AusGamers Titanfall Interview with Respawn's Abbie Heppe
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:52am 10/10/13 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with Respawn community manager Abbie Heppe to talk about their debut title, Titanfall. Read on for what she had to say...
AusGamers: So game of the show at EB Expo. At this point do you guys feel like you’re just walking into every show and destroying everyone?
Abbie Heppe: No. I mean, we’ve won a tonne of awards, but after we won yesterday, I emailed the whole studio and was, like, “oh my God, guys!”. They’ve been working really hard, and it’s just been long days, and we’re so busy back at work, so it’s just inspiring. It’s sort of like that kick that you need to keep you going through the end of a project.
You’re working on these things for years, and to get that kind of… to get awards for it, and the game’s not even out yet, for the studio, and everybody back at home, there is no end to the excitement when that happens. There’s no jaded “oh another one”, it’s like “oh my god, this is so cool”. It’s just a kick in the pants to get done, and push to launch.
AusGamers: It’s obviously pretty validating as well, based on the entire history of the studio, and to have emerged with an unknown IP, building on older tech.
Abbie: Yeah, especially with the new IP stuff. I think we have a great window to do new IP right now, the timing is great, but before E3, we were sitting there, and nobody really outside the studio had seen the game -- probably a few people at EA had seen it, but it hadn’t been widely shown, only to a handful -- and we were a little bit scared, especially when stuff started leaking out about it, and I remember looking at the early comments, and people going “they’re making a mech game? Lame; that sounds stupid; I don’t want that”.
With the history of the studio, and how many people had previously worked on Call of Duty, I think there were a lot of gamers that were expecting that that’s more or less exactly what we would do, only it would be in space. When stuff leaked and it wasn’t that… and none of those early leaks really covered the sort of parkour stuff, and the wall running -- which is one of my favourite parts of it -- there were a lot of comments like “oh, this is going to be terrible”.
To have that going into E3, when you’re trying to be excited and think “I sure hope people like this, because honestly we really don’t know”, that was a little scary. So after that, it’s been really rewarding to see how people have grabbed onto it, because it was a little scary before that.
AusGamers: Everything I’ve seen of the game is something of a true evolution for stuff that has been stagnant for so long now. It’s no secret that Battlefield and Call of Duty live on their year-to-year cycle, and they iterate in such small steps each time. Obviously they do it because that’s what the fans want, and if it’s making money, [so] why break the system?
Abbie: Yeah, if Battlefield tomorrow was a third-person mech fighting game, then they lose their audience.
AusGamers: Right. But you guys have already proven with this that you can actually evolve it; you can improve it. It’s still grounded in a very similar system…
Abbie: Sure. There’s a lot of things that should still feel familiar, and at the same time… which is great, because that’s how you set up a good basis for people to get into the stuff that isn’t as familiar, and is more surprising. But at the same time, when you hear from fans -- especially in those early comments -- they kind of want you to do the same thing, even though they don’t, and you’re ,like, “I don’t know what you want”.
I think I said this last night when I was speaking here, is that I don’t get to have that moment, none of us get to have that moment where you play and it’s new, and you have fresh eyes, and you’re, like, “Woah, this is awesome; I love this”. You don’t get that. You see it build over the course of the years and you play it when it’s not fun, and you play it when it doesn’t have all of the animations, and art, and textures, and design effects that it has now. When you see that, you never get to look at it with those fresh eyes.
So you do worry, and you do think “are people going to like this?”, because at a certain point you’ve lost the ability to have that outside perspective. So seeing people play for the first time, and getting that feedback is never boring, or never not exciting for us when people are, like, “I love this, that was really fun”, because we don’t get to do that. That is the suckiest part of being on this side, even though I love it on the dev side.
AusGamers: Do you feel less connected to the product now because you’ve been on the road for so long? Or do you feel more connected because you’ve been seeing everyone’s reactions?
Abbie: I keep in close touch with everyone back at the studio, but I’m definitely starting to feel like I miss it. I was back for, like, a week, and I just played the shit out of the game, and got to see everything that’s new. I get updates too, so I don’t know that either one of those wins out, but I definitely miss everybody back home. I’m ready to go back and have a new thing. I’ve been showing Angel City for, like, six weeks now, and I’m ready; I’ve played it; I’ve finished; I’ve talked about it a lot [laughs].
