Rage 2 Dev On Making An Evolving Single-Player Game And Rethinking The id Shooter
Since its reveal last year at E3 2018, developer id Software has been very clear about Rage 2 being the game that the original should have been. Co-developed with Avalanche Studios, the sequel has been touted as a true open-world game compared to its predecessor's attempt at one, leaning heavily on hectic gameplay within a vast and dynamic environment. Though Rage 2 is all about blending together the fast, punchy corridor-shooter action that id software is known for with Avalanche's sense of scale and breadth of content from their world-exploring games, our last few impressions didn't give us the opportunity to see those aspects really come together.
However, we recently got to play two hours of the final game ahead of its May 14 release. While exploring the setting at our leisure, we got more of a clear picture of how Rage 2 injects id Software's old-school design within the framework of a modern open-world game. We also spoke with id Software studio director Tim Willits about the making of the sequel to the 2011 post-apocalyptic open-world shooter, and how it's introduced them to new ideas that rethink their familiar design philosophies.
Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.
When you think back to the original game after playing this one, they're pretty night and day by comparison. Rage 2 feels like it's entirely its own thing.
Yes, it is. Firstly, I like to say that Rage 2 delivers on all that Rage 1 promised. I've joked that the biggest lesson I've learned from Rage is don't make an open world game without an open world technology, which is what we did with our id Tech 5 engine for the original. But you're right, it's kinda like we're launching a new franchise. It's very exciting. We often get people asking, "Well, do I need to have played the first one?" And I'm like, "No. Don't worry about it. We got you covered." You can just jump in and play. Don't be nervous by the 2.
After playing about two hours of this game, I do have to say that it felt more comfortable with being an id-shooter in an open world. Whereas the original felt like it was trying to brute force its way into that mold.
I'm glad you noticed that. It was the number one thing we set out to do with this game. When we started pitching the game internally, I made this presentation and one slide had said "Rage 2." People were like, "okay, Rage 2, that's cool," and then the next slide was the Id logo and the Avalanche logo, and when people saw that they were like, yeah, that's cool! And then everything from there just made sense.
It seems like Avalanche coming on to this project was instrumental in helping id Software transition its particular gameplay into the open world.
Well, the great thing about working with the Avalanche team is they not only bring the Apex Engine technology, which is awesome, but they also bring that experience. They've been making open-world action games for a long time, so they just think about things differently. How we tell the story, how we write the dialogue, and how we approach the missions, those things really leveraged on a lot of their expertise. We have some amazing technology, but just for this style of game, we found that it was better to work with a company that had the experience with their own [open-world] tech and gameplay. Working with Avalanche on this game was kind of a match made in heaven.
Truth be told, I played Rage 2 previously at other conventions, and it was difficult getting a sense of the world and the scale of the game. The previous demos tended to focus more on enclosed encounters--which seemed more in-line with traditional id shooters, rather than an open world game.
Yeah, it's not the same experience getting to dive into this game at your own pace versus playing a 20-minute chunk at a show. At E3 last year, we had the Eden's Gate complex, which is a very classic id Software style-level. It was fun, it was cool, but you are right--We stuck you in a box, and obviously, this game is not a box. We wanted people to believe that we had that id-style combat in this world, so we really focused on proving that first, which is one of our biggest milestones in the project. We really had to figure out how it felt to play, what the endgame content was like, and what the weapons were like. Are they loud enough, powerful enough, fast enough? So it was definitely a hurdle we needed to jump over early.
But I'm glad you were able to play a big part in the game just now. You know, it's funny, now, when you play the game, you'll get that Eden's Gate mission, and you'll be like, "this is so small compared to everything else I saw". When you play through it normally, you'll just blast through it. It's such a different feeling when you actually get to see it the world.
This game will also see some interesting updates after launch which will affect the state of the world. In a recent trailer, there were some references to an in-world event that has you fight mutants for a TV program.
