Fathers Of The FPS Haven't [R]aged A Day

I’m sitting in the reception area, giant Smarties cookie in hand, waiting for my turn to interview the creative director of id Software, Tim Willits. The cookie is for Mr Willits, who turns 40 on the day of our interview. While I’ve come prepared with the obligatory list of questions about his new game, RAGE, there’s something else I’m curious about, but I’m not sure how to ask without seeming impolite. So when it comes time for my interview, I hand over the Smarties cookie and hope that a delicious biscuit will guide the way.

“So... many people consider id Software to be the father of the first-person shooter,” I say.

“But nowadays when people talk about first-person shooters, they don’t necessarily think of id games. They think Halo or Call of Duty or Battlefield. How do you feel about that? Are you OK with letting these new games dominate the genre?”

I half expect Willits to dodge the question or at least get defensive, but he doesn’t.

"You can't play Halo or Call of Duty without thanking id," he says.

"Heck, every time I launch Modern Warfare 2 and on the legal screen it says 'Technology Provided By id Software', I'm like 'Ooh, yes, look at that!'. Any time a game sells 25 zillion copies, it's good for everyone. To be a part of that and to see how the industry in the first-person genre has blown and expanded is a very exciting thing," he says.

To better understand where Willits is coming from, it is perhaps necessary to look at his 17-year career (and counting) at id Software. In his time at id, graduating from level designer to creative director, Willits has worked on some of the most influential games of our time, including The Ultimate Doom, Quake, Quake II, Quake 3 Arena and Doom 3. It is without hyperbole when people describe id as the father of the first-person shooter, and many of the games that Willits has worked on continue to be incredibly influential today.

"If you look at the internet back in 1996, Quake was the first true 3D game," he says.

"Quake was the first real action game that had a client-server architecture -- at the time people found it weird that someone would let their computer run a server so strangers could use it and play games together, but now it’s just common place."

"Modding really took off with Quake and there were so many people who started in the industry making Quake levels. It spawned competitive gaming, it spawned web pages dedicated to gaming, it really made death-match a more mainstream word, it gave legitimacy to cyber athletes and opened that door to that kind of career. The things that Doom and Quake did were huge -- heck there are still people whose friends call them by their Quake name not their real name. I think Quake has done more good for the industry."

Willit's sense of security is one born from understanding his achievements and contributions to the world of gaming. Having paved the road for the first-person shooter and reaching such high levels of critical and commercial success, id Software could have gone down the path of being overprotective of their ideas, denying people access to their technologies and monetising their existing franchises. But they didn't. They were always motivated by something else.

“We could have made Doom 1, Doom 2, Doom 3, up to Doom 15, we could have trademarked death-match, we could have developed a whole army of people to license the technology and just made an empire of the FPS out of Doom and Quake, but that's not really what John [Carmack]and the rest of us wanted to do,” he says.

“We wanted to take risks, we wanted to make different games, we wanted to stay small, we've never had a technology group, we've never had a producer who was dedicated to helping our licensees work on the game. I believe that we followed the passion of making games more than we followed the passion for the easy buck and I think gamers have always appreciated that."

For Willits and the team at id, game development isn't about setting goals, conquering them, and calling it a day. It’s an ongoing process of making things that excite them and then sharing it with the world.

Willits describes the studio's success as being an organic process -- they simply kept making things they believed to be cool and players responded accordingly. By the time Quake clans and dedicated web pages had spawned, it took them by as much surprise as anyone else, but there was never a Beatles-like rockstar moment that signalled that they'd made it, that suddenly changed their mindsets and made them feel like they could rest on their laurels.

“Quite the opposite, actually," says Willits.

"After Doom, myself and a number of guys went into CompUSA (an electronics retailer in the US) to sign Quake. We walked into the store and the store manager says ‘Are you the Doom guys?’, and we said ‘Yes!’, and he said: ‘I thought you’d be more exciting. I thought you’d be different.’”

Willits jokes that id developers are much cooler in the virtual world than in real life, and that while their games have changed the world of gaming, they are ultimately a team of developers who constantly feel the need to challenge themselves.

