If you’ve ever tried in earnest to finish Doom II, you’ll know rage. But you won’t know Rage, the upcoming title from developer id Software. For the first time in more than a decade, the company is about to introduce an entirely new intellectual property, and it’s not the kind of game you’d expect from the people who created classic PC corridor shooters Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein. Rage’s creative director, Tim Willits, talks to us about trying new things while staying true to id Software’s legacy.
Rage is a first-person shooter set on Earth, but it’s not the Earth we know. It’s a post-apocalypic, asteroid-stricken location that has drawn comparisons to other big titles, like Borderlands and Fallout. The main character, a survivor of the impact, is rescued from certain death by a man named Dan Hagar and now has to fight for survival against factions of mutants that populate the wasteland.
Already you might suspect that things have changed at id Software, and you’d be right.
“Historically in our games, they’re not really character-driven to be honest,” Willits admits over the phone from Sydney, where he’s been spending his 40th birthday doing interviews with Australian and New Zealand press.
Willits may be spending his birthday away from his family and working, but he’s upbeat and genuinely passionate when talking about Rage’s more character-focused plot.
“For instance,” he says, “in Rage you have Dan Hager, who’s voiced by the legendary John Goodman, and he’s kind of your mentor for the first two hours of the game. So you have an attachment to him.”
Other characters that drive the plot include the resistance – the human survivors who defend their homes against bandits and mutants – and JK Styles, the host of a game show called Mutant Bash TV.
“We really worked hard on making these larger-than-life characters that are interesting to interact with, that you actually care about, that you actually want to help - you don’t just exist in a world with these cardboard characters that just support the action,” Willits says.
When we ask Willits what new things he’s done in Rage that he’d always wanted to do, he doesn’t hesitate. While Rage is “definitely a first-person game”, a significant portion of the action takes place with the main character behind the wheel of a car – a first for id.
“The whole driving mechanic was something that I always wanted to explore. I enjoyed playing games like Motorstorm, and even Ridge Racer, Gran Turismo,” Willits says.
“When you make first-person shooters for 17 years, it’s definitely fun to explore these other game modes and try to integrate them with something that you are very familiar with.”
Only two races in the game are mandatory, so those old-school shooter fans who aren’t into all this newfangled racing stuff won’t be forced to partake. Of course, Willits says, if people choose not to race then they won’t be able to purchase cool upgrades for their vehicles that can help them complete the game.
“You can buy things like shockwaves or mines or shields for your vehicle, or you can buys boosts and boost away from the action, so that’s how that mechanic works within the main story path,” he says.
Having driving be such an important mechanic in Rage may sound like a big departure from id Software’s straight-up first-person shooter roots, but an even bigger change is id’s attempt to make the game more “approachable” (read: easier) than previous games. The company is notorious for making its games extremely difficult, but Rage isn’t going to be nearly as rage-inducing.
“The game’s a big game, it takes most people about 15 hours to get through and for the first two hours of the game you’re kind of still in training mode where it’s very straightforward, it’s very linear,” Willits says.
“In the beginning we give you one new ammo type, one new weapon, you kinda get your feet wet at your pace.”
The challenge is finding a balance that will please both the hardcore gamers and the more casual ones.
“There are gamers out there that can just beat me at every game I’ve made, but then there are gamers who can’t find their way out of a room shaped like an H, so that’s always a struggle for us.”
Given that Willits has been working on nothing but first-person shooters for his entire, 17-year career, you might find it surprising that he doesn’t always draw on shooters for inspiration.
“On PCs I’m actually quite a big RTS fan, but lately I’ve been playing a lot of LittleBigPlanet with the kids,” he says.
Willits has seven-year-old triplets, so he keeps four-player co-op games at home.
“To get me and three seven-year-olds from one platform to the other platform at the same time, I should get an achievement for that! That is tricky,” he laughs.
“And with LittleBigPlanet 2, that has a little grappling mechanic, so the kids just end up grappling their brother and sister and they throw them into the lava or like, the pit of death. There’s a lot of fighting that goes on sometimes, you know, when we play LittleBigPlanet, but it’s definitely a family game at the Willits household.”
Willits’ chief inspiration, however, is and has always been Doom. After all, modding levels for the game got him hired at id Software 17 years ago, and it’s clear he still loves the game and the company.
“I really love what I do to create these wonderful projects, you know, and at the same time I get to play some of the best games in the world,” he says.
“So I’m going to be at id as long as I possibly can, ‘cause it’s all I know how to do.”