Insomniacís first multi-platform game, Fuse, follows a similar premise. The discovery of the titular alien substance in a top-secret laboratory yields promising results at first - before things go suitably awry. As you would deduce from the name, Fuse combines its molecular structure with other materials and organisms to create something new - for better or for worse.
Itís this fact, coupled with the lockdown of aforementioned top-secret lab, that results in the launch of special ops unit Overstrike 9 to investigate. The four-man squad - consisting of Dalton and Izzy Brooks, Jacob Kimble and Naya Deveraux - run into the strange substance quite early on in the game, and discover that Fuse has given their weapons some interesting new powers.
Fuse doesnít just represent an interesting take on the genre, itís Insomniacís first game for Xbox 360 owners, too. I spent a few moments chatting to studio CEO Ted Price about the teamís direction, its experience with Microsoftís console and Fuseís own dramatic design changes.
SPOnG: How liberating does it feel to be taking on new projects like these with EA?
Ted Price: I think going multi-platform is really exciting for us, because we get to address an audience that weíve heard a lot from. People have frequently asked us, Ďwhy arenít you making Ratchet [& Clank] and Resistance for Xbox 360?í We have to explain that those are PlayStation 3 exclusives - but now, we get to make games for people who havenít played our games before. So, itís pretty exciting for us.
Ted Price: I remember five or six years ago - maybe even longer - when developers were talking about the move to PS3 from Xbox versus the other way around. For us, we found that going from PS3 to Xbox has been pretty straightforward. Pretty quick.
SPOnG: There are plenty of co-op games out there on the market already. You introduced a few key elements that sets Fuse apart from the rest of the pack. Do you think thereís still a lot to be done in co-op games?
Ted Price: I hope so. I feel like co-op is gaining steam right now. A few years ago, co-op was something that wasnít really expected in games. It was mostly about competitive play. And I think todayís gamers are much more interested, generally, in playing together versus going head-to-head. Fuse offers people an opportunity to team up and explore strategies together, which is pretty gratifying.
SPOnG: The story is quite interesting, when you analyse it - the idea of humans discovering something new and experimenting with things that they donít understand. Is there an underlying message there?
Ted Price: Kind of. There are definitely different levels to our story, and Fuse itself - the idea of this alien substance changing things it touches - definitely applies to the team. The team evolves, and their relationship with each other changes along with the decisions they make as you move through the game.
We do spend a lot of time on story, because itís important to us at Insomniac to have a game that affects people on some level. Iím looking forward to seeing what players take from the game. Iím sure there will be some people whoíll be really into the story, and some who are just really into the co-op.
Ted Price: Working together. For us, one of the bigger challenges was creating four unique weapons that are multi-faceted, but also balanced for four players. Itís pretty easy to create four cannons, where one is going to have and edge on the other - or make four weapons where one always stands out. Thatís an easy trap to fall into, and when that happens, all of a sudden you have a game where everyone wants to be one character.
We spent a lot of time making sure that these weapons all worked together, and are in many ways complementary. A good example would be; Daltonís MagShield and Izzyís Shattergun. When Izzy crystalises enemies, Dalton is often the best player to take them out quickly.
I demonstrated that here today because itís also extremely gratifying. If youíre playing as Dalton and one of your teammates crystalises five enemies you can just wipe them all out with one blast. Itís super-fun.
Itís also important to note that standard weapons play into this teamwork as well. When Naya coats enemies with the anti-matter Fuse mixture, one of her teammates can trigger singularities simply by shooting them with a regular weapon. There are lots of little features in the game like that that players will discover as theyíre working together.
SPOnG: It must have been a lot of fun implementing new features, like being able to switch between different characters. Did some of that come from any gaming experience you had with other co-op shooters on the market?
Ted Price: It was the result of a lot of arguments at Insomniac! We were vehemently arguing both sides; originally we werenít allowing people to switch, and there was a very strong movement within Insomniac to lock you into characters. But then, it was so much fun to play as all four of them that we started questioning that decision. As a team, we eventually came to the conclusion that itís a lot more fun to play as all four.
And that was reflected in our level design as well - a lot of our combat setups are multi-faceted, where sometimes itís great to use the Ďtankí approach, but at the same time it can be just as effective to use Nayaís stealth ability to flank enemies. And we wanted players to just experiment, because we ourselves were having fun experimenting with different abilities.
Ted Price: I think that there should always be new IP. Especially at this point in the cycle where everythingís a sequel... we found that players really look forward to playing something new.
The opportunity to release [something like this] late in the life cycle means that youíre addressing a large audience - an audience that is deluged with sequels - and one that may appreciate a new take on co-op, a new story and a new set of characters. They may even appreciate it more than they probably would in the middle of a console cycle.
SPOnG: The gameís had a dramatic design change, and thereís been a mixed reaction to those changes. Whatís your reaction to that?
Ted Price: Iím looking forward to showing more of the game. We only showed a very small part of the game, and I think peopleís impressions were driven by that one trailer that we released. Since then, too, we have taken the fan feedback very seriously. When we release the game, youíll see additional tweaks to it that will help push it away from what people assume it would have been.
Weíre really proud of what the game has accomplished in terms of gameplay, and what has been fun for us is watching people play it. People get the characters once they get their hands on the controller, they appreciate the teamwork, and it seems that they really dig the Fuse weapons. So I think playing it will be the ultimate arbiter of whether or not our shift - in both tone and more visceral gameplay - was the right choice.
Ted Price: This is Insomniacís call. We own the IP, so weíre making the creative choices on it. A lot of it had to do with our intent to create a stronger identity for the game, centred around Fuse, the alien substance. Originally, Fuse was just a story MacGuffin which didnít have anything to do with gameplay, and then we started thinking about it and made sure that Fuse drove a lot of the main features in the game.
We created a slightly more sophisticated and less campy story around Fuse, which bled into having a more grounded game. That allowed us to really take the handcuffs off when it came to the weapons - go less cartoony and more visceral. More over-the-top. For us, as a company that loves making over-the-top, hard-hitting weapons, it was fun. Iím really happy with where we are.
SPOnG: Now that youíve gone multi-platform, is your plan to keep innovating and creating new IPs after Fuse? Or do you see Fuse as another franchise that can continue long after this release?
Ted Price: Both. We love creating new IP, and we just released a new one this year - Outernauts, that was released on Facebook. A lot of our creative energy goes into making new IP, but we also spend time taking existing IP like Fuse and expanding it. We never make a game without the intention of creating a franchise.
SPOnG: I wanted to talk a bit about Outernauts. Do you see a marriage between the traditional console space and social gaming?
Ted Price: Thatís a good question. I think with Outernauts, our goal was to make a game for more hardcore players, and we got some pretty strong, negative feedback about the viral aspects of the game. The ďspamminessĒ of the game. Weíve since been rectifying that.
Weíve been removing a lot of that stuff - now, when you go back and play it, itís a very different experience. The energy system has completely changed. And thatís whatís great about that platform - you can change it daily. And we are responding quickly to the feedback weíve got from players. So I hope people go out and give it another shot.
Ted Price: Yeah. Big time. Weíre competing against games that cater to a traditional Facebook audience, and we were going in, hoping to attract a more core audience. It was a very risky move, but we learned a lot from it, and we continue to learn important lessons from there.
Ted Price: Thanks, my pleasure.
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