Rage Interview – Tim Willits, Creative Director
Written Saturday, May 08, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Rage was announced way back in 2007 and was originally slated to be published by EA. That was until Zenimax snapped up id Software and managed to wrangle the publishing deal from out of EA's grasp and it now makes up a portfolio of exceptionally impressive titles.
Three years later and Rage is in incredible shape, with its asteroid-ravaged desert wastelands uniquely textured and filled with a variety of weird and wonderful characters. Running almost as well on 360 and PS3 as its PC counterpart, thanks in no small part to the efforts of programming virtuoso, id co-founder and Technical Director, John Carmack, in developing id Tech 5.
Meeting up with Rage's Creative Director, Tim Willits in Paris to talk about the game, we found him to be incredibly open, affable and passionate about id's most “awesome” project to date and what should be their best game since Doom 3.
Awesome has been the defining word for Rage today. What would you say are the most awesome things about Rage?
I think probably the coolest thing – I can use cool – is really all the uniqueness and the variety to the gameplay. Like I say, at the core of a first-person shooter is that moment to moment interaction – you're holding a gun, you pull the trigger and something happens – that's key, but the vehicle - racing that, going onto Mutant Bash TV, finding the sewers around the wasteland, there's so much variety, you just won't get bored and that's really important to me.
Tell us a little bit more about Mutant Bash TV. We didn't see any of that in today's demo.
It's a neat aside that's kinda part of the main mission, but there is an old TV producer that now lives in the wasteland, and he has set up this Running Man-type arena. In the game, you need a new car, but the only way to get that, is in a sponsored race and you'll need to get sponsorships from him. So, you go meet him and he says, “yes, I'll sponsor you, but you have to compete in Mutant Bash TV.”
Then you'll play Mutant Bash TV and based on how well you do, you can get more money depending on how fast you get through it and how many kills you have. Then at the end of that, you can get your sponsorship and off you go. But if you want, you can stay and keep playing again and again and he'll send you off on another side mission. It's a neat little example of the variety, the uniqueness and the “oh wow, that's kinda cool” aspect to Rage.
In relation to Rage's uniqueness, what has the id Tech 5 enabled you to do that just wouldn't have been possible with id Tech 4?
The cornerstone of id Tech 5 is the mega texture technology, where we're basically able to paint everything uniquely. When we had that, we knew the world was going to be unique, we had to make sure we had unique bandits and we had to have unique mutants.
Because the textures need a little more tech now, they basically get streamed in. We have memory that's available to make sure we have a lot more characters, like in Wellspring, everybody is essentially different. We have more bandit mutant clans, just because we have that variety.
We're really more limited by how much we can get done in the time we've got to get things done, than we are by the technology. We can carry on and make the world unique until the day we ship, and it won't have any impact on performance.
What's been the most challenging aspect in making Rage so far?
When we set out to do Rage, we knew we had to do something different. With Doom, Wolfenstein and Quake it was all demons, Nazis and aliens, and we needed to make sure that Rage felt new.
So there's all of the other things that sit on top of this hardcore first-person game that was really the biggest challenge for us. For instance, when we set out to work on the game's combat, it was the first thing we did. We knew we could do the first-person stuff well. So there's that, and then we have a whole bunch of new characters and a much deeper story, so it's just been challenging putting all those things together.
Because there's more than one unique aspect to Rage that aren't necessarily groundbreaking by themselves, when you put them all in one package and you get it all to work and fit, so that players feel that it makes sense to be switching between different types of gameplay. Getting it all to gel has probably been the biggest challenge, but it's been the most fun too.
id is considered one of very few studios around that has a legendary status. Do you ever feel that you're under added pressure as a result?
When they say legendary, I think, “oh my god. How old are you?” And we all have so many kids too.
Yeah, it's awkward, but we do have a pedigree with Doom, Wolfenstein – you know, we invented the genre – so, yes. Everything we do gets scrutinised to the nth degree, but that is thrilling. And we knew that when we started Rage, because it had to stand up against Doom, Wolfenstein and Quake, we needed to make it awesome or cool or great.
