‘Titanfall’: Xbox One is gunning for next-gen dominance

March 07, 2014 | 2:37 p.m.
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Vince Zampella is the game mastermind spearheading "Titanfall," due March 11 for the Xbox One. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

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Battle on the ground -- or in a giant robot -- in "Titanfall." (Respawn Entertainment)

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"Titanfall" is hyped as one of the Xbox One's premier games. (Respawn Entertainment)

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3-D artist William Cho works on "Titanfall" at Respawn Entertaintment. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

titanfall2 Titanfall: Xbox One is gunning for next gen dominance

Mark Grimenstein, front, tests "Titanfall" at Respawn Entertainment. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

It was Valentine’s Day, and I was afraid someone was watching me die.

On a night when most are finding ways to celebrate (or curse) romance, I had opted to spend the evening curled up on the couch with a game, a first-person shooter. At least I wasn’t alone.

I was one of many worldwide who were playing “Titanfall,” a game in beta testing that Microsoft has declared the showcase title for its recently released home console, the Xbox One. Connecting to strangers via Microsoft’s servers, many of whom were engaged in midgame conversations, I was outgunned, anxious and nervous about letting down my new teammates. In eight minutes, I would be killed 11 times by people I will never speak to.

Once, a giant robot stepped on me. Moments later, a giant robot fired a rocket into my chest. Suddenly, I had a giant robot to control myself, only now I was surrounded by other giant robots. I was dead.

“Titanfall” is out Tuesday. If all goes to plan, millions of gamers this week will be destroying one another, and millions in cash will be generated for the title’s publisher, Electronic Arts, and the game’s exclusive partner, Microsoft.

But first, more people are going to have to buy an Xbox One, the next-generation game console that promises a more connected experience. There is, for instance, no ability to anonymously hide offline and fail alone in “Titanfall.”

"Titanfall" is hyped as one of the Xbox One's premiere games. (Respawn Entertainment)

“Titanfall” is hyped as one of the Xbox One’s premier games. (Respawn Entertainment)

The man responsible for all this carnage is Vince Zampella.

Zampella, in fact, is arguably the man responsible for a great deal of video game warfare over the last 15 years. At his last company, he spearheaded the first “Call of Duty” game in 2003.

“Titanfall” is the first game from his recently formed Respawn Entertainment. In a rarity for console games, you will always be connected, you will always be in a game arena with others and someone may well be laughing at you as you die.

“Just make sure you die in a good way,” Zampella says. “Die gloriously.”

Maybe I’m just selfish for wanting to die alone.

First-person shooters, a genre I largely avoided, have dominated the last decade and a half of video games. The multiplayer aspect of such games evoked the emotions that drove me to retreat, alone, to games in the first place.

A missed basket, a strikeout or a dropped pop fly are moments that resulted in morning spitballs lodged in my hair. In contrast, the “Monkey Islands” and “King’s Quests” of the world were safe places to explore.

Battle on the ground -- or in a giant robot -- in "Titanfall." (Respawn Entertainment)

Battle on the ground — or in a giant robot — in “Titanfall.” (Respawn Entertainment)

Thus, the first time years ago I logged into a multiplayer shooter and a complete stranger celebrated my death, I was out. And yet, I want to know why “Titanfall” is so important to Microsoft that the company is bundling it with its system. The Xbox One may have sold well this past holiday season, but it lacks a game that truly shows off its potential. As Microsoft executive Yusuf Mehdi asked, “What is the title that is going to come and light up people’s imagination?”

Although I’ve been hoping a developer at Microsoft could wow me with something other than guns, perhaps it will be a first-person shooter. I tell Zampella that shooters make me insecure. He nods, laughs. “You’re not alone in that,” he assures me.

Zampella, 44, offered an early look at the game in his Van Nuys offices a few weeks ago. With an excitable voice, the first impression he gives is one of friendliness, but friendliness in a tough-love, sort of football coach way.

