The arrival of the much-anticipated video game ($60, out Tuesday for Xbox One and Windows PCs, ages 17-up), served as the impetus for a big downtown launch party Monday night at South By Southwest.
Before the game went on sale at midnight launch events across the U.S., players here got to dive into live online matches in comfy body-contoured chairs with personal flat-panel displays.
“We’re excited to get it out there and let everybody play it,” said Vince Zampella, co-founder of Respawn Entertainment, the Van Nuys, Calif., studio that developed Titanfall.
Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s chief marketing and strategy officer for Xbox, said that “for us, the excitement is getting our fans to play the best games there are in the industry, and we are lucky to have Respawn here and Titanfall to play.”
Titanfall carries a lot of weight in the gaming world. For starters, it’s only scheduled to come to the Xbox consoles and PCs — not the PlayStation 3 and 4. The game comes to Xbox 360 on March 25. “I can’t overstate (Titanfall‘s) importance,” Mehdi said in an interview days before the SXSW event.
The game is also the first from Respawn, a studio borne out of Activision’s 2010 dismissal of Jason West and Zampella, both co-founders of Infinity Ward, the studio that created the Call of Duty franchise. The publisher and developers countersued and settled out of court in 2012.
Adding to the anticipation is the fact that Titanfall is an online-only multiplayer game — a possible game changer for future releases. “It’s the first game for either the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One that is a true leap forward for multiplayer shooters. And the fact it is exclusive to Xbox One will help Microsoft pick up some of the ground it has lost to PS4 so far,” says Geoff Keighley, host of GameTrailers TV. “Titanfall is as important to Xbox One as Halo was to Xbox.”
Respawn focused on multiplayer almost out of necessity. “We are a small team, and we’re a start-up,” Zampella says. “We have limitations, but we wanted to shake things up. So we were looking at where can we make those big changes.”
Players compete on one of two teams of up to six players each in various types of multiplayer matches. They begin each match as a pilot, a highly trained and agile special operations-styled soldier in a futuristic setting. Pilots can leap and run along buildings — like parkour on steroids — to evade and stalk enemies.
During the match, players get the ability to climb inside a mechanized battle machine called a titan, which can fire missiles and machine guns. “It’s about cat-and-mouse game play where these giant titans are peeking into windows and shooting in,” Zampella says. “Then there are areas where only pilots can get, and there are areas where if you are a pilot out in this open field, you are probably at a pretty high risk.”
That dynamic grew out of the experimentation of lead artist Joel Emslie, who had been creating models of robots. He put a small action figure next to the robot — a scale of a six-foot-tall human and a 20-foot-tall titan. It was “the right scale,” he says. “Something kind of clicked that day.”
There are several types of titans that players can use — some you have to earn through playing the game. Everything from anime to the evening news influenced their look. “If you watch the news, you are used to seeing giant military armor,” Zampella says. “We tried to plug into that and translate that into our giant robots.”
The sci-fi setting owes a debt to movies such as District 9 and the lived-in look embraced by filmmakers such as Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) and George Lucas (Star Wars). “There was a lot of work toward getting textures and building materials right and making the world feeling really relatable visually.”
While the game has a super-fast pace — what you’d expect from a team stocked with many ex-Call of Duty designers — it’s playable by newcomers as well as multiplayer veterans.
“It reminds me of old-school shooters like Doom, Unreal Tournament and Quake, but with a new twist,” Keighley says. ” Respawn has spent a lot of time working on how to make multiplayer fun for everyone. Even if you aren’t a pro, you feel strong inside a Titan and can have fun picking off the computer-controlled grunts.”
The game is available in stores and as an online download.
For Zampella, whose last official game release was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in 2009, finishing Titanfall is redemptive. “It’s been too long,” he says.
“It’s been a wild ride obviously. If I look back at where we were two years ago, it was a different place that we were in; the game was not necessarily figured out, and the company had not congealed properly,” Zampella says. “We were looking into the edge of the abyss and saying, ‘OK, are we going to fall in or are we going to pull ourselves out and do it?’ And being where we are now. It feels good.”