A 12-player headcount in matches of Titanfall is the sweet spot for the game, the title's lead designer tells Polygon. Any less and things threaten to get boring. Any more and the game becomes so intense it's off-putting.
But that doesn't mean matches will be limited to teams of six running around trying to take one another out. Each map also supports up to 12 AI-controlled characters per side and each of a match's six player-controlled characters can, in theory, have a Titan following them like over-protective, weaponized pets.
So counting AI, counting players and counting Titans in guard or follow mode, a match can feature nearly 50 characters trying to kill one another.
But the decision to keep the player count to six per side wasn't based as much on worries about a crowded battlefield as it was the reaction play testers had to the intensity of the experience, said Justin Hendry, lead designer at Respawn.
"The higher the player count, the more uncomfortable the game gets," he said. "Unlike in most games where you can sit there and guard the two ways in, in Titanfall the guy can come in through the window right behind you, he can come from the window to your left, he can come from straight ahead, he can come in from the stairway and he can come in from the doorway, or whatever. Essentially there are five directions you can get killed from and the higher that player count, the more likely you are to get killed from behind and the more difficult it is to kind of manage your surroundings."
That's because of the particular design of Titanfall. When not in their Titans, pilots aren't really meant to walk or even run along the ground, they're meant to traverse maps by wall running. And the more a player wall runs, the faster they move.
Combine that with the fact that players can essentially create their own approach into a building, up a building or around a building, and toss in those mammoth Titans, and suddenly a player's brain has a lot more to think about than in a typical shooter.
The increased speed that comes with wall running and with being in a Titan also means that players can find one another much faster than in your typical shooter, so player count doesn't have to be inflated to create action. The action is always seconds away.
So player count, while important, became less about delivering a number to match other online shooters and more about finding what felt the most fun and the least overwhelming.
Throughout development, Hendry said, the team played around with a wide variety of team sizes. The game started with 8 or 12 players per side and slowly drifted down to eight, seven, five even two per side before the team eventually settled on six versus six, he said.
"It's been this number for months," he said. "We are pretty avid players in the studio. People speak their minds and we listen and make changes. This is the number that felt best.
"When people start playing Titanfall like Titanfall, the player count becomes a non-issue."
"The game is essentially built to be six on six."
And that headcount won't impact map size, he said; Titanfall has all sorts.
"There are at least two maps that are really big, one of those is huge," Hendry said. "The map size isn't a technical limitation, it's what felt best. It's, 'How do we make this thing feel good?' Some maps are smaller, some are medium size and some are bigger.
"I think the only thing that the player count does is really affect the overall chaotic level of the game."
Number of players also won't impact the sorts of modes the game has, though Hendry declined to say what they'll be beyond the two publicly shown.
The reaction to the game's player count, announced in a tweet earlier this week, didn't necessarily take the team by surprise. There seems to be an understanding at the studio that Titanfall isn't quite understood yet by people not directly involved in its creation.
By design Titanfall is meant to be a game that while easy to drop into, is hard to master and understand the nuance of.
"When people start playing Titanfall like Titanfall, the player count becomes a non-issue," he said.
Take the game's AI-controlled characters. They aren't there to fill in the roster or load out a map that only supports six players per side.
They're meant to serve several different functions. On one level, the AI characters are there as fodder for players who simply aren't good enough to kill other player-controlled characters. They also serve as an easier way to load up on the experience needed to call in a Titan. And they're meant to provide a sort of backstory and narrative to a game lacking any sort of single-player element.
Essentially, they're there so everyone has a chance to feel like a hero, no matter how good or bad they are.
Then there's another type of AI in the game, the one that can control your Titan. While the Titan is a walking tank that players can board and directly control, you don't have to. Instead, a player can put a Titan in guard mode, hop out to capture a hardpoint, and then return when they're done, knowing that the Titan will mop the street of enemies while you're gone. You can also place the Titan in follow mode, either to have it find you after you respawn, or to be your building-sized back-up as you make your way through a map.
All of this, the player count, the variety in play, the AI, the Titans, is also designed to be welcoming to both hardcore shooter fans and folks just dipping their toe into the often daunting genre. There are even gadgets and weapons designed specifically for those players not as dexterous as long-time fans of the genre.
"It's up to the developer to make the best choices and create the best experiences."
"I've watched people come in and play the game that just don't have the twitch reflexes," Hendry said. "They'll get in the Titan and have fun."
The team at Respawn understand some of the reaction to the player count. In this particular genre, traditionally, more was often argued to be better.
"It just comes back to what makes the game fun," Hendry said. "If you're making a game and you're making decisions that's not based on fun because you're trying to please someone or trying to match numbers, you're not doing the right thing.
"Why not make Call of Duty 256 players, or Battlefield 256 or 512? Maybe that would be awesome. Maybe that would be awesome for that type of game built around that, but you can't just jam players into a game and say this is what is ordained."
Hendry points to games like Gears of War and Left 4 Dead, both titles that had relatively low player counts, as titles that succeeded without having to go big.
So the team is quite confident in their decision to cap the player max to six per side and they're not reexamining that decision based on this week's reaction.
"It all comes back to the same thing," Hendry said. "I can see why it's hard for people, why it's hard for it to make sense. But it's up to the developer to make the best choices and create the best experiences."