We smashed through the beautiful Georgian walls of Home House on London’s Portman Square to get a hands-on taste of the upcoming Red Faction: Guerrilla available to download in demo form on XBLA and PSN now.
While we were there we put a Nano Rifle to Volition’s Associate Producer Sean Kennedy’s head and made him answer all of our probing Guerrilla questions. Find out exactly how much destruction you can cause, the biggest challenges the team faced and what Kennedy thinks of Lucasarts’ Fracture. Strap yourselves in tight, people…this is a big interview.
Strategy Informer: In a recent press release we read that players will be able to bring down the EDF brick by brick. Does that mean that literally ever structure in Red Faction: Guerrilla is destructible?
Sean Kennedy: Everything in the world that’s manmade – buildings, structures, cars or anything you can pick up is completely destructible. So, the player truly can break down the EDF brick by brick. That’s all possible because of the destruction engine we’ve made – Geo-Mod 2.0. This is essentially the first game to have true destruction, true physics-based destruction with realistic stressing, so everything in the world had to be built architecturally sound. Anything you see in the world is built just like it would be in real life. If not, it would actually collapse under its own weight, which was an issue early in development.
Sean Kennedy, associate Producer for Red Faction: Guerrilla
The largest construction walker is pretty resilient to heavy fire and can casually stroll through most walls.
Strategy Informer: Was that the main challenge then? Getting everything to stay upright?
Sean Kennedy: We’d create new buildings and put them in the game and as soon as the destruction system would kick in – every few seconds, it’s scanning everything in the world – it would start stressing and collapsing. We couldn’t put 50 tonnes of concrete on top of some composite material, so we ended up at one point having to basically dump everything we did and teach our artists how to be architects and redo all the assets. On top of that, we had to change how we’d normally approach making a mission or an activity. Usually, there’s a way to do something, a straightforward path and everything is always clear. You throw in destruction and a mission can be done in multiple ways, whatever way the player wants to approach it, so you have to design everything around that. (That was) one of the biggest challenges, (but) in the end it all worked out.
Strategy Informer: Guerrilla marks the series’ first foray away from terraforming. Is this partly in response to games like Fracture?
Sean Kennedy: (Laughs) Ha, Fracture! You can actually put that in your article! (Laughs again) Yeah, Geo-Mod 1.0 was about terrain deformation and it allowed you to endlessly dig through terrain and do all sorts of things like that. After doing two games of that, we knew we wanted to do a third Red Faction, but we didn’t just want to repeat ourselves. We knew we wanted to do something bigger, so we had to wait until the current systems came out that really had enough power to do exactly what we wanted, which was real destruction that’s realistic, physics-based and something no-one’s ever seen before. So, we made a conscious decision not to do it, we didn’t want to just repeat the same game. I mean, we could’ve done that again, but in the end it would’ve been Red Faction 1, but with that next-generation, plastic look, so we chose to go in another direction.
What’s great for us is, the first Red Faction came out in 2001 and years later no one has actually come close to doing what we did with Geo-Mod. You mentioned Fracture, its terrain deformation was up and down and then they attempted to build a game around that and (laughs) they didn’t really succeed! We thought that was really amusing when they said, ‘never before have you been able to change the battlefield!’ Not since 2001, have you been able to do that! I mean even with that, it’s like okay – eight years and no one’s done that, let’s do something that’s going to take everybody three to five years to try to come close to, so we made Geo-Mod 2.0. And even the reaction from the industry itself, like at the recent GDC where we gave talks, they were like, ‘you have achieved something that we couldn’t even come close to!’ From top people in the industry, it’s a huge compliment. It’s when you know you’ve done something right. You see the look on gamer’s faces, but when you see the look on (the faces of) people who also make games it’s pretty satisfying.
Strategy Informer: So how long has Red Faction: Guerrilla been in development now?
Sean Kennedy: SK: (Laughs) From the very beginning from when we first started until now, it’s been about five years. It’s one of the benefits of THQ, they weren’t rushing us out the door, they weren’t going to make us push something out before we were ready. We’ve had that time to create the technology. Everything in there is proprietary. We use Havok just to throw objects around the world, but in the end all of it is from Geo-Mod.
