RAGE Preview: No Peeing

First unveiled in August 2007, RAGE--the latest from DOOM and QUAKE series creator id Software--has been a long time coming.

But, as publisher Bethesda revealed yesterday, it's still a ways off, with the post-apocalyptic shooter currently slated to hit PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 sometime in 2011.

Fortunately, we won't have to wait that long for new details and information, as id recently showed us the Xbox 360 build and shared some insight on the long-awaited game.

A Player's Choice
What it all boils down to, design director Matt Hooper explains, is providing the player with a variety of traditional and outlandish weapons, making sure they know the ins and the outs of the armament, then letting them play however and with whatever they choose.

That instruction of a weapon's capabilities comes though in the mission design. The crossbow's electrified bolts, for example, are introduced in a mission that sees players going up against enemies in a damp environment full of puddles and standing water, complete with a NPC that suggests aiming for the water to electrocute foes.

Previously, id demonstrated a similar instructional mission for the RC Bomb Car in which players enter an enemy base and must use the remote-controlled explosive they find within to get through a tiny hole in the wall and blow everything up.

In both cases, such missions serve to familiarize players with the capabilities of a particular item, after which they can choose to keep using it--that knowledge could prove useful later on, after all--or move on to something they like better.

Of course, in keeping with the "open but directed" setting, not all of the missions--many of which aren't as instructional--will be readily apparent. Some will take a bit of exploring, perhaps after overhearing a snippet of conversation at the bar, to discover.

"You can have as many weapons as you want," adds creative director Tim Willits. "There's no encumbrance because it's not that type of game."

Console Control
To help players manage their various weapons, ammunition and engineering items, the game's console control scheme makes use of customizable quick-use slots.

"You can click [with RB] between the four quick-use [weapons] or you can hold it down and select your weapon [with the analog stick], and then on this side, you can select your ammo [with the other stick]," Willits explains. "If you want to switch to pistol with fatboys [ammunition] real quick, you hit that and you just push two different directions.

Engineering--making specific items based on the parts one's salvaged and the plans they've discovered, such as a stationary turret or the spider-like sentry bot--works in a similar way. "When you want to use an engineering item, you hit a directional button on the d-pad that you have it assigned to, let's say the RC Bomb Car, you hit that button and you press your top shoulder button," senior producer Jason Kim adds.

As for managing what items and weapons are assigned to those quick-use slots, that's handled through the inventory system. "You go in and you reassign another direction to the weapon instead of what you have," he elaborates. "That's the same philosophy we take for the engineering items too. You'll get more and more, it's just if you want quick access to it, you have to make your choice at the inventory level."

The only thing that's yet to be resolved, however, is all of this will transfer over to and be controlled on PC. "We've done mouse and keyboard all the time, so I'm not worried about it, and none of the designers are either," says Kim. "Obviously, you want to shoot with the mouse, aim with the mouse, that's all clear and done and you move with the keypad--now how do we give the player enough power in the options to be able to configure that so that he feels like, 'Hey, this is built for me?'"

"It's just a matter of figuring out what are all the different feature sets we can actually cram in to the gamepad, cause that's our limiting factor, and then figuring out how to translate that onto the mouse and keyboard [in a way] that makes sense."

While there wasn't much shown or said of RAGE's vehicular combat and driving during this particular presentation, the company did drop a few hints here and there.

"There will be some very interesting vehicles that I don't want to talk about now, but that definitely go back to the whole sci-fi over-the-top kind of game design that we like to do," teases Willits." There will be more than just cruising around in a four-wheeler. "

"There's also quick-use items for the car," Hooper adds. "Some of those, with the different fiction that we're not going too deep on today, they're really neat and do cool things."

The Look, The Feel
"We found that we wanted to have a setting that allows us to do this kind over-the-top sci-fi stuff that we like to do at id, but we wanted to have stuff that people could relate to," explains Willits of the game's post-apocalyptic look and feel.

