Even 24 hours after its unveiling, there are already a lot of myths about Rage. For instance, that it's half racer, half shooter. "It's not really half and half," lead designer Tim Willits tells us. "We don't have enough of a build to see what people are going to play more of [yet]. If we actually come up with some cool race ideas, it could go further. And if the vehicle combat is super-fun, we may do...We really shouldn't say half and half until we know more." Then there's the theory, quietly muttered by a few attendees, that the fact id owns 'Rage' and 'Rage: Anarchy' trademarks means that the console versions will be different. Willits says they registered both because they couldn't be sure they'd get the former. "It might have ended up 'id Software's Rage: Anarchy'." It's just one game. That's sort of the point of id Tech 5, isn't it?
What is certain is that id Software's next headline release after Doom 3 will be very different to what's come before. "We want to change what people expect from id's first-person shooters," says Willits. "We want to build an IP that is uniquely different to Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein." So out go corridors, gloom and PDAs with rambly MP3s on them, and in comes a non-linear, story-driven tale of fighting off an oppressive, tyrannical regime in a world that's still struggling to regain its dignity after an apocalyptic comet strike 75 years previously. From talking to Willits, its core concepts are exploration and the diversification of obvious mechanics like 'driving' to cater to a number of different design aspirations. If that sounds wanky, put it this way: there's racing, there's vehicular combat, there's FPS gunplay, and there's going into a cave somewhere, beating up a couple of mutants and hauling their loot back to town to flog it to the Farscape extra with a wok on his head, and blowing the proceeds on an upgrade for your car.
That explorational aspect is certainly distinct from Doom, Quake and Wolf - unless you count hunting for keys to open doors, and it doesn't sound like Rage has many doors left. Willits clarifies the structure: "There's adventure elements to it, but I hate to say 'adventure game', and it's not an RPG. I wish there was a word between 'adventure' and 'RPG'." Something where you have elements that are common to those games but in a different context, then. "Yes. The completely uniquely textured world will help [with exploration] because no one will see the same area twice." The other part of that is hunting down side-missions. The game invites you to play around in the world, as with the aforementioned scavenging, and a range of side-missions. "Robert Duffy has come up with a lot of cool mission job ideas that have nothing to do with the story. Just fun things to do."
Tied to that is the way the story develops. "In the game you play an outsider - somebody that is almost kind of like a Buck Rogers type of person, but you're not from outer space. There is a regime that is starting to try to shape what society's trying to rebuild itself into - this kind of evil tyrant type structure - and you work with settlers and resistance to fight against that, so it's a classic story. And at id, we always like to do that good-versus-evil type of setting." But the other interesting thing about that is the way the story's actually told. "You'll be interacting with the characters and they'll tell you stuff, and they'll direct the story that way. There's no PDA. Once you complete a mission, there's no...You know how some games have those logs, and you can go back and read and read and read? We don't have that. It's more kind of figuring it out as you go, and hopefully you're listening to the guys talking to you." So the plot isn't really thrust upon you, but it's almost in the Half-Life sense of kind of picking things out through observation. "Yes."
Equally freeform are weapons. One of id's core strengths has been its timeless arsenal of, well, arsenals. The nailgun, the double-barrelled shotgun, the railgun, the rocket launcher, the BFG. Alright, the axe was crap, but they do well with this stuff. Yet Rage rejects that too. "We're really trying to explore item usage, ammo usage, that type of aspect more than just normal guns. You can find stuff and then...If you have the schematics for them, and you locate the different pieces then you can put something together." Effectively then you build your own guns, although he's keen to stress that there will be clear limits. "We've only got 26 people," he says animatedly as I backspacebackspacebackspace the 'infinite weapons' headline.
The fact it's driving rather than running that underpins your exploration invites all sorts of questions, which Willits answers simply: "We're not trying to be Gran Turismo, and when we come to a crossroad where we can either go for realism or fun, we'll go towards fun, even if it makes it more arcadey and a little more over-the-top. That's the kind of game that we like to play. We will lean towards fun. Super-sized weapons on your vehicle, fun races with flaming barrels that people are throwing at you, blow up car number 8 before the race is over as a mission..."
But beyond the slightly hilarious contradiction of people on forums whinging that it's not an FPS intermingled with people whinging that id always makes the same game, there is the broader point that when an FPS developer does things with cars, there's a distinctive feel that doesn't lend itself particularly fluently to the concept of racing. Driving, yes, but in a point-to-point kind of way. "Absolutely. You're absolutely right. It's tricky. Because - and this is why it's so tricky - when you're on a cement track, it feels a different way than when you're on a dirt track, and then we want to bring that into combat? We're doing vehicle combat and racing with the same kind of car, and it's hard, because you want to be able to turn fast in vehicle combat, but if you turn too fast when you're racing you'll spin out. In your mind you're like 'that's easy - put guns in your car and stuff and drive around' - but it's really much more difficult than people realise."