Titanfall was hotly anticipated by pretty much everyone. Created by (most of) the minds behind the Call of Duty series, pushed hard by publisher EA, and previewed extensively and positively by just about everybody, Respawn had the weight of expectation to live up to. As a brand new IP at the start of a new generation, exclusive to Microsoft platforms, it had to create an impact. And it did.
Part of this was due to the distinctive science fiction look.
The Art of Titanfall, published by Titan Books, compiles around 190 pages of artwork created for Titanfall. It’s a nice looking book, with its yellow-to-black gradient dust cover showing the game’s attractions – Titans – front and centre. The actual hard cover of the quarto book is the same image but in glossy greyscale, starkly and elegantly contrasting with the bright colours of the dust cover. The book’s construction is typically high quality, pleasing to the eyes and the hands alike.
The book contains a foreword by Titanfall’s lead artist Joel Emslie, which tells a nice tale of family and pride, and the dedication of the entire art team. It sets a nice mood for the book, in which the process of art and the team members who created it are respected and taken seriously. Titanfall’s game director Steve Fukuda gets to have a say too, in the introduction. It’s interesting to read the Respawn team’s journey from nothing to final concept as retold by Fukuda, and you get the sense of stories left untold as the team worked through the creative process. Veteran game industry writer Andy McVittie handles the bulk of the writing, though, revealing slowly the world of Titanfall.
The most enjoyable parts are hearing from the artists themselves as they describe their own art and creative processes, talking about the research they conducted or how they collaborated with each other to get a consistent vision. For example, lead artist Todd Sue talks about how Angel City was inspired by some of the team’s favourite animes, and how Fracture evokes affluent architectural practices. Another example is environment artist Josh Dunnam’s regret at having to create their “dream houses and décor, then destroyed everything by hand”. It’s human stories like that that really emphasise the importance of this project to the team.
You can learn a lot about the world of Titanfall from the art descriptions. Quite a bit of contextual information is given away through describing the function and form of objects drawn for the world. Some of the art and descriptions – particularly of Boneyard – make me want a game set in the Titanfall universe that isn’t Titanfall. Encountering Leviathans, exploring overgrown colonies, flying through space on a giant ship – the expanded universe looks and sounds like it would be a fantastic fictional place to revisit.
I was a little disappointed in the overall lack of variety in the art, though. Character and Titan art mostly consists of in-engine renders, with very few pieces of actual early concept art. Weapons and ships are similar, with a small number of composites and concept work dwarfed by the amount of simple final renders. Put simply, renders don’t look nearly as impressive as the actual artist concepts that can be found elsewhere in the book. After all, you can always take screenshots and pull assets directly from the game if you really want to – actual unique concept art is beyond such means.
Most of the book consists of map artwork, with a good 104 pages dedicated to twelve of the fifteen locations you play. This is a good thing, since it goes a long way to explore the important aesthetic level design decisions that make Titanfall work so well. While you won’t get a crash-course in level design, you will see how certain maps were built from previous concepts, iterated upon and polished to completion. And you also get a nice whack of fictional context for the maps that you don’t otherwise get in the game.
Map artwork is frequently gorgeous, atmospheric, moody, and ambitious. It reveals Titanfall’s artistic direction and the full talent of the game’s artists. Particularly striking is a full page spread of Demeter and its red giant sun by artist Tu Bui, which immediately evokes an industrial sci-fi feel, and opens the sky up to space. Many hundreds of hours of work have been put into each map, and the journey from concept art to final product show various ways in which the levels changed and evolved over time. Renders are sparse here, and the book benefits from this deviation, leaving the reader to compare initial concept art with final renders in a way that shows the creative process.
The last handful of pages are dedicated to the physical models Joel Emslie and the team made by hand. These two pages of maquettes interestingly reveal the physical modelling mentality behind digital modelling, and show a valuable skill in creation. There are also two pages dedicated to the full-size Titan the team commissioned for E3 2013, with the help of Daniels Wood Land.
There is an afterword by Vince Zampella himself, which is strangely dissonant from the rest of the book. In it, Zampella briefly addresses the effects of the Infinity Ward controversy, honestly and frankly. It reveals his struggles and anxieties, as well as his pride and dedication to the Respawn team. It’s really very interesting to read, showing a very human and vulnerable side of the now infamous name, even if it feels a little out of place here.
The Art of Titanfall is a nice art book, and as a companion piece provides a look at the backstory of Titanfall’s universe. While the overreliance on renders is disappointing, the in-depth concept art created for the many maps that make up the bulk of the book are beautiful and interesting. You can tell that Titanfall was made with a lot of love and passion, and it shows through the artists’ work.
(Review sample provided by Titan Publishing. Thanks.)