Interview With Alan Lawrance - GameSpy

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NOTE: This interview was originally posted in 2001 by Mike "Missionyrd" Webber on GameSpy, which is no longer available.

Red Faction's Alan Lawrance speaks about geomods, AI, and gameplay in Volition's upcoming FPS.

GameSpy: What role has the development of FreeSpace played in learning to create more solid games? What seems to work or not work in games today?

Alan Lawrance: We have a number of FreeSpace and Descent veterans on the Red Faction team. Having team members that have been through the process of shipping a game is very important. If you've been through the harrowing process of finishing a game, you have an appreciation for the amount of work that goes into created a polished product. You learn something new every day in game development; so the more experience you accumulate the better.

It's difficult to say what works in games today and what doesn't. It's a very competitive environment for PC games, and consumers expect a lot. For the FPS genre, I think having a strong story and an interactive environment are becoming increasingly important. Players want to suspend their disbelief when playing games, so attention to detail and design consistency (so people aren't jarred out being immersed in a game) are very important.

GameSpy: Red Faction is said it contain a hugely involving storyline, what are the basics behind the storyline? Will the storyline be linear or will the path taken depend on the outcome of an objective?

Alan Lawrance: The game takes place on Mars about 100 years in the future. Ultor Corporation runs a massive mining complex on the planet, which is where the game takes place. The player takes on the role of Parker, a miner toiling deep beneath the surface. The working and living conditions for the miners are horrible, and miners are dying from a mysterious disease known as The Plague (which only seems to affect miners). The game begins with a miner uprising sparked by Parker, which turns in a full-fledged revolt. The player takes up arms against the Ultor security forces and joins the rebellion to uncover the origins of The Plague and bring Ultor to justice. We have been releasing detailed background information on major characters in the game (available at, if people are interested in learning more about the characters in the game.

The storyline is linear, although there will be localized events that the player will be able to change. We wanted to focus our attention on creating a single compelling story without having to expend effort on branching the outcomes.

GameSpy: Red Faction is to be powered by the Geo-Mod Engine; the only first-person shooter engine with real-time, arbitrary geometry modification. What does real-time, arbitrary geometry modification mean, and how will it affect the game?

Alan Lawrance: Real-time geometry modification (geomod for short) means that the player can point his rocket launcher anywhere at a wall and blow a hole through it. The hole wasn't pre-calculated; it was created on-the-fly when the rocket impacted the wall. This also means you can collapse things by destroying their supports. For example, you can cause a tower to collapse by shooting out its base. You can also keep shooting at a wall and tunnel into an entirely new area (or literally keep digging a tunnel).

Geomods can be used by the player as a tactical advantage. You'll be able to blow holes through walls to form escape routes or to attack unsuspecting enemies. You can collapse structures to kill enemies that might otherwise be impossible to kill. You can use geomods to destroy the cover that enemies are hiding behind, or to burrow yourself a nice spot to use for protection.

Besides modifying the terrain to gain a tactical advantage, the player will be able to use geomods to overcome obstacles. There will be various times in the game where the player has to think intelligently about how to use geomods to solve puzzles.

At a very basic level, geomods make the game feel more realistic. If you fire a powerful weapon at a wall, you actually do blow a hole through it. This simply makes sense, and it feels right.

GameSpy: What purpose does falling geometry serve in the advanced physics simulation portion of the title?

Alan Lawrance: Falling geometry can be used in several ways to kill opponents in clever ways. For example, you can collapse a bridge that has a powerful vehicle crossing it. You can cause stalactites to fall and crush your enemies, or to block their path. You'll also be able to walk on geometry that has fallen, and use it for cover.

GameSpy: How does Volition look to incorporate real-time skeletal deformation and interpolation into the title and what effects will this have on the gameplay?

Alan Lawrance: We use a skeleton animation system for the characters in Red Faction. Skeletal animation allows us to have smooth transitions between animations, so you won't see any annoying popping. Our animation system allows for animations to be blended together smoothly, so you'll be able to see characters talking while standing, walking, crouching, etc. Skeletal animation doesn't have a direct effect on gameplay. It simply makes the animation look much better and more realistic.