There is that legacy to deal with, but it also allows us to do something like Rage, something new, you know? And we have that fanbase – for lack of a better word – and we have people who know John Carmack and know the guys, so they'll spend more time figuring out, “OK. What is that you're doing that's new?” So it's a blessing and it's a curse, but listen, I would much rather be well-known and criticised than not known at all.
The id pedigree, as you say, is purely in the first-person genre. Do you think there will ever be a day when id branch out into other genres and try something different or will you always be a first-person shooter studio?
Yes, we're a first-person studio and I've had that question in the past. It's like asking Ford, “are you gonna start making aeroplanes?” No, we make cars. But we could do other things as a first-person experience like the vehicle stuff and a lot of other aspects of the game.
But the important thing is that - even though we have things like the driving stuff - the feedback that you have when you play first-person translates to the cars. When you get in it, the controls are pretty straightforward. Gas, brake... It's not fancy or Gran Turismo you know? It's straightforward. You've got that boost button that kinda straightens you out, you fire the guns, shoot and blow something up. You know, that feeling translates to all aspects of the game and for us that's what's important.
Rage looks like it pushes the envelope in terms of the FPS, but what do you see being the future of the genre beyond Rage and the current crop of first-person shooters?
I think for the long-term, you're going to find much more community, much more people playing together. I would like to see something like a Rage world that you play with a number of people, not really like an MMO, but as a game that's based on what other players do that affects the storyline. That, I think in the future would be very interesting as well.
So, a co-op experience where you and the other players are moulding and shaping the narrative as you progress?
Yeah. And it's not just pre-programmed for you. You're not just going through it. Like say the last guy that happened to play, went into Wellspring and shot somebody, so when you go to Wellspring it'd be like, “some guy came into town and shot Crazy Joe!” so then other stuff changes. Some type of evolution like that down the road would be really neat.
We've got to ask how you've managed to get Rage running so well on the consoles. What kind of trickery did you have to employ?
Well, the short answer is that John (Carmack) is so freakin' smart. The long answer is the advantages that we have with id Tech 5 meant that when the guys set out to make it as a reboot, they could start from the ground up. They were able to look at PS3, 360 and PC and leverage that hardware to build it from the ground up.
Now, if you take pre-existing technology and try shoving it into another console, it's always a mess. There are trade-offs that we have taken with the Xbox 360. It doesn't have every graphical feature you have in the other games. We can do any graphic thing, but just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should do it. There are trade-offs, but it's still really a fresh start and we have great artists. Rage is truly art.
That's actually what I immediately thought when I first saw Rage. I thought it looked like concept art brought to life. Was that intentional and do you always know when you have something special like that?
We're usually in fear and panic most of the time, and we'll be like, “oh, this is great” but every time we see a graphical issue – and trust me, there are some issues with that, which John needs to work through – but when I see them, I'm like, “whoa!” But, luckily from the feedback I've gotten, some of the issues weren't really seen, but then we're not alpha yet and we have a good, strong footing on all the consoles. We just need to improve performance, get the bugs worked out and finish the game up.
Was there anything that got left on the drawing board for Rage that you wanted to do, but just couldn't?
Um... No. John put in just about everything. Maybe jetskis. There was very brief talk about having a big lake and then we could have jetskis!
OK. Now this is the part where I have to ask the obligatory Doom 4 question.
Oh yes. Still working on it! It's gonna be cool. It's gonna be awesome. Hopefully, it'll be even more awesome than Rage. For us as a company, every game needs to be better than the last. I truly believe that Rage is the best game we've ever made. When we made Doom 3 I said, Doom 3 is the best game we've ever made and Rage will be better. Hopefully. Doom 4 needs to be even more awesome than Rage.
With Doom though, do you feel that you're somewhat restricted by the series' heritage? I mean you really have to stick with the corridor stuff, right?
Ooh, yeah – that's definitely not a question for me. But those guys have a great handle on it, and I promise you it'll be cool.
It's just hard to picture an open-world Doom.
Well, you never know. You'll just have to wait and see!
Rage is set to release some time in 2011.