Fuse Interview – Insomniac CEO Ted Price Talks About the Importance of Fun
Written Wednesday, February 20, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's not so easy being a new shooter IP in a market bursting at the seams with established franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield and what not, but Insomniac is looking do something a little different with Fuse, hoping to inject more fun into its game, with “crazy weapons”, more colour and a sense of humour.
These latter two qualities were something that had been scaled back when we last saw Fuse in October, but Insomniac has taken on board the criticisms and have gone back to something closer to the original game's remit, when it was first revealed during E3 2011 as Overstrike.
Sitting down to talk to Insomniac CEO Ted Price once again, a few months down the line since we previously saw and played Fuse, we found out what's changed since then, how the studio addresses and responds to feedback, and how the developer is all about the fun.
It's been a few months since we last saw the game, so in that time what have been the main things that have changed in that time? Has the new Echelon Mode been a primary focus?
Well, Echelon has been one of the foci, but also, we took a lot of the fan feedback that we got earlier last year to heart, so we've been back and added a lot more colour to the game, we've gone back and made sure that the game delivers on humour, and you'll see that in the story. And we've also been continuing to tweak enemy behaviour and enemy variety quite a bit, so that the battles continue to feel fresh as you're moving through the game, because this is a combat-driven game. There's a lot of combat. It's important not to fall into a situation where it's too repetitive, so that's been fun for us. And it's nice to have a game that is substantially done and be able to tune and tweak and add features that really make a difference.
When we published our last preview, there were a lot of negative comments saying that the game looked like just another generic shooter. Why do you think those kinds of comments have been levelled at Fuse?
Because we made a very visible tone shift, visually. And I think that when a lot of folks saw that 2011 trailer, they had a very specific idea about what the game would be in their heads, and we were continuing to evolve the game. When we showed off all the progress we had made, it was a shock to a lot of folks, and I get that. It's ok. It was useful. The feedback we got was very helpful to us, even if it was negative in a lot of cases. That was fine. It's part of being in the creative business, you have to take fan feedback to heart and figure out how it can help you improve the game.
What is it that you think shooter fans are looking for from a game like Fuse? It's quite a busy market out there. What do you think are the core things people look for in a shooter?
I think 'core' is the key word. Core controls that really feel good I think is very important, weapons that have impact, a story and characters that you can actually care about, and maybe a few twists here and there that help differentiate it from other shooters. Those are the kind of things we work hard on, with Fuse in particular. We're a company that specialises in exotic weapons and controls that feel good, so we spent a lot of time there. But we also wanted to – as you pointed out – create a universe that is different visually. And even if we've recently continued to take the tone in a slightly darker direction, we believe that this Fuse universe is not akin to the more gritty, real world-inspired shooters that you see out there. It's a very Insomniac-flavoured place where anything can happen, and that's fun for us. We love making up those stories and coming up with those crazy features.
With that in mind, can it be frustrating for you and the dev team to see and take on board negative feedback when you can't really get the game into the hands of players who've only seen or read things about it?
It's challenging, but it's offset by people who've played the game and write about it. And I think that we were really happy to see the very positive feedback from the recent events we did in October here in Europe and in San Francisco recently. We feel very confident that the game is a lot of fun to play and it's been reflected in the previews, so that helps a lot.
What other games in the genre have you been looking at while developing the game? Are there any that spring to mind that were touchstones for Fuse?
Wow, that's a good question. Everybody at Insomniac plays a lot of games, so we're certainly inspired by other shooters whether they're first-person or third-person shooters, RPGs, MMOs and certainly our own games. I think that you'll see a lot of Ratchet & Clank DNA in this game, as well as some Resistance DNA, so I can't point to one game in particular. Our goal with this game was to create a new take on shooters at a time where most of what you see in the category are sequels.
Would you say that Insomniac is a studio that specialises in shooters then? Would you ever want to branch out into other genres?
Well, it depends on what you call Ratchet and Spyro. I mean Spyro was a platformer, and Ratchet, people called it a platformer for a long time, but maybe it's kind of a hybrid platformer, shooter, RPG. It's hard to categorise. The one thing that's fairly consistent is our love of crazy weapons, and that's come through in just about all of our games. Outernauts would be a step away from that, but it does focus on strategic combat, picking the right beast and abilities to succeed. Spyro of course was all about combat, but not weapons-based combat. We like experimenting with different things, but generally our focus will be on crazy weapons.
Has getting Fuse's crazy weapons right been one of the key goals during development then?
Later in production it was. It started with the focus on four-player co-op, and wanted to make sure that worked really really well. Not just for four players, but for one player, two players or three players, and it's hard to make that work. But then as we continued to flesh out the combat, we realised that there's a very high bar that we've set with our own titles that we have to hit with these weapons. So when we started taking the tone in a different direction it was all about creating more impact and a more visceral feel for these weapons. The funny thing for me was the point at which we turned the corner, when we replaced Izzy's glue gun we showed in the 2011 trailer with the shattergun. All of a sudden the game gained new life, because that to me is a super-satisfying weapon, and all of the other weapons followed suit.
Among the people who've played Fuse thus far, is there a general consensus as to who the favourite character is?
I keep waiting for that to happen, but I haven't found one that people gravitate towards. I'd say that it depends on what archetypes you like, so some people like playing as a healer in other games and Izzy's great for that. That's offset by her offensive abilities too, so she's not one-dimensional. In fact, none of these characters are one-dimensional, which is nice if you want variety in your games.
With the next-generation of consoles around the corner, are you gearing up for new projects, kicking ideas around and what not? Or is the focus solely on Fuse for now?
We have a big focus on getting Fuse done, of course. However let's face it, we're in the console business even if we have branched out into browser games as well. We are gadget geeks. We love shiny new hardware, so we can't wait to see what the next generation brings.
Is Insomniac a multi-platform studio for good now then? Is the future one free from Sony-exclusivity, making games for multiple formats?
I'd say that anything is possible. I mean the industry evolves so fast, and I've made mistakes in the past where I've tried to make super-definitive statements about the future, so now I just leave things open. For us what we have to do is continue focusing on fun in our games, and that at its core is what really matters. It doesn't matter what platform it's on, as long as that's what players are getting, and coming away with a smile on their face.
Has it been a difficult adjustment going from working on a single platform to different hardware?
Well, practically we rebuilt our engine and our entire toolset, and that was challenging because we had been working with the same toolset and engine for a long time. It was cathartic for all of us at the studio because change is always hard, and whenever you go through a big change like that, you go through a lot of pain. But it's helped us to streamline our production process and enabled us to create more iteration time for gameplay, because now a lot of the tasks that used to take us a long time are a hell of a lot more efficient. That was challenging but good, and to be supporting two platforms in terms of our builds is something we were prepared for, so we're just testing a lot more, which is good. I'm frankly just excited to be out there on two platforms and have two sets of fans responding to what we do.
Going back to the fans, what would you say to gamers who've been unconvinced by what they've seen and read about Fuse so far? What be the key message you'd want to convey?
Key message? Fuse offers features that no other shooter has, and it is a new entry into a very crowded market, but it will in my opinion help to set some new rules for shooters. I encourage people to give it a shot when it comes out. It's always difficult to be the new kid on the block, especially this late in the console cycle, but we're excited to be in that position as it allows us to offer something fresh.
Fuse is out in Q2 2013. You can read our most recent hands-on preview here.