Recently I was able to get a few moments of time with James Tsai of Volition Software. With the release and popularity of Red Faction, James was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about the game.
Red Faction Interview
James Tsai, Volition Producer for Red Faction
GVK: Describe how the idea for Geo-Mod came about and the idea for the game.
JT: Geo-Mod is one of those ideas that I’m sure a lot of people have had but not very many have acted upon. The climate of FPS games has been pretty constant for several years – destructible environments were something that developers have thought about trying to implement but never did because of the constraints and difficulties it presents in design. Of course, in real life if explosives were to detonate against a wall you’d expect to see a big chunk of that wall gone and the appropriate level of collateral damage around it, but in FPS games it was always accepted that it just wasn’t feasible to simulate that. I think Geo-Mod really challenged conventional thinking in the genre, and Red Faction was set up to showcase the technology while still being fun to play.
GVK: Going into this game, what were the main objectives you wanted to achieve in
regards to content and gameplay?
JT: We wanted to create a game that broke what was rapidly become a stale mold of FPS action, and to draw the player in with a complete and well-detailed world and backstory that would keep them on the edge of their seat for hours. A lot of time was spent on character and weapon concepts, and we had quite a few debates as to what would work in the story and what wouldn’t. In the end, we tried to deliver what we thought would be a very deep gaming experience from top to bottom – vehicles, multiplayer, Geo-Mods, the works.
GVK: What were the biggest obstacles and success stories that you encountered
when you were creating the game?
JT: Implementing the Geo-Mod technology and keeping it fast and as bug-free as possible was an ongoing trial for our programmers. There were some rough spots when it seemed like things just weren’t working, or that it was constricting design, which are pretty normal obstacles you’ll hit whenever you try something new or innovative. When we were working on the console version we were also working in some pretty tight memory constraints and had to learn how to balance a game for a different market than one we had developed for in the past – Summoner was Volition’s only previous effort on a console as opposed to the PC.
GVK: In regards to content, were there features you wished to include but were
unable to do so, and if so what were they?
JT: We had a lot of ideas on the table in terms of concepts for every facet of the game, but for any number of reasons they did not become a part of the game. Fortunately, we weren’t discarding whole chunks of character models or levels – a lot of the stuff never made it past the brainstorming stage because we had the foresight to realize that we wouldn’t have time to polish them or make them compelling parts of the story and stay on schedule. There were a few levels that we had talked about making, such as a shuttle ride, that we just couldn’t fit into the story the way we wanted it to so it was ultimately canned. We also had some ideas for different vehicles but didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin there either. Game design is all about balance; you don’t want to pack too much in a game if it means you’re going to detract from the stronger elements of gameplay. Sometimes a cut is as valuable to a final game as a feature.
GVK: If you could change any part of the finished game, what would it be and why?
JT: I think something we could have done was expanded upon some of the pre-determined game sequences we had in the game – with the experience we have now, we could come up with several exciting ways to put the player in more compelling vehicle battles or set up some cooler battle scripts and such. We get better at things each day that we spend in development, so I’m sure the quality of our stuff will continue to improve with each successive release.
GVK : What new features would you like to see be developed in terms of multiplay
JT: I’ve always been a big fan of team-based multiplayer; Capture the Flag, assault modes, protect the VIP, etc., so I’d like to see some innovative new modes come up here that encourage cooperation and strategy rather than straight twitch reflexes.
GVK: How long was the development cycle of the game?
JT: Red Faction was in development for two years, though the team size was much larger during the latter half of the project. In the beginning, a lot of work was done into proving out what our technology could and couldn’t do before it grew into what gamers are playing now. Our content demands, for characters, art, animation, levels, etc. grew substantially during the second year and thus we added a lot of members to the team then.
GVK: Thank you.