The stories of Titanfall and Destiny and the lack of a story

The stories of Titanfall and Destiny and the lack of a story

Shared histories, hype and controversy but fun

Titanfall is a game I've been meaning to write something about for a while and with the launch of Destiny it seemed a good time to write something down so here goes...

A briefy history of Titanfall

A first-person shooter (FPS) developed by Respawn Entertainment which was founded by former employees of Infinity Ward, a subsidiary of Activision. While at Infinity Ward they had been developing the successful Call of Duty series for Activision which included Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 one of the best-selling games of all time. Their exit from Infinity Ward and Activision was the subject of a lawsuit, there's a good overview of what occurred over on Vanity Fair.

Respawn was a new studio with a new game which needed a publisher which was Electronic Arts (EA Games) who agreed to publish Titanfall for the Microsoft Xbox 360, the new Xbox One and Windows. So Titanfall became a platform exclusive of sorts. Titanfall isn't available for the Sony PlayStation which is a shame for several reasons not to mention the fact that the Call of Duty titles are available for the Xbox, PlayStation, Windows and even the Apple Mac. The aforementioned Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is available for the PC and Mac on Steam.

Respawn had been founded to develop something new. Their previous Call of Duty series, and indeed many titles in the FPS genre generally include both offline and online elements. You can begin with offline story focused single-player missions including scripted dialogue and elaborate cut-scenes during which you learn how to play the game and gain access to additional weapons and abilities. You may then move on to the online multiplayer elements of the game. There are many who begin by going straight to multiplayer ignoring the single-player completely as its often possible to do so.

Titanfall was to be part of a new generation of online only multiplayer games. There would be a story, and there needed to be since the game is based in a fictional world, but it would instead be included as part of the multiplayer experience. It was a bold move as many players are used to the inclusion of offline story based content, indeed many expect it as they may prefer to play offline in single-player mode only, I've heard many game journalists state that they prefer their games that way. Either way any game which includes a story of some kind and wishes to attract the attention of a player and keep them engaged requires the ability to communicate that story in a meaningful way. This I guess is more so with those stories based on science fiction scenarios set in the future. The development of Titanfall and the troubles associated with it, namely the ongoing lawsuit with Activision is the subject of a Longform app by video games Journalist Geoff Keighley.

 From the website for Geoff Keighley's Longform app on the development of Titanfall.

From the website for Geoff Keighley's Longform app on the development of Titanfall.

The Story of Titanfall

The Call of Duty and Battlefield series, the latter being published by EA Games, have traditionally included World War II, Vietnam or some contemporary war based scenario. For example Special Forces military attempting to foil a terrorist plot to launch a nuclear missile. Respawn were now heading in a new direction, below from a press release,

Set in the near future on a distant frontier torn apart by war, Titanfall drops players in the middle of a conflict between the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) and the Militia. The action is rapid and varied – featuring parkour-style wall running, massive double jumps and the ability to hijack titans. The freedom to shift back and forth between pilot and titan allows players to change tactics on the fly, attacking or escaping depending on the situation and extending the action vertically to new heights
 A Pilot running to engage a Titan in Titanfall. Image courtesy of Titanfall.com.

A Pilot running to engage a Titan in Titanfall. Image courtesy of Titanfall.com.

Without a scripted and offline single-player section Respawn need to incorporate this new story concept into the mulitplayer game play. Upon first loading up the game there's a brief intro video and story elements are included as part of a "multiplayer campaign" which is basically the regular multiplayer matches running in a continuous loop. You play through this campaign once as part of the IMC and again as the Militia. I recall one review stating that completing the campaign for each side requires playing through nine matches. Completing the campaign allows you to unlock a further two of three Titan chassis available which can also be unlocked by reaching player level 15 or 30. So it's not clear to me whether you need to complete the multiplayer campaign at all. By not doing so you miss out on any available story elements of course.

 The Lobby in Titanfall where you choose a match type or play through the campaign. The last four entries are included as part of expansion pack content you can purchase.

