Long synonymous with brand PlayStation, developer Insomniac Games steps onto the multiform stage for the very first time later this month with ambitious EA published four player co-op shooter FUSE. TGL sat down with Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price to talk about the decision to release a new IP so late into a console generation cycle, the much publicised energy shift from Overstrike, how FUSE differentiates itself from other genre similar shooters and how excited the company is to have a Ratchet & Clank movie in the pipeline.
Here we go……………..
TGL: Launching a new IP on the cusp of a brand new generation of consoles represents a risk for any development studio, never mind an established company like Insomniac Games. Does FUSE represent a risk for Insomniac and if so, why is it a risk work taking?
Ted Price: The launch of any new intellectual property is a risk, not least because you can never know how the players will react to it. You can also never know if it’s the right game at the right time for the players. When we started building FUSE, we had a desire to create a new story and a new world and it represented a new opportunity to build on the skills that we had developed when making the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance franchises. So the risk involved is that players won’t “get” what it is that we are creating with FUSE. As a result of the tone shift from Overstrike to FUSE, we have had to try even harder to educate people about what this game is all about.
TGL: In terms of that change from Overstrike to FUSE, what was the motivating factor in changing the look and style of the game so dramatically?
Ted: The main thing is that the core of the game didn’t change. It was always a four player co-op shooter and this idea stayed with the game right through reveal to full production. But, the reason we made the shift that everyone knows about is because we felt that the weapons that we had developed with Overstrike were not as fun as they should have been. They looked cool but a lot of these guns only worked on paper. In practice, a lot of these weapons didn’t work and we found it difficult to try and make these weapons interesting and relevant to actually use in-game. All of the weapons suffered similar problems. They were all lacking. The weapons didn’t have the magic we needed, so we went back to the drawing board, failed another couple of times and then we figured out a way of making the weapons feel satisfying all on their own. This was key; we want to figure out how to make them fun on their own first and then try and see how we could make them fit into the overall FUSE puzzle where players could combine all of the weapons into a strategic fashion and create a more exciting result. Sometimes that magic happens very early in a project, sometimes it happens late. With FUSE, it happened very late on.
Ted: That’s a tough one. There were a lot of questions as to what we were doing on our first multiplatform game so we got an opportunity to show it off and we took it. We learned a lot of good lessons on this project and were really happy with the finished product. Our goal has always been to get the game into player’s hands. Forget what you have read or from what you’ve seen in screenshots or with trailers. That’s why we put out the demo and ask to speak to guys like you so you can experience the game for yourself.
TGL: FUSE certainly feels like an Insomniac game, in terms of style and presentation. What does FUSE inherit from your other Insomniac properties and how do these layers make FUSE a decidedly “Insomniac” game?
Ted: The heart of everything for us is core controls and making sure the player feels comfortable and is never struggling with the gameplay and the camera. This is something that gets taken for granted in a lot of games. But we had to try really hard to find a balance between a game that’s responsive and a game that’s fun to play. In the beginning we were aiming to create a really agile shooter, one that required your character to act and move in ways they probably haven’t before by comparison to other similar games in the genre. But I remember it just didn’t feel right when we were building it in the beginning. But we certainly managed to find a more appropriate balance later on down the line. The other big inheritance from other games is our love of weaponry. This time we decided to go deep with the weapons as opposed to going broad. Weaponry can be upgraded and will change the game the more you upgrade, enhance and unlock. This really does change and alter your strategies as you play through. A really good example of this is Izzy and her “Shatter-gun”. Its starts off with this gun that turns people into statues so they can be shattered. But when she gets the healing beacon, she becomes a support class. She becomes incredibly useful in some of the later battles. She can also self-heal. Later in the game, you can unlock something called “fusion” that allows you to super charge all your weapons and auto-revise them. That becomes a very strategic function for the weapons and you will need to time when you actually use it, especially when the difficulty increases later on in the latter stages. You’ll kick yourself when you use fusion at the wrong time, or when one of your friends uses it at the wrong time.
Story is also really important for us. We try really hard to make sure that the player identifies with the characters in our games. Our writer for Ratchet and Clank, TJ Fixman, jumped on board with FUSE so he brought his own style and humour to the game. Players can really latch onto our characters and the dry wit from the beginning. Later in the game, you’ll start to get some of the game’s back story in an interesting way. Players will hallucinate etc.
TGL: What does this game do to evolve on the steadfast co-op shooter experience? How does FUSE evolve the already established co-op norms?
Ted: I think there’s three things. The first is building weapons that can be combined in strategic fashions and weapons that are not the same from character to character. There’s a kind of depth and layering with weaponry in FUSE that you don’t get with other shooters. Another important feature that differentiates it from other shooters is “leap”. We never force you to play as one character, so can jump or “leap” between characters and their unique weaponry at any time, so you can experience the game with every arch-type instead of locking you into one character from the beginning, which happens with most shooters and RPGs. There were a lot of arguments internally about that and we almost didn’t do it. But the fun factor won here and we hope there’s enough in terms of dialogue and story for the player to learn about each character even if they are leaping back and forth between characters quite a bit.
We also have a progression system, something that most high end shooters don’t. Often times you get a fun linear experience with an interesting story but you don’t get a process that makes you feel like you achieved something. We wanted players to feel satisfied that they levelled up and unlocked something g extra after they have played. This is achieved through choices in-game and rewarding the players for doing things differently. That was important for us as RPG fans and as fans of shooters that should bring more to the market.
TGL: Why does going multiplatform work for Insomniac Games now more than ever before?
Ted: It was a timing decision for us to go multiplatform. We also wanted to branch out. We had a team that wanted to create a new IP and we just went for it because we could. And we’re a company that loves making new IP’s because we love having a blank canvas to create because it’s exciting. At the same time, we wanted to expose a broader audience to our games. Having the opportunity to reach both the PS3 and 360 audience was cool because Insomniac are all console players, and Xbox 360 was within reach given the time we had given ourselves to create this game.
TGL: And now you’re branching even further and creating a movie with Ratchet & Clank….
Ted: We’ve been trying to get a movie off the ground since Spyro. In Hollywood, it’s really difficult because big studios make big bets. Sometimes good ideas get turned down for safe bets. We were lucky because we ran into hungry and talented studios in Rainmaker and Blockade who were willing to take the Ratchet universe and build a movie. We’ve been hip to hip with them ever since and with our FUSE and Ratchet writer TJ Fixman who has written the script for the movie. We have creative input into the film and we have faith that these guys will stay faithful and true to the Ratchet universe.
Ted: That’s the hope.
TGL: You’re not done with Ratchet, right?
Ted: We’re not saying anything but I know for all of our insomniac’s – all of our franchises and characters are very dear to our hearts. Never say never with anything we create. For now, we’re focusing on this new FUSE IP. We’re still very fond of our Ratchet and Resistance franchise, but we did have the itch to move on and try something a little different.
TGL: Any chance we’ll be see you and Insomniac at E3 next month?
Ted: I’ll be at E3…..
TGL: Will you be doing anything specific with Insomniac or just hanging around?
Ted: I’m always hanging around…….
FUSE is available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Ireland this May 31st. A playable demo is now available through PSN and XBLA.