Tim Willits Part 2: ‘Single player games and MMOs will converge’

Following on from Part 1 of MCV Pacific’s interview with Tim Willits, creative director of RAGE at id Software, Tim discusses player agency, animations and the future of games.

How does id reconcile the promise of an open(ish) world and the freedom that brings to a player with the desire to tell a story and keep the player on track?

If you give the player a choice, first of all, you need to make sure that they know they have a choice and they need to be able to see how that choice has affected the world around them. It’s much better than having the story just branch, because most people will only play your game once, and you’ve then made a heck of a lot of content that most people will never see.

So, for us, we definitely want people to see all the cool content that we’ve made, so we funnel you right back to where you need to be.

RAGE is slated to be a huge game, yet each character on screen is meticulously animated and lip-synched. Has that attention to detail hampered the scope of the game in any way?

What’s interesting about RAGE and gives it a kind of unique style is that our main characters that you interact with like Dan and J.K. are all keyframed, which gives them that larger-than-life, over-the-top almost Pixar-ish vibe. But the combat is all mo-capped, and usually people do that the other way around. They’ll mo-cap their main characters to give them that realistic feel and just keyframe the combat because it’s easier. Mo-capped data is so much more expensive.

So with our main characters, we spent heaps of time making sure that their facial animations looked good and that their lip-synching was good, but we also gave them that over-the-top, almost cartooney feel to kind of bridge that gap in between. If you have good facial animations and lip-synching, you ground your character in real life, but then if you keyframe his bodily animations you give him that unique style. It wasn’t daunting, or a challenge per se – more of a design decision.

So its been possible to really make RAGE the game you wanted to make both in terms of scale and detail of animations?

Well, we only have 5 animators. But those guys were able to pull off all the key lip-synching on the main guys, and get all the combat, but we wouldn’t have been able to keyframe that.

What’s the trend you appreciate the most in the evolution of open world games, including RPGs like Fallout and STALKER, and mostly open games like RAGE and… well, I can’t think of any good comparisons there.

Which is good. One of the reasons getting the message out about RAGE has been difficult is because it’s such a different game.

Storytelling is key in open world games, and then just the sheer variety of things you can do. We have games like Skyrim, where there’s just SO much you can do: you can develop your character the way you want, you can develop the game the way you want and play it the way you want, and that’s a great trend I hope will continue to grow.

But it’s the social aspect of games which is hugely important.

In the future, I believe we will have many more games where the choices that you make in your single player game will affect games that other people play. Yes, we have massively multiplayer games now, but they’re so connected and tied-in and you’ll have a much more social component to many bigger games.

So you’d say there will be a breakdown in the barrier between single player games and MMOs over time then?

Yes. Just think of Fallout. If you went off to do something and you’re playing through and you made one faction more powerful. Maybe, when your buddy gets there that faction still is. That’d just be cool! If things that you did in your game affected the universe, where you’re not necessarily directly competing, but different people’s outcomes are affected by what you do.

Stay tuned for Part 3 later this week…

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