Gears of War interview
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Cliff Bleszinski is the lead designer of Epic's Xbox 360 title Gears of War.
Congratulations on a great show at E3. With Gears of War receiving so much media attention, and some saying the game could well be the next Halo in terms of scale and popularity, how does this increased pressure affect you and the team at Epic?
Cliff: Well, after e3 we simply came back here to Raleigh, North Carolina and proceeded to get right the heck back to work! Game development is like surgery, we know that Gears is fun – we just need to finish the operation and release the patient. We simply try to tune out the pressure (and some of the hype!) so that we can do our jobs properly.
Gears of War looks like a very large and ambitious project, how big is the development team working on it and who are the key people involved?
Cliff: The team has fluctuated from twenty five all the way up to forty five people. We believe in working smarter, not harder – our tools and talent are some of the best in the business.
The leads on the project are as follows:
Jerry O’flaherty – Art Director – 19 year industry veteran. Responsible for the overall visual style and quality of the game.
Chris Perna – Lead Artist – Paints a coat of pretty (and nasty!) over darned near everything while leading the character and environment team.
Rod Fergusson – Producer – Responsible for bringing order to my chaotic design style. Keeps the project moving ahead, pushes everyone, gives great design feedback.
Ray Davis – Programming Lead – Makes everything happen code-wise. The core of what drives the gameplay.
Lee Perry – Lead Level Designer – Where the rubber hits the road, Lee’s responsible for the environments; pacing, technical feasibility, balancing, etc…
Mike Capps – President of the company. As my boss he makes sure I lose sleep over making this game fun!
The epic storyline in Gears of War should provide a really immersive gaming environment for the player. If the chance arose, would you be interested in making a feature film set in the GOW universe?
Cliff: The only way we’d ever consider doing a film of our property would be if the absolute right people were attached who understood not only the game and its universe but also the (hopefully!) rabid fanbase that we’d like to acquire.
What was the inspiration behind Gears of War’s dystopian environment(s) and setting? Were there any particular films or games that influenced you and your artists?
Cliff: I kept pushing for beautiful environments; you can have a post-apocalyptic world but why does it always have to be boring industrial buildings and concrete bunkers?
One of the most inspiring moments that really secured the idea of this European influence on the architecture happened one day at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. You can see the photo here.
Art wise, Jerry, Chris and the guys just got it. It made sense. They took it and ran with it and the results are nothing short of stunning.
How have the personalities of each of the characters been developed and have they evolved during the development process? Do you ever base game characters on friends or people you know?
Cliff: Your best friend in the game, Dominic Santiago, is somewhat based on one of our artists named Danny Rodriguez. They say “do what you know” and that’s what we set out to do. We knew we wanted the main anti-hero of Marcus – sure he’s gruff and a badass but he’s smart as well. Dom is the best friend, we’ve also got the asshole of the bunch – a guy named Baird and then there’s the one and only Augustus Cole aka the “Cole Train.” He’s a former Thrashball champion and he seems to love fighting the war.
So we care about story. About writing. About acting. Narrative can enhance the gaming experience, so why not leverage it?
There are some mean looking beasts in the game. Are there any you’re particularly proud of and which ones do you think will become fan favourites?
Cliff: I think players are going to really dig the Berserker. At eight feet tall and over five hundred pounds she’s the female of the Locust. Quite the looker, eh? Extraordinarily strong with an equally mad temper she bursts through walls and hunts you using sound and smell. She is, after all, blind.
In our competition we’re asking our readers to design the ultimate weapon to fight off the Locust Horde. So far, your “chainsaw” gun really seems to have captured people’s imaginations. What was your design approach for the weapons in GOW and where did your inspiration come from?
Cliff: I like combination weapons. I remembered the “gun-blade” from one of the Final Fantasy games and a while back I was at the Met in New York City when I saw that they actually DID have gun-blades briefly back in the day. I like combining things and Gears was going to be about this concept of “intimate violence” so a chainsaw bayonet made perfect sense.
In a recent screenshot you can see a flying gunship and in the X05 on stage demo the Gears arrived in an armoured car. What can you tell us about the role of vehicles in the game and will any of them be under player control?
Cliff: We’re not really saying much about vehicles in Gears at this time. Sorry!
