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id / RAGE interview with Tim Willits

Want to know how id decides on achievements? Wants clues about RAGE’s multiplayer? Read on as we talk to Tim Willits.

Tim Willits is the former co-owner of id Software and now game director on id’s first new IP in years, RAGE.  We managed to spend an hour of pure joy watching Tim demonstrate RAGE before Barry Guihen & I sat down and had a chat with him about RAGE and some of his views on gaming in general.

ZW: You’ve been in the VG industry for a long time now, what still excites you about the industry?  You’re still very passionate so what keeps driving you?

I love my job.  When I was in college, this is entirely true, I would drive to college and think “Man I would LOVE to work at id!  Working at id would be the greatest place ever.  I want to do this for the rest of my life!”.

ZW: Am I right you got started at id due to being recognized for your early Doom modding?

Yeah that’s right.  And then the first thing I released was the retail version of Doom 1 with the fourth episode in it.  Then Doom 2 followed by Quake.  I started at id in March of 1995, Doom released initially [on PC shareware kids – ed.]  in 1994.

BG: Doom lead to me being banned from video games for most of my childhood.  My parents took one look and banned me and my brother from playing games – I was six but he was about 13 so was seriously pissed at me!

TW: Oh man that is too funny!  But seriously technology is evolving, games are evolving, social aspects of gaming are evolving – it’s a great industry and I love it.  Plus I don’t know what else to do!  I’d probably just be one of those jaded journalists who in interviews said stuff like “Don’t say that I’ve said that before “.

ZW: What are your thoughts on 3D?  Is it a viable new platform?

TW: It’s cool and definitely much more mature than it was in the past.  We have done 3D glasses in the past that no one’s ever heard of, but now it’s much more main stream.  Sony’s pushing it as well.  Whether we do 3D is really more a John Carmack question.  My personal opinion is that 3D is evolving and the future is we now need to lose the glasses.

BG: Certainly from what we’ve seen here on the show floor you have to be in an optimal position to not only play the game but to enjoy watching someone else play the game.

TW: I was at a demo at a company in Texas.  What was really cool was we were playing a FPS on a 2D TV.   I was player one and they were player two and it was full screen death match.  That was cool because then you didn’t have to worry about seeing what the other person was doing.  You see your screen and they see their screen on the same TV set using glasses.  The glasses also have headphones in it so you can play videogames whilst you wife watches TV.  Now that is cool!  That was a cool tech demo.

ZW: Working at id the technology is a real driver – a real industry leader.  You get the newest toys because of that right?

TW: Yeah but most of the new toys might not work!  Like I said in the developer session most of the work we do ends up getting thrown out anyways which can be depressing but can also be exciting too.  Hopefully we can break that trend.  All the mistakes we’ve made during RAGE the Doom guys won’t make those mistakes.

BG: Do you build your games around the technology?  Or does the game dictate the technology needed to make the game?

TW: The big myth is that all John [Carmack] cares about is technology and not gameplay which is simply not true.  He comes to design meetings to talk about what we can do, gives input.  He’s the one that was pushing 60 Hz I thought we could do it at 30Hz.  But when you drive around at 30 it feels not very good.  You need to drive at 60.  Some games are kind of squishy and you don’t get that with this game.

BG: So id technology will no longer be licensed outside of Bethesda.  SO can we expect to see other Bethesda titles using this engine?  Things like an Elder Scrolls sequel would make great use of the “mega texture” technology in id Tech5.

TW: There are no immediate plans.  Todd Howard has his own studio so I don’t want to speak for him.  Hopefully in the future it’s a direction we can take but not for a while.  But you know, contrary to popular belief technology licensing was never a huge part of our business.  We never actually had one single employee at id dedicated to licensing.  Other companies will have a team but our job is not licensing technology.  We’d sell it, support it or answer technical questions.  John, took care of all that or John Paul or Robert Duffy.  So now it’s actually a lot easier.

ZW: I’m not sure that you could effectively concentrate on building a top flight engine and tools whilst also trying to build the best game you can.

Yeah, yeah.  You really need a whole group of people dedicated to that.  We’re so small historically that..

ZW: It’s hard to really image id as a “small” developer but I suppose when you think about it they are comparatively, especially by today’s standards.

Like, 13 people made Quake 2, 23 on Quake 3 and 36 on Doom3.  Now we have like 64.

