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."
The way to get past that, Willits says, is to simply embrace it. "There's some small suspension tweaks, and some small physics tweaks that we do when you race and when you're in the wasteland, because you're in the same car. We'll have race-cars, but then you have your own car you can bring onto the track, but we do tweak things up a little bit because we found that it's really hard to do combat and racing with the same physics type. Suspension, stiffness, traction control, etc." He suddenly looks very tired. "No genre developer should ever look at another genre and say 'that's easy', because they're all hard."
It also raises the question of controls. PC gamers traditionally have the better of first-person gunplay, while console gamers do better with racing. But driving one way and shooting the other doesn't lend itself to pads. "We've learned a lot from Enemy Territory. So the controller scheme, and the driving scheme for...because for instance, keyboard is yes and no, and controller's analogue. That's a big deal," he says. "So there's definitely some issues with that. It's stuff you never think about until you sit down and try to figure it out. But actually there are some pieces of the game [right now] that you need to use the controller to complete because Robert hasn't hooked up the UI for that, so even if you run it on PC there are certain things you can't do, because we haven't made a button for it yet [laughs]."
If it doesn't sound like they're far along in development, they're not. "To tell you the truth, we haven't made the main character yet." But while it's only been in development about 18 months, according to John Carmack, they're definitely in production. "We have a lot of the settings, and a lot of the maps and the systems in the wastelands constructed and stuff, but you know how long it takes to do stuff," says Willits.
Something that obviously attracted interest during Carmack's keynote speech the other night was chatter about co-operative driving missions - having a gunner on top, and so forth. That and the idea of multiplayer races (Carmack said that he didn't expect the game to feature a "standard" sort of deathmatch, incidentally). The co-op stuff won't be drop-in or full-length though. "No. Because, this is what we found out with games that we play: games that take you 10, 12, 15 hours to play, I can't even find a friend for that long. But there's some missions that you need to find someone to play with." So how does that work? "You have your co-op kind of profile that's connected to your single-player profile, and when you do those missions co-op, the rewards that you get can go to your single-player profile. In order to really complete the game as a single player, you're going to have to find some buds."
That's most of what Willits could say, although he does delight in telling us that their in-game comet is a real one, and it's going to come dangerously close to Earth in 2029. Hopefully the game will be out before then. Willits has a lot of enthusiasm for it, and seems positive he'll be able to maintain that among the 26-man team. "One of the tools we've used to do that is...we have these milestones internally. When we work on a system like the racing, we actually got that built to a prototype state and had our own little internal Rage Cup, where for one day we froze the code, you had to get on there, you had to compete in that race, do those laps, and the person with the best time won the Cup. And we have a trophy - a real trophy - and they get that trophy on their desk until the next Cup."
Inevitably the release date is "when it's done", but don't expect when it's done to be next year. Carmack mentioned the idea of a four-year dev-cycle in passing during his keynote, and if they've done 18 months now, that'd put it at Christmas 2009 probably at the earliest. We can imagine that being a tough wait for id fans to endure - after all, Doom 3 came out in August 2004. To round out what we know, you'll be able to buy it on two DVDs or one Blu-ray, and it's coming to PC, Mac, PS3 and 360, with no cross-format multiplay on the cards. We're told to expect more reveals in the coming weeks and months, and then of course there's QuakeCon 2008, same time next year.
One final thing, though - reaction to the announcement has been uniformly positive at QuakeCon, but mixed in the wider world. To my mind, the interesting things about the way Willits describes it are that id's traditional strengths have been in things like the movement model, the physicality of the world, and their articulation of the game world itself, and, given the design, those are exactly the things that Rage's success seems like it'd derive from.
Coupled to a new engine whose virtualisation of textures tries to get devs out of the problematic texture memory ceiling that forces them to deface their own graphics to ensure fluency, instead allowing them to theoretically add more and more detail for as long as they want, and there's a sense that the more inferential reasoning you apply to what they're saying, the more there is to be positive about. It's an optimistic view, certainly, but it's hard not to find the QuakeCon enthusiasm infectious, and it probably erodes your objectivity. Either that or it's the diet of Bawls, Heineken and bagels under the heat of a thousand suns. Forgive me. And if you have any other questions, post them in the comments and I'll try and answer them.
Rage is due out on PC, Mac, PS3 and 360, and we reckon end of 2009 or later. Pop over to Eurogamer.tv for the first trailer.