Ted Price Opens Up On Fuse: Co-op, Story, Weapons, Overstrike and False Assumptions

[HG] Are the experience points split evenly?

[TP] It depends on the combination and how much of the damage you did, your participation and the kills. There are dual-weapon combinations, pre-weapon combinations and full-weapon combinations. You’ll see labels on the screen that explain what you did. Darkcharge, for instance, is the result of combining the Warp Rifle and Shatter Gun.

[HG] So you can combine the weapons for more experience?

[TP] Yeah, for example if you are playing as Naya and have the Warp Rifle and you put a whole bunch of guys with the Warp Rifle anti-matter mixture and I’m Jacob that has the Arc Shot with the bolts of liquid mercury, and fire through Dalton’s shields and manage to hit an enemy that’s been coated with the Warp Rifle mixture, I’ll set up that Black Hole and set up the chain effect and you, Dalton and I all get points for the kills.

[HG] So it really does promote working together?

[TP] It does. When you combine forces, we reward it and that comes back to the central tenant of the game, which we call Lethal Teamwork. The game’s tough and it’s important for players to work together, but we never shove it down anybody’s throat — we never force you to actually work together — we simply encourage it by making it more fun, rewarding and effective to use your weapons in combinations against enemies.

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“The game’s tough and it’s important for players to work together, but we never shove it down anybody’s throat.”

[HG] That’s great because I feel like one downside to a lot of co-op games is if you’re new to the game and not very good and playing with someone experienced, you tend to be dragged along and play halfheartedly as you’re guaranteed to finish. This seems like there’s incentive for them not to just plow through the levels and lets everybody do their own thing, while actually having to concentrate and give it your best effort.

[TP] Early in development we tried a whole bunch of different things and one of things we tried was giving everybody similar weapons and we found that it was much more likely that people would play lonewolf if the weapons were all the same, but when you give somebody a weapon that breaks his archetype, then they actually begin playing a role more readily — Dalton as a tank, Naya as the stealth specialist, Jacob as the long distance damage dealer, Izzys the scientist — people fall into those roles and they start figuring out cool ways to work together using those archetypes. A lot like RPGS, but in a much more action-oriented fashion.

[HG] Some of the abilities in combat seem to be influenced by Ratchet & Clank, were you at all influenced throughout the development cycle by that game?

[TP] We were influenced by Ratchet and Resistance. Resistance 2 in particular had a class-based co-op mode with eight players that was sort of the seed for us of where we with Fuse.

Lately, we’ve been talking about gameplay and the importance of co-op and how these weapons are different, but there is a big story that drives the player through the game and we did spend a lot of time fleshing out who the characters are, because I think that’s an important aspect of games that gamers want to hear about. It was our goal from the beginning to create an Insomniac-flavored story where there’s humor. It can’t be as slapstickish as Ratchet, but the characters don’t take themselves completely seriously. It’s skirting that line between overtly in-your-face funny and dry, subtle humor. This is not a grim, gritty military simulator; this is a world that we and Insomniac made up, where you are chasing these bigger than life villains to exotic strangleholds around the world and you’re dealing with this alien substance that would never really exist in real life. We love sci-fi and taking our stories in different directions.

I think when we started showing off Fuse last year, the assumption that a lot of folks made was that we were making a Battlefield-located shooter, but that is not the case at all. We want to take you to pretty interesting locations and show you some enemies that you won’t see in other games.

[HG] What are some locations we get to go to in the game?

[TP] We go to an Indian Palace, the mountains of Pakistan, an underwater laboratory off the coast of China, a nod to pulp sci-fi, and a couple of other places that we’re not revealing yet.

[HG] How do you get from location to location; is there a level selector?

[TP] It’s all story-driven. Once you have made it through a particular level, there’s a mission briefing that explains what’s going on and sets you up for the next level.

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“The assumption that a lot of folks made was that we were making a Battlefield-located shooter, but that is not the case at all.”

[HG] Can you tell us more about the characters themselves?

[TP] We have four. Dalton Brooks was a former mercenary for Raven, one of the enemy factions in the game, and he switched sides when he was betrayed by his boss. He encounters that boss in the game and there’s a b-story going on between them. Naya Deveraux is a former assassin who worked for her father, who plays a part in the story as well. Jacob Kimble is a former LAPD detective who was kicked off of the force because he was more of a vigilante — something you’ll see evidence of as you move through the game. And then we have Isabelle “Izzy” Sinclair, who is a former inteligenace broken jailed for selling secrets on the black market. The point is that Overstrike, [their] organization, hires who would be the most effective operative despite their background. You do see a lot of tension between them, but part of the story is discovering how they ultimately solve problems as a group.

[HG] How much does story factor into the game?

[TP] It’s not a cinematic every five minutes.

[HG] It’s not Metal Gear Solid?

[TP] No *laughs*.  We knew that as it’s a four player game, some people would be playing it with three friends, so we wanted to make sure that we weren’t interrupting co-op every five minutes with scenes. We tried to strike the balance between telling enough story to build the world and the characters, creating some twists and turns and not having people skipping every cutscene. We thought it was the appropriate amount, especially because it’s a high action game with lots of other elements and you’ll be playing with friends.

