Weaponized: Designing the Weapons of Titanfall

For many hardcore fans, a shooter is only as good as its weapons. Even the very best shooter would suffer if its weapons felt like nothing more than glorified pellet guns, which is precisely why every FPS developer has at least one weapons guru on staff to make sure everything looks, feels, and fires correctly.  The upcoming blockbuster “Titanfall” is no different, and we were ecstatic to find that each weapon feels unique, well-balanced and, more importantly, powerful when it’s in capable hands. 

We had a chance to sit down with Ryan Lastimosa, Senior Artist at Respawn Entertainment and self-proclaimed Digital Armorer, to talk about everything from his design process to his favorite weapon in “Titanfall.” When you’re done, be sure to check out more of this week’s great “Titanfall” features and videos at the end of this story.

Xbox Wire: So how does the weapon design process start?

Ryan Lastimosa: The process begins by figuring out what the tool is going to be. We need to determine whether it’s going to be a broadsword or a scalpel. From there, we look at the type of silhouette that the weapon is going to give and the shapes that are going to go into the model. The goal we want is for people to pick up the weapon and say, “Oh, this is a CQB weapon” or “This is a sniper rifle” or “This is an assault rifle.” The same thing goes for the Titan weapons. They have to have a very specific shape to convey the message of what kind of damage it’s going to do.

So, we’ll figure out the silhouette and determine what shapes go into the view model (that’s the first-person view), then we’ll start adding little details here and there to figure out just how the weapon is going to be used in the world of “Titanfall.” We’ll go into the mechanics of the weapon to sort out how it’s going to load, what kind of rounds it fires, if it ejects brass, if it doesn’t eject brass because it’s an energy weapon, and so on. Then I’ll go in and figure out the actual mechanics of the weapon and the inner working parts of the weapon. At that point, we’ll have a good idea of how it looks and feels in combat.

We get the model built and it goes to animation, and they do an awesome job of making the weapon moving and figuring out how the Pilot or Titan will fire and reload the weapon. The design will go in and tweak, you know, how much it will kill you.

Xbox Wire: As a weapon designer, where do you take inspiration from?

Ryan Lastimosa: Well, I’m a shooter myself, I own a few firearms. I’ve been into martial arts and weapons and firearms and combat since I was a kid. I take a lot of inspiration from current trends in firearms. Like, the most popular trend is in the direction the M4 platform and the AK platform are going. I look at the trends and I see what sort of practical additions people are making to these platforms versus the more aesthetic ones. From there, I like to try to envision where we’ll be in 40 years or 100 years or even 200 years.

Xbox Wire: Your background in weapon design is with real-world, existing technologies. How does designing a futuristic weapon for a game like “Titanfall” differ from designing a weapon based in the real world?

Ryan Lastimosa: Well, taking a real world weapon, it’s tactile. You have it in front of you. Holding an M4 or an AR, we want that feeling to translate to “Titanfall.” The first couple years, we just went shooting. We’d go out and shoot and take lots of pictures. We photographed lots of different firearms, then we gots lots of different parts from weapons that we thought looked and felt cool. We started slapping them on and kit-bashing a bunch of the shape we knew we wanted for “Titanfall.” So we would, for example, take a receiver from an AK and a stock from an MP5, put them together, then figure out how we could make them work in the game. So there was a lot of kit-bashing, but it also had to be functional.

One of the big things we also did was look at how the original “Star Wars” was made. In the original “Star Wars,” they basically took a bunch of WWII-era weapons and started slapping attachments on them. If you look at Han Solo’s blaster, it’s that broom-handled Mauser that they threw a scope on and all of a sudden it’s got an iconic sci-fi look. But it’s practical and it still theoretically works. That was our goal with the weapons in “Titanfall.” We wanted to make some cool angles and add some attachments to them, but also make everything completely and totally practical. We didn’t want to have a big dial or a knob on it for no reason.