ZW: What is your personal take on the “dedicated server” issue?  With today’s technologies, Xbox Live, PSN etc, is this really such a big deal?

25 million people play Call of Duty and that has no dedicated server.  I don’t think it’s a big issue just more of a legacy thing.  Plus there are some things in the multiplayer that we’re not talking about right now.   You shouldn’t worry about that.

BG: id’s multiplayer legacy is huge so you’re not likely to turn around and say no multiplayer in RAGE.

No, but it will be different.  It won’t be your usual id software multiplayer.  We have huge tent-poles through the companies and multiple teams.  We want to take advantage of each of those IPs and make them uniquely different.  There’s a story and side mission and all kinds of stuff.

One of the races is a time trial that employs leader boards and stuff and the guys at work had got the races down to, like, milliseconds and it all got super competitive.  It’s kinda great because it’s just a small segment of RAGE but it’s so different.

BG: Without giving anything away of course but If you were to look at the game it would lend itself to other types of multiplayer.  You have the combat but you also have the cars and the racing.  Car combat could be a way to go if you so choose.

TW: Yes – if you so choose.  It doesn’t take a mental giant to think about some of the multiplayer elements we could choose.  But I can’t talk about that at the moment.

BG: When I heard id was making a car based game I wondered at the logic behind it.  Having seen the game running first hand it looked great fun.

TW: We’ve done things, speaking of cars, that are very id software.  When we ran into the decision of realism or fun we went fun.  For instance when you go off a jump you can air control.  Yeah it’s not realistic but way more fun.  Everyone wants to be like Bo Duke driving around.

BG: Release date for RAGE is September 15th in the US – why so early to peg down a firm date?  A lot of studios don’t commit like that.

TW: It’s my birthday.  It’s my 40th birthday.  This is the logic.  We were looking at next year and we said we could do spring, but no one buys games in the spring.  So we thought to do it in early September and we we’re asked which Tuesday we wanted and I picked my birthday.

BG: RAGE came out of E3 with a lot of awards and I was surprised.  I expected RAGE to be showing more next year than this but everyone was coming out saying “Holy crap, RAGE is fantastic!”.

ZW: I think the surprise was that people seemed to have had great confidence in the technology but were left confused after those initial announcements to what exactly RAGE was.

TW: That was our fault.  When we looked at the game we wanted to add an element we’ve never done before.  Yes we can make first person shooters, so let’s focus on getting [the cars] working first.  It was really fucking hard.  I have way more respect for the guys on the Motorstorm team now let me tell you.    We got it all in and we wanted to make people understand it was a new element and we talked about it a little too much.  Everyone was saying it’s a racing combat games and we were going “Oh god, now what do we do?”.   We’ve cut the race elements from the demonstration session to drive home the fact that the driving is an additive.

ZW: That boomerang weapon is pretty epic by the way.

TW: What’s neat is that there was a bug in the code which meant we had problems with it hitting people to early.  So it has a delay that means it becomes active when it reaches a certain distance.  What we then found was that when guys rush up on you that when it came back it would become active and stick in the back of their heads; which their not supposed to do.  When it did they would fall forward with this thing sticking out the back of their heads.   We thought ”This is cool!”, so we kept it in.

BG: Do you pay much attention to things like achievements and trophies when designing the game?  Do you see something cool and think that it could be an achievement or are they normally afterthoughts?

TW: We kind of come up with them as we play.  For instance if we do an awesome jump that’s really tricky that might be one.  I once jumped a rock spire and landed in a crater and we though “Cool this could be an achievement!”.  That’s kinda how it works.

BG: Doom 3 seemed to get short changed as it appeared to launch just as the console technology changed.  Did you take any lessons from Doom 3 that will be applied to RAGE?

TW: Yeah, make it look brighter!

And we can’t imagine a better place to leave the interview than that pearl of wisdom.  RAGE really did look spectacular up on stage and I have to imagine the poor Xbox 360 was working its guts out to produce the kind of imagery that was on display.

Id Software’s RAGE launches September 15th 2011 on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 and is published by Bethesda.

Tim Willits (id), Barry Guihen (BG), Jason Kim (id)

About Zeth

Zeth is our EU Senior Editor and has been writing about video games since he joined BG back in 2008. He's pretty old and has been a gamer since he played Space Invaders as a young boy in the 80's. His genre tastes lean towards platformers, point-and-click adventure, action-adventure and shooters but he'll turn his hand to anything.

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