Zampella knows for whom he’s making games. He doesn’t speak about grand narratives in his games as we tour his offices. “Anyone who plays first-person-shooters has a certain level of expectations,” Zampella says. “You don’t want to break the mold too hard. You just want to crack it a little and make some extensions. It’s about familiarity.”

If “Call of Duty” has historically featured ripped-from-the-headlines plots, “Titanfall’s” militaristic campaigns owe more to “BattleTech” and “Halo,” as players can run in and out of fast-moving tank-like robots.

These robots are called titans, and at various points in the game a player can summon one and they will scoop you up.

More important to me, there is also a gun that will automatically lock on any targets in range, freeing me from relying on my inefficient aiming skills. Despite decades of gaming experience, I will never not hit the X button when I am told to hit the A button.

With “Titanfall,” I can finally make a kill, and it feels good, like getting your first base hit in Little League. As I’m thinking this, someone shot me in the back of the head.

But one of “Titanfall’s” key tweaks is that the balance of power can be shifted from seasoned pros — veteran players who can make newcomers feel like a landing pad for bullets — to anyone who’s willing to buy the game and spring for the $60 yearly membership fee for Xbox Live, which is required to take advantage of most of the Xbox One’s network features.

“The dynamics in a match can swing wildly, depending on how talented the person inside the titan is,” says Lewis Ward, a research analyst at IDC who tracks the game business.

That mix of army-like seriousness and zaniness permeates the Respawn headquarters. The double doors that lead to the fourth-floor office space lack any identifying signifiers, lending an air of secrecy that extends to everyone’s reluctance to discuss, say, a weapon that may or may not be in the game. Yet the office manager doesn’t have a desk or a chair, preferring instead to use large stuffed animals for support, and Mario Perez, in charge of “Titanfall’s” motion-capture, is also a budding M.C., Mr. E Assassin. His hip-hop initials are imprinted on a “Titanfall” weapon.

And then there’s the “Men of Respawn” calendar hanging throughout the offices. Mr. February is fully clothed but captured in a luxurious slanted pose while clutching a cuddly toy. Community manager Abbie Heppe is asked when the Women of Respawn calendar is coming. Probably never, she says, because she’s one of four female employees.

3D artist William Cho works on "Titanfall" at Respawn Entertaintment. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

3-D artist William Cho works on “Titanfall” at Respawn Entertaintment. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The staff of Respawn, which numbers about 90, shirks at the question of how “Titanfall” reinvigorates a tried-and-true point-and-shoot approach to gaming. “We didn’t want to stray too far from the wheelhouse,” Zampella says.

While I prefer giant robots over the real-life jingoistic settings of “Call of Duty,” building a better shooter feels more akin to engineering a more impressive NFL stadium than a pure artistic endeavor. Amenities may be more advanced, sightlines are enhanced — all integral to the overall experience — but the action on the field still adheres to a set of rules.

Or maybe I’m missing something?

Gerald Voorhees is an assistant professor of digital culture and communication at the University of Waterloo and co-editor of the 2012 book “Guns, Grenades and Grunts: First-Person Shooter Games.” He studies first-person shooters and loves them. “Part of the promise and part of the pitfall of the first-person shooter genre is because it is so established, you have a lot of people who like to play this particular type of game,” he says. “They know what to expect. They know what they like.”

That audience is large and hungry. The genre, according to industry trade group the Entertainment Software Assn., is the game industry’s second most popular, and a “Call of Duty” title has been the industry’s top seller in four of the last five years.

A scene from "Titanfall." (Respawn Entertainment)

A scene from “Titanfall.” (Respawn Entertainment)

Released in November, Microsoft said the Xbox One sold more than 3 million units throughout the holiday season. Sony’s PlayStation 4 topped 4 million units sold. A successful first-person shooter, says analyst Ward, will appeal to the core gaming community. “In North America, [‘Titanfall'] can close the gap between the PS4 and Xbox One, if not reach parity,” Ward says. “Titanfall” will later be released for the Xbox 360 and PC.

