Bringing Legends to life: A chat with the team behind Apex Legends' storytelling
We caught up with a bunch of developers from Respawn Entertainment to chat Apex Legends' narrative.
Apex Legends Season 8 - Mayhem has officially launched, bringing a whole range of new content, including; a revamped obliterated Kings Canyon map, a new weapon, Ranked season, battle pass, and even the title's 16th Legend, Fuse to the live game. To get an idea behind how the Apex team looks to introduce new characters and their accompanying storylines, we chatted with a bunch of developers from Respawn about the narrative behind the studios premier battle royale title.
Gamereactor: How do you create an engaging story in a game that is a multiplayer battle royale where a lot of the focus is on gameplay?
Amanda Doiron (Lead Writer at Respawn Vancouver): The main way that I think we engage people in our universe, in our lore, is through our characters. We put a lot of love into making our characters, and there is a lot of collaboration between different disciplines, but we always endeavour to make characters with a lot of depth. We also try to show all of that through how they play, their animations - any little detail - we try to make it all come together so that it's never diverging. Then the other thing we like to do with the characters, is to show their interactions and the dramas that can happen and the relationships that can form because they're kind of one big family of misfits.
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Over the seasons, it's looking for more and more ways to do storytelling - through narrative approaches a lot of the time - like additional dialogue. For example, if these two characters are together and this thing happens, then it will trigger this dialogue instead of generic dialogue in those circumstances.
Manny Hagopian (Lead Writer): It's all about characters, character is story, story is character. One thing that we keep in mind is that we need to keep changing these characters in some way, develop them as we go, which is usually very challenging in a battle royale game without a linear story that you follow. But, we have these little moments that do reflect in our characters' dialogue, that reflects in their relationships. Things that happen in a comic in one season will be addressed in the next season. Things that happen in an audio log will be addressed in the next season. I think that shows the development of our characters that they can change and have story.
Gamereactor: Has it been a process finding the balance of managing all these little tidbits in and out of the game?
Joshua Mohan (Narrative Designer): Absolutely it's a process. You could say that no one has ever done it before. We're constantly innovating and experimenting new ways to do exactly what Amanda and Manny were describing. Each season we try to do something new that we haven't done before, in Season 8 we're going to try and do something we've never done in previous seasons. It's a process of experimenting and reacting to see what our community reacts to, what does well and it's a constant form of experimentation with the sort of live storytelling that we are doing with Apex.
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Steven Ferreira (Team Director at Respawn): It's part of the experience as well, being able to be invested in the story and being able to go online and hear this part of the story and then play the game and hear that change, and find a lore piece in-game only to be reflected in a lore book that is coming out, or some other form of media. It's all part of the videogame experience that is exciting.
Gamereactor: What's the process here? Do you first write out story beats and then decide what kind of media it's going to be revealed in, or is it a quick evolving process?
Doiron: I think it's both. When we create a character, we have story in mind for them, you know: Where they come from? What motivates them? There is some of that we can do straight away because we have the advantage of lore trailers to tell a lot of that story, but we also don't want to give everything away all at once. Plus, there's like time considerations - a lore trailer can only be so long. As we are working through seasons, the writers are always meeting together and having writer's rooms, and you know this could be connected to this. Similar to working on a TV show, you're discovering these personality trends, especially when you add new characters and they can act against existing ones.
Mohan: There are so many other people at Respawn who contribute to help storytelling within Apex. It's a great collaboration, and great ideas can come from anywhere, so it is very organic.
Hagopian: And, the Watson and Crypto comics I mentioned are drawn by community members who are hired to come onboard to do it. We're just so excited for their excitement, and getting an opportunity to work with them is just as exciting as them getting an opportunity to work with us.
Gamereactor: What comes first? Requirements to help the meta and then the story, or the other way around?
Ferreira: It's different for any character, and depending on the state of the meta, or what was planned or prototyped at the time. Essentially, our creative process takes all of those avenues as a starting point for inspiration. We actually had a great wall of ideas back at the studio before Covid hit, and anyone on the team can at anytime walk by and pin an idea on that wall, and that idea might be an image they drew, or a one-liner, or a character background, or a gameplay ability, and we constantly go back to that wall as part of the process to craft what a character is going to become.
I would say the creative process can start from or be inspired by any of those, and then it will kind of go into our regular pipeline and then we end up with characters like Fuse.
Gamereactor: Talking about Fuse, can you tell me a little about the character or the story heading into the season?
Sam Gill (Writer): Fuse is as I always say, a walking-talking AC/DC song. He exudes manhood, he's the sort of guy you want to hang out with. Seemingly a simple man, but he's a walking-talking celebration really.
Making Fuse - in the early stages of development - there were really three different people who were feeding into that character, and Fuse is made up of all of our individual 'weirdnesses.' We had an early sketch of what Fuse would look like based around our mutual love of cowboys and bikers and BBQ and beer, and we came up with this eye-patched, mustached character, and we were like, "oh, that's Fuse." We sort of filled out around that. The truth is, that early sketch compared to what has been released hasn't really changed all that much. The older Fuse had a little more leather and darker colour clothing, but otherwise all the details were there early on, and if you look closely at the Fuse model you'll see his mortar has an angry looking kangaroo drawn on it, named Wally. That was one of the very first things we discussed about Fuse. He likes explosions, he probably likes explosions to the power of a thousand. He's one of those characters that has come into sharp focus very quickly.
Gamereactor: Thanks a lot for your time, and stay safe.
Apex Legends Season 8 - Mayhem, which includes the 16th Legend Fuse, an obliterated Kings Canyon map, and plenty of new update features is now available to play on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, PC through Steam and Origin, and even on Nintendo Switch starting from March 9.