Red Faction Maxes Out XBox 360 - Volition Turn to XBox 720
Red Faction: Guerrilla is one of the marquee releases of early 2009 and easily one of The 60 Hottest Games of 2009. We caught up with producer Rick White to talk about life, the universe and well... everything Red Faction.
Gameplayer: How important is Red Faction in general, and particularly Red Faction: Guerrilla, to Volition?
Rick White: I think for me personally it extends a brand that a lot of Volition is known about, and so for us it's been important to kinda go back to that root, of where Volition came from, and bring that IP back to life in a big way. I think strategically at THQ it's as important as any other project, but I think it's of more personal importance to the team at Volition.
Gameplayer: You've left one competitive genre to enter another, going from a linear first-person shooter to an open-world third-person shooter - how has the team responded to this challenge?
Rick White: I think early on they responded, to be honest, in shock. I was the new kid on the block and once I started seeing the destruction engine and seeing how you were taking damage from this physics-based system I was getting frustrated. We'd bring in testers from the local college and they were getting frustrated because they were getting knocked down by stuff they couldn't see so from a gameplay point-of-view we had to pull it back - it just had to happen. You can see stuff more, you get a broader view.
Gameplayer: And so what sort of other changes are needed with the way you approach things? What have you found you've needed to do differently?
Rick White: I think for us it was multiple levels. We had to have an AI that can now figure out how to navigate a dynamic world with destruction. Does that AI now know how to go though a hole in the wall, or a hole in the floor? Does it know that it's quicker to jump through that hole than it is to go down the stairs? We had to figure out an AI that knew how to take cover and when to move on when that cover's no longer there because you blew up that wall.
On the design side, because it's non-linear, we had to create what I'm gonna call points-of-interest, challenges, that we assume the player can come from any angle - so how do we make sure that these challenges have different ways of successfully completing them.
And then, obviously, on the art side of it, how do we build these structures that take into account stress and the type of material that it's made out of and make sure that they're structurally sound? Early on a lot of our buildings looked really cool, but when we put them in the game they just collapsed on their own - the stress and the weight, they just weren't built correctly. We had to have more of an architectural mentality when building them.
Gameplayer: Obviously a lot of Volition's experience with Saints Row translates to a game of this type, but where else do you look for inspiration when building a game this ambitious?
Rick White: What type of movies?
Gameplayer: Oh, all kinds of things...
Rick White: I think for us, looking at Red Faction originally, what resonated with people, was the starting point. What do we fail to do that we didn't deliver on with Red Faction?
That was really the message of being able to carve your own path, go anywhere. At the end of the day Red Faction was still a linear game - you still had to go back to point A to continue the story. So the Geo-Mod was kinda meaningless, so how do we make destruction meaningful? Once we researched that technology then we thought, how do we make a game out of this? And a game on Mars.
So I think we looked at Total Recall, [the novel] Red Mars I believe it was, and just looked at different movies. Our walkers are inspired by Aliens. For us it was how do we go sci-fi but also keep it in a realm of possibility, so the player's going to be comfortable with what he's looking at? We didn't want to go high sci-fi. Mars is terraformed, but people believe that someday we're going to be on Mars. We really didn't want a bunch of lasers and stuff like that.
Gameplayer: You mentioned the original Red Faction, and while the destruction was limited it was still light years ahead of its time. Nobody was doing anything like it, and nobody ever really managed to really emulate it until now. Why do you think this is so, and how long do you think it'll take for the industry to catch up with RFG?
Rick White: My guess would be two years, but I think part of it is making that time investment and being willing to make the compromises. We've had to make compromises on the visual side of it as well as just design. We're pushing so many polys with the destruction system it's not going to look like your Gears of War 2. Part of what we've had to do over the past four years is not only come up with this tech - which we're calling the Red Engine - but figure out the perfect balance.
Gameplayer: So you're saying that RFG is pushing the hardware as far as it can go? Squeezing every drop of juice out of the Xbox 360?
Rick White: Yeah, we've got it to the point where we can't even put an extra vehicle into a world, because it'll blow the memory. Every little change we make we have to be hyper-critical about it because it could just bring the whole system down.
We evaluate every little change in the game, and then we run our tools on it to make sure it isn't going to break the game and then we move forward, so it really is about pushing the engine as far as we can, and pushing the hardware as far as we can, and then looking at what is the next set of hardware that's going to come out. Where can we take it then? You know we're already thinking about if we had XYZ X number of years from now, what would we do with our engine?
Gameplayer: So you've got a lot of plans for this engine?
Rick White: I think as the consoles grow, be it the 720 or whatever, it's going to increase our ability to deliver a better looking game with more destruction, or more dense environments. I mean, one thing we have now, because we're throwing so many polys around we're not as dense as Saints Row 2. One thing that you could see with a more powerful console with more dense environments.
Gameplayer: We see a lot of developers these days juggling multiple projects, what's the secret to success?
Rick White: That's an interesting question. I think part of it is timing, part of it is luck, and it's having dedicated teams. With Saints Row 2 and RFG we had our own separate teams, and we steal from each other as far as technology goes, but we do our own thing and we have our own staff.
Gameplayer: So what's RFG's magic mushroom? Games like this tend to get a foothold through positive word-of-mouth, so what is it that people are going to be telling each other about this game? What is that special something?
Rick White: What we've been seeing is, with a lot of our testing, is we ask them at the end, "What is that most meaningful moment for you?" A lot of that meaningful moment is a moment that they created. It wasn't, "Oh, I went over here and did this because the game wants me to do that" - it's the unexpected that they created.
For example, this one guy yesterday said, "Oh, I'm gonna throw a bunch of these remote charges up on this bridge", the bridge collapsed and killed him. He's like, "Woah, shit, what happened?" Or, in a fight in multiplayer this one guy was being killed by this guy up on a roof, so he finally went in the building and he shot up, blowing a hole in the building and killing that guy but then this huge slab came down and took him out.
It's all these moments: they happen in real-time, it's dynamic. It's those player-generated surprises they get from having a dynamic world.