That’s good news for Microsoft, because it’s aiming “Titanfall” and new Xbox One updates straight at the gunner community. Without the ability to play an offline, single-player campaign, Microsoft will not only sell Xbox Ones but also sell people into its Xbox Live ecosystem.

The idea is that it is in this connected space that a new generation of consoles will have its biggest effect. With the release of “Titanfall,” the Xbox One, like its counterpart the PS4, will be able to post game footage directly to Twitch, a video game streaming site that boasts more than 45 million unique users a month and has helped popularize games as a spectator sport.

Whether such social features can expand the gaming audience may not matter in the short term.

A “Call of Duty”-like success means eventually 25 million to 30 million copies of a game sold. It’s a number that Zampella says he “can live with” and one he can reach without worrying about appealing to some guy who doesn’t want to die in public.

– Todd Martens | @toddmartens | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


41 Responses to ‘Titanfall’: Xbox One is gunning for next-gen dominance

  1. donewithfun says:

    I'm sure this game will sell well. But……meh. Another FPS that is focused on the on-line play. I don't play online, so this game is a non-starter. This game is not enough for me to buy an Xbox One. The specs of the Xbox One are low compared to the PS4, and the focus is not on gaming. I was not impressed with Halo 4 (what a bore). COD series was just kill, kill, kill. I get it, but I'm also over it. The only thing they're doing now is killing more spectacularly or more massively.

    • john barrett says:

      Killzone was a bore halo 4 did well in sales and on meta score, titanfall in the other hand has over 80 and counting awards under its belt if any faster is a bore it killzone

    • the chug says:

      dwf, the controls for this game are tight and precise. the gameplay is FAST. the maps(that I have seen) are varied. the world that Titanfall is set in is interesting. in fact, I am hoping that Titanfall dev team will figure out a way to launch a downloadable single-player campaign as(for me) the background story is very important. to give an example, one of the maps is set in a former 'privileged' community that is now being mined for the fuel that is there. as you play you can actually see sections of the city sliding into a massive chasm… How did this happen? what are the specifics of this? a single player campaign could answer these questions.

    • gigi7 says:

      Too bad killzone was just revealed that it was only in 900p… so your out take on the ps4 specs being better is already flawed

    • Le MADa says:

      The PS4's sales figures are based on Sony's hype of "Better Specs." While this tactic has reaped more consoles in the short term, Microsoft knows that in the long term, the overall experiences like better software, games, and user interface, will lurch the Xbox One to the fore-front. Microsoft is selling an Xbox One console that aims to be social and interactive, as shown by its exclusive game line-up and far superior online experience. Sony, on the other hand, is trying to sell a "purely gamer" system that focuses on more single player games in its exclusive game lineup. In closing, Xbox One targets social gamers, which far out number the "hard-core single player gamers."

      • Have yet to see Sony hype better specs. The specs are just better. Sony's been hyping gaming.

        The system is also cheaper and has way more games coming out. And most of them aren't shooters.

        Sony doesn't focus on single-player games, although I question your assumption that playing with a bunch of idiots online is always the better experience. They're shaping up to have more multi-player games than Xbox One has games period. The PS4 is also more highly rated as a media machine.

  2. ash says:

    @donewithfun

    games are becoming modern sports with millions of dollars involved across multiple parties from advertisers to vendors to pro players.

    if all you want to do is play solo indie games, all you’ll need for a long time is a crummy laptop from four years ago, as most of those dime a dozen indie games come out on Steam.

    the rest of the growing and adapting gaming world sees the future and the future is bright, we also don’t care what platform these games are on, we follow the best and most competitive games regardless of platform.

