Red Faction: Armageddon Interview -- The One about Descent
Red Faction: Armageddon is THQ's next big game, or at least they're hoping it will be. We sat down with Jason Whiteside, art director on RF:A, to talk about--what else? Descent!
GameZone: Hello, Jason. So what have you done with Volition before this?
Jason Whiteside: Well, I've worked on Descent 1, Descent II, Freespace 1, FreeSpace 2, Red Faction 1, Red Faction II, The Punisher, and Red Faction: Guerrilla. Over all of those projects I've done level design, gameplay stuff, modeling, texturing. Just about everything up through art direction.
GZ: You mentioned Descent, and I was actually going to butter you up and save that for the end, but Descent ... I loved Descent. DOOM was cool. DOOM is what it is, but Descent was my game. A lot of people couldn't really deal with the vertigo and the spinning and everything, but I loved it. So, what's gone on with Descent?
JW: What's going on with Descent right now? A whole lot of nothing. It's still owned by Interplay, so that's where it stays.
GZ: Would Volition or THQ ever be interested in trying to get that back to you guys?
JW: The Volition guys love it, of course. I mean, we worked on it, right? It's part of our history.
GZ: Arc System Works. When they didn't want to work with the Guilty Gear franchise anymore, they made BlazBlue, which is kind of similar but still their own thing. Would Volition ever do a kind of BlazDescent?
JW: [Laughs] I don't know. I don't know. I think at this point there are a lot more people who would love to see another FreeSpace. We still get questions about that all the time, so it's hard to say. At this point, we have to make sure we're doing the right games to bring in the right money and hit the mass audience, but I suppose if there were a time where we could sacrifice a small team for a little while and that was a possibility, people would jump all over it at the studio.
GZ: Onto the matter at hand: Red Faction! You have Ruin and you have Infection. I guess Ruin's not really a multiplayer mode, but are those all the modes?
JW: Yeah, those are the modes.
GZ: I really liked the original Red Faction. I used to sit there on my PS2 and play the bot matches. You could blow up certain sections and find a rocket launcher and whatever. What was the decision like to not include a classic deathmatch or team deathmatch mode?
JW: It's a number of things, really. We wanted to focus on the right kind of multiplayer to match up with the really story-driven single player. So we chose to make this, the Infestation mode, specifically. It really tells a side-story that matches up with the main story and introduces you to some characters. It's a parallel storyline. Our feeling is, if you're not going to do an extremely good, competitive multiplayer mode, why even do one? We wanted to make sure that the single-player had the focus and got the most attention because it had to be a good story game, good weapons, good action, all of that. That's where we devoted our time.
GZ: With Red Faction's heritage and such, isn't deathmatch something that the fans kind of want?
JW: Sure, absolutely. I'm not saying it was an easy choice. I'm just saying this was the choice. Given the time frame, given the people we had on the project to put on the team, we said, "You know what? We can do these cool co-op modes, this cool leader board challenge mode, and we can do those well with what we have. But if we really want to do a full-on deathmatch, it's going to take a lot more than what we have time for. So let's make what we can do the best it can be," by tying it to the story really well and bringing back, basically, Wrecking Crew mode that we had from Guerrilla in Ruin.
GZ: I noticed that Kara is not one of the playable characters in any mode. Granted, Infestation is a side story, so maybe she doesn't fit there, but she's one of the coolest characters.
JW: I know. I'm disappointed myself, really, but yeah, she didn't really fit there at all given the nature of that story and how it ties in with the main story. And for other reasons, which I won't spoil. GZ: Did you design her?
JW: No, we have, well ... It's all directed by the art direction team. We had three art directors on the project. I can't remember who did the majority of the concept work on her because we had several concept artists working for us, both in-house and outsourced.
GZ: Mars is a very rocky location with a lot of repetitive areas, and I'm noticing the same in Armageddon, the first 45 percent of the game is underground and it all kind of looks the same. And then you get up to the surface and the demo ends after the walker, but it's more rock, more red, more dust, stuff like that. I guess the two-part question is, does the game eventually go on to feature more diverse areas, and if not, why the decision to keep it so monotonous?
JW: Actually, we started you about a quarter of the way into the game. The game does start out on the surface. So you get a taste of Mars, you get some historical stuff with Darius still being in the Red Faction military. And then we send you into a big interior space that's basically a huge EDF bunker around the Terraformer. So even in the first mission, we change it up from surface to an underground area, but not a rocky area. When you do go into caves, we've got several different styles of caves--from the ice caves, natural caves, down to later in the game (as you're working your way down even further), you get into a magma area. On top of that, we take you back out to the surface several times. We throw you in a different variety of vehicles, both on the surface and underground. So it changes up quite a bit over the course of the game.
