Epic’s stature amongst developers is matched only by its support amongst gamers. With the second of its Gears of War games out next month, we spoke to the studio’s design director Cliff Bleszinski to find out more about the development of the sequel…
This is the Gears team’s second 360 Gears title and the studio’s third after Unreal Tournament - what knowledge have you gained when it game to Gears of War 2?
When we were doing the first Gears, we had to figure our what new ideas we were going to use, and work out what the characters were going to do. And that was fun, but it was also a little scary. Now we know all about the Gears world and the cover system and all that, and we know that the fans like it. So this time we can have a bit of fun and raise the stakes. If the good guys had their backs against the wall in the first game, now we need to chuck them over that wall. We can extend weapons, and add multiplayer modes, and just build on this great base that we have.
Also, now the engine has been optimised we can get away from the claustrophobic grey pillars and expand the world up a little bit. We’ve also let some colours bleed through, not that we’re going to go all disco, but there’s a bit of red and blue in there, and a bit of green too.
Gears of War is aimed at the hardcore gamer, but have you made any concessions for the casual gamer?
Thanks to the success of Guitar Hero and Wii, we’ve seen a lot of new people play games, and we’ve seen a lot of ex-gamers get back into gaming. Some developers are nervous about that, but I think that’s a dumb response. I think it’s great to have more people playing games, and maybe they’ll evolve from playing Guitar Hero to playing Gears or Halo or GTA.
So for Gears 2 we’ve made the tutorial a little better this time around. We’re not going to throw you right into the action like we did with the first Gars. Also, our casual mode couldn’t be too easy. It is real tourist mode. It is actually harder to die in casual. We want casual gamers to get involved this time around. Yes it’s got blood, monsters and guns, but it is also a story about loss and redemption and a bit of heart.
As the game is almost done is there anything you’re not so happy with or you’ll change for Gears 3?
It’s tough to say. I sometimes think that maybe there’s a bit too much action. There’s some sequences where there’s so much going on that some people might struggle to work out what is going on. What we discovered with this project is that when the proverbial ‘Indiana Jones boulder’ kicks in, when gamers are given that sense of urgency, their IQ drops and they get complete tunnel vision.
Is it fair to say that Gears of War has become Epic’s most important property?
I think it is safe to say that. Unreal Tournament has been our bread and butter for years, but it is hard to argue with the success of gears. Unreal Tournament III is a game we really care about and it reviewed very well. But Gears is now our primary franchise.
So does that also mean you see the 360 as Epic’s main platform?
The PC right now is very different to how it was back in the day. The person who is savvy enough to upgrade their PC and buy decent video cards, are the same people who know about bit torrent and all other means to pirate PC games. So the high-end computer games are suffering on the PC.
Right now it makes sense for us to focus on 360. PC piracy is a factor, but there are other concerns such as multiple-configurations of different computers. There will not be a Gears 2 on PC.
Considering the success of Gears, do you foresee a time where the franchise will be shipped out to other developers like with the multiple teams that work on something like Call of Duty?
We’ve got a lot of ideas about where the franchise will go. But sometimes I feel a franchise loses something when it’s shifted off to another shop. You get the primary studio that really understands about the franchise, and sometimes the other studio that takes it over can do well, but there’s something lost in translation, like the game’s soul has gone.