Amongst all the AAA first person shooters being released this year, Titanfall 2 ranks as being my most anticipated title – not least because it builds upon the established foundations of the multiplayer only Titanfall, and is being developed by the same people who were in charge of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – one of the more seminal shooters to be released during the last decade. And whilst the 2007 title will be getting a modern facelift in a few months, Titanfall 2 is also be looking to prove that the ex-Infinity Ward development team has moved on from its previous work.
I spoke to Mohammad Alavi, Senior Single Player Designer for Titanfall 2, and got to ask him about the game’s campaign, as well as the challenges that Respawn Entertainment has faced in making BT a believable companion.
Titanfall 1 didn’t have a single-player component, and Titanfall 2 does. What was the biggest impetus for why Titanfall 2 has had a single-player component implemented?
We really love our community and we listen to our fans. And coming out of Titanfall 1, there were two really big things that they all wanted. They all wanted more breadth and depth in the multiplayer. And the other thing they wanted was a true single-player campaign, because they loved the lore and they loved getting lost in the universe. But unfortunately, they couldn’t really do that at their own pace, especially when players are getting their ass kicked every two seconds by somebody [laughs]. So we decided to go ahead and basically do that. And we didn’t just tack it on. We definitely designed and crafted the game around the mechanics of Titanfall.
You’ve mentioned as to how, based on what has been shown so far, that the single player mode hasn’t just been tacked on. But the Infinity Ward helmed Modern Warfare games, from which a lot of Respawn’s employees come from… the people who bought your previous games weren’t buying them for their single-player campaigns, but instead the multiplayer. The single player campaigns were always regarded as being a bonus. With that taken into account, I know that Modern Warfare 1 had a really good storyline as well as a really good campaign, but Modern Warfare 2 didn’t have as great a campaign. Given that your community has asked for a single-player component to Titanfall 2, and given that they want to be more enmeshed within the lore, what are you doing to ensure that the people that are single-player fans are satisfied with Respawn’s single-player efforts – especially when you look at the development background of Respawn, which has always been multiplayer-oriented. At the same time, given that Titanfall 1 was a multiplayer game, how will you ensure that the marketing message isn’t confused in the process for people who essentially might end up looking at Titanfall 2 as being a multiplayer only title, even if it does have a really good single-player component to it?
It’s not like we made Titanfall 1 multiplayer-only because we don’t like it. It was a necessity out of being a startup company with limited-time resources and being on brand new hardware and on brand new engines. But we love making single-player games. And basically, we are always gameplay first. So while the designers were figuring out the gameplay, the writers and Steve Fukuda, our game director, was figuring out the story and figuring out that bond between pilot and Titan. We went through many, many, many iterations on the story and the gameplay… and going back and forth with each other to try to get that back and forth correct. So I think people are going to be really, really happy with it. There is a lot of cool character building between BT and Jack Cooper. The fact that you can talk to your Titan is pretty new to us. And I think that adds a lot to this game and adds its own dimension. I’m not going to quite say that it’s “pick your own adventure”. It’s not like if you pick one dialog option you’re going to play a different level than if you pick different dialog options. But the dialog options do branch off into different trees. And if you picked one versus the other, you’ll have a different conversation on the other side.
So it is a lot about the kind of relationship you want to have with BT. And that’s the crux of this story really… like the growth. Basically, when you first meet BT, you’re just a grunt. And he doesn’t really know you either. And you kind of go off on this adventure together where you were never meant to complete this mission. And over the course of the game, both your character arcs grow and evolve together. So yeah, I think people are going to be really happy with what we’ve done.
BT is the companion Titan within the game, and he’s the character that you develop an emotional bond with. If you look at games like Shadow of the Colossus… obviously the horse doesn’t have a voice, but you do develop an emotional bond with the creature. How difficult was it for you to be able to ensure that the AI for BT was something that would have an emotional hook with audiences, by which you end up caring about that machine and almost consider it to be like a sentient being, where you don’t think of it as a disposable entity? What steps have you taken to ensure that players will still be emotionally invested in the outcome and in the welfare of this non-sentient creature?
It’s a lot of work, and it takes more than just any one department to do that. So part of it is the writing. And it was a lot of work going back and forth with writers. And even when we would implement dialog, and it wouldn’t feel right, we would change it. And there are moments in the story that have levity. There are moments in the story that have darkness and are of a more serious nature. And each one of those moments builds to basically create this character and this relationship between you two. And it was a really fine line between making dialog that felt right, making dialog that was funny versus corny… We definitely didn’t want to go towards the corny side. So it took a lot of iteration. And that’s the key, just doing stuff over and over and over again, retrying new things. And that’s just the dialog.
We also have a massive animation team. This one guy basically took BT, and that was his role for the whole project, basically bringing BT to life. BT is, for example, left-handed when you’re not piloting him and right-handed when you are piloting him, just to give a sense that he has his own personality when you’re not in control, you know. And the way he walks and the way he animates and all these things…
It took seven months to actually build BT. He has a completely different skeletal rig than any other Titan because he needs to be more emotive. He has a bigger head case. He has bigger eyes. He even has segmented knees. So he’s the only Titan that can actually kneel down and get on your level because these things are more important to get him to connect with you and emote and animate. And again, his AI is the most advanced AI in the game. It has to be. You know what I mean? He is your buddy companion. If he doesn’t feel real, if he doesn’t feel like he belongs, and is grounded within the universe, then the whole thing falls apart. So yeah, absolutely, we paid a ton of attention. It wasn’t any one person. It wasn’t any one department. It was a group effort by a lot of people in bringing BT to life.
You talked about how one of the reasons why Titanfall 1 only had a multiplayer component was because of time constraints. And I assume it also had to do with technological constraints as well because the game was cross-gen. Now that Titanfall 2 is coming out specifically on current-gen hardware, what technological advantages has the current hardware given you in enabling you to be able to craft the kind of story that you want to make?
We’ve almost completely changed the entire engine. We’ve got a brand new renderer. We’ve got physically-based lighting. We’ve got texture streaming. We’ve got a brand new physics engine and a brand new audio engine. The audio is amazing. It’s so much better than the first game. It is all kinds of things like occlusion and ramping up of volumes based off of what you’re looking at and what’s happening at the moment, like choirs… all those kind of things. The network code is completely new. You won’t recognise it. It’s a very, very different engine. And it’s all part of bringing this world to life. It’s not just to make it pretty for the sake of being pretty. It’s about making the experience more immersive.