WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Todd Hollenshead, and I'm the president at id Software.
WP: What was your role with Rage, specifically?
TH: My role at the studio is to make sure that stuff doesn't get in the way of developers making a great game, and I sort of stay out of the way of the development process. If there are some places where I can add a positive influence, I try to do so.
WP: Can you give us an example of one of those ways you solve a problem or get a roadblock out of the way?
TH: Oh, there's always stuff that comes up, so just making sure that they have everything that they need to get the best development possible. Then when it comes to getting feedback about what's going on, sort of be the consumer [voice]. I'm not working on the game day to day, so I'm far enough away from it that I don't have my nose up to the screen and can give a sense of perspective.
WP: How has the development process changed in recent years since becoming part of the ZeniMax family versus being an independent company? Has it been business as usual, or did things change after the acquisition?
TH: The development side is 99-plus percent identical. We have certainly a more "inside" role in terms of things like the marketing campaign and how that's integrated into development. Everything about the company has altered, everybody is going in one direction and we're all on the same page, whereas previously, when Activision was publishing our games, we had to worry about them publishing our stuff because they have internal studios and internal studio games that they're working on. So I think that the relationship with Bethesda and the parent company is ideal from my standpoint because Bethesda and Todd Howard's group are making RPG games, we're making first-person shooter games; they're very complementary. They're all rated "M" games, so a lot of the stuff, it turns out, the company focus and stuff, are very much complementary. We look at this holiday season, and we've got Rage, we've got Skyrim coming out in November. You don't get the sense that there's any internal competition at all.
WP: We just played a few hours of Rage, and thematically, it feels like a cross between Quake and Fallout 3, given the postapocalyptic theme and that feel. Was that one of your inspirations, or was that just a happy coincidence?
TH: It was a coincidence at one point, but as the companies sort of work together, we can see better insight into the development process, and that can be an inspiration as well. You get a massive asteroid hitting the surface of the planet, not a bunch of nuclear bombs. It's still postapocalyptic but very different. The universes are unique. It's just very interesting to say that because one of the things that hasn't been in any id game, other than a Doom RPG game on the cell phone, is an inventory management system. In a conversation we had [about Rage], "We get to have all this stuff. We get to have inventory." "Inventory in an id game? No way!" We realize that these things can actually be integrated into a first-person shooter game that doesn't really take away from the experience. It actually added to it. It's one of those things that it was a reach for us to do, but the stuff that you get is meaningful in the economy. It's not just a collection thing; you'll get an exploration award for looking around and taking notice of the world. There are visual awards that do that as well; we want people to take notice of the environment that surrounds them as they're playing.
WP: Speaking of the environment and inventory, with the story and the mission becoming such a large part of the game, how did you balance out the layering of the combat with missions so that it doesn't feel like you're just doing one fetch quest after another?
TH: Rage is the deepest game id has ever done by — there's really no comparison. The only other game that you could say was story-driven was Doom 3, but Rage is so much more beyond that. The first encounter you have is with Dan Hagar, voiced by John Goodman, and that's the first hint that, "OK, now this is really serious." From how the story evolves, to the relationship with the characters, to unique aspects of the characters and all that, we really try to make everything interrelated. You see people have individual personalities, and we try to give the player the ability to make lots of different choices within the game that aren't necessarily completely open and you can do whatever you want to, but you have meaningful decisions. Whether you choose to keep something, make something out of it, or sell something, that can impact whether you succeed or fail on a level, depending on your play style. Maybe you don't need anything, and you can just sell all that stuff. Maybe you have a particular mission or quest and you just want to go for that. Maybe you're a little more tactical about stuff like that and you've been picking up all these tricks about how to play the game. All of that stuff makes the world come alive, and I think it's really backgrounded by what we're doing with the technology and what we've envisioned. The world is really well done, so it would be sort of a disconnect not to have it filled up with cool stuff and items that you can actually use.
WP: Talking about the visuals, we're playing it on the Xbox 360. What can the engine really do when Rage is running on a PC with a DX10 or DX11 graphics card?
TH: The one thing about Rage is that there is some scalability. What we started out with as a goal of the game is to have platform parity and to make it the best-looking game that it could be on all the platforms. The way that was accomplished is through a little [technical director] John Carmack magic and having all of the media and art files be the same across all the platforms. There may be some higher-resolution textures that you can get on the PC, but in terms of the fundamental media, across any platform, it's going to be the same. We're in a room where you have 360s, PS3s and PCs, and if you covered up the boxes, it would be very difficult, unless you really knew what you were looking for, to be able to differentiate between them. The benefit of the game is that it looks great on all of them.
WP: Speaking of another aspect of the game that hasn't really been in id Software titles before, there's a minigame involving collectible cards. Is someone on staff a Pokémon fan?
