There are people who are excited about Rage, the next game from id Software, makers of Doom. And there are people who say they don't get it. It's a first-person shooter. With car combat. What are these people missing?
"There's nothing that we're doing besides technology that really hasn't been done before," Rage creative director Tim Willits told me during a recent interview in Dallas.
That should have been a jaw-dropper. The rules of Game Hyping 101 mandate a game developer profess that their game does something new, that it twists gameplay this way and that. When a new game isn't inventing, it must surely be re-inventing something.
Nope. Rage is amazing technology and a simple game design. It is id's new technology drawing possibly the most detailed graphics yet seen on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is also a wasteland action game with elements you can imagine: first-person corridor shooting, dune buggy races, car combat in desert canyons, towns like the already-shown Wellspring full of mission-givers and mini-games.
On paper, this is one plain game. In execution — like when id ran the game on three big screens, one for each platform, live at QuakeCon 2010 in Dallas — it makes fans of Doom and Quake roar. Willits has no gameplay secret he is withholding. Nope. The greatness of Rage would be, he says, in its pieces and in its glue. "It's the implementation of how it all fits together," Willits said. "The technology allows us to do more and have more diversity than you find in other games."
Even Willits' claim that Rage lets the developers do "more" doesn't lead to the normal game hype, nor even to the normal new-game reality of seeing hordes of enemies on a screen that five years ago would have shown a handful. "More," Willits says, is "diversity of gameplay, from the races, to Wasteland combat, to mini-games, to the Authority, to Mutants, to Bash TV [Editor's note: we previewed the gameshow-like Bash TV last year]. I mean, our goal with Rage is, when people spend their $60, for people to say, 'You know what, I got $60 worth of game. This thing's fun. This thing's awesome.' And we're not talking about our multiplayer, but it definitely has a cool over the top Rage feel to it. So, you're right, more is not 'more particles.' It's not 'more enemies.' It's gameplay and all the stuff you do in the world."
When Rage was demoed at QuakeCon it exhibited a lot of that diversity. Its dense cities looked different than its deserts, of course. Its combat looked variously open to gunning head-first or setting up turrets to do the damage, using your fists or rolling a radio-controlled bomb car to do your violence for you. (People testing the game tend to use a lot of the boomerang-like Wingstick, Willits told me.) Enemies looked different and — we'll have to trust the designers on this one for now — supposedly think and fight in distinct manners. During our interview, Willits showed me cards that had drawings of four of the game's enemy factions. "The Shrouded clan fight much differently than the Scorchers do, or the Waste or the Ghost," he said. "In other games, you basically say, 'Okay, these are the humans, they all fight the same.' We've really made an effort that if an area looks different, if we've given you something new to play with, then the guys better be different."
For all that detail, we literally only know the half of it. Rage will have two distinct halves. All which has been shown — from desert to dam to a ruined skyscraper city — are from the game's first half.
"The second part of the game - we call it Wasteland 2 for lack of a better term — does have a much different look to it," Willits said. "The main town doesn't have any western feel to it like Wellspring does. You finally have a chance to face the Authority. The artists have been working on that over the past few weeks and it looks totally cool."
All of this game running on id's beast of a new graphics engine will be available for gamers in 13 months, September 2011. During QuakeCon, though, that three-screen, three-platform demo did provoke the standard concerns that the versions of the game would differ. Visually, it allayed that fear. All three versions looked impressive. Loading times, which seemed to be an issue for the PS3 build during the presentation, are due to some fiddling with sound files, Willits said, and will be remedied. And what of the prospect of the Xbox 360 version needing multiple discs? "The single-player campaign is going to be on two disc," Willits said of that Xbox 360 version. "You'll play through the first one. There's a logical part where, now I'm moving on to the second chapter. When you switch the disc there's no reason to ever put disc one back in. And if you're playing on the PC or PS3 you're never gong to go back anyways, so you don't get an advantage."
Id doesn't want to get too bogged down in tech talk. At QuakeCon, Willits and even id's iconic programmer and co-founder John Carmack protested that the studio is not strictly the technology company people say they are. They can be creative. They can nail aesthetics, action and adventure.
Rage may prove to be special, maybe not in terms of gameplay, but in terms of a game that can satisfyingly transform the reputation of id Software. Maybe it will give players a better wheel, if not a re-invented one.