It was a big deal back in 2011 when Insomniac Games, creators of some of the most iconic PlayStation franchises ever, confirmed that they were going multiformat. During this generation, they gave us the (mostly) great Resistance series, and the always-fun Ratchet & Clank games. Prior to that, they created Spyro, which lost its way over the last decade, until finding a more successful home under the Skylanders brand at Call of Duty publisher Activision.
So when we were offered the chance to chat to founder and CEO Ted Price, during a promotional tour for his latest game--Fuse--we jumped at it. First, though, we spent a good couple of hours actually playing Fuse with Ted to get a feel for how the game is progressing, and to see whether or not he actually knows his way around an Xbox pad. Turns out, Price isn’t just ‘the boss’ at Insomniac. He’s also a handy guy to have around when you’re bleeding out in a video game.
Even during our playthrough of Fuse it becomes obvious that Price isn’t a dull player. He constantly switches between characters, showing off different abilities and weapons. It becomes clear that his passion for variety is perfectly aligned with Insomniac’s desire to continue pushing into new territory with their games. “Even after releasing five other new intellectual properties (IPs), it’s still terrifying creating something new,” says Price. “It’s always hard to predict how fans are going to react, and given the amount the industry has changed over the last few years, it’s getting even harder. Being in a position where we can create new IP, and make new characters and worlds, it’s a real blast for us. It’s why we at Insomniac are in the business, no matter how challenging the industry gets.”
It’s refreshing to hear. With AAA gaming becoming more and more risky, and independent studio closures a regular story in the gaming press, it would be easy to stick with the familiar, to push out another Resistance or Ratchet. However, with Fuse, it feels like Insomniac are having their cake and eating it. Although it’s a new franchise, it definitely has the same DNA as Resistance and Ratchet.
“One of the first comments that usually comes out when people play Fuse is “Yeah, this feels like an Insomniac game”,” explains Price. “We never intentionally tried to create that, but it has been interesting watching it happen over the years. People identify us with over-the-top--sometimes goofy, sometimes not-so-goofy--weapons. Being in the shooter genres as we are, it’s really nice to hear people talking about our identity without being prompted or us intending it.”
Having a strong identity certainly helps in such a crowded genre. There are so many generic shooters to play, but series like BioShock and Borderlands stand out because of their distinct look, feel and content. And while a new game like Fuse stands out from the likes of COD and Battlefield with its more over-the-top vibe, it’s still a hard sell when we can practically smell the next-generation of gaming.
“Well, we’ve heard from players over and over again that they want something fresh,” reasons Price. “I remember the same comments at the end of the PS2 / Xbox lifecycle, where people were saying “Man, when are we going to get a new game?” and a bunch of new IPs came out that really made a splash. This generation has lasted longer and I think that players have become even more critical and jaded… certainly thirstier for something new. So the challenge that we face is being able to make enough noise to garner players’ attention; to pick our battles in terms of what to emphasise”.
Price cites Fuse’s co-op play as the game’s best feature. Not only is there a real hunger for co-op games that can be played on and offline, but there’s also a sense that players want choice when it comes to collaboration. Who wouldn’t? Even when you’re playing with friends, the experience can be mixed, which is a big reason Insomniac have built a robust solo experience into Fuse too.
“One requirement that we knew we had to fill when we started making Fuse is that we couldn’t just make a co-op game,” says Price. “There have been a few games recently that have been great for people in co-op, but not so hot in single player. So we started by looking at our AI bots, and how they behaved. They tend to do what you want them to do, whether it’s saving your ass or beginning to use the skills that you’ve unlocked within their skill trees.
“So, when I’m playing solo it’s really gratifying to see someone like Dalton dropping shields to provide cover for his team during an ambush, or to see Izzy lobbing healing beacons over a group of enemies to heal me when I’m in trouble. All these bots are programmed to be intelligent. Having experienced games where the AI doesn’t take full advantage of the player’s capabilities, we were keen to change that around.”