What started out as Overstrike at Insomniac games quietly went into development limbo before being reincarnated as Fuse—a four-player co-operative shooter with crazy weapons that deliver a tactical twist. Insomniac already has a reputation of getting quite creative with weapons, thanks to franchises such as Ratchet and Clank and Resistance. With Fuse, it plans to bring this ingenuity to deliver a co-op experience that pivots around strange alien technology-powered weapons and a class-based team approach. To understand how the tactical weapon interplay and different character classes work, I had a word with the game's Creative Director Brian Allgeier.
The game was originally called Overstrike, why change it to Fuse?
Well, it was the name of the alien compound that was at the centre of the story. As we were developing the game we realised that the one thing that overpowers everything and it's essentially the identity of the game. That's why we made the decision to shift from calling it Overstrike and named it Fuse.
With co-operative games being the flavour of the season, how do you plan to make Fuse stand out?
The big difference with Fuse it its focus around an alien substance called Fuse, which powers the weapons in the games. That gives each of the operatives, who are a part of the four player team, different roles. We have focused on class-based co-op, with a lot of archetypal roles. We have Dalton Brooks, who plays the tank with his Mag Shield, and then you have Naya Deveraux, who's more of a stealth class. Izzy [Isabelle] Sinclair is the healer, and then Jacob Kimble is the direct damage dealer.
You went to town with weapon variation and depth in Resistance, while Fuse seems similarly weapon oriented. Was this love for spectacular weapons a basis for Fuse?
Yeah, ever since we started developing Ratchet and Clank, we had a lot of fun developing new and imaginative weapons. We're always our worst competition, because we're always trying to top ourselves over the previous games. Co-op creates a different challenge for us, and we really enjoyed figuring out how these weapons could be fun to use individually, but also as a team.
Weapon balance can make or break this sort of a game. What have you done to ensure this balance?
Well, that's definitely one of our biggest challenges. We start out with just some crazy ideas of these powerful weapons and we have to see how they fit within the team based gameplay and how we can balance them. We do a lot of things to balance very powerful weapons by tinkering with the recoil rate or have it use a lot of ammo so you're forced to be strategic on where to use it and not mindlessly fire away. Then there's stuff such as deciding the amount of ammo to be included in the environment. I think we have struck really good balance in terms of creating really tough enemies so that you never feel that it's too easy or too hard.
Crazy alien weapons are crazy
Now that you've mentioned the word alien, will Fuse have them come in the picture like they did in Crysis?
Well, I don't want to give away spoilers or anything, but it does centre around the alien substance Fuse, and so there are a few hints about its origin. But that's all I can say.
What will be the estimated playtime of the single-player campaign?
I can't talk about that either. The great thing about that is how each operative has their own unique progression tree, and so a lot of people will want to play through the game in many different ways and upgrade each character. So it will have a lot of replay value.
Does that mean the story missions will be different for each character?
No, I mean, there are a few insights on offer if you play with different characters, and there are particular levels where you'll learn a little bit more on the back story of a character you're playing. However, the overarching story remains the same irrespective of the character you've selected.
Is it then like Resident Evil where story arcs of different characters converge with each other? Will the characters split ways?
No, essentially because you'll always be a part of the same team and so they all roughly have the same perspective. You're never shifting between different storylines.
This being your first cross platform game, how do you plan to deliver a uniform experience across two very technically diverse platforms?
A lot of our development is initially done on the PC and that works out really well, because that's where our tools run on. So we have a fast intuitive process, which is helpful to quickly work on something and have it up on the PC immediately. This helps our goal to create the same experience on the Xbox and the PS3. We have a really talented engine team, who have experience both on the PS3 and Xbox and so far things are going pretty well.
I see that the game has a loot drop system, which can be used to upgrade weapons. How does this work?
