Embrace the Rage
We take a spin through the wasteland of Avalanche and id’s stunning and insane new shooter, and quiz the team about how it’s upping the ante with Rage 2
“If you make a good game, if it’s fun and if you offer good value for money, then people will play it,” Tim Willits begins to explain as we ruminate on the widely held perception that single-player games are being suffocated out of existence by the multiplayer behemoths of the world. “You know, I’ve been in this industry long enough that I know how this stuff goes… I’m not going to stress about it.”
id Software’s long-running studio head isn’t going to stress about such a consideration because he couldn’t be in a better position to rebuke it. He is, after all, overseeing a studio that’s driving the quality of single-player shooters up across the industry, not to mention the beginning of what is being labelled an “unprecedented partnership in gaming”.
Rage 2 is best capped as a wild fusion of id Software’s bestin-class FPS mechanics with Avalanche Studio’s mastery of open-world chaos. This is the development outfit behind such industry mainstays as Doom, Wolfenstein and Quake jumping into the sack with the studio responsible for the likes of Just Cause, Mad Max and Renegade Ops. A picture of what that looks like and how it plays should form in your mind with ease, and
your heart rate should rise in anticipation. But with every highprofile partnership comes the all-important question: will this be a match made in heaven or a recipe for disaster?
If our time with the latest demo build of Rage 2 was anything to go by, then it would look as if this unlikely collaboration is firing on all cylinders. The 2019 shooter is primed and ready to take the world by storm, bringing explosive action and unprecedented scale together in a way that, frankly, we never truly believed either studio was capable of delivering. Hell, if either of them were capable of doing so, Rage 2 would likely be a different beast entirely. That’s just it though; Rage 2 is the result of two experienced and influential teams working diligently to seek out the other’s best qualities, bringing all of it together into one intoxicating experience.
That’s important to note, because the two studios do indeed need each other to make something like Rage 2 a possibility. id Software – as evidenced by Rage’s debut in 2011 – struggles with the implementation of open-ended design structures, the power-punch combination of its weighted weapons and reactive artificial intelligence losing its bite when extracted from the meticulously crafted combat arenas it is so famous for establishing. Avalanche, on the other hand, has proven itself to be the master of physics-based emergent gameplay cast out across awesome open-sandbox worlds, even if its combat and AI systems leave a little to be desired. So perhaps now you can see why this partnership has so much potential.
“I like to joke that it’s like peanut butter and jelly, it just works!” Willits laughs, though we do quickly admit that the allure of such a combination is likely lost to many of us here, east of the Atlantic Ocean. That’s where Avalanche’s senior games designer Loke Wallmo jumps into the fray that is quickly emerging in this interview: “I like to joke that when we first met these guys it’s like we were at a bar. We were at a bar and we looked over, they looked over and someone smiled,” he says, laughing. “That really got us to where we are today.”
It’s a cute anecdote, but we would posit that it is far easier to maintain a lingering smile across a crowded room than it is to make a successful game, let alone one built collaboratively between studios thousands of miles apart. For id, successfully reviving the Rage IP after letting it spend more than half a decade on ice meant seizing the right opportunity when it presented itself. “We have had a desire to go back to Rage for a while. A bunch of people played the original and it was a successful game for us,” Willits maintains, and he would know – he was the director of the bloody thing back in 2011.
Still, he continues, Rage is important for id because it has the potential to fill the open-world action game void in id Software’s otherwise expansive library of dominant shooter experiences. That’s something he hopes to fully realise this time around, keenly aware that perhaps its id Tech 5 engine wasn’t up to the job, and that perhaps the team wasn’t quite ready to deliver this type of experience in a genre quickly evolving thanks to the arrival of games like Borderlands, Fallout 3 and Bioshock, not to mention a litany of others… it was a wild time for the FPS.
underestimating the needs of the audience and overestimating the capabilities of id isn’t a mistake he planned on making twice. “We just never really had the right technology and the right experience to make what we wanted to do with Rage originally a reality. So when Avalanche became available, well, we were always big fans of Just Cause, Mad Max, their Apex Engine and their experience, so it was a perfect fit for what we wanted to achieve. We are very fortunate that they were willing to work with us and I think we’ve made something cool, right?”
