Book Review: The Art of Titanfall

The Art of Titanfall
Publisher: Titan Books
Cost: $34.95 (MSRP)/$26.65 (Amazon.com)
Page Count: 192 Pages
Release Date: 02/25/14
Get it Here: Amazon.com

Military-style first person shooters may not seem like the most obvious games to create art books for, when one thinks about it, but a game like Titanfall generally isn’t your typical entry in the genre in most respects. Obviously, every game goes through a development phase where concept art is created to illustrate what aspects of the game might be like, and the subject in this case is more than just a game about bald headed marines shooting each other in a field somewhere. The sci-fi bent implies that there could be all sorts of crazy concept pieces illustrating weird worlds and environmental concepts that a military shooter based on Earth would never have, and whether they make it into the game or not, those concepts could be interesting to see in their developmental form. Also, the Titans themselves could be appealing in artistic form not only to fans of the game, but also to those who simply like giant robots and want to see what said giant robots looked like during their developmental phase. For those who are fans of the beta and looking forward to the upcoming game, it also doesn’t hurt that the art book comes out some two weeks prior to the game itself. This not only gives those fans a chance to see what might be coming in the final release, but also gives them the chance to whet their appetites for the game with a taste of more content, and as most fans of anything will agree, the more info you can get your hands on about a game you really want, the better. It’s also worth noting that this book (or a variant thereof) comes with the Collector’s Edition of Titanfall, so those who have that edition of the game preordered might want to know just what they’re getting before it comes to them. Well, Titan Books was nice enough to send us a copy of the book in advance of its release, and as I spent some time with the beta, I wanted to see what the artbook had to offer that might get fans excited beyond what the beta has to show us. Let’s take a look, then, at what the artbook shows off, and whether or not fans should be running out to buy their very own copy as soon as it’s available.

The book contains four separate written pieces that surround the artwork itself to give readers a bit of context to the art itself. We’re given a foreword by Joel Emslie, the game’s lead artist, that discusses the concept of artwork being a framework for game development by way of metaphorically comparing himself to his father, who works as a plumber, which isn’t a bad metaphor all things considered. We’re given an Introduction by Steve Fukuda, the game’s director, that explains how the origins of the game began not with Titanfall but with the question “What should we make?” and spider-webbed out from there into the game itself, which gives a pretty interesting mini-explanation of how developing your own IP goes for development teams. We’re given an Afterword by Vince Zampella, the CEO of Respawn Entertainment, that kind of generically encapsulates all of the bizarre circumstances he’s dealt with in the past five years and boils it down into Titanfall’s creation, and while I’d love to see some kind of “shoot” interview with the man instead, this isn’t bad. Finally, there’s an Acknowledgements page that thanks all of the artists, animators and so on who helped create the game and the work in the book in one neat location. Honestly, most of this is fluff, but it’s enjoyable enough fluff considering it’s not why you’re buying the book in the first place, and it gives you some context for why things are the way they are and what brought the game to fruition in its current state. Taken in that light, it’s fine, and it fills out the book well enough, giving some basic reason for the art that fits between these pieces if nothing else.

The artbook proper is broken down into four segments, the first of which, “Titans and Pilots,” deals with what you’d expect: Titan designs, pilot designs, and NPC designs, and runs for about thirty pages. The early section of the chapter details the Titan designs themselves, and lays out what inspired each Titan class and why they generally look the way they do. It also details some of the work involved in assembling the heads-up display when working inside of a Titan and gives reader multiple perspectives of each Titan, as well as scale shots to give readers an idea of just how large a Titan is in comparison to its human pilot. The chapter then moves onto human designs, starting with the Militia, the renegade force that acts against the IMC, meaning they’re basically the Rebellion in this fight. We get some general sketches detailing possible general NPC designs, as well as a look at some of the important Militia characters, such as Militia leader MacAllan, ops commander Sarah, and less detailed NPC’s like Bishamon and Barker, who seem more likely to be allies on the front line than commanding characters. The chapter then gives a brief look at the IMC, detailing two NPC’s in Blisk, a possibly sadistic combat specialist, and Graves, a calm and reserved combat veteran. We finally move into a general layout of the various PC and NPC designs, detailing the appearance of pilots, rebel forces, spectres, grunts, Spyglass robots, and interestingly, native creatures that might show up on the battlefield and cause hell for players. This section gives the reader a good idea of the direction the plot might take, as well as clueing readers in to the distinction between NPC classes on the ground and what other threats might await on the battlefield, and it’s especially interesting seeing what went into distinguishing different factions and characters aesthetically. The creature designs are also very interesting, both because they don’t play much of a part in the beta at this point, and because some of the creatures here look downright terrifying, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens if one shows up in the middle of a battlefield and starts ruining absolutely everything in its path.

