QuakeCon 08: id Software Interview
with Tim Willits
QuakeCon this year might not have had a whole lot new to offer for gamers to get their hands on, but the promise of plenty of new stuff is right around the corner. id Software has more projects in the works at the same time than they've ever had, and they're all looking great. I got the chance to sit down with id co-founder Tim Willits about their latest developments and the happenings at this year's QuakeCon in Dallas, Texas.
Jeff:I saw Wolfenstein on Wednesday, and a lot of people have been worried about id software moving over to consoles, and worried that it's going to be more focused on console than PC; that PC is going to become the afterthought that will just get thrown in later. But I noticed with Wolfenstein that Raven's doing all 3 platforms at the same time and it seems to be an equal focus. Is that something id is trying to do as well?
Tim:Yes. For Rage, one of the advantages that we have for the id Tech 5 stuff is that John (Carmack) right from the beginning when he started working on the technology, he started from the ground up with all 3 platforms in mind. Like on other games and with id Tech 4 stuff, we did the PC first and had to shove it onto the other consoles and it was very difficult. John can speak more technically about this, but each platform has multi-processors; the renderers are different but not that different. And because he started from scratch this made it much easier for him and for us. So for us as a developer we can take the same models, textures, and levels, and we don't have to reduce on PS3, we don't have to take characters out on the 360, and it's given us a great advantage because historically, you work on one game, finish it, then spend millions trying to get it working on the other consoles. So that's one of the pillars of id Tech 5 stuff.
But each system will play to its strengths and as we get closer to shipping the big thing you'll notice between the 3 systems is the multiplayer, how they handle, the tracking, the friends, and then we'll make some adjustments to the PC version just because with the keyboard and mouse you have a bit more accuracy. But really, we're trying to do it all at the same and trying to make a fun game for all of the platforms. That's something new for us but so far we've been successful.
Some diehard PC gamers say that if you make a game for consoles and PC at the same time, you're going to make a game that's not that great for consoles and not that great for PC either. But I think there are a couple of developers that have proved otherwise.
Yeah, like Call of Duty 4, and BioShock...
Yeah, but we all make PC mistakes. But there are teams that have been doing it.
So with Rage, it sounds like you guys are pretty far along.
Last year, when we announced the game at QuakeCon, we were still in some of the prototype stages and were trying to figure out the balance. Right now we're firing on all cylinders, we are through the prototype stages and we have answered a lot of the gameplay questions and issues that we were facing. It's important to say that Rage is a first person action game, but it's no longer just run-and-gun. You have exploration, some adventure elements, some racing elements, some vehicle combat elements, but those are there to enhance the first person experience.
Whereas the vehicle, we want to make that an extension of your first-person avatar. When you jump into it you're not going from DOOM 3 to Ridge Racer. We want to try and make the world as seamless as possible, and that's some of the prototyping that we've been working on last year. So it is important to know it is a first-person game. I think sometimes people see the vehicles and get confused and that's my job this QuakeCon...
... to make sure that people know that if they loved Quake and DOOM, they are still going to love Rage because there will be a lot of action...
Yes. And we are good at that moment-to-moment microcosm of action. You're fighting and you're running and gunning, and that is the foundation. But we've kind of opened up the play area and we're really going for more diversity. We have unique texturing that has really given us the ability to make areas that look really different and new, and we're also trying to diversify the gameplay experience too so you're not doing the same thing.
I saw the new trailer last night, and it looked like it was really moving at a good frame rate and it looked like lots of high-quality art. Some might say that reminds them of the Killzone 2 trailer from the PS3 from a few years ago at E3 where they said it was in-game and it really wasn't.
John (Carmack) talked about it last night, I think. You know how John is. He's the most honest developer in the whole world. He'll openly admit when we make mistakes. But yeah, he talked about it last night.
[Editor's note: I was trying to get Tim to talk about it too, but for the record, yes, the trailer was put together from real-time gameplay footage.]
Thing is, we have really good artists. Kenneth Scott is our art director. We hire some really damn good artists, and I think that really is it. Talent, talent, talent. We stress about the way things look and we spend a lot of time trying to make it look as beautiful as we can.
I wanna switch over to Quake Live for a minute, and talk about the latest with that.
So if you go to the BYOC [at QuakeCon], you can sign up and play.
That was another question I had - what are people playing this year. Last year you guys released the Enemy Territory Quake Wars demo as a surprise for all of QuakeCon to play. So Quake Live is available for all at QuakeCon to jump into this year?
