Apex Legends is two years old this week. Respawn Entertainment’s battle royale game launched back in 2019 just as studios were pondering their own answers to Fortnite. Through the past 12 months, Apex Legends has stood out among a crowded field with high-speed gameplay, unique character abilities, and frequent updates that expand on its world.
For players, a lot has changed in that time. There have been new maps, a crafting system, additional modes, clan support, vehicles, and much, much more added to the game since the beginning. While it still has the same core gameplay that made it a hit on day one, it’s a buffed up experience that has kept pace with player demands along the way.
Inverse spoke to Apex Legends Game Director Chad Grenier and Season 8 Director Steven Ferriera shortly before the launch of the new season. A lot has also changed for the studio itself since launch, considering that half of the game’s life cycle has now been developed remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There's a creative hurdle we had to get over," Grenier tells Inverse. "You lose the hallway conversations and you lose the people sitting on a couch and discussing something for an hour or two hours." Despite that, Apex Legends continues to deliver more elimination action over the past year without missing a step.
Steven Ferriera and Chad Grenier reflected on the past two years of the game’s life with Inverse and offered a few hints as to what players can expect going forward as the game’s explosive Season 8 kicks off — and a clever way that they're able to trick leakers.
A lot has changed within the game for players these past two years. Is this where you thought the game would wind up when you started developing it?
Chad Grenier: We could never have predicted this. We were a team that previously had spent a couple of years building a game that would release and then we'd support it, and then do a sequel. We'd never done live service. So we launched this game and the players poured in much faster than we could have ever thought. We were caught off guard, and we had to figure out how we’d support it. How do we keep things running? How do we add content to this game? So we had to change everything about how we worked.
And we never would have predicted where we'd end up because what feeds the direction of the game more than anything else is player demand. So whatever players are engaging with or not engaging with drives where we put effort and where we don't. So it's hard to predict where that would have taken us. But we listen to the fan base, they lead the way, and we try to innovate along the way. The last few years have been a blur. It's been crazy.
Steven Ferreira: Not to mention a pandemic on top of all that.
You know, I wasn't going to ask you about that. But how has the pandemic changed your development process?
Grenier: Aside from technical challenges, there's a creative hurdle we had to get over. You lose the hallway conversations. And you lose the people sitting on a couch and discussing something for an hour or two hours. You miss the lunch conversations. All of that goes away and everything becomes scheduled instead of it happening naturally.
We've done some things to help get back to that sort of culture. We've got all day Zoom rooms where people can just go and hang out. We've got a Discord where developers just hang out with no particular agenda in mind. It's almost like sitting together remotely. That helped us get back to a healthy place, but we weren't doing those things on day one. We had to learn how to get back to that.
Going back to the community, what are some of the ways the players have helped guide the game?
Grenier: It’s things like players asking for no fill type matchmaking features. We've got that in the works and that's going to be available shortly. That's purely based on the feedback from the fans wanting to solo queue, so there are lots of little things like that. Then sometimes we have fun with it. We see that there's data mining going on, so we build fake characters like Forge and try to fool the data mining community. So, sometimes it's a good change for the game and sometimes it's just us being playful.
Do you often sneak in things just to mess with people?
Grenier: Yeah, that happens. But a lot of times what happens is that we have some really old stuff that was in the game at one point and we're no longer developing it. We just shoulder-shrug, like “Whatever, we’ll leave it in there.” And some people draw conclusions based on some old things that we've moved on from. It would be difficult for us to accidentally leak anything that would be a really major thing coming to the game, but the other stuff is kind of funny sometimes.
With something like Season 8’s Fuse, how long do characters like that sit in development before actually coming to the game?
Ferreira: A lot of those things take quite a long time to build. But aside from just the actual time it takes to build, we're just trying stuff all the time. So we might be prototyping an idea and playing with it and then we might just shelve it for a little while because we think it would be better paired with another feature that's coming down the line.
There are a lot of different things based on what's happening in the community and the feedback we're hearing. It's like, “The community really wants this thing? We've got two things in the hopper, so let's just push this one ahead.” Where possible, we're always trying to take in as many inputs as we can. But a lot of the things that we do build are in the pipeline for quite a long time before they go live.
Looking forward, how does Season 8 set up what’s next for the game?
Ferreira: The theme of the season is Mayhem and that's actually by design. It was the influence for a lot of the things we put into the season. With the new year starting, we wanted to really change the tone and make it feel like it was a fresh start for the year. So there are a bunch of things coming in this season that will change the game up quite a bit. It plays with some of the old rules and assumptions that have been baked into Apex for a long time. This season is really celebratory in nature and kind of chaotic in a fun way.
How’s the Nintendo Switch version of the game coming along?
Grenier: I can't talk too much about it, but the Switch version is coming shortly. We'll have an announcement soon. It's actually coming along quite well, so more soon.