It’s a funny thing, personal history. I mean, we all allegedly “learn from our mistakes” and then apply those learnings to making sure we don’t make the same mistake again. Obviously, as a young Jeffry Goldblum
would remind us, however, ‘chaos theory’ rules all, which simply “deals with predictability in complex systems”, before creepily caressing a young Laura Dern’s hand right before they all look at a giant pile of… well, you know the story. But, sometimes it’s not mistakes that come back to remind us of lessons learnt, instead it can be serendipitous collective learnings; friendships, relationships, business and businesses (or jobs). And, creative learnings.
“I’m, like, "why am I repeating this theme again? This is so strange," expresses Disintegration lead, Marcus Lehto
, who is also CEO and co-founder of V1 Interactive
. “And it was really not... It was not a conscious effort, I swear. It was this natural evolution of the game.”
The reason for the statement at all is that Lehto was also a co-creator on the original Halo
series with Bungie
-- a game that also humbly started originally as an RTS before becoming one of the most influential shooter series of all time. Sometimes ‘chaos theory’ is just that pile of… well, you know the story, and history just repeats.
"In essence, bring the usual top-down mouse-click role of the Commander (you) into the boots of a normally expendable Unit on your ever-evolving battlefield, and you’ve got *part* of what Disintegration *hopes* to be..."
“I loved making Myth: The Fallen Lords
, and that was the first game I started working on when joining Bungie,” Lehto recalls. “And the original incarnation of Disintegration really was a spiritual successor to something like Myth: Fallen Lords, which was all real-time tactics, not turn-based [at all], just focusing on the technical usage of ground units and focusing down on the awesome simulation of combat that unfolds in front of you. Then, as a result, moving [Disintegration] into that first-person shooter side of things; when we transformed that camera in the sky into a vehicle that can fly around… it [just] felt really different, [similarly to] the path we took when we moved Halo from RTS, to third-person and then to first-person.”
So then, exactly what is Disintegration?
Take an RTS, throw in a vehicle-type… let’s say ‘aerial’, give that aerial pilot character
, then look at where Destiny shone, and shadowed. Follow that up with memories of Halo’s intense moment-to-moment combat and have a look at what Respawn
got right with the mech side of Titanfall. Now, for the sake of differentiating, bring back that RTS component as a pillar to everything above. In essence, bring the usual top-down mouse-click role of the Commander (you) into the boots of a normally expendable Unit on your ever-evolving battlefield, and you’ve got *part* of what Disintegration *hopes* to be.
“I like to call it an aerial tactical shooter,” Lehto enthuses. “So Disintegration is a first-person shooter with an RTS layer to it, but it's wholly focused on the fluidity and action of a first-person shooter and that combat simulation of what plays out on the ground.
“Back when Kickstarter was still a thing I had those two students that were helping me out,” he adds. “We thought we were going to crowdfund a small RTS-type game and that was it. It was going to be a very, very small title. It was going to be for PC only. It was a little RTS thing, and it was cool. We had it functional in a way [and] I even talked to Geoff Keighly and he and I were going to get up on stage and announce this game…
"It was one of those big “ah ha!” moments in the middle of the night thinking of what I wanted to do with this game -- that's when I decided to turn the camera in the sky into an active participant in combat..."
“It was around that time that we had this kind of ‘Coming to Jesus’ moment with the game and we liked what we were building. I really liked it, and I loved the universe that we were building, but I didn't like the core gameplay mechanics. I felt like it was just too common. To be clear too, while it was a really awesome experience that we were building, at the root of [it all it changed because] I love making more action-based type games. It was one of those big “ah ha!” moments in the middle of the night thinking of what I wanted to do with this game -- that's when I decided to turn the camera in the sky into an active participant in combat.”
In a roundabout way, Lehto and V1’s vision came from a root of “no one’s really done this before”, thus totally uprooting
the original design while maintaining its universe and character. In ideation, the concept of taking that isometric camera to a specific unit -- in first-person -- but then giving that unit a purpose and a place within a narrative, coupled with his time working on franchises like Halo and Destiny, and within the walls of Bungie made way for a “little engine” that now “could”, and with Triple-A engineers, to boot.
There’s a twist here though, because while the larger project in play within Disintegration is indeed a potential game-changer, it’s been challenged as a genre amalgam before. The *in desperate need of revival* Brutal Legend from one Tim Schaefer toyed with bringing RTS stylings to an action game experience, and with much success. However, those sections of the game were limited to specific moments, what Lehto and V1 are doing here is building out an entire
experience, which means sticking to that shift in design all the way.
"I had never played anything like this, and then we couldn't find anything else like this out there, which got us even more excited..."
“I feel like [the change] was this natural progression that really then started to carve out some territory that was really new to me,” Lehto says. “I had never played anything like this, and then we couldn't find anything else like this out there, which got us even more excited. It was also super-challenging too -- it was very hard to actually iterate on the gameplay mechanics and hone in on that core golden nugget that really worked great.”
Teaming up with the ever-growing Private Divsion
has helped the studio maintain a flow and ethos that happily swings between Indie and Triple-A, and during these troubled times it has allowed them to maintain a sense of progress, despite changed working conditions across the board.
“That's one of the things that I really value about V1, is that we have a healthy life outside of the office just as much as we do inside,” Lehto concludes. “[And] I think that directly translates to what people are actually building while in the studio together. You'll see it, I think, in the end product that there's a lot of love and passion put into the game. It's really hard right now with us all working remotely and it definitely is slowing things down a little bit. [But] we are getting more efficient every day.
“We have to you go through a lot of discovery of, like, ‘how are we going to do this, and how are we going to get everybody working and profiling Xbox dev kit builds? How are we going to deploy builds since it's, like, 20 gigs a pop?!"
Lehto’s passion for his team beyond the game is infectious. A lot of name-dropping will take place in the build-up to its release, but he’s also one happy to wear his heart on his sleeve. And, on a personal note, I have always pondered the personalities of my various units from up-on-high, especially if I’ve ever managed to Veteran them or, give them specific abilities to stand out against any other workshop unit I’ve created in the background as cannon-fodder. Maybe now, we finally get to live out that internal fantasy while experiencing a new type of game on the cusp of being genre-defining.