Published on May 17th, 2013 | by Wez Evans0
Ted Price of Insomniac Games Talks FUSE
This week, on an on-again/off-again drizzly afternoon in Dublin (I should stop opening with the weather, it’s always so depressing), I find myself surrounded by like-minded nerds facing EA branded console/tv combos as a suited gentleman offers me a beer, takes my coat, and calls me “sir”. After a brief presentation from Insomniac Games CEO and president, Ted Price, we get our hands on some controllers and dive into FUSE. And it’s fun. A lot of fun. More so with other human players and fortunately there was no shortage of them here.
One by one Price takes journalists aside for private interviews but it’s a slow process as he is constantly distracted by anyone willing to talk games. Eventually, I’m dragged away from the console and plonked in front of a beaming Ted Price, only too delighted to talk about his latest game.
You’ve suffered a lot of assumptions that this is a generic third-person shooter, having played it it’s clearly not, were you concerned that the game was being perceived that way?
Ted – Yeah! As content creators we are very attuned to what people say and with FUSE we were super transparent about what we did, so when we got those comments based on another post somebody had made or a screenshot somebody had seen or one of our first trailers, it stung.
We knew we weren’t making a generic third-person shooter, to use those words, what we had focused on all along was a stylised universe that does things that other games don’t do with a story that’s a very Insomniac story about a crazy alien substance that drives these weapons, four characters with back-stories we explain as you move through the game, and these almost Bond-like villains you run into occupying exotic locations. In space.
With the different classes available, if anything FUSE seems to have drawn inspiration from the team dynamics of MMO games. Was that something you were always going for or did it develop over time?
Ted – We were going for that in a light way early on, we had thoughts on creating different archetypes in the very beginning, but the most important aspect was to make a great four player co-op game however we can do it. Just raise the bar somehow. We already had the personalities of our four characters in mind, two women, two men: one was more of a tank-like character, one was kind of a loner, one was the stealth-ish character, and one was the techie.
Then we started thinking about weapons and their arsenals in relation to these character’s personalities but we failed several times to make those weapons work. As we continued to prototype new forms of those weapons the personalities changed a little bit and they eventually coalesced into the final team that we have, all of whom are very different personality-wise.
To try to answer your question better, those archetypes began slightly differently to how they ended up but they were always supposed to be there. We are MMO players too and we drew from our experiences with venerable MMOs to bring a new flavour to FUSE.
There are a lot of numbers popping up on screen during combat. Was that a conscious effort to distance yourselves from other shooters?
Ted – That was the result of many arguments at Insomniac. Having health bars, having numbers pop up, having the combos pop up, there was a lot of reluctance to that because sometimes you get comfortable with what you’ve done in the past. With Resistance we’ve never had any of that and so the question was “Why would we want to do it here?” and the answer was we need to make it more obvious and visibly rewarding when players are working together. Plus the enemies are tough in FUSE, and they have to be tough because when you have four players trying to take an enemy down you don’t want to make them popcorn. I should say, there are popcorn enemies in the game but they’re brutal if they get close to you.
There are two modes of play in the game, Campaign and the almost reverse-horde mode of Echalon. Were they built alongside each other or was one built before the other?
Ted – You’re actually the first person who’s asked that! I’ve been doing interviews for six months and nobody else has asked that question. We started the campaign far earlier; we went through a lot of variations of Echalon, it was significantly different when we began. It changed and it changed again and we realised that it would be more fun for the players to take advantage of the skills they had been building in these big battles. But I mean, we couldn’t do that until we figured out the weapon functionality and the story-driven campaign.
Designs overhauls aren’t out of the ordinary for Insomniac, you guys like to go back if you need to and revamp everything. Are there any games out at the moment you think could have done with a redesign before release?
Ted – I would never talk about somebody else’s games, unless it’s in positive terms. It’s a tough thing to ask a developer because we’re all in this together. We play each others games, we actually collaborate on various aspects of the development process, we talk all the time. And I say “we” as a community. We all have relationships within the community with our peers and it’s just not something I would feel comfortable doing.
I mean, there are certain things that we learn from different games for sure. Every developer has a very different process in terms of how they address problems in their own games; sometimes it’s through complete revamps, sometimes it’s through patching, sometimes you fix things in sequels. It’s just up to the team.