"[RAGE is] set in the conflict between the old recycled world with the rust and stuff, but then you have this high-tech technology on top of it," he adds. "The struggle between those two elements is really going to be a neat story aspect to the game."

One of the main design philosophies behind RAGE, Willits and Hooper reveal, is to make everything, from characters and enemies to missions and environments, distinctive in some regard. Each of the game's main supporting characters have some sort of distinguishing attribute, like Crazy Joe's eclectic personality and odd headgear or Rusty's robotic arm or Sally being the bartender, that makes them memorable.

Enemies, meanwhile, sport different animations, speech patterns, accents and such depending on what part of the world they're in. Those that are threatening to poison Wellspring's water supply are an acrobatic bunch, able to jump down from the ledges above, briefly run on and jump off walls, and even dodge weapon fire. On the other hand, those guarding the vehicle parts you need aren't as acrobatic, instead opting to take cover behind objects, such as destructible crates, and sound more gruff.

The Story of Nanotrite Synthelogics
Though what we've seen of RAGE thus far takes place in the salvaged ruins of civilization, there are some high-tech elements scattered throughout. For example, the nanotrite sythelogics players have been injected with regenerate their health and inform them when they're about to die care of a pulsing red-tinted crosshatched overlay.

Explains Willits:

The game takes place in the future. An asteroid has hit the Earth and destroyed most of civilization. You play a survivor, a person that was buried underground, on the day that the asteroid hit the Earth. You are a member of the Ark Program. Basically, what the governments of the world did is, before the impact, they buried hundreds of these self-contained small Arks.

The Ark that you're in is damaged and you're the only survivor. When you emerge into this world, it is something that no one expected. More people survived the impact than anyone thought. Society has tried to rebuild itself. There's mutants, bandits, and there's this omni-present force that we call the Authority. And at some point in the game, you will ultimately battle against this Authority.

One of the pillars of the story is that all Ark inhabitants were injected with these little nanotrites. They can heal you, when you die--because I hate dying in video games--so when you actually get killed, you have an opportunity to kind-of defib yourself and get back into the action and kill the guys around you and get back to having fun.

It also kind-of ties into the fiction of the mutants, of what the Authority is doing and why. Are they mutating because of nanotrites or is it cosmic radiation? Why do we have mutants, and how is the Authority using these nanotrites to kind-of shape society. You are integral to that puzzle.

What's Left
The one aspect of RAGE that id's not talking about at the moment is its multiplayer. While publisher Bethesda notes that the game will offer "exclusive co-op modes" and "all-out multiplayer mayhem," further details are slim at the moment.

"We're working through our multiplayer now, and we do [think] it's a little too early to talk too much about the specifics of it," notes Willits. "I would hate to say something "Oh, it's going to be awesome" and we play it and it's like 'Okay, it's not. Let's change it.'"

"We have a big group of guys that's focusing just on that," adds Hooper. "It's not like we're going to tack on the multiplayer at the end, so don't make that mistake."

And though RAGE is, at the very least, eight months out, id claims that both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions are already running at the intended target of sixty frames-per-second. What I saw of the Xbox 360 version was certainly smooth--no dropped frames or screen-tearing that I noticed--and the outdoor environments in particular were gorgeous. Indoors, the visuals lost some of their luster--I noticed a bit of aliasing on the curve of the crossbow--though that may have been more a result of the game being projected onto a nearly story-high screen than anything else.

"The new fiction [for RAGE], it's so rich and it's so broad, that it gives us all these excuses to do this crazy cool new stuff," concludes Hooper. "That's kind of a big deal, and one of the fun things on the design side. We are constantly iterating through the design, it's all about accessibility, intuitive getting what you want quickly enough, and I'm sure we'll still make a couple of tweaks, but it's a big deal to us and it's always been."

"When we first started with DOOM, people couldn't even look up and down, much less play a shooter on a console. We know [the genre has] evolved."

Chris Faylor was previously a games journalist creating content at Shacknews.

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