In early 2012, when Respawn Entertainment was developing a game it called R1 internally, the developers contacted Sony about bringing the game to its unannounced next-generation console.
The problem was that Sony wasn't ready to divulge details on the PlayStation 4. It was, however, willing to help Respawn create a version of the game for Sony's handheld, the PlayStation Vita. That didn't work for Respawn, so programmer Jon Shiring met with a Sony contact for dinner.
"I can't emphasize enough," Shiring said. "Decisions are being made here about our game, and we really need to know about the next PlayStation."
It didn't take. Sony wasn't ready to talk about the PS4 yet. On the other side of the console spectrum, Microsoft was willing to talk specs about the next-gen Durango platform that would become the Xbox One, so Respawn began development after a "top secret briefing from Microsoft in late January…."
The anecdote above is just one of many in The Final Hours of Titanfall, an app/book hybrid from Geoff Keighley that chronicles Respawn's often tumultuous three-year development cycle for Titanfall, set against the backdrop of an Activision lawsuit worth millions of dollars. It was released this week for iPad, Mac, PC and Surface devices, and the author provided Polygon with a copy.
By early February 2013, when Respawn was heads down creating the game that would become Titanfall, studio co-founder Jason West departed the company. At about the same time, Titanfall (previously known as Titan Wars) changed drastically.
As originally envisioned, Titanfall players began their missions inside of the game's now iconic mech-like titans. Inspired by the mushrooms in Super Mario Bros., which gave players a second chance when they took damage, Titanfall players would only become pilots after ejecting from a "doomed titan." The studio had a "lack of confidence" in that mode, so it changed the game.
"Now the formula reversed," Keighley wrote. "Players began as a pilot and then called in their titan from the sky during the game (hence the game's new name, Titanfall). Starting players on foot would be more familiar, Respawn argued. It also added another layer of strategy. How quickly a player could summon their titan was determined by their early success in each game mission."
Keighley also chronicles the game's path to Xbox console exclusivity. Respawn told the author that its understanding was that Titanfall would be a timed exclusive on Xbox One and PC but that it would later arrive for PlayStation platforms after 13 months. In part, the studio decided to focus on fewer platforms because its size limited its capabilities.
Titanfall publisher Electronic Arts was in charge of negotiating with console manufacturers, and studio co-founder Vince Zampella said that Respawn learned in the summer of 2013 that the game would be an exclusive to Xbox and Windows PC.
"The deal was a complicated one as Respawn wasn't dealing directly with Xbox," Keighley wrote. "Instead, terms were negotiated through EA, which signed a larger, overarching partnership deal with Microsoft for the Xbox One. In order to make the economics work and keep Titanfall alive, EA needed a first-party publisher to invest. Xbox was willing to step up and save the project, which turned out to be a wise bet. Xbox now has one of the biggest games of the year as an exclusive to its platforms, although it lays no claim to sequels."
For more on Titanfall, which will get its first pack of downloadable content in May, you can watch the Overview video above and read Polygon's review. You can learn much more about the formation of Respawn Entertainment and the development of its first game in The Final Hours of Titanfall.