Yep, and we have a Quake Live tournament, and also have an Enemy Territory tournament. I was [at the BYOC] last night, and there were a whole lot of Quake Live servers. When you go in, you can play and see how you rank and see how you stack up against the rest of the BYOC.
Some of the pro players are going for that top rank, to show off to their friends, and everyone can see it.
I played some of Fallen Empire: Legions, the browser-based Tribes successor, something that looks similar in theory to what Quake Live is doing.
I haven't played it. Is it any good?
It seems pretty good in that they started from scratch, are less than a year into development and already have something really playable that's pretty solid for now. My question, though, is if you're trying to go for this slightly casual audience and you've got this game that requires months and months of practice in order to be good at, what exact audience are you shooting for with Quake Live?
That's a very good question. If you look at GameSpy stats, you've still got Quake 3 which came out in '99, which is still up there in the top 5. So there are people that are playing it. And there are people, that honestly, are playing it with hacked keys and hacked servers. So what our goal is is to get all the people who are playing on hacked servers and keys to play for free because it's the same thing. We're trying to get the people who are already playing it there. And then, with the matchmaking and the automated tournaments which will come as updates as we move into it, we're going to try and pull in new people. But you are right; it is difficult. But the game's been out for a while. We've made some improvements to it, but the core of the work is done, it's successful.
Like John said last year at his keynote: the Quake Live experiment may prove to be successful, or may prove to be a complete failure. But one of the great things about it is that we're small and we're still trying to maintain that small team attitude. And it gives us a luxury of making risks and taking chances, and we feel that with Quake Live, financially it's not that big a risk for us, but it's really cool.
So, digital distribution, you guys have done a little bit with Steam.
Yes, and it was very successful.
And I think I heard last night..
John was weary?
Not so big on it for the new games like Rage.
It all comes down to data size. John knows how big Rage will be, on you know, the Blu-Rays and DVDs and stuff. It was unfortunate that he said that because there are solutions out there that he might not be aware of.
Like downloading twice as much stuff.
Yeah, so we're definitely not closing the door. I think if he were pressed to do it, he would come back and say "oh, well actually what I meant was..." I'm not worried about that. Even John doesn't know all the facts about everything. We're not taking anything off the table. If we can find a partner that can handle the size of the Rage game, so we can deliver it to the people, we're all about that. We've had so much success with Steam, it'd be silly to shut the door on that.
I'd imagine with EA as the publisher for Rage, well, EA does have a download service. It's a little... unfriendly. You have to pay for the privilege of re-downloading a game if your hard drive crashes, or things like that. But you're not locked into digital distribution on EA, are you?
You'd have to ask Todd (Hollenshead, CEO of id) that. I've no idea.
A lot of people hate EA's download service.
I've never used it.
It can be annoying. You only have six months to re-download, and if you pay an extra, I think it's six bucks when you buy the game, then you have up to two years and then that's it to re-download, whereas Steam is just forever.
Yeah, we've had great success with Steam. We don't want to close the door on that.
The whole console-PC cycle: in 2005, consoles became the big thing again. Nowadays we're seeing a resurgence of the PC, as far as being able to put together a $600 PC that plays games and looks way better than a $400 console. Is that something you guys are trying to take advantage of, or something that you shoot for?
John has talked about this before and he's probably better at answering this, but the PC market's still alive and well, games like World of Warcraft have proved that. And there are certain games that work much better on the PC. But the console market's huge and the industry itself is growing. We have millions and millions of people out there. So far, our industry has done well with the current downturn of the economy; people love to play games. I always hate to say one thing's dying, one thing's not dying, but I think all the platforms are doing well and we want to take advantage of those opportunities. But piracy is still a big issue on the PC. That really is the #1 issue that we face on the PC.
It's looking like Europe is starting to become a big center of PC gaming.
Yeah, on Enemy Territory, I think it's Germany, not sure. But one country was just huge sales, and Europe in general has been great for us.
Although, they seem to like European games more than they like American games.
Historically, id has done surprisingly well with games in Europe. It's definitely a growing market and for Rage, we've already talked about what can we do. We know that it's already very US-centric, with the cars, and the American muscle...
And the post-apocalypse setting...
Yes, yes. We are of aware of that and are encouraged by that market. The same with Eastern Europe and Russia. And in Russia, the publishers have made inroads into the black market issue there, and they're making good steps. That is a market that's growing quite rapidly.
Interesting. Thanks, Tim.