Behind the Scenes Starting from Scratch: Vince Zampella

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Titanfall Official Digital Strategy Guide
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Behind the Scenes Starting from Scratch: Vince Zampella

Vince Zampella: CEO

Past Projects

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty 2

Call of Duty

Medal of Honor: Allied Assault

Prima Games: What was it like to start a studio from scratch and then jump into creating a whole new IP?

Vince Zampella: A lot of work. Maybe more than we all realized, but it’s just something that you do.

PG: How does it compare to releasing a sequel every year? Is it liberating?

Vince: I think it is liberating, but then you realize there’s a lot of people who have been working on nothing but sequels for a long time, so you have to break yourself of old habits and get into the mode of, okay, everything’s new; we have to start over. We don’t have tools; we don’t have technology; we don’t have a game idea. You just bring over a lot of people who have worked on games for a long time, very successful games. Everyone’s got ideas on what they want the game to be, and obviously you can’t make a game that everybody agrees on. You have to pick and say, okay, this is what’s gonna be the most fun. This is what’s important. So it took a lot more time to get settled in. And we had the lawsuit hanging over us as well, so it just took more time than I thought to get everybody to put it together.

Following a rough start, the team gradually gained focus and began work on what would eventually become Titanfall.

PG: So, you eventually settled on doing an FPS game—you guys have a lot of experience in that. In your view, what is the state of the FPS genre, and how do you feel Titanfall fits into that market right now?

Vince: For us it was really about doing something. We didn’t want to do—or I didn’t want to do—what I had just come off of. I wanted to do something different, something new, something unique. At the same time, there is obviously a core strength set that I and the other people on the team have in working in these shooters, so we’re not gonna do a racing game or something. It was pretty obvious that we wanted to do a shooter, but we wanted to do something unique. So, the focus was on that. What can we do that’s different, that hasn’t been tried before to push the boundaries a little bit? To be familiar, but new.

In 2013, Vince introduced Titanfall to the world at Microsoft and EA’s press conferences during E3.

PG: And were the Titans a big part of that?

Vince: It ended up being a big part, but it wasn’t at the start. We didn’t come out saying we have to have Titans. But once they came to be and Joel put them together, everyone kind of latched on to them as something really cool and new. There was a time when the wall running needed work and it wasn’t coming together as it should and then we finally refined it. And it got to a point where it was like this is really good and it all worked together really well.

PG: Was there a particular point when you knew you had a winning concept?

Vince: When we saw that people liked it, then we were like, “Okay, I think we have something.” (Laughs) I mean, we always liked it, but we’re very critical. You really start to get too close to things and you want to make sure there’s a sanity check. We know we like it, but we have to make sure other people like it too.

PG: I would imagine you feel incredibly proud of that team being so small and being so dedicated and talented to create a game that everyone’s gonna love. How was bringing that team together at the start? Starting from however many people on day one to around the hundred or so people that you have now?

Vince: It was rough going at the start. Not because of lack of talent, but just because of lack of focus. At one point we were in a lawsuit, and 40 of the people who worked here were involved in that lawsuit. So it got to be distracting. There were times when people weren’t focused on the game—including myself. The studio wasn’t focusing where it needed to go. Then we made some changes, and sometimes that’s a little hard to swallow. We worked through it. We got into a place where we are now—we’re making a game: everyone rally behind it. It’s focusing the energy in the right direction and that felt good. So, it was probably the end of 2011 when we really started focusing on what the game is and making it fun. People really started to come together. I think that’s probably the best moment.

Titanfall’s success at E3 was a big morale boost for the entire team.

PG: Once you had a direction to go, it came together really fast. Do you feel that everyone’s experience on previous FPS titles was a big factor in pulling that game together so quickly?

Vince: I don’t know, I think it was. It might’ve been a factor in pulling things together quickly at the end just because people are experienced in finding a direction and working toward it. Also at the beginning, there were some people who were working against us. They were a little bit locked into like, “We just came off one of the biggest franchises in the world. How do we compete with that?” Getting them out of that mind-set of like, listen, we need to make something that’s fun. We don’t need to compete with Call of Duty. We’re not gonna beat Call of Duty. That’s not what we should be striving for. What we should be striving for is making something that we’re proud of that people will engage with. That’s what we need to do. So, I think there was a time when that kind of paralyzed people a little bit.

PG: When you announced the game was 6 v 6, there seemed to be some disappointment from the community. But for us, we’ve played the game for several weeks and can’t imagine a higher player count given the intensity and chaos of each battle. Did you experiment with higher player counts?

Vince: We’ve had it set at higher than 6 v 6, and we ended up picking a spot where this is the best balance. And here’s the best thing—people have played the game. It was 6 v 6 at Gamescom and at PAX, and there was not a single complaint. No one came out of that saying, “Yeah, it’s fun, but I wish it was 7 v 7.” They just enjoyed the game. They didn’t focus on that number. There might be some people who like bigger games, who want that 64-player experience. And that’s out there. I mean, Battlefield’s a great game for that—go play it. But it’s a different game that we’re making. We’re not trying to just throw the number out there and say our number’s bigger.

PG: What’s one thing you want to leave the audience with? What’s one thing they should know about this game?

Vince: I guess just that the game will feel familiar. If you play games, you’ll get it. It’s not that it’s so new that it’s cumbersome and hard to play. But at the same time, there’s more levels of depth and fun. Even somebody who’s not as good can get into the game and stand a fighting chance.