    I’m sorry your view of fps is so shallow and poorly informed. It is far more than just killing and childish machismo, it is arguably the most highly skilled and team focused gaming genre out there, the true pros have better mind game talent and twitch reactions than Justin Wong, and the best clans in fps have way better technical and team skills than the best moba clans. I’d say the only better individual gamers out there are Korean rts pros, but fps still takes the most rock solid teamwork.

    also the xbone has way superior multitasking horsepower over ps4, we have yet to see how that multitasking ability can be adapted to unique and innovative elements in gaming, but it may be why they were able to get thousands of on screen zombies in dead rising 3 without lag, gpu power is not everything for gaming, gpu power is graphics, CPU power is more general performance and the xbone has a far better clocked CPU, the ps4 will be useless if it begins hitting CPU bottlenecks, because its superior gpu will be useless then.

    but this is also why PC gaming is the best of all worlds. It has no limitations.

  3. John S says:

    Titanfall is hardly "next-gen" since it runs on a decade-old Source Engine. Having played the beta during Valentines Day weekend, the visuals are pretty good. However, the biggest let down was th Xbox One version. The resolution was 792p (yup, a next-gen title that's not 1080p) and it suffered from frame rate drops. The frame rate issue should be fixed by making the game 720p, but we'll see.

    The PC version is the must have version of Titanfall. Moderately spec'd PCs should have no problem running it at 1080p/60fps. Heck, the 360 version should also be a great option. I can't see the the XBone version being THAT much better being at sub1080p.

    • Nick Sullivan says:

      you do realize that you are talking about a beta and expected it to be perfect. The beta was all about making sure the game wasn't going to have massive outages on day one

    • Le MADa says:

      People worry about "graphics" too much nowadays. The real determiner of a game's likability would be gameplay and visual aesthetics (which is much different than graphics, look it up) (here is a link to PBS Game/Show to explain: http://youtu.be/FDsoM9H8Kh4) And the difference between 720p and 1080p is extremely minute, especially at HDTV monitors under 40 inches. Looking back through video gaming history, Nintendo dominated the console market for quite a while with far inferior "graphics" than Nintendo's competitors. Case in point, MINECRAFT! And Microsoft's policy for ALL Xbox One game developers to be access DEDICATED SERVERS at absolutely NO ADDITIONAL COST is what will propel Microsoft's Xbox One to the top.

    • scrub says:

      You're an idiot

  4. jts says:

    PS4 is only selling due to specs and price, we will see how long that lasts, not to mention borh companies seem to be wanting out of the business. Sony keeps selling its companies off, letting people go. MS has the money to bury them if they dont quit themselves. Software will win in the long run, not just specs. This game sells to casual gamers, its a pleasant surprise having AI online so the casual gamer can compete for once.

  5. Tony says:

    This game is a gamers dream. Anybody can jump in and be a winner. As Far as "Specs" go Xbox is Capable of being more powerful and already has far better features than Ps4 Xbox one recently got a more advanced version of twitch and Xbox one keeps getting better. Im excited for this game and directX12 which is said to put Xbox one at the front of performance dominance

    • Alex Rubio says:

      Please tell me this kid isn’t serious about Xbox being better then PS4. Anyone who believes that deserves to be laughed at. Just because Playstation has been the best at everything since day one doesn’t mean Xbox will be better in the long run because it’s barely catching up with 60fps. Nothing about Xbox’s features makes it better at GAMING then the PS4.

      • NthEndXboxWins says:

        With cloud compute the can free up resources- as people will get faster internet (and yes it is coming to everybody in the next 5 years) the Xbox will be able to offload almost all the processing to the cloud. X1 has 4x DED processors on the silicon 2x for processing and 2x for compressing and uncompressing data. Soon if your Xbox is connected it is going to be able to destroy PS4 processing wise. You got cloud processors doing the work for the console; so the hardware in the console becomes the topping on the cake. Now combine that with MS 'AMD Mantle' destroying DX 11.2 w/tiled resources we haven't seen used yet… MS has a plan and it is better than Sony's… You are just dumb.

      • Oh wow… someone who still believes in DA POWAH OF DA CLOWD. Even Microsoft execs stopped using that line a long time ago.

        Sorry, it's been debunked. There is no such thing as an internet connection fast enough to live up to Microsoft's lies. Ten years is the soonest we can hope for some kind of breakthrough in that regard.

