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Understanding Titanfall 2's 'action block' level prototyping process

"We say, 'Don't get attached to this, because it might go nowhere, but go make something,'" Respawn boss Vince Zampella told Glixel. "Take a week, take a few days to make something fun.'"
"We say, 'Don't get attached to this, because it might go nowhere, but go make something. Take a week, take a few days to make something fun.'"

- Respawn Entertainment chief Vince Zampella describes the studio's new "action block" game dev technique.

When Respawn's mech-enhanced shooter Titanfall 2 launched last month, it picked up a fair bit of positive buzz.

A good portion of that was praise for the structure of its single-player campaign, which puts players through a series of levels which often seem to have unique conceits: one level asks players to (wall)run and jump through a giant world fabrication facility, for example, while another asks them to use a time-travel device to hop back and forth between two versions of the same level.

In a new interview with Glixel, studio boss Vince Zampella describes how this design diversity is the result of a relatively new "action block" prototyping process the studio embraced during Titanfall 2's development, one fellow devs might be curious to understand better.

"We did these things called 'action blocks' early on. Which we're doing now, for future stuff. It's looking at the mechanics of a game and letting the designers free," said Zampella, noting that each designer is given a few days to a week to make something interesting. "And then you look at those and go, 'OK, this one: terrible. Don't ever show anybody that ever again. This one? Oh my gosh, look at this one over here. That's amazing. We need to put that in the game.'"

In a sense, it's a sort of game jam approach to level design. While it sounds optimized for a studio large enough to have multiple level designers on a project, you could presumably do something similar and invite level submissions from everyone at a studio, regardless of discipline.

"[Action blocks] are generally made by one person. They're unpolished. They don't have good animations," added Zampella. "Everything is kind of placeholder. But there are no constraints. Just make something, anything you want, that could be fun. Last time we did 100-plus of them – somewhere between 100 and 200 of them."

For more of Zampella's thoughts on how the game together and what it felt like to release it alongside both Battlefield 1 and the new Call of Duty (which includes a remastered version of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the game he helped make in a previous life at Infinity Ward), check out the full interview over on Glixel. 

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