Tom Willits On RAGE And The Industry
When it comes to developer heavyweights they don't come much bigger than id Software. The company not only kickstarting the entire FPS genre that has spawned so many great titles over the years, but they are also behind some of the biggest and most beloved franchises in gaming including Doom, Commander Keen, Quake and are on the verge of releasing RAGE.
You can imagine how nervous I was to sit down with the man who has been a core element to some of my favourite gaming experiences, but Tim was more than happy to have a chat about id Software, RAGE and the industry in general.
Listen to the interview or keep on reading
When I first started following RAGE it was just the engine that the guys were building, before a game had been announced. Was the concept of RAGE there while the engine was being created, or did it come out of what you guys had been working on?
When we first showed off the engine we were independent at the time. We had great success at licensing our previous techs, but we never had someone actually working at id who was in charge of licensing. So we thought you know, it's a brand new technology, it's cross platform we should actually build up a group of people to actually work around licensing, which was never something we had ever been really big into.
So we were working on a completely different game. It was kinda a survival horror type game, codenamed Darkeness. John (Carmack) was finalising work on the mega-texturing technology and he actually created this landscape area with geographic data he download from NASA. When I saw that I was like "that's cool!" We can have these missions that are in this huge landscape that you can drive around in. We can have muscle cars with guns, I was thinking Mad Max in my mind so that's kinda how the game shifted.
So we just quit everything we were doing, which takes some cajones to throw a year plus of stuff away and we started working on RAGE. It took us longer to come up with a name than to come up with the game idea. So that's kinda how we came up to RAGE, it was one of those kinda eureka! Oh Shit! moments and everything just kinda fell into place.
Then once we figured out that we wanted muscle cars, sci-fi and gun elements we knew we had to go post-apocalyptic with it, that's the only way to do it. So then we had to decide how we were going to destroy the Earth, and then Robert Duffy, our program director came up with the asteroid. Apophis is a real asteroid, that is really going to pass by Earth at the exact moment that it hits Earth in the game.
Then we came up with the name RAGE because there is road rage, and the word garage has rage in it and we were lucky enough at the time that the company that had rage let it expire. So we filed for cancellation and we filed to register it, so the day it was cancelled we were first in line and able to pick it up.
In terms of your previous projects such as Quake and Doom, this is much larger in scope with a lot more depth to it. Was that challenging to branch out from what you guys already do so well and known for to create that?
It was way more challenging than you think, especially with the driving. I've said this before - I have way more respect for the guys who make those driving games, that shit's hard! Through iteration and prototyping, we went through a tonne of different vehicle and handling physics, front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, different torque tables, differential - I know more about a car works than I would have ever imagined.
I do think we got a good balance. The physics aren't realistic, you can jump and air control and it's just more fun. You have to do quick turns to shoot and also make it so you could race it. Vehicle combat and vehicle racing are totally different, so we worked really hard not to change up the physics between out in the wasteland and in the racing. We do actually speed you up a little tiny bit in the racing, but the handling is the same, and that was way harder to do than anyone could ever imagine, but I really think we nailed it.
I guess a lot of people would see you as primarily a PC developer, it's where you started. Can the PC guys expect a very similar experience to the console version of RAGE?
Yes. Yeah that's one of the great things about the engine - all the textures, characters, models, number of AI in a room, it's identical between all the systems. So really it doesn't matter which platform you play the game on.
Everyone asks me - so what's the difference between the PC version and the other versions. The only thing you can do on the PC which you can't do on the consoles is run it a high resolution, you can turn on anti-aliasing because it has so much more video memory. You can turn on the AK textures, to make textures sharper that are farther out, and then if you have extra cores on your PC you can take those cores and apply them to transcoding - so you know when you whip around real quick? The textures come in faster.
Is it going to support mods?
Yes, just on the PC version. To make mods you'll need a 64bit OS, and you'll need to download a 64bit executable. When we ship, we're going to ship it with a 32bit executable. But then the tools, they only run on 64bit.
Hopefully the tools, that's Robert Duffy, we gotta work out some DLC stuff, hopefully he'll get it out sooner than later, but he's the guy responsible for getting that out, we'll blame him if its late.
I guess you guys are attuned to the indie community mainly because you offer all your technology under open source. Now when we're seeing this indie movement, there's a lot of good indie games coming out. Do you think that keeps a lot of big developers on their toes, and constantly searching for new ideas?
We don't look to those games for ideas because we have way more ideas than we know what to do with, but it's always exciting. There's some awesome games out there, there's some XBLA games that are super awesome, some iPhone games are great. I'm still iffy on the whole Facebook games, but there are some cool games out there but it's still difficult for independent developers to make a lot of money.
The big titles - Gears of War, RAGE, Battlefield, Modern Warfare 3 - those are the big titles, those make noise. It's even difficult for the other console guys to make a lot of money, and the on the iPhone, mobile games, so many of them are free that getting someone to give you a dollar is actually a lot more tricky than you would think. So sometimes those games can be great but they don't generate enough revenue.
So then there's social gaming, and they're also dominated by a few kings in the field. There's more opportunities for people to go in different directions than there was in the past, but it's still tough.
So how do you feel about digital distribution services picking up such as Steam?
I think it's great, I mean I'm digital distribution man all the way. Yes, I still support EB and Gamestop but we have no idea what the next consoles have in mind for us. But I predict - it may not be this next console, but it will probably be the one after that we won't have any media, it will all be cloud-based. You know that's just the way, cloud-based everything is the future.
For us it helps curb piracy, it keeps all your stuff and you don't lose it. I have the uber Steam account, I'll be honest. I have friends at Valve, I have the uber Steam account and it's awesome, it is awesome! I mean everywhere I go I get all the cool shit on any computer that I'm on. It's not really cloud-based but it's kinda like that, and that is the way to go.
Looking back id started as with a Mario Bros 3 game and all that, then you look at games like Commander Keen and then you jump forward to RAGE - can you believe that's where it all started and you've come so far? Where do you think that you guys are going to head into the future?
That's one great thing about id - John Carmack, John Carmack is the great thing about id. He is the same dude that he has been for twenty years - he comes to work every day, he sits down and he programs. I've been there a long time, Kevin Cloud a long time, Hooper, Duffy - it's really the same guys. Luckily we started when we were really young. Hopefully we just keep making really good stuff. John's not slowing down, and in a keynote at Quakecon in August John said out of all the games that he had made, he thinks that RAGE is the most fun to play. You know John does not blow smoke up anyone's ass, he doesn't lie and that was awesome, that was really great for him to say that. So I believe the future is really, really bright - not just for us but for the whole industry.
Anytime a game can sell twenty-five million copies, regardless of what kind of game it is, that's good for all of us. It's a great time to be in the industry, and I just think it's going to get even better.
RAGE is due for release here on October 6th. Check out our RAGE discussion for more info.
By Stephen Heller