We had the benefit of something different on this project where we actually went into post-production, where we actually cut the team down to a very small, concentrated group of people who just worked on polishing and polishing, which is why we had a little bit of a delay. It was actually so we could make the game the best we possibly could and that turned out to be an amazingly rewarding experience, which was something we wouldn’t normally be able to do on other projects.
Alec Mason is pretty much a one-man army, although at certain points you’ll have allies helping you out.
Kennedy and the rest of the team at Volition were keen to do something different. So, terrain-deformation is out and building destruction is in.
Strategy Informer: As we all know, Volition are also responsible for the Saints Row games, which are open world just like Red Faction: Guerrilla. Were there any lessons you learnt from the Saints Row team?
Sean Kennedy: Well, Red Faction: Guerrilla was in development during Saints Row 1 and Saints Row 2, so we’re a pretty close studio and we do communicate and we wanted to see what they were doing, especially since we were going open world too. As a studio, that’s been a conscious decision that we’re an open world studio and we’ve always been about pushing technology. Anyway, we’d look at what they were doing and I think you do find some similarities, like the structure of the world and how it’s broken up into districts and neighbourhoods. Our world is broken up into sectors and in sectors, there’re so many zones and it was something they’d do and it works, so we decided to do it too and expand upon it and take it in a different direction.
Strategy Informer: You’ve a lot of unique weaponry in the game too. Which would you say is your personal favourite?
Sean Kennedy: I have two favourites - the arc welder, which is one of the guerrilla tools. Their weapons are essentially mining tools turned into weapons, so it’s a welding device turned into a weapon. All of the materials in the world are real, so they have the same properties. Here we have this electric weapon that’s attracted to anything metal, especially when you upgrade it and add more arcs, there’s actually a safety feature so you won’t electrocute anyone but EDF. So, it’s pretty cool when you have a vehicle a guy’s trying to hide behind – shoot it and it’ll fry everyone inside, it’ll arc, get those people and then maybe there’s a guy standing next to a lamppost and it’ll go over and get him too. I like that.
My other one is the Nano Rifle, which is actually a big part of the game; part of the story and it goes back to Red Faction 1. I love that one because anything it shoots dissolves, including people. When you shoot people – anyone who’s ever watched Star Trek – it has that same effect as phasers, you just watch them burn up and scream! There is a third weapon I like, but it’s not really a weapon, it’s more of a tool specific to multiplayer. It’s the Reconstructor, which essentially reverses destruction, so anything you destroy, shoot it with this weapon and you’ll actually see it re-materialise. The Nano Rifle dissolves things into matter; this takes matter and reconstructs anything.
Strategy Informer: So you feel that now you’ve had the chance to build the Red Faction game you’ve always wanted to?
Sean Kennedy: There’s always more that you want to do. Even in Red Faction: Guerrilla there’s more that we’d like to do, but in the end we’re pushing both consoles as hard as we can. You know you’re doing good work when the people who make the systems are impressed by what you’re doing, but we’ll continue to tweak technology and try to push more out of it. We’re really happy with it though. It’s a game that even when you’ve played the original Red Factions, there’s enough in there that you’ll be able to get into it, beginning a continuation of that original story and there’re a lot of references throughout the world that they’ll see, back to Ultor (the original game’s antagonists) and that incident. Then people who’ve never even heard of Red Faction or never played it before, they can dive right in and enjoy a completely new experience. We’ve accomplished what we wanted to.
Strategy Informer: Cinematically, your closest reference point is probably Total Recall, with its own Martian uprising, the mines, mining tools and so on. Other than this, what would you say are your other film and videogame influences?
Sean Kennedy: Videogame reference-wise, I’d say Red Faction 1. (Film references) Total Recall to an extent, but actually (I’d say) Aliens for a lot. I mean you look at Red Faction, it’s set in the future and it’s sci-fi, but it’s more of a grounded look. It’s a realistic look at what the future might be. People are still in vehicles with wheels, but it is sci-fi and Aliens had that. It had that same kind of look in the future but it’s not like Star Wars or Star Trek, so that was a big influence. You can actually see it in one of the walkers. The smallest of the walkers, kind of looks like Ripley’s exo-skeleton thing.
