Feature Article

Disintegration Director Talks Single-Player, MOBAs, and Michael Crichton

V1 interactive is pulling inspiration for Disintegration's campaign from a lot of sources.

Disintegration is the first game from V1 Interactive, a small team led by Marcus Lehto, who previously spent many years working on the Halo franchise. GameSpot got the chance to sit down with Lehto and discuss the influence that Halo and other series have had on Disintegration, which fuses elements of first-person shooters and real-time strategy games. We also spoke about the game's single-player experience and its post-apocalyptic setting, where an army of integrated robots battles a group of rebels that wish to retain their humanity.

Disintegration is headed to PS4, Xbox One, and PC. It's currently slated for a 2020 release.

GameSpot: Disintegration's HUD reminds me of mechs--when I think mechs, I think Titanfall. And you have a history with the Halo series. How do you feel about comparisons being made to those series?

Lehto: Oh, I don't mind it at first. I think it's an initial connection that people might have, either to the games that I've been a part of making for many, many years, or to games that might feel similar. I think that once they have a chance to hop into the game and get a feel for it themselves, those comparisons will start to wane pretty quick.

But it doesn't bug me, as long as they don't just keep focusing on that and recognize that Disintegration really is a game that's a different beast altogether. Once you understand how it works mechanically, you'll clearly see there is no comparison at all between the games when it comes to the way the gameplay functionally works.

It is very clear that it's in a different genre than those shooters. Where did the inspiration to marry FPS and RTS gameplay come from?

When I started out with the initial concept for the game, it was just myself and two students working together. We were starting to make a game that was in the same universe [as Disintegration], but it was just a typical RTS: drag your mouse over these characters, micromanage them, and move them from one location to another around the world. And it was really cool. It was really awesome to watch all these little units go at each other and blow each other up, but at the same time we're like, "All right, there's about a million other games out there like this."

It kind of hit me one night, just one of those crazy ideas you get at 3 in the morning. I came in and said to the guys, "What if we turned that camera in the sky into an active participant in combat?" And we're like, "How the hell are we going to do that?" So that's ultimately what transpired with the camera becoming the Gravcycle. Initially [the cycle] was just a drone in the sky. We didn't even have a character in the seat, and then we transitioned to that actually being a real personalized element of the game and you becoming the pilot.

Are there any particular RTS or shooter series that you looked to when you were merging those disparate game mechanics?

Strangely enough, it was the original game that I actually started working on at Bungie, which was Myth: The Fallen Lords. That was way back in, gosh, '97, '98, something around there. I was a contractor at the time, and I had so much fun playing that game between myself and my friends. That was the way we stayed connected when I moved to Chicago to take my role at Bungie as creative art director on the Halo series.

Myth was the glue that held me together with my friends. [Disintegration] was almost a spiritual successor at first to a game like that, but then it quickly transformed into something entirely different.

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Since it's so different, do you think this is going to be something that new players can pick up quickly, or do you anticipate a bit of a learning curve?

Initially we were terrified about this idea, because we're like, "Oh God, this is a really different game for people to wrap their heads around." We find when people play multiplayer, or the single-player campaign even, that it takes usually about five minutes, which is astounding to us.

They immediately understand the Gravcycle controls, the basics of moving around, and commanding units on the ground. That latter part is one of the more difficult areas; it has a lot more depth. It'll take them a good couple of play sessions in multiplayer to understand the mechanics. During the beta, we were watching streams, seeing those "a-ha" moments as they were playing throughout the day. We saw the excitement in their eyes when they were like, "Oh my God, this is how this works!" We saw them use [the] Slow Field [ability on] a group of enemies and then use a Warrior's concussion grenade to stagger and crit damage them at the same time. Imagine four players on a team coordinating together, and you get some really cool stuff happening that way.

I'm hearing a lot of buzzwords that remind me of other games. When it comes to the stacking effects, I think of MOBAs. Do you think Disintegration appeals to players of those games?

We ran some focus groups who were just strictly MOBA players, and they immediately picked up on the commander-in-the-sky elements. There was a huge appeal to them, and it was kind of like a gateway for them into shooters as well. They're like, "Hey, I actually like the action side of this game a lot more than I thought it would." It took them out of their comfort zone, gave them something familiar to play with, and allowed them to discover this all-new aspect of a game that they're not used to playing.

We did the same thing for first-person shooter players and put them right into the seat of the Gravcycle. They immediately got the first-person shooting element of it, but then were like, "Oh, there's this other strategy element, this RTS thing happening here."

So you've made a "gateway drug" video game.

We kind of described it like that to some folks, and it's really interesting to see how people are kind of embracing it in that way.

Let's talk about the world itself. Where did the inspiration for this setting and plot come?

It's really just a deep exploration of what's happening around to the world around us. I'm always intrigued by the idea of what happens if some of these things are left unchecked, with regards to climate extremes and [other] issues that humanity's dealing with. What happens to the landscape in a future setting? I just took from things that are readily familiar to us today and extrapolated some possible outcomes, where everything feels fairly plausible.

It's set here on Earth, a world that's immediately familiar to the player, but altered and changed in ways that makes it feel scary in some ways, because you're like, "Wow, what really happened here?" And then in some ways, [it's] comforting because it's still a beautiful world. It's a place that is inviting to go explore and be a part of. I think people will be excited to delve into some of that deeper backstory, and not only through the cinematics. If you take time to explore the environment itself, there are things you can discover and get to know what happened.

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Are there any particular works of fiction or perhaps nonfiction that inspired it?

I'm a fan of hard sci-fi and older Michael Crichton stuff. It helped inspire some of the ideas behind the tech, but a lot of my inspiration honestly just comes from looking at the world around me. I'm a creative person. I've always been on the creative side of things throughout my career of developing games, so part of my job is just to let things soak in and see how that translates into something unique.

You've already announced current-gen platforms. Do you have anything to say about next-gen?

We would love to be able to support the next-gen consoles or any other tech that comes out, so we're eager to continue exploring that. But that's all TBD at the moment.

How do you feel about new features like Xbox's Smart Delivery, where I could purchase your game for Xbox One and then automatically have the Series X version?

We've just started scratching the surface on that kind of stuff. As for how it impacts the business side of things, that's something we work with Private Division on to make sure that we're making the right decision there.

Anything else you can say as far as release date, or are you still TBD 2020?

TBD 2020, but looking forward to talking more about that real soon hopefully.

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