we now know as Titanfall.

In theory -- and I use that qualification because we have no going hands-on with the game thus far, instead only being able to watch the Respawn team play it -- Titanfall is a new dynamic in the multiplayer shooter space, as it contains warfare that is not quite balanced the way we’ve come to expect from all the man vs. man online shooters we’ve dealt with so many times before.

Titanfall has men and women on foot, yes, but it also puts some of them in the cockpit of a mech, a “second skin” in the words of the game’s lead artist, Joel Emslie. The mechs are a new variable intended to change up the online shooter status quo completely while still appealing to the crowd that has been eating up the status quo for the past seven years.

Respawn has been at least laying the groundwork for Titanfall for three years now, and in that time none of us on the outside looking in had any idea what they were doing, though we naturally assumed they were building something multiplayer-related. Folks in the gaming industry love to keep secrets, and they kept this one for a long time, until this month’s Game Informer cover leaked ahead of the Titanfall’s planned announcement on Monday.

“It’s great to finally have the opportunity to get support from the fan base. It was like I was out at Area 51 working on alien technology. So to have everybody come up and talk to us and feel their excitement for it, it’s surreal.”

When I spoke with Emslie at E3, he expressed palpable relief about actually just being able to talk about this damn thing they’re been toiling away at for years.

“It's great to finally have the opportunity to get support from the fan base a little bit. I know we're rebuilding a fan base because this is a new intellectual property, but my mom didn't even know what I was working on. It was like I was out at Area 51 working on alien technology or something. So to have everybody come up and talk to us and feel their excitement for it, it's surreal.”

And, naturally, Emslie said the folks at Respawn were a bit nervous coming into the show, because three years is a long time to work on a new idea without being able to tell anyone about it.

“We've been so close to this project for such a long period of time, and it had to be so secretive that you really start scrutinizing it so heavily, and we're our own worst critics. I know you hear that from everybody, but we really are hardcore on ourselves,” Emslie said. “After a certain point you’re just seeing things, like, ‘I can make that better or I can make that better,’ but there just comes a point where we're just, like, let's get it out there and see what people think.”

Fortunately for them, people have generally been thinking good things about what we’ve seen on the game, and they’ve not been shy about expressing their thoughts to the team, Respawn’s community manager Abbie Heppe told me.

“It's really humbling, and it's really exciting, too, because we're just blown away by how excited people are about it,” Heppe said. “Our whole team is here, and we can't even keep them away from the booth because they're just so excited to see people reacting when they're coming out. It's really wonderful for us.”

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Titanfall E3 Announcement Trailer

The Titanfall demonstration booth has indeed been a popular attraction as E3, as folks have waited in long lines to watch some Respawn staffers play a match. But while Titanfall certainly appears to be a fresh experience, no shooter is ever going to be completely unique at this point. I mentioned Brink to Emslie and Heppe as a comparison to Titanfall, due to the first-person free-running mechanics the two games share, and while neither of them would admit to that game being an influence on Titanfall, Emslie said the comparison did make sense.

“That's the beauty of the industry -- everybody's doing awesome work, and we can all inspire each other,” Emslie said. “Sometime it's weird to be working on stuff in secret, and then someone else is working on something in secret, and you come out the end of the tunnel, and stuff looks... It's like a zeitgeist. We're all thinking the same way sometimes.”

You can rest assured that what the team has shown off at E3, much of which you can see online, is only a very small portion of the final game. Emslie told me what they brought here to the show is a good primer, but folks who are interested will need to pay attention over the coming months as they mete out more details. He also told me the world of Titanfall will have plenty of lore to soak up if you’re into that.

Titanfall will be released on Xbox platforms and PC in 2014.

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