Following the mix-up, I had a chance to sit down with Willits and put the issue to rest, as well as several other controversial topics related to Rage (PC, 360, PS3)--many of which were originally raised by id Software president John Carmack. "As far as game content, I will swear on the lives of my children that nothing was cut," said Willits in an early shoot-down of the rumor.
But what of the compression issue? During his QuakeCon speech in August, Carmack put pressure on Microsoft to drop its royalty fees for additional Xbox 360 discs in order to free up more space for the game's content, saying the title would look worse on the Xbox 360 due to compression. Now Willits says the whole thing was a classic misunderstanding.
"Microsoft is not being dickheads," he said. "It was a simple kind of miscommunication. Microsoft does not charge a royalty per disc, but there is a cost of goods that goes along with manufacturing. "
However, Willits noted that the cost of manufacturing a third disc was not behind the decision to spread the game across two discs. Instead, the game's story structure was the decisive factor. The narrative Willits produced split well into two acts, and the company wasn't planning for enough content to justify a third.
"I had the story all written out, and we decided to make it into two acts, with a logical place in the middle where players will remove one disc and stick the other disc in, and they never have to load that other disc up," elaborated Willits. "The story is constructed in such a way that I would be very sad if we had to make it fit into three discs, because where would you switch the disc if it's three and you had a two-act story?"
And what of the comments by Carmack that the game will look worse on the Xbox 360 due to compression and space limitations?
"Yes, I mean, technically that is correct, but realistically and practically they look the same," explained Willits. "The confusion over three discs was just a simple mixup here at id, not a disagreement.. John is so black and white. John is so technically correct. You know how John is."
Willits went on to explain that the engine's "reachability calculation" will determine whether the game needs to load resources based on the character's location. When pressed, he admitted that some differences will be noticeable: "If you know what you're looking for, you will notice it, yes."
However, the designer was adamant that the average user will not notice the compression, and that in the end, the whole confusion amounts to a very minor graphics compromise for the sake of a convenient place to split the story.
"Practically, it's not really gonna make a big difference. We're trying to make it look awesome on all the platforms," he said, while adding that Rage "would require a lot of design rework to turn it into a three-disc game."
Rage is still heavily in development, leading Willits to note that the issue of which console version will look better may still be undecided.
"We haven't solved all the compression issues yet. We're close to it. The PS3 streams things slower than the 360, so by the time we ship, there may be the case where getting things off the disk faster may ultimately look better. Until we are really done, and until we can get a reporter to come to id for a 'first look,' it's really difficult to predict, because DVD streaming may play a factor."
In his talk at the Austin Game Developer Conference, Willits told the story of the game's evolution toward a two-wasteland title, rather than five or six of the areas. But what does that even mean? For players, it won't be a major difference, as each wasteland essentially acts as an overworld that contains instanced dungeons.
"The wasteland is big, and then you'll drive up to something like an old bunker, and then you'll get out of your vehicle and you'll enter that bunker," added Willits. "And that will actually load the level, and it will be like a Doom 3 level--not like Doom 3 technology, but a first person, classic id style level. Then you complete your mission, and you'll come back into the wasteland. and drive back to your settlement, or you'll drive to another level, or you'll drive around and blow up bandits."
Not long after his speech, Willits left the conference early and returned to Dallas. His team is currently working toward a major milestone on Rage--a game which he is understandably enthusiastic about.
"We really are trying to make a fun game. We focus much more on the narrative, and on characters, on the story.. There's no flashlight. It's cool."