The Lobby in Titanfall where you choose a match type or play through the campaign. The last four entries are included as part of expansion pack content you can purchase.

During the campaign brief cut-scenes are included to set the scene prior to each match and to provide some background on the world of Titanfall. And while you play, and not only during campaign matches, some characters appear on screen issuing orders and keeping you updated on progress. It's not clear who these characters are. The voices appear to be a mix of American and South African accents. A review by Angry Joe on YouTube laments the lack of a single-player campaign or some way to see more of the world of Titanfall. During the recording of a pre-match cut-scene set in outer space Joe cries "No! Don't leave this area" and "I want to see more of this" and I tend to agree.

 Angry Joe on YouTube reviews Titanfall pleading "No! Don't leave this area!".

Angry Joe on YouTube reviews Titanfall pleading "No! Don't leave this area!".

The beta and launch of Titanfall

Officially announced during Microsoft's E3 2013 press conference Titanfall generated a lot of excitement and anticipation for its eventual release in 2014. A beta version for the Xbox One and Windows versions became available in February 2014 and it launched in early March to positive reviews. There's perhaps no point in linking to any reviews at this point as the game has since been updated to add features noted as missing in the initial reviews, latest details available on Titanfall.com. The Xbox 360 version launched slightly later and was developed by a separate studio, Bluepoint Games.

I like many had gotten access to a code for the beta version for Windows available from EA's Origin online store. Based on the reviews I figured I'd already experienced most of what the game had to offer during the beta so I was in no particular rush to purchase a copy upon release. And many reviewers were of the opinion that it was better to wait a while until the price dropped a little. One reason being the lack of a singe-player campaign, not an issue as such given that overall the game was fun to play but the retail price at launch was equivalent to other titles that do include additional story based content.

After a few months I began to wonder how the game was performing. In late June the full release version of the game became available to play for free for 48 hours as part of the Origin Game Time initiative along with the retail price dropping. Game Time is perhaps similar to EA Access for the Xbox One although I haven't noticed the inclusion of Titanfall. I hadn't noticed any updates, videos or live streams relating to Titanfall from the various online channels I follow so I googled it to see what was happening. There were comments from some who had gotten bored with the game and had already traded it in for something else to those stating it was the most fun they have ever had. There's a dedicated subreddit at least so there are some still playing.

I found more detailed analysis from some stating that the game had become a bit stale and that there was a potential issue with how the game maps were laid out making it difficult for the Respawn to control the flow of the game play. They remarked on how the environments were not destructible, which would of course cause issues with Titan movement if for example one could destroy a building. And that the Pilots, given their mobility both across the map, vertically and with interior access to buildings, unlike a Titan, and with the ability to take down a Titan were difficult to anticipate. And in general when compared to other FPS titles there's a lack of a ranking system, choice of weapons, perks and customisations.

I didn't get a chance to try the game in June but in late August the free 48 hours of Game Time was offered again which I had a chance to try. I got to try the campaign mode which I if I recall wasn't included as part of the beta release. The game is a 50GB download due I understand to the inclusion of uncompressed audio to allow the game to perform better on lower powered PC hardware, nonetheless a lot of space on a hard disk, and an issue for many. I enjoyed the game again and bought a copy as it became available at an even greater discounted price.

 Titanfall for Windows free for 48 hours via Origin Game Time.

Titanfall for Windows free for 48 hours via Origin Game Time.

My own experiences with Titanfall

I now owned a release copy of the game and like with any game needed to dedicate some time to it. Geoff Keighley's Longform app was also available via Origin and since it wasn't expensive and I'm a sucker for the included concept art and to learn a little more about Respawn I bought a copy. A touch-based copy for a Windows 8 device with touch or an iPad is probably superior to the desktop Windows copy I got running on Adobe Air.