TH: Actually, the inspiration behind that is that we worked with a company that made a Doom board game. We thought that was really cool, and part of that is played with cards. Early on in development, on a whim, one of their guys printed up a bunch of cards with the game characters on it. We're playing basically a Magic version of these cards during our lunch break, and we realized we could make a card game out of this. That's sort of how it came to be.
WP: Can you tell us a little more about the basis of the story? We realize that some of this is covered in the comic book series, but the game starts off really light on the exposition. How is the story revealed to the player?
TH: As opposed to playing cinematics and having people read stuff, we really want the story conveyed with how the story interacts with the world and the characters in the world. You can sort of wake up and have a sense of confusion. You can tell the backstory, and you really don't even know to have the central self-awareness and self-realization, but you're instructed and told by the characters in the wasteland that there's something about you that's special. It comes from the fact that you're an Ark survivor and how that comes about is why you can regenerate your health because you have Nanotrites inside you, basically part of what kept you alive when you were in the Ark. That sort of enables you to be the hero for the settlers in the wasteland.
That gets conveyed, I think, in a very organic way. It's not shoehorned into the game. You learn about yourself as you meet different characters in the wasteland and about what's going on and who the Authority is and where did the mutants really come from? Are they the result of asteroid radiation, or were they the construct of some other forces? As you play the game, especially with the player at the very start, everything from what you do, how you control the character of the game, how you drive the cars, how you engineer the items, why that's important, all that sort of stuff, that sort of flows out as you play the game, as opposed to saying, here's your story, and here's what you're going to do, and here's basically how the game is going to end. You go through and shoot stuff. It's much more of you're playing the narrative in this game. That's easy to talk up, playing a narrative, but honestly, it's taken us a few times to get the story integrated into the gameplay like we have done in Rage. We learned a lot of lessons about things and what resonates with players.
WP: As we were playing the game, we tried to go in the sewer, and a notice popped up telling us that we had to have DLC for to enter. Is this only available to people who have purchased a new game versus used?
TH: We're talking about the main game, but we don't have artificial holdbacks on stuff that you have in the game. The thing we're trying to get people to understand is that there are different ways to play through it. Probably the first time, you play through the game, get to the end, and think, "I wonder if I had done things differently, how that would affect the game," or "I wonder what would change if I adopted a different play style." I think there's a ton of gameplay for the single-player portion, and that's before you even start talking about the multiplayer aspect of the game.
We've got the vehicle aspect of it, which we call Road Rage, and then there's sort of a parallel cooperative campaign where you're not playing the same single-player levels with a friend. The single-player story exists here; the cooperative play story exists in concert with that, so you're playing in mirror locations but in a different setting.
For DLC stuff, we're going to have stuff that's compelling and people are going to like. People who pre-ordered get the Anarchy edition and receive the double-barrel shotgun, Crimson Elite armor and Fists of Rage. Especially early on in the game, that makes a big difference.
WP: id has a long history of supporting PC players and mod communities. What are your plans for Rage on PC?
TH: The good news for the mod community is that we plan to release tools, as we've always done in the past. The concern is that every generation, the technology improves, and it becomes more difficult for amateur developers to do meaningfully good content. Back in the Doom days, you could pretty much draw your map on graph paper like you were playing D&D, and when we changed from Doom to Quake, that was another big step up, but you could still do skins and stuff like that. With Rage, you need to already have to be really exceptional with Illustrator; it's so much more complex to do it, especially when you're talking about the amount of data that we're able to create. It sort of exposes the limits of the artist's imagination if you say, "Do whatever you want," and they tile a wallpaper. You could've done anything, but you made squares.
WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
TH: For me, Rage is one of those games that, when you talk about different elements, it's really an experience that exceeds the sum of its parts. I think our execution in terms of doing the things that we set out to do, is probably the best of any game that we've ever done. There's no question in my mind that Rage is the best game that we've ever made. I think it exposes the heart of the artists, the genius of the programmers and the skill of the designers to pull something together that, to me, ends up being more than a game.
WP: Are we going to see any Easter eggs or hidden references to prior id games?
TH: When you get the rocket launcher, if you step away from the computer a little bit or you let it go to another frame, there's a little Doom homage when it goes into the demo reel for the original Doom. People may be a little bit lazy, but then they'll see what happens.
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Rage a game that's worth playing?
TH: I think it takes all of the things that we're good at — first-person shooters, the feel of blowing away someone with a shotgun that can only come from id — and combined it with all sorts of elements that really make it something that is the next thing in what shooters are going to be like. Rage is not only a different game from id, but it's a different style of shooter, which I think is going to be compelling and unique for players.
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