  6. Nathan says:

    Looking forward to playing it. XBOX GO TO TITANFALL!

  7. Alex Rubio says:

    Titanfall is just a game not a dominator in any way. It won’t save the company from this embarrassing situation. Being a xbox one owner I really feel stupid about having to buy the game for $60 when people are getting it for free now. I just might go trade this system in.

    • James says:

      Yeah, technology isn't supposed to decrease in price over time. How dare they run sales to improve their market share.

      This is a very smart, aggressive move by MS. The console companies make their money after the sets are in homes. They know they are behind in the console war, and this is exactly what they need to even the playing field.

      Mark my words, Titanfall will dominate- whether you like it or not. I haven't had this much fun in FPS since the original MW- or even Halo.

      • tom says:

        Couldn't agree with you more about the fun factor.

      • A price cut this close to launch, three months in, is not because of the depreciating value of technology. Nor is it about "giving the customer value" as the Microsoft exec laughably said. If it was, they would have done it day one. They basically screw over every day one customers and you say "ooh, smart".

        If having fun playing a game meant a game succeeded, we'd all still be playing Starhawk. Whether you like it or not, if Titanfall released in the same month as Destiny, it wouldn't be on anybody's radar. It's just another FPS. Except this FPS has a lot of fanboy hopes riding on it.

  8. chris says:

    so tell me when was the last time EA released a major title that worked? battle field 4 didnt and neither did sim city titanfall will be playable by christmas

    • tom says:

      Did you play the Beta? Ran fairly smooth for me…way way better than BF4.

    • dave says:

      Pretty much every sports game that came out on EA’S servers are flawless. No way there gonna screw up this game. That’s why they beta tested. And it had problems (which is what a beta is for) It’ll be just fine.

  9. tom says:

    Titanfall may not move a bunch more Xbox Ones of the shelves, but for those that do have one, its good enough reason to get excited. Also who cares about specs for this game, I played both the Alpha and Beta, and not once did I stop to think that graphics weren't great. This game is about fun, and bringing back something most of the other FPS games have lost. As for PS4 gamers go, I have nothing against the PS4, but seriously do you guys really not have enough games on your console and is that why you guys keep popping up in every Xbox One related article? Let it go, we get it…you like your console and hate ours, its played to death. Oh and PC….why stoop so low as to compare yourselves to a console, pathetic.

    • Why do Xbox fanboys appear on every Second Son article bashing that game? And why do you assume that everyone that's not interested in Titanfall is a PS4 gamer?

      I'm not interested in either game. But Second Son seems a whole hell of a lot more interesting than a last-gen FPS with mediocre visuals. Besides retaliation for you guys doing the same in SS articles, I'd say that Sony Ponies probably do it because so much of the pro-Titanfall fervor is phony. Oh, sure, Xbots BELIEVE that Titanfall is game of the generation. But they've convinced themselves of that because of deep-seated psychological issues that come with tying up too much of your self-worth in a console brand.

      Titanfall is good, for an FPS. It's not the next Jesus. Desperate Xbox fanboys need to stop acting like it is.

  10. xbox done says:

    Over hyped. Kill a bunch of bots and a very few human players. Wont take long before I get bored with this title

  11. SEADRIVE says:

    Hey,
    I agree with many of you regarding a more powerful ps4; however, the difference in the long run between the two consoles horse-power will not make a big difference…look at how much more powerful the original xbox was over the ps2…you can't compare the two units, can you? The mistake that microsoft has made so far is adopting hardcore gamers…Microsoft has sort of put them into the back seat, while early adopters are always hardcore gamers first. I play my 360 100:1 over my ps3 and I have a ps4 and no xbox one yet. Regarding the new kill zone…there's some nice graphics and such, but it's not fun…I had far more fun playing Halo 4. I understand and appreciate titanfall, but I don't play fps online…I like splitscreen games with bots offline or play online games where one can team-up with friends like in GOW Horde match or Halo Reach Firefight. Will Titanfall sell consoles, yes it will, but it won't sell as many to catch-up with the ps4. Microsoft should bite the bullet and equal Sony's price. The ratio between the two in sales is currently 3:2 for Sony…if nothing is changed in price, it'll be 2:1 for Sony. Titanfall may be like the new FPS Halo, but how many original Xbox's sold compared to PS2s? So, again, unlike Sony who started arrogant last generation, Microsoft get off your high horse and appear to please customers like Sony has…become a bit more humble please.

