Chances are that if you like shooting things in the face, you've played a game Tim Willits has been involved in. Now the creative director of id Software, Tim's been busy along with team preparing the studio's first brand new IP in a while: RAGE. We caught up with Tim to ask him a few questions about uncomfortable apocalyptic comparisons, the iPhone and how best to decapitate someone with a spiky boomerang...
Matt Gardner: You’ve already spoken a little bit about id Tech 5 and the desire from within the studio to craft a new IP, but why an apocalyptic shooter? In essence, why RAGE?
Tim Willits: Well, when we came up with the idea for RAGE it was actually before everything else was apocalyptic...that’s what comes of working on a game for too long. When John [Carmack] was finalising the MegaTexture technology we really saw the potential to create much larger outdoor areas that had a unique, hand-crafted look and feel to them, and we wanted to make a game that incorporated them. It was really just a natural progression after that. If we wanted to have cars, we needed to have muscle cars because that was the coolest thing to do, and we had to have machine cars on the muscle cars, so our choices for settings gradually became narrower and narrower. And you know we like to have sci-fi weapons like the BFG, so if we wanted these sci-fi elements and muscle cars and machine guns there was really only one thing we could do. Yeah, we could have put it on an alien planet, but that’s more work than it’s worth.
There’s an asteroid called Apophis, it’s a real asteroid, in space and heading towards Earth. It’ll pass by in around 2036, and we just kind of said ‘Let’s do that!’ and so RAGE actually starts after Apophis has hit the Earth [important citizens having stowed away in cryogenic stasis in Arks so that humanity might rebuild]. Now I’ve heard this asteroid is not going to hit us, but we figured it might be kind of cool to take something realistic and put a fun little spin on it. So the game takes place 70+ years after Apophis hits. That was the basic background for the setting. When it came to destroying the Earth we were like ‘Oh we’ll use an asteroid...there’s one coming anyway!’
MG: Where did the name come from?
TW: (Laughs) Well coming up with a name is much more difficult than coming up with a game! It was available, which was lucky, and we found it just had all of these connotations. So there’s ‘rage against the machine’, you know, rage against the Authority in the game, ‘rage’ is found in the word ‘garage’, there’s ‘road rage’...actually, of all of the titles that we’ve had for games, it probably fits the best.
Jon Lester: We love the word ‘MegaTexture’and it’s come up a couple of times, but it’s also quite a scary word if you’ve not come across it before. Could you briefly tell us a little bit about what it involves, what opportunities and also what challenges this new technology has led to?
TW: Well, we call it ‘MegaTexture’, but it’s actually the ‘virtual texturing system’...though it’s easier to just say ‘MegaTexture’...
JL: It’s also cooler...
TW: (Laughs) Oh, it’s definitely cooler! What we do is we construct the whole world using more or less traditional techniques, we can custom make set pieces, and then once the world background has been created the real magic comes from the stamping. So we have this whole palette of interesting things – from cracks to rusty spots, water effects etc. – and the guys can go in and stamp and just give the whole thing a distinct and unique look and feel that then gets merged into the other textures before being flattened out into one big texture [which needs far less RAM]. Basically, the artists can continue stamping until the day before we ship because there’s no performance hit, and it just adds a unique characteristic and personality to the game.
MG: In terms of the development cycle for this game, RAGE has gone through a few publishers, hasn’t it? To begin with id was set up with EA Partners, then for a brief period it looked like it was all going to be done in house, before you then linked up with Bethesda. What new opportunities has joining the Zenimax family afforded the studio, particularly with regard to this game?
TW: That’s a good question, and [the potential for new opportunities] was actually one of the reasons we joined Bethesda and the Zenimax family. We’d spend so much time on getting the technology right, and in the end a lot of that would get thrown away. But now we can actually build a second team to take advantage of leaps forward in technology. In the past we’d never start a game until the last one was finished, but the next Doom is well under way. It plays great, it looks great so, as you can imagine, that release is going to be quicker...it’s using the same technology, and we just wouldn’t have been able to do that before.
With regard to RAGE, thanks to our partnership with Bethesda we’re able to have a bigger team size, we don’t have to rush the game at all. Before, if we were still private, we would have been scrambling to get this finished, but we can take more time now to make sure we don’t screw it up.
JL: Speaking of Doom, I’m personally a huge fan...
TW: Me too.
JL: I dare say! What influences from previous series are you bringing into RAGE and what surprises can long-term id fans expect to see?
TW: Well we’ll definitely have some easter eggs, maybe a few Bethesda things as well. I mean of course, I’ve been with id since 1995 and I know that some people are worried, like ‘Oh no, you’re doing a new game and there are cars and new things and I’m confused and scared!’ but it’s still very much an id. When you’re standing in front of a bad guy, with your shotgun in your hand, and you’re shooting at him, you’ll see...it’s all id, don’t you worry about that!
So we have good feedback, it’s running at 60 hertz and there’s a good solid feel to the game, because you know some games can feel a little floaty, there’s a traditional id feel to the game that I’m happy about. So at its core it’s true to the id Software fans but it definitely does much more than the average FPS.
MG: With the FPS action being classic id, a forte of the studio as we’ve seen over the years, the vehicles, as you’ve mentioned, are new. Why did you want to incorporate vehicles and vehicular combat into the game and how did you go about breaking this new ground as a studio?
