XDefiant Devs Talk Bunny Hopping, Balance, And New Maps

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An image shows a man with an assault rifle in XDefiant.

As the dust settled on a hectic (and messy) launch, I got the chance to talk with FPS XDefiant’s executive producer Mark Rubin, and creative director Safy Saada, about the free-to-play Call of Duty-like’s first few weeks, how the Ubisoft team balances the game, all-important bunny hopping, creating good maps, and the future for the live-service game.

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Ubisoft’s XDefiant launched last month to mostly positive reviews and large player numbers. Since then, the game has received a handful of updates as the live-service journey begins and XDefiant evolves and changes over the coming months and years.

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“Launch has been great,” said Rubin. “We’re extremely happy with our player numbers. It’s gone far beyond what we expected.”

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Rubin explained to Kotaku that Ubisoft had tried to keep the game “pretty lowkey” and “grassroots.” The idea was to build a game and a dedicated community of players at the same time. However, the massive influx of new players and eyeballs since launch isn’t a bad thing.

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“This tells us that gamers are genuinely interested in what we’re doing and are enjoying the fun gameplay that we’ve created,” explained Rubin.

How Ubisoft plans to fix and balance XDefiant

However, while a lot of people have hopped into Ubisoft’s new F2P shooter, there have been some complaints from players about hit registration issues and desyncing problems. Basically, players are sharing clips of being killed behind a wall because on the other player’s screen they hadn’t made it to safety yet. Or they’re sharing videos of players being shot, but not taking damage as you would expect.

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“We’ve had a great launch so far, but it has come with some issues. We own that and we’re not trying to hide from it,” said Rubin.

“This is the first FPS powered by the Snowdrop engine. So with that comes a lot of work to reconfigure the engine. And we’re finding new things all the time. There are growing pains, but in a good way for this team.”

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Rubin further added that as a “live game” the real work is just beginning and they “absolutely” will continue to fix, tune, and improve “every part” of XDefiant.

With millions of players yelling online about problems, balance, and changes, I wondered what Ubisoft’s philosophy was for updating XDefiant and possibly changing its meta with a patch. Creative director Safy Saada explains that the team waits long enough to get plenty of data and then combines that with player feedback.

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“As XDefiant evolves, we will keep finetuning the game,” said Saada. “We know we’ll always have [an] evolving meta and that’s a key element for this type of game.”

Saada says every time the team adds something new, like a faction or weapon, they’ll “probably have to rebalance” existing content. The creative director did confirm with Kotaku that Ubisoft plans to use “private test servers” in the future to “ensure its first iteration” of a change is as balanced as possible.

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Bunny hopping in XDefiant isn’t going anywhere

One hot topic among the playerbase right now is bunny hopping in XDefiant. This is the act of players hopping up and down in different directions in firefights. At launch, players complained it was too easy to bunny hop and get kills, so in a recent patch (which went live after this interview) Ubisoft added some aiming accuracy penalties to b-hopping. But many players are still not happy about the current jumping meta.

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“The intent of our movement has always been clear to us. We want there to be a skill gap,” said Rubin. “We also want there to be players saying, ‘I’m learning, I’m getting better at this game, I’m learning how to use the tools that the game has.’”

Rubin confirmed to Kotaku that it won’t be “nerfing” bunny hopping “into the ground.” But, as we saw with the recent accuracy penalty update, the team is still tweaking movement and the hops.

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“We had an intent. And looking at that intent, we realized there were some things that needed to be adjusted,” said Rubin. “We’re adjusting the attributes on things like jump and other parts of the game to better suit the intended design that we wanted. Our intent was to always have XDefiant be a skilled FPS with good clean feeling movement that’s not overly complex, but is fun to master.”

Making XDefiant’s fan-favorite maps

The game’s various maps are one area of XDefiant that has received near-universal praise from fans and critics alike. While a couple of them aren’t as great as the rest—looking at you “Times Square”—the majority of XDefiant’s 14 maps are fantastic, rivaling the maps found in many other popular shooters.

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Saada says he and the team are “super happy” about how XDefiant’s maps have been so well received by the community. According to the creative director, the maps in XDefiant are one of the game’s “key pillars.” I asked Ubisoft what goes into making a good arena shooter map, and Saada told me the team always tries to “start simple” and that the devs “really wanted to go back” to the original three-lane maps found in older Call of Duty games and similar shooters of the era.

“Then, the interesting part is bringing in what’s fun about the Ubisoft IPs we’re using,” said Saada.

In the game’s next season, starting on July 2, Clubhouse from Rainbow Six Siege will be added to XDefiant. And while that Ubisoft tactical shooter is known for its destructible environments, XDefiant can’t match that kind of gameplay. However, Ubisoft still found a way to “celebrate” the game and its destruction.

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“[Clubhouse in XDefiant looks] like an R6 match just happened, with a lot of holes in the walls and floors as a part of the way we designed our lanes,” explained Saada. “So it’s really about mixing iconic flavors and elements from our titles with solid proven designs.”

The challenges of making something like XDefiant

A lot of work goes into developing, launching, and then maintaining an online video game. I asked if Saada thinks players don’t realize how complicated these games are to develop, and he said that players know more today than 20 years ago.

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Saada also said that even the team, made up of experienced devs, didn’t quite realize the “amount of work” involved with a game like XDefiant until they actually started to make it. He also said that while making a game like this takes a lot of time and energy, it’s also a “very fascinating” process.

“To start with just an idea and work all the way to the point where it gets in the hands of players and then making that idea evolve while experiencing it with the players, it’s a fascinating process,” said Saada.

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XDefiant is out now on Xbox Series X/S, PS5, and PC. Its new season starts on July 1.

We also spoke to Ubisoft about how it picks which factions to add to XDefiant and if the panda dancer from Just Dance will arrive in the FPS one day.

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