 My EA Origin PC games library with app tiles for the Longform app, the retail version of the game and the beta version that I can hide from the library but can't seem to actually remove

My EA Origin PC games library with app tiles for the Longform app, the retail version of the game and the beta version that I can hide from the library but can't seem to actually remove

I enjoy the game, despite the lack of a fully fleshed out story, although I like many wished there was more. Its fun and fast-paced and I consequently get killed a lot, it probably doesn't help that I prefer to play using an Xbox 360 controller which the game fully supports as do many PC games. I often seem to get placed in matches alongside those who've reached the maximum level of 50 and in some cases have done so and begun again as part of generation progression.

 A multiplayer match about to begin in Titanfall. Some players are more experienced than others.

A multiplayer match about to begin in Titanfall. Some players are more experienced than others.

Respawn have been busy updating the game adding the ability to create private matches, which many complained on the lack of at launch. The option is in beta on the PC, I don't yet have enough friends on Origin (with EA accounts) who also have the game so I haven't yet been able to test it. I should perhaps post a message on Reddit. Also added is a "Pilot Skirmish" mode for 16 players (8 vs 8) without Titans or AI (Artificial Intelligence) based players and I most definitely get killed in that mode, or at least the few minutes I had to try one. Titanfall launched with a maximum of 6 vs 6 players with the maps fleshed out with AI and Titans depending on the map type. This 6 vs 6 caused some controversy when it was first announced, given that the game was supposed to be 'next-gen' which visually it isn't anyway. Anyway it's gone from 12 to 16 since and runs at 60fps (frames per second) at 1080p and above on the PC, depending on your hardware. I don't know about frame rate on the Xbox One. The AI are not challenging which means that that lesser-skilled players can also achieve some points and with the inclusion of the Smart Pistol, a short range auto-targeting weapon, it all helps to make the game a bit more accessible for those of us who are less experienced. And above all assists in increasing the potential audience, for the platforms its available on, and the ability to drop in and out or whenever it is you have time to play.

Respawn also made available some expansion packs. The third and final "IMC Rising" is to be made available on September 25th. I purchased the Season Pass which includes this final pack which I guess will be downloading now. I gather they've added some new style maps which I wanted to have a look at myself, assuming there will be enough players online to play who also have the same additional content. I don't know if these expansion packs add any new story content to the campaign section. They don't appear to include any additional weapons either which is what the game could use. I guess investing in any content for any online only game is always a risk over time as there may come a time when either nobody is playing, which anyway equals no matches at all or they simply turn off the servers, which is most definitely the end.

Titanfall is a good ame and like any game and in particular the first version of something new it has its flaws. One assumes if there is to be a sequel, which is highly likely they may now have the time and resources to add some more depth to the story so those who are still interested may venture a little further. Right now there are a lot elements appearing in the background that you just can't get to yet.

 One of the giant creatures which appears as part of the background. And some four-winged dragon type creatures which I think I once saw carry away a human character. You can shoot at the dragons at least.

One of the giant creatures which appears as part of the background. And some four-winged dragon type creatures which I think I once saw carry away a human character. You can shoot at the dragons at least.

A brief history of Destiny

Similar to how the founders of Respawn spent several years working on the same series and then broke away to do something new, Bungie the developers of Destiny have followed a similar path. Following developing the Halo series for the Xbox for 10-years or so Bungie moved away from their exclusivity deal with Microsoft to work with Activision on a new FPS series as part of a 10-year deal. In May 2012 the LA Times published details of a contract between Bungie and Activision obtained as part of evidence in the lawsuit between Activision and the former employees of Infinity Ward. So the Bungie story is kind of like Respawn but in reverse, and Halo was never available for the PlayStation where as Destiny is but Titanfall isn't, it's a tough life keeping track and being a gamer...

  Screenshots from the 2013 trailers for the next version of Halo (now from 343Industries) and Destiny.   If you look closely there's a certain similarity.

Screenshots from the 2013 trailers for the next version of Halo (now from 343Industries) and Destiny. If you look closely there's a certain similarity.

