From the Archives - Ted Price Interview on FUSE
From The Archives posts are posts which I’ve carried over from my old blogs and sites I wrote for that are now offline so that I can keep a record of some of my better and more important work that would otherwise be lost. They come from the entire length of my time in games writing, so you’ll probably notice a big jump in quality between the really old stuff and the more recent content.
This interview was originally posted alongside a FUSE preview on Hittin' Crits sometime in 2013. It was a daunting interview to do because Ted Price is the founder of a studio who's made some of my favourite games like Spyro and Ratcher & Clank, and I had to talk with him in person. And my recorder decided to die just as I sat down with him and shook his hand. Thankfully I had a backup; always be prepared for the worst. I got to play the game before I had to speak with him, which helped me think of some things to ask. While a lot of people didn't like FUSE I was really into it right from this preview session, and when it came out I eventually topped some of the multiplayer leaderboards. Ted was a great person to talk to, he was really friendly and had a lot to say about his game. One thing I regret not touching upon is when I asked him about how FUSE was different from Insomniac's other shooters he didn't seem to consider the Ratchet & Clank games as shooters and I wish I'd asked him why that was.
I recently got to go hands on with FUSE thanks to the lovely folk at EA Australia, and while I was there I got to interview Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games, about FUSE, the latest game from the company. I managed to hold myself together and not freak out about interviewing the guy in charge of the company that made Spyro and Ratchet and Clank long enough to ask him a few questions.
What was the biggest difference in developing FUSE from other shooters you've developed in the past?
Well the only other shooters we've developed in the past are Disruptor, our very first game, and Resistance, which was a launch title for the PS3 and lead to a few sequels. The biggest difference, I suppose, was that it's a third person shooter and it has four different characters always in the game. So, because we support four characters at a time we had to take a very different approach to design in terms of the way we designed spaces and in terms of the way we designed weapons, and shoot- gosh, it affected the way we designed everything! It affected the AI and how the enemies react to the team and what they do to keep the team on their toes, and so it pretty much drove most of our decisions.
With the four players and co-op in mind, how do you ensure the game is just as fun in singleplayer?
That was a key goal from the beginning, we wanted to have it so that if you decide to play solo you're going to have just as much fun as when you're playing with your friends. So we spent a lot of time on AI for the bots to make sure the bots do what you want them to do, without you having to tell them. So this isn't a game where you're telling the bots what to do, this is a game where the bots support you in a way you'd expect a friend to support you- they revive you, they help you when you're in trouble, they will use any skills you've unlocked in their skill tree- for example, if I'm playing as Izzy, and I unlock the healing beacon, if I LEAP to Dalton, the Izzy bot is going to start using the beacon to revive me. Or let's say I'm playing as Dalton, and I unlock the ability to place a copy of the Magshield in the environment. Well, when I LEAP to Jacob, the Dalton bot will drop shields for me to shelter behind, so I can fire through them.
Those are just a couple of examples. The last thing we did was that we didn't want the bots to solve problems for you. They won't kill steal, they won't eliminate an entire setup for you, they will actually follow your lead.
Yeah, I was noticing when I was playing before that the bots were intuitive. Like, if one of you was down, and you go to heal them, then Dalton with his shield would cover you while you did it. So how do you make sure the bots' behaviour is actually helpful, and they're not, say, reviving you while under fire out in the open, or something like that?
We have a VERY talented AI programmer named Leon, who spent a lot of time prototyping, testing, fixing, implementing and prototyping, fixing, implementing and [laughs]. He just spent a lot of time digging in, and he was an expert in the field who just took it far beyond what any of us were expecting.
There's a lot of unique weapons and abilities that each of these characters have, how do you decide what defines each class? What makes you decide to use particular class archetypes?
Ah, that's a great question! It was kind of a push and pull between what we thought would be cool and what we thought would be appropriate archetypes for this type of game. So it's not a decision we were able to make in a day, where we said "Ok, this game's going to have a tank, a healer, a stealth specialist- done!" We experimented with a lot of different weapon types and brainstormed what classes would be useful. And really, the weapons chose our choice of classes more than anything else, and it was somewhat fortuitous that the classes ended up working well together. The way it really ended up working was because we have so many dual-classes in the game, it made it easier to fit together that final interlocking puzzle- with Jacob, Dalton, Naya and Izzy.
On that note of the connection between classes, I was noticing the unique weapons could interact in a way. If I was using the Warp Gun and Izzy shot the same enemy with her Splinter Gun, it would have different effects. How in-depth does this combination system go?
You can combine up to 4 weapons- I mean, you can combine 2 weapons, 3 weapons or 4 weapons to do some crazy stuff. How in-depth they go kind of depends on what you mean by that.
So, what effect does it have in using them?
Right, so do we create 4 factorial to the power of a number effects? Probably not. We don't have a blue flame vs. a green flame when you do certain things. What we do show is we call out what you've done. We've given each of these Combination Deaths a different name and a different point reward, and each of the characters that was involved gets a different number of experience points based on their participation in an enemy's death.
Ok, so you aim to do them to get more experience points than a normal kill?
Exactly. And the game also calls it out, like Dark Shatter was one of the examples I can think of.
Atomize was one I saw.
Yeah, and there's close to 60 combinations, and I can't recite them all to you, but you'd likely see most of them playing through the game.
What would you say is the integral part to making a good shooter?
I think getting the controls right, and making- well first and foremost it's definitely getting the controls right. So actually aiming and firing is a really complex puzzle to solve when it comes to shooters. There's a lot of fine-tuning in making that just feel good, so that you're not thinking about aiming, so you're not thinking about moving the camera. It has a lot to do with fine-tuning speeds, and tweaking aim assists provided for players, and then layered on top of that are all the other pieces, such as audio- how does the gun sound? Recoil- what does it feel like when it recoils? Vibration- is the controller vibrating? Enemy reactions- how do the enemies react when they get hit by the weapon? The visual effects themselves- does it look cool? And all these ingredients have to go together into making a satisfying result, and if one of them is off, then the weapon just doesn't feel good. That's why we spend a significant amount of time during production constantly replacing and tweaking the various pieces of that puzzle to make the final product feel satisfying.
There were a few moments in the level that we played where stealth was a viable option and you could avoid a firefight if you worked together and took all the enemies out quietly. Are there many opportunities for stealth throughout the game?
Well, this isn't Metal Gear Solid...
[laughs] Well yeah, not the whole game of course
There will be plenty of sections throughout the game where you can be stealthy and get a real leg up on some difficult combat by taking out enemies stealthily. Naya is a perfect example as a character who's built for that. When you unlock her invisibility you can start flanking and getting into positions that the other players simply can't get into, taking out enemies. Every character has their strengths, and that's one of hers. But this is not a stealth game. At all. It's just another option that players can use in some areas of the game.
Alrighty, one last question- in terms of story, how fleshed out will these characters be, and can we expect a few twists and turns throughout the storyline?
To answer your second question first, yes- you can expect a few twists and turns. I mean, that's an important part of any story today. We spent a lot of time with emergent dialogue in the game, helping players come to understand these characters through their interactions in real time with each other. At the same time you'll see flashbacks, explaining who these characters were before joining Overstrike, so you get a little feel for their personalities. In the larger cinematics that will be playing throughout the game you get to learn a bit more about them, how they interact with each other, and how they interact with NPC's that you will meet throughout the game, who have connections with them outside the game and the main FUSE story.
Cool! Thanks for your time!
My pleasure! Great questions!