Disintegration Interview – Lead Director Marcus Lehto Speaks On Past Experiences, eSports, and the Future
Disintegration Director Marcus Lehto talks about his twenty-plus year career in the industry and what led to the creation of V1 Interactive's upcoming shooter.
Earlier this year, V1 Interactive announced Disintegration, their first title as a new studio. Since then, I have been lucky enough to play the game and it made me fall back in love with competitive multiplayer. A portion of the V1 team previously came from Bungie, including Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto. Lehto is the President and Game Director at V1 Interactive and when I talked with him about his new studio I learned more about the direction he wants to take for the upcoming strategic shooter.
Cameron Hawkins: So you were the Creative Director for Halo: Reach back at Bungie before you left to create Disintegration. What experiences did you learn there that you incorporated into making this brand new game?
Marcus Lehto: Well, because I was a part of Bungie for a long time and helped build it from a small studio to the mega studio that is today we went through a lot of processes, a lot of ropes of growing as a team and just learning experiences, maturing as a studio. So we made a lot of mistakes as a studio because we were all in our twenties when we first started making Halo and then as we continued to grow and build our expertise, we learned all the pitfalls and the things that you’re going to run into.
By the time I was driving Halo: Reach we had this well-oiled machine, it was really efficient at that time, so leaving Bungie in good status, still being good friends with all those folks over there and starting V1 it was a great opportunity to learn and build upon all of that experience. Bringing in a lot of seasoned devs like myself, people that I hired ten, fifteen years ago that I could rehire back and it’s great to be working as a family. It is also really good to bring in some new talent that hasn’t been around the block as many times as we have. They bring a fresh new perspective on things but we also to help guide them and prevent them from falling into the same pitfalls that we all fell into decades ago.
CH: What was your motivation behind Disintegration? What made you decide that this was the game that you were going to make?
ML: Actually it started out as a real-time strategy game. It was a pure real-time strategy because I wanted to do something that was different from the regular first-person shooter. While I love shooters and it was something that I loved all the way from Halo and into Destiny, Myth: The Fallen Lords was one of the first games I actually started working on at Bungie back in the mid-nineties and it was pure RTS. So we started working on the game as that but then decided at some point about six months into production, it was just too common, too much like every other game out there so we decided to really change things up entirely.
Keep the real-time strategy element of it, but change that camera in the sky into that vehicle that you just got the play, the gravcycle, and outfit that with offensive and defensive abilities and then have you from a first-person shooter mechanic, drive those units on the ground who became a lot more autonomous as a result. It took a long time, we spent over a year working on the iteration of gameplay mechanics to figure out whether or not we actually can do this because initially, it was super overwhelming because we were still trying to micromanage units and still trying to give the player way too many weapons.
All this stuff that was too much for the player to manage, so we kept boiling that down to the point where we finally hit this sweet spot where we have just the right amount of abilities on the grav cycle itself as well as the kind of things that you can do with the grav cycle like boosting, elevation control, and flight mechanics around. Also controlling those ground units for that tactical element is that thing that really allows players to flex their brain a little bit more than they typically do in a first-person shooter.
CH: Yeah! You have to think and strategize instead of just pointing and shooting when you see and enemy.
ML: Right. It isn’t a twitch game like you’d expect. It’s not all about precision shooting from a distance. You really need to think about the battlespace three-dimensionally and understand where your units are in relationship to you so you can position them in an awesome location, set off some of their abilities, flank from a different position and just totally wreck.
CH: So it was said at Gamescom that there is going to be a campaign. What can we expect for it? Who are we going to be playing as? What or who is going to be the threat?
ML: The story campaign, it actually started that way and it was a really big part of our game. In our campaign, we play a character named Romer who is one of these…all of our characters are human by nature. Due to some pretty bad odds that humanity is up against in the future, there is a pandemic that’s spreading across the planet and really decimating humanity to the point where we’re actually concerned about a potential extinction event so we’ve taken drastic measures. We’ve taken the human brain, encased it into an armored case and integrated that into a robotic armature. Those are our base characters throughout the game.
All of them are human, all of them are just normal people like you and me so they all have these personalities and are interesting and unique. But then a whole faction of them broke away, they have this desire to never become human again. They like who they are now as these robotic forms and they started to continue to evolve that and leave humanity behind. We don’t agree with what was going on there and we broke away. The enemy is called the Rayonne which means light. The Rayonne is after us, they’re hunting us, we’ve been outlawed and now we are fighting with this small group of people like us around the fringes of a much larger global conflict.
CH: With that being said, are there humans on other planets? Have humans made contact with other planets in this universe?
ML: We are not delving deep into how humanity has continued to expand. What we are showing is that on Earth, and we are keeping it very terrestrial on purpose because we want to hone in on that this is the birthplace of humanity and this where it could end as well if we don’t take care out. We do have natural humans in the game as well that are some of our story characters, our allies, but we don’t talk much about whether or not we ventured off into the stars, that’s for sequels.
CH: When the game comes out will we be seeing new crews, new game modes? Will that cost players or will it be completely free?
ML: Good question! Our goal for multiplayer that all-new maps, new modes, new crews are all free to the public. We don’t want to fracture or stratify our audience. There are however, on the microtransaction side of things, aesthetic skins, materials, emotes, badges, banners and other cool things like attachments to your grav cycle so you can really customize and personalize your multiplayer experience.
CH: But you can still unlock these items just by playing the game normally?
ML: Yeah, definitely.
CH: Disintegration seems like a game with a lot of eSports potential. Is that something that you’ve been thinking about while creating the game?
ML: It is always in the back of our minds. It was not our goal and we explicitly did not want to make it a goal. We first and foremost want to make great, fun multiplayer. If the community embraces it as such and wants to move it into that eSports territory we built all the hooks into it so we can allow it to evolve in that direction.
CH: Following up on that, there are naturally going to be casual players and competitive players. With this being a game where half the controller is half RTS, half of it is FPS, how are you executing the controls so it is approachable for both audiences?
ML: That is one reason why I love the difference between our campaign and the multiplayer. The singleplayer story campaign is a great area for the novice, brand new players to just enter into the world and get a taste for how the gameplay and mechanics actually work. They can play on a variety of different difficulty levels so they can go through and just experience the story if they want to from a really casual standpoint or choose the hardest possible difficulty to really give themselves a significant challenge. That will definitely prepare them for multiplayer which is definitely more frenetic in its nature as you experienced today. Multiplayer can become a lot more competitive for sure.
CH: What accessibility features can we expect for Disintegration?
ML: Accessibility is something that as a small studio we’re always keenly aware of with regards to color blindness, keyboard shortcuts and whatever else it might be. We are doing our best that we can include other features into the game for accessibility for sure. That’s the kind of stuff where if it’s not there initially it continues to grow and can be added in the game.
CH: I noticed that you have two raccoons as a part of the team. Who are they?
ML: It’s kinda funny, we had this one cinematic scene we started working on a long time ago and we have a lot of natural animals in our game that are just part of the fauna of the world. Our cinematic director decided to put raccoons in this one shot. It caught us by surprise in a way that to this day we add raccoons to all these little shots now. It has become like the mascot kind of pet of our game now for some reason. It is more of an inside joke than anything else.
CH: Are you in talks with Google about bringing Disintegration to Stadia? What is the release window for the game?
ML: Can’t talk about Stadia yet, but yeah it would be cool. The release window right now is 2020.
Disintegration will be releasing next year on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on Steam. For more updates on the game, be sure to check in with us. You can also follow Marcus Lehto, V1 Interactive, and Disintegration on Twitter.