Titanfall 2 interview: on mechs, modes and the new campaign

We got some quality hands-on time with the promising Titanfall 2 at E3 this year. Between rounds we interviewed lead engineer Jon Shiring and discussed the grappling hook, the new single-player campaign, maps, modes and more. It turns out Titanfall 1's mech classes are now defunct, and a new long-term progression system is planned for the game, designed by Todd Alderman of Call of Duty 4 fame.

PC Gamer: The grappling hook is obviously a highlight, what was the thinking behind its inclusion in Titanfall 2?

Jon Shiring:  Whenever we do any of these gameplay features—we’re a really gameplay-driven company—so it goes in, everyone has very strong opinions on it, we tweak it all around and change how it works and try to find the way to balance it. The grappling hook is something that took us a while to really nail that feeling, where you can use it to slingshot yourself and get the movement of it to feel really natural and easy to use. We try a whole bunch of things, we see which ones work, we hone them, and then cut the ones that don’t work and see what we’ve got left over. 

PC Gamer: You’re doing a campaign. This team used to make up Infinity Ward, partly, this is the first single-player campaign they’ve made since Modern Warfare 2, and that includes yourself?

Shiring: It does.

PC Gamer: When you come back to making a single-player now, how do you change your approach? 

Shiring: This is very different from other single-player games that we’ve worked on. It’s probably not the first-person shooter campaign that people are expecting. We took a lot of creative risks of embracing the pilot mobility and really leaning in on that, and trying to make a single-player game that doesn’t try to pin you in and get you to stop using your mobility, but actually encourage you to try new and crazy things. And our single-player campaign has a lot of surprises in it, so we’re not revealing everything because we want people to not know everything when they get into it. There’s a lot of really creative things that people will find when they start playing it.

PC Gamer: Is there, like the multiplayer, an emphasis on player expression in the campaign? Is that still encouraged, for players to use their ingenuity to resolve situations?

Shiring: Yeah, we definitely try to set up scenarios where players can be mobile and have interesting combat and really, kind of, let them figure out the right way to do it. We’ll be showing more of single player as the game gets closer to release, so I’m trying not to spoil anything today. But yeah, it’s a single-player campaign that hopefully will make people think that we’ve come at single-player campaigns from a new angle and it’s not something that they’ve played before.

PC Gamer: Just to clarify, it’s not a training mode, right?

Shiring: Yeah, it is a full story-based offline single-player game. It is not training for multiplayer.

PC Gamer: Why was it important to you guys to create a campaign this time? Is it something you always wanted to do with the first game but didn’t have time?

Shiring: There was a point during Titanfall where we were trying a bunch of different things and we realised that we just couldn’t ship a game that did all of it, and so we scoped it down to: ‘we want to do really really really great cinematic multiplayer with, you know, AI and titans and all this kind of thing.’ That ended up consuming all of our dev efforts, obviously. And after that game came out we heard from a lot of people that they really wanted a single-player campaign. So we circled the wagons and tried to figure out what we could do as a single-player game that would be playing to the strengths of what worked in Titanfall.

We looked at the bond with a titan that a lot of people felt in multiplayer. In this case, it’s a bond with a single titan. It’s story driven, with a lot of exploration, between Jack Cooper who’s a rifleman who wants to be a pilot someday, thrust into controlling this titan. He’s behind enemy lines, and just really trying to try something new for the team. Since it had been a long time since a lot of our guys had done any sort of single-player campaign there was a lot of desire to re-evaluate all the rules on what you should and shouldn’t do in a first-person shooter campaign and try some experiments and see if we can make something new.

PC Gamer: We interviewed Mo, who designed All Ghillied Up and No Russian and broke your guys’ systems to get the AI working in a certain way. You guys invented all of that, and now it’s like you’re figuring it all out again in a way. That must be exciting and also challenging.

Shiring: Yeah. I mean, any time you’re saying, ‘let’s do something experimental and try to make it work,’ it’s always creatively terrifying, and there’s always a point in the project where the game kind of takes a turn and you start seeing everything come together, and that’s your moment of relief or terror. In the case of Titanfall 2, it’s been really good to see how single player has turned into something really special, to me, and I’m really excited for it to come out.

