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id Software: Avoiding cannibalization in the post-apocalypse

Tim Willits on the role of Fallout 76 in Rage 2's pre-E3 reveal, and why id no longer uses its tech to sell its games

Earlier this year, Rage 2 was among a number of games accidentally leaked by Walmart Canada. While no developer particularly likes having a carefully laid marketing plan upended like that, id Software studio director Tim Willits told GamesIndustry.biz at E3 that the timing of the leak "was actually quite nice for us."

The company had always planned to reveal Rage 2 with a series of marketing beats before E3, so they simply accelerated the time-frame a little and tweaked it to play off the situation.

"It turned out so well that a number of journalists were like, 'You guys planned that right?'" Willits said. "No, we didn't plan it."

"It turned out so well that a number of journalists were like, 'You guys planned that right?'"

As for why the game was always planned to be announced before the show, Willits referred to "a 55,000-ton gorilla we have to compete with" while pointing to a poster of another Bethesda-published post-apocalyptic game getting a big push at E3: Fallout 76.

"That's why I positioned this as the post-post-apocalyptic game," he said. "From the story and the different biomes we've created, we tried to evolve the game past the 50 shades of brown we had in Rage and [Rage 2 developer] Avalanche had in Mad Max. So we really embraced the colors, the vibrancy of the personalities, the characters, the story, and of course the marketing, which has done really well for us. You have to be at the top of the scale, otherwise you're just at that bottom. You're ballast."

When a publisher like Bethesda needs to adjust its marketing plans to avoid post-apocalyptic cannibalization (the financial kind, not the culinary kind) of its E3 lineup, perhaps it's time to ask why the fantasy of inhabiting a ruined and lawless wasteland is so popular these days.

Rage 2 has plenty of competition in the post-apocalypse

Rage 2 has plenty of competition in the post-apocalypse

"The reason we like the setting is it's grounded in things people can understand, or easily imagine, but it's set in the future where we can have sci-fi stuff, because we're a bunch of sci-fi nerds," Willits said. "So we can create these over-the-top weapons and over-the-top creatures, but we can ground it in something people know - 'Oh yeah, this could be our new future.'

"We can have these high fantasy, sci-fi-type experiences and over-the-top action in a world that people may not be able to directly relate to, but they can relate to it easier than some super fantasy alien world. We don't have to explain buildings and roads and all that; people understand it, and then they come on the journey with us."

"You have to be at the top of the scale, otherwise you're just at that bottom. You're ballast"

Following up on his comments about evolving the franchise, Willits said Rage 2 will stand out from the post-apocalyptic crowd with its somewhat happier color palette and more lighthearted tone. While some developers may be portraying crumbling societies with "mean violence," Willits prefers to think of Rage 2 as employing "fun, over-the-top violence."

"There are some serious elements to Rage 2, but we're making fun games, and they need to be fun," Willits said. "We don't take ourselves too seriously."

The idea of games needing to be fun is one Willits returns to multiple times during the interview, saying it's important that Rage 2 carries the id Software DNA woven through the company's other big IP: Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein.

"It's the power fantasy of you as the hero," Willits explained when asked about the makeup of that DNA. "You're always the good guy. We have these over-the-top, meaty, situational weapons. The combat is always intense. We put you into the game. I know everyone laughs when you say, 'We innovate and immerse you,' but we do. First-person shooters are the most immersive you can get. And when you play an id game, it feels like an id game. And if you said, 'Well why?' I don't know. It just feels like an id game."

"Having a brand new technology doesn't necessarily sell your game anymore, because there are so many good games, there's such good technology, and everyone has brilliant programmers"

Long-time fans of the developer may notice a missing element there. Back before id co-founder John Carmack left for Oculus, the studio also prided itself on technological prowess, pushing the envelope in some way with virtually every release. The original Rage was the last major release with Carmack at the studio, and its technological innovation was megatextures, a technique allowing for massive textures far bigger than any video card's memory to be used in a game world.

"Megatextures were really fun to look at, but did not actually do anything for gameplay," Willits noted. "That led to us having these different parts of Rage, where you had your level load, your shooting load, and your driving load. There was always that disconnect we struggled with, until we were able to work with the Apex engine--which is not even our engine--and actually make a real open-world game with no level loads anywhere, with id-style combat.

"The focus of the studio is on design and experience. And we have some kickass technology. You've seen Doom. And the new stuff the guys are working on that we haven't showed yet is cool. And we still work very closely with our hardware partners, but making a fun game is the most important thing."

The difference, according to Willits, is simply that technology no longer plays a big part in the marketing.

"The industry--and you've seen this, you've been around a long time--the technology has almost plateaued a bit," he said. "No one really talks about this technology. 'This new video card does this; this new video card does that.' That isn't really the talk of the town, and having a brand new technology doesn't necessarily sell your game anymore, because there are so many good games, there's such good technology, and everyone has brilliant programmers.

"And we have the best programmers, but it isn't something we need to use to sell our games. We just need to make great games."

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