It's well accepted that triple-A game developers can spend so long making things that they sometimes lose all sense of their quality in the process. In Rage's case though, it's now been in the open so long that even journalists writing about it are probably struggling to put it in perspective. By the time it comes out in October, it will have been in the oven – and Dallas is definitely an oven – for over six years.
If they could go back and do things differently, creative director Tim Willits tells Eurogamer, id would have announced it later. "If we start doing Rage 2, you ain't going to hear about it for a while," he half-jokes, during a lengthy chat at QuakeCon. That's also one of the reasons everyone's keeping quiet about Doom 4.
But what else has the Texan developer learned in the process of building Rage? And with the 20th anniversary of id Software now in the rear-view mirror (you can see a picture of Willits cutting the cake at the celebratory party a little further down the page) what does the famously technology-loving studio see happening next? Read on to find out.
Eurogamer: How would you describe the experience of developing Rage?
Tim Willits: It was a very long iterative process. Lots of prototyping. Lots of trying things and taking them out.
We had an interactive cover system where you go up to things that were flagged as cover, you hit the button, and then you were in cover. That was cool, but it really slowed the game down.
So we thought, we'll do an automatic cover system. So we built an entire system around the fact it knows what is cover. We don't actually put cover nodes for the AI. They look at their surroundings, and they look at you, then they use things for cover. That's why sometimes they take cover behind a bicycle.
We had this whole automatic system. But it was really surprising how much it slowed the game and combat down. In your mind you're like, how's that supposed to slow the combat down? That doesn't make any sense. But it really did. So we removed that.
On the quick-use items, originally you brought them up - the RC bomb car up, the wingstick up - and you held them and then you deployed them. That was way too slow. We had an animation system for the wingstick coming back. You had to catch it. That was horrible, too. We even had an animation for crawling in and out of the buggy, which was awesome five times. But after that you wanted to go like this [mimes impatient gestures].
Rage was all about putting something in, trying it, tweaking it, changing it. It was the most iterative, evolving process we've ever done.
Eurogamer: id games have always been about staying on the move. I guess those moments of motionlessness you would get in a cover system or watching an animation just don't sit well with what you do.
Tim Willits: Yes. I promise you, it slowed it way down. The second thing is, just getting everything to fit and move really fast. As John [Carmack] said, push us. Hopefully the Doom guys will have learned.
Eurogamer: What's been the high point for you? Is there a moment you'll remember most fondly about the whole thing?
Tim Willits: The wingstick is like a torpedo. It becomes active after a certain amount of time when it leaves. It can stick into anything once it becomes active. I threw the wingstick out, missed a guy, and it was a ghost guy and he started charging at me. The wingstick went on as far as it could, became active, and it started coming back. Then as the guy ran right at me it hit him in the back of the head, and he fell forward with the wingstick sticking out of the back of his head.
I was like: that is the greatest thing, ever. And now I love the wingstick. Since that point I've been a big wingstick fan.
You had to steer it at one point. It went straight at one point. You had to actually catch it, you had to be in the exact same spot. But all of those things were way too hard and it wasn't even fun. That's why it tracks people. It'll find you.
Eurogamer: I couldn't work out if I was influencing it with an after-touch.
Tim Willits: No. But originally that's how you had to do it. And it was way too hard.
Eurogamer: Was a high point the day you heard about ZeniMax and had the realisation you were going to get to take the time you wanted with Rage?
Tim Willits: Yeah. They've been really great about giving us the support and letting us build the Doom team and being comfortable with us.
Todd Howard [game director on Skyrim], his design and management style, is a lot like our design and management style. The executive team at ZeniMax was like, yeah, we worked with Todd for a while and he kicks ass. And you guys remind us of Todd, and you've kicked ass. So, we'll let you do your thing because we let Todd do his thing. That worked out really well.
We've told them when the game's going to be done. And we've told them what we want to have in the game. They have not told us what to do, because they don't tell Todd to do that.
Eurogamer: It seems there is a healthy culture within the stable of Bethesda studios of mutual feedback and support.
Tim Willits: Yes. Now we've got much bigger - we have Arkane, we don't talk much with the Tango guys because they're Japanese. But we have our annual big Christmas event where designers talk to designers. It's been nice. We're trying to build a brotherhood of Bethesda developers. And thank God we have no jerks in the studio.
