Playing for time

Interview: Free Radical's Dave Doak sets his sights on PC

Dave Doak is one of the co-founders of Free Radical Design, the group who splintered from Rare after creating Goldeneye, arguably the first console-based FPS classic. Certainly the only console-based FPS to directly inspire PC games with its use of sniper rifles, stealth and realistic locales.

Ever since they've followed their own determined path, working in what was considered primarily a PC genre, to create their own fun-packed vision of the shooter. Now it seems they're coming to our party. Thanks to increasing videogame convergence, Free Radical are both developing on PCs and developing for PCs. It's a perfect time to open a dialogue, and see what Dave and the team are bringing to our format.

We've been following Free Radical at a distance for some time, so it's interesting to finally talk. How are you approaching the PC?

Dave Doak: The only thing we've ever released on the PC was the port of Second Sight... but at the moment there's a fair amount of convergence of technology. From our point of view, going forward, PC is certainly a platform we'll be catering for.

What are the design issues when developing for the PC as well as the consoles?

Doak: The biggest challenge for us, specifically for PC stuff, is what the hardcore PC gamer expects from a shooter is quite different from what console gamers expect. There's a bit of PC snobbery there, I think [Laughs]. From a game design point of view, I've always found it's funny dealing constantly with questions about analogue controllers versus mouse and keyboards. It's a very thorny topic.

We're quite precious about our mouselook.

Doak: For a while, I hadn't played any PC shooters. The first one which drew me back in recent years was Half-life 2. I remember having this very strange feeling when playing it, in that it was like point-and-click to kill people. If you play a lot of console FPS you get used to the idea of there being some kind of weight to the turning, some kind of lag in it. When you go to PC, that's almost completely gone.

The accuracy of the mouse means that, to make a game difficult, things like headshots become increasingly dominant. When you've had that kind of control, it's hard to have someone take it away.

Doak: I think people can be a bit hypocritical about it. People say "I don't have this control any more!" But the game's been designed for you not to need that level of control. "But I had it before... can I have it back?" It's interesting watching the titles which move the other way - a good example of which is Unreal. For me, it's a thing they've always had to contend with. I saw recently them being asked whether in the next Unreal whether they'll be able to play cross-platform online. And they were "No... we're not even going to go near that."

Why the PC and why now?

Doak: The broader point is that our engine technology is PC-compatible. In fact, our engine technology is built on PC, which wasn't generally the case before. With the Timesplitters games and Second Sight we were mostly developing on PS2 hardware, and then porting to Xbox and Gamecube.

This time, building new engine tech, we're building on PC in advance of console hardware being available. But it was an easy choice, as we knew the consoles would be moving towards more multi-threaded, multi-core stuff and most next-gen engines broadly have the same rendering feature set. At the moment, the PC performance is doing what it generally tends to do across the lifetime of a console.

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