Titanfall is set to change the face of the FPS genre, something its creators at Respawn Entertainment have done in the past. Rewind back to the early 2000’s and a small Oklahoma based development studio 2015 Inc., of the back of their first game SiN: Wages of Sin started work on their next title. A WWII themed FPS that was set to redefine the genre, that game was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. The game had a helping hand from renowned movie director Steven Spielberg who had just produced his own WWII award winning movie Saving Private Ryan. Part of the 2015 team were two aspiring video game developers Jason West and Vince Zampella, the pair would continue to be at the cutting edge of the FPS genre for the following decade.
“Medal of Honor marked a turning point in video game narrative, were games could now attempt to emulate Hollywood in terms of grandiose storytelling.”
Following the release of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault some of the developers including West and Zampella decide to leave 2015 Inc. and form their own studio. The limitations imposed on them by their employers and the control on the creative process by the publisher EA, forced 22 members of the development team to break away and establish Infinity Ward in 2002. Interestingly 2015 Inc. has only produced one game since the mass departures and has not seen the same level of success as it had with Medal of Honor. Infinity Wards funding was boosted in the beginning when the publisher Activision bought up 30 percent of the company. The studio went straight to work on its first title a WWII themed FPS, following on from the experience gained with their previous game. Call of Duty was released in October of 2003 and was an instant classic, with mission structures and narrative techniques that their previous publisher EA had disagreed with. The most iconic mission of the game, forcing the player to fight through the besieged city of Stalingrad with only a clip of ammunition and no weapon. An idea that was unthinkable in the FPS genre, a reason why the game was a success and spawned an acclaimed franchise. When WWII shooters became too commonplace West and Zampella decided to shake things up and produce Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Again Infinity Ward proved to be the studio at the forefront of the FPS genre setting the trends and game design conventions that others would attempt to emulate.
“The original title in the series received its very own rerelease on the next gen system in 2009, known as Call of Duty Classic.”
Just as the second Modern Warfare title was breaking all sales records decent was brewing between Infinity Ward and their publishers/owners Activision. West and Zampella were aggrieved about the lack of royalties afforded to them by Activision, based on the success of the latest Call of Duty release. The ensuing conflict resulted in Activision firing both West and Zampella on the grounds of “breaches of contract and insubordination”. The reason for the dismissals was in reaction to a supposed meeting that took place between the pair and EA, to which Activision was not privy too. The subsequent legal battle of lawsuits being filed by both parties would mar the establishment of West and Zampella’s new venture Respawn Entertainment in April of 2010. Just as in the case of 2015 Inc. a large number of Infinity Ward’s development team left the company, 48 resigning from Infinity Ward with 38 of them joining West and Zampella at Respawn Entertainment. Activision has tried to maintain the high level of quality and strong sales figures for its Call of Duty franchise even bringing in another development studio to help get the games to market. Although sales figures have been annually smashed with each subsequent release aside from Call of Duty: Ghosts, the critical acclaim and public opinion has waned of late. Now after four years in the making Titanfall is finally on the market, but can the Respawn team do what they have already managed multiple times before and reshape the FPS genre.
“It’s a game of cat and mouse between the fast and agile pilots; and devastation brutal giant titans.”
The development of Titanfall has not been without its level of turmoil with long time development partner Jason West leaving the company for personal reasons. Although the nature of his resignation has been a matter of rumour and speculation, with West’s erratic behaviour and discord with Zampella possible reasons for his split with the company he co-founded. Zampella is now flying solo and we will get to see if he can do it on his own. Judging from the response of the beta released in late February and from the early Metacritic scores it looks like Respawn is on to a winner. Just as Zampella and his team have always done in the past they have not settled just to follow along with the crowd. The FPS genre of late has becoming increasingly stagnant, with little in the way of innovation coming out of the genre for the last number of years. A few gameplay tweaks and graphical improvements seem to be enough for most developers, with new IP falling by the wayside in the face of established franchises. Titanfall is attempting to draw influence from a myriad of different sources to push forward the evolution of the FPS genre. The most distinctive feature of the new Zampella title is the lack of a singleplayer narrative, with the game only featuring multiplayer gameplay. Not that this is something new in the FPS genre with the original titles in the Battlefield series featuring only multiplayer modes. However for Zampella this is breaking new ground since the singleplayer narrative has been as much a crucial part of his previous games successes as the multiplayer component. Iconic gaming moments such as the storming of the Normandy beaches and the first-hand experience of a soldier post nuclear blast, have helped Zampella earn his high ranking status in the industry.
“Will we see a reunited West and Zampella in the future, somewhat debatable with the apparent success garnered by Titanfall under the solo leadership of Zampella?”
Probably the far more interesting point about Titanfall’s online elements is that the game relies on some of the AI components to be handled by Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform. Essentially this means that the game is online only, with the AI hosting and physics calculations handled by Microsoft’s servers. It is also bad news for gamers living in regions without the Azure service like South Africa, who have understandable become quite upset. They have even gone as far as to petition EA and Respawn to have a South African release of the game. Not helping the issue is the fact that Xbox Live experienced a momentary technical hitch on launch day. Aside from the few regional grumbles and Xbox Live outages, nothing much has been made of Titanfall‘s always online requirement. This is good news for Titanfall publisher EA who suffered a calamitous PR disaster due the resulting backlash that followed the botch launch of their always online title SimCity. It’s interesting that prior to launch nothing has been made of Titanfall’s method of offloading some of its processing tasks to the cloud. Granted from the outset Titanfall is sold as a multiplayer game so certain level of internet connectivity is expected from the outset. All the same the video gaming community was ready with torches and pitchforks at the announcement that the Xbox One would need to be connect online at least once a day. Never mind the fact that for much of the western world regular online connectivity is pretty standard. Here we are less than six months post launch and a game that requires a similar feature, no angry mob in sight. It is amazing how video game fans can go from extreme statements of vitriolic fury to quiet and subdued acceptance. Obviously Titanfall is just that good of game that such heated opinions can put aside. Gamers are clearly very enamoured by giant mech’s, to let go of such issues.