Rage Developer InterviewBy Abbie Heppe - Posted May 04, 2010
As an added bonus to this morning's preview, here’s a conversation Adam and I had with Rage producer Jason Kim (with special cameo by id co-owner Tim Willits). Question-wise, Adam says all of the smart things, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around procedural animation in the game…
G4: I want to start with the feature Adam brought up during the demo: Nanotrytes.
Jason Kim: There’s a feature in the game where its a little frustrating when you die and you don’t have a way to get back in the action right away, so what we decided to do was to have this ability for the Nanotryte fiction to be able to have some sort of automated defibrillating, bringing your heart back to life. So you'll be able, if you're down, to energize your Nanotrytes to bring you back. You'll be revived, and you can control this in a little mini-game sequence, and when you do that you'll see enemies that killed you, kick you and say, “Is he dead?” But when you come back to life, you lay them to waste and you're back in the action.
G4: The demo showed how dynamic the enemies are and I said “OK, if I die, am I going to be interacting with the enemies in the same way?” But I guess that doesn't matter now because you'll be standing in the same spot.
JK: It’s more like I’ve fallen and I can't get up, but I’ve re-energized myself so now I’m back in the action. And what happens is the enemies around you will get electrocuted from the surge of energy. We also wanted to utilize the economy and have it really work with the fiction in a meaningful way, so instead of having it all the time, the charge will only work a few times, and there’s an ability with upgrades that allows you to have one charge at first then the ability to have a couple at a time. If it’s a hard battle, you'll need more. And they'll recycle and recharge, but you need time to do it.
G4: I’m trying to get a sense of the scope of the game, I don’t want to say how "long," but by looking at some of the games out there like Fallout, it's about how much realistic environment there is. Is that a fair comparison?
JK: We wanted to keep the action orient for the game clear and present, so it wasn't about trying to go to some far out territory, finding some things, then going back and selling them. So we do have the openness, but its not going to be a trek to some territory and back. It’s enough to have the open environment but be directed to these spots to pursue the story and the different opportunities to pick up these side missions on the way -- interesting nuggets of gameplay that you'll encounter that help to bring some of the side story elements together and not the main story.
G4: I think you're saying where you have some of the RPG elements, you've taken out the in-between. You have the vastness but you're always engaged, it’s very visceral. The first clan we see in the Well map was awesome but you're talking about how the other clans are different. How large are the variations in the clans?
JK: The other map you saw was Dam Facility. And there are 2 clans you saw. We call them the Wasted, and these are the first guys you see so they're not going to be acrobatic, they aren’t inclined to be coordinated to attack. And the other clans in the game have these differences, not just in how they look and what they say, but also in their tactics, so when you saw the ghost and he was hanging from the pipe. And these are dynamic traversals, just to make that clear.
G4: You could tell when you put the turrets up and they came and kicked them over.
JK: They kicked them over a little too quick so you couldn't get [video] footage. We have some of these other clans that we're not talking about with everybody, but they will behave differently and talk differently and look different. I don’t know if you noticed, but even between the different bandits there are some different variations of clans, but they all keep the same theme. Like the Wasted have the flags and helmets, and the Ghost have turbans and the white. So when we ended in the final room, they have this ritualistic sacrifice and they're kind of gory, and they're rummaging through a dead guy, and that's what we want for all the clans. When you go in, it's obvious who they are.
G4: Because you have a different tactic for each one depending on your weapons loadout.
JK: And that’s what we want for the player to decide. “OK, these guys aren’t acrobatic so I want to have this instead of that.” You can use the engineering items if they're looking for some loot on a body, you want to use some of those RC bomb cars because you chose an engineering route where you want to make weapons that aren't handheld weapons. You can go in and take them out Rambo style, but you can also hang back throw in a bomb car, blow these guys up and go to the next room.
G4: I'm making an assumption that with Quake and Doom, the story behind them developed over time as the popularity grew, and with this it's the first time you have a new IP and you have a pretty detailed fiction. I was curious if you have a design logic and a bible to how everything goes.
Tim Willits: Yes, you are right. When we set out to make the world we wanted to establish a franchise and not just a single game where you set out and when it's over, it’s the end. Now we have to come up with a way to make DLC or Rage 2. So we took the Star Wars approach where Lucas created the world and this is a chapter in the world. So we have this very long back story to how the Authority came to power, which you’ll know nothing about, and then have a whole plan for when you're gone, which you’ll know nothing about. It allows us and the designers to get their mind around this then focus on this chapter. Plus it’s great for DLC. For Rage 2 we can have stories for before you even arrive, or a story for another guy. You can play a settler or a bandit, and then after the game ends we have this Authority, and you don’t take down the Authority, but it sets the stage for a much larger thing. So yes, in the past at id, technology level is the story. But now we have setting…story levels. So it allows us to make a universe, and if you want to have a successful franchise now you have to give a players a world they’re in awe with.
