Interview with James Tsai
NOTE: This interview was originally posted on Oct 12, 2001 by Haakon on Red Faction Center, which is no longer available.
Give us a short description of you and your position at [V].
My name is James Tsai and I’m a producer at Volition for the Red Faction franchise. I’ve been at [V] for a couple of years now, working on FreeSpace 2 and Summoner prior to Red Faction. My responsibilities include a number of different tasks: schedule management, design input, promotional work with marketing and the press, assisting with hardware and software distribution and budgeting for the rest of the development team, and working closely with THQ during the finaling phase of the project. But most of the guys know me as the person who orders pizza for everyone when we’re working late.
How has it been working at [V] developing the game, being there when it's released and people loving it. How does it feel?
When you get a game out the door, there’s this massive sense of release that spreads through the company. I think pretty much all developers are working round-the-clock in the final months before a game hits shelves, making big personal sacrifices and showing a passion for the industry and for gaming that many people would be hard-pressed to match. So the big wave of relief from the completion of the project signifying a return to normalcy is a very welcome change of pace – and to have the game be well received by the audience is very gratifying. Video game development has a lot of highs and lows; there are really rough, brutal spots when it’s draining and hard, but also times when you feel like you’re on top of the world.
Red Faction is released world wide, and it's surely selling well, but how does the sale numbers live up to your expectations? 5th at top 10 best selling PC games list ending the week of September ain't bad!
We’re really happy with the sales numbers coming in so far. For the time being we’ll look at them and smile, but in the end I think the real payoff will be the benefits we get from the game’s long standing popularity. In releasing Red Faction, we were able to establish a new, impactful franchise in a genre that is already quite crowded and competitive, elevating the visibility of both Volition and THQ in the market and reaching gamers that may not have heard of us in the past. As much as we’re enjoying our current success, we’re happier that we’re laying down a solid foundation for the future.
What's the actual difference between the PS2 and the PC version? Except for the multiplayer mode.
Red Faction on the PC, aside from the multiplayer modes, offers a full development editor for gamers to play with and takes advantage of the strengths of the PC platform. We offer resolutions from 640x480 to 1280x1024, dynamic lighting effects from weapons fire, and lots of other visual improvements we couldn’t offer on the PS2.
Are there any patches coming up? What will they eventually correct?
We’re investigating a few problems for a possible patch at this time. There’s been reports of some people having trouble with ”Data not matching” when they try to join multi-player games; that sounds like the kind of thing we’d like to address. You have to be very careful in making a patch because you could always endanger stability and introduce more problems than the ones you fix when updating, so you only look to fix the more critical items (or extremely low risk ones like spelling errors).
People are complaining about to much lag, which might destroy much of the fun playing a multiplayer game. Why?
A fun multiplayer experience for owners of Red Faction is something that has been and will continue to be a priority for us. For starters, you can get better performance if you try running a dedicated server off a separate machine and playing there rather than trying to host and play at the same time. On-line gaming is subject to a lot of external factors, however, that can really dampen the enjoyment if users fall into pretty common pitfalls. Trying to host a 32 player game on a 56k modem, for instance, is just not going to work no matter how good the netcode is, and yet people try to do it all the time. Cable modems are becoming more common now, but many providers often cap upstream rates meaning you might be getting 15k/sec hosting a game even if you get blistering download times.
What are [V]'s plans for the future? Thinking of making an expansion pack?
I’m not at liberty to discuss our future plans right now, unfortunately. For the time being we hope gamers really enjoy Red Faction and take full advantage of everything it brings, and trust that they’ll be the first to know as soon as we have something to say.
The RF community seems to be growing; do you plan on supporting it, can you give us some information on this? How do [V] involve themselves into the community, except for the official forum?
We have an open ear to our fans always. Whether or not we send a response, we do indeed see every last email sent to Volition and take feedback very seriously. We like going to shows like E3 and talking with fans, other developers, and journalists and being very open in what our games can and can’t do, and we like to answer as many press requests as we can. But you won’t see daily guided tours of our offices or our smiling faces plastered in magazines – we want to keep the focus on our games and not on us. I know a lot of people feel like we’re ignoring them when they don’t get a personalized response to their forum questions, and we’re sorry for hurt feelings but the truth is that very often we can’t just blurt out details about how we did this or why we did that, etc., for various reasons. So we say as little as possible to avoid fostering unnecessary speculation.
The same for the MOD Community, will there be more tools avaliable (or other ways of support) for them as we get underway?
I think with the release of our exporters and toolkit on our website, we’ve given mod-makers quite a bit to get started with. A lot of people modding games now are well-versed in 2D and 3D software packages and thus can make new weapons and characters for use in the game right away – whether or not there will ultimately be some kind of SDK released remains to be seen, so I’d rather not promise anything right now.
The possibility to have moving vehicles within muliplayer (and mods) are stuff that's really requested within the community. Will this be fixed in a patch or something?
I don’t see multiplayer vehicle support getting into Red Faction. I know that this upsets some people, but there were a lot of technical issues surrounding it that made it too difficult a feature to implement. It’s easy to point to past games and say ”Well, they did it so why can’t you?” but the truth is that the Geo-Mod engine on which Red Faction is built is new technology, with specific strengths and weaknesses just like any other engine out there – some other engines can render outdoor environments beautifully, for instance, but don’t offer geometry modification. As we build and expand upon it, our engine will get better and maybe future titles using it can incorporate more complex gameplay such as this. No immediate plans for vehicles in Red Faction though, and that’s the official word.
Will you give feedback and give suggestions to forthcoming mods?
It’s not likely we’ll be officially involved with any externally developed mods in the immediate future. Mod-makers are welcome to exchange ideas on our forums or ask for advice on how to plan or organize things, but we won’t be evaluating third party models and art or helping out with debugging or things of that nature since we don’t have the resources for it.
Where did you get the inspiration to the story? Total Recall? It's also been much compared to Half Life.
The story was the product of a lot of different science fiction and fantasy influences, coupled with some real life research and application before being balanced by what would be the most fun. We felt the mining atmosphere would allow us to best showcase the geometry modification technology, and putting it on Mars as opposed to Earth allowed us to incorporate a lot of the more futuristic and ”other-worldly” elements we really wanted to get in. As for the Half-Life comparisons, it’s always very flattering to be mentioned with such a ground-breaking title. Half-Life really raised the bar for first person shooters, and I think in the future we’re going to continue to see more complex plots, characters, and dialogue in games.
People has been complaining it's way too short, and that it's ending is "Crummy" (quote). Can you defend that statement? ;)
Well, there’s not a whole lot you can say in defense of a story against personal opinion. We would have liked everyone to have raved about the game from top to bottom, but we know that’s not realistic. I can only say that I hope we didn’t let too many people down, and promise that we will always try our hardest to please everyone with our next project. It won’t be Shakespeare with guns, but we’d like to think it will be deeper and more exciting than what you typically get out there.