Hands-On Titanfall’s New Update With Respawn Art Lead Joel Emslie

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First on my short but busy E3 2014 schedule was an outing with Titanfall‘s latest game update that developer Respawn Entertainment hopes to launch later this month on the Xbox One and PC, and eventually the Xbox 360 as well.

Unlike traditional game updates that look more deeply into bug fixes and polish, Titanfall’s upcoming content-rich patch borders what could be considered paid DLC, except that it’s absolutely free. With new modes, new Burn Cards, new customization options, matchmaking improvements, and a refresher on the game’s entire user interface, Respawn has got a lot in store for fans this month.

I sat down with Titanfall Art Lead Joel Emslie to talk about the upgrades and new content the studio is bringing to their sci-fi shooter this month, as well as what’s next for Titanfall.

“We’re showing off Marked for Death [at E3], and basically, it’s 6v6. Right when the round starts, a team member on your team is marked for death for the enemy team, and someone else is marked on their team. It becomes a hunter – hunted kind of scenario where you’re trying to protect your mark but kill the other team’s mark,” Emslie explained in our preview of the new game mode, one of two being introduced to Titanfall later this month.

“Once you eliminate the mark on the other team, or whoever gets eliminated, it switches marks,” he continued. “So I like it because, for me, I like a lot of pilot kills and it’s really heavy [on] pilot killing and you tend to run through the map really ferociously. You really take advantage of wall-running.” In fact, constantly moving was a tactic I adopted during my hands-on time with the new mode, as I attempted to avoid my hunters after being marked for death. It worked out to my satisfaction, but it’s not the only strategy.

“Big time, I found that because of the way it’s made, because of the game type, you tend to use Titans more,” Emslie explained. “Cause if you’re marked, you want to get into that shell so you can last longer and give your team enough opportunities to get the other mark. It gets pretty tactical.”

While it wasn’t present at E3 this year, Emslie also made mention of another game mode coming along with this month’s update, a smaller more intimate version of Last Titan Standing called Wingman. “We’re not showing it here at E3 but I think in the next update you get Wingman Last Titan Standing where it’s 2v2, so it’s a little bit of a tighter game that way,” he said.

I asked if the studio had any plans to ever add on missions or levels to Titanfall’s campaign as a way to bring players back to it. “I think we’re looking at ways to improve it, make it better so that that isn’t a problem,” Emslie answered. “I mean, they’re always trying to update it and make it so that it’s encouraged, but right now we’re just focused on those other game types. So, we’re thinking about it, they’re looking at it, but I just don’t know what the result is.”

Heavy Titan users will also have a lot of exciting new content to look forward to this month that’s specifically tailored to further improve Titan customization. An entirely new set of Burn Cards specific to Titans is being introduced, along with new customization options that let you further tweak your Titan’s look.

One of Emslie’s favorite new Burn Cards was the Amped Vortex Shield: “The Amped Vortex Shield turns into just a big reflector, so you pop it out and it just literally knocks rounds right back at enemies.” In addition, you’ll find a number of other Amped Titan weapons, abilities, and ordinance within the brand new deck of cards.

When it comes to tweaking the look and appearance of your machine (because we know you want to), Emslie told me that the studio has “added decals that you can unlock with challenges.”

“Then we have these insignias that you can [also] unlock with challenges. For the Gooser challenge, we added this special icon you can get if you were one of the people that hit the 50 Gooser challenge early on before we fixed it.

“You gen-up, you get a gen-tag to go with it,” he added. “And so these are positioned all over your Titan. They’ll be on the rodeo hatches. It’s just a little bit of customization that we’re throwing in there for the players. We’re doing what we can to support it after launch – just get as much as we can in there that makes sense to everybody.”

“We also added two more voices to the – we added two more onboard voices so you can customize your Titan’s voice inside the cockpit.” Emslie then introduced me to Lisa and Jeeves, two of the new personalities in addition to the default Betty voice.

Lastly, I was walked through an entirely new front end which spiffied up a number of the game’s menus and added a few nuances that many players are bound to appreciate.

“We were able to go in and kind of update the shell, so both sides have a different background, there’s a new loading screen,” explained Emslie, all “just to kind of breathe a little bit of extra life into it, kind of refresh it a little bit,” he said.

“There’s stuff based on the feedback where, well it’s not in here right now, but this whole new menu is kind of updated. So once you come out of a round, one thing that kind of – you didn’t see it ship was the last score board from your last match. So, now you can access that right now while you’re in the lobby waiting for the next round.

“One of the other really cool things that I love that – it’s just a detail that we needed to get in – we have a matchmaking auto-balancing that’s happening when you’re in a game. What’ll happen is you’ll both get into a like a neutral lobby and both teams will be set up and while it’s matchmaking, everybody goes grey. Then, once you’ve been cycled and auto-balanced, you’ll get your colors and go into a match together. So it s a nice way to actually color queue to see that the game is matchmaking you and auto-balancing you and kind of moving things around.”

All that and more is coming later this month, though Emslie wasn’t quite able to nail down a specific date for me just yet.

Before parting ways, I commented on the rich universe the team has built with Titanfall’s back story and how it seeps into every detail, including their latest DLC launch, Expedition.

“Yeah. We’re going to explore that later,” he told me. “We’re not making any announcements but we’re actively looking at what’s next for Titanfall. We’re working on it. We’re definitely supporting the main game right now, making sure that it’s solid as hell, because it’s like, whatever we do next, it’s based on how good can we possibly make this while we’re on it. Support it as much as possible, and that all feeds into making Titanfall something more than this.”

Whatever is “next for Titanfall” that Respawn is “actively” looking at, we sure can’t wait.

Keep your sights on MP1st for any future Titanfall announcements that the studio might have up their sleeve, and keep your eyes open for more details on the game’s upcoming June update.