Talking Titanfall 2 With Respawn’s Mackey McCandlish

Titanfall 2 is, as I wrote in our preview last week, trying to perform an interesting trick, in taking a purely multiplayer game and trying to translate that into a single player experience that manages to be true to its origins. The sheer mobility that’s available to a player during multiplayer, the overwhelming power of a Titan in battle, the interstellar war that’s being fought, all of that needed to make the leap over to the other side.

By and large, they seem to be managing to do so, with a game that takes one or two steps away from the usual 6-8 hour single player campaign. Mackey McCandlish, the Single Player Design Lead, said, “I think we were more concerned with being different when we were multiplayer only, because we knew that we had to stand out in some unique way and give you an excuse to buy it, because you can already buy lots of shooters.

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“With this game, we knew we had something unique with the Pilots and Titans, so it was just a question of how do we translate that to a single player campaign, and how do we solve the challenge of taking such a freedom based motion model and make something where you can’t just run by everything. We didn’t want to make an endless runner out of it!”

The three core pillars to the multiplayer game – the Pilot combat, Titan combat and Pilot mobility – all had to be represented, and it’s that third pillar in particular that pushed the team to head back to the drawing board time and again. The prototyping phase saw the single player team conjure up what they then called ‘action blocks’, with dozens if not hundreds of little ideas that could be put toward a greater whole.

“They didn’t have to be directly related to what existed of the campaign or story at that point, and loosely it could really be anything,” Mackey explained, “but it was a series of one week periods where each week, you as a designer would pick something from the wide buffet of what Titanfall has in it and try to make actual single player gameplay out of it.

“Somebody might go and try to make something about using the vortex and using it to protect people, or riding on a Titan while he’s going down a river and having to keep the enemies off him. There’s all these different mechanics in the Titanfall universe, and action blocks were explorations of each specific one.”

In combat in particular, there’s a freedom to the level design, an openness that often lets you pick your angle of attack and how you want to go about it, and they almost feel like multiplayer arenas in some ways. Juxtaposed with this are the sections that I feel make this into more of a first person action adventure, than a traditional blockbuster FPS campaign.

“There’s more of a focus on what we call a mobility challenge,” Mackey said, “which in an Uncharted game would be that core loop of looking where you want to go, looking at your environment and thinking about how you’re actually going to get there. That does differentiate it a bit from what people are used to in shooters.

“We didn’t know that we would find that going in, but through experimentation, we found that was one of the things that we could make that was fun in this universe. Once we found that, we just thought let’s do more of it. If something’s working, let’s do more and we’ll wrap the universe and the characters around the gameplay that we find.”

And then there’s the surprising degree of humour to the writing of the story. BT-7274’s deadpan delivery as he talks to Jack Cooper and the way in which you can choose your responses and shift the flow of the conversation.

It certainly feels as though there’s a certain Marvel movie levity to the script, and Mackey agreed, saying “I think that Steve Fukuda, our Game Director, and Manny, our new writer, they have a basis in a grounded military reality – as from Steve’s previous work – but I think he’s always wanted to get a bit more of the humour in there, but maybe from his past work there wasn’t that much of an opportunity to do it. So now people don’t expect that from us, and the Titanfall universe takes itself seriously enough, but it has that margin for exploring things in a little less serious way.

“I think it happened organically, and the Titan, because he’s an android, he’s not trying to be funny, but it’s fun to find those ways for the character to come out and to sell his lack of humanness. He has a coldness, but you can take the edge of it. I think it grew out of that character.”

Just as the single player has been built from the ground up to fit with the core ideas behind Titanfall, the multiplayer has been refined and improved along the way as well. For instance, there’s a much lesser emphasis on having AI NPCs running around the battlefield and the selection of game modes feature them less heavily.

Mackey explained, “One of the things we did with this game was look at Titanfall and try to kind of carve it down to its foundation, like when they wipe a house out and they keep the studs and they’re going to build a new house on top of that foundation.

“So the question came up about the AI. Was AI in multiplayer a core component of Titanfall? And what we came to was that the core is really the Pilots and the Titans. AI were a method in the first game to make the game more accessible, and especially in lieu of having a single player campaign, to invite people in and say, ‘Look, you can still play. You can just focus on shooting the AI and then everybody can have fun.’

“With this game, we have a campaign that can bring those players in and give them a safer place to play, so the multiplayer is more focussed on bringing concepts of anticipation and reduced reaction. In the previous game, the AI did a lot of those accessibility things, but they could increase the chaos. You might not be able to see quickly enough where the threat is.”

Titanfall 2 is a fairly all encompassing sequel, in that regard, taking so many of the points that worked well in the first game and emphasising them, while lessening the impact or removing the elements that didn’t, both in the new single player and the multiplayer.

Of course, I had to ask Mackey quickly whether or not the Titan survives the single player story, to which he coyly replied, “Well… nobody’s ever really gone if they live in your memory. I don’t wanna… who can say? You’ve got to play to find out!”


This preview comes from a press trip to Respawn Entertainment in California last week, with travel and accommodation provided by EA.

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