G4: With the release of Red Dead Redemption, which I think is the rare proper western, then we look at Rage and Fallout, it seems the western can be best done in a post-apocalyptic function. It allows for those tropes. It seems that you did this deliberately as a western. So you feel this is the best way to use the genre?
TW: There are western elements to it, but in the later demos maybe we'll show Subway Town which has this Asian New York feel, and there are some parts in the desert, like in Utah, and we actually sent artists to Arches National Park and places like that to take some reference pictures. It works well because it's easier to draw and you can make some cool structures, and if you're paying really close attention, when I drove past the bandit area, you can look up in the distance to see these huge spikes from one of the impacts, not the impact, but multiple impacts. So it’s not just the one location. We have impact craters and we have the wasteland which is like a dry ocean, too, so it's much more than just the Utah theme.
G4: Also over time, despite the fact they started with famous single-player IPs, id is so well-known for the multiplayer. You've spent so much time making a detail for a single-player game. Do you sometimes have to fight against that sense of being that big multiplayer house?
TW: No, the thing is the way we handle the story, then how do we approach everything else: the online portion, the single-player as well, but it comes down to getting some fun things happening early on and figuring out what can we pull off . And the way it works at id is we have this technology being built while we're working so we don’t have a clear outset. We have this story and some ideas and how we want to get there until we have the technology working; and people [are] getting their hands dirty with the technology and trying to execute some of the things. So when it comes to single-player and other features, the worry isn’t how we can pull it off, it's how do we do it, and how can we make it fun?
G4: You showed the Windstick [think a throwing blade], is that a category of ranged weapons or something engineered?
JK: It's one of the things you can engineer, and we're playing with the idea of giving you an upgraded one as well, something cooler as an upgrade to it. So those things…you can use it a few times, but they will break and you can make some more, buy some more. And we'll have more things that we're discussing, like the sentry bot, the more advanced engineering items that can follow you around, mow down your enemies, and it's cool to see that as he draws the fire.
G4: Is there a grenade equivalent? I didn't see anything like that.
JK: We have grenades, something like the classic frag grenades, and we have EMP grenades, I can't talk about that now, but you use it in a specific way against a specific guy that we're not talking about right now, and that's how we focus all our energies on getting these different gameplay items and weapons. So we do have all that and we provide the player with these sets of tools to interact with the world in ways that are beneficial in who he’s fighting.
G4: Stop me if I’m wrong, but did Tim mention in the demo when we went to the town that the townspeople will interact with you differently depending on how long you've been in the game…and is that true for the entire world?
JK: In the towns -- since you go in and speak with all the different NPCs, and there are settlers that walk around and interact differently -- if you run a race and have an awesome lap time, they'll come to you and say that was an awesome race, and when you do things for Sally they'll come up and say “We had a tough time getting through that corridor before but now its a lot easier getting our supplies back and forth.”
G4: Is there a tangible benefit to having everyone nice to you?
JK: We’re trying to work with that. What we're trying to do for the player, having that reputation when coming to town, is that you are feeling the town is growing with you and won’t be static. People will see you and say “Excuse me,” and we have this thing with the animations [where] they can blend between different twitch animations, so when you see the AI, what they’re doing is all in real time.
G4: Is that in the engine?
JK: Yeah that's all ours.
G4: So let’s talk about procedural animation. Do the characters have a skeletal structure, and that's where we're getting these perfectly blended animations?
JK: We use motion capture for all the AI and even the settlers so they look and feel different. What we’re able to do on top of that, and I won’t speak in technical terms, but we can take the twitches -- like when you shoot them -- we can take a keyframed twitch, add a blend, so if this guy is coming at you and you shoot him, the blends will come dynamically for this very natural motion and it’s not even rag doll at that point. It’s actually that he’s still coming at you, you shoot him in the leg, he'll reach down for his leg and go limping after you. It’s a very dynamic system.
G4: You know, no one is doing that as far as I know.
JK: It’s cool for me; it’s exciting for me as the producer, I don’t make anything that works in the game. I hand someone a schedule and ask what they're doing, and then to see it all come together and get my hands on it and say a few months ago, this was an inkling of an idea and now it’s finally coming together. And you see the fun and all the cool stuff with the AI, all the little things that happen. When I'm playing, that's like, “Wow, that's cool.”