AusGamers: Can you talk about… you guys haven’t really shown huge amounts: you’ve shown the same thing since E3 essentially. Can you talk about stuff that the team is still building out and adding, or are there basically like bookends now, and everything’s being built in the middle?
Abbie: Yeah, there are bookends. We know where we need to be and what the scope of the project is, but we’re still in active development -- stuff is still going in, features are still being… we know what’s going in, but a lot of that stuff is still being done back at home, so we’re still busy.
I think if you asked anyone there, they’d be, like, “oh, you’re never done with the game”. You have to ship it at some point, but you’re never really done with it. But at this point, we pretty much know what’s there, we’re just not done building it.
AusGamers: Did Respawn work closely with Valve at all with the Source Engine, or was it that you basically just took the engine and got to work?
Abbie: Yeah, we licensed the engine from them, and our engineers spent a long time ripping out parts, replacing them with our own, and making it work for what our game does. A really funny thing about working with Source early on, was that there was a lot of, like, temp Source stuff, audio and stuff that it was weird hearing. Then it was crazy, because you basically saw the pieces getting ripped out, and all of that stuff changing and going away.
I’d never really seen an engine constructed before, so that was a very interesting process to watch, and obviously we’re still building on it.
AusGamers: The history of the studio is a pretty open one, and there’s a lot of turmoil there. But to have established such a strong IP out of the gate, on really old tech, and to do it that way as an indie -- technically as an indie -- that’s got to be some big balls that people have down there.
Abbie: I hope if anything, it will give publishers more… I mean, I know people want what is established and what’s known, but I hope that if nothing else, it encourages larger scale new IP. It’s so cool to be able to work on something new and different, and also to just have that kind of freedom. It’s hard to have that freedom. That’s the other side of it though: it’s really hard to have that freedom. Because when you can kind of do anything, and there’s competing ideas within the studio, so see this giant world in front of you where you can do anything, but then you have to be able to scale that back and take something out of that. It’s not easy, and so I see why doing stuff in a franchise way is… I don’t want to say easier, but you already have your world established for you, and a lot of that stuff is hard.
So I definitely hope it encourages publishers to be, like, “we should be encouraging people to make stuff that’s new and different”. That would be cool. We’ll see if we’re successful first! [laughs]
AusGamers: Is there a sense at Respawn, that you want to remain indie regardless of the current relationship with EA?
Abbie: Yeah, we’re not looking to get bought any time soon. It’s so a part of who we are. I think, if anything, with the history of the studio and what we’re doing, I don’t foresee us being bought any time in the near future.
AusGamers: It’s a really good time to be that indie too.
Abbie: Yeah, because self-publishing is way more viable than it has ever really been in the industry before. I don’t think people really realise that there’s a tremendous cost to making games; a tremendous amount of work involved; a tremendous amount of people involved, and then being able to go around the world and participate in public shows, and making new builds, and all of that. Everything is just time and money and effort. But there seems to be a lot of things in the industry that are changing, and I think it’s a really cool time to be indie.
Although I’m sure there’s a bunch of indie developers out there cringing right now, going “they’re not really indie”, but we’re not owned, which is not the same; I get it. I always feel weird about saying indie too, because we have a publisher -- although indie games also often have publishers -- but because we’re higher budget, it seems weird to say that we’re indie. But we are!
AusGamers: I’m working on a feature at the moment that I’ve been working on all year. And basically because I get so much access to devs, it’s sort of a question about indie versus Triple-A, and whether or not it’s actually two industries, or whether it’s one, and it’s kind of a sense of perception. If it is two industries, is that a good or a bad thing? Or if they are one, do you think they would work better if they were made more separate?
Because the publisher side is still very Triple-A focused, and has the blinders on with the year-on-year iteration of franchises. There are really good games out there being churned out to a point where franchise fatigue is surely just around the corner for them.
