Reeve Thompson, producer of Hal Barwood's upcoming RTX Red Rock, takes a moment out of his busy schedule to field questions from the Mixnmojo community. Let's watch.
Interview by Jake Rodkin with questions from Mojo readers.
First of all, can you introduce yourself and give us a bit of insight into your history with LucasArts?
Sure, my name is Reeve Thompson and I’ve been with LucasArts for about 3 1/2 years now. My first major project was Star Wars Jedi Power Battles for the Playstation. After that I was the producer on Star Wars Starfighter for the PS2 and PC as well as the Special Edition of that game for the Xbox. I’m currently the producer on RTX Red Rock.
Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the story of RTX Red Rock? What is the background of the characters and their conflict with the aliens?
Earth has just won a war with an invading alien force. We were able to defeat the LEDs (or Light-Emitting Demons, which is what the aliens are called on Earth) because we had home field advantage and therefore more resources. Soon after this victory we lose contact with Red Rock, our colony on Mars. It’s assumed the LEDs have attacked the colony in the hopes of gaining a foothold in our solar system, and have killed all the colonists. The military decides to send Radical Tactics Expert Major E.Z. Wheeler to scope out the situation. When Wheeler gets to Phobos, one of the moons of Mars, he discovers some of the colonists have survived and it’s up to him to go to the surface of the red planet and save the colony.
Was there any hesitation within the company about doing a game like this since LucasArts has been synonymous with Star Wars products for the past decade? Did you guys have any concern that people might confuse RTX Red Rock as being a member of the Star Wars franchise?
We knew that was going to happen a bit, especially since this is a Science Fiction game, but we weren’t overly concerned with it. Because we have laser guns, and Star Wars has laser guns there’s a certain amount of education we’re going to need to do, but I think if you take a good look at the game it’s pretty obvious it doesn’t take place in the Star Wars universe. But this type of explanation is something we're going to need to do more and more. As a company we want to become less dependant on Star Wars and want to do more original titles, RTX Red Rock is the first of many of these original games and therefore is the first to face some of these challenges.
Has the character of E.Z. Wheeler been inspired by other famous sci-fi heroes? Buck Rogers, for example.
I think there’s inspiration from a lot of different sci-fi stories and characters, everything from Buck Rogers to War of the Worlds. I would say though, that we’ve tried to stick closely to science fiction and not science fantasy. We wanted to make the environment, Red Rock, as realistic as we could. We wanted the colony to be a place that looks like it could exist someday. So unlike something like Star Wars, or some of Buck Rogers ours is a world rooted in the real.
You've mentioned before that the story has some twists and turns. Is this story going to be told primarily through dialogue between E.Z. Wheeler, IRIS, aliens, and other Mars colonists? Or are you taking a more visual approach to moving the plot along?
We have a lot of cutscenes in the game. Most of the dialogue occurs between Wheeler and IRIS since she acts as a type of guide through the game, but some of the most important dialogue happens between Wheeler and the Old Souls, which it turns out only he can hear. The Old Souls are at the root of some of the twists I’ve mentioned before. It turns out the LEDs aren’t simply trying to take over the solar system, they’re looking for something, and the Old Souls are the ones who know what they’re looking for.
Are there going to be pre-rendered movie cutscenes, or will they be done entirely in-game?
Most of our cutscenes are in-engine, but the big cutscene at the beginning of the game, and the one at the end are pre-rendered. There are visuals we wanted to have in them that we just couldn’t do in-engine.
What other characters can we expect to meet in this game?
Since the game takes place in a colony of about 200 people, all of who have been killed or are in hiding, there aren’t a lot of characters to meet to be honest. The two colonists you really get to know are Cimmeria Rajan, the Chief Colony Officer, and Boris, a crazy old colonist who doesn’t like what Wheeler’s trying to do. There’s General Stark who sent Wheeler on this mission, and the Old Souls Wheeler meets unexpectedly. You also get to know Wheeler’s grandfather by watching a video he left in the colony’s computer. Wheeler’s grandfather Augustus Wheeler, was the first person to step foot on Mars and was one of the colony’s founders.
Mixnmojo reader Lucasmad submits this question: "What will most appeal to adventure fans about RTX Red Rock? Is it an even mix of action and adventure or is it more one genre than the other?"
I think it’s a great mixture of both. Hal Barwood the director on RTX Red Rock is known for his adventure games like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and when he first came up with the idea for RTX Red Rock, he wanted to make a faster paced, combat filled, adventure game. This is where he sees the genre going. That’s not to say this is an “adventure lite”, he’s filled Red Rock with a lot of puzzles. I think adventure fans are going to like it. I’m an adventure fan and I like it.
Sopabuena asks, "what about the puzzles, will they include inventory use and character interaction or will they be the kind of puzzles where you have to jump over platforms and pull a lever?"
A little of both. We don’t have any puzzles where you need to use item A with item B in room C, like Monkey Island had, but these aren’t just platform type puzzles either. In the second level of the game a security door has been raised in front of an airlock Wheeler needs to use. It turns out the only way lower the door is by using a Door Seal Ratchet located in a locked, and heavily guarded area. To solve this puzzle Wheeler needs to use his Iris Module and take control of a robot that's small enough to fit through some maintenance ducts to reach the room with the Ratchet. The robot can then bring the Ratchet back to Wheeler and he can lower the door. Another reason you need to use the robot for this task is that robots are pretty much ignored by the LEDs, and can thus get past the guards. There are so many robots 100 years in the future, the LEDs don't see them as a threat. This is nice because it gives the robots almost a stealth quality in the game.
Of course, one of the most vital elements in an action/adventure is fun gameplay. How are you guys going to make this game fun?
Well, because combat is a big part of this game, we’re definitely trying to make sure the tuning of the game as easy and fast as possible so we can make sure we get it just right before releasing the game. But on a larger scale, we designed the game with a lot of different modes to make sure the game stays interesting and fun. You drive different vehicles, take control of a bunch of different robots, and even enter IRIS’ world, which is kind of like a puzzle game from the world of TRON. We wanted to make sure there were lots of things to do so it never gets boring.
One of the concerns I had about RTX initially was that since it seemed to take place entirely on Mars and within the colonies, the setting could potentially wear thin after a while. How are you guys going to make the visuals and levels varied enough to hold the player's attention?
You weren’t the only one with this worry, and this was brought up the first time the game was pitched to the company. We have 10 levels in the game, and the range of locations we’ve achieved is pretty wide. Sometimes you’re in industrial buildings like the colony’s fusion reactor, other times you are in sleek areas of the main colony that look like a modern day shopping mall. Towards the end of the game you’ll also visit the inside of one of the alien ships, and that will have a very distinct look. Overall you see a lot of different types of areas, and the artists worked hard to make sure they all had their own feel.
Marek asks, "Why are E.Z.'s pants now green instead of blue?"
Cool, you’ve been paying attention Marek! :) As we showed more and more people the game Wheeler’s military background wasn’t something they associated with the way he looked, and we wanted this to be something people could easily identify. The whole Radical Tactics Expert concept is rooted in the special forces side of the military. These are guys who are highly trained, tough, and smart. We think the new outfit better reflects that.
Scummbuddy wants to know, "Will there be any references to other games (i.e. Zak McKracken) in this game? Any Broom Aliens? Will we see the VW bus in the background of a scene in this game?"
LucasArts has a good tradition of hiding fun references in our games, and RTX Red Rock is no exception. If I told you exactly what they are and where we placed them, I’d be taking away some of the fun of the game. But I will ask you this… what games do you think the future inhabitants of Mars will be playing in their spare time? And who are the inhabitants anyway? :)