Eurogamer: If you had been part of Bethesda then, might you not have announced Rage so early?
Tim Willits: Oh yeah. But the problem is John [Carmack] loves talking about his new toy. Stopping that train? Woo. That would have been a hard train to stop.
We also wanted to do technology licensing when we were still private. So it was a shop window thing as well. If we start doing Rage 2, you ain't going to hear about it for a while.
Eurogamer: You're probably making some quite good progress behind the scenes with Doom 4.
Tim Willits: Yes. I get that question all the time. And I always tell people, why the heck should we show one screenshot of Doom 4 before Rage comes out? We need to build the hype, and then, oh, look at this. And it's like, no! That's why.
Eurogamer: The Duke guys hid a screenshot of Forever in 3D when it came out on Xbox Live.
Tim Willits: That's too funny. I didn't know that. There's no Doom 4 stuff hidden in Rage. I can tell you that. What I'm not saying is there's no Wolfenstein, Doom or Quake hidden in Rage... But there's no Doom 4 stuff.
Eurogamer: I thought I saw the Quake Q scratched on a wall.
Tim Willits: There's a big Easter Egg. There are some big Easter Eggs.
Eurogamer: When are you guys going to go back to Quake anyway?
Tim Willits: Like the original? Wouldn't that be the most awesome teaser video? Imagine something new from id, this video comes up online, and you click on it, and you see a little rust, and it's moving, then it expands, and boom, it's the original Quake symbol, "coming". Wouldn't that be the most awesome teaser trailer ever?
Eurogamer: Yeah. Do that.
Tim Willits: We have no plans to do that. That's absolutely not on the cards. But it would be an awesome teaser trailer.
Eurogamer: Matt Hooper once asked me what I'd do if I went back to Quake. I'd go back to the first one because I loved that Cthulhu, Lovecraftian mix with sci-fi. It was such an original take.
Tim Willits: I know, but that had such schizophrenic design. Heck, I did the entire shareware episode of that. That's all over the place. Your memory may have filled in some blanks. Back then, with a first-person shooter, there was that shock and awe of it. You were like, look! When I move my gun moves. 3D! There's a guy above me! All that's gone. Our innocence is over.
Eurogamer: I always preferred it to Duke because it had a solidity to the world. It was a 3D world that was utterly convincing.
Tim Willits: Yes. But that essence - lightning just can't strike twice on that. But it would be a really awesome teaser video!
Eurogamer: You must have a sense now of what you're going to do once Rage is released.
Tim Willits: Yes. I have a sense. It really all depends on how it does. Please God, let it sell well. Let us have another franchise. But for DLC - we have designers and artists who are basically done. They'll fix a bug if QA finds it. They're building some stuff but we want to see what people like.
If people want more gadgets, we'll maybe add some more. If people think the racing is cool we might do more. Before we solidify our DLC plans we want to see what people like.
Eurogamer: Everyone's messing around with Online Pass.
Tim Willits: We have the first-time buyer stuff with all the sewers. You've played Rage five times. Have you found any sewer hatches?
Eurogamer: I did, out in the Wasteland.
Tim Willits: If you bought the game new, that would be open for you. You still have to download it, but you don't have to pay for it. Those hatches are all over. Most people never find them. But as soon as you do, you're like, oh. And then you start to look for it. That's our first-time buyer incentive.
But as you can tell, most people never even see it. I can tell you, some people will buy Rage, download that, and still never set foot in those things. They just won't. I think that's fair. It's cool. It's outside the main path. We're not detracting from anything. But I know some consumers, when you can't avoid it, then you get a little touchy subject.
Eurogamer: I worry longer-term everything's just going to get broken up into chunks.
Tim Willits: I don't see that any time soon. Again, as long as you buy Rage new you get everything free. We're not taking stuff out.
Eurogamer: Is this the biggest single-player campaign you've ever done?
Tim Willits: [Looks at me like I'm a nutter.] Hell yeah.
Eurogamer: I was thinking back, Quake 2 was quite long.
Tim Willits: Quake 2 was quite long. I made 45 of those maps. Let me tell you, it was long. But no, this is longer. It's more in-depth.