“We have a lot of f Irst-person shooter fans here at the office and they Were super-stoked to get to Work on something like this” LOKE WALLMO SENIOR GAME DESIGNER, AVALANCHE STUDIOS
Willits turns to Wallmo as he says this, the two sharing a knowing laugh before they begin to trade stories from their time in the trenches of development. That question was really meant for us, even if both developers are too proud to come out and ask it of us directly. The duo is aware that, despite Rage supposedly meeting internal expectations at publisher Bethesda to warrant a sequel, this is a revival that still feels like something of a curveball for many of the perspective players out there. We can’t help but shake the feeling that id and Avalanche are in search of affirmation, of word from the press and players alike that its efforts haven’t been in vain – wasted on a fool’s errand. Well, if it’s affirmation that the studios want, then affirmation they will have. We have now qualms being totally honest with you, the teams really have made something pretty damn cool.
Why is that? Well, it’s difficult to say with any real certainty. Rage 2 is one of those experiences that feels right in your hands; it’s a shooter that is positively pulsing with energy and confidence. Distilling that down is difficult, though if we had to pin it on any one element, our instinct would be on the chaos it constantly espouses, as if by instinct. Rage 2 is a refreshing change of pace when compared with anything it is competing with in the genre space right now. Its combination of action and scale is legitimately awesome to behold, as too is how smooth and seamless the entire package feels.
This is largely down to the studios’ intent to make you feel empowered at all times, ramping up the difficulty by pumping the screen full of a, at times, frankly ridiculous amount of smart and deadly enemies – it’s rare to see a game work so diligently to increase enemy counts in this way, particularly in this day and age as developers chase other avenues of fidelity. Wallmo tells us that Avalanche was focused from the beginning on making you feel like “a superhero of the wasteland”, and that’s something that it has driven home all throughout development. “We’ve played around with this idea quite a bit. I think the Nanotrite powers in particular give the player increased dynamics, increased movement and a way to fight without the weapons.”
Without weapons. We can see Willits priming himself to leap into the conversation, bewildered as to why anybody would want to play a game bearing the id branding without using the weapons it is so famed for implementing. Wallmo quickly course corrects in an effort to calm his counterpart. “You will do the majority of your fighting with weapons, of course,” he laughs as Willits begins to settle back into a comfortable lean on the sofa. “But the Nanotrite powers add a lot to the mix; they help improve crowd control, movement, physicality and playfulness. It took us a long while to get that right, but I think – as you’ve seen today after playing it, hopefully – that you’ll feel like they really work very well together.”
“It’s all about getting you into the action a little bit faster,” Willits jumps in, finishing Wallmo’s sentiment. “Because Rage 2 has such a big open world you can approach combat situations from anywhere and in any way that you want to. For example, we reward you for using abilities – it charges your Overdrive, you get different drops – it’s one of the many ways we get you into the action and keep you there.”
That directive permeates all throughout Rage 2. It gets you into action quickly and tries its level best to keep you there, with waves of marauding packs of enemies constantly testing your ability to crowd control, navigate spaces and gun down fast-moving targets. Regardless of whether you are stalking across the surprisingly varied biomes – from desolate deserts, lush jungles and populated makeshift towns – that make up the open-world sandbox on foot or behind the wheel of a vehicle that is primed and ready for war.
you can feel it too as you take to stomping through the meticulously designed interiors that encourage you to blast bullets at just about anything that moves, in spaces that feel like they could have been ripped right out of Doom and given a makeover by a decidedly anarchistic landscaper and decorator. Impressively, you also feel it in the wider combat arenas that you’ll be propelled between as you complete main quests, side stories and exercises in survival across the open roads; emergent instances of violence are a common threat in Rage 2 as the various, varied factions bare down on you – these situations will push you to utilise everything in your backpack to eviscerate swaths of enemies and huge hulking beast creatures eager to cut you down. It’s fun, it’s invigorating and it’s everything you’d expect from the combination of these two studios. The gunplay is tight and measured; the vehicular combat looks to be madcap by its very nature, a huge step up from what Avalanche presented in Mad Max; the world a vibrant playground that effortlessly drives personality in the game, a place where carnage follows you on every step of your journey. In many respects Rage 2 seems hell bent on satisfying an impossible array of demands from FPS fans. Want a piece of id’s classic, electric combat feel? You got it. Want to engage in high-octane vehicular combat that feels like it would have a place in a George Miller production? Yeah, that’s covered. How about making use of an array of kinetic abilities to send the physics system into a tizzy, stretching an array of ridiculous situations out into your cycle of persistent pain infliction. Rage 2 handles that with ease.