 

The Story of Destiny

Before I say anything I should add that I don't own a console so I won't be playing Destiny anytime soon which is a shame. Perhaps they'll add a PC version later. I most likely wouldn't be able to devote the time this title appears to require and have Titanfall to continue with amongst other things. It does appear to have a similar element of accessibility like Titanfall but at the same time the aforementioned drop in and out way of playing doesn't do justice to either of these games.

I've read and watched a lot of reviews and listened to podcasts etc in an effort to get a feel for this game I'm intrigued by but can't play right now. I'm perhaps another victim of the hype machine behind this one. Below a description of the game from a press release,

Players are cast as Guardians of the last city on Earth, who will traverse the ancient ruins of our solar system from the red dunes of Mars to the lush jungles of Venus. Able to wield incredible power, gamers must battle humanity's enemies and reclaim all that was lost during the collapse of mankind's Golden Age. In a story-driven universe, Destiny's saga unfolds through grand tales and epic adventures by immersing players in a bold new universe filled with cooperative, competitive, public, and social activities, all seamlessly connected.

And from the destinythegame.com website,

A BOLD NEW WORLD Embark on an epic action adventure with rich cinematic storytelling where you unravel the mysteries of our universe and reclaim what we lost at the fall of our Golden Age.

I'm highlighting a section of the quote above as it appears to be a source of disappointment and confusion with the game, or at least with this first instance from the series.

If I've understood things correctly based on what I've been following, and without just pasting from the Wikipedia page the backstory goes as follows. In the future a large white spherical celestial body referred to as the Traveler found it's way to our solar system. The origin of it and what exactly it is isn't clear. The Traveler introduced technological advances and tripled human life span, a Golden Age. Then the Darkness, a malevolent force which has been chasing it across the vastness of space for eons, tracks it down and attacks it. The Traveler is now floating above the last remaining habitable city on Earth near the Tower, the central hub for player interaction in Destiny. In it's dying breath it created the Ghosts, voiced by Peter Dinklage, to seek out the Guardians who would wield the Light of the Traveler to save humanity.

 The Traveler and in the foreground a Ghost, voiced by Peter Dinklage. Screenshot taken from game play by theRadBrad on YouTube.

The Traveler and in the foreground a Ghost, voiced by Peter Dinklage. Screenshot taken from game play by theRadBrad on YouTube.

When you start the game you must first select one of three races, one of which appears to be robot like, and one of three Guardian classes a Hunter, Titan or Warlock. Your Ghost then comes looking for you and revives you, as you've been dead for quite a while, so much for the triple lifespan then I guess. You then you continue to learn how play starting on a Russian location on Earth. And then with the aid of your Ghost begin to battle against alien races known as the Vex, Hive, Fallen and Cabal.

 The Guardian classes of Destiny a Hunter, a Titan and a Warlock.

The Guardian classes of Destiny a Hunter, a Titan and a Warlock.

This first version of the game includes missions spread across the Earth, Moon, Mars and Venus which the Traveler has Terraformed and each contains four mission locations. Most have noted that the missions are repetitive including the enemy encounters and that you cannot start a mission on one planet and then continue immediately to the next mission on the same planet. And when revisiting planets for additional missions you'll start from the same place again. To complete the story based missions takes about around 8-hours and takes the player to level 20 or so.

I've watched previews and game play and when I hear Peter Dinklage I see Game of Thrones. Hiring a well loved character I guess helps in appealing to as many as possible I guess. His delivery is so monotone though, he sounds disinterested. His Ghost character feeds the player story related content, I'd imagine it's difficult to follow while you're in the middle of a battle. In terms of how the story as presented in the game the consensus is that its very thin, it doesn't engage you and you leave unable to recall what it was that supposedly just happened. As you play through the game offers you Grimoire cards for additional story content available via Bungie.net or a Grimoire companion app for iOS or Android.

 A Guardian meeting with the Speaker (voiced by Bill Nighy) for the first time. "You must have no end of questions, Guardian" he says. Screenshot taken from game play by theRadBrad on YouTube.