GZ: Speaking of changing up, the enemies have been changed to bugs, insects, and aliens. At the end of the demo, you encounter the Marauders. But they're still kind of alien. They're human-shaped, but they don't look human. Why the decision to move toward an insect race of enemies? How do you feel that impacts the signature style of Red Faction?
JW: The aliens really work nicely in the cave environments. They allowed us to do different things with the AI. You'll see them--they're jumping up on the walls and ceilings, moving in ways and behaving in ways that you couldn't justify with just human enemies. So it was a nice change to the AI. You're not just fighting standard humans. We can do unexpected things with how all of them behave. I'm cool with it. I think it's great. It provides a different twist, it makes all your Nano Forge abilities really useful. It causes you to have to play the game with a different style of tactics than you would in a straight-up shooter against human enemies.
GZ: Does the game eventually, toward the end, have more human enemies?
JW: You have a mix throughout, depending on the mission and what is going on with the story. There are times when you're fighting the Marauders. Sometimes they're in vehicles; sometimes they're on foot. Sometimes ... whatever. There are other times where you're fighting against the aliens. Sometimes you're fighting with the Marauder allies, a new group that we introduced for this game, to stave off the alien infestation.
GZ: Right, there's one of them in Infestation mode.
JW: That's right.
GZ: The other major change is that this is a very linear experience now, and I think that some people, including myself, after playing the game, feel it's kind of a step back. Guerrilla was epic. You'd see a building in the distance and say, "I'm going to take that bitch down." All the open-world tropes like being able to start a mission or a side quest like Wrecking Crew, it just added this huge scope to the game. And this one, I almost feel like they're out of order, like Armageddon should have been the one that came first as far as scope goes.
GZ: So why the decision to roll back?
JW: It really goes back to the focus on story, and immersing the player in the story that's taking place. In an open world like Guerrilla, it is tough to keep the player focused and traveling through the story in a set way because you can go pretty much anywhere you want to in that huge open world, right? It really comes down to that. We wanted to make sure that the environment was rich and that what was going on lent itself to how the story developed.
GZ: Since a lot of the big decisions you made seem to be based on the story, what is it about Red Faction: Armageddon's story that makes it stand out, that makes it so special?
JW: I don't know that there's anything hugely standout about the story. But going in, fighting an alien onslaught, it's pretty cool. The way those guys behave, the things they do, the weapons and Nano Forge abilities that we give you--it allows it all to unfold and tell you a whole lot more about your character, Darius, and about all the other characters that you interact with in the world. There's not a whole lot of deep development that went into the EDF soldiers in Guerrilla, or really the Marauders, right? They were just different kinds of enemies. They came under different circumstances and they fought you a certain way. They didn't really push a whole lot in terms of the story. But these guys do. The way the cinematics run through this is something that we couldn't do in Guerrilla because of the ability of the player to go wherever, whenever. Every piece of the game can work together better now to make the story one that makes sense and one that's much more coherent rather than being really loose and left to the player's devices.
GZ: Volition is known for the Geo-Mod technology. 3D is one of the emerging technologies that's being blown up right now, so especially from an art standpoint, what is Volition's standpoint on 3D?
JW: We haven't made a decision yet, but we have been looking into it, trying to figure out: "All right, how does this make sense for the games that are coming? Is it something that we should be pushing? What's the user base going to be for 3D. How many people are going to have 3D TVs and the glasses and all the stuff that goes with it at the time when these games come out? Is it worth the overhead that it's going to take to put it into the engine," you know? GZ: Even if the installed base isn't quite as big as it would be a year or two from now, do you think there's merit in being one of the pioneers?
JW: Sure. Look at all the Geo-Mod and destruction stuff we've done. There's plenty of merit in doing that and making it an integral part of the gameplay. If we could do 3D and do it right and make that destructive sequence that much more immersive, put the player into the world that much better, sure. I think it's great.
GZ: Since there's no deathmatch and it is a story-driven game, it also seems like ... not at all times, but quite often, a good chunk of the game, you have an AI character with you, whether it's Kara or Winters or someone else. Was co-op ever a consideration?
JW: Yes. And what we came out with was the co-op Infestation mode.
GZ: But never for the story mode?
JW: You know, it's a tough choice, right? Because if you gotta do it split-screen and allow for that, you're talking about huge rendering overhead. We tailored the environments in Infestation to allow for four players. If we had had to do that through the whole single-player campaign, you'd see a much smaller kind of environment. Things closed off quite a bit more. You wouldn't see the huge epic caves and surface areas and that sort of thing. Destruction tech is really cool, but it's also really expensive.