You said, “no war is fought alone” to stress how important co-operative gameplay is for Gears of War. What made you decide to focus on this style of gameplay and who is your preferred playing partner when playing co-op games?
Cliff: I like playing as Dom lately because I’d been playing as Marcus for so long. I’m a fan of playing with friends; I just want to have a game that a guy can say “hey babe, jump in and play with me!”
At E3 you let people loose in the multiplayer mode where a team of Gears face off against a team of Locust Horde. Other than the obvious appearance, what are the gameplay differences between each race and which do you prefer playing as and why?
Cliff: The difference is primarily cosmetic; we simply wanted to leverage the war in the Versus realm. I prefer to play as the Locust because whenever you pull off a successful Active Reload you get to hear your character make a sinister chortle.
At what stage in the development did multiplayer work begin compared to the single player campaign, or was it always a design priority?
Cliff: Multiplayer wasn’t a huge priority initially; we knew we wanted to push a cinematic single player experience that you could play with a buddy. After a while we realized that people come for the single player and co-op and that they stay for the versus so we started pumping effort into the versus.
You famously said at X05 that the amazing demo shown was running on just one of the Xbox 360’s three cores. With the amount of time you’ve now had with final dev kits and your own intimate knowledge of Unreal Engine 3 do you feel Microsoft's ambition of helping developers focus on the "art" of game making rather than wrestling with hardware has been achieved?
Cliff: The system’s been a joy to work with. Microsoft has a similar philosophy to Epic in that they believe that you need to remove as much of the technological hurdles as possible so the creatives can do what they do best – make amazing and fun games! Our tools are extremely easy and intuitive to use which is why we’ve been able to make such a cool game with so few people.
Everyone is dying to know this! Will you be releasing any downloadable content in the future, and if so, any hints on what it will be?
Cliff: No promises here but I can assure you that I’m as addicted to Marketplace and Live Arcade as the rest of you. And now you can finally download stuff and play another game!
People always want to voice their opinions on games after watching movies, playing demos and/or viewing screenshots and many of these comments are posted on forums across the net. As a developer, do you pay attention to the forums? Would you say you were in touch with your audience, and do you take on board any suggestions that you like the sound of?
Cliff: I pay WAY too much attention to the forums. I’m all over them during my off time and yes, maybe a little bit while at work. Any time I see the word “Gears” or “Epic” I always read the thread. I think people are just a tiny bit excited about this game…!
Will players be able to use a spectator mode on Xbox Live in order to watch multiplayer games, like Gotham TV in PGR3?
Cliff: Nothing formal is planned but when you’re “out” in the versus multiplayer you can switch between spectator cams that are placed by designers throughout the arenas which provide interesting and entertaining views of the bloody action.
From what we have seen in the E3 2006 demonstration of the game, it seems like you have a specific path to follow in each level. Are the missions linear or can the player complete each objective in variety of ways roaming freely?
Cliff: Gears is more of a Linear Freedom. You fight in arena like areas you can explore (we have hidden “Cog Tags” you can find for achievements!) and we also have split paths where you have to choose which way you want to go. It’s a fork in the road; do you want to take the left path or the right? The high road or the low road? Then during this time you can provide supporting fire for each other. It adds quite a bit to the game!
With emphasis placed on making use of cover in Gears of War, will there be any instances where you can “invent” your own cover by moving crates, cars or other objects into strategic positions? How destructible and interactive will the environment be?
Cliff: We have pushable cars, pillars that get knocked over, and a really good collection of fragile cover. If you hide behind a sofa for too long it will degrade and eventually collapse into a useless pile of wood. The entire world isn’t destroyable (where would you take cover then?) but there is a good chunk of it available to wreck.
Do you have any advice to give to budding video-game designers? Would you recommend they start making mods for existing games, trying their hand at solo creative projects like yourself, or make sure they get a university/college education?
Cliff: All three of these are valid ways to get into the business. Everyone is hiring and we can’t find enough truly talented folks. If you really want to be a designer you’ll kick and scream and claw your way to the top. I knew I wanted to do this since I was 6 years old and I was going to find a way to do it no matter what. That’s what you need to do in this day and age!
And finally, what is your personal best score on Geometry Wars?
Cliff: I lost track! I can’t keep up with those guys who release those insane videos online. Best. Game. Ever.
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