Long read: Who is qualified to make a world?

In search of the magic of maps.

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Tim Willits walks us through the end of the world.

Nobody outside the developer (and perhaps John "Hardcore" Riccitiello) has played it yet, but we do know a fair amount about Rage - id Software's next big game and its first completely new property for a while, which is in full production and probably on track for release in late 2009 or early 2010.

We know it's a first-person action game with driving elements, for example, and lead designer Tim Willits makes the FPS part a point of emphasis. "That's really our key message," he tells Eurogamer away from the bustle of QuakeCon's gigantic LAN party. "One website had it listed as a vehicle-based combat game, but that's not what it is. [Driving is] a component of the game, but it's not that kind of game."

We also know that it's an open world, but it's not quite an openworld game. What that means is that there's stuff to do off the beaten track, but there's always a sense of direction. John Carmack, id's programming heartbeat, describes it as "cocooned-in-a-bubble-of-entertainment type gameplay". Concessions are things like RPG-style quest-giving in the main town area (seen in the latest trailer) and character progression.

And while Willits and company are adamant that it's not a racing game, or even a vehicular combat game, those elements are certainly key to its appeal. "We're not trying to remake Twisted Metal or make a better version of Ridge Racer. We really want to keep this as a first-person game. The elements of vehicle combat and racing help build on the foundations of that first-person action game," he says.

With elements analogous to RPGs, though, it's perhaps better to think of your car as your mount - with racing and vehicle combat contributing to that variety of gameplay ideas. "Your vehicle is an extension of your first-person avatar," Willits confirms. The QuakeCon trailer shows a chap in town on a soapbox challenging people to races across "the dusty 8". "Because of the way the world is built and the design structure of the world, if there's a fun kind of gameplay element we want to explore we can make an area for that," says Willits.

We also know a bit about the world into which you're thrust. A product of an apocalyptic event involving a comet (you may remember it's based on a real one, which is due to pass close to the Earth in 2029), it's a dusty future fought over by various factions. "We have bandit factions, we have mutant factions, we have settler factions, and there's another type of controlling force that I won't talk about now," Willits says. You've seen a few of them in the trailers and in the screenshots on these pages. We're told to expect a classic fight between good and evil.

We suspect these guys are the mutants.

What we see of the world in trailers and shots is huge canyon vistas, and buildings and technology cobbled together from corrugated iron, the husks of old buses and scrap. Steampunk eyepieces, salad-bowl hats and dust goggles are the height of fashion-by-necessity. We ask how the game begins. "Well, you don't start in a little room walking down a hallway!"

We haven't seen you yet, come to that. You're an outsider, according to Willits ("a Buck Rogers type of person," he told us last summer), but whether you're part of the rags and cracked-glass massive remains to be established. But we have seen the sort of vehicles you'll drive: skeletal dune buggies reminiscent of Smuggler's Run or MotorStorm and patched up with weapons, skating rough-and-tumble across the dust and sand, smashing through decaying billboards and the legs of observation towers.

That feeling of being cobbled together seems to extend throughout. Id games typically treat weapons and armour like scattered hypodermics to top up your high, but Rage is a different regimen. We understand you'll have inventory and weapon-augmentation options, but these will apply to new inventions. Your nailguns and railguns are out.

"We want to try to do something new," Willits says, pointing out that id can do its BFG thing with Doom 4. "There are customisable components to some of the weapons - weapon and ammo types - and there are things that you can do to your weapons, but it all revolves around what that weapon brings to the combat. We don't want to put a weapon in for the sake of it."