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'Quake IV' (X360/PC) - Developer Q&A

by Matt Mefford on Aug. 17, 2005 @ 12:21 a.m. PDT

In Quake 4 the Strogg are quickly regrouping, however the Strogg’s planetary defenses still destroyed, Earth's forces can deliver a full and final assault. This time, you're not alone. You are Matthew Kane, an elite member of Rhino Squad, and part of Earth’s next invasion wave. An army of soldiers are fighting with you and an arsenal of weapons and vehicles are at your disposal in this heroic and epic battle between worlds. At QuakeCon we caught up with id's Tim Willits and sat down for an interesting conversation ...


WorthPlaying: Tim, you were playing Quake 4 on a pre-build of the Xbox 360 at E3. Tell me, what has changed in the 360 version of Quake 4 since then?

Tim Willits: Well, we had the beta kits for Microsoft at that time, but they still promised us about a 30 percent speed improvement. There is a new SDK coming this month, and I believe they are sending us some new CPUs. We don’t have those just yet. So, it’s still running a little slow, but we’re in the process of getting a 30 percent speed improvement. It should really help boost performance. It’s coming along nicely; we haven’t had to anything drastic yet. We’re still trying to nail down the particulars for multiplayer. With PCs, you have dedicated servers that can hold a LOT more clients. With the 360, you only have “listen” (non-dedicated) servers, and they work in-line with the X-Box Live system. That’s the coolest work for us right now. And then there’s the fine tuning like auto-assist aim, and making things on screen a little brighter. Since your average television makes things a bit darker than a PC monitor, we have to brighten all game assets.

WP: For myself, one thing that set Quake 2 apart from the all the other first person shooters was the attention to detail, especially in terms of the character death animations. The way the Light Guard tried to fire off a few more shots before dying, and the humorous attempt by The Macron to put himself back together when he dies made this game TRULY memorable. This is especially significant since few games even today go to this length. Has this quality returned in Quake 4?

TW: Well, the death animations are all ragdoll now. They’re not canned, but some humorous things do happen from time to time. The Raven guys have put a lot of detail into this. There are humorous things you might see, such as hidden UAC crates. The amount of detail in all of the computer systems, especially the GUIs, is great. The world is very rich. Because one of the goals was to make lifelike and diverse environments, we have both indoor and outdoor settings. We have areas such as the waste facilities and med labs…the cool variance in environments will highlight a lot of the detail in this title. As far as the death animations go, they are not as campy as they were in Quake 2. Hopefully that won’t disappoint too many people.

WP: Tim, off the subject of Quake 4, at E3 you alluded to wanting to make a kids game. Any chance that the “secret IP” you are currently working on is a kid’s title?

TW: That’s a good question…but no. Unfortunately it’s not. We just have too many guys at id that would be like “we’re going to make what?!?” Nevertheless, I know that Kevin Cloud, he’s a partner, myself, and a few artists would definitely like to do a kids game. One of the problems with kid’s titles is that parents want them to be educational games, which are all bad, or they want to buy IPs like Harry Potter and Shrek. We would definitely like to try our own thing, but that is an uphill battle. Still, I believe I’ll do a kids game before I retire. Even if it doesn’t make a lot of money, it’d still be fun…and that’s really why we make games.

WP: You could be onto a whole new genre if you do. You have a very established career and, just like you have grown up in the industry, your fans are growing up too. Young and old alike, we all have kids at some point.

TW: Oh yes. At id, we have lots of children. Like in the design department, there are 13 kids that are from the designers themselves. None of them, can see the Doom movie since it’s Rated R. This is kind of ironic since we have so many young people…so many young kids from id employees. We don’t make games for kids. We’re strong believers in the ratings system. Our games are made for the age of 17 and older. Knowing our target audience allows us to do some pretty crazy stuff. But, there are no id employees that have small kids that allow them to play Doom 3. It’s just the way it is. We’re parents, too. It’s unfortunate that they can’t play Dad’s games, but they’ll play when they’re older.

