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Technology, Design: Rage
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Technology, Design: Rage

August 6, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

You described how the world is populated with these varieties of bandit clans, each of whom have their own geographic areas of specific art direction and tone and gameplay. How much did that result from an original top-down design versus emerging out of the exploration of the various group identities?

MH: We did start with basic guidelines for the different areas. To be honest, our top-level design initially wasn't, "Hey, let's make each of these as diverse as possible." You're always trying to do that, but what we started to notice, and a lot of this comes from animation and design, that we would find things we liked and then focus on them.

It really happened later in the project than you would expect. It was engineering, a MacGuyver-ing of different items. We had just a few concepts [at first], and then we'd say, "You know, this one is really cool," and we added this and added that. The next thing you know, we felt really strong about that particular system being something that enhanced the experience in a way that no other game has done.

The different bandit clans started just from the visual style of the game. We were pushing diversity through the visual aspects, and it compelled us on the gameplay side to match that.

When we saw the Ghost [clan], we said, "Those guys look tribal. Maybe they have gritty voices, almost brutal." But they were thin and agile, and the AI programmers introduced to us a system where we could completely the environment with opportunities for the AI to dynamically grab a rafter to flip around, or do a running wall kick off.

Now the AI for that clan can move all around that way. That was from taking advantage of opportunities starting with the visuals. That's what nice about having the time to iterate through the design.

Speaking of influences, I had heard a big influence on Carmack for the environment tech came from satellite photography?

MH: Yeah. He was taking satellite photographs, almost like how Google Earth works now, which wasn't even there at the time. For the idea of streaming in textures, he used that as a proving ground. He got a bunch of different satellite images, and as you moved around, it would stream in what it needed. Now, what with Google Earth, you think, "Well, yeah, I know exactly what that is." But at the time, that didn't exist.

That then inspired the design side for Tim, who set out the initial top level design. He said, "Okay, we need a world that's big, and this is what the tech does. Let's open up the environments. We've never done that before. It will fit with the new property." That was really a back and forth.

Can you bring to mind any particularly interesting or fruitful learning experiences you've had going into an open world? They're increasingly common these days but still ambitious endeavors.

MH: The important thing to note is that's why we always say it's open but directed. We still have a directed path. We decided to have those [open-world] opportunities but to still let the player know where he should be going in the main story arc.

We don't want the player to feel like he's lost. We were really conscious about how we opened the world up to give the player as much as we think he can handle. As the game starts out you're working with local settlers and a couple bandit clans. Maybe you see your first mutant in a very localized area, but if you blow up a bandit blockade, that opens up another section. We try to let the player learn.

We found that, at least in our case, we shouldn't overwhelm the player with, "Here's the whole world." That works in some games, but it's not what our games are. Ours is more of a slow unfolding of the world until eventually you have an entire section of the wasteland unveiled, and then there's another section to be unveiled. We learned that feels better for this type of game.

How much has the design changed over six years?

MH: A ton. Everything. Part of it was technology; part of it was what we wanted to do on the design side. We used to have six little chunks of wasteland with discrete opportunities. Then we went with two giant but more integrated chunks. We've been back and forth, and we moved environments around. We found that with some of the more opportunistic things for the player, like little modular sewers, he can go in and achieve something even without a specifically-crafted job that he has to do.

We keep finding those opportunities. I mentioned the sniper mission [on the mountain]. That's something that we're putting into the game just because the world looks so beautiful up high, and there's a sniper rifle. It just fit, so we've added those things in. It's constantly changing.

Given that level of design fluidity, do specific artists and designers end up getting attached to particular parts of the world or factions or what have you, and then just go all out with it?

MH: We try to take advantage of that. That's classic management, right? If somebody has a lot of passion, they're going to probably do a better job. We're always looking for somebody to say, "Guys, this really fits here," and we'll let him go with it.

Sometimes we'll switch, though. We might take something from a designer who did the initial outlay and give it to another designer who may be able to breathe fresh new life and put new ideas into it. We're constantly doing that kind of thing.

Do you find you frequently have to proactively rein that kind of exploration in?

MH: Yeah, we always have to do that. That's not just so we can ship the game. You could go on forever with, say, ammo types, right? But if they're not meaningful, then you're just bombarding the player with not-meaningful choices, and that's terrible. As a player, I hate that. The same goes for getting lost and not knowing where you're supposed to go, or even being able to find the right kind of information. You can go too far with that. Having less really badass stuff is always better than having a whole lot of mediocre stuff.

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