A Guardian meeting with the Speaker (voiced by Bill Nighy) for the first time. "You must have no end of questions, Guardian" he says. Screenshot taken from game play by theRadBrad on YouTube.

Many have commented on the apparent integration of elements of massive multiplayer online (MMO) games like World of Warcraft (WoW) and loot collection based titles like Diablo and Borderlands. And many have noted that while it tries to integrate elements of these games it doesn't do any of it particularly well. There's no trading of items, which would be useful if one player obtains something they really don't want and there's no crafting of items either. WoW and Diablo are published by Blizzard Enterainnent which merged with Activision in 2007, I don't know if that had any influence on Bungie's choice of publisher or the elements included in Destiny.

The alpha, beta and launch of Destiny

Destiny was first revealed in February 2013 and coinciding with the announcement of the new Sony PlayStation 4. Bungie appear to have aligned themselves with Sony. Sony will publish Destiny in Japan and for the PlayStation only. The first alpha version of the game was released for the PlayStation 4 in June 2014. The later beta in July, at first restricted to pre-order customers and later opened to all with valid PlayStation or Xbox accounts, was made available for the PlayStation and the Xbox and on September 9th Destiny launched for the PlayStation 3 & 4 and the Xbox 360 and One. Another title designed to be accessible to both novices and experienced players Destiny has launched to mixed reviews and quite a lot of controversy. Some were quick to publish reviews, some not, allowing the game the sufficient time it appears to require to truly get to grips with all it offers, which is a lot.

Some have commented that interaction with other players can be difficult. You can make your character dance at will it seems, anywhere in the game and switching to third-person view to do so. Which I guess could be pretty jarring since you spend most of your time in first-person, other than when you're riding a Sparrow, a speeder bike type vehicle. Voice chat I gather is included for your PSN (PlayStation Network) or XBLA (Xbox Live Account) friends and for those who join your team. Its not clear to me how you would initiate that as strike and raid missions appear to require different numbers of players and class types. There is a clan system for managing groups which you must manage via Bungie.net which sounds complicated an another element removing you from the game.

The Destiny review on Eurogamer.net includes a passage which appears to capture the element of accessibility in Destiny, and can also apply to Titanfall. And deals with the disappointment with the story for many,

If you haven't played first-person shooters for years because you find their campaigns disposable and their competitive multiplayer intimidating, Destiny presents a viable and engrossing third way. If, however, you have come to this game expecting to be taken on an epic science-fiction ride by the masters of space opera who made Halo - well, you're liable to leave disappointed

And I'll include a comment verbatim from user Operative Me from a review over on arstechnica which based on what I've been following also appears to be an apt description, and refers to Titanfall,

This game is a lot of fun...if you bring your own friends, or you're willing to just not care about a lot the things it presents.   
If you're looking for Co-op class-based Halo story...you're going to be disappointed. If you're looking for "skip the story and get to multiplayer...you're going to be disappointed. If you're looking for a great single player story...you're going to be confused...and disappointed.  
It's its own beast. And I won't say I haven't had fun with the game. But it has been entirely because I'm playing with friends. The PvP is passable, but not once have I ever felt as awesome as I feel in Titanfall, Battlefield 3, or any of the Halo games. And since you bring your character/weapons/skills from the main game, if you haven't played enough of the story, you're going to get destroyed by the better guns, abilities, and armor your opponents have.
The story is Titanfall-esque- and that's pretty [bleeping] bad. The story is entirely confusing, pointless, and mainly serves as background noise between set pieces

Overall Destiny appears to be a good game, well made and the game play itself is solid and enjoyable. The game seems best played with friends to create those random unforgettable moments that multiplayer games allow. It appears that Bungie have already added additional content in the form of a raid which requires a team of 6 players attacking a location simultaneously, you needed to be a minimum of level 26 to participate. And two paid expansion packs have already been announced and they've added new time limited event the "Queen's Wrath".

