PAX EAST - A New Kind of Coop Game: A Talk with Insomniac Games Founder, Ted Price, About FUSEA game interview article by: Nick Boisson
Last month, for the first time, I had the chance to go to PAX East over in Boston. Having never been to a PAX show (or any video game convention, really), going there was a whirlwind of new experiences. But easily, the best part of the show for me didn't even happen on the show floor. It happened next door at the Birch Bar in the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel where I got to sit down and speak with one of my heroes in the world of video games: Insomniac Games Founder, President, CEO and all around awesome guy, Ted Price!
Now, Insomniac Games has a new game coming out, Fuse, and there is just so much that wasn't really known about it yet. Luckily, Ted was very eager to talk about Fuse, its development and the crazy ideas that the Insomniac team is bringing with their first foray into multi-platform game design. I honestly have not had more fun conducting an interview and you will surely see why below!
Nick Boisson of Comics Bulletin Games: So, let's talk about Fuse! Can you give us an elevator pitch for what Fuse is?
Ted Price of Insomniac Games: It's a brand new, four-player cooperative, story-driven, third-person action-shooter. How's that? That's a lot of adjectives strung in a row!
It's something we've been working on for a while and it is a multi-platform title that we're particularly excited about because it's a brand new IP coming out at a time when we're mostly seeing sequels. So, we saw the opportunity to do something brand new with coop in particular. From the very beginning, we started building this game as a four-player game, meaning that there are always four characters in the game. Whether they are controlled by humans or bots, you are always playing in a team of four. We used that as a way to add some elements that we don't think have been seen in other coop games and, for us, it's been a really fun ride. We've been able to experiment and discover some new approaches to coop along the way.
CB: Can you tell us a little bit about those characters in Fuse?
Price: Yeah! So, as I said, it is story-driven. We tend to focus on gameplay because we're gameplay nerds, but we are also story nerds. We love creating new worlds and this world which we created for the game is not a realistic world or based on today's world at all. It's set in this fictional future where our government discovers an alien substance in the 1940s called Fuse and it is sequestered in this space out in the middle of the desert and scientists have been trying to figure out how to deal with it. It is this volatile, unstable and kills a lot of people whenever they try to experiment. But eventually, they figure out how to use it in experimental weapons.
You are part of a team called Overstrike, a four-person team which is part of a larger organization called Overstrike. Your team is Overstrike-9, specifically. Your team is called in when somebody goes dark. And the reason you're called in is because Overstrike is the organization governments use when plausible deniability is important and this base isn't supposed to exist. And the fact that they're experimenting on some kind of alien substance is something that the government doesn't want anyone to know. So you're supposed to go in and figure out what the Hell is going on. When your team gets to the base, it's been ransacked; something awful has happened, you see experiments that have gone awry using fuse and when you get there, you pick up some of these experimental Fuse weapons. So, you equip them and start using them. This is good because a few minutes after that, the base is hit by RAVEN, a paramilitary organization intent on stealing the source of Fuse, which is buried deep within the base.
After that, the game becomes a worldwide, globe-trotting chase as you are trying to track down the source of Fuse, which is being moved from place to place by RAVEN and other factions that you discover within the game. And ultimately, RAVEN starts to use Fuse against you. But Fuse is an essential part of the story because it motivates the characters in different ways. You meet a lot of characters as you are moving through the game and each one has a different approach to using Fuse and a different desire for Fuse. Our characters on the team are also influenced by Fuse in different ways.
Our characters specifically are Dalton Brooks, who is the tank of the group. He is a former mercenary for RAVEN, but he switched sides. Naya Deveraux is a former assassin hired by Overstrike. She worked with her father as part of the team, but they separated over arguments. You meet her father in the game and there is a B-story about her and father later. There is Jacob Kimball, who is an ex-LAPD detective who is kicked off the force for being a vigilante. Then, there is Izzy Sinclair who is recruited by Overstrike for her technical abilities. They are all shoved together as part of this team and they are all different. You get to learn a lot about them from emerging dialogue that happens within the game.