Essentially, you have Skill Points that allow you to purchase skills and then upgrade them. And then we've got Fuse credits in the Echelon mode. Killing enemies and performing various actions get you Fuse credits, which can be used to purchase visual gear for your heroes. You can also use these credits to purchase perks, and those affect attributes of the entire team.
Yep, there's a lot of cover in this game
Fuse has a levelling system as well for the single and multiplayer modes. Won't levelling your character high enough in one mode and then using the same in another affect gameplay balance?
That's true, and so a lot of that we're focusing on upgrades deal more with functionality—for instance, unlocking more functionality to your weapons such as the Mag Shield, which gives it the ability to deploy the shield and drop it in the environment. So it all comes down to giving more strategic choices than an imbalance of power.
With regards to weapon upgrades, can we expect functional modifications that drastically change them, or will they be restricted to cosmetic upgrades?
With Fuse Credits you do get these cosmetic visual upgrades, but then with skill trees and Fuse Points you do get the more functional upgrades. For example, some weapons might get a scope allowing you to zoom in further, or a larger clip capacity. However, we are careful about the amount of damage that's happens due to the imbalance you were suggesting earlier.
Will the game have a split-screen co-op mode?
We aren't talking about it just yet.
The single-player campaign is generally an afterthought in such games? Have you done anything special with Fuse in this regard?
We did a couple of things. For starters we ensured that the AI bots were a high priority and that they didn't get in the way, were effective, and not too powerful either. We're looking at that to ensure that we have a satisfying single-player experience. The Leap feature gives people a kind of larger arsenal to switch between characters and their specialised Xenotech weapons. We have developed single-player games in the past. We had started with Disruptor, Spyro, and Ratchet and Clank, so it was definitely a big focus for us. At the beginning of the Fuse project, we also wanted to ensure that it is a fun co-op game from the ground up.
What have you done to ensure that gamers have an incentive to work as a team?
The co-op campaign can be played in the single, two, three, or four-player modes. You have the choice between different classes to play. If you're not playing the four-player mode, you always have the option to leap into different characters. A lot of times gamers prefer to play the co-op campaign in the single player mode and just get familiar with it. We want to make that a rich experience. Even when two players want to play it co-operatively, they always have the option of jumping into two different bots.
Working as a team is encouraged with perks and upgrades
One of the main challenges in a co-op game is to prevent the lone wolf mentality and make players work together. How does Fuse address this?
The one thing that we do is make sure there are a lot of two-player gates, so one person just cannot run to the end of the level. They have to work with the team to simply hack open doors or breach through areas. They're not going to level up faster and they're going to get less Fuse Points for doing more of the lone wolf action. Then there are gameplay mechanics that allow Dalton to bring up the Mag Shield and Jacob can then kill the enemy through it to earn more Fuse Points. So that will be an encouragement to keep people working together.
If you look at the single-player component, you'll have bots taking over the actions of the other team members. Achieving this has always been a challenge for the industry. How does Fuse solve this AI problem?
I think the key is that we never want the AI play the game, but we want the player to advance all the action. So the AI will often time wait for the player to push forward. If the player isn't killing enough enemies, the AI doesn't kill a lot of them as well. This has been a guideline for us to measure if the AI has been operating the right way.
How difficult is it to achieve your full creative potential considering the limitations of cross-platform development?
In the end it comes down to the team's vision. We are very collaborative, so a lot of times the game doesn't go according to my plan [laughs], but this is a natural part of development. I think we're all a bunch of creative individuals and everyone has awesome ideas. And it's a lot better game than many people would have predicted. I guess the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as they say.
What do you personally prefer? Split-screen or online co-op?
I play online. My brother lives on the other side of the country, so we play online co-op games together.
What are your top three favourite games?
Well, let's see... I like Portal 2—that's definitely up there. I like Uncharted 2. I'm trying to think of an Indie game that I enjoy playing. Can't say Scrabble, because that would just be weird. Words with friends! [laughs]. I play it all the time. Well, all my life I have loved Planetfall, which was a text adventure on the Commodre 64.