[HG] Is it drop in/drop out co-op?

[TP] Yes and two player split screen, so you can play with a friend locally and you both can play other players online as well. For example, you and I could be playing splitscreen and play against [two other friends] who are also playing local splitscreen at [another location]. There’s lots and lots of configurations.

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“For you to unlock all the functionality for the characters, it’s going to take several playthroughs of the game.”

[HG] Is it all co-op?

[TP] There is another mode in the game called “Echelon”, which is a much more arcadey aspect of the game. It’s not story-driven, but it takes place in similar levels where you and your three buddies take on twelve rounds of different types of challenges and these large battles called “Echelon Battles”. There’s six different Echelon maps and it’s very, very hard — it’s pretty hardcore and the players use the skills they’ve been using in the campaign. What’s useful for them is that the progression, the XP that you earn and skills that you use, is unified between both of the modes, so if you’ve been playing campaign for awhile and you want to check out Echelon, you bring all of your experience and skills that you’ve unlocked to it and vice-versa. You also earn Fuse credits, which are cash in the game, used to unlock other aspects of the progression system including team perks — persistent buffs that you can equip for each of your characters.

[HG] While last-minute name changes tend to be for the worse, “FUSE” is actually a fantastic name for a video game. Even with just four letters, something about it instantly seems synonymous with an advanced, futuristic title and not like the run-of-the-mill PC shooter the generic “Overstrike” suggested. What spurred the name change?

[TP] The substance itself. Last year we were really heavy into weapon development, figuring out what’s going to give the weapons more impact than we had, because when we showed off the trailer in 2011, we had some visually-interesting weapons such as the glue gun, but the reality is that it wasn’t fun. It looked cool, but when you played the game, it wasn’t coming together. For us at Insomniac, we’re all about weapons. We’re all about coming up with exotic stuff, but for Fuse we knew those weapons had to be hard-hitting and satisfying, because we’re going to give you a bunch of regular weapons, but also the fuse-powered weapon and that weapon is going to rock. So we went back to the drawing board with a lot of them and we decided “Okay, first of all, they’re Fuse-powered. This substance that we’re pursuing in the game can’t just be a story MacGuffin, it has to figure into gameplay somehow.”

So you are collecting Fuse from dead enemies, you’re using it in your weapons — the Fuse in your weapons becomes unstable and can trigger a mode called Fusion — which is very cool overcharged mode and that all worked together with coming up with new approaches to each of the weapons. Fuse became so central to the gameplay and so central to the story that it made a lot more sense just to rename the game, because Overstrike is simply the name of the team and it wasn’t resonating with us internally as much as Fuse was.

[HG] How long can we expect the single player campaign to be?

[TP] It’s substantial. For you to unlock all the functionality for the characters, it’s going to take several playthroughs of the game. Different people will have different times as they play through the game, depending on which character they choose and whether or not they leap back and forth between characters, so there’s a lot of different play styles that we’ve observed in our user tests. We’re happy with the length, plus Echelon and the skill trees have a lot of replay, so when you’re done with the campaign and want to move onto something else, Echelon is a meaty challenge for people.

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“That’s our approach to every single franchise — we take a risk with each one because you don’t know how players are going to respond.”

[HG] Fuse is Insomniac’s first game multiplatform game. So, Ted, do you still love the PlayStation?

[TP] Absolutely, we still have a great relationship with Sony.

[HG] What spurred the decision to go multiplatform?

[TP] This was something we decided on five years ago. We saw where the market was going in terms of broadening, not only in console, but in mobile and browser as well and decided that we needed to branch out. We’ve actually had great support from Sony as well. We were very open with Sony and they were very gracious in their reaction to it and as we’ve been working with Sony, so it’s been cool.

[HG] Is it still in development — are you almost done?

[TP] We’re ready to go on it and come out and looking forward to it because one of the cool things about not just cross-platform development, but developing a new IP, is being the new kid on the block. It’s cool and scary at the same time because we’re launching in a sea of sequels. Over the last year, there has been so many sequels and we’re hoping that players will see a cool evolution of co-op in Fuse. We love creating new worlds, stories and characters and exerpimenting with gameplay. Having the opprotunity to really dig into a different approach to co-op has been rewarding for us and we hope players will be into it.

[HG] Would you like Fuse to become one of your big franchises?

[TP] That’s our approach to every single franchise — we take a risk with each one because you don’t know how players are going to respond. You hope that players will enjoy it, we’re always kind of waiting on pins and needles to see what the response is, but so far, we have had a lot of playtest and the magic with Fuse is when people get their hands on it, all of the expectations they built up just seeing a little bit of Fuse PR over the past year kind of changed because the game at its core is all about having fun with these weapons and experimenting with co-op class based archetypes.

[HG] Now that Insomniac has a co-op first person shooter, will Naughty Dog follow suit?

[TP] We had a back and forth for so many years with [our franchises], but as a fan, I’m looking forward to their next games.

Fuse is due out May 28. For more on the game, check back frequently for our ongoing coverage.