Q&A: id Software shakes QuakeCon

The Mesquite, Texas game developer id Software has always conducted business its own way. Rather than announce release dates for upcoming games, the maker of classics such as the Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein series have held the company line that a game will be released "when it's done."

So when id is ready to announce news, it's serious. Company co-founder and technical director John Carmack and CEO Todd Hollenshead made no fewer than six major announcements during presentations Friday at QuakeCon in Dallas.

For starters, id is hard at work on a new game called Rage— a new intellectual property not related to any previous games such as Doom. Carmack has been working on it and the new id Tech 5 game engine since finishing Doom 3 for Xbox (released April 2005).

Also in the works: a movie based on World War II-Nazi hunting Castle Wolfenstein games, a free web-based version of Quake 3 and a Quake Arena Arcade game for Xbox Live. And the company that rarely sets release dates announced one for the PC game Enemy Territory: Quake Wars: Oct. 2, 2007.

Hollenshead and lead designer Tim Willits talked about everything id just before QuakeCon:

Q: Why announce all this now a few weeks after E3?

Hollenshead: E3 was just too soon. And just on the landscape of where things are in importance, E3 has been scaled back and at the same time QuakeCon has expanded. … One way to sort of make sure the event can continue to grow is to do things that we can totally control. Here we have the exclusive ear of the media for a few days and we do not have to scream so loud to get our point across over everybody else.

Q: Tell us some more about Rage.

Willits:The game is built upon our new id Tech 5 techonology. Before we talk about the game it is important to talk a bit about the technology. Id Tech 5 is the very first engine that allows completely uniquely textured environments. Gamers will never see the same environment twice. It has massive outdoor landscape technology as well as classic great indoor id-style techonology and it is fully cross platform compatible, which means that the assets that we make can work on the (Xbox) 360, the (Sony) PS3, the PC and the Mac. We really have a lot of flexibilty. That's what Rage is built upon.

Id invented the first-person shooter genre and we've always helped create online action gaming and John continually developes award-winning technology. Rage is, I believe, going to help define what people expect from a first-person shooter. It's a game that is story-driven (and) non-linear. It has both vehicles, racing and the classic good foundation of first-person shooter action that we are famous for. But you can do so much more in the environment. The name Rage is a catchy four-letter word that works with the story as well as the driving elements. Sometimes when you drive around, you want to drive over something or smash into it. You can do that.

Hollenshead:The story is there is this oppressive regime. So there is something for you to rage against. Also there is more of an adventure aspect to the game because of what we can do with these vast outdoor landscapes. We can give you a vehicle to drive through some of them (and) you can make modifications to your car, garage style and of course, r-a-g-e is in "garage" too.

Q: The story sounds more realistic than Doom or Quake.

Willits:The game takes place in the future after civilization is recovering from a comet strike on Earth. The lines between right and wrong are very blurred. You are a guy trying to survive in this world and fight the injustices of the evil regime. That type of environment gives us the flexibility to have some fantasy elements, which we are very keen on, and also ground the game in technology that people are familiar with. … I don't want to use the RPG word, because people will think "like World of Warcraft" but you do have a much larger inventory and customization of your vehicles. We have really expanded out the game. It's more than 10 guns and a bunch of bad guys.

Q: Can you describe the character you play in the game?

Willits:You are unique in the setting in that you are an outsider from the regime and an outsider from settlers in the wastelands. With your unique abilities you are able to help out the resistance fight against the regime. You are almost like a Buck Rogers outsider, but not an alien.

Hollenshead:Like a Mel Gibson character from The Road Warrior. … Also, when we say the technology is across platforms that doesn't mean we have one version that runs on the PS3, which is different from the one that runs on the 360, which is a little bit different from the one that runs on the Mac and PC. It is literally the same game running across all the platforms. We use the same art assets, the same local assets, so effectively the same code with different executable builds that run on all the different platfroms. … Our studio exclusively is building every version of the game, which is not something we have ever done before. Our ideal objective is to have all the versions come out at the same time. Whether that happens exactly or not may be a function of what obstacles we may run into. It is a huge challenge we are taking internally but John (Carmack) is amazing and the renderer and the engine John has written allows us as one studio to basically do the work of three. Three plus.

Q: You are creating a new development team within id, right?

Hollenshead:Yes, that (second "A" team is) going to make a version of Quake 3 that is free for everyone to play that has been converted into, effectively, a Web browser application. The internal code name for it is Quake Zero.

Q: And there is a Quake game being created for Xbox Live, too?

Hollenshead:Quake Arena Arcade, which is a new version of Quake Arena-style deathmatch designed specifically for Xbox Live Arcade. Pi Studios is the developer on it (Microsoft is assisting on the game). We are stoked about that. Doom Arcade (released Sept. 2006) is huge and it exceeded our wildest expectations.

Another announcement we are going to make is that the entire id back catalog, from Doom 3 and earlier (back to 1990's Commander Keen), is going be be available (today) on Steam, Valve's digital distribution network. That's pretty big news. The full id pack is kind of a super version of the id Anthology that came out 10 years back.

Q: Catch us up on the Return to Castle Wolfenstein movie deal.

Hollenshead:We have licensed the rights for the feature film for the Wolfenstein franchise. We did have a movie deal for Wolf (with Columbia TriStar) … but the rights came back to us and we are working on the next game in the Wolfenstein series with Raven Software (Quake 4). As the momentum builds behind the game there's going to be a lot of movement to getting the film moving forward as well. To me the thing that is exceptionally cool about this is the team we are working with, (writer and director) Roger Avary and (producer) Samuel Hadida (Silent Hill and Resident Evil) have experience in making successful movie adaptations of video games. It's the the first time ever I've had the opportunity to sit down and talk over the table about anything from id, especially one of my personal favorites, with an Academy Award winner (in 1995 for the screenplay for Pulp Fiction). I'm excited about the potential.