Fuse Ted Price on Fuse
After spending a few hours playing Fuse in co-op mode with some of my fellow game journalists at a press preview event for the game, I was able to spend a little time talking about the game, its past, present, and future, with Ted Price, Founder and CEO of Insomniac Games:
NJ: What led you to choose Fuse as Insomniac’s next game?
TP: Well, Brian Allgeier who’s the Creative Director on the game made a pitch that was about four agents infiltrating strongholds across the world pursuing an alien substance. That was the pitch from a thematic perspective and from a gameplay perspective what he proposed was having four players in the game at all times who were well-differentiated and having co-op features that would raise the bar for the genre. That has remained consistent throughout the development process.
NJ: What inspired the game’s near future Sci-Fi setting?
TP: We’ve always been a Sci-Fi company; we love various degrees of Sci-Fi in our games. From the beginning we made the call that Fuse was not going to be a real world game. We didn’t want it to take place in today’s world. We wanted to create an imaginary future and a story that asked the question, “What happens when this volatile, lethal alien substance falls into the hands of humans? What do they do?” As the story evolved we were able to explore it further in terms of how Fuse affects the antagonists and protagonists in the game. How it affects their motivations, what they do with it. And how it, in an indirect way, brings the Overstrike team together as they are having to make choices during their pursuit of the Fuse. So in terms of you asking about how we fall into an interesting place between real-world and not real-world, we like to live in that space. We like to live in-between or on the far end of “out there”, just like with Ratchet. And in terms of tone Fuse falls almost halfway between Resistance and Ratchet. It’s not campy and slapstick, but it’s not dark and gloomy, either. We have humor in the game – it’s a drier humor than in Ratchet – and the characters don’t take themselves too seriously and we go to exotic locations, but they’re not as crazy exotic as Ratchet’s locations but they’re also not dry and dusty and destroyed like Resistance’s locations.
NJ: So the game was conceived as a co-op experience from the very beginning, but did you know who the characters would be right away? Or did their personalities and abilities evolve during the development process?
TP: In terms of who the characters are, Dalton, Izzy, Naya, and Jacob, that team existed from the very first pitch. They evolved in terms of their backgrounds, in terms of their look, and in terms of their weapons and archetypes a bit. However, we had early on established that Dalton would be the tank, Naya would be the stealth specialist, Izzy was originally more of a science whiz, so the Shatter Gun did ultimately fit with her. And Jacob was the loner. So we continued to evolve those archetypes and when we first came up with the weapons the Mag Shield, the Shatter Gun, the Glue Gun, which was the precursor of the Shatter Gun, and Naya’s weapon, which I don’t think was the Warp Rifle at first, it was basically that she was a stealth operative. They all fit who the characters were. But then as we started digging into more functionality for the weapons and trying to address the challenge of having four weapons that complemented each other, the weapons continued to become more complex and evolve in ways that we didn’t anticipated at first.
NJ: In the Ratchet games there were lots of crazy weapons, but in Fuse each character just carries one specialized weapon. Is there a reason behind that? Did you want to get away from making so many different weapons in a game?
TP: That’s a great question and I do want to point out that there are a lot of weapons in the game outside of the Fuse weapons and they’re shooter favorites. The funny thing is that today the status quo is that you have to have wide a variety of weapons in general in a game. With the Fuse powered weapons we wanted to go deep versus broad and the reason why we wanted to do that was because we wanted to make sure that the play styles for each of the four characters were well differentiated. And we didn’t want to muddy things too much by giving you a wide variety of choices that maybe weren’t as meaningful. So Fuse in many ways is about making meaningful choices in the game, whether you’re digging into our skill trees, choosing team perks, or leaping between the four different characters. In every situation you’re making a choice that actually has effects on the gameplay versus choosing a machine gun that maybe has a slightly higher rate of fire or a shotgun that’s 10% more powerful. When you move between the Warp Rifle and the Mag Shield, or the Arc Shot and the Shatter Gun, you are experiencing very different combat styles with these four characters. So to make all four of those very different combat functions work well, and be upgradeable, and have skills that can be unlocked later, we wanted to stick to a small number of exotic weapons.
NJ: The game doesn’t have much in the way of tutorials, hints, or help when it comes to using the Fuse weapons, was that an intentional design decision to let players discover the weapons’ powers on their own?
TP: That’s a balancing act for us. We understand that some players prefer absolutely no help whatsoever and at the same time other players would prefer long drawn-out tutorials, so we try to strike a balance. One of the things that we did in Fuse was not to give you the chance to unlock everything at once. That was partly because we want you to get familiar with the basic functionality of the standard and Fuse powered weapons before we start throwing new functionality at you. And the second reason was because of the progression system. We wanted players to have an incentive to continue moving forward into the game and looking forward to unlocking cool new stuff. So we gradually introduce you to more and more functionality for the characters and for the weapons.
NJ: Is that also why you leave it to players to discover the almost sixty different ways that the characters can combine the attacks of their Fuse weapons?
TP: Yeah, and actually that came out late in the game. And that was because we were still working on refining the weapons up until pretty close to the end to make sure that they all really worked well together. One of the last things we did was to identify all of the various combinations to start visually rewarding you for pulling them off. We do want players to discover them because in some ways many of us on the team are collect-athon freaks. We like to go into a game and see if we can discover hidden gems, gems is not the right word, hidden aspects and we felt that the process of discovery in uncovering these various combinations would be cool. They’re certainly cool to us. I personally love seeing something like a dark shatter pop up or atomize and making that mental connection, “oh, I just pulled that off by using the Warp Rifle on an enemy who was already being burned by Jacob’s Arc Shot trap.” That’s the kind of thing that’s fun, the mental connections that I personally have fun making and that I think that our players will enjoy as well.
NJ: Have you given any thought to the future of Fuse? Is this a one-time game with a self-contained story or is this game planting the seeds of a new franchise?
TP: Well with every game we have made other than Disruptor, we have taken the franchise further. When we create a new IP we do it for the long-term. So what’s nice about the Fuse universe is that it isn’t a real-world universe. Because we’ve introduced some pretty Sci-Fi slash fantastic elements, we believe that we can take it in a lot of different directions. As the owner of the IP we have a lot of latitude to move in a lot of different directions. So we look forward to hearing from fans in terms of what they like and don’t like. The universe is always malleable when it comes to something like Fuse.
NJ: You had a strong vision of what the game would be like from the very beginning, and now that the game is done how closely does the final product match your original vision?
TP: Sure, that’s kind of a loaded question because we know we were very public about the changes that we made to the game’s aesthetics, and I know that there was a strong response from players who professed to like the 2011 trailer that was a pre-rendered, promise trailer of the game and then the first gameplay trailer that we released was in 2012 and my response has consistently been this: when you’re creating IP it evolves, and sometimes it evolves in unexpected ways. For us the evolution was the result of us realizing that the weapons we had planned at the beginning weren’t really working well. They weren’t providing that core fun factor that we knew we needed to present a compelling co-op game, and just for ourselves we had to continue taking them in a new direction and that direction ended up being a lot more visceral then the original concept. But that’s the decision we made and when we did that other aspects of the game followed. We were careful though to retain what we feel is a lot of the Insomniac DNA in the game which involves, as I say over and over again, a Sci-Fi universe, characters that we hope are unique in terms of their appearances, backstory, certainly weapons that you won’t find in any other game, and other touches like leap and progression, and other elements that you won’t find in competing co-op shooters.