One question that we keep getting about this game is if there is any humor in it. Is this Ratchet & Clank or Resistance in terms of tone? With Fuse, we try to strike a tone that is in between the two, where there is dry humor within the game. The characters don't take themselves seriously, but the story ramifications are very serious if you fail. So, we are not a “grim” and “gritty” shooter. We don't take place in the battle-infused worlds that you see in most of today's military shooters. This is very much our own made-up, Insomniac world where you are globe-trotting and tracking down these larger-than-life villains who are in these exotic strongholds.
CB: I was actually going to ask about that. When we first saw the game and it was called Overstrike, and the trailer made it seem more in the vein of Ratchet & Clank versus the more recent Fuse trailers seem more Resistance...
Price: The game has evolved a lot over production and we were more transparent than we have ever been when making a game in regards to its evolution. That transparency included showing that trailer at E3 2011 when we first showed off the first incarnation of the characters. We continued to improve the weapons, continued to improve the story, improve the environments and, along the way, we listened to a lot of fan feedback that we got from both that initial trailer and the first pieces that we released last year. The game right now is in a place where it is very much an Insomniac game; in terms of the color, in terms of the humor, in terms of the exotic weapons that you can use and in terms of some of the RPG elements that have made their way into this shooter.
CB: Let's talk about the weapons for a sec. I have always felt that there are two things that fans love about Insomniac: the characters and the crazy, imaginative weapons. With the weapons using this substance, Fuse, what kind of crazy weapons will we be seeing in this game?
Price: Well, first of all, you have a full arsenal of shooter basics in the game that you can pick up and switch out. Rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, pistols, mini-gun, rocket launchers, flamethrowers, those kind of things. But, each of our characters is equipped with a Fuse-powered weapon that we call Xenotech. These are weapons that you discover early on and each weapon confers these class-based abilities for each of the four characters.
You've got the Magshield, which is the result of combining ferrofluid and Fuse. Are you familiar with ferrofluid?
CB: [Shakes head]
Price: It actually exists. It is a magnetically-molded fluid that can change shape based on magnetism. It's pretty neat! And in our fiction, Fuse is used to mold and harden the ferrofluid, and it creates this permeable and non-permeable shield where it's permeable on one side and not on the other. Dalton can raise it, walk around and catch any incoming projectiles – bullets grenades, rockets, anything – and he can release a kinetic blast of energy after it's absorbed the energy from the incoming projectiles and liquify any enemies in front of him. What's useful is that any of his teammates can fire through the shield while they are being protected from any incoming projectiles. Then, later in the game, Dalton can unlock the ability where he can drop copies of the shield. So, if you're in an ambush situation and have enemies coming from both sides, he can drop multiple copies of the shield and create a sort of safe haven for your team to fire through the shield.
Then, there is the Shattergun, which is Izzy Sinclair's Xenotech gun. The Shattergun is the result of combining Fuse and black melanite, which is an exotic crystal that also actually exists. And what it does is, when it hits enemies, it crystallizes them. It's pretty cool! We came up with this neat-looking crystalline structure that enemies become. But, from a functional perspective, it's useful because enemies behind cover get lifted up out of cover by about a meter and a half. So, if they're taking shelter, they are now exposed and crystallized, so they can't move. Better, the crystallized enemies send out branches which will crystallize any nearby enemies. It makes it a very great crown-control weapon. It also makes it useful for your teammates because you set up enemies like bowling pins and they can just shatter them with their weapons. Izzy also has a crystallized healing beacon that you can unlock which she can throw it across the battlefield and you can revive any fallen teammates. Super useful if one of your teammates is a Leroy Jenkins-type guy and runs into battle all the time. I like playing Izzy quite a bit, actually, because I like playing the healer.
Then there's Naya Deveraux who has the Warp Rifle. That's a result of combining Fuse and antimatter. What she can do is coat enemies in this glowing mixture of Fuse and antimatter, then trigger a singularity. This crushes the enemy, but sends out a wave which will knock out any nearby enemies. And, in some cases, it will even vaporize them. Better, though, is that you can coat multiple enemies and if you pop one, it sends off a chain of black holes, which just devastates anybody on the battlefield and creates a really cool area of effect on weapons. Then, there is another ability which she can unlock where she can just become the group's flanker and she goes stealth, which is very useful.
