When Rage, the long-awaited shooter from id Software, hits shelves Oct. 4, it will end a seven-year drought for the company.
During that gap, the shooter market has evolved tremendously. Franchises like Quake and Unreal have been supplanted by more realistic fare like Call of Duty and EA's Battlefield series, and while sci-fi shooters like Halo and Gears of War still enjoy success, the shooter genre has never been more crowded — or competitive.
That's not lost on John Carmack. The legendary co-founder of id, who essentially created the shooter genre with his groundbreaking advances in graphics and technology, says the company faced a learning curve with Rage as it broke out of its comfort zone and explored new territory.
"On our last major game -- Doom 3 -- there were a lot of things people justifiably criticized us on," he told Yahoo! Games. "We were stuck in this repetitive corridor zone. … The gaming market has evolved enough that we can't just do that anymore."
The solution was for id to leave the familiar dark hallways of its previous games behind and let players explore a vast outdoor wasteland. The company also added a driving element to the game as well as an economic one, letting players purchase new weapons with in-game currency and better customize their arsenal.
What id chose not to do was completely abandon its roots. Carmack says he -- and most of the id team —-- has always been drawn to the sci-fi/fantasy genre and it's something that has worked well for the company. Besides, with so many competitors racing to produce "realistic" shooters, it's getting harder to stand out.
"I wouldn't want to go directly into a realistic shooter" he says. "It's certainly pretty crowded there and there are pretty steep learning curves. But I will say one of the lessons we learned from Doom 3 is we want to ground the games a little more in reality. If everything's fantastic, nothing is. Rage is a much more realistic looking area. So when you do get to the more sci fi stuff, it stands out more. That's one of the best aspects of Rage."
Up next for the company is Doom 4. While id's not talking publicly about it, development work is already underway and the game will use the same technology as Rage, which should keep its development time much shorter.
Seven years, after all, is a long time between games — even for a company that's famous for its "when it's done" release schedule. To be fair, that wasn't all spent on Rage. id spent a year working on another project before ultimately deciding it didn't like where things were going and trashing the work. The company also spent some of that time reworking the way it creates games in order to speed up the production cycle.
Once Doom 4 is out the door, though, Carmack seems eager to return to Rage.
"We've got Wolfenstein and Quake -- and we should be doing something with that -- but we're all excited about doing additional Rage work," he says.
For the past month or so, Carmack has been working on forward-looking projects. In the past, that would almost certainly be code for the Next Big Thing in graphics (and, admittedly, it might still), but he feels future advances in that field are going to be less about gigantic leaps and more about iterative steps.
"I've been saying making pretty pictures is not my main goal right now," he says. "I still want to make better graphics, but I think we're past the curve there. All the top line games really do look good. … I think there's still one more step we can take … but I don't think we have many of those steps left."
While Carmack says he's incredibly proud of Rage, he's also realistic about where it will ultimately stand in id's catalog of titles.
"Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake...those were created in a time when they did things no one else did," he says. "Rage can't be looked at as pioneering that way. I don't think it's possible it will have the enduring legacy that our earlier titles had, but I do think it's possible that it will sell better than any of our other titles."
- John Carmack