PC Gamer: We got a hint of more fantastical-looking creatures there as you expand the universe of Titanfall. Can you talk about that? Is having a campaign a chance to try out different types of units? Is that part of the reason of expanding the universe in that way?

Shiring: It gives us the opportunity to expand it into some new experiences, and like you saw in the single-player trailer that we released, there are some new enemy types. There’s the Tick, which you’ve seen here at the event. Those are fun to fight against. There are other enemies that are in single player—some are in multiplayer and some are just in single player. But yeah, it definitely gives us the platform to try new crazy things, and they don’t have to be perfectly balanced for multiplayer, they could be something that really just works in a single-player universe for now, and take some real big creative risks, and you’ll hopefully see more of that this fall.

PC Gamer: I was impressed by the Double Take sniper, I've never felt a sniper rifle like that before.

Shiring: Yeah, we definitely want to have every weapon have a unique feel to it. If you want to have a whole lot of weapons, we don’t want them to kind of be very similar modifications on each other. We try to come up with a weapon idea, like, ‘What’s this trying to accomplish?’, and then push it until it’s something that really is memorable on its own, and I’m glad to hear that we did that for you on this one.

PC Gamer: We also got to try the new Bounty mode today, could you break down the thinking behind that?

Shiring: Yeah, sure. We have a number of modes coming, some new ones. We chose to show Bounty Hunt because it’s very target rich, there’s lots of AI in it, and so for an event like this where people really don’t get a long time to play the game we thought it was a good one to pick because it lets them get in, find things to fight, try different classes and titans and kind of learn the new gameplay. 

In Bounty Hunt there is an AI faction called the Remnant Fleet, and players on each side are fighting over those AI bounties. You get points for different types of AI, you’re fighting with other players obviously, and then there’s the bounty titan and whoever gets that gets a big chunk of points. And so this is, again, one of many modes we’re gonna have.

PC Gamer: I wondered about the new abilities that the titans have. It seems you guys have gone slightly more down a MOBA-ish route of giving them specific abilities that work better in different scenarios. What was the thinking behind expanding on that moveset?

Shiring: Yeah, so we wanted to have crafted character titans, and a lot of that was the desire to have readability, so if you see a titan coming at you, you know what to expect, you know what to do for counter-play. We can have really interesting encounters there where you get to learn what to do for different opponents, and what to expect.

You saw Ion and Scorch. Hopefully you played those enough that you were familiar. But they both feel really different. Obviously Scorch is kind of an evolution or it has its roots in the Ogre from Titanfall 1, and then the Ion has its roots in the Atlas. But it’s farther ahead in time, and the old Stryder, Atlas, Ogre titans have been retired and replaced by newer models, so that’s where the six new ones come from.

PC Gamer: The map you guys showed off today felt like a very familiar Titanfall-style map. Are you guys gonna be exploring different sorts of biomes in this one? Will people see maps in this game that they feel like they haven’t seen in the first game before, style change a little bit?

Shiring: Yeah, I think so. So, in the multiplayer trailer that we released today you saw a different map for a good chunk of it. It was a big outdoor map. And that one and Boomtown feel very different. Boomtown has nice tight areas, and-, in the centre of the map, and again it’s good for this type of an audience. It’s a really fun map too, so a lot of it’s trying to figure out for, like, what mode, what map are the right combos to do for this event. Yeah, we have a lot of other maps coming, or a good chunk of them, and they all have different feels and looks.

PC Gamer: Can you talk a bit about how you guys are approaching long term progression systems that this time?

Shiring: Yeah, so we’ve rethought progression systems, and we have something that we’re not talking about today but we will be talking about later, and it’s kind of rethinking the progression system, it’s a very deep progression system created by Todd Alderman who created Call of Duty 4’s progression system. We’re really happy to have him back at Respawn. I can’t tell you a lot of details about it, but I think you’ll be happy with what we’ve got.

PC Gamer: One thing I found personally in the first game is that the DLC did split the player base a little bit. Is that something you guys are conscious of now? Is there anything you took away from the DLC in the first game?

Shiring: Yeah, so one of our lessons is we’re not going to sell maps anymore, and so all the modes and maps that are coming to Titanfall 2 after release will all be free.