“Rage is very near and dear to me, and it is very exciting to be back in this world,” id Software’s studio director, Tim Willitts, says. As its creative director, the original Rage was his ‘baby’.
Returning to it now, it’s basically fine, but some of its ideas feel ahead of their time. At a technical level, for instance, its engine cannot do justice to its ambitious open world and its vehicles. Rage is a game with potential that did not, and perhaps could not, be fully realised back in 2010.
That’s the view that Avalanche Studios - which is leading development on the sequel - appears to have taken. With the studio's expertise on action-packed open worlds such as Just Cause and Mad Max, it's an ideal choice.
Will Rage 2 find a place on our best sandbox games on PC?
We spoke with Willitts and with Avalanche creative director Magnus Nedfors about how the project came about and why it’s going to work - they hope - this time around. Make sure you also read our hands-on and and 7 things you should know about Rage 2.
PCGamesN: Why resurrect Rage now?
Tim Willitts: Rage was a popular game and sold well. It had loads of fans. I think one of the reasons people were irritated with the ending is they actually enjoyed the game so much. I can say that because I designed it - I just get mad when other people say it!
But Rage 2 fits nicely with our portfolio of id Software games. Doom has re-established itself as the greatest demon game ever made, Quake Champions is in a great spot, our relationship with MachineGames has created an amazing franchise with Wolfenstein, so this is just perfect.
And meeting Avalanche’s team was like meeting your soulmate in a bar - you look over, and she looks back at you, and your eyes connect and you don’t know what happened, but you’re in love. They had just wrapped up Mad Max, so it worked out well with their availability.
What they really enjoy about the Rage universe is there are no limitations or fictional constraints. I literally brought ‘more crazy than Rage’ to our first meeting - that is not a lie - and they really liked that, because they felt they could do whatever they wanted. We would have crazy animals like half-sheep half-cow things because why not?
Magnus Nedfors: We had been in contact with Bethesda for a long time, going back and forth saying ‘we should do something’. One day a couple of years ago, they said: ‘hey, we think it’s time to start doing a sequel to Rage - what do you guys think?’. I personally thought ‘yeah, let's do it’ - id is super awesome and one of our favourite developers, so I want to work with them. That was the process from our point of view. As to why now, I think it was just the opportunity of us having a spot that seemed to fit in with them having some people available.
It is worthy of a sequel, to my mind; I liked and played the first game a lot. I am a fan of post-apocalyptic settings in fiction, and I love id’s shooters - I have played them since I can remember. I think they managed to broaden the id style of game with Rage, from linear corridor shooter to more of a world. That was a big step back then. It also had an interesting story arc within post-apocalyptic settings, and mutants are always fun. Many fundamental parts of that game were very good.
I remember seeing the potential - I didn't think the open world was bad, but I thought ‘hey, there’s a lot of potential here to do an even bigger world’. So when I was asked ‘do you want to work on this?’, my answer was ‘yes’. I wanted to take and develop it.
It's a combination of the Avalanche philosophy of making open worlds together with the id philosophy of making shooters. I can’t name a specific moment - it's more a collaboration that has grown over time.
We’ve seen Mad-Max-inspired, open-world wastelands before, whether in Borderlands or Avalanche’s own Mad Max. What will be distinctive about Rage 2?
Willitts: It is id-style combat in a true world. It delivers on the promise of the original. The mutants are a huge selling point and they are really important to this game. The new biomes also help a lot, because of what the guys can do with the tech. [At the end of Rage 1] the Arks came down from space and had organic life in them, so now we have vegetation - we have plants no one has ever seen before. We have water, we have ravines.
We also wanted to push society a little further. The asteroid hit 100 before Rage 1 happened, and then about 30 years after that Rage 2 happens, so we are 130 years in the future, and people have been doing stuff. We wanted to push that and just get away from that brown desert. We still have brown desert, but we wanted to move a little farther from it.
This is the first id shooter developed entirely in someone else’s tech. How has the experience differed?
Willitts: It is so nice to be able to focus! I cannot tell you how hard it was - I had lists and lists of things. Let’s start with Quake; having to relight every level was a huge pain in the ass. Things like sampling, we found out if we made triggers that were under 32 pixels wide, you could literally skip through them if you dropped frames, so you could miss teleporters. We didn’t put any clip brushes into any of our levels in Quake, so when we discovered rocket jumping was possible, people could rocket jump through the levels.