Eurogamer: I hope gadgets will be a big part of Rage. That could help it to work over a long period.
Tim Willits: I know when I go find the research data in the Dead City, I need lots of sniper rounds because there are sniper guys. It's a long-range laser thing. But you don't know that until you get there. There will be a number of people who get half way through a map and be like, I brought the wrong ammo type to this party, and then they'll go back out.
Eurogamer: That reminds me of the Half-Life 2 thing of, it changes constantly, which is what kept that fresh for so long.
Tim Willits: Yeah. I'm a big ammo type fan. For me it's the turrets, wingsticks, Pop Rockets, Fat Mommas and Authority machine gun. That's all I need. The RC bomb cars – the Authority guys shoot them so damn fast. Then I take the pieces. If I find an RC bomb car kit I'll sell it because I want to build turrets.
Eurogamer: I really like the mind-control bolt.
Tim Willits: I miss so much [firing that]. But people love that. They love that and the Spider Bots. I like Pop Rockets and Fat Mommas.
Eurogamer: id games traditionally have been the nine guns – and you could probably list them before you take the game out of the box. It doesn't feel that way this time.
Tim Willits: Yes. And the ammo types help a lot. But it still has the nine guns. We just have up to four ammo types on a lot of them.
Eurogamer: It's the 20th anniversary of id. To the outsider who perhaps doesn't know id so well, how would you define the company based on those 20 years?
Tim Willits: John and the company have followed our beliefs and ambitions more than we followed making money.
Everyone knows we could have just made Doom games forever. Look at Quake 3 tech. S***, there are still games use that tech and sell millions of copies. We could have put our feet down with Doom and just stay with that. We could have trademarked deathmatch. We could have patented dedicated action servers. We never wanted to do that. We wanted to try different things.
You have to admit, it would have been way easier for us to do another Wolf, Quake or Doom than Rage. But it's been way more fun. We've followed our heart more than we've followed the dollar. I'm very proud of that.
More on Rage
Eurogamer: Why didn't you guys do the Epic thing with id Tech?
Tim Willits: John never wanted to build a tech team to support that, and have sales guys and support guys. John was like, I've figured out this new tech and I think this is going to be neat. Can we just do this?
With Rage, all the texture data is of course on media. But you can mentally project out, and you can see, well, if you have it on the Blu-ray, why can't you just have it in the cloud? It does the same thing, right? As network speeds improve, as local infrastructures improve… all the transcoding, all the data management, all the texture arrangements John's done to get it from the Blu-ray, you could take that Blu-ray and put it on the cloud. You wouldn't be able to spin around as fast!
Eurogamer: That's something that winds gamers up as well though, the whole thing of being connected to play a game. But that's really where it's going, isn't it?
Tim Willits: Of course it is. Half-Life 2 launched Steam. Diablo 3 will make everyone else accept the fact you have to be connected. If you have a juggernaut, you can make change. I'm all for that. If we could force people to always be connected when you play the game, and then have that be acceptable, awesome.
Eurogamer: People are going to hate you saying that.
Tim Willits: But really, in the end, it's better for everybody. Imagine picking up a game and it's automatically updated. Or there's something new you didn't know about, and you didn't have to click away. It's all automatically there. But it does take juggernauts like that to make change.
I'm a big proponent of always connected. I'm always connected. Our fans are always connected.
Eurogamer: Everywhere you go these days you're online.
Tim Willits: There will be a few people who will resent the fact you have to be online to play a single-player game. But it'll change.
Eurogamer: So the first 20 years of id have been about following your heart. What will the next 20 years hold?
Tim Willits: Money! Cold, hard cash!
No. I was joking! Hopefully id continues. We are bigger, but we try to keep the spirit intact. It's the same guys. It's me and Matt [Hooper] and John and [Robert] Duffy. It's the same goofballs. We can't change that much. We love what we do. This is the only thing I know how to do. I'd be screwed if I left the industry.
We want to keep making cool stuff. Yeah, we'll take chances. People have told me, you're crazy to make Rage. But if I ever make a game and at some point someone doesn't say to me, you're crazy…
We've always done things that have been like, what are you guys doing? It always works out. I love QuakeCon, too. I'll just keep doing this until I get too old.
Tim Willits is creative director at id Software.