Talking RAGE's gameplay, PC graphics, and the old Duke-Doom rivalry with id's Jason Kim
Apr 20, 2011
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PC Gamer field operative Chris Comiskey recently invaded a top-secret Bethesda compound buried deep beneath the arctic wastes. After accosting and subduing numerous guards with their own boxer shorts, Chris was apprehended just outside of Senior Producer Jason Kim's office when he tripped over a discarded Snickers bar wrapper. Knowing he was defeated, Chris requested that before being drowned in a giant vat of delicious hot chocolate, he might have the chance to ask Mr. Kim everything he knew about the upcoming id Shooter: RAGE. Mr. Kim agreed, and the below interview was smuggled out via a hidden, chilled carrier pigeon. Chris has not been heard from since.
PC Gamer: How has RAGE's development differed from older id games?
Jason Kim: The main differences was that we needed a lot more people to make RAGE than we've ever needed for past projects.
PCG: How many people? 50? 100?
I won't give you an exact number, but its nearing 80. It's about four times more than we had for Doom 3 when that was in development. When we start making a game, we start from the ground up with the technology. It's awesome to have John Carmack. We also have a team of other programmers that are smart for gameplay and systems and now we have the ability to make the entire world on a per-pixel level unique.
PCG: For the multiplayer combat rally mode—where players race around in vehicles and blast each other silly, collecting points for kills and staying alive—is there going to be any sort of FPS driving mode? It looked like it might all third-person.
JK: You mean different camera views? We had toyed with the idea. We aren't going to do an in-cockpit [view] because we aren't going to be a driving simulation racer.
PCG: So it'll be more Twisted Metal style?
JK: We want it to be very [arcade-y], with upgrades for the vehicles to make them feel more stable and beef up the armor, and items and more weapons and better ways to kill you opponent. We want to stick to that, we want to stay on the action side, and we want to stay on the arcade feel of the vehicles because we want you to have that as an extension of the FPS combat experience. We certainly know well that you can't go guns a blazing and kill 10 guys with the pistol... so the vehicles go the same way, arcade-y. We gave them some options with different weapons with upgrades, but we still keep it on that action side.
PCG: Is there going to be a vehicle mode in the multiplayer co-op missions? Or are vehicles specifically for the combat rally deathmatch portion?
JK: [In terms of online,] the vehicle rally-mode—is the [only multiplayer] vehicle mode.
PCG: So in co-op, you won't, for example, be running alongside a buggy as your friend drives it?
JK: No, we made a conscious decision there. Opportunities do exist all over when we're talking about RAGE, and [some of] the fun things we can do... [but] there are so many different things we can do, it's almost too much freedom to be able to do anything. Because you can think of anything and [say,] "Oh yeah, we should do that, it sounds like fun."
But the conscious decision was that this co-op experience needs to be focused. You're doing the same mechanics you had in your first FPS combat experience, but you're using a buddy to help you out, and the cooperative experience is telling you side-portions of the single-player campaign that you wouldn't [otherwise get.] Now you have this texture, this foundation that it belongs in the world and you have a buddy there to help you out. We call it "Legends of the Wasteland," because they actually helped progress you, the player, in the single-player campaign to what culminates to a final battle with the Authority.
PCG: You mentioned that the co-op intertwines with the single-player. So if you play co-op to start with, will it spoil the single-player campaign?
JK: No, because I think we haven't fully decided whether its going to be a progression you unlock as you go, or if it'll be opened in chunks. Even if you were able to play the entire thing, it won't spoil what you ultimately do in the single-player campaign, because these are little story-nuggets that can't stand on their own. They're an additive to giving you an understanding of where [your allies] came from, so we're not going to spoil the entire game just by playing through the co-op.
PCG: Are there any Easter Eggs that you want to tease at?
JK: There are actually a couple, but we haven't talked about them. Its up to players to recognize them. Those are the fun things: there's no risk, we can do it [so] why not. So we have a couple of other things in there and if players want to go around a look around every corner, they can find these things. Just fun little, almost trivial factoids. “Oh, I recognize what that is.”
PCG: This might be more of a design question, but what's the process for putting a story into an FPS? For example, do you design the game engine so you can make the basic game and build story off of that, or is it story first and you make the game [later?]
JK: Different companies do this in different ways and one of the ways that we've done it in RAGE is that there's a foundation for very high-level of what we want to accomplish. The technology allows us to do certain things... the way to approach making an FPS from id soft where we have a high-level idea of what the story is, and ultimately, as we move forward,and make the next game and the games after that, we want to add more story. We've taken that next big step because in the past we haven't been about story because it was directed, because story didn't matter that much... we [wanted] the player to have a gun in hand, shooting dudes. That's fun. If you can't execute that, hows the story going to help?
But now we want to tell a story. Now we want to tell the narrative. We want that to complement that feeling, that combat feedback that we were known for and are still known for. We married those two things together, and with the technology that allows to create an FPS that's different, that's kind of pushing the boundaries of what we've been comfortable with, because we now have characters in RAGE that are deep and the story does go farther than we've taken things in the past and we want to push those boundaries in further... [we're aiming to make] something that really has a cohesive element from beginning to end.
PCG: Did you surprise yourselves as the story unfolded? Or did you say, "Here is the ending, here is the beginning, and we'll make the game in between."
JK: It's a little of both. We knew the story was cool... we knew we could throw whatever we wanted at this game, and that's the beauty of this fiction... I think at the highest level we knew that it was going to be interesting.
PCG: RAGE is a brightly-colored game, whereas other post-apocalypse games are dry and washed out. Was that a conscious decision, to make a brightly-colored game?
