RAGE 2's director on crafting a wasteland of guns, mutants, and monster trucks

RAGE 2 is poised to be Bethesda's next big shooter, refreshing its post-apocalyptic series with an all-new identity. The neon-tinted world now accommodates crazy armaments and otherworldly foes, setting a fresh tone for an anticipated sequel. Pairing the gunplay foundations of 2016's DOOM reboot, with physics talent from Just Cause's Avalanche Studios, it packs the best of open-world action.

While set for a May 2019 debut, we sat down with id Software studio director, Tim Willits, discussing what went into RAGE 2's wasteland.

Related: RAGE 2 is a shooter sequel that looks downright WILD

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Matt Brown, Windows Central staff writer: Getting started, what did you set out to primarily improve in RAGE 2 over the original game?

Tim Willits, id Software studio director: Oh, lots of things. In its simplest form, RAGE 2 delivers on the promise of RAGE. We had a lot of great things in the original RAGE, but they were all separated by level loads, and you had to switch discs, and all that stuff.

But as you saw, this you just... play. [In] the original you kind of had to play how we wanted you to play, but this now, you can play how you want to play. And we have been watching journalists over the past few days, everyone does something different, which is very encouraging. But also bringing color into the game, the in-style combat. When you play [DOOM 2016] you're like "Oh I see this, it feels like id [Software]." So bringing those kinds of elements into this true open world.

RAGE 2 brings a whole new direction between its themes, visuals, and overall identity. What was the thought process behind this vibrant switch up?

Well both us and Avalanche [Studios] really wanted to ensure that RAGE 2 stood on its own and we didn't want people that hadn't played the original to feel like "Well, it's part two, I didn't play the first one, so I'm not going to play it." So we really went out of our way to make sure it had a unique identity, that stood on its own. From the color, to the action, to the technology, to the pink; to really let it be its own game.

We saw a similar shift for DOOM, dropping its now-canned more realistic tone, that went on to be DOOM's 2016 reboot. Between RAGE and DOOM, what value have you found in taking a self-aware approach to an IP?

Specifically, in RAGE 2, we do try to be a little bit humorous, because games are supposed to be fun. Sometimes people forget that. And we make entertainment. We also wanted RAGE 2 being unique and to get away from your normal post-apocalyptic, depressing, sad, lonely games. So here you have something that doesn't take itself too seriously. But it's still fun.

So why do you think the post-apocalyptic setting is so popular?

Because it's really easy to be fun in it and be creative. Because it's a setting that people can relate to. It's a setting that allows us to science fiction weapons, monster trucks, mutants, and have cool fantasy elements, but still have to ground it.

It's a really nice playground to play in and it gives us a lot of creative freedom. And the Avalanche guys, they worked on [Mad] Max before this, but it was a very tight IP and franchise. And this allows them to do whatever they want to.

Sculpting a crazy sandbox in a barren wasteland

With Avalanche's previous work on the Mad Max game, has that helped during the development process?

Yeah, both Mad Max and RAGE were very good at brown. But their work, especially with non-linear storytelling, their experience with vehicles, their experience with dynamic systems. All those heads brought a lot to the table.

And you've adopted Avalanche's Apex Engine, correct? Physics was such a core aspect of previous Apex titles, like Just Cause. Has that come into play during RAGE 2's design?

Yeah definitely. Like the Grav Dart, even the way the active abilities work, pushing people around, and knocking things over. It's very Avalanche-y. We definitely wanted to steer into that, plus it's just fun to… blow stuff up. Just fly around, you know what I'm saying?

So was there any reason for a move away from your own id Tech engine?

It's a great engine, it does a ton of things really well. We have brilliant programmers. But it's more of an engine where everything is absolutely pixel-perfect down to the minute details. But as an open world, broad-based engine, we have some room to improve.

But working with the Avalanche guys, they have an engine, they know how it works. You don't have to redo everything while we make the game. So it's been very nice. And it looks good.

That's something that myself and Jez, our senior editor, have obsessed over. There's something about RAGE 2's shotgun and its crazy [blowback] physics that stuck with us after Gamescom.

Yes, and when you [aim down sights], it actually does more blowback. He probably did not realize that. And it's the sound. We worked a long time to make sure that sound was right.

Were there any general design challenges that came up during development?

Not really, because the very first thing I wrote on the whiteboard when I met with Avalanche [was] "more crazy than RAGE." There was never a time when an idea was pitched, where we'd go "Oh, that's a little too far." Usually, we push things, because it's always easier to go too far and pull back, than to not go far enough. The technology has been great, the design has been great, the characters are kind of cool, [and] interesting to talk to. And we still polish, we've got to fix bugs on the menus and stuff, but overall, it's been good development.

So was there any point during development where you had to draw a line for the craziness? As you have to consider the existing RAGE franchise and the gameplay.

No, we have some silly stuff. And some really goofy things. Which is fun. I don't think anyone will be like "Oh, that's too much."

You just went all out crazy?

Well, we have pink everywhere.

Rage 2

Rage 2 (Image credit: Bethesda)

And you said you wanted to hit a solid 60 FPS on consoles, correct?

On PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, you're 60 [FPS]. But on the vanilla [PS4 and Xbox One] you're 30. But when you're on the PC, then you're as fast as you can go.

Is that going to be at 4K on Xbox One X as well?

No, we wanted speed over performance. For that type of game, you need speed, more than you need 4K. Plus it still looks pretty good!

I assume you have some post-launch plans for RAGE 2 then?

Yeah, so we'll have some paid post-launch content, we'll have some free content. We have some community things, not like multiplayer. And then we'll have some more regular updates [that] stretch out the tale of the games.

Is that going to build on the base game? Or are those separate experiences?

Yes, that will build on the base game. Because of the open-world nature of the game and the way the technology works, it's so nice to add things in. Because everything is streamed, we can add things much easier than in other traditional engines.

Enter the 'post-post-apocalypse'

Our hands-on only granted time to briefly experiment with RAGE 2's underlying foundations, yet it already corrects various flaws of its predecessor. id Software's shooter expertise hits the open world, sculpting what might be a fresh face for the franchise. It's one to watch as May approaches, shaping up as a fitting addition to Bethesda's top shooters.

In the meantime, the game is slated to launch on May 14, 2019, on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PCs. Preorders are now live, priced at $59.99 in the U.S.

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Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.