Actually, we looked at a lot of books like the Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars series. We looked at those and it was kind of funny because it was like what we were already doing, so we ended up not really using that. We also looked at a lot of guerrilla war manuals including one that covered the Russian-Afghanistan war, so a lot of research into guerrilla movements and combat.
Strategy Informer: The look of the game is very lived-in, very convincing. Was it important for you to achieve that kind of art style?
Sean Kennedy: Yeah, although not everywhere in the world’s like that. You have six sectors, starting with Parker, which is the first settlement on the surface after they come up from the underground after Red Faction 1. Terra-forming is far enough along that they can breathe the air and when you’re in that area, it does look much older, very rough and the buildings look like they’re made out of whatever they could find, but you go beyond that to Dust where all the construction takes place and it has a more gritty look. Structures are bigger, heavier concrete buildings and the terra-forming is farther along, so the terrain is brown, there’s plant life starting to grow and the sky’s starting to turn yellow.
Beyond that, you go to Oasis and you have grass everywhere, ground’s covered in shrubs and the sky’s turned blue. Because of that it’s more residential and with that you have people coming from Earth bringing cultural influences, which you’ll see in the architecture and the mosaic tile work. It has a kind of African, Moroccan influence. If you go to an area like Eos, that’s where all the wealth and technology of Mars is, so you get that much cleaner look. Eos is north Mars, so you have kind of a grey rock and to the northern tip you start seeing some ice. Structures are huge white buildings with blue glass and there’re a lot of decorative details everywhere - little things like park benches and sculptures. The people there are dressed much better and they drive sleek futuristic sports cars. Even (for the sports cars), the references we used were auto shows, where you see concept cars, so like concept Lotus and all those. So, there’s that grittiness and then we have that very clean look.
You can travel anywhere in the world and you’ll see this seamless transition from one sector to another. You’ll see the sky change and actually the lighting, fog and time of day looks different.
Every structure had to be built so it’s architecturally sound otherwise it’ll collapse under its own weight.
here are some inventive weapons in the game enabling you to cause massive damage. The explosions look great too.
Strategy Informer: In Saints Row 2 we saw a lot of crazy vehicles like the Gyrocopter and the UFO. Will we be seeing anything similar in Red Faction: Guerrilla?
Sean Kennedy: Not really. When you’re in Parker, it’s more industrial vehicles like dump trucks, diggers. When you get into Oasis, you start seeing regular cars and taxis like you see The Fifth Element, with the round, roll-up doors and Eos has the luxury stuff. But you know it’s all grounded in realistic ideas of what vehicles will look like in the future. There are three different walkers too. There’s the large construction walker made for smashing, so it’s slower but very powerful. There’s the medium-sized combat walker that doesn’t have arms but it shoots missiles, then the small one is not as strong, but it can run, has arms for attacks and has a jet on its back so you can temporarily execute a jump-jet-hover move.
Then we have a fleet of EDF vehicles, including a range of tanks with the biggest one being the artillery tank that can shoot one missile at a time or it can shoot a huge spread like the Jericho thing in Iron Man. But we don’t have a septic tank vehicle – we’re not shooting shit on people! And no flying saucers, although the EDF have aircraft but you can’t commandeer any of them and that’s what we were saying with things we wish we could do. We wanted to do that but it came down to the limitations of the hardware. The main issue with a lot of it was the streaming. We didn’t want to have to make a visual sacrifice to get something that there wasn’t really much point to. This is much more ground-based and guerrillas aren’t really military people, so they’re not going to have aircraft.
Strategy Informer: What plans do you have for downloadable content?
Sean Kennedy: (Laughs) Everyone keeps asking that! And I don’t know what to say! Well, I’m associate producer, but I’m also the producer on the DLC, so there are plans for single-player, multiplayer and Wrecking Crew but I’m not getting into specifics. Anyone who plays RF: G will be very satisfied with the DLC.
Look out for a hands-on preview of Red Faction: Guerrilla very soon.