Fusion: Genesis – Half of Twenty Questions With Starfire Studios

(Or: Conquering Space in a Packed Online Universe, One Player at a Time)

Thanks to my one-man army status and rather ridiculous tower of stuff to tackle, It’s been a little while since I’ve interviewed someone for a DAF feature. Fortunately, I’m ending that quiet streak in a nice way. Every so often, I play a really cool game that demands a bit more attention and a little Q & A time, so here you go. Starfire Studios’ upcoming Xbox Live Arcade exclusive Fusion: Genesis is set to launch November 9, and it’s looking like one of those games that’s bound to gain a dedicated following as more gamers discover its stunning visuals and easy to pick up but highly challenging gameplay.  With their first release done and ready to roll, I shot a few basic Q’s over to the fab four at Starfire and got a speedy response from two of the team, Phil Dunne and Chris Tilston (plus a musical guest star)…

1. What was the genesis of Fusion: Genesis and was it always planned as an online-only console title tied in with a separate mobile game experience (Fusion: Sentient for Windows 7-enabled phones)?

Phil Dunne – After leaving Rare, we were very keen to make an XBLA game with as many ‘MMO’ elements as we could. We really like the idea of people playing together and we feel it can add so much to the game experience when you’re playing in an always connected online world. When the project started we only intended it to be a single release for XBLA. It was actually Microsoft that came back to us and suggested that the world of Fusion should get expanded to incorporate a mobile game experience too. I think then it was a combination of Chris working with the guys at Microsoft and then Wahoo Studios who came up with the plan for Fusion:Sentient and how that would link to Genesis.

2. The game has come together relatively quickly, gameplay is solid and fun and the levels I’ve seen all look pretty amazing. Is this all a result of the team working together on previous projects at Rare (which, amusingly enough has been known for extended development cycles on some of its titles), or just a really cool case of a great idea falling into place thanks to everyone being on the same page?

Chris Tilston: A bit of both. It was important to know where we were going but to retain an iterative development process of improving things again and again.

Phil: I think for Fusion, it helped that we had all worked together before and knew how each other worked etc. That certainly made things much easier to get a prototype up and running. I think we’ve improved our planning and scheduling a lot over the years especially after Microsoft took over Rare.

3. Most online games focus heavily on strictly multiplayer and/or PvP modes while leaving solo gamers who just want a lengthy quest they can tackle alone left out in the cold. With Fusion: Genesis, what can those who crave a single player adventure expect?

Chris – There’s an option page where they can choose who they let into their universe. You can play solo, let in just friends or just anyone. Fusion Genesis can also be played offline – you just won’t see other players in your world.

4. As far as the co-op experience and multiplayer modes, how many players can be on screen simultaneously, will there always be enemy AI to deal with and can players complete the entire game with a dedicated team of fellow spacers?

Chris – 8 players can be matched into a zone at any one time (and therefore onscreen). The enemies are a mixture of AI’s and other players. You can join a group and complete the entire game co-op – but need to be aware that story missions can only be completed solo – and it rejoins you to friends when they have been completed.

5. In terms of the multiple factions, are there different starting points for each, or does the campaign begin the same way each time a new game is started? Additionally, is there a favored faction to start out with and have you any advice for players new to this sort of game hooked in by the lovely screens and trailers?

Chris - Although the tutorial and initial experience directs you towards the consortium (traders) initially, you can join any faction from there (and are told where to go to do this). I think we all have our favourite factions – personally mine is the Revenant Order because of their shiny ships. For new players there is a ton of direction and the game is always telling them where they could go next and what to do.

Phil - I like the Syndicate Faction as I think their skills are great. They’ve got a cloak skill where you can sneak up on enemies and then they’ve got a hijack skill where you can take their ship. Plus, I like having everyone else trying to take you down, although it’s tough if you’re new to the game.

6. Let’s talk progression for a bit: do missions have multiple paths (other than a win/lose outcome), is there an endgame players can actually reach after all their hard work and can players who complete a faction’s campaign continue to explore the Fusion universe?

Chris - Most missions are just win/lose. Once you have finished the main campaign and a faction campaign (about 16 hours worth of gameplay) you can play through all of the other factions – you need to do this to get access to all the pilot skills. But then this is just the start as you have unlocked the Ark raid – a huge background of bosses to fight through with up to 4 players.

Our endgame is pretty big – consists of raiding the ark for tokens to buy the best weapons and get the best weapon drops there, replaying the warzone to get the best weapons and replaying the legion raid (all to get better weapons and upgrades). Unlocking the best weapons takes time. Also acquiring the best legendary sentients and levelling them up.

7. Creating a music score for a persistent online universe must be quite a challenge! Was Steve Burke always the first choice to do the game’s soundtrack, and do any of his tunes appear in the mobile game?

Chris: Yep, Steve was always our first choice. Alas, his tunes only appear in Fusion: Genesis.

Steve Burke: When I was first contacted by the guys at Starfire Studios, and heard about the game, I immediately wanted to be a part of it. There is a fair amount of music written for the game, over 1hr 20mins. After it was finished I spent time at a mixing studio to add the finishing touches to the overall sound and have the score professionally mastered. The soundtrack was written based on Chris’s music brief, where he outlined in a flowchart where each piece would be used and transition, and if it should be a Faction theme, action, or ambient. It’s an orchestral sounding score, but I did get chance to write some spacey synth ambient tracks.

8. So far, Fusion: Genesis is an Xbox 360 exclusive and Fusion:Sentient is for Windows 7 phones only. Are there any plans to expand the games to other platforms in the future, or are both staying with Microsoft for the time being. Also, have you any future plans to bring other projects to multiple platforms?

Chris: We’d be happy to put it on whatever, but Microsoft would need to make that call.
For our next project which we’ve just started on and hugely excited about because of the potential there we’re actively planning for it to be on multiple platforms

9. We’re in the age where a huge amount of focus had shifted to development and marketing of cheaper games made for formerly non-traditional devices and some publishers trying hard to compete with a primarily casual market composed of users who might not experience games on a larger screen with traditional controls. Where do you see things headed in the future and how can developers and publishers pull in the many users who still don’t have decent Internet connections?

Chris: I think more and more people will try games for the first time and maybe move on to trying even more which is a good thing. At the top end I can see bigger and better games costing a lot more to make and probably not returning a profit. To get more users who don’t have internet connections – good question – I guess shops will be around for a while still.

10. Finally, other than your own work at Rare, what are some of your favorite games from any era and what are you looking forward to playing (once you’ve all taken some much-needed rest)?

Chris: The new Assassins Creed (Revelations).

Phil: Way, way back in the day I used to love Speedball 2. More recently I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption, which is awesome and I’m really looking forward to Star Wars: The Old Republic.

And that, as they say, is that. I actually had a few more questions (nothing too important, mind you), but the name of this feature is Half of Twenty Questions, right?  Besides, anything else that needs to be answered will be once Fusion: Genesis hits Xbox Live Arcade in less than two days.  I’ll be digging myself out from the pile of games here to get in a review, so stay tuned.  Many thanks to Phil, Chris and Steve for taking time to answer my questions and best of luck with the game as well as any future projects!

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