That's a change that came directly from player feedback, Insomniac's Ted Price told Joystiq yesterday, and he says there may be more coming. "We're continuing to tweak the game's look and colors," he suggested. Insomniac's fans have been very vocal about the change from the game's original concept back when it was called Overstrike, and Price admits that "there are always going to be questions about our tone shift and that's just something we accept."
But Price also says that despite the back and forth about the game's tone, the development team is also getting clear input about the gameplay itself. "The most gratifying feedback we have gotten recently, he says, "has been from our playtests, where we see both the press here and overseas and then occasionally consumers play the game. We've been really positively surprised with how quickly people pick it up, how readily they begin working as a team and just how happy with how much fun they're having."
Most of the gameplay focus right now, says both Price and Insomniac's senior gameplay designer Doug Sheahan, is on the co-op progression and balance. The four characters' talent trees are still being finalized, as is the pacing behind leveling up and unlocking their various abilities. "We set out wanting to make a cooperative game," says Sheahan, "but we also recognize the reality, which is that a large percentage of people who play the game are going to play single-player, or just with one friend, or it's not going to be four players." So Insomniac is hoping to "make sure the single-player experience is every bit as rewarding as the multiplayer experience."
One way it's doing that is with the game's "Leap" feature, which allows players to jump into the driver's seat of any computer-controlled character at any time. Experience will only be earned for the character being controlled, so players will have to jump around if they want everyone to level up. "One of the things that we've found works really well in past games, and in this game," says Sheahan, "is upgrading the thing that you're doing." Making sure players only earn XP for characters they're controlling "keeps them learning about their character and progressing in a way that means something to them."
The other side of that, however, is the game's bots, who will be controlling your other teammates. Insomniac assigned a veteran staffer to AI duty, and the team is trying to tune the game to work with you rather than against you, with AI-controlled players getting behind you while you shield them, or knocking down enemies that you set up with crowd control.
"One of the things we've been pushing for is to make sure that they try and respond to what you're doing," says Sheahan. But Price admits that it's a balancing act. "We give players time. If you're playing as Izzy," who can freeze enemies in place and then shatter them for extra points, "and if bots ran up and just shattered everything every single time, it'd just be frustrating."
Playing through the game just once, with bots or your fellow players, won't be enough to unlock all of the various weapons and abilities that each character has, so Insomniac is also introducing something called "Lethal Mode," a harder difficulty that is supposed to encourage players to see the single-player content again.
And there will be at least one other mode for the game. Will it be a multiplayer mode? Will it be competitive in some way? "Yes," Price remarks snarkily. "But we are going to be talking about that later. Meaning not today." Whatever that mode is, character progression will apply there as well, so players will have a few different ways to level up the entire Overstrike 9 team.
Players have already reacted to the big changes in Fuse's design, and Price says that the change won't stop up until the game is finally released (on both Xbox 360 and PS3, through EA's Partners program). "Part of it is due to feedback that we'd gotten along the way," he says, and "part of it is just the natural production process." Even after all of the changes so far, Insomniac is still working on just what Fuse will be, and Price says the dev team will know what that is when they see it. "We ourselves as gamers continue to refine what the game is, and we're working to make it something that we would want to play."