The next section, “Vehicles, Weapons and Tech,” looks at the non-Titan vehicles in the game, some of the equipment available, and the pool of weaponry you can equip, and runs for forty four pages. The chapter starts off with an extensive look at the different spaceship designs that were considered and utilized for the various factions in the game, and this gives a very extensive explanation for the designs and the hands involved in creating them. We then move onto the aircraft section, which details several of the planet-side assault craft and dropships that were designed, explaining the motivations behind each and the function of each craft. We then move into ground vehicles, such as tanks, transport trucks and construction vehicles, laying out both the involved process in creating combat vehicles and the process and reasoning behind designing industrial vehicles that, while they may not play a role in battle, breathe life into the game world just by existing. This transitions into more robotic elements of the sci-fi world, such as industrial-grade titans, robotic tanks, drones and so on, and includes several different designs, some of which will hopefully make it into the final game. Finally, we move into a several page layout of the various weapons available, from the standard assault rifles and shotguns into more fantastic weapons like massive railguns, gatling guns, and the “Arc Cannon,” which isn’t even functionally explained here, giving it something of an air of mystery. The various futuristic designs of the weapons, expected and otherwise, also give the game a lot of aesthetic life, as there are various crazy designs here that, if implemented into the final game, will help a lot to distinguish Titanfall from its competitors. It would have been more interesting to focus this chapter on the toys players will actually be using, as the majority of it focuses on spaceships that likely won’t play a huge part in battle, and while they look very nice, unless there are going to be massive space battles, it comes across more as showing the player things that don’t mean a lot to them. Of course, if there are going to be massive space battles, hey, that’s fine too…

The third section, “Locations,” lays out the game world and the environments you’ll be fighting in, and has the largest page run in the book at a whopping hundred and four pages. There are a couple of smaller sections that give very rough outlines of certain sections, but the majority of this chapter is devoted to heavily outlining the design process of several of the major combat maps that exist, and it spares no effort in explaining every aspect of the design process. The designers explain their inspirations, ideas, original design concepts, creation techniques and more on each page, and the artwork does a very good job of bringing the environments to life artistically and conceptually. A couple of the maps showcased here (Fracture, Angel City) exist in the beta, so for those who’ve spent a good amount of time in that mode, this will give you a more involved understanding of why those stages are laid out as they are. More interesting, however, are the maps that haven’t been made playable in the beta; when reading about, and seeing, a map like Boneyard, with its barren and dead aesthetic and the massive monsters that live within it, well, it’s hard to not want to see how that translates into the game itself. This is easily the most interesting chapter of the lot, and more than justifies its monopolization of the page count simply because of the sheer volume of information provided and concepts presented. Anyone looking forward to the game will have a lot of fun looking at the different world designs and speculating what they might mean from a mechanical perspective, and the artwork here is all absolutely amazing.

The final section in the book, “Graphics and Modeling,” details the actual visuals used in the game and the modeling process associated, and runs about six pages. The first two pages lay out some of the less obvious flavor aspects good designers put into building a living world, showcasing simple icons and logos that can be used in the game environment and fictional advertising for companies that exist in the game world. The next two pages lay out the process of model building as a way of understanding scale, design and scope when it finally comes down to really making the game and understand how things work in 3D space. The final two pages discuss the process that went into building a life-size Titan for E3 2013 and all of the effort that went into “kitbashing” it together, as well as several shots of the Titan for reference at various angles and zoom levels. This section, much like the information it showcases, is mostly novelty odds and ends that adds to the product more than it does anything significant on its own merits. It’s cute and gives the reader a bit of insight into the product, and it’s worth inclusion because of this, but it’s not really going to be something you’ll come back to a lot on its own merit.

For fans of the game, The Art of Titanfall makes a pretty compelling case to pick it up when you first have the chance. It fills out a lot of the inspiration behind everything that did (and didn’t) make it into the final game, explains the motivations behind an extensive amount of the designs, and really explains the concepts and ideas behind what went into making the game. The Locations section in particular shows off a lot of interesting information that players are likely to enjoy, and the hand-drawn and rendered artwork in the book is excellent and a joy to look at if you’re at all interested in the game for basically any reason. There’s even an argument to be made that the book is worth picking up if you’re not a huge fan of the game, as the sci-fi artwork is excellent and should please anyone who’s a genre fan, especially if they like environmental set pieces, futuristic weapons and giant robots. On the whole, the book is well organized and the artwork is fantastic, and the page count and content stuffed into the book basically justifies the asking price, especially if you can get it at the reduced Amazon.com price. As such, I can safely say that whether you’re a genre fan or just really looking forward to Titanfall, this is a pretty fabulous piece of work for the price, and whether you like sci-fi artwork, giant robots, the game or anything in-between, you’ll find this is well worth picking up and adding to your collection.

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