What sort of man should I expect Tim Willits, the Creative Director for Rage, to be? Perhaps a slobbish Comic Book Guy style stereotype, given his hardcore PC gaming background. Then again, he worked on the Doom and Quake games; so perhaps you would expect an aloof business type, corrupted by the astounding success of id.
When I meet him, Tim Willits is neither of these things. He’s a casually dressed, casually spoken guy who shows deserved pride in id’s heritage, and genuine enthusiasm for his new game Rage. Speaking of which; is it an FPS game with vehicle elements, or a vehicle game with FPS elements?
“It’s a first person game.” he affirms. “If you’re familiar with id software you know you’re running around shooting bad guys; a great feel, great weapons…the vehicle combat and vehicle racing stuff is adding to the experience. I think the confusion came in the beginning when we talked a lot about the racing and vehicle combat, and it kind of got skewed in the wrong direction. It is at its core a first person game; if you’re a fan of id software, don’t stress about the game. We’ve made the vehicle combat and racing as intuitive as possible for first person shooters; it’s very straightforward, normal controls. Whenever we ran into a situation where we could use realistic vehicle physics or fun vehicle physics, we went the fun way. For instance you get air control when you come off a jump; which isn’t realistic, but way more fun.
If you’re the type of gamer who enjoys racing around the wasteland hunting bandits or doing the races, you can spend quite a bit of time doing that. If you’re the type of player who just wants to go with the story, you don’t really like that driving around business, you can just use it to go from point A to point B and then get on with the hardcore first person action. There is player choice, and the story is open but directed. So there’s a story arc that you follow, but we give you opportunities to go on side missions, and mod stuff, things of that nature.”
So it’s something of a departure from previous id games?
“We’ve tried to mix up the weapons and ammo types, we have engineering items… we have mutant bandits in the clan authority that you fight against. Every new environment that you go into we give you something new to play with whether that’s a weapon, ammo type, or engineering item. Those things are all fun and grand, and they add to the experience; but when you have that shotgun in your hand, and it’s just you and a bad guy; you pull that trigger, and that is classic id software. It’s true to the id fans, but trying to branch out and expand the experience, and definitely trying to reach more fans. Could we be seeing the birth of a new franchise here, I wonder?
“I sure hope it is! The universes that the other games exist in are actually pretty narrowly defined. In Doom, all it is is scientists opening a doorway into hell, you’ve gotta stop it. But with Rage, we’ve tried to make a whole world. As a player you can imagine things happened before you got there, things will happen after you leave. The game world is rich enough for us to give us leverage for things like the iphone. We’re going to have an iphone release this Fall; it’s not going to be the Rage game, but a very small subset. It actually revolves around just a fragment of what you experience in the real game. If you don’t have a rich universe, you can’t do that.”
Running around a post – apocalyptic world shooting things is not a new idea in today’s industry; but Willits is confident Rage will avoid a feeling of same old same old.
“That’s one of the reasons it’s difficult working on games as long as we do. When I started working on this, there were no post apocalyptic games out. It’s not Fallout 3, it’s not an RPG – and it’s not just a corridor shooter. I think when people see it and experience it, it will definitely stand apart.”
Speaking of corridor shooters, you might think that perhaps he regrets making games that are so easily pigeonholed into that often reviled genre…
“No. Trust me, any game where you pick up a shotgun; doesn’t matter if you’re Call of Duty or you’re Crysis. You need to thank id software for that. There is very little I would do differently. Rage does offer something more; there are corridors you run around and shoot stuff in, but it offers much more than that.”
I almost feel sorry for Willits when I ask him if that means we’ll never see another corridor shooter from his studio. The initial answer is ‘Eeerrrrr.. hmm.’ before he settles for “It may be too early to answer that question. We’ll wait and see. I mean, doing the classic corridor shooter is still fun.”
“I don’t know anything about the next generation of consoles, but you may see them without optical discs.” he says, on another subject regarding the future. “It would definitely help with piracy, and anything we can do to fight piracy and give people the options of games on demand, you know, is a win – win for everybody. It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds. But games have gotten bigger. Rage is gonna be a big – ass game, and downloading all that may take a while.”
