The Fuse facelift: why it's only console, and how co-op doesn't hurt single-player
Insomniac's first multiplatform game, Fuse, is out in just a few weeks. When it hits on May 28, the company will be setting foot into uncharted territory, launching a new property on multiple consoles, and right on the cusp of a new console generation at that. CEO Ted Price recently talked to Shacknews about the game's very public makeover, the cooperative focus, and its future plans for multiplatform development.
"We're committed as a content developer to continuing to support a lot of different platforms," Price told us. "We're moving into mobile, for example. We're working on Outernauts for mobile and I think we're going to continue in that space. Fuse will continue to be multiplatform. In terms of future plans, anything's possible for us because we're an independent developer. We have the option of working with a lot of different partners. That's a good place to be.
"For anybody in the industry right now, I know there's a lot of trepidation about the future and where games are going and what's going to be successful. But we really do feel fortunate to have maintained independence for so long. Despite what has happened in the industry we do have more and more options popping up in terms of how we can distribute our games, what platforms we're on and what types of new IP we can create. We do love creating new IP. It's something that energizes people here at Insomniac, and we're going to continue doing that."
Price said they decided early to target PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This was "easier than expected" thanks to team members with 360 experience, and an entirely new toolset built specifically to "address some of the efficiency issues" in their previous tools. The studio chose to stick with these two platforms alone, he said, so as not to dilute their efforts. But he implies that if Fuse is a hit, as he hopes, it could spread to other platforms as well.
"That goes to a question I get a lot: 'Why didn't you release on PC? Why didn't you release on Wii U?' We have, like most developers, limited bandwidth and when you start spreading yourself too thin the game suffers. When you're building a new IP, that first game has to ignite players' excitement in some way. With us, we believe it's the co-op, so that's where we put the effort on current platforms."
That's not to say the game's development has been seamless. As watchers of the game know, it went through significant changes and even entirely altered its title. "It shifted from campy and cartoony to a little bit more grounded with more of a dry sense of humor. It coalesced around the weapons, and the need to go back to the drawing board in the winter of 2011/2012, and rethink our core xenotech weapons."
Price explained that the earliest weapons looked good, but they weren't fun. The studio found they were "missing impact," and when it added more punch, they ended up with much more dire consequences for enemies who got in their way. "They took a darker turn in terms of what they do to enemies," Price said. "What we wanted to do was to make sure the world and enemies reflected those weapons, but at the same time retain some of the stylization that we started with, and some of the humor, but we tweaked it. I think what we showed early in summer 2012 was probably some of our darker stuff and that gave players the impression that the game was going to be serious and dark and gritty, but the end result was not."
This late in the console cycle, Price said it's especially hard to stand out. The studio has been trying to educate players on this new property, but he thinks the long cycle has made gamers a bit more jaded about any game. He says he hopes that Fuse can capture the spirit of wanting to play with friends, since it was so built around co-op.
Since Fuse is coming from Insomniac, though, that co-op focus naturally comes in the form of weapon differentiation. The developer has always been known for its exotic weaponry, and in this case Price said they aimed for archetypes of different weapon categories, so that they wouldn't overlap. Meanwhile, he claimed that the studio has taken care to make sure that those who prefer single-player won't feel like their experience is compromised.
"Traditionally games that are heavily co-op biased haven't done such a great job of providing a solo experience," he said. "So at the very beginning we devoted a very talented programmer to the AI bots, to ensure that by the time we shipped the game those bots would support you the way you want to be supported. When you're playing by yourself and three bots, the bots generally do what you want them to do. They don't get in the way, they don't steal your kills, but more importantly they help you when you're in trouble. So unless you do something really dumb, your bots are going to come to your aid."
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The co-op also overrode any notion of a competitive mode. It does sport a mode called Echelon, which mixes some competitive elements into co-op missions, and that experience can be used in the main campaign to upgrade characters if you're stuck in a tricky spot. But the studio quickly experimented with, and ultimately decided against, traditional multiplayer modes.
"Very early on we prototyped deathmatch and capture-the-flag, just because we'd had it in some of our other games, and came to the realization that there's one game that everybody plays deathmatch on, and that's Call of Duty. So having a deathmatch or competitive mode in a game means you have a limited audience to start with. The second one was that we wanted to help have players utilize the cooperative skills in any other modes in the game. So that gave us a chance to do something different, like Echelon."
Fuse is due for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on May 28.