The unveiling of the six versus six player count of Titanfall caused quite a stir between the fanbase, and developers are sparing no effort to defend the design choice: one of Respawn Entertainment’s devs took upon himself to address the rather difficult crowd of NeoGaf sharing a large amount of details on what caused the decision and on why it’s better for the game.
He started by clarifying that Titans aren’t excessively powerful when unmanned and controlled by the AI, and that the AI itself has a much more relevant role than just replacing players:
They aren’t uber killing death machines when in AI mode.
You’re combining PC community run dedicated servers with high player counts. Lets not confuse the two. And not once have we said AI is there to mimic playing against another player. They have a role in the game, and it isn’t buffing player counts.
A second post added further details to the role of AI-controlled units:
Having not played the game, I assume? You probably shouldn’t yet say they don’t add to your experience. You very well might not like them in the game, but again – save judgements until playtime! That said, they do provide more than just “cannon fodder”. Thats one thing they do provide for newer players, but they are a source of earning XP, earning your Titan faster, and other things that we haven’t yet talked about. They aren’t some huge “OMG GUYS WE FOUND THE ANSWER”, but they do add flavor and a unique angle to the game that aren’t currently available in other games; at least none that I’ve been playing.
He also gave a very detailed explanation on what made six versus six the right choice for the team:
Its mostly the consistency of firefights. Lower player counts and there starts to be too many lulls in the action, too many “Hrmm… where to go now…” thoughts going through your head. Higher than it and there’s just too much. You lose the ability to “keep it all from spilling over”, so to speak, in your brain. 6v6 hit upon the sweet spot of being able to keep track of everything you’re seeing, all the information coming in from your POV, the mini map, the obituary scroll, your teammates chatter, etc. Most players are usually still feeling quite in control of what they’re doing, where they’re going, and what they want to accomplish. Beyond 6v6 and it quickly turned into much more of a random mosh pit of “How did I die?” and feeling like there was nothing that could have been done to NOT die. Thats an important distinction to make.
A driving mantra for this game, as cheesy as it sounds, is what we dubbed MLLM. Minute to Learn, Lifetime to Master. Like Chess, or Go. Players quickly feel like they can get in and have fun. Thats not the “hard” part to accomplish with this. The hard part is, after 5, 10, 20, 100 hours – what is the player learning? Are they feeling like they have the ability to increase their skill at the game, or have they hit a ceiling? Are their wins and losses based on something they have control over, or is it purely luck/chance? Higher than 6v6 was really fast ruining this goal.
In a third post we learn more about the internal debate that resulted in the decision. Apparently quite a few at Respawn shared the players’ concerns:
There has been a TON of debate back and forth in the studio over the years about “ideal” player counts. Can I ask you something? What is it about larger player counts that you like vs smaller? Is it the feeling of a large war? Is it something like interactions per minute? Is it high target count? Is it a general “intensity level”? Potentially higher opportunity for random occurrences of crazy stuff happening?
There was some internal push back when we started honing in on non “large” playercounts (for a while we were only playing 2v2 and 3v3!) because of the perception of “less fun”, or the lack of things like I listed above, in smaller player counts.
If those are concerns like what you have – I’d highly suggest checking out the game if you have a chance. Comparing to my experience in Battlefield over the last decade, and games like Planetside 1 + 2, MAG, etc. there’s plenty happening in a large enough space that Titanfall doesn’t feel like a small player count game. I think thats the crux of it. This isn’t a sneaky, empty world, where you’re constantly straining your ears to hear footsteps around a corner – this is big, loud, bombastic action that leaves you laughing and screaming.
Finally, he maintained that adding more players to a game doesn’t necessarily make it better:
Perhaps its not the playercount in games like Halo that you don’t like, but the game itself? Would adding more players magically have made Halo a game you love? I’m going to wager it wouldn’t, since they do have some “larger” game types. The point is that adding more players to a finely designed game doesn’t instantly make it better. Assuming it does is what I’d like to call “armchair game design”. If that is offensive or childish to you I apologize, but its not meant to belittle anyone or their liking of large player count games.
Oh, and it wasn’t playtesters who told us to do 6v6. It was those guys we have on staff called game designers, after playing thousands of hours with the entire company and taking feedback from everyone. We’re all gamers here, and all our opinions are heard and used. Stuff like this isn’t unilateral decisions from on high – we all want to be proud of the game we ship and enjoy playing it ourselves.
As a bonus we also learn a bit more about the decisions made to market the game, and to create its trailers:
It’s actually been really tough trying to accurately market Titanfall. If you look at what we’ve done, its a lot different than what most FPS games do. Without a bunch of highly scripted SP moments to recam from different angles, the usual “movie like” trailer is just about right out. Instead, we’ve decided to show unedited gameplay segments that last 3-5 minutes (so far – more footage coming, of course!) to show the “flow” of the game. Starting as a Pilot, taking on AI and other player Pilots, wall running around a Titan, earning your Titan, climbing in, battling other Titans while stomping on humans, ejecting, etc. There’s a huge amount of gameplay mechanics available at any one time, and encompassing them in a few minutes is actually quite hard to do.
Its also why we took an extremely early pre-alpha build of the game to events like Gamescom, PAX, etc. to let normal dudes hands-on time with the game. There’s no amount of polished marketing that can replace playing the actual game.
Ultimately, the message is pretty clear: Titanfall won’t be for everyone:
None of us are diluted enough to think we’re making a game that fits every gamer. We’re making a game we think is badass, and hope other people do it.
As I wrote in my previous post, it’s pretty refreshing to see developers defending their work this openly and frankly. Respawn seems to be working on Titanfall according to a precise creative vision, but without suffocating internal debate, while knowing that they can’t make everyone happy. That’s probably the best way to develop a game, at least from what I’m concerned.
We’ll have to stand by and see if the design choices they made for the title will ultimately pay off, but for now things look quite good.