There’s a sense that anything can happen to, and around you in Rage 2. That’s inherently exciting as a set-up for a shooter, particularly one as boisterous as this. That’s a feeling that is shared by the folks over at Avalanche, and it’s a creative challenge that the team, as Wallmo tells it, really gravitated to throughout development. “What’s so great about Rage is that you can pretty much drop anything in there and you can kind of make it make sense within that world. We are always pushing
ourselves to do more, and to do crazier things. The amount of freedom we have working in the Rage world is amazing; we don’t feel very constrained at all.”
We did, of course, require an example… we wish we hadn’t asked. “Well, if we wanted to put a giant squid in the game we could have it; a giant squid with lasers on top of it, and as it starts climbing out of the water it starts blasting you with…” Wallmo begins to excitedly exclaim before being cut off by Willits midsentence. “Wait, is that not in the game? Why is that not in the game?” he says, laughing. “It’s the tentacle physics,” Wallmo responds, defiantly. “That is true,” concedes Willits. “Tentacle physics are tough.”
Tentacle physics are tough. We’ll be straight up with you, folks. This isn’t how we thought this conversation was going to go. Then again, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Wallmo and Willits are easy in conversation; the pair have clearly spent a lot of time together over the years as id and Avalanche collaborated to piece this behemoth experience together – for the record, we did press the pair on whether this squid behemoth would appear as future DLC, but the answer was, you could say, inconclusive.
Still, for Avalanche this was a relatively new experience. Creating a FPS, that is. The studio has typically built out thirdperson action titles, those of the sandbox variety where the game is often only as fun as you can make it. How has the studio found building out something as tightly paced and meticulous to detail as a game cast from a first-person perspective? It has relished the challenge and jumped at the opportunity. “There are a lot of things that you need to deliver in this type of experience; the intensity of the action is one thing that first-person lends itself really well to. It’s different and really rewarding to work with,” says Wallmo. “I like how close we are able to get players to the action when they move through our spaces. You know, we have a lot of first-person shooter fans here at the office and they were super-stoked to get to work on something like this. It’s honestly been really, really fun for us.”
This was something we were eager to clear up with the two studios. The lines of collaboration haven’t been clearly defined, and that’s something we dived straight into. Listen, the game is radical, but this is games™ you’re reading; if we didn’t get right in there behind the scenes, talk a little proprietary technology and otherwise be a little bit of a nuisance for studio executives who were hoping to talk about shotguns – and don’t worry, we’ll get around to that in a bit – then we wouldn’t be doing our jobs properly.
So, let’s do this thing. What’s the balance in terms of collaboration? Was it, we wondered, Avalanche building out the base of the game with id then laying its expertise in FPS design down on top of it? Is id handling the weapons and Avalanche handling the world? How does this work, Willits? Tell us, please. “Okay, no. So the Avalanche guys do the work,” says Willits with a smile. The versatility and power of the Apex engine – the new tech and toolsets driving Rage 2 and Just Cause 4 – was a big factor behind Bethesda’s decision to bring Avalanche into the fold, so of course the engineers of it are driving production.
And, consider this for a second… that Apex engine must be something special if it has pushed id – a studio that built its
“focusing on one player allows us to do crazy stuff. We can literally break the game If We Want to”
tim willits studio head, Id software
reputation around expressive, evolutionary technology – to avoid using its own proprietary id Tech 6 engine (Doom/wolfenstein II: The New Colossus) or, you know, that hot new id Tech 7 engine, the one powering 2019’s Doom Eternal. This is because Apex will let the teams utilise Avalanche’s penchant for delivering speedy world-streaming, perfect for when you’re blistering across open spaces with a bit of gusto, and creating complex algorithms that keep the ever-bending physics systems in check, necessary when manipulating reality with your array of Nanotrite powers or being thrust into a variety of madcap situations. On top of all of that, it also lets the team establish detailed interior environments without sacrificing fidelity out in the broader outdoor environments.
In fact, according to Willits, ensuring that Rage 2 functioned as one open experience without any load screens between its various biomes or areas was a huge priority, something that had to be achieved before this project got off the ground. “We wanted it to all fit together in one world,” he continues. “Rage had some really awesome things about it that were pillars of Rage 2 – the gunplay, the AI, the racing – but now we can actually make it happen in one open world without having it run level by level with a feeling of disconnection between them all.”