GameSpy: There have been a lot of first-person shooters on the market lately. What is it about Red Faction that will intrigue gamers and set it apart from the rest? What new features are going to be introduced into the genre with this title?

Alan Lawrance: Certainly being able to destroy the environment makes Red Faction stand out from other FPS games on the market. Besides the innovative technology of geometry modification, RF has many features that taken together make it stand above other FPS games on the market: story-driven gameplay, interactive levels, a variety of vehicles, advanced physics, advanced AI, great weapons and strong multiplayer.

GameSpy: How will the land, sea, and air vehicles be incorporated into the game? What purpose or functionality will they serve to the player?

Alan Lawrance: The player will be able to commandeer six vehicles throughout the course of the game. We have revealed four vehicles so far: an APC (armored personnel carrier), a submersible, a massive drilling vehicle, and a flying combat craft. All vehicles have their own 3D cockpits, unique weapons, and customized physics. Generally, the player will be able to use a vehicle for a limited amount of time, and then will resume the game on foot.

The vehicles will almost always be necessary for the player to use. The vehicles have much more firepower than the player, and offer protection. Certain vehicles have special abilities (like the drilling ability of the Driller vehicle) that will have to be used to proceed in the game.

GameSpy: The environments in Red Faction are known to be varied. What sort of environments can we expect to see featured?

Alan Lawrance: A major design goal is to create levels that immerse the player in the game. This means having the levels make sense from a functional perspective, adding lots of detail and interactivity. We have a broad range of environments for the player to experience, including natural caverns/caves, mining environments, industrial areas, living quarters, administrative areas, underwater areas, surface areas and level that takes place on a space station in orbit around Mars.

GameSpy: How advanced or intelligent will the AI be? What kinds of things can we expect to see from the enemy AI?

Alan Lawrance: The AI in Red Faction will be quite advanced, with human enemies acting cooperatively in a squad-like fashion. Your opponents will take cover, provide covering fire, and generally fight in a realistic manner. Opponents will be able to control vehicles and use turrets, which will make them even more deadly. The AI will be able to adapt to the changing environment by modifying their path finding to take modified geometry into account. You also have to deal with enemies who will use powerful weapons to destroy your cover to flush you out of hiding.

GameSpy: Is Volition looking to add a more realistic damage system in Red Faction with the location-based damage system? How will the system work and approximately how many different locations will a target feature?

Alan Lawrance: Red Faction has a bone-based location based damage system. This allows us to assign damage modifiers to specific bones (e.g., the head) and allows us to pay location specific death and flinch animations. By having location damage be bone specific, we can detect hits on hands, which may cause a character to drop a weapon. A character in Red Faction has approximately 25 bones, although only major bones (about 6) result in unique death or flinch animations.

GameSpy: Will Red Faction ship with a level editor or will it be made available after the game ships? Will fans have the ability to make modifications for the title as they do with Quake, Unreal, and Half-Life?

Alan Lawrance: The Red Faction level editor is known as Red, and will be released with the PC version of the game. This is the same tool that the level designers use to create Red Faction levels. We will likely be releasing other tools (custom exporters) so fans can create their own objects, weapons, etc. Our goal is to make Red Faction very mod friendly.

GameSpy: What options or features will be available in multiplayer over a LAN or TCP/IP? Will the Playstation 2 version of the title have multiplayer capabilities?

Alan Lawrance: Multiplayer on the PC will support LAN and Internet play, and allow up to thirty-two players per server. We expect that geomods and vehicles are going to offer some unique multiplayer gameplay. As far as game modes, we'll support Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture-The-Flag at a minimum (for the PC). PS2 multiplayer will be exclusively one-on-one. The PS2 version will support two player split-screen multiplayer.

GameSpy: How will the PC, MAC, and Playstation 2 versions of Red Faction be different or the same? Do you expect that all of them will be completed at about the same time?

Alan Lawrance: The PC/MAC versions will be about the same. The PS2 version will be about the same game as the PC version, but it will have split-screen multiplayer. There are some other minor differences, like an auto-aim option and some different textures.