Multi-generational development may be trouble for the new franchise.
The reaction to Vince Zampella's announcement of 'Titanfall's player number has been mixed. Many feel that twelve human players in a match is too low a number, and others feel like nothing has changed in terms of anticipating the would-be blockbuster.
Despite Respawn's insistence that the player count has nothing to do with performance, it's worth remembering that the game is due out not only on the Xbox One and PC, but also on the 360. Who's actually working on the 360 version remains a mystery, but it's reasonable to think that the 360 version has the potential to be the highest seller with a huge Xbox Live enabled install base.
For that reason alone, Respawn and publisher EA should want to ensure that the 360 version somehow resembles the Xbox One version.
While the game has AI to populate its maps, savvy players will always be able to tell the difference between a 12 player match and a 16 player match. And this is especially true when attempting to capture a FPS player base.
Setting 'Titanfall' aside, it's worth looking at a last-gen game for comparison. In the Unreal 3 powered 'Transformers: War for Cybertron' player count was in flux during development. It moved from 4v4 to 5v5 before release, and its sequel 'Transformers: Fall of Cybertron' featured 6v6. When it was 4v4, the maps, which needed to accommodate jets, fast cars, and tanks, could feel empty. The worse part of the emptiness was that should you get a good firefight going, let's say five people in one area of the map, moving away from that area meant being in an empty map that was static aside from pick-ups.
The player count and game mode are huge factors in map design, and when the player count is in flux, it becomes much harder to finalize the map, and thereby affects balancing, performance, and fun. Of course, 'Transformers' had serious campaign modes for offline play at its core.
'Titanfall' is multiplayer first and only. Like 'Call of Duty,' 'Titanfall' can be traced back to 'Quake 3' roots. 'Titanfall's engine predecessors include the likes of 'Counter-Strike: Source,' 'Half-Life 2,' 'Team Fortress 2,' and 'Left 4 Dead 2.' A drastic shift in player count for any one of those games would necessitate a change in the maps, but 'Titanfall' faces an even greater challenge.
Zampella's comments make it clear that the focus is now to make 6v6 the core of 'Titanfall,' and each game mode, perk, Titan, weapon, AI, and map must be tuned to that number. If the Xbox One and PC version was 10v10 and the 360 was 6v6, so much about the game would have to change that the 360 version would be even more derided that it already is. So much so that it might not sell, whereas now many who currently scoff at that version will be buying in later.
Previous Respawn comments have been all about how the new studio wanted to focus on one version of their new game. Ultimately, that means that the 360 is the de facto limiter of the 'Titanfall.' The idea that a version could be built for the Xbox One, and then have its framerate, resolution, lighting effects, geometry density, and texture resolution scaled back (in parallel development) to make a playable 360 version is unfortunately unrealistic. At some point in development (likely months ago) the decision to either abandon a faithful 360 version or scale back the Xbox One version was made.
As frustrating as dealing with the limitations of the 360 must be for Xbox Owners (if familiar to PC gamers), ensuring that the game is fun in its present state is the kind of decision made by hit game makers (and often sadly avoided in sequels). Already it seems, the idea that a future 'Titanfall' will be produced without consideration for the 360 has to have been discussed at length.
Those looking for 64 player scale matches are bound to be disappointed by 6v6, but the possibilities for future 'Titanfall' installments are promising. In fact, with over 7 million next-gen consoles now in the world, someone (perhaps even EA), will decided to press forward with a truly next-gen title in the vein of 'Titanfall.' In the meantime, Respawn and EA will be enjoying massive sales and generating crazy statistics from 'Titanfall' matches.
You can find the latest info on 'Titanfall' linked from our Video Game Release Schedule.
Author: Brian Hoss