6th January 2010 - Somewhere, back in the annals of 2009, someone thought it would be good to blow things up. Slap in a story about miners in Mars, uprising against a repressive dictatorship and you have yourself a winner; at least that was the Theory.
Enter Volition with Red Faction Guerrilla, the follow up to the acclaimed Red Faction and Red Faction II from 2001. Red Faction employed the first version of this physics modification system, so what is it, and why isn’t every game using similar tech to enhance their gameplay. Lucas Arts had similar issues pinning their Force Unleashed concept almost solely on the destructibility of the Environment. FU 2 is set to début this year. Red Faction: Guerrilla did not even make our hit list for 2009, so was it hit a miss or just a diamond in the rough?
The Geo-Mod engine stands for Geometry Modification Technology, or in laymen terms “break really big holes in things”. The follow up, 2.0 was originally going to be called RED for Real-time environment Destruction.
Essentially what this surmounts to is a game built around parts that are easily broken in real time. The problem is that it still doesn’t do it very well, or it does but is well too over the top. In Red Faction and the sequel, large areas of walls were able to be broken through or smashed through in what was otherwise a very linear shooting affair. Adding a large open Mars environment, and a third person camera in Guerrilla meant the sky was the limit, as new physics and weight simulators allowed for whole buildings to come crashing down. Crashing down, in very small pieces, that would disappear leaving naught but dust on the martin plains. For although, the practise of disassembling the city seemed to work, everything from metal pipes to concrete would come collapsing down in less than realistic chunks which could then be smashed in smaller chunks. Further more, the whole affair resembled Lego, in that for the Geo-Modification tool to work properly each structure and building has to be hand made in a rather crude and destructible fashion. Basically Volition went overboard. Special upgrade packs, including the rhino allowed the player impunity to ram right though any wall or support until the sheer weight of anything left brought it tumbling down. It sure was fun though.
Fun, is what Volition were capitalising on, the sheer glee of watching the Havok Physics System combined with Geo-Mod, take over after knocking out the buildings base- the complete weight crushing down. What was missing was any semblance of actual gameplay. Plenty of games like Half Life 2 have dabbled with ‘physics’ but the best results are always in a controlled environment under strict supervision from the script writers and story tellers.
As we move into 2010 and the prospect of 3D TVs and live motion cameras loom ever closer, we need to find a way to harness this technology and refine it into a deep and integrated story. Developers need to pay attention to gameplay finding new and continual useful ways to use these tools for the actual purpose of doing something other than just ‘smash things’. Human rag doll physics and motion capture have fundamentally changed the way we interact with people and look at cut-scenes so why not in the environment as well?
Red Faction: Guerrilla was quite literally a sand box game, where the only clear path forward was through 6 inches of solid cement. The way forward for games, is in here somewhere; but kids, don’t try this at home. Everything you ever wanted to know about Geo-Mods.
Article Written by Ian Crane