Red Faction: Guerrilla will see the long-awaited return of Volition's Mars-based action franchise. We grabbed associate producer Sean Kennedy to discuss mass destruction, DLC, and why the game won't be coming to the Wii.
VideoGamer.com: So, what's the state of play with Red Faction: Guerrilla?
Sean Kennedy: There are still people working on it, but it's pretty much done!
VideoGamer.com: What was thinking behind making this game third-person?
SK: Best decision ever! The first two games were first-person shooters. We had the Geo Mod 1.0 engine, which allowed deformation and digging of terrain. First-person worked for that. At the beginning of Red Faction: Guerrilla we actually had it in first-person, it was first-person open world, and what we found was that it wasn't any fun. The way our destruction system works means that everything can be completely destroyed, but you couldn't see what was happening. Say that we go inside a structure and I take out a sledgehammer and start smashing things, destruction would be happening but you wouldn't see everything around you. Because of our stress system, if you cause damage to walls then the building starts to stress - stuff starts to crumble, pieces fall. If you're in first-person you can't see that, so you spend all your time running in and out of the building. You'd play around with adjusting your camera so much that it became disorientating, and you were dying all the time. Just as an experiment, one weekend we were like, "Let's just pull the camera back". Alec Mason was always there, even though you only saw him in cut scenes. We just pulled the camera back and it was a night-and-day difference - you could see everything, and it felt much more satisfying. So it was third-person, but plays like a first-person.
VideoGamer.com: How far into the project were you when you made that switch?
SK: Let me see. I've been at the studio for three years, and when I started it was in first-person. But the development on this has been really different. We had a really long pre-production and research period. They had stuff up and running four and a half years ago, but it made the switch to third-person before production even started.
VideoGamer.com: If you hadn't made the change, do you think the final game would have worked?
SK: I don’t think so. We even have a console command where you can go into first person, and it's worse now because the world is much more dense. There's all the AI going on, all the combat, and it's impossible to tell what's going on. It's just not enjoyable! I'm trying to think of a better way to put it… There's all this stuff blowing up around you, and you can't see it. Suddenly you die and you don't know why, but it's because some piece fell on you, whereas if the camera had been further back you'd have seen the aircraft shooting that block off a building.
VideoGamer.com: And I guess it would be a bit lame for you guys put all the effort into the destruction and then no-one sees it.
SK: Yeah. If you have a game built around destruction, where you're forced to really use it, you need to be able to see it. It wasn't that big of a change. We had to make the doors a different size. You went into third person and suddenly it was like, "Wow, these doors are really big!"
VideoGamer.com: At the time of the first Red Faction, FPS titles were arguably the most popular game genre. Do you think that third person games are in that space now?
SK: I think they are, much more on consoles than on pc, but they are. I mean, there's still a whole bunch of popular first-person games, but you do see a lot more third-person titles. It got to a point when there was such an over-saturation of first-person shooters, and everything was the same. When Red Faction 1 came out there wasn't too much competition. If you look at reviews back then, people were calling it the best FPS ever. And then by the end of the year the Xbox came out with Halo and took that crown away. Red Faction 2 came out in February 2003, I think. It reviewed well and sold well, but not as good as the first because it was so different. They threw out Mars and put it on Earth. Which is why Red Faction: Guerrilla is technically the sequel to Red Faction 1. Ignore Red Faction 2!
VideoGamer.com: What is the company's attitude to that game now?
SK: It's mixed. There are people who liked it. That's the thing, because it's so different the people who loved Red Faction 1 were disappointed. It wasn't on Mars, it wasn't Parker [hero of the first game], it was different. But then there were people who bought both and loved it, and people who bought 2 but not 1, so there became this real split in the audience. But 1 was always the bigger, the one that sold the best. It was THQ's biggest-selling original IP until Saints Row topped it.
VideoGamer.com: Were you surprised by the mixed reaction to the change of perspective?
SK: There was always concern about it, when people started really seeing the game and watching videos and reading about it, that all seemed to go away. There's still that hardcore Red Faction 1 following who still play the original online, but we invited them to come play the game. At the studio we do playtests, and it got to the point where we were doing multiple tests per week. And the reaction was always positive. That's actually a very valuable thing for Volition - we've created a massive database of gamers. If you want to do a playtest with hardcore gamers, Gears of War and Call of Duty players, you'll put that in and it'll bring up a list of contacts. We did a lot of tests with casual people - bring in the sports people and the Wii people have them play. Which in the end creates a game that's so well balanced that hardcore people can immediately get into it, and causal people can also pick it up and play.
VideoGamer.com: I had a Wii question, actually. I'm guessing you never considered this game for the Wii?
SK: This game was never considered for the Wii. There was that stuff that leaked online, a Red Faction Wii game, but that wasn't us. It was another THQ project that was killed, because that studio no longer exists! Obviously if the Wii hardware was at the same level as the others, tech-wise, it would be there. But you'd have to sacrifice so much. The sprawling open world with that level of physics, that's beyond what it can do.