Abbie: I think we bridge a gap, to a degree. I think there’s room for both, but one of the problems is that even events like this, they’re so expensive to really get the word out. Now there’s stuff like IndieCade and separate venues for indie, but PAX has become this hybrid, where there’s super Triple-A and… I watched the same thing happen at ComicCon, where it used to be comic book publishers and smaller ones, and now it’s giant booths and everyone is shouting so loud to be heard.
The real answer to your question is that I don’t know yet. I think that we’re in a really interesting time where everybody’s trying to figure that out. There’s never been more tools to make games, and more places to publish them, and do it more cheaply. To do it by yourself -- like I said, self-publishing is eminently more possible and feasible for studios, especially as traditional PR and marketing takes a back seat to community and more grassroots support.
I think word of mouth is super important to us, which is why we’ve been coming out to all of these shows, but that’s true for everyone, no matter how big or small your game is, and doing stuff at any of these is expensive; the cost to the studio is a lot. There’s still ways to push the game out to fans digitally, which is awesome. But I think we’re in this weird… you’ve already seen stuff that was like Double-A, where you don’t see a lot of those titles anymore.
Just looking out over this expo, it’s like ok Battlefield, Assassin’s, Just Dance, I don’t know, I think maybe Killer Instinct falls… because that’s an interesting hybrid, to be doing a console game that’s free-to-play. I think you’re going to see a lot more of that exploration of models in the next few years. But I don’t think Triple-A and indies should be separate, because I think there’s a lot of lessons that both of them can learn from each other. There’s a lot of indie studios out there that are doing very well with models that we don’t use, but we’re interested in.
When it comes to self-publishing, there’s a lot of indies out there that understand it really well, and there’s a lot of lessons that Triple-A can learn from them. But at the same time I absolutely hate it when you get that attitude of “Triple-A, whatever, they just make big shooters”. There’s no room for that, there just isn’t, it’s not ok. We all work really hard, we all put a lot of hours, and love, and care into what we do. I never dismiss something just because it’s big or small or anything, it’s so silly. There’s so many cool things being done in games right now, and there’s so many interesting lessons that everyone can learn from each other, and so much creativity.
Even when you’re talking about games that are franchises and iterations, it doesn’t mean that they don’t do cool stuff, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t great lessons to learn from those games too. So I don’t know, I don’t like the attitude that they’re two totally separate things. We’re all the videogame industry. There’s so many good people that do this stuff, and network really hard to make great games, so I think that anything elitist is just sort of silly.
AusGamers: But that’s the Internet for you.
Abbie: Yeah sure, but I don’t know. Going on NeoGAF and there were plenty of people saying really nice things about Titanfall. Maybe people take it easier on us because we’re a new IP, sure, but it’s just counter-productive to be dismissive of stuff in games. It’s silly. You have to look at the industry as a whole, and indie is very much a part of the industry. Look how much Sony has been pushing indie games on PS4. You can’t say that there’s not attention being paid from one side to the other.
AusGamers: Obviously you’ve been showing a particular portion of the game. Is there anything that you know is coming that hasn’t been seen yet, that you’re most excited for?
Abbie: Other Titans. Also, being able to work in sci-fi is awesome, because it lets our design team and our art team build just… it lets them get way more out there with levels and locations and world stuff. So I think I’m really excited to be able to show what else there is.
This is a city; it goes a lot crazier than that. So I think it will definitely be [exciting to show] some of the other maps in the game and some of the other characters and titans.
AusGamers: Are we going to see some Zero-G abilities?
Abbie: No. We’re not actually in space, we’re on planets in space. I think just getting the jump-jet and double-jump and wall-running mechanics… I don’t want to kill our engineers and our design time. Because that’s the crazy thing, when you’re doing stuff that isn’t on-the-ground movement… how many times have you played other games, and you have that core gamer that will immediately go out and try to break it and get out of the map and everything. Now that we’ve added in the crazy eject sequence where you go up really high, and all of the movement and the double-jumping and the ability to get through the environment and do all of that… it’s hard enough to make sure that your maps are going to be contained, and not be totally destroyed by players the second they get in there… like, kill us by adding another component in there.
AusGamers: Okay, thanks so much for your time today Abbie.
Abbie: No problem, thank you.