Vince Zampella is a name awfully familiar to “Call of Duty” players. As one of the principal designers on “Call of Duty,” the video game executive/developer helped define the modern first-person shooter. This week, Zampella found himself back at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) with a new game in “Titanfall.”
Building “Titanfall” wasn’t always an easy process. After splitting acrimoniously from Activision in 2010 – a divorce that resulted in a two-year legal dispute — Zampella and his team found themselves wondering what to do for an encore.
First, Zampella said, you spend a year debating.
“It was a process — in some ways painful,” he said, speaking at E3, the largest video game trade show in the world. “It was a matter of relearning how you do things when the restrictions are off and you can do anything. There were a lot of people with strong ideas and a fight to put the team together so they could coalesce into an idea. It was a long, tough year.”
What Zampella and Respawn Entertainment ultimately decided on was a future-set war game in which soldiers fight in giant, mech-like robots dubbed titans. The twist was that this sci-fi-influenced console game would be designed from the ground-up to be multiplayer only, but would play like a single-player campaign, complete with cinematic, story-driven scenes.
“It’s a multiplayer-focused game,” Zampella said. “It’s taking the moments people love about single-player games — those, ‘Oh my God’ moments. So let’s take those and put those into multiplayer.”
The game will be released in 2014 first for the Xbox One, Microsoft’s next-gen follow-up to the Xbox 360.
The goal was to create a game that could be played endlessly online, and drop in elements of a story — “vignettes,” Zampella said — that could allow in-game locales to be fully explored rather than just blasted there in a 10-hour, single-player mission.
“Single player levels — I’ve worked on ones where designers have worked on them for six months and gamers will blow through them in 10 minutes,” Zampella said. “So let’s take that experience and put it into multiplayer, something that’s a little different every time and something that’s seen by more people.”
“We’re doing this in more vignette style,” he continued. “It’s not going to be one arc for a whole story. Level A will affect how Level B plays, depending on which side wins or something like that, but we’re not carrying that through the entire campaign.”
“Titanfall” will be distributed by Electronic Arts, a studio Zampella knows well. Before co-founding “Call of Duty” developer Infinity Ward, Zampella was at 2015, which had developed the military action game series “Medal of Honor” for Electronic Arts.
The future-set, robotic aspects of “Titanfall” would at first seem a departure from the more reality-based military shooters, but Zampella said the setting was largely a decision based on giving the player variety. There is not, he stresses, “sci-fi lasers” all over the game world, and a brief hands-on with “Titanfall” gave the impression that this is an accessible, pick-up-and-shoot action title, complete with weaponry that allows for high jumps and the ability to run on walls.
“Once this idea started coming together, you realize that the levels are multiple levels fitted together,” Zampella said. “There are areas where titans can’t go. There are areas where, as a pilot, you’re out in the open. This is very vertical. How can you get up here to gain advantage? And how do those type of areas balance together? That’s what I love about this. It’s this game-play of big versus small.”
In terms of the game’s size, Zampella said “Titanfall” will heavily utilize Microsoft’s cloud-based technology. Certain aspects of the game, such as the artificially-intelligent (AI) enemy foes, will live entirely on “Titanfall’s” dedicated servers.
“Offloading all that removes the boundaries a little and lets us think a little different,” Zampella said. “We don’t have to rely on the box in front of you. We can offload and it gives us more freedom in filling up that world with tons of AI. It allows you to feel a more cinematic presence.”
“Titanfall” is also being developed for the Xbox 360, and with so much of the Xbox One version of “Titanfall” living online, it begged the question as to how different the two will play. Zampella declined to offer specifics, saying the company wasn’t discussing the Xbox 360 edition. He added only that he hoped it would play as close to the Xbox One version as possible.
And though his company his named Respawn, a video game term for when a character is killed and comes back to life, part of the accessibility of “Titanfall” is that dying isn’t entirely easy.
“If you get killed in your titan, you eject,” he said. “So you don’t feel like you’ve failed and you’ve died. You’ve ejected and escaped. That loop of ‘respawn, die, respawn, die’ is completely different. Your titan can get destroyed five times but you may only die once. It’s a better feeling.”
Spoken from someone with experience in second chances.
– Todd Martens
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