WP: Tim, you mentioned in a conference at E3 that “games are getting shorter, but the audience is not responding negatively to this.” Tell us, does this mean that Quake 4 will be a shorter experience than Quake 2?

TW: Quake 2 was pretty big, as I made most of the maps. It was a hard project. Quake 4 is more complex, you can do more in every level. There is more stuff to search around for. So, getting thru the maps will take much longer. Quake 4 is shorter than Doom 3, and I feel Doom 3 was a little too long. This is why the X-Box version is shorter than the PC version. We trimmed it up a bit, and it actually turned out to be a better game. So Quake 4 is probably the same length as Quake 2, but the levels are more difficult now.

WP: Did the success of games with a strong central character, like Jack Carver in Far Cry and Riddick in Butcher Bay, have an impact on making Matthew Kane?

TW: It’s actually quite simple why he has a name: we have this squad and they talk to you and also about you. We didn’t want them to just say “Hey, Mr. Nameless Marine!” So, naming your character just fit the script. That’s the TRUE answer, but the PR answer would be “Yeah we felt that we could connect with the players, give them a sense of identity, etc.” Basically, it just made it much easier to tell the story by giving him a name. I wish I had a great game design theory on why we gave him a name, but it just made things for us a lot easier.

WP: How much time went into the story development for Quake 4?

TW: Well the story of you, as a Marine being captured and turned into a Strogg, actually started right after Quake 2. We were building levels, maps and stuff…then John came up with the Quake 3 idea and we were like “hey that’s cool!” So we abandoned the Quake 2 continuation story for quite some time. The story for Quake 4 started in ’97, so it’s been in an “incubation period” for a long time. We essentially picked up where we left off, by picking up on the story that we had originally crafted long ago.

WP: Was Kevin Cloud involved in this project, story-wise, as he was in Quake 2?

TW: No.

Editor’s Note -- Kevin Cloud is currently working on Enemy Territory: Quake Wars with developer Splash Damage (slated for release in 2006)

WP: The industry is putting heavy consideration into episodic content. A great many feel that this is the wave of the future. As fan of id games since Day 1, I feel you guys helped to PIONEER episodic content. “Knee Deep in the Dead” was the shareware episode, which lead gamers to purchase the subsequent two episodes (and later Doom 2). Do you see yourselves going in this direction and returning to episodic content (ala Doom 1 and Doom 2)?

TW: Well, regarding that: John Carmack originally came up with the idea for three episodes for Doom. I know that he wanted to make the shareware episode and then two more of the sharewares, that’s probably how it happened. That’s the cool thing about episodic content and other downloadable media. You know how Ritual is using Steam? It has worked very well for them. This is why outlets such as iTunes is great as well. If you have artists or game developers that aren’t id Software, they’re not Valve, they’re not Epic, and they need to get the attention of publishers and stores to carry their products. It’s very difficult for them to get past all that, because they’re a small team or a new team. They really need to come with an alternative means for distribution to reach the fans. If you could make a small section of your game and sell it, it will pay for the next development cycle. So financially it makes sense, especially for the smaller teams that don’t have a publisher deal. It also allows them to change the game as they go. Like if there’s something that people really like, or they really didn’t like, they can modify it. Where if you make the whole game, spend 10 million dollars and then you find out that people really wanted a flashlight on the gun or something. It helps you react more to the fans. It allows you to have a cheaper way of distributing your game. It removes a lot of the publisher and retailers that you may not ever have access to since they don’t know who you are. And it allows you to have a bit of a revenue stream. But it is risky though.

WP: Tim, thank you so much for your time.

WorthPlaying would like to thank Tim Willits and rest of the id & Raven staff for a glimpse at what promises to be one of 2005’s biggest titles. More details on Quake 4 as it approaches release. Matt Mefford will have additional details on Enemy Territory: Quake Wars shortly…

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