Digital Foundry: The omission of co-op gameplay is pretty notable. What are the technical challenges of co-op gameplay that makes it so difficult to implement?
Eric Arnold: Obviously we would have loved to have co-op in the game, it is one of the highest praised parts of Saints Row 2. We were already biting off plenty of insanely hard problems, adding co-op to the mix would have pushed it over the edge. In a normal game co-op is a very hard problem, allowing the entire world to be destroyed multiplies the technical complexity by a couple thousand, destruction in a persistent open world environment pushes it to the point that would make smarty pants PhD scholars cry.
Digital Foundry: Way before the playable demo we saw an early multiplayer beta on Xbox Live. The difference compared to other betas here is that it did actually seem to be a genuine test as opposed to an online demo of almost finished code. What was the point of this and what did you learn from it?
Sean Kennedy: You've pretty much nailed it. It was a genuine test of everything in multiplayer. Doing parties and playlists are hard, and there are only two other games on 360 that have done them both (that we know of). And the rest of multiplayer is hard too. We knew our MP had the potential to have a large community rise around it, and doing the Xbox Live Beta was just the first step in making sure we got it right.
Digital Foundry: The game's getting a lot of positive feedback about its multiplayer modes; what is your design philosophy here? How do you generate the gameplay ideas and see those through to the final product?
Sean Kennedy: We've always known destruction and multiplayer would work great together as shown by RF1 and RF2, so making multiplayer a prime focus on RFG was always one of our goals. Aside from destruction, the other unique feature that helps multiplayer stand out is the backpack system. Our early MP designer David Abzug had been pushing multiple gameplay additions such as classes and power-ups into multiplayer, and we were also trying to figure out how the jetpack would fit in. Our design team eventually decided on merging the power-ups and classes into one unified backpack system.
In addition to working tirelessly to make the various modes, backpacks, weapons, and destruction work together, we also wanted the online experience to be top notch, which means a fully supported party system and playlist-based matchmaking.
For Wrecking Crew, it was really just a matter of finally putting forth a design for our long-considered "destruction mini-games". Obviously Burnout's Crash Mode was an influence, but everything else was driven by destruction and making the most of everything else we had in the game.
Digital Foundry: What's the potential for DLC in RFG? Are you planning any and if so, in what ways have you built the game to accommodate it?
Sean Kennedy: We actually do have plans for DLC in RFG. While we cannot go into specifics at the moment, there will be DLC not only for multiplayer and wrecking crew, but for single player as well. Fans of RFG should be excited to hear and play what we have planned for all of RFG's modes.
Digital Foundry: There seems to be a focus on abandoning the single-player mode in DLC releases in favour of multi-player expansions, map packs etc...
Sean Kennedy: For us the single player DLC has been the main focus. While the multiplayer and wrecking crew packs will be strong and full of great content, we are making sure we are going to deliver something truly special and entertaining for the single player fans. Depending on what the single player content is that a company offers it can take considerably more time and effort to create something worthwhile, which is likely why you do see single player DLC often take a backseat or just not happen. For us single player DLC has always been an important goal for RFG and something we have been working long and hard on to make sure we give gamers something worth their attention and purchase. Just like the DLC we've been releasing recently for Saints Row 2, we aim to continue to deliver strong content that supports our games and fans post release.
Digital Foundry: There's quite a technological leap between what we saw in Saints Row 2 and the new engine in Red Faction: Guerrilla. What elements of the new tech will you be able to bring to SR3, or are we talking about two different teams and two different sets of tech?
Sean Kennedy: As a studio Volition has always worked to continually push our technology forward with each game. This is something important to us and something we will continue to do moving forward. While I cannot go into details about any not officially announced title, just like there were technological differences between Saints Row and Saints Row 2, we will continue to push our technology and introduce new technology with our future games. Speaking of the two franchises though, they are completely different sets of technology. Really once we decide what direction we want to go in for a game or franchise that drives what the technology will be. For example, Saints Row is focused on customisation and giving players huge freedom in their choices, where Red Faction is focused on destruction and giving players a destruction system unlike anything before. We have a team here at Volition that develops all of our internal tools and technology and they are always hard at work on our next big thing.
Digital Foundry: So we have the PC version of RFG coming up soon. What were the performance challenges there? Assuming that the project led on consoles, what restrictions and freedoms does moving onto PC give you?
Sean Kennedy: Taking a game from consoles and moving it to a PC format is always a bit of a challenge and fortunately we have a talented team of developers at Reactor Zero working with us to bring the game over to the PC format. In terms of freedoms, bringing the game to the PC format does allow us to optimise it further for that platform. With RFG we didn't want to take the path often taken of quick ports but instead bring something to PC gamers that will be on par with the console counterparts and go beyond that by supporting Direct X 10 giving the game a bit of a graphical boost. In addition to that we are giving players more ownership over how they control the game through full control scheme customization. We want PC gamers who purchase RFG to feel and know that they are getting the game they deserve and have been waiting for.
Digital Foundry: I suppose the real question here is just how much further can you push the GeoMod technology? Do you have any tentative plans for how you intend to push the technology in any potential sequel? Perhaps explosions that impact the terrain as well as structures?
Dave Baranec: In terms of an improved feature set, anything is possible. The original Geo Mod engine was a boolean solid operation engine, which made it ideal for terrain modification. While this is a distinct piece of functionality from Geo Mod 2.0, there's nothing inherently stopping them from being rolled together into one world. What I find really exciting is that the tech is trivially expandable as hardware improves. The core system is capable of doing much more than you see in RFG. What limits us currently is how much rigid body simulation modern hardware can do. In that sense, the engine is very much a mean nasty dog that we have to keep leashed (for now).