Though id have been keen to stress that all three versions of Rage will look and play exactly the same, it’s inevitable that a monster PC will have the best looking version. But how much better will that be?
“Well they all run at 60 hertz, but the thing that you get with Rage if you have a PC, is you can up the texture resolution. Then you can increase the texture buffer size, so you can get sharper textures sooner; but that’s pretty much it.”
I have no luck trying to squeeze even the tiniest piece of information about multiplayer out of Willits, though he does tell me “We want to make sure it’s good, and we need to make sure it’s different to what we’ve done in the past.”
“Well, the remote control car bomb from Black Ops” is one of the ideas in Rage that has since appeared in another game; but he assures me that he doesn’t worry about that sort of thing “too much!”. Looking at other games already on shop shelves, which ones does he admire?
“Well, I’m a big Modern Warfare 2 fan, like everyone else. I’ve actually made sure that the jump button is the same button. If 20 million people learn where the jump button is, don’t fucking change it! There’s lots of good games out right now. Red Dead Redemption’s good… there’s some pretty exciting games out there I’m waiting to play. I want to get a Kinect for the kids.”
Ah yes, motion control. It was Nintendo that started the trend of course, but id games are notable by their absence from the Wii lineup. Presumably this is down to issues of processing power?
“Mostly yes. And it’s not really our market. We have to focus on things that we can do well.”
So we’ll never see id titles on the Wii? He really doesn’t think they’d sell?
“It’s not worth it. We want to focus on the big three. Yes, I know the Wii’s the big one, it’s huge; but for us and the games we want to make, how we want to make them, we feel that the PC, the 360 and the PS3 are the main staples for it.”
“It’s still the most accurate form of aiming, but I play all my games with a controller now. I like it; I can sit on my couch, put my feet up. If you give me the choice of buying it on the PC or the 360, I’ll buy it on the 360. There are lots of big games that have proven that first person shooters can be successful on the consoles. I enjoy it. I only play Rage with a controller.”
“I’ve tried to get everyone on the team involved in the design process, so influence has come from lots of different sources.” he says, when asked to pinpoint influences on Rage. “Obviously you can see Mad Max in the world, but it has a definite ‘Rage’ feel. It will have a unique look, and definitely stand apart.”
Willits’ team is “A little over sixty”, which surprised me slightly; that makes it the same size as the notoriously small LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule “We’ve always been small. It’s really a core group of guys that make up the team, and everyone else kind of supports them. That core group has always been a dozen or so people, and that’s really the balance that developers need to maintain. Grab a core, focus on the core, and then build it up. Having more people doesn’t necessarily make your game any better or get it made any faster. You need to go for that core.
We have a good working environment, we make great games, you know, we’re all very close. It’s an environment that people want to stay in, we have a good turnover. It’s really worked out well for us.”
Surely being a bigshot at id software means there’s a danger people are afraid to tell him when his ideas are bad?
“No, trust me – lots of people tell me I have bad ideas! Make no mistake; most ideas I come up with are bad. I come up with more bad ideas than anybody I know. There will never be a time when people will not tell me my ideas are bad. If all my ideas were good, I’d be rich!” he says. I’m tempted to say something about children with no shoes, or possibly starving game developers; but resist the urge.
Compared to when he first started out in the industry, “I definitely have much more say. When I started I was a level designer, I just did what I wanted to do. Now I have to manage over sixty people and move them in one direction. It’s definitely much more exciting, much more rewarding. But sometimes I do miss making maps.”
And finally: one of the current trends for FPS games seems to be open worlds. What does Willits see as being the future of shooters?
“Well for Rage, it’s open but directed. It’s not an open world. The social aspect of gaming is big. I think you’re going to see a lot more people connecting with one another; game developers will make singleplayer games that have much more impact on what your friends are doing. You’re not going to play at the same time, but I can see the consequences of what you do in other people’s games – their universe. There is a lot more to the social aspect of gaming that I think we need to explore.”