    • Horsepower does make a difference when coupled with better games. Lower price for that experience really helps.

      And for the record, I enjoyed my original Xbox way more than my PS2. So many Morrowind sessions lasting until 6am…

  12. Retro_Gamer_Player says:

    So much talk about Titanfall and how it will "save" Microsoft. I have not seen anyone express outrage at the big F-U to all early buyers of the XBone. First we pay for a machine which was clearly not ready for prime time. Second, we are forced to buy the Kinect which is also very behind on its promised advantages. The final one nail is with less than four (4) months into its console life there is a price drop, effectively screwing the early Day One buyers. But you say that the price is the same. Last I checked, when MS decided to sell the Titanfall bundle which includes the game, its a price cut and a TITANSIZED F-U to all earlier buyers. I am so disappointed for buying the XB1 at launch. I should have done what I had planned and waited until the Titanfall launch. MS should provide every Day One buyer with a free copy of the game. Look, I'm not asking for a freebee. Its like SiriusXM – when the time to renew comes the price is jacked 100% yet if you call to cancel they start bringing the price down from $20 a month to something like $4 a month. Part of the reason they do it is to reatin customers in an increasingly difficult market where Pandora provides similar content for Free or less $. Unfortunately the only way to get MS attention would be to all cancel out XBox live accounts at once in protest. Probably wont happen. PSN by far is a better deal than Xbox Games for Free. PSN has provided top quality free software such as Resogun from Day One; a trend that continues to this day with the release of Dead Nation on PS4. Last I checked the only decent free XB1 game was Killer Instinct but you really needed to pay $20 to unlock it potential. All other PSN games don.t require that. Its a shame. I'm a game since the first Atari 2600 and the Amiga and I find what MS is doing now very alarming/ MS should be made to compensate those who put faith in their product from the beginning. Instead those arriving later to the party get all the candy.

  13. Marlon says:

    I'm not feeling it. No campaign, no depth, no fun…I played the beta, and while the mechanics were fun, it just felt empty. What is the story about these great suits? Why are we brawling in the cities? Why is there not any environment/ structural damage? These mammoth things should be caving in buildings and what not…heck, Mech Assault did that well. A building could be shot down on top of you, you could land on top of buildings and someone can shoot/ blow the building beneath you…but the biggest factor here, is, no Campaign, no deal.

  14. sadada says:

    Good news!! This game will be on PC no need for Xbox One!

  15. Guest says:

    That's funny Zampella pretty much said you can't change too much or you'll freak'em out

  16. Eddywilliams33 says:

    If you really want to get the most out of Titanfall you need to try it on PC. PC will always be the leader in graphics and competitive games will always give players with a keyboard and mouse the upper hand.

  17. Bill says:

    Online only arena based FPS… This is the future? Someone put me in stasis and wake me up when gaming like this has finally evolved into something interesting.

  18. lost my keys says:

    If you don’t want to pput your self in this problem, just remsmber certain things.

    There are 47 trophies on offer in Saw the videoggame and you’ll find you can pick up a lot off them in a short

    burst of gameplay. Use those study guides tto find exam study referemces and test content outlines.

  19. matt says:

    OK so I can appreciate that the gaming industry is gearing everything towards all online all the time, I mean its just good business, raking in not only another 60 dollars a year each player just to access their own games, but the concept of eventually including in game purchasable content is brilliant. That being said, I don’t have constant internet access due to my job dragging me from one B.F.E location to another year round. I always have my game console and I want offline access. I will not be purchasing an Xbox one.

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