That’s where Avalanche came into the picture, taking the lead on this hugely ambitious project. “We work with these guys every day. It wasn’t like, ‘hey, here’s some code; go have fun with it!’ Because every engine is different, it’s the magic sauce and lots of dials… and these guys have lots of dials, which is really
nice,” Willits continues, although we’re not entirely sure that this analogy is playing out the way he wanted it to, and so we crossed over to Wallmo to get his perspective on the collaboration.
“We can use the Cloud for sharing assets, and of course video conferencing, that really worked for us. It’s been an easy collaboration, even though we are thousands of miles apart,” he says, before getting to the heart of the process. “We’ve been learning the first-person action game formula… well, it’s not really a formula. It’s more like a lot of hard work. But it has just been so awesome for us to have this collaboration, because it means that we have been able to learn about FPS design from the masters.”
“We talk to id all of the time. We have a completely open structure; it’s all about getting their feedback constantly, about focusing on getting the feeling of the game right. On getting the movement right and the weapons right,” Wallmo continues. “Cloud technology and good communication really worked for us. It just removed a lot of those barriers, and that allowed us to be constantly updating each other.”
once you get your hands on Rage 2 you immediately understand the pull of it. It feels packed, as if it is a world brimming with life and activity. Its world is chaotic and the people that inhabit it are bombastic, all of this only helping to tie each of the game’s various elements together. It also helps that Rage 2 is set a considerable amount of time in the future from the original, feeling entirely detached from anything that has come before in a way that only helps serve the story and environment. That’s something Willits was keen to express, by the way. “We have a more open-story structure this time… it’s very important for me to note that if you’re not familiar with Rage, don’t stress about playing Rage 2. We’ve set it far enough ahead (30 years) that it has its own kind of personality, a new story and new combat styles that really make it stand out.”
It really does have its own personality and, like we said before, it really does feel like anything could and likely would happen in the course of playing the game. It’s easy to wonder what might have been cut along the way with games like these, in games that are just exuding content and personality at every corner. Wallmo admits that this has been a problem with Rage 2, although that’s largely true of everything that he has worked on.
“For every ten crazy ideas that you have, nine don’t work. I think that’s the soul of game development right there; you try a bunch of things, many of them sound great on paper and you build them out and it just doesn’t work… or there is just some obvious flaw you can’t fix. But we have some really, really talented developers at Avalanche that love to try stuff out and, if you do that enough, you find a bunch of stuff – systems and mechanics – that really work well together, and then we polish that. We have a lot of fun doing it.”
With games getting larger and larger, and more and more packed with content – Rage 2 is a game on a scale far greater than anything either studio has put its name to in terms of raw content, of that we’re certain – does it ever feel like this is time wasted, that could be better spent elsewhere? “I don’t think I’ve
“for every ten crazy Ideas that you have, NINE don’t Work. I think that’s the soul of game development right there”
loke wallmo senior game designer, avalanche studios
ever really worked on a project where this hasn’t been true in some sense,” admits Wallmo. “You can maybe feel like you’re wasting time sometimes, especially when you realise you can’t use something after investing in it, but there could always be something in it that could be used elsewhere or it can, in turn, give you another idea that actually does work. I think that’s just par for the course…”
“We’ve been pretty good at not creature creeping too much,” Willits jumps in, laughing. “But there’s always that risk when you work with a bunch of creative people, particularly a group that, like this one, comes up with some great ideas. But I think we struck a good balance.”
“Obviously we’ve been focusing on the core,” says Wallmo. “The gunplay, the Nanotrite abilities, how you jump, how you move, how you fight. That’s been our number-one priority, and then we are working with the vehicles and the worlds and locations and everything that’s going on in there.”
It’s easy for the pair to look back on this now, after so many years of working diligently to strike the right balance. Wallmo, when pressed on what he considers to be Avalanche’s primary responsibilities on this collaboration, is caught. He’s keen to note that the studio approached Rage 2 with what he calls an “open mind”, giving the relationship with id the space to breathe, which in turn allowed the two to work out what was and wasn’t important for the game. “We really tried to use our experience and tried to listen to what id wanted out of the game.”
