Originally unveiled as Overstrike in 2011, Fuse is Insomniac's first cross-platform console IP this generation, following a string of Sony exclusives in Resistance and Ratchet & Clank.
Insomniac's approach to Fuse has been closely scrutinised since the game was re-revealed in September. The highly stylised aesthetic shown in Overstrike was out, replaced with a considerably more sober looking Fuse. Inevitably the internet objected, as it is wont to do.
Chief among the concerns was that Fuse looked a little... drab. A little too brown. In our November preview we noted that Insomniac's new tack for its third-person shooter seemed to depart from "bold colours" and "soft textures" in favour of an "unspecific realism".
And while that may have been true of early showings, the game is undeniably colourful now. Studio CEO Ted Price believes the realities of Fuse on paper and Fuse in practice are very different. Below, we find out what constitutes an 'Insomniac aesthetic', how the team manages negative fan feedback, and what the future holds for the studio in general.
Insomniac has been very busy this generation. What are some of the major lessons you'll take from the past eight years?
One of them is that co-op has become more and more of an opportunity for game developers to reach an audience that is thirsty for new and innovative co-op experiences. That's one of the big ones. We started that with Resistance 2, where we were trying to experiment with eight-player co-op, and then we continued that will Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, which is a four player game. We've taken that [co-op focus] a lot further with Fuse.
Do you feel that big budget console games are in a good place right now, creatively?
When it comes to Fuse, we're really happy to be working on a new IP in what is a sea of sequels right now. Looking at people's comments online, I think that people are really looking for brand new content and that's what we're providing with Fuse.
People were initially concerned by the move from Overstrike to Fuse, in particular the colour palette and more conservative art direction. But Insomniac has always been associated with colour.
I think stylised is probably a better description for the kind of games we do. Resistance was stylised in a different way: it wasn't a panoply of colour and nor was it a cartoony game. Ratchet has its own style and Fuse has evolved significantly as well: you played it today, it has a lot of colour. The characters themselves are stylised in a subtle way, and we certainly went over the top in terms of stylisation with weapons and their effects.
As a company we've been very transparent with the evolution of Fuse. We've let people in to see how it's progressed and we've been wide open about the changes we've made. Watching the responses, some people have been worried that Fuse isn't going to be an Insomniac game. What I'd say today is that playing is believing. When people get their hands on it and see that it's got both humour and colour, and that we've really gone nuts with the weapons like we do with most of our games, I think they'll be happy with the game.
How do you manage that negative fan feedback internally, in terms of morale among the team, when a game like Fuse looks quite generic on paper but isn't in practice?
It's certainly challenging to see feedback based on a few trailers - which are usually works in progress - in terms of where the game is. All of us have become fairly used to what the internet is today. The internet is a place where people don't hold back. They pretty much say what they think and they don't always include facts to back up opinions. And that's the world we live in today.
We're content creators: we're used to people analysing and critiquing what we create, but what's most important is that the final product is awesome, and we're very happy with how Fuse has turned out.
What makes a game visually compelling to you, personally?
I love variety between levels. As a player, I like to be able to journey to different places in every mission, or with every story chapter. If those levels are different in terms of setting and colour palette and audio palette, it helps me become even more excited about the game. That's certainly what we're trying to do in Fuse because we take you all over the world, and that's been a hallmark of our games ever since Disruptor.
I noticed when I was playing that there was a lack of bombastic, cinematic music.
There's a lot of dialogue happening in the game, and so we were trying to be careful not to overshadow what we believe is important character building in the game. It's actually part of a larger challenge with the four-player co-op game. When you have four people or even two people playing together, as developers we have to be careful about slowing the game down too much. Because some people love long cinematics and others don't. If you constantly stop players and force them to watch long cinematics it can get old, especially when you're playing with your friends. We decided that we would include cinematics so that we could have a backstory, but we have a lot of real time moments in the game where characters are talking to each other and things are happening in real time. That helps tell the backstory for each of these characters and the world, without pausing the game.
There was a lot of criticism after the jump from Overstrike. People said Fuse was playing it safe. What constitutes risk in Triple-A console game development nowadays?
Coming out at the end of a console cycle is a pretty big risk. I probably get asked "why did you guys come out at the end of a life cycle" more often than anything else. But I think we took a lot of risks in terms of putting co-op... I wouldn't say first, but putting such an emphasis on it, while still challenging ourselves to deliver a game that works in single player. There were a lot of internal challenges that we had to overcome in order to make that work, not least in creating AI bots that do what you expect them to do, that don't annoy you.
I think that the development process for all developers is an evolutionary process: you try things, some things don't work, so you change them. Through that process you continue to make the game better. It's ironic to us at Insomniac that Fuse has actually gone through less of a change than any of our other IP. Ratchet started out as a completely different game. Resistance was something altogether different: it was a space opera before it became what it is now, and that's been the case with every single one of our games. In fact, Fuse has more of its original DNA than any of our games.
So Resistance was a space opera?
Resistance started out as a time traveling space opera: it featured big lizard-like creatures that you fought against. We had a lot of great concept art and ideas, but it just wasn't working, and we realised that we needed to ground it a little so that people could understand what the hell was going on in the game. We didn't want to set it in a known or unknown Earth because to us that was too close to what other shooters were doing. We wanted an alternate history, and so we came up with this whole idea that the Chimera arrived and had been there, on Earth, for a long time. They started to emerge and prevented World War II from happening, and so changed the course of the world's events.
Coming back to Fuse, this is also an alternate history of sorts, because it takes place on Earth but it's our version, where this alien substance is altering events and changing the people who encounter it and start to use it.