Yes! So, we'll have events and we can churn in activities on the occasion. But you do not need to always be online for this game. So was a little bit of confusion recently, but if you are connected to the internet, you can participate in these live events. If you're not, then just play the base game and have fun. We can make these cool events happen that will kinda keep people engaged as we can deliver them more content in the future.
So Rage 2 six to seven month from now will potentially be a different game than the one we've got at launch?
Yes, that's the plan! Hopefully, people will stay with it. I do think we have a good plan. We have some cool beats that we'll talk about after the game launches, and what the framework looks like moving forward. When you play the full game, you can see that there's room for things to expand, and we will continually layer things in to keep people engaged.
It seems like the idea of the evolving game or a games-as-a-service title is becoming more commonplace now. Is Rage 2 in that similar school of thought?
No, it will just be a supported game. I don't know, it's so hard to--like someone needs to come up with a perfect definition of what a "games-as-a-service" game actually is. Many people have different ideas of that, and I may have confused people originally when I started talking about this. What we're planning on doing is creating some updates and content for this game after we launch. So, we monitor the game, we monitor the players, we act in the community, we're gonna support it, we're gonna update it. It's not like a subscription or a free-to-play game. But it will be supported.
Though previous id Software shooters have seen updates after launch, this game seems more about expanding the world itself and the content therein. This seems to be new territory for you all.
That's true, but it's honestly the direction that the industry is moving toward. Fans spend so much time with our games, and people want to know that the thing that they enjoy is being supported and that the developers stand behind it, and that they will continue to improve the experience. If you're gonna dedicate so much of your time, when there are so many other things to do, you want that commitment from the other side. So that's what we are gonna try to do, which is something that's new for us, so hopefully, it'll work.
Though the game itself is very modern in its focus, it still feels very old-school in its design. And we see that in its focus on offering cheat codes, which seems to be a rarity in today's age.
We don't take ourselves too seriously all the time, and those cheat codes should be pretty fun. The game shines when players just sit down and do what they want to do. I really believe the more time you spend with the game, the more enjoyable it is. If you rush through it, you're not gonna have as much fun as the person that spends twice as long. So, I would encourage people to take their time, experiment with the powers and upgrades, because there's a lot. It's definitely rewarding for people who spend the time.
There's one cheat in particular called "Git Gud", which kills all enemies in one hit once activated. It seems to be a reference to online game challenge culture. Do you have a particular stance on how you want your games to be designed in terms of difficulty and the barrier for entry?
So I'm a bit more old-school, I like to get thrown into a new mission and told to find the red key somewhere in the level. But in a game that's this big and open, we do need to help players when they feel like they need some help and we do need to kinda direct them [with the GPS]. As for difficulty, we have several different difficulty settings, of course. If you want that extra challenge then you can play the Nightmare difficulty. You really have to strategize and play smart, it's so tough. But yeah, if you're a pretty hardcore player, I'd encourage you to play it on hard, not normal.
The openness that we have is the nature of this game, nothing is really off-limits. We may point you in the right direction, but we don't really scale the difficulty of the enemies. So if you find an area that's too tough, you can just come back to it when you have more upgrades and more abilities, and you can just tear through it. We give you that opportunity. With the open world nature of the game, I do believe that it allows for more accessibility than some of our other games. We tend to make intense games at id, and sometimes people accuse us of being a little too hardcore. But even though this game's fast and can be tough, because it can change based on what you do and how you play it, I actually think it's more accessible than any of our others games.
I think what's especially noticeable about this game compared to the original is that it has a lot more personality.
Yeah, the first one sold well and people enjoyed it, but I definitely feel that we are firing on all the cylinders with the sequel. We have the right personality, we have the right developers, we have the right tech, we have the right style. It's a good time, also, for this type of game. Because it is a little bit more unique than a lot of the other, kind of, post-apocalyptic games. And yes, you are absolutely correct. We really tried to make the game fun. So, if people play it, and their friend says, "Well, what do you think of Rage 2?" If they say, "That was fun!", then I'm happy.