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Tim Willits: Building Rage And Never Selling Out

"We've followed our heart more than we've followed the dollar."

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.

Willits cuts the cake at id Software's 20th birthday party.

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?
Rage is out in October. "Please God, let it sell well. Let us have another franchise," jokes Willits.
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.

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Tom Bramwell

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Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.

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