Graphically Destiny appears to be a great achievement, albeit at 30fps but I guess that won't be an issue for most, or that it would even be noticed. And no doubt when more locations are added like Jupiter, Mercury or Pluto it will be interesting to see how they are represented in a Terraformed state. The Moon appears to look like the Moon but there's no zero gravity effect it seems. Your character has the ability to double jump and such so there's an element of accelerated movement and verticality like in Titanfall.

 The Earth as seen from the Moon on Destiny. The Earth rotates as well it appears. Screenshot taken from the Destiny review by Angry Joe on YouTube.

The Earth as seen from the Moon on Destiny. The Earth rotates as well it appears. Screenshot taken from the Destiny review by Angry Joe on YouTube.

Final thoughts

Both Titanfall and Destiny created a lot of hype and anticipation. The expectations based on the developer's previous titles, the power of the new consoles, cloud computing and the overall buzz being created online both by the publishers and the pundits were huge. I follow some of the IGN.com podcasts and noted comments from the Editors on their disappointment with both games and the hype which they themselves actively participated in creating. These titles, both prior to and post launch become click bait online, to the point where people become tired of reading about the same game over and over again. Playable demos or previews during industry event help to create buzz but those nor any subsequent public alpha or beta tests of a game are not representative of the final product, the one that you pay for.

Destiny appears to be a game with a lot of content and one which requires quite a lot of time to experience all it could offer. And reviews were not possible until after the game officially released. We as consumers depend on the channels we follow online to offer honest and objective reviews and commentary. Often games are offered for review prior to launch with an embargo on publishing until launch which at the same time assists in marketing a game once its available to purchase. To their credit IGN.com took their time before publishing their review of Destiny unlike GameSpot.com which had a review up after just 3-days and with a score of 6/10, and of course they're entitled to their opinion. The aforementioned Eurogamer.net review was published after a week with a score of 8/10. Reviews are completely subjective of course, you make up your own mind in the end. Angry Joe on YouTube took 10-days or so to complete his video review, all 34 minutes of it, and overall he's not happy, another 6/10. And if I may another video review from Jeremy Jahns which includes a good synopsis of the game from the point of view of your Ghost,

I've been searching for you for a long time, I raised you from the dead, alright now let's go farm for gear because that's what we're gonna do...

Many have noted the practice of developers taking feedback from the first version of a game to improve the second which becomes in a way what the first should have been. This is perhaps possible for Titanfall, I'm not sure about Destiny, as there's perhaps an element of holding back what potentially was already there to then release later as expansion packs or sequels. Many have already paid their $50 or $60 and are enjoying the game, others will be disappointed and will be suspicious of further paid for content and not so willing to hand over their money, much less pre-order.

Many of us across all platforms have become used to access to free-to-play and discounted games, with many having extensive libraries of games which we may never find the time to properly explore. Many of course still pre-order and purchase on day one the latest releases. Destiny is apparently one of the most pre-ordered and successful launches of a new game franchises yet. One wonders, in particular when it comes to the first entry of a new series, which doesn't include extensive story based elements why the publishers don't consider dropping the entry price so say $30 or $40. This could assist with increasing the user base and associated loyalty and then if for whatever reason they wish to add content later price it reasonably. Dream on I guess..

These new high profile multiplayer focused titles with a lack of story based content are perhaps part of a new trend, or it's just coincidence that these two titles launched within 6 months of each other. Although the story content in a way needs to be present and in particular when it's a new concept that you're trying to sell. Many expect it to be there, in particular if you're paying $60 for it and the marketing has hinted at it being there, and not in the next edition, which may cost another $60.

Titanfall is still with us and Destiny is breaking records. I assume the latter has longer staying power and basically already has a larger audience. I'll await the next Titanfall and wait to see where Destiny is 6-months or so from now...

Open-world racing games for PC powered by EA Origin

Open-world racing games for PC powered by EA Origin