Joystiq got to play a short demo of the game at Insomniac's Burbank, CA studio last week, and we also talked with president and CEO Ted Price about what's different about the new game, why the change was made, and what it's like developing for Insomniac's first non-Sony console game ever.
One of the first things Price will say about the change from Overstrike to Fuse is that as big as the change may seem, "Fuse is actually the least changed of all of our IPs." Ratchet and Clank was originally a third-person, M-rated adventure game called, simply, "Girl With a Stick." The game featured big elements like divine intervention and a complex martial arts system, but it just wasn't fun, said Price, and so Insomniac canceled it and used the knowledge to create Ratchet and Clank.
Resistance also went through major changes during development. "It started out as a game set in the far future, where you were fighting a race of lizard-ish beings," remembers Price. "And the story involved time travel, space travel, it was a space opera, essentially." Insomniac then decided to try putting it in World War 1 or 2, before settling on the series' eventual alternate timeline setting.
So in that context, says Price, the changes from Overstrike to Fuse aren't necessarily that surprising. Originally, Overstrike was a game more centered on using four different support-style characters to work together in stealth situations, and you can see that concept at work in the original trailer. But as Insomniac worked on development, according to Price, the play between the characters just wasn't satisfying enough. "At the time, when we showed Overstrike in 2011," he says, "we weren't where we needed to be with the weapons. We had some cool concepts on paper and in the video, but ultimately, when we started playing the game, the weapons lacked heft, they lacked impact, and they lacked that fun factor that we believe is at the core of every one of our games."
That thinking led to Fuse's (mostly new) premise: That there is a secret, alien element called "fuse" hidden in a military installation, and the government has been trying to combine it with real materials to try and make interesting weaponry, which the Overstrike team stumbles across on a mission. Combining fuse with ferrofluid, for example, creates the tank Dalton's magshield, which not only reflects bullets but can now store and fire back kinetic energy. Fuse and antimatter creates a warp rifle, which the assault character, Naya, can use to create small black holes on enemies she attacks. All of the characters have their own fuse-powered weapons and abilities, and the fuse element also serves as the Macguffin for the story (not to mention that the team needs to "fuse" together over the course of the narrative as well).
"This is a personal issue for me, because I really like playing games with high-impact weapons," says Price. "Where you feel like you've done a lot of damage, and you've ruined that enemy's day, and we weren't doing that with the weapons we had before. Even though in the video they looked cool, they weren't turning people on here and they weren't turning people on that we had come in and play the game." When the team made the change to center on fuse and its offensive potential (rather than what were essentially just four support abilities), "it was like a breath of fresh air around here, because we finally got to let loose and experiment, go much further," according to Price.
That doesn't mean, however, that the characters are being turned into simple weapon stands. "We made a very conscious choice recently to focus on the weapons short term" regarding the game's marketing, says Price. But "I will say that a lot of us are happier with where the characters have gone in terms of their backstories and the humor, because the humor is less campy than we had originally. Now we have humor that's more sophisticated, it's drier."
The other reason the game's kind-of stealth basis didn't work the way Insomniac wanted, says Price, was just that it's really, really hard to get four people, even four friends, to actually work and coordinate together. "You got Leroy Jenkinses out there all over the place," laughs Price. "Most of the time, people are going to be out for themselves, and run right into the combat and screw up any advantage you had." Focusing instead on the power of the weapons "gave us a chance to focus on what we do really well, and that's hard-hitting combat." There will be moments of stealth left over in Fuse -- during our short demo, there was a short opportunity to sneak up on a big group of enemies, and coordinate some silent attacks to thin their ranks before the firefight. But Price admits that "we don't make stealth games. That's just not our strength."
This is a personal issue for me, because I really like playing games with high-impact weapons.- Insomniac CEO Ted Price
This is, of course, Insomniac's first Xbox 360 game, and just wandering around their studio, it certainly seems that they're happy to be on Microsoft's platform – the game was demonstrated to the press with Xbox 360 controllers, Insomniac's powerful new development engine was shown off with Xbox 360 controllers, and even just walking the aisles reveals developers coding and testing with Xbox 360-specific gamepads. "We'll never abandon our history on Sony consoles," cautions Price, adding that the company is still working on a PlayStation-only Ratchet and Clank game, and that Fuse will run as identically as possible on both platforms. But Insomniac "made a big effort early on to get on to the Xbox 360" with Fuse, and that's why the studio seemed so focused on that platform. "We know how to build a Playstation 3 game" already, says Price.
And despite the fact that we've been hearing rumblings about a new console generation for quite a while now, Price says Fuse was never considered for next-gen consoles. "We started this game several years ago, and at the time, people were even less clear about when the next generation was going to arrive," he says. "Our focus was to create an IP that would stand out among all of the sequels that we knew would be coming at the end of this console cycle, and we didn't know when the end of this console cycle would be." Insomniac's goal for Fuse, then, is to create a game for "what we believe is a very large audience of players who want something fresh for PS3 and Xbox 360."
Price, however, doesn't rule out the next generation of consoles for any possible Fuse sequels. "This franchise, like every franchise that we build, we intend it to be a long-lasting franchise. So if everything goes well, you'll definitely see versions of this game on the next console."
Fuse definitely looks intriguing. It may disappoint fans to hear that Overstrike's goofier sensibilities and stealthier mechanics have been abandoned for Fuse's hard-hitting weapons and more action-based gameplay, but Price is convinced that the game's new direction isn't just right for the game; it's also right in Insomniac's wheelhouse. With the original idea, says Price, "it was hard to find the center of the game, the thing that really pulled it all together." But by introducing the titular element and centering all four characters' gameplay around what it can allow them to do, Price and Insomniac both are hoping to create a much more solid foundation to build a brand new IP upon.