After a lengthy wait, the time of Titanfall has arrived to give PC gamers a multiplayer shooter to add to their rotation, and award Xbox One owners a chance to put their new console to work on the platform’s most anticipated exclusive. Respawn Entertainment‘s new brand of multiplayer may be the closest thing to the Xbox One’s ‘killer app’ at present, putting Microsoft’s cloud-computing network to work handling all new aspects of game design.
It comes as a surprise, then, that according to the developer, Titanfall wasn’t originally planned to launch on the next-gen system. But now that it has, Respawn sees it as good news for PC gamers as well.
A revelation like that is certain to elicit many knee-jerk reactions from those unimpressed with Titanfall‘s visuals, game modes or overall design. While it’s no secret that the game never makes it a priority to out-shine its competition graphically (read our review), the game’s shift from previous consoles to next-gen is a far more complicated issue than can easily be seen after a few minutes of gameplay.
Speaking with Eurogamer, Respawn’s lead engineer Richard Baker explained that while Titanfall may not be trying to reinvent the wheel, small changes in system architecture have played a large role in making a multiplayer shooter that he says may have offered a glimpse at how future games will be made. Next-gen consoles continue to become more and more similar to PCs, but that’s a shift Baker sees as beneficial for both, not just console fans:
“Originally we weren’t planning on an Xbox One version of the game. I’m certain that having an Xbox One version has made our PC version much better – it justified the effort in moving to DX11 and even 64-bit.
“I think in the future that’s going to continue. The higher-end [graphics] cards are always going to be able to do more, but a lot of the bottlenecks – especially on PC – are more CPU and with DX11 you can have the GPU do a lot more that the CPU did previously.”
It will come as a surprise to hear that Titanfall began its life as a Xbox 360/PC title, even if the jump to next-gen helps explain the silence that surrounded the game’s development after Respawn was formed from ex-Infinity Ward developers. But should it? Baker’s comments offer some insight into why it seems like it’s not the visuals that define Titanfall as a next-gen experience, but the game’s use of Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing network.
Essentially filling the community with an unlimited number of dedicated servers, Baker pointed out, meant that all companies involved managed to save on the cost of launch servers. The game ran into its own type of technical issues on launch day, but servers crashing or being overloaded wasn’t one of them.
Still, with so much time spent on getting the most out of the Xbox One’s hardware, and solving old PC processing problems with new solutions, why did the designers choose to drop the level of detail and remove themselves from the next-gen fight to determine graphical supremacy? Baker explains that more than anything else, it was the nature of the game that made many short-cuts and approaches impossible this time around:
“We talked a lot about having some kind of mega-texture support or streaming but it’s a multiplayer game, you drop in anywhere, you move around quickly… If we added streaming, we could use a lot less RAM for the same visual quality – if you were sitting still and looking in the same direction. But given that you’re spinning around, wall-running and jumping through windows all over the place all the time, we didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in texture-streaming without getting textures delayed a lot.
“People tend to trade a little more visual quality for more latency. It seems like everyone wants to give up the gameplay for slightly better visuals – especially on the PS3 games, there’d be a really long rendering chain… We’re definitely biased much more the other way to make the frame appear as soon as possible. We actually changed how the networking works so the controls have less latency… If we can get to a solid 60Hz, it’s really responsive. Hopefully everyone will do it, and games will be more fun.”
Since the Respawn team is made up of some of the best and brightest minds that helped make Call of Duty and Modern Warfare household names, they certainly know what they’re talking about when it comes to multiplayer development. Anyone who has spent some time engaging in Titanfall matches can imagine why it would be difficult for the team to use features like texture-streaming (where low-res textures are used for objects at a distance, streaming in more detailed ones as the player approaches) – features that can make a significant impact in highly-directed games.
Since the studio doesn’t plan to move beyond multiplayer any time soon, these issues will likely remain for the time being (although the team promises it will try to increase the resolution on Xbox One). But if Baker is right, and other studios may soon decide that visuals aren’t the only important feature for next-gen gameplay, then these consoles could prove revolutionary for more than just those playing them.
Titanfall is available now for the PC and Xbox One. An Xbox 360 release arrives March 25.
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