Then, finally, there is Jacob Kimball who has the Arc Shot, which is a Fuse and liquid mercury-infused weapon. It's a crossbow which fires these super-heated bolts of mercury which will do burn damage and pin enemies. Even better, you can unlock a trap function. So I can fire bolts into the environment around say...Melissa [the nice EA Games PR rep who was sitting at our side], and trigger the trap which will then liquify her. Just streams of mercury come out and just melt the enemies in place. Very useful for any enemies that are high up like snipers, who are out of reach and behind cover. But also useful for firing into enemies as they're running towards their buddies, so you can trigger the trap and...BLAM!
That's just the weapons from a pure solo perspective. We built all of these weapons to be combined. So, for example, the Shattergun is great as a combo weapon in that I can crystallize enemies and Jacob – who has the Arc Shot – can blast them easily from a distance with his bolts. Or, if I crystallize a whole bunch, Dalton with his Magshield – which has a large blast radius – can take 'em all out with one shot. And there are lots and lots of different combos, up to all four weapons working together to take out enemies. And, in every case, we reward all players for their participation in the kill. So we are constantly encouraging players to work together through these experience point rewards that you get with your weapons. But, it is important to note that these are not just different flavors of machine guns. Every single one of these weapons has very unique functions that confer these class-based abilities to each of these characters.
So, it's pretty deep. Sorry, I just keep going on and on...
CB: No, don't even worry about that!
Price: It's just been really fun to figure out how those pieces of the puzzle could work well together to create a different identity versus other coop shooters.
CB: So, you said that the enemies will also have their hands on Fuse, as well, which means that it won't leave your characters being these omnipotent beings on the field. Knowing this, what kind of challenge will this bring to the game?
Price: So, we have some larger enemies in the game – mini-bosses, essentially – that are the Lead Fire, Lead Foot and Lead Shot. These are the big enemies that use different weapons against you. One of them in particular will drop a Magshield that is impermeable. Once he does that, you'll have to figure out just what you're going to do. He'll also drop the shield in front of any nearby enemies as well. We have enemies who use invisibility against you, others that use mercury traps against you...I don't want to give too much away...
CB: Of course.
Price: Part of the fun In the game is going up against an enemy and suddenly realizing that what you thought was just a standard gun is a lot more difficult to deal with than before. So, you'll have to develop new strategies to deal with them.
You'll see. We spent a lot of time developing archetypal enemies, as well, as that you as a team would have to coordinate your attacks.
CB: Let's talk about the coop. This is definitely not Insomniac's first coop game. It seems a lot like Resistance 2's coop mixed with Ratchet: All 4 One's. What have you guys learned from your experience with your other coop titles that you brought into development on Fuse?
Price: That's a great question. I think we learned that four is a magic number. It's a great number because you can build spaces that work well, that feel believable and aren't too big or too small and work well with four characters. Four is also a good number to keep track of. If you are playing with three buddies, it's relatively easy to keep track of three other players. It's much harder to keep track of seven other players, like we had in Resistance. But we brought a lot more in terms of the class-based archetypes from Resistance, where we had multiple classes that you could choose. We also learned a lot from Ratchet: All 4 One, which had the four-player approach, as well. This is very different, where it is much more weapons-focused and, it terms of our combat strategy, it's very different from Ratchet.
Every game we do is a learning experience. I think, for us, it was more about making sure that A) coop is fun, no matter how many humans you're playing with, and B) each of the characters felt very unique, like you would find in an RPG. Going back to the first point, this is a game which we believe is as fun for one person as it is for two, three or four. That's because we spent a lot of time on the bot AI to make sure that they respond the way you expect them to. So, if you go into a game and you say, “You know what, none of my friends are online and I just want to play by myself,” the other three characters are played by bots and they will use any of the skills which you've unlocked for them as they are playing with you. And better, you can leap back-and-forth between each of the characters at will. We don't lock you into one character at the beginning like most games do. You have a choice of playing all four of these archetypes. What we find gratifying, as players, is that there are so many different combat setups that you can approach them in four different ways and when you are playing by yourself – or with one or two other players – leaping gives you a chance to experience those setups in various different fashions and a chance to experiment with Izzy's approach or Dalton's approach or Naya's approach.