Xbox Wire: Was there a difference in the way you designed the Titan weapons compared to the Pilot weapons? It seems pretty clear that they aren’t simply bigger versions of the same weapons.

Ryan Lastimosa: Titan weapons are tough, man. They’re really tough because, first off, we didn’t know how big the Titans were going to be. Our first thought was that they’d just be suits that the Pilots wore that were slightly bigger. Of course, they ended up being these big behemoth robots that move super quickly. So we ended up taking a lot of reference from tank firepower and naval-based weaponry. We got our hands on all of these giant moving parts for these things and asked ourselves “What’s the purpose of this weapon?”

Like the XO-16, which is based on a lot of things. It’s based off of a 20mm anti-aircraft cannon with some inspiration from the CIWS. So we put those things together and thought, “OK, now we need to make it into a big, beefy rifle that spits out lead.” So we started messing around with the weapon with different shapes. At first, we couldn’t really tell how big the weapon was or how it would look in a Titan’s hand. In the revisions I did for the XO-16, I started adding little details like handholds for human mechanics to carry the weapon and lift it up to a hook so they could service it. There are different little ports on the XO-16 so you could hook a computer up to it. Of course, a lot of us are “RoboTech” fans as well, so we put all sorts of “No Step” decals all over it (laughs).

Scale was really important with a lot of the Titan weapons. We wanted a bunch of moving parts, but not so many moving parts that it felt like they’d jam in a firefight. We wanted people to see that there’s a lot more happening than you might see at first.

At one point, we were tossing around the idea of putting magazines on Titans. So with the XO-16, they have these big drum magazines that would probably be like 3 feet tall in real life. If a Titan had a bunch of these on his side, how would he reload it? We realized that that would take a lot of skills for the Titan Pilot to load it up on his own. So we decided to just automate it. The Titan will grab the new magazine and put it in the vicinity of the XO-16 and the XO-16 will do the work. You know, kind of like a garbage loader or a forklift. You see the Titan put the magazine in a certain area and the weapon will just grab it and pull it in for you.

Xbox Wire: You mentioned how important it is to figure out a weapon’s role in combat. I noticed in the beta content that most of the weapons fall into your kind of standard archetypes. You’ve got your close quarters shotgun, your long-range sniper rifle, etc. A lot of games go crazy with the choices and might give you an assault class with 20 different assault rifle or something. Was the move away from that toward something more simple intentional?

Ryan Lastimosa: Well, we boiled it all down. You don’t need 20 different swords to do the same job. Also, there’s so much going on in “Titanfall,” why would you want to sort through dozens of weapons? All you really need is one specific weapon to do one specific job. We tried adding stacks and stacks of weapons, but if you keep doing that you’re just using the same weapon over and over again. There isn’t any specific nature to the weapon you’re using.

Xbox Wire: Do you have a favorite weapon in the game?

Ryan Lastimosa: The first weapon we started building when we decided we wanted to make a shooter was the R-101. It was originally referred to internally as the “Respawn-101”. That weapon has gone through so many different iterations. It was a very modular weapon to start out with. We were going to allow the player to add a longer barrel or remove a barrel to turn it into a submachine gun. It was a completely modular platform the way we had originally envisioned it.

Then we started to dial back all of the stuff that you could attach to it and it ended up being very much a workhorse. Like, if the IMC commissioned to have this weapon made, it would be the most popular weapon in the “Titanfall” universe. We had to ask ourselves, “As a platform, how popular would it be to accept these different attachments from all over the known universe?” Anyway, that’s probably my favorite Pilot weapon. It’s just a workhorse assault rifle, there’s no BS. Plus it’s a weapon that you could practically build right now!

As far as Titan weapons go, my favorite would have to be the 40mm Cannon. When you’re using it in Last Titan Standing, it absolutely tears people apart.

Be sure to check out more of our great “Titanfall” content before you dive into the beta: