Disintegration Interview — Marcus Lehto Shares Details on Development, Inspirations, and Working From Home

After an extensive look at the single-player campaign of Disintegration, we had an interview with Marcus Lehto about all things grav-cycle

By Otto Kratky

April 10, 2020

Marcus Lehto has had an extraordinary career. His big break came when he joined up with Bungie in 1997 and worked on Myth: The Fallen Lords. After that, the company started working on Halo, which he co-created. Officially, he was the Creative Art Director at Bungie, and he made Master Chief, the iconic hulking green spartan. He worked on the series up until 2012 when he left the studio. 

In his time since, Lehto has continued his career in video games and in 2016 he founded V1 Interactive. But between leaving Bungie and starting V1 Interactive, Lehto was writing a story, one that would turn into Disintegration, the first title from his studio. 

I’ve already written about Disintegration and what you’ll be able to expect from the game’s single-player story. In addition to seeing the campaign in action, though, I also had the chance to talk one-on-one with Lehto about Disintegration.

Otto Kratky: The world of Disintegration is obviously a heavy sci-fi setting, and I like to think that all sci-fi is based somewhat in the real world. It’s some aspect of the real world taken to a drastic extreme. 

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Marcus Lehto: That’s exactly what we’ve done, yes.

OK: Can you explain how this fits in with Disintegration a little?

ML: Sure, yeah. You know, I look a lot at what is happening around us right now today. That’s a large part of the inspiration. Of course, I started the fiction for this over six years ago. We’re working with the things we see around us every day: climate extremes, issues with political powers, issues with disease, and other things that live on our horizon, that if unchecked and taken to some far extreme, what could that possibly be?

We took a lot of these potential, possible outcomes and put them together in this world where humanity is really struggling to the point where integration became a reality. What happens then with integrated individuals when they stratify or when they militarize? That’s a large part of what has driven the story. 

OK: I have to say, that’s a lot to deal with. Is there anything to offset that doom and gloom that is kind of natural in sci-fi?

ML: For sure. On the flip side of it is our characters. You play as Romer Shoal, who slowly forms a group that, as they get to know one another over the course of the campaign, are a group of just normal human beings. They’re not genetically modified crazy super-soldiers like the Master Chief like I’m used to making. These are normal folks. They come from all walks of life with a common goal of surviving and adapting and becoming human again. But as normal people, they joke around, they have banter back and forth, they have relationships and complexities to them. They’ll definitely rib each other in the side. 

OK: It’s stuff like that that I personally love to see. A lot of characters in games, Master Chief for instance, cool as he is, has the personality of a baked potato. 

ML: Yeah, he was meant to be that empty vessel, and I don’t really want to make another one of those. I wanted to make a character who has a real personality and a real background. 

OK: So, and it might be a little early to say this, what do you want players to take away from the game once they finish the campaign and put down the controller? Or is it even fair to ask that question yet?

ML: Oh boy, I think there are definitely messages. One of my first inspirations for the game is, and I know this is me being an old dude, is how much time people spend staring at screens. When it came to like people just being able to talk and feel comfortable in a room together without technology interfering with it, that’s the thing that I kept recognizing. Just how pervasive technology has gotten in our lives on both the positive and negative.

And I really wanted to focus on the negative side – what happens if we allow that integration of technology to be so pervasive that it literally turns us into robots? I want the player to take away from this that humanity is super important and being human and being in a natural world is really, really important, and that we shouldn’t forget that and really embrace it as much as possible. 

OK: Absolutely, although given the current circumstances that’s pretty hard, right? 

ML: Yeah, no kidding. Especially as we try to wrap this game up we’ve got all 30 of us working from home, with our dogs farting in our offices and everything. It’s ridiculous. 

OK: Do you expect any slowdown at all? Pushing back any dates?

ML: It will slow things down for sure, a little bit. We’re pretty much on track. With the transition of everybody being mandated to work from home, there’s been an adjustment period. And that’s not just true for us, it extends to the publisher side of things, the platform side of things, QA, certification, and everything else along the way. 

OK: That’s great to hear. Shifting back to Disintegration’s actual gameplay – it’s a unique blend of FPS and RTS, one that I imagine didn’t reach its current point without any hiccups. So what’s been the biggest challenge blending those two genres in a way that? And since your market is FPS fans, how are you trying to hook them in?

ML: To get to the first point, it’s been a real challenge for us to build a game that hasn’t been built before. It’s taken a lot of time. That’s one of the things we didn’t initially realize. How long it would take for us to come to a consensus on the core mechanics – that pure golden nugget in the middle that’s just really awesome and fun to play. That took a lot of time to get to and feel right. It required us to make new mechanics that you couldn’t find in other games. It took a toll, even in the studio. There were some individuals who were so set in just like, first-person shooters are the only thing I know and this was outside of their comfort zone, so they decided to leave the studio. I anticipated that kind of thing to happen.

So that was challenge number one, getting everyone to stick along through the process. And what I want players to do is, to answer your question actually, I want them to get their hands on the controller and be able to immediately feel comfortable in the seat of that grav-cycle. And to, and it totally blows us away that this happens within the first five minutes of someone playing, and it’s a testament to how much work went to the development of the core mechanics, is to see those players not only get that they can command those ground units and use their abilities in tactical ways. That kind of thing, when that happens in the first gameplay session, that’s just total awesome magic. 

We also want the player to give Disintegration its due diligence. You know, we want them to play it for what it is and not try to play it like a typical first-person shooter. It’s not like a current battle royale or something like that. The mechanics of the game are deliberate, the grav-cycle has its speeds and its capability to function and move through the environment in certain ways that are totally designed to do that. And the ground units move at certain speeds and have certain abilities that are designed like chess pieces. So when you unlock that kind of stuff mentally, my god man, all kinds of cool stuff can happen. 

Disintegration does not currently have a set release date, but it is slated for release on PS4, PC, and Xbox One in 2020. You can follow the game’s development closely at its main website here, or on its Twitter page. 

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