GameOver Interview - Red Faction (c) THQ / Volition

GameOver Interview - Red Faction (c) THQ / Volition

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By: Adam Fleet

It?s not everyday that a game comes along that really promises to shake up the scene. And boy, could First Person Shooters use a little shaking up. Well Volition and THQ are brewing a little action for the New Year, and it may be just what the doctor ordered. Sporting an engine capable of calculating arbitrary geometry changes on the fly, Red Faction may finally put an end to the days of only being able to blow up things where there?s a little crack in the wall, or a conveniently placed pile of explosives. Pack up your stuff and don?t forget your spacesuit, it?s time to get your ass to Mars and dispense some interplanetary smack downs. Though Red Faction is still a ways off, we got the chance to ask some questions to James Tsai, Assistant Producer for Red Faction, as to how things were coming along. Here?s what he had to say:

Game Over: How are you James? Care to introduce yourself to the folks at home?

James Tsai: I?m doing fine - I hope everyone has enjoyed a safe holiday season and is looking forward to an exciting new year in games!

GO: How did you get into this business? How long have you been at Volition? What other projects have you worked on? What are you guys cooking up now?

JT: Volition is actually the first development house I?ve worked for, and it?s been an absolute blast. I?ve been here for about a year and a half - when Volition was finishing up FreeSpace 2, I joined the newly formed quality assurance department. Eventually, I took over as QA Lead and continued to work closely with Anoop Shekar, our on-site producer, on Summoner before myself becoming the assistant producer on Red Faction. So I?ve been very fortunate in getting the opportunity to work on all of Volition?s existing franchises in my short time here.

GO: What games would you say have influenced you the most? What games are you playing now, and are there any games that you are looking forward to?

JT: I?ve been a gamer my whole life, so there?s been a lot of influential titles on both console and PC for me. I was a big fan of Sierra adventure games when I was younger (actually preferring the old keyboard and numeric keypad interface as opposed to the newer point-and-click titles) and have slapped countless games of every genre imaginable into my home consoles. Recently, I?ve fallen into the clutches of Madden 2001 on PlayStation 2 and Deus Ex on the PC. The Livin? Large expansion pack has also re-ignited my passion for The Sims.

Two games I am really looking forward to are Black & White and Silent Hill 2. I can?t wait to see the innovation behind Black & White, and I want to get scared out of my wits in Silent Hill 2. I may need to dig out my old night-light from 20 years ago afterwards for comfort - either that or just frag Josh Nizzi for the 7,856,478th time in Unreal Tournament.

GO: What is it like developing titles for the PC and PS2 simultaneously as you have for Red Faction? Does it affect your choices as to what features make it into the game? Will you continue to do it in the future?

JT: Developing titles for multiple platforms is challenging, but everyone on the team has responded with their characteristic effort and dedication. It can affect what features are in the game in different ways - sometimes it?s a matter of finding a different way to implement something, sometimes it?s scaling it back so things fits under the existing memory constraints, etc. Every day spent in development has made us a better and more knowledgeable company, so I would expect us to continue working on multiple platforms in the future.

GO: While we?re on the subject of consoles, what impact do you think Microsoft?s Xbox is having, and will have in the future, on the development of games? In the wake of the Halo controversy and other such stories of Xbox exclusive deals, do you think PC gamers have any cause for concern?

JT: Given what Microsoft has been able to accomplish in the PC industry, I think people will take their entry into the console market very seriously. Competition breeds quality and players are going to get a chance to see a lot of new titles on the different systems in the next couple of years. I don?t think PC games are in any jeopardy, however - a lot of developers have heavy roots both professionally and recreationally on the PC. The mood and depth of PC games is often decidedly different from console games as well, so there?s always going to be a market there.

GO: Okay, let?s talk Red Faction. Tell us a little about the game?s origin. How did the idea for Red Faction come about? Is it true it started out as Decent 4?

JT: When we decided to make Red Faction, we wanted to make a game that was action-packed, featured modifiable geometry, was loaded with stunning visual effects, had vehicles, and featured a realistic world in which the player could lose themselves for hours. From the very beginning, we?ve been working toward this goal and are very eager to get this title out to gamers when it?s finished. The project never really changed direction mid-stream or became something other than what we originally intended. The idea for the game came about from both our visualization of gameplay and from the story that we all contributed to under the guidance of our writer.

GO: Set on Mars and featuring an evil mining company, Red Faction is already drawing a lot of comparisons to Total Recall. Without divulging any state secrets, what can you tell us about the plot of Red Faction? How does the game progress? Are there missions, areas and levels, or is it one continuous flow?

JT: The story in Red Faction is one of the deeper and more involving ones that I think players will experience in the FPS genre. You assume the role of Parker, a disillusioned young man who leaves behind a promising future on earth to work for the Ultor Corporation in their Mars mining colony. After enduring abuse and neglect at the hands of his employers, Parker becomes a key figure in a miner rebellion that explodes across the planet. The game will progress continuously, meaning you won?t receive briefings or return to this command center at every level load but players will definitely see a large variety of different areas and environments.

GO: Tell us a little about the main character, Parker. Who is he? Will he have an obvious voice and personality, like, say, a Duke Nukem, or will he be more of a silent placeholder for the player, more like Half-Life?s Gordon Freeman?

JT: Parker would probably fall somewhere in the middle between Duke Nukem and Gordon. He is somewhat resentful of his upbringing, but also conflicted and unsure if he made the right choice in coming to Mars - hardly the fairy-tale, infallible hero that a lot of stories like to portray. When the revolution erupts, he finds himself thrust into the heart of the action, and players will get to see all the excitement unfold before them. He doesn?t have a crass one-liner for every kill he makes, but players will see his personality during in-game cutscenes and his interactions with various NPCs.

GO: Everyone?s talking about Geo-Mod technology, about punching holes in walls with rockets and bringing down towers with explosives. There?s also the infamous ?breaking glass demo?. Give us some of the highlights of what this engine is capable of.

JT: The engine is capable of doing quite a bit and more. You can destroy bridges that your foes are crossing if you don?t have the firepower to take them all out, drop some well placed chunks of rock in front of or on top of some well fortified guards, and blast your way around doors that you don?t have keys for. The breaking glass is also extremely realistic and the shards will persist and get blown around by subsequent explosions and such. Red Faction features some advanced physics and great particle effects to really round out the world.

GO: So, exactly how much stuff can you blow up? Will everything stay? Rubble? Corpses? Bullet holes? How much of a system load will these terrain deformations cause?

JT: In theory, the engine will allow you to blow up anything you want, though for the sake of gameplay continuity our level designers can specify certain surfaces and areas to be non-destructible or only modifiable to a certain extent. Players can expect to really be able to interact with the world, meaning they?ll see bullet holes and rubble all over the place from their weapons. We allow a lot of things like corpses to persist but will eventually phase out stuff like bullet holes as large numbers of them start to appear throughout the level. Players will also find the engine optimized to best handle the multiple terrain deformations, so they shouldn?t be worried about not Geo-Modding for performance reasons.

GO: Giving players options always creates additional difficulties for programmers. How much of a challenge is it to balance destructible terrain with smooth gameplay? How do you try and weigh fun vs. realism? What steps have you taken to reach a balance?

JT: There?s a lot of control we have over the destructible terrain when it comes to balancing gameplay. As stated earlier, level designers can determine how much they?ll allow any surface to be modified, if at all, which means we can prevent players from destroying critical routes or areas needed to advance in the game. We can also use subtler means of restriction, such as limiting ammunition for destructive weapons.

What kind of hardware will it take to run Red Faction smoothly? What resolutions are supported?

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