“When we set out to create RAGE, we knew we had to make it different to Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein -- we could not follow the same formula,” he says.

“We could not have Wolfenstein: Nazis in corridors. Doom: demons in corridors. Quake: aliens in corridors, and then make RAGE mutants in corridors. We really had to do something that was bigger, deeper, richer.”

Willits says that there are elements in RAGE that they would have never put into an FPS in the past such as driving and story, but he believes it’s no longer about ticking the boxes of a genre.

“I don’t even like the word genre,” he says.

“Why can’t you just make a game? Is it a fun game? Yes. What genre is it? I don’t know, but it’s fun. Sometimes when you put labels on games like that you kind of put them into a shoebox and it’s hard to get out.”

My time is up before I’ve even asked any of my RAGE questions, but that’s OK. I leave the interview knowing that the team behind some of the most important games in history hasn’t lost any of their passion and enthusiasm for making things that excite them, and that gives me a great sense of appreciation and respect for their newest release, which has so much riding on its shoulders.

I thank Mr Willits for his time. He thanks me for the giant cookie.

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Comments

    Nice story!

    "heck there are still people whose friends call them by their Quake name not their real name" - hehe, that's exactly where Batguy originated from :)

    Great interview with a very interesting person in the industry! Sounds like they have their heads on right.

    Smarties Bikkie :( I want one now!

    Good article though, Hopefully Rage will be finished downloading on steam for when I get home.

    In Conclusion:

    I have no Smartie Bikkie /o\

    I will get try RAGE when I get home \o/

    When I was playing Doom on my old 486 iD were like gods to me, in my tiny 13 year old brain this was the game, no game ever made would ever be as good as Doom.

      I agree. Doom was my first real PC gaming moment. Sure, I had played shareware crap before, and plenty of consoles (Atari 2600, NES, SNES and Megadrive) but Doom was an entirely different beast. One of the best memories I have is playing Doom on the family IBM 486 33DX with some family friends over. It was night time, the lights were off, and the 2 dodgy speakers connected to the PC were up as loud as they could go. I think the whole room screamed when a Pinky seemingly came out of nowhere. I was 10 years old at most, but it is a memory I will retain for ever.

    Hmmm. As much as they seem to want to branch out into new areas (fair enough imo), it would be wonderful if they made Quake V: Arena. Bring back that pure, hardcore DM experience (that hasn't existed since UT2004) that not even Epic Games can deliver anymore.

      Oh man... Quake V: Arena... That would be so amazing! The sheer number of hours I lost playing Deathmatch in Quake III is obscene. Then if you add the hours I lost playing mods it would be... even more than obscene!

      Nobody makes ultra-fast, hardcore deathmatch like Quake III any more. I say this purely as someone watching FPS's change but I don't know if they could any more. Consoles have changed the way games are played (for better or worse). FPS's are about cover more than balls-out running and gunning.

      I love modern shooters. But I'm still sad that there doesn't seem to be a place (apart from on a LAN with friends) for these old gems.

        I reckon I was *this* close to failing my PhD because of that game. Sleeping in every day + LAN + up to 8 people willing to play at any time of the day + caffeine = a minimum of 3-4 hours a day spent playing Quake III, and not much time for anything else!

        I agree. I'd LOVE to see another 'traditional' deathmatch shooter come out, but I really don't think it'd be financially viable these days.

        People seem to want ranks and unlocks and the like which, while perfectly OK, would probably lead to a Q3A style game being perceived as lacking depth by many people (although I personally totally disagree with that assessment).

          http://edge.alluremedia.com.au/m/k/2011/10/Laughing.png

            And now, the F5 game...

              worst game.

      IMO Quake 3 is still the best multiplayer FPS ever made ....

      graphics: good enough.
      gameplay: still unsurpassed today.

    Good interview, Doom is my favourite gaming franchise, i still get the most satisfaction playing the original Doom games.

