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.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think the Wii is held back by its lack of power? Obviously it was an intentional design decision on Nintendo's part to make the console this way.
SK: I think it is. I personally love the Wii - I have a Wii and a 360 - but because of that they don't get certain games. They won't get this, they didn't get Saints Row, they didn't get BioShock and Modern Warfare. But I mean, has it hurt them? No, not really! [laughs]. I don't see any reason why the next Wii won't be the same tech level as the 360 now, or higher. There's the fact that they make a profit on every 360 sold now, and Nintendo won't release something where they lose money, so by the time 2011 or 12 rolls around, there's no excuse! I think if they deliver something that's less than that or far less than that, they might start hurting. Because inevitably a casual gamer turns into a gamer. All these casual people want something more, which is why I think you've seen Sega pushing with MadWorld and House of the Dead.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think Sega's approach will work? I love MadWorld, but some people have their doubts about seeing this kind of game on the Wii.
SK: I love it [MadWorld], but I think it will just come down to how much effort they put behind marketing it. There's a user base of 15 million people, there's no reason for these games not to sell. It comes down to quality of marketing. But this is supposed to an interview about Red Faction!
VideoGamer.com: Sorry! Can I ask one more Wii question? Reggie Fils-Aime has been complaining about the lack of third party titles coming to Wii, and obviously this game isn't getting a version...
SK: THQ has been very good with this. De Blob has been one of those third-party exceptions that sold incredibly well. I was on an Asia-Pacific press tour for RFG and the De Blob people were there, and they got the most flattering comments at Tokyo Game Show from Famitsu, telling them, "You have accomplished what all these third parties have failed. You've created something that looks, feels and plays like something from Nintendo". And I think that is the key. If you come up with concepts that work with the system, and you put in the same level of dedication and quality, you'll get sales. They [De Blob] got them, Boom Blox got them, and Guitar Hero gets them. Chicken Shoot and crap like that aren't going to get them. We've had that with De Blob, with Deadly Creatures, and there are more games coming this year.
VideoGamer.com: Let's go back to Red Faction. I'm not sure how free you are to discuss this, but what's the plan for DLC?
SK: Everyone has been asking about that!
VideoGamer.com: Is it something that you've been talking about at Volition?
SK: I'm associate producer, but I'm also the producer heading up DLC for Red Faction. So, there is DLC coming, and it's for all three modes: Single-Player, Multiplayer and Wrecking Crew. That's as much as I told the other journalists!
VideoGamer.com: Cheers! I know it's something we always ask about, and that it's difficult to answer.
SK: DLC is valuable, and obviously you can make a good deal of money from it. But it needs to be... You see a lot of games with DLC that's, "Oh, here's a couple of maps and a dippy gun", and clearly it's stuff they've held back from the main game and they're going to charge you $10 for that. That's not good, and that stuff doesn't sell. Someone earlier mentioned Lost and the Damned. To me that's an exception, because even Rockstar have said it should have been retail.
VideoGamer.com: I guess we're on thin ice here in terms of what you can say, but do you think that Lost and the Damned will have a big impact on the way DLC is handled in the future?
SK: I don't know, they [Rockstar] are kind of like in their own world. I don't know. Prince of Persia had DLC, and it was okay but it got knocked in reviews because it was short. But then you look at Tomb Raider, the one that just came out. It's pretty long and it's at a good price, so it finds a happy medium and it's worthwhile. That's what DLC should be. GTA... I think it if it wasn't GTA, it wouldn't have sold so dramatically, because it was at a very high price and essentially you're just downloading more stuff into the same world. It's the same assets, the same buildings, the same city - and they're charging you a higher price. But they can get away with it because it's GTA. With Tomb Raider, it's different locations. That would be like how I would say I think DLC should be! [laughs] It should have meaning, a good story.
VideoGamer.com: I recently talked to a developer from Avalanche Studios about how people now expect a multiplayer mode to be included with every action game. He argued that this sometimes leads people to waste resources that might be better spent on the single-player campaign. What's your take on this?
SK: I think that you need to decide from the beginning whether you're going to do one or the other, or both, and if you're going to do both you need to know what your resources are. For RFG, that was always the case, because with the other Red Factions multiplayer was always a big part of it, and so was single-player. There are still people now who play Red Faction 1 and 2 online, so we knew we couldn't fail to deliver that. We actually started multiplayer a long time ago, it was being worked on in parallel. It had its own team within the team, we had programmers and designers completely dedicated to it. There was actually a period where multiplayer, because they were working so hard on it, was better than the single-player. Not better overall, but further along in development. So in the end we had multiplayer and single-player packages that had an incredible amount of time and resources thrown behind them, and they're both rewarding experiences.
VideoGamer.com: What kind of length are we talking about for the final product?
SK: For the single-player, if you just do the missions in the core game you're looking at 16 to 20 hours. Take out every target and do everything and you're looking at 30 to 40 hours. Do absolutely everything and get every crazy achievement, and you're looking at over 100 hours. Then you've got 16 player multiplayer, the different modes and the backpack system. There are even modes that are built specifically around destruction, like damage control, where there are key structures at three sites around the map. To get one on your team's side you'll have to destroy it and rebuild it. You have a weapon called a Reconstructor that lets you reconstruct anything in the world, even a two story building. You destroy it, shoot that gun and you'll see it re-materialise in front of you. That's specific to multiplayer. And then on top of that, we made Wrecking Crew - so there's a whole party game!
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time Sean.
Red Faction: Guerrilla is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in the summer.