Something that id had at one time considered, we were surprised to learn, was bringing multiplayer to Rage 2. Thankfully, the studios quickly came to the realisation that keeping the game contained within a single-player campaign would give the teams more flexibility to play with convention, more scope to focus in on fidelity and more time to polish its open world and the content that inhabits it. “Of course we talked about it. It’d be great to do everything all of the time. But we do feel that we are offering a lot of content and playtime for what you get in the base game,” admits Willits, who coyly dances around questions of rumoured community elements being introduced post-launch alongside both paid and free DLC content to help add a tail to Rage 2’s gameplay for the completionists in the group. “More importantly, focusing on only one player allows us to do crazy stuff. We can literally break the game if we want to. If you’re having fun, who cares! Right? So that’s kinda been our mentality throughout development.”
“I think that has allowed us to focus a lot more on that core experience,” adds Wallmo. “That core Wasteland Superhero experience. When you don’t have to think about balancing multiplayer, or all the networking, or how all of the content in the world is going to stream in for a number of different clients… really, it’s allowed us to focus down on the experience.”
We believe him, and Rage 2 is so much better because of it. Of that we are certain. There are core elements of the game that simply wouldn’t be as good had the focus become diluted, had the relationship between the two studios been anything less than rock solid. There’s one part of Rage 2’s design that sells it; the collaboration, the concept, all of it. It’s the gunplay. Avalanche has dropped into the realms of first-person action with ease, and it has a bright future in this genre if it should feel so emboldened to embrace it.
“rage 2 has such a big open World you can approach combat situations from anywhere and IN any Way that you Want to”
tim willits studio head, Id software
When we mentioned the sumptuous weight of the shotgun Willits immediately shot up in excitement, not for the first time in our lengthy chat. “Yeah… id is very particular about the shotgun,” Wallmo says, laughing as he attempts to temper the excitable studio head sat to his right. “No, no, no, trust me. We talk about weight all the time,” Willits explains. “The weight is important – our guns have to feel meaty and powerful.”
We ask whether Avalanche felt pressured to get such an iconic weapon – one of the all-time-greats – right; is it aware that fans are going to be scrutinising this thing more than any other weapon included in a videogame? Of course it is. “Here’s a great example of our collaboration,” says Willits. “Some of our animators look at every single frame of animation on the weapons and where they are in the screen. They see stuff that we don’t see. They’re like, ‘If you move this one frame’ – and remember, we have 60 frames in a second and they are dealing with just one frame – ‘it’ll make it better. Trust me, it will help.’
“And I’m saying, we’re all saying, I don’t know… I don’t see it,” Willits continues, laughing, this process clearly a worthwhile labour of love for the folks at id. “But when we spend the time changing it and it’s like, ‘oh, that feels much better!’ There’s some magic there in the process.”
The shotgun isn’t the only place where you’ll feel a little magic in Rage 2. It’s an expressive first-person shooter that seems to take great joy in the sheer act of existing. It’s furiously fun and surprisingly clever, utilising brutality and violence to push you to experiment with the tight mechanics thrown your way. It’s incredibly gory, without making that a part of its personality. It’s all played for smiles in a madcap world that’s as unrelentingly dangerous as it is gorgeous to behold.
This is what you get when id meets Avalanche: a wonderfully smart single-player FPS that pulls no punches, set in a sprawling open world in which it feels like anything can happen. This is Rage 2, the post-apocalyptic game that no shooter fan should pass up.
Rage 2 is set 30 years after the original game, so no previous knowledge is required to follow along with the story, the world or the action. As Walker, the last ranger, you will fight to survive in a dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland.
The original Rage had excellent gunplay and artificial intelligence, but it always felt a little restricted in its world and scope. That’s something id has sought to fix by teaming up with Just Cause and Mad Max creators Avalanche Studios.
While Rage 2 will have a main quest, you’ll be able to duck in and out of it as you please. Stories will be scattered across the open world, side quests and points of interest that you can investigate to learn more about the land and the people that inhabit it.Nanotrites return from the original Rage, giving you an array of special powers and ability boosts that can completely change the composition of combat.
While any vehicle in Rage 2 can be commandeered, you will also have a central vehicle that you can upgrade and customise to make it battle ready, necessary for when you engage in vehicular combat and deadly races.
id worked closely with Avalanche to ensure that the details were nailed. You see that reflected across the game, from its incredibly satisfying and weighted weapons to its smart and deadly enemies.
With its vivid colour palette and irreverent tone, Rage 2 is a surprisingly fun and evocative shooter that’s just positively bursting with personality. If you feel like there’s an open-world hole in your heart that Borderlands used to occupy, this is going to be the game for you.