TW: Well a lot of games they build these really cool outer areas, but you don’t really see them, you just fast travel through them, or the vehicles are on rails which is horrible. So we realised this was something we wanted to do and started working it early, and obviously it was completely new for us. And it was hard! I mean, I now have so much respect for, like, the Motorstorm guys than I ever had before, those guys are smart guys!
But we wanted to make the vehicles as approachable in this first-person game as possible, so when we ran into fork-in-the-road situations between realism and fun...we went the fun route. So when you hit a jump in RAGE, you can have a bit of air control, which isn’t realistic at all, but it’s way more fun. The vehicles are a little bit over the top, they’re a little bit arcade with a straight-forward interface and control scheme. I mean we don’t hit you over the head with it, we don’t make you go on races you don’t want to go on or force you to spend hours behind the wheel. It’s supplemental to the experience: if you like it, there’ll be opportunities for you to do more, but you won’t have to if you don’t.
MG: How far will you be able to customise your vehicle in the game?
TW: Well, we’re not talking like huge spoilers or body work, but mainly weapons, armour and additional useful items and tools you can use...it’s more about the guns than Pimp My Ride.
JL: John Carmack kind of blew us all away when he showed RAGE running on an iPhone and we’ve heard that there may well be a RAGE release on the iPhone or maybe even a prologue, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
TW: Well the plan for the iPhone is to release a micro-game, a kind of step up from a tech demo, it’s just a small subset of what the RAGE universe is. What’s neat about RAGE is that the universe it inhabits is so big, and this particular game takes place in a small sub-section of that universe. There’s a part of RAGE where you have a couple of missions where you go somewhere, I don’t want to give too much away, and there’s a unique experience and then you’re back. But the iPhone thing just revolves around that little unique experience, you’re not even the same guy, but it gives a flavour of what RAGE is and incorporates some of the core MegaTexture technology.
MG: You’ve spoken a little bit about The Authority [the oppressive governing body], but what else can you tell us about the narrative and the story of RAGE?
TW: Well I don’t want to go into too much detail because we have to hold some stuff back, but one thing that is interesting about the game, that most sites miss even though I tell them to put it in...
JL: We’ll put it in...
MG: In bold...
TW: (Laughs) Well there’s this neat little hook. Now you, as an Ark survivor, are injected with Nanotrites, which are a little like microbots and they work with your regen system and your defib system and your HUD system. But Nanotrite technology is something The Authority has also been experimenting with. So even though you are from the past, you have this futuristic technology so you’re kind of like Buck Rogers, and we like that juxtaposition between the high-tech hero and the low-tech world. But the Nanotrites bleed into the story of The Authority and the origins of the mutants – where the mutation came from – but there are also ties to Apophis too, there’s a mineral embedded in the asteroid that proves quite important. So it’s not just a story of ‘Oh these guys are assholes!’ there are many intertwining arcs and pieces that fit together...it’s really quite crafty.
JL: We have to mention it, but there’s a small, yet vocal, segment of the community looking at RAGE right now at saying ‘Oh this looks like Borderlands or Fallout 3...’ What would you say to them directly?
TW: Well the Borderlands comment is kind of funny. We joke about it now because that game takes place on an alien planet...maybe it’s because there’s orange on the box, I guess. So that’s just silly. As for Fallout 3, that’s a great game, but it’s an RPG. There’s encumbrance, you build up a personal character, whereas with RAGE there are no stats to build up, it’s all about weapons and ammo types and useful items and vehicles. I feel like those games are great, I like them too, but RAGE is definitely a unique experience.
MG: We’ll get kicked if we don’t ask, but is there anything you can tell us about the multiplayer aspect of the game?
TW: (Laughs) No...early next year maybe. I can tell you that it’ll be very RAGE-y, and different to what we’ve done in the past. Each of our titles has its own unique multiplayer, so we want to make RAGE unique as well. If you sit down and think about it, you can probably work out what it’ll be like but we won’t be talking about it until next year.
JL: Just quickly, speaking as a fan, is there any chance that down the line we might see a sequel or spiritual sequel to the original Quake?
TW: Ah...you never know. Quake definitely has an identity crisis to it. Each one has a different appeal, I mean the first one was just crazy, over the top...man I have no idea what we were doing back then. But yeah...maybe someday, that’d be fun.
JL: Ok...so the big question we always like to ask: What, in your opinion, is the most badass, most ridiculous and jaw-dropping thing about RAGE?
TW: Well, and this probably a bad answer, but for me it’s about how it all fits together. We have lots of little things that are really cool, but the whole experience of everything comes together is probably my favourite. I mean you probably want me to say, like, a rocket launcher...
MG: The Wingstick [three pronged sharpened boomerang] is pretty cool...
TW: Oh yeah, the Wingstick’s awesome. There was actually a code bug where it became active at a certain distance. So you’d throw it out but it wouldn’t hit anyone close-up because it wouldn’t be active but then, on the way back, it’d activate and guys would rush at us and then they’d get hit as the Wingstick came back and they’d fall over forwards at our feet with the Wingstick stuck in the backs of their heads. It was a bug, but we thought ‘Oh man that’s awesome!! We’re keeping that in!’.
That is awesome! Huge thanks to Tim for taking the time to chat to us. Are you excited for RAGE? Let us know in the comments below or why not check out Jon’s Gamescom preview for more!