Interviews// Fuse: Insomniac Talks Echelon

Posted 14 Feb 2013 14:00 by
Fuse is already turning heads due to the fact that it is Insomniacís first multi-platform game, coupled with studioís interesting twist on the third-person squad shooter. I spoke with CEO Ted Price a few months ago about the gameís features - but the man returned this past month to show an intriguing multiplayer mode called Echelon.

Echelon is, much like the main Fuse campaign, a co-operative affair - four players must survive and accomplish a gauntlet of randomised tasks for points, glory and Fuse Credits. The latter, specifically, is used to customise and upgrade your characterís attributes and allow you to up your game.

The dynamic nature of the challenges means that matches will stay fresh with each playthrough, even when playing on the same map. These objectives consist of hunting down enemies and wiping them out, to defending certain points on the map, and surviving an onslaught whilst trying to activate various markers.

Youíre not given an easy ride, and all four players must work together if they want any chance of survival. The best my team could muster? Wave 4 - we were doing just fine battling a number of minions from four corners of a map (with each corner featuring its own miniature level design so that tactics are constantly changing with the missions), until this huge mech arrived and just started soaking in our bullets.

After admitting defeat for the fifteenth time, I had another chat with Ted about Echelon, what Insomniac is trying to achieve with it and how the Fuse IP could evolve in the future. Read on...


SPOnG: After giving the multiplayer a bit of a crack, I have one thing to say about it - itís bloody hard! Are you guys still getting a feel for the difficulty or is that the level itís going to stay?

Ted Price: Weíre continuing to tune it. Weíre in a tuning phase right now with Echelon, so you probably will find that itís really hard right now. But, itís important to recognise as well that this is a four player game, so when four players are together... itís not going to be a cakewalk. People need to work together, and we expect players to become comfortable with Fuse weapons and use their multiple functions.

We just spent a lot of time on the enemy AI to make sure that players canít just hunker down behind cover. The AI, in very different ways, flushes you out of safety - keeps you moving. You probably encountered the Infiltrators. Those are the guys that turn invisible and flank you.

We wanted to change up the archetype a bit and not create bullet sponges out of our enemies. These guys move fast, you really need to focus on flanking them. They can also surprise you with grenades and all sorts of other things. In fact, weíve been continuing to add to their behaviour. You wonít see it in this build, but in the final game thereíll be a lot more differences.


SPOnG: Getting down to the design nitty gritty, and the concept behind changing the genre up... it must be very difficult to break out a new third person shooter IP these days. How did you approach development and decide on the pillars that will make Fuse stand out from the crowd?

Ted Price: Well, I think first all, making the commitment to making a four player co-op game was the number one decision we made from the very beginning. Knowing that we would have four characters in the game at all times, whether playing alone or with friends, that really informed a lot of our design decisions. Particularly in terms of the size of our spaces and how the combat works.

The other important decision was to not focus too much on standard shooter favourites. You know, even though we have a shotgun, sniper rifle and assault rifle in the game - and theyíre great to use - we wanted to go further and surprise players with very Insomniac-flavoured weapons. Hence the primary Fuse weaponry. We wanted to take that further by creating an upgrade system which allows you to unlock new abilities for each of those.

That played into our need to create four very different agents, rather than four clones of the same character. Each player in Fuse reflects a certain archetype, or in some cases two archetypes. So again, it doesnít feel like an everyday shooter where youíre playing as a soldier. These characters are more akin to MMO archetypes, with a healer/crowd control specialist, a stealth rogue specialist, and a tank for example.


SPOnG: What about the standard weapons? Do you think thereís a danger of gamers just sticking to the Fuse weapons the whole time and not exploring the options offered by the regular guns?

Ted Price: We anticipated that, yeah. Because of that, we allow you to also upgrade your standard weapons in the progression tree. So thereís definitely an incentive to pay attention to the regulars, because you will earn buffs for them. As the game gets tougher, you wonít want to feel stuck with an assault rifle that feels wimpy compared to your Fuse weapons.


SPOnG: In a recent presentation, you name-checked Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and District 9 as inspirations for Fuse. Can you explain why? I guess the Mission Impossible connection is in the teamwork during the game...

Ted Price: And humour as well. When you watch any of the modern Mission Impossible movies, youíll find that they donít take themselves completely seriously. There are moments of humour throughout where you can commiserate and laugh with the characters. Not laugh at them, but laugh with them.

Thatís the same feeling weíre going for with out current cast of Fuse characters. But yes, thereís also the teamwork aspect. Mission Impossible is all about operating as a team, as is Fuse.


SPOnG: What about District 9? Was that more of an inspiration in terms of atmosphere, perhaps?

Ted Price: Partly. District 9 is a good example of an invented near-future. The idea that aliens existed among humans was the movieís theme, right? It touched upon the problems we would encounter if that scenario ever came to pass.

We took a similar approach in creating this alien substance, Fuse. Its origin is somewhat unknown, but it is very volatile and unpredictable. This adds a sort of sci-fi flavour to the story, that we at Insomniac really love.

Then thereís the weapons too. One of the most standout moments in District 9 was seeing the fricking kickass weapons near the end of the movie. That inspired us - not just on Fuse but with other games as well. We love any movie that features an array of crazy weapons. We canít get enough of them.


SPOnG: During the earlier presentation, you likened Echelon mode to Smash TV. Why is that?

Ted Price: Well, itís definitely its own beast. I just used Smash TV to introduce the concept. But, I think the most important reason why Echelon is different [to other similar modes on the market] is that itís an offensive mode. You are generally going after the enemies, or a particular goal, rather than constantly defending a spot. Having said that, there is a sub-mode where you are defending a position.

Another thing that sets it apart is the fact that... itís not about doing the same thing over and over again. If you do that, the gameplay can get old. For us, itís about mixing up the objectives as much as possible, to create variety in these battles. We want to keep players on their toes by surprising them. Even when you get familiar with the different objectives, you donít know which is going to pop up next.


SPOnG: Dead Space 3 has an optional microtransactions feature, where players can quickly upgrade their items. I noticed that you can collect Fuse Credits in the game - are you looking into a similar system?

Ted Price: No. You canít purchase Fuse Credits with real money. Itís just the fictional cash you earn playing Echelon. You can also find some of it in the campaign.


SPOnG: A lot of the action in Echelon mode seems perfect for tournaments. The twelve rounds, the sub-modes, that sort of thing. Do you see Fuse taking off in an eSports sense?

Ted Price: That would be really cool. Itís certainly a candidate for that. Itís not something that we have spent a lot of time thinking about. We are focused right now on delivering a game that stands out as a new IP on two platforms - thatís a tall order already.

So... Iíd love to see where... weíre very flexible in terms of where this franchise goes. Itís our IP, we came up with the idea and continue to develop it with the idea that will live on well beyond the first game, and maybe morph into something different. thatís whatís fun about developing games.


SPOnG: Thanks a lot for your time.

Ted Price: Thanks!
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