    Most games these day i will play once, maybe twice and then put it back on the shelf but doom is one of the games that is constantly installed on my computer and constantly get played.

    I loved Doom 3, i still have the limited edition Steelbook Xbox edition (i didnt have a powerful enough PC when it got released)

    I am interested in what Rage is like and will probably buy it once the price comes down but know i can look forward to id showing off Doom 4 for the first time, i hope its not going to be next years QuakeCon.

    Quake 2 was probably the first game that's multiplayer (and modding) side hooked me in and I spent countless hours playing against mates after school (and even during school in some cases once we'd found how to get around the schools security).

    The industry and in particular FPS developers have so much to thank id for.

    Great article

    Good read. My handle also hails from the days of online Quake 1. ;)

    Brillaint interview.
    While everyone else is talking about Rage, you actually asked some real questions. For some reason it felt good reading that the Id guys are just as positive and passionate and honest as they always have been.

    And yes Quake 1 is indeed the god-king allfather of deathmatch.

    Fantastic interview. Regardless of how much I enjoy RAGE, I'm glad I put up the purchase price to support a studio with such a great atmosphere, and such a great view on development philosophy.

    Nothing compares to the solidity of Q1

    Such robust coding, even by today's standards.

    Great interview! But I found this pretty funny:

    "We could have made Doom 1, Doom 2, Doom 3, up to Doom 15, [..] we could have developed a whole army of people to license the technology and just made an empire of the FPS out of Doom and Quake, but that’s not really what John [Carmack] and the rest of us wanted to do."

    Is that an indictment of Call of Duty or what?

      I found it funny for another reason, namely that Rage is the first major release by them in like 15 years that wasn't either a Doom or Quake game (I realise they had a hand in other studios titles such as RTCW etc)

    I can still remember Quake being the first time I ever used a mouse AND keyboard together for an FPS. Previously all my experiences were Doom with keyboard only. I remember it feeling like such an alien concept at the time.

    For me, Doom is still the great-granddaddy of DM. It coined the terms 'deathmatch' and 'frag'. I still remember bodging up serial cables to play with my mates on our 386s.

    That being said, Quake is pretty much solely responsible for internet deathmatch, in particular Quakeworld.

      I played through Quake on a keyboard only. Wasn't until Half Life that I made the swaparoo. That said, I only ever played the single player campaigns back then anyway.

    Good article, I grew up playing Wolf and Doom, I didn't even shoot up my high school.

    I just don't agree with this little tidbit - “You can’t play Halo or Call of Duty without thanking id,”

    Bungie released Pathways into Darkness about the same time as Wolfenstein 3D, and the Marathon series was around at the same time as Doom. Sure, because it was Macintosh only it was not as popular, I still agree that id is the "father" of shooters, but Bungie made their own path.

      Agreed. Willits is in love with blowing his own horn and taking credit for things he had no part in - he didn't create FPS, he didn't create deathmatch. He did churn out some incredibly bland games with zero creativity like Rage and Doom 3, though. The guy is beyond full of himself it's sickening.

    Um, but Rage is RAGE: mutants in corridors...

    Great interview. My screen name (TheTacoMan) is from Quake 1. I will never forget that game, I still have most of the map layouts burned in to my mind

    I remember playing Commander Keen at my neighbors house on his dad's computer. His dad being an awesome guy, brought home 'a new game from the Commander Keen guys', called Doom. He graciously installed it and then let us play it for hours until my brother and I were told we had to go home :-P

    Then I'm sure he played until he had to go to work in the morning haha

    Though my own father gets major points for being the one to buy Quake when it finally came out... His computer became a Quake/Tomb Raider machine. Good times.

    The father of the game in first person today is more the “grandfather with Alzheimer’s” forgotten everything.
    Sucks to know that Bethesda have to post garbage shooter. I bet the release of Fallout 4, the damn Doom 4 will appear together, to follow the wave. The same effect Skyrim/Rage together, damn shooter brought a negative fast with its bugs and nothing innovation, affecting Skyrim, before Skyrim own problems!
    Sux!

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