Doom 3 was ridiculous, we were inventing technology that we didn’t even know how to use. Like with the shaders, how we had a heightmap and a bump map and a specular map, where you create different textures and put them all together - no one had ever done that before, or knew how it affected lighting. One day we’d show up to work and everything would be shiny because of specular changes, and one day we had to do heightmaps different, and then the lighting on that was different again.
Developing your own tech and pitching games at the high-end PC market is risky, no? It didn’t work out so well for Crytek...
Willitts: Those risks always paid off. Quake 2 was the very first game that required a hardware graphics card, and Activision was very nervous about it. Back then, in the early 2000s, technology was advancing so fast and we were making such ginormous leaps that it was just the nature of the beast.
But we were always nimble enough and we made really good games. It was just the nature... the industry shifted. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it is difficult. Some of our programmers are ridiculous, they are geniuses, so we knew we had some of the best. But the focus is on making great games first, and it has been working.
Any special features for the PC crowd?
Nedfors: We will try to have a fully-fledged range of features for PC players. We make games for PC [as well as] for consoles, and it is a little bit different in the settings, but we have had good - and bad - experiences from some of our previous games, so we will take the things we have done well and keep doing that. It is important to keep a good frame rate, especially on the PC, but also the more modern consoles. We will try to do all the things that you can do, like different controllers and key bindings.
It felt like the FOV was pretty low. Have you settled on that now? Will it be adjustable on PC?
Nedfors: We are working with the field of view back and forth, and we adjust it, but that is one option that you can change the FOV. Players who like to play with three screens can do that. FOV is super important - we are fiddling with it all the time and I think we will continue to do that until we ship the game. The biggest problem is that you want different FOV for different moments: in the shooting moments, you want a little bit more focus, but when you’re out and exploring, you want to see a bit more. It is a fine balance to find the perfect sweet spot.
Have you explored dynamic adjustment at all?
Nedfors: We are discussing it and we have tried it, but I am not personally super happy with it. It becomes a bit jarring and makes people a bit motion sick, so I think we will stick with one and have the option to adjust it.
Id shooters always used to be PC games first, but controller input has become a consideration in the last couple of console generations. Is Rage 2 going to be really easy with mouse and keyboard?
Willitts: That’s not as much of a problem as you might think, mainly because console players in general have become so good. The speed that this game plays - I mean, look at Doom 2016. It is ridiculously fast. If we’d released that ten years ago, no one could have figured it out, but as an industry we have evolved our skill base as players. And then the technology and the tricks we have learned to simulate what we want to do with controllers has really advanced. So much goes on under the hood. Yes, we can’t sample 1000DPS like we can with a mouse, but we can do things where it will feel good. Look at what we did with Doom 2016, it was amazing on the controller.
There’s more that goes into that than people realise. Even with the controller, the acceleration and the dead space and the movement, and we as an industry have evolved so far when it comes to controller input. The Microsoft Elite controllers are the best controllers ever. The science behind how that was made, and the technology that us videogame guys put into the acceleration curve and dead space is, right there, an entire field of study to make sure it is perfect.
Tim, you clearly love all this and Rage is your baby. Are you never tempted to get back into design yourself?
Willitts: Sometimes I get into more designing than [my team] would like! Sometimes when I can’t design things, I’ll be talking about levels with these kids - I joke about kids, they’re young people - they design levels and I think: ‘I can design circles around you’, but I don’t get to do it as much as I would like.
But then sometimes I dive in and talk about individual frames - not so long ago, we went through every single frame of every single weapon motion, and you know how many frames there are. We were like, ‘we can move this one and cut that one’. I am blessed that sometimes I get to be able to do that. Not as much as I would like, but it is very fun.
Speaking of weapons, id has given us some of the most iconic guns in PC shooters. Any favourites in Rage 2 so far?
Willitts: There is a weapon I can’t talk about - we don’t have a name for it, but right now we’re calling it the YouTube, because we want people to use it and then put videos up on YouTube. My favourite thing though is the combo-ing of the abilities. Some of our guys can just do ridiculous things - it’s so cool.
In this video we’re working on that we will release soon, there is a shot where we throw down a grenade, a guy pops up, and we hit him with the wingstick. Sometimes the wingstick stops and grinds before it blows up, so it stopped him, started to grind, pushed him, and he’s flying through the air screaming and then it finally blows up. And it’s like, we can’t repeat that - it would be impossible! So we are going to try and work that into the video.
It’s things like that, the emergent gameplay, that makes memorable events that you know are random and amazing. That’s what’s going to make Rage 2 special.