CB: You mentioned the ability to switch between open characters in coop. Will the coop also be drop in/drop out so that another player can join your game?
Price: Yes, it's drop in/drop out. It's also important to note that the leap function works great even if you're playing with two other people. So, if you're playing with three humans, there is a bot that any of you can leap into. If you leap into the bot, the character you were playing is left free for others to drop into. It can become this game of musical chairs if you want it to.
But the drop in/drop out coop is very useful because we will have a bot take a human's place seamlessly. So, you won't even notice that someone has dropped out other than seeing that the tag will change. That was important to us, not to interrupt the experience if people have to go one with their lives and have to stop playing.
The other thing that most people don't know about is that we do support local two-player split screen, so you and a friend could be playing couch coop together. But, you can also play online against your friends. So, you and a friend can play with two of your other friends who are also playing couch coop.
The last thing I'll mention is that we do have another mode in the game called Echelon, which is another team-based mode where you're using skills that you develop in the single-player campaign. Echelon battles are twelve rounds or increasingly difficult challenges and there are six different battle objectives that get randomized throughout those twelve rounds. You have to try to win and you get bigger and bigger rewards. It's a little bit like Smash TV meets a wave-based mode. But, in our case, it's very offensive. You're actually going after the enemies and your objectives versus always defending one spot. Though, to be fair, there is one objective out of six where you will be defending one spot, but the rest are all offensive. What you come away with from Echelon is...well, hopefully a sense of satisfaction, but also a lot more XP which you can apply to campaign because our progressive system is unified. But also Fuse credits, which are these giant bags of cash, gold bars and coins which are dropped into the middle of the environment and you can use them to unlock special team perks and buy new gear for your agents.
There's lots and lots of stuff and I actually haven't even gone through all of it. [Laughs] It's a deep game with a lot of features and we believe that if you like story-driven games, in general, or what we do with weapons and characters, you're going to love Fuse. But, if you're a coop player, you're going to definitely find that it offers more features that no other game offers today.
CB: And it is your first multi-platform title, coming out for both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
CB: Insomniac has been a PlayStation developer for years, so how hard was it to transition from one architecture to another?
Price: Pretty straightforward, actually. We have been prepping for it and actually built a new engine tool set to support our multi-platform efforts. We're excited! Just excited to reach a whole new audience.
CB: I'm guessing you were working off a PC-based architecture with your new engine. Will we be seeing a PC release down the line?
Price: We just focusing on bringing a great game to consoles.
CB: And when will we be playing Fuse?
Price: May 28th! For us, it's a great window. As I mentioned at the beginning, we're a new IP in a time where there are lots and lots of sequels. May 28th, for us, is a great chance to wave to everyone and say, “We're the new kid on the block, so check it out!” We're offering some very, very different stuff with Fuse, so we're pumped about it.
CB: Fantastic! Thank you very much for speaking with me. I am very much looking forward to playing it in May!
Price: Awesome! Thanks for the questions!
I was already excited about this game, but Ted Price managed to make me even more excited with his entusiasm and his love of the idea of a well-developed coop game! If Fuse is a fraction as good as he makes makes you believe it is, it will be one hell of a game to compete with this year!
Thanks again to Ted Price and Melissa Ojeda at EA!
Pop culture geek, Nick Boisson, lives in front of his computer, where he is Section Editor of Comics Bulletin's video game appendage and shares his slushily obsessive love of video games, comics, television and film with the Internet masses. In the physical realm, he works in Guest Relations for Florida Supercon in Miami as well as a day-to-day job, which he refuses to identify to the public. We're thinking something in-between confidential informant and professional chum-scrubber.