Insomniac

We play Fuse with Insomniac CEO Ted Price, a man who wants to revive split-screen co-op

We play Fuse with Insomniac CEO Ted Price, a man who wants to revive split-screen co-op

Fuse is a four-player third-person shooter that is best played with friends. Insomniac CEO Ted Price sat down with me during the Game Developers Conference to play the game, discuss what it’s like for the Resistance and Ratchet & Clank developer to finally release a game on the Xbox 360, and why it’s important to keep people in the same room while they play co-operative games.

Bringing the players together

Fuse has a pretty basic story. There is an alien element that can be used to power weapons and give human beings certain mutant-like powers, and the government sends a group of four agents who dislike playing by the rules to retrieve it.

The four agents are always with you, and during single-player campaign play you can jump between any of them to use their special abilities or weapons. You're not locked into your decision; the game allows you to take control of whichever character you'd like at any time. You can think of each character almost like a class: One character can turn invisible for a set period of time, another uses area of effect weapons. Other players can jump into your game and take over for one of your bots if you set your game to open and play online. The game is balanced for these four characters though, so you won't be able to create a squad made up of four of the same character.

You gain experience to level up your characters by working together as a team and using the sort of inventive weapons for which Insomniac is known. One character can create an energy shield, and you can stand behind it for cover while shooting through it to kill the enemies.

This gets you bonus points. Another weapon seems to turn enemies to stone, and then another player can shatter them, earning you even more points. Working together has its advantages, and Insomniac does a great job at reminding you how boring the weapons in most games have become.

There is a gun that allows you to set off a chain reaction of black holes that suck enemies into… well, wherever the hell black holes go. They’re no long your problem at that point. The alien element, the eponymous “Fuse,” also works on the human mind, and you’ll see some of the characters lose themselves in hallucinations. The catch is that you’ll only be able to see these hallucinations as you’re playing that character.

There is a also a co-operative, wave-based mode called Echelon that consists of 12 rounds of six different sub-objectives. You’ll have to work together as a team, kill the waves of enemies, and earn cash and gold to continue. Price likened it to Smash TV, which is a very good influence. Any experience you earn in this mode will also carry over to the campaign, allowing you to build up your characters and explore the skill tree by playing either mode. When you join a friend online, you’ll also bring your leveled up character and be able to earn experience while you play in their game.

The game will be playable online on both the PS3 and Xbox 360, but you can also play with a friend in split-screen couch co-op, a feature Insomniac has long included in their games. I asked Price why more titles don’t allow you to play with a friend on the same screen; it’s a feature we often hear about in the comments.

“I think it’s hard, actually,” he explained. “Many of the engines today are pushing a lot, and you’re putting more strain on the engine when you have two frame buffers that are working hard.” Insomniac prioritizes couch co-op from the beginning of development, and they’ve supported it in their past games. “We believe that players want to sit physically together and play,” Price said.

He pointed out that couch co-op is a big deal in other regions as well, and is a popular feature in Europe. You won’t be limited to two people when playing splitscreen, as you can go online and join others, who may also be playing split-screen. If you’d like to play with a full four-player squad, with each character being controlled by a person, you’ll only need two televisions, two systems, and two copies of the game.

Created on the PC, but may not be coming to the PC

By this time, Price and I had spent around thirty minutes happily blowing up enemies and chatting about strategy, and I was definitely having a good time. The graphics were a bit on the bland side in the areas we were playing, but the weapons, team work, and special abilities more than made up for the lack of graphical flair. Becuase I like to be “that guy” in interviews, and also because this is the sort of game I enjoy playing with my console-challenged friends, I asked about the possibility of a PC port.

“There was a lot to bite off, creating a new engine, a new toolset, a new IP, on a new platform for us,” Price explained. Insomniac has historically released games on the PlayStation exclusively, making the move to multiplatform complicated. “When we made the decision that Fuse would be multiplatform years ago, we already had a bunch of folks on the core team who had worked on the Xbox 360 and PC games. We built our tools from the ground up. We took the tools that we used for Ratchet and Resistance and started fresh.”

While much of the work on past Insomniac games had been done on the PC, they focused exclusively on the PlayStation 3, and thus coded specifically for that platform. The PC was the base platform for Fuse, and from there they worked on both the 360 and PS3 versions of the game. I was confused; shouldn't creating the game on the PC make it easy to release the game on the PC?

“The biggest challenge we know would hit us is compatibility testing. There are so many combinations of CPU and GPUs that should be supported to have a viable PC audience, it just takes a long time and a lot of debugging,” Price said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t being distracted, not distracted but taken away from what we knew we needed to do, which is create first and foremost a console game that’s multiplatform.”

This is something you'll often hear about proper PC versions of games: They're expensive in terms of both budget and manpower, and they take time to create. “When you lift up the covers and look at everything you have to do to create a consistently great experience across many different mixtures of hardware, it’s a ton of additional time and resources,” Price explained. “There’s nothing wrong with putting that time into it, I think it’s a great idea, but for us we have a release date and we’re going to stick to it for console.”

It's interesting for a company like Insomniac to launch a new IP this close to the tail end of the current-gen consoles, but why not? I had fun with Fuse, and I can see it taking off with fans of co-op or the console LAN party crowd, but I do hope the final game features some variation in environments and enemies. Fun weapons and powers will only get you so far, even if you've brought your friends.