There was always something strangely satisfying about building a fortress of blocks as a kid and sending the whole thing toppling down in a mess of pieces. The game developers at Volition, Inc. remember that perverse pleasure, and have used it as the inspiration for their critically acclaimed Red Faction series, where players are given free rein to destroy the game’s environments in creative ways as they charge through the campaign.
The game debuted in 2001 for the Playstation 2, and has spawned a string of successful sequels, including the recent fourth entry, Red Faction: Armageddon. This latest title has been receiving positive buzz from the media, gracing the cover of major gaming magazines, as well as being profiled on the G4TV series X-Play – where Senior Level Designer Jameson Durall appeared to speak about the latest additions to the series.
A graduate of Full Sail’s Game Development program with more than a decade of experience in the game industry (Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath, Godfather 1, Godfather 2, and The Simpsons Game among others), Jameson took some time near the end of the game’s production cycle to talk to us about Red Faction. He explained first-hand how the game’s loyal fanbase required that careful attention was paid to creating both a fresh and familiar experience while prepping Armageddon for the series’ tenth anniversary.
“When you’ve got a game like Red Faction it’s a lineage,” he says. “So with this one the thinking was to take what people liked about the previous games and embellish that. Focus in on the parts that they really liked, and come up with some innovative things to make it better. It’s all about making sure that you execute on the fun.”
The results have expanded upon the open-world Martian landscapes introduced in previous games by adding complex underground areas for players to explore – which were created with the help of Angela Lee, a Full Sail Computer Animation graduate who worked as a props artist on the game.
These new environments have helped give a sharper focus to the story, as well as offering a more strategic take on how players approach combat scenarios. Jameson went on to explain how the introduction of confined play areas, as well as new weapons that allow for creative environment manipulation, put more weight on the design choices he had to make during the production of Armageddon.
“It’s a whole different world now with ways that the player can interact,” he says. “That’s a lot of my focus, making sure that across the game itself you’re getting all those ebbs and flows, so that the player has high intensity action moments and then they’ve got little bits of downtime, and that across the whole game they feel like they’re constantly achieving more and they’re getting better.”
In addition to the updated levels and weapons arsenal, Armageddon is also highlighted by equally striking sound design that heightens the impact of the destruction players unleash. Helping to create these effects was another Full Sail graduate, Recording Arts alum Byron Evora. Byron is a sound designer at Volition, and as a longtime fan of the series, he took special care to create a visceral intensity to the weapon blasts and crumbling structures that surround players.
“With today’s game audio you really have to think outside of the box,” Byron says. “So even our small explosions will always have something extra underneath them – like a metal layer, or an animal growl, or even us screaming into a microphone. Every explosion, every crush, and every smash has something else underneath it to give it another life. It’s pretty amazing, and I think that’s what sets us apart.”
Byron has been creating game audio for over half a decade, with credits on other popular series like WWE: Smackdown vs. Raw and Rainbow Six: Vegas. He joined Volition during the early stages of production on Armageddon, and quickly become inspired by the freedom to experiment that the game engine allowed the audio team.
“Red Faction: Armageddon is the best game I’ve worked on so far, I’m really proud of the work on it,” he says. “The most satisfying part is when you fire a weapon for the first time and it works perfectly. It feels good, it sounds good, and it’s exactly what’s going to work for the game. You can’t beat that, it’s like hitting nirvana.”
Red Faction: Armageddon hit stores on June 7, giving gamers a reason to stay out of the heat this summer. The series continues to offer the kind of primal gaming experience that many developers often overlook, and speaking with Jameson and Byron about their work, it’s easy to tell how proud they were to be adding another chapter to the long-running series.
“The thing for me that’s really interesting is when I’ve created something, it’s on the shelves, someone’s bought it, and I’ll either see a review or hear someone talk about it online,” Jameson says. “The first time someone is able to fully play something where I had the ideas, put them on paper, built the area, scripted the encounter, and now can go in and experience it – to me that is what it’s all about.”
To keep up with Jameson Durall on Twitter, follow @siawnhy