Interview with James Hague - Gamezone

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NOTE: This interview was originally posted on Aug 13, 2008 by Louis Bedigian on Gamezone, which is no longer available.

"We implemented real destruction from the ground up. When I say 'real,' I mean that buildings can be torn apart piece by piece...and that debris can smash into other things and cause further destruction, including killing people.”

At last month's E3, Red Faction: Guerrilla impressed attendees with its amazing destruction effects. No object – not the smallest pillar or largest building – was sacred. You could pound through walls with a sledgehammer, demolish bridges with explosives, and make the whole world fall apart in ways you'd never expect.

"In other games, buildings are shells," said James Hague, Design Director of Red Faction: Guerrilla. "From the outside you can see the roof and from the inside you can see the ceiling, but there’s just empty space between the two, because there’s no way to ever get in there. In Red Faction: Guerrilla, all it takes is one rocket to make that area accessible, so our artists have to build the insides of everything. There are beams in the walls and rebar in the concrete, and we can’t keep you out of buildings simply by locking the doors. And at the same time, everything needs to be constructed in a structurally sound manner or it will collapse when the engine processes it."

First and foremost, Red Faction: Guerrilla grabs the player's attention by allowing you to interact with and destroy everything. Other games are trying this, even a couple for PS3 and Xbox 360. But none have Guerrilla's level of depth. Talk about this and the technology behind making these environments explode and implode.

James Hague: We implemented real destruction from the ground up. When I say “real,” I mean that buildings can be torn apart piece by piece, that stresses and structural integrity are a key part of the system, that buildings are made of different materials and those materials have their own properties such as weight and durability, and that debris can smash into other things and cause further destruction, including killing people.

Every other game out there uses various tricks and special effects to give the impression of destruction, but it’s not the same thing. A whole building collapses at once, and you can’t interact with it. A wall is replaced with a blown out wall. Remember back when 16-bit consoles used scaled sprites and people called that “3D”? Then real 3D games came along, and we learned real fast how 3D completely changes things? That’s the leap Red Faction: Guerrilla has taken.

Okay, that sounds a bit pretentious, but all it takes is five minutes of playing around in RFG, and you’ll get it.

If anything, what have you learned from the previous Red Faction games that helped form and perfect the vision for Guerrilla?

JH: We learned that destruction needs an open environment in order to shine. The two are a perfect match.

For multiplayer, are you giving players access to the same destructive areas as the single-player campaign? Are there going to be any multiplayer-specific locales?

JH: Multiplayer is a set of separate modes with completely custom maps.

Is it difficult to create a wholly destructible world for multiplayer? I mean, how do you determine which structures should respawn and when...if they respawn at all during a match?

JH: Nothing respawns, but you can rebuild things your yourself with the reconstructor tool. Having a dynamic, constantly changing battlefield is what makes multiplayer Red Faction: Guerrilla unique. As a match progresses, you have to adjust your strategies. At the end, it looks like the aftermath of a major battle…which is of course is exactly what it is.

Guerrilla features some unconventional weapon choices. How will these come into play in the single-player campaign, and are there conventional weapons as well?

JH: The guerrilla movement has limited funds, and so weapons are improvised from power tools and mining explosives. Take an industrial grinder, remove all safety devices, and rig it so that sharpened grinding discs can be revved up and launched at high speed. They’re effective against humans, to say the least. The guerrillas can also steal weapons from the Earth Defense force and use them. You can use any guerrilla or EDF weapon you come across.

Most of my E3 experience with Guerrilla revolved around me trying to destroy everything in sight. But I know there's more to the game than that – it will also feature many missions with specific goals. Could you tell us about some of them?

JH: In one mission the Earth Defense Force has confiscated all of the mining mechs – which we call walkers – and you need to break into a heavily guarded compound and get one out. Walkers are highly destructive, so you can pretty much trash the place with it. You bring it to a truck driven by another guerrilla, and then you protect the truck against an EDF assault. In addition to larger missions, there are also guerrilla actions, such as freeing civilians who are being interrogated, raiding EDF buildings, intercepting couriers, and so on. And then on top of that you can attack EDF owned property at any time, completely outside of any special mission modes, using any approach that you see fit. Some of these targets of opportunity are formidable, like an EDF-controlled power plant.

The vehicle controls are really well done, but we've only seen a handful of them. What types of vehicles do you hope to have in the final game?

JH: Each side has its own set of vehicles. The civilians have dump trucks and off-road vehicles and taxis and garbage trucks, some of which have turrets mounted on them. And the mining walkers, of course. The Earth Defense Force has military vehicles, like different kinds of tanks and armored personnel carriers and so on. You can drive anything you come across. Any vehicle can be turned into a weapon by putting charges on it or by crashing it through a building – or both.

Why the return to the red planet? How will Guerrilla's story bring us back into the saga?

JH: We wanted to pick up the threads of the original Red Faction. At the end of Red Faction, the Earth Defense Force helped you defeat the Ultor Corporation. Now it’s fifty years later, Mars has been colonized, and the EDF has become worse than Ultor ever was, so it’s time for another revolution. Connections to the original game are all over the place, including towns named after the heroes of Red Faction.

At E3 there was talk of the new third-person view, which I believe was a necessary change for the series because the first-person view didn't allow the player to see everything that's going on. What's the full story on this? Did I remember correctly?

JH: We tried both first and third person views, and testing showed that third person was much more playable, because you can see where debris is falling in relation to your character. But we’ve got our roots in first-person shooters, so the game plays like a finely crafted FPS even though the camera is third person.