Red Faction Lead Designer Alan Lawrance was one of the main minds that turned PS2 classic Red Faction into something special, but the changes during development were far more than you’d think and it was never easy.

Selling nearly two million copies on the PlayStation 2 and earning a slew of sequels that continued through the PlayStation 4, Red Faction had a legacy as a first-person-shooter that was simultaneously rooted in the classics that built the foundation of the genre and its own unique gameplay innovations. That has everything to do with the wide-ranging influences of its Lead Designer.

“I expect most gamers didn’t know Red Faction started as Descent 4, or that it began life as a third-person game where you flew around in a jetpack. It isn’t that uncommon for games to radically change direction, especially during the prototyping stage of a project. The key thing is to not make huge changes like that once production has started.”

Now tasked with the lead designer role on the game that would eventually become Red Faction, Lawrance was a busy man. “I also did a significant amount of programming,” Lawrance said. “The creation of the game was very much a collaborative effort with the entire team, but I like to think I left my mark by leading the team and making sure the project got to the finish line.”

Getting to the finish line is obviously the key for any video game, but the beginning of the project on the PlayStation 2 was a hectic time for the team.

“Just getting things started on the PS2 was a challenge,” Lawrance said. “The codebase used by Parallax was designed for a PC, so there were massive changes necessary to get things running on the PS2 with only 32MB of system memory. A big part of this was removing all the dynamic memory allocation that is typical for a PC engine. What made this even more difficult was the steep learning curve of the PS2 hardware itself. There is a lot of power in the PS2, but it isn’t an easy or quick thing to take advantage of that power. This was made all the more difficult by our decision to take on the very challenging problem of arbitrary destruction on the environment, which we coined as geomod technology.”

Being able to destroy the environment is what made Red Faction special to millions of players. According to Lawrance, the man that helped make it happen on the PlayStation was just as special to the team.

“John Slagel was the programmer who developed the geomod technology. John was the first programmer to work for Parallax Software and was an incredible software engineer,” Lawrance said. “Most programmers would think the geomod technology on the PS2 couldn’t be done, but John had a way of making the impossible happen. His contributions to Red Faction as the geomod technology was so vital to the game’s success.”

To this day, Lawrance can never underestimate what that tech meant to the finished product.

“Destruction was the main thing that made Red Faction stand apart from other FPS games on the PS2. It made it stand apart from all games on the PS2 really! It was quite unprecedented at the time to have arbitrary destruction, which we coined as geomod technology,” Lawrance said. “You could start digging a tunnel and there was technically nothing stopping you from continuing that tunnel unless you ran out of rockets or explosives. Another less important thing was the gameplay controls could be fully remapped. Console games typically offer a few controller configurations, but Red Faction allowed full customization of the controls.”

While the geocode tech that proved so vital to the gameplay of Red Faction would eventually work well on the PlayStation 2, way before the game was released on the console, the game was just a collection of cool parts.

It took time for everything to come together.

“The earliest prototypes had the main player flying around with a jetpack in third person and mining with a laser drill,” Lawrance said. “At that point, we were exploring destroyable environments on Mars, but we didn’t have a story-driven first-person shooter experience in mind at all. After making the decision to switch to first-person and move on the ground, we started to develop the setting and story that would become Red Faction. 

“We struggled with integrating the geomod technology with gameplay, which at times was at odds with a linear story-driven FPS. At first, we wanted to allow the player to destroy the entire level if they wanted to, but this tended to break scripted sequences and presented technical challenges with the memory limits of the hardware. This led to making compromises when necessary to limit the destruction to ensure the player would follow a path through the game to experience the story and scripted sequences.”

Patrick Hickey Jr. Patrick Hickey Jr. (327 Posts)

Patrick Hickey, Jr., is the founder and editor-in-chief of ReviewFix.com and a lecturer of English and journalism at Kingsborough Community College, in Brooklyn, New York. Over the past decade, his video game coverage has been featured in national ad campaigns by top publishers the likes of Nintendo, Deep Silver, Disney and EA Sports. His book series, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Game Developers," from McFarland and Company, has earned praise from Forbes, Huffington Post, The New York Daily News and MSG Networks. He is also a former editor at NBC and National Video Games Writer at the late-Examiner.com