JK: We've [actually] heard two sides to this. We've shown a lot of things that add color, because in the beginning, we showed the wasteland and the vehicle combat and a lot of it is brown because it's in the desert.
PCG: There seemed to be a green filter over all of Fallout 3 . In RAGE, there are distinctive colors here and there.
JK: We have a really powerful tool. It's a post-process. We can create the geometry for the world, paint whatever we want, and in the end, we can put a lightning scheme in that and it's almost too powerful. You can nudge little sliders and numbers all over the place and you can do that for a week and have something look good. But it could've looked good before then, it's just that fine tuning, that artistic visual style—it was a conscious effort to make every piece of the game, because [we had the technology to do so.]... I hope consumers see that and see the distinction between [RAGE] and other games, when it comes to rendering. Because we have a lot of smart people working really late hours to make that look really good.
PCG: So I'm going to put you on the spot: which level is your favorite out of the whole game?
PCG: Favorite level. Gotta be one. Pick which child you love the most. Sorry to do that to you.
JK: There are so many different elements—I'd have to say I'm a sucker for moody; sometimes I like the moody stuff.. but there's a level called “Dead City”... when I walk through that map (it was completely built by an artist hand-in-hand with the designer), it feels amazing, almost like another wasteland. You walk in there, and you see the high rises and the destruction... ultimately, when players see this map... I hope they appreciate the amount of quality and time that went into making that map what it is right now.
PCG: This one is more PC-orientated. How much level of detail can the player adjust in the PC version? Is it just AA, AS, tessellation—can you get down and dirty explinaing these little bitty graphic options?
JK: We haven't confirmed what we're going to put in as far as graphical options for the PC. Of course, people have really powerful computers these days, and you can do so many different things. I'm going to leave that up to John C. and the other smarter groups in the studio to figure out.
Of course, we can do so much there, but does it make sense for the game? I don't think its going to provide an experience far and above what you would create on the console, because when it comes down to it, its not just the visuals—it's a combination of the rendering technology and gameplay and the artistic style that's gone into building RAGE.
So if you're playing the game on your 32” or your 65” badass plasma or LED and you're in your theater room and you're playing it on a console, is that experience going to be less than the badass PC builds? I don't think so. I think PC players will appreciate better fidelity, but I don't think the console players are going to miss out on any of the visual quality, because its just going to look good no matter what you play it on.
PCG: This is a very specific question: who is the currently id Combat Rally champion?
JK: We have a trophy. Our design director wanted to have a trophy that we constantly put people's name on it. So we had a first, second, third. I was kinda the vehicle god, and I'm into racing games and tweaking the settings. It was almost unfair. I don't program or anything, but the programmers give designers and other people the capability of exposing the code to fine-tune how the vehicles react, when you're using the controller.
At the very beginning, I started building some of the tables for the acceleration and how much power the car should have, how much friction it should have. When we started doing these competitions, studio wide, I actually ended up at the top and Tim at one point has to say “Ok Jason, you're excluded from the competition. All you've been doing is setting up these things and [basically] practicing.”
PCG: So after the game is done, would you be open to challenging the public to see if your skills will still be superior.
JK: Oh yeah, absolutely. Its amazing [how some] people get the games and they're masters from day one.
PCG: You're expecting to get stomped.
JK: Oh yeah. It's not like the old days, when we were masters of deathmatch and we were killing all-comers. Right now, the best people at vehicles and probably even the single-player campaign are the QA guys. They're playing this eight hours a day.
PCG: So back in the '90s, there was a big rivalry between Duke Nukem 3D and Doom—is that wrapped up, or is that still around? We've got Duke Nukem Forever coming out, and we've got RAGE coming out. Is there a playful rivalry, or do you guys operate separately and not care about each other anymore?
JK: Its not about "care or not care," because we respect all the developers who are kicking ass right now... I wasn't around for that initial rivalry, but I can tell you... there's no rivalry [now].
But we have a respect and admiration for everybody that makes games, and if they're one of our competitors, [we respect them] that much more...it's an admiration, [which] I think comes from the old days—not just the '90s, but even earlier, where programming was [about teaching] yourself how to program. That's where John [Carmack] comes from. He's putting what he writes, what he does, how he's doing it, in his .plan file. This is way back in the day. And it builds that same mentality, of "we all share."
PCG: One last question. Seeing the Authority and seeing the mutants, are there any other factions or races we can expect to encounter, and if so, are they going to behave differently? Will one be an explosive faction, a team-based cover faction, etc? Will there be different races and tactics?
JK: I would say the big difference [comes down to] the mutants. They're very visceral, they're all in your face, they're more about melee and coming up on you in multiple numbers, and they're very acrobatic. But then we also have Vanage, and we have different clans of Vanage [with subtle differences between them.] Then we have the Authority, they are more militaristic, and will have behaviors that are tuned for combat within groups.
[For instance,] when you have a shield guy, there'll be a guy who takes cover behind him and advances. When the shield goes down, he'll go for his recharge pack to get the shield back, because that provides cover. You can throw a rocket on that and it'll diminish his power, but he knows if he stays put, he's dead. If you can find the weak spots and throw an EMP, the shield goes down and [you'll] take him down quickly—that's a tactic you wouldn't have with the bandits or mutants.
There are [lots of] subtle differences between the bandits, especially the Ghost, Wasted and Gear Heads—they have their own special variety of skills. They're tinkerers, and they make different engineering items and traps; they actually created the traps that you see in Bash TV... Within all the clans, you have subtle differences: you have the Authority that are badass and have the best weapons and best military tactics. With the tools you're given, ammo types and weapons and engineering items, you have to deal with the Authority the best way you can.
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