Considering what a departure FUSE and Resistance were from the likes of Spyro and Ratchet & Clank, can you see yourselves going back to a more cartoon-ish style?
Ted – We don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a company. We did Disruptor, which was dark and gritty, then we did Spyro which was super cartoon-ey, then Ratchet which was a little less so, and then Resistance which was a complete change of pace. We did that because we want to keep things fresh for everybody at Insomniac, we support lots of different ideas. We don’t restrict ourselves, it comes down to what fits the world we’re trying to create.
So chances are slim on a gritty Spyro reboot?
Ted – You’d have to ask Activision about that, although there have been attempts at it. I think Universal had a version of Spyro that was pretty grown up looking, very serious. I remember looking at it and thinking “Wow, that is not the kind of thing we make”.
Would you personally have played a game like that?
Ted – Probably not. I mean I feel that a great deal of our love for Spyro comes from his character design and his personality, seeing him morph as much as he did was understandable but not something that really attracted me to play. Recently I have to give huge kudos to Activision for getting clever about how to bring Spyro back. The Skylanders concept was awesome and came with a massive risk but they pulled it off and as a result I think Spyro is more popular than he’s ever been.
FUSE and Outernauts are the first IPs you’ve owned completely. How has that affected the development process?
Ted – Well when we worked with Sony on Resistance, Ratchet & Clank, and Spyro they were very hands off. Those were games that came from Insomniac and we had complete freedom to make them the way we wanted to. On both Ratchet and Resistance we went back to the drawing board several times before we figured out what the hell we were doing, and we did that with Sony’s support too, they were great. They said they had their own opinions on the game but told us to decide for ourselves. They trusted our judgement.
But building a new IP is hard! People tend to overlook that quite a bit because the assumption is that coming up with a new game is easy and fun but when you try to make all the pieces of story, gameplay, characterisation, and progression fit together it’s a funny and complicated puzzle. It doesn’t always come out the way you expected it to but if it isn’t fun then you’ve got a problem. That’s where we spend most of our efforts, making sure that when you jump in and you play for twenty minutes you have a fun experience.
Is there any particular reason you didn’t collaborate with Sony for FUSE?
Ted – We went in with the intent of releasing this across multiple platforms, not just Playstation. We wanted to reach a larger audience. Xbox 360 fans are pretty passionate about Xbox 360 and we have a lot of players asking when we were going to make games for Xbox and the answer was always “We don’t know!” so when we had the opportunity and the bandwidth to make a brand new IP we jumped it. We decided to do something that works for both our fanbase at Sony and our new fanbase, hopefully, at Microsoft.
When we first made the announcement we actually got a lot of push-back from Sony fans and I had to explain what our goals were; we’re not abandoning Sony fans by any means, we want to make a great game for them too. Building the game, technologically our goal was to achieve parity with Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and we have.
I know you’ve been very active about the defence of games, particularly in America. How do you feel about the recent attempt to tax violent video games?
Ted – I think it’s ludicrous. I think treating video games like a controlled substance flies in the face of the US constitution and our rights as creators under the first amendment. Freedom of speech is one of the most defining aspects of being an American and games are a creative expression the same way all other works of art are. Unfortunately that’s not always recognised, especially by non-gamers and politicians who are looking for a platform and games are an easy target, have been for a long time, but I think the fervour is dying down.
The supreme court ruled in our favour, which was a huge win for us, and there is no conclusive evidence that games have harmful effects. It’s always unsettling to see politicians turning to whatever scapegoat is available to blame society’s ills on and unfortunately, because of tragic events in the US, politicians have been looking for a scapegoat and games are one of them. But I think we’ve defended ourselves well and common sense will continue to prevail in that we as players and parents don’t want the government making decisions for us.
We the gamers, or I should say we the players, have the right to play what we want when we want without government interference. We have fantastic rating systems that educate parents on what is in games so they can make decisions for their families and the government should be involved in no way.
I noticed you corrected yourself there, how do you feel about the term “gamers”?
Ted – You know, I saw that in an article today about how some people feel “gamer” is a bad word. I’m a gamer and I’m proud to say it however I have no problem with adjusting semantics if it makes people happy. Player, gamer, someone who plays games, call me what you want but I love games so personally I don’t have a problem with the term.
FUSE will be released on May 28 in North America and May 31 in Europe for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3