Before Titanfall was Titanfall, the mech-heavy shooter went through years of development hell. Crippled by a complicated lawsuit back in 2010, the folks behind the newly formed studio Respawn Entertainment worried for a long time that they might never actually make a game.
This afternoon, games reporter and TV host Geoff Keighley released The Final Hours of Titanfall, a book-slash-app in the vein of his previous Final Hours projects like Portal 2 and Mass Effect 3. Keighley sent us an early copy, and it’s a great read, full of neat tidbits, cool visuals and dramatic details about how Respawn was created, and how they put together their big PC/Xbox exclusive. (You can get the book on iOS, PC, Mac, Kindle, Android and Surface.)
Back in 2010, when Activision fired Modern Warfare creators Vince Zampella and Jason West, the two became involved in a multifaceted lawsuit involving Activision, EA, and all sorts of legal complications. In The Final Hours, Keighley paints a fascinating picture: over the next two years, as Zampella and West started work on their own game at the new company they were calling Respawn Entertainment, they were constantly distracted by depositions, meetings, and legal complications.
“Once new employees were immersed in the studio culture, they soon realised that there were really two companies operating beneath the surface: those who were in the lawsuit, and those who were not,” Keighley writes.
“On certain days almost half the company would crowd into the conference room for multi-hour meetings with lawyers. Often those discussions would spill over into the afternoon with debates about the latest legal manoeuvre. The rest of the company was supposed to be heads-down working on the game, but one Google Alert about the lawsuit sent development into a tailspin for the rest of the afternoon.”
Even after the lawsuit was settled, Keighley writes, the relationship between Respawn co-founders Vince Zampella and Jason West had become tense and fractured, and, as Respawn employees described it, West was often distant and distracted. In 2012, after countless discussions and internal debates, Zampella decided that one of them would have to go.
Keighley describes one particularly harrowing meeting in July 2012. Not long after the lawsuit was settled, Respawn employees got a meeting invitation titled “Come to Jesus.” The purpose: get everyone in a room with West to try to hash things out.
“What West hoped would be a constructive dialectic turned into an all-out lynching,” Keighley writes. “Pent-up feelings burst into the open. Employee after employee complained about the rushed way the lawsuit had been settled. Many attacked West directly and complained that he hadn’t properly balanced his time between the lawsuit and the game, which he had largely ignored for the better part of a year.”
In early 2013, Kotaku broke news that West had left Respawn. We’d heard that he left for family issues — namely, that he was moving to be closer to his mum, who had come down with a respiratory illness — but there’s more to the story: the lawsuits and difficulty at Respawn drove West away from the company he helped found. (The Final Hours is full of other anecdotes about West’s relationship with Respawn staff.)
Today, we’ve got Titanfall: Respawn’s critically-acclaimed shooter is the crown jewel of the newest Xbox. Thanks to an exclusivity arrangement between Microsoft and publisher EA, Respawn was able to get both the time and money they needed to get their mech game together.
To get the full story — and to support some solid journalism — check out The Final Hours of Titanfall. It’s totally worth reading, and gives a fascinating backstage look at the drama behind game development.