(originally published at Smile Politely, 9/23)
Earlier this year, the Champaign-based developer Volition, Inc. launched Red Faction: Guerrilla, the third game in the franchise and the first for the current generation of consoles. The game was absolutely packed with content – from the sweeping campaign to the jet-packing multiplayer bouts – it seemed as though there was more than enough Martian architecture to blow up. However, shortly after the game’s June debut, Volition and publisher THQ announced that three Downloadable Content (DLC) packs would be released in the fall.
Demons of the Badlands, a prequel to protagonist Alex’s storyline, was released in August, and a multiplayer pack with new modes and maps was released last week. According to Luke Schneider, lead technical/multiplayer designer on RFG, these three projects presented an opportunity to try many new ideas, but not before a number of technical and logistical issues had been addressed.
The Rumble Pack: How long did the DLC packs take develop? At what point did you start to plan out what would be included in the packs?
Luke Schneider: The first team members started on DLC in December of 2008 as we began post-production on RFG. The core team was fairly small at first – less than 10 people – but it swelled to almost 20 as production on RFG wrapped up.
We’ve been discussing the DLC packs much longer than the eight or so months it took to finish them. We certainly discussed DLC in 2007 in terms of planning how it would work.
RP: Were any of the new items, vehicles or other ideas things you wanted to include in the retail game?
LS: Nothing in DLC was ever planned to be included in the full game. However, once we had created the new weapons in particular, we wished we could have squeezed them back into the main game as an extra bonus. That’s probably the number one feature request we had regarding the first DLC pack, but we literally had no memory left over for the main campaign, and trying to squeeze out more would have drastically increased the time to get the DLC done.
RP: Since Badlands is a prequel to the main storyline, how much of the universe was already established? Were elements of the story already in place prior to RFG‘s development?
LS: Since RFG was in development almost five years, I’d say none of the storyline was established prior to RFG‘s development. The overall universe of Mars, Ultor and the EDF all go back to the original RF, but there were never plans back in those days for an open-world sequel set 50 years later.
RP: Why was the DLC area in the first pack sectioned off from the seven other zones from the main game? Did you ever consider bridging that divide so that Alex had a new area to explore?
LS: It mostly comes down to the technical reasons mentioned above. Memory on the main campaign was so tight that adding the ability to merge in new DLC areas was pretty much impossible from a cost/time standpoint. From a player and fictional standpoint, I think Demons of the Badlands works very well, and if we did more single-player DLC, we’d use the same concept of a new area/timeline. The only real downside is not getting the new weapons into the rest of RFG.
RP: Compared to the main game, how much do the DLC packs cost to develop? I assume things are a bit easier since many of the art assets and physics have been created.
LS: DLC is significantly less expensive to develop. However, it’s still very risky from a business standpoint and is by no means guaranteed to be profitable. You’re selling something to a fraction of the original players for a fraction of the price. If you sell at a sixth of the price and only one out of ten players buy it – fairly realistic in general – the cost for each DLC pack needs to be one sixtieth of the main project to maintain the same level of revenue generation. For Demons of the Badlands, we definitely exceeded (that) cost.
RP: I notice that on both Xbox Live and PSN, there are banners letting players know that new content is available, but do you think there are other effective means of advertising DLC?
LS: Definitely. I think we built awareness well leading up to the Demons of the Badlands launch, but then seemed to misfire in our launch plans. In retrospect, focusing our marketing budget on a well-done video to support the launch probably would have generated a lot better buzz.
RP: Can you give players any hints as to what to expect from the last pack?
LS: We’ve announced that it’ll focus on Wrecking Crew. Some players have figured out what one major feature will be. It’s easy to figure out if you play Wrecking Crew after the patch.
RP: Do you think the timing of the DLC (right before the holiday season) is at all helpful? Do you think this might keep players hooked even as the fall/winter blockbusters launch?
LS: Timing of launches is hard. I’m not really sure when the best time to launch DLC is, but I’d probably advise against trying to keep players away from blockbuster titles.
RP: Will you consider additional story or multiplayer packs, or are you ready to move onto the next game?
LS: Nothing’s out of the question, but we have no other announced DLC at the moment.
RP: Lastly, do you think there are any advantages to being in the Champaign-Urbana area versus the west coast?
LS: Raising a family and being able to afford a nice house is a huge benefit. Cost of living is also quite a bit lower here in general.
Demons of the Badlands and the Multiplayer pack are currently available on for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The Wrecking Crew expansion will release later this fall.