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Everyone has their eyes on id Software whenever it makes new product announcements -- not least because these often coincide with new iterations of the company's game engine, id Tech. The same holds true of Rage, which is due to be released in 2011.
The title expands its gameplay palette from the shooting that the team has previously concentrated on by expanding the gameworld into a sprawling post-apocalyptic world. The technology, too, changes the fundamental way the company approaches its games, by introducing its megatexture techology which allows for massive background textures to match the game's environments.
Here, Matt Hooper, id's design director, discusses both the gameplay and technology changes that have resulted in Rage, and how the very roles and team composition were changed by the company's drive to make a game unlike, on so many levels, what it had tried in the past.
How has your role as design director changed as id has finally been back in full production on a large-scale internal title?
Matt Hooper: That's kind of a tough question, because it's evolved so much over the however many years we've been working on the project. After Doom 3, we had about 15 core developers, and now we have something closer to 60.
So, not only my role but the roles of a lot of people have changed over time. In the past, I worked very close with John [Carmack] on the technology, then we cracked that and I moved forward from more of a design perspective. But since I have some programming and technical abilities, it was nice working with John in the early days and pushing the direction of the technology.
Now, I spend most of my time working with our group of talented designers on the moment-to-moment interactions, including the different weapons and making sure they feel right. It's really more pure design now.
As you suggested, Rage has been in development for quite a while. Can you pin that down?
MH: In total, it's been probably about six years. Again, the company was smaller. We worked on other projects, some external projects and things like that. As far as actual production, after the initial technology and pre-production, it's been three years.
The scale of this game, the sheer volume of assets, is very much a departure for id, and that's reflected in the fact that the team size is now four times what it was after Doom 3. Has that changed the company philosophically, how you think about development?
MH: You know, the funny thing [is that] this is no different from id in the past. We were the first people to push dynamic lighting, and bump maps on characters and worlds. Even Quake 1 was one of the first truly 3D environments. And even with Doom, we've always done this -- disruptive technology. It's technology that comes in and completely changes the way you build and make games.
Some of the core aspects of game design are still there, but every new iteration of the [id] tech, especially when it's so fundamentally different, turns everything on its head, [in terms of] the way the artists have to work. This idea of being able to go back into the environments and add that last layer of detail with stamping – "unique-ing" all of the different texture space -- there's a whole new group of artists who do that.
We found that some people are better at that. Some people who might not fit as an artist on Doom 3 now have a tremendous worth on fine-tuning different environments. It's turned us on our head. We've had to completely re-figure out how to build games with the new tech. But that's what pre-production is for. Now we kind of know what we're doing, and we have a method for getting it done.
Do you think those new roles, for example the detail-level artist you mentioned, will be codified as long term development roles?
MH: I wonder. I'm not an artist, but from the outside, I see more traditional art. In the old days, you just make a whole character and animate it on 64 by 64 pixels, and that took a certain type of art. Then we moved to bump maps, where you need to make the high-poly models. The low-poly guys maybe couldn't do that, so you opened up to new artists. Now we have animations that look like movies, so we have a lot of movie guys coming in.
I think as the technology evolves, we're noticing there are groups of artists who can make tangible contributions with everything, from more concept art... You just have more screen resolution. A lot of traditional art is making its way into the game, and it's becoming slightly less technical. It does require a new group of artists who maybe don't have the technical ability, to bring their craft.
Speaking of traditional art, I was actually surprised when I saw the game how much really expressive hand-keyed animation there was, as opposed to the more sterile mo-cap kind of stuff. That's unusual for id as well.
MH: The credit goes to our group of animators, a really talented group. As we were iterating through and trying different things, we kept pushing diversity. We want each of the characters to look unique. The different characters look so wild and out there that it almost demands that over-the-top animation treatment. We really pick and choose the opportunities. Some are a little more -- I don't want to say cartoony, but they're a little more expressive.
The [animators] look at the character and they look at the emotion we said we wanted. When we first saw it, we had the same [reaction]. It's like, "Is this right? It's different from other games, but it's cool, and we like it." It makes the characters stand out. It didn't start out as "This is what we want." We just worked through it, and it made sense.