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Gears of War 2

Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Epic Games
Release Date: Nov. 7, 2008

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'Gears of War 2' (X360) Developer Interview

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 20, 2008 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Gears of War 2 is an epic saga of survival, loss, and retribution, continuing the story of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad, locked in an increasingly desperate battle against the nightmarish Locust Horde for the survival of humanity.

Gears of War 2 picks up six months after the events of "Gears of War," and thrusts players back into a deep and harrowing story of humankind’s epic battle for survival against a nightmarish force of underground creatures known as the Locust Horde.

Players continue as Marcus Fenix, a reluctant war hero and leader of Delta Squad, six months after the events of “Gears of War.” The last cities on Sera are sinking, swallowed by a new Locust threat from below. A massive counterattack is humanity’s last hope for survival.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!

I'm Cliff Bleszinski, design director of Epic Games.

WP: So, how's it feel that people are sitting down and playing Gears of War 2 for the first time, people outside of Epic and outside of your QA testers?

CB: It's incredibly gratifying, but it's also one of those things that I'm very anxious to observe. I don't have any kids, but I kind of know how an expectant father feels now as far as waiting outside the room where his wife is about to give birth. The kicker here is, we can't just tap someone on the shoulder and say, "Hey, just chainsaw through that." You've got to let them figure it all out. It's one of the things part of playing the game on Hardcore. They seem to be having fun with it, and I like hearing the random, "Oh, damn it! Geez!" and all those comments.

[People cursing in background]

(laughs) He gets really frustrated in the corner, doesn't he? It's cool to do those. It's kind of what it's all about.

WP: One of the complaints about the original Gears of War was its length. What have you done to ensure that Gears of War 2 provides a longer experience without simply making it harder?

CB: We simply made it longer, to be honest. There's more narrative in regards to the campaign, there's more amazing water cooler moments and one-offs, there's more story in regards to everything that goes on with Dom and his story arc. It's just a bigger game this time around, and I think we've hit a really nice sweet spot with the length of the campaign to actually have it be longer than the first and also with a lot more variety.

WP: Speaking of the story, you're not afraid to put any of the main characters at risk of dying. What kind of narrative step was that with you guys, to kill off X character, Y character is going to survive, and how do you make those kinds of decisions?

CB: Decisions like that are carefully made in regards to what we think makes sense for the franchise as a whole, in regards to who lives and who dies. We don't arbitrarily kill characters just to kill them. Usually it's a narrative device to further the overall story or a certain plot point for the franchise, and at the end of the day, though, nothing's more dramatic than somebody living or dying. We pick our battles carefully, but people do die in this game.

WP: Speaking of battles, and it's even alluded to in the story briefly, one of the complaints about Gears was the fact that there were some very dark areas, and why wouldn't these badass fighters actually have flashlights? Why have you kept the no-flashlight rule for Gears 2?

CB: I think if you're going to put a flashlight in your game, you can make it a game mechanic and build the game around it, and use that to build tension à la Silent Hill or Doom. The kind of areas that we have that are dark in the game — very few of them are actually really dark dark, they're usually more movie dark, which we like to refer to as areas that are just kind of "fake dark," and as far as the parts that do get dark, we use it for tension, such as Tickers in the tunnel or the part where Jack illuminates your way for suspense, but they're very few and far between. They're just very brief moments of tension, and we don't want the player using up a good weapon slot for a flashlight, for a Maglite that you can melee people in the head with — actually, that's a good idea.

WP: Let's talk about the Locusts for a bit. We're about halfway through the game, and there's a new Locust leader, looks a bit like a shaman of some sort. Can you tell us a little bit about the character?

CB: We have this guy named Skorge, and he's kind of the head of this Locust cast of Kantus characters, and the Kantus are sort of like these Locust monks or priests, who use their verbal abilities to control the various denizens of the Hollow. He's kind of like the head honcho for that cast, and he's very very tall, and he wields a dual chainsaw staff, very very agile and nimble and very mischievous.

WP: Cover is obviously still a key part of Gears of War 2. There's really no other way to play the game, especially on Hardcore and run-and-gun style. How difficult is it to balance the levels when you're essentially requiring the player character to find cover without making it impossible?

CB: It's a tricky thing. The balance with cover, we find that it's a combination of how the AI treats you when you're out of cover, along with the level design. We always want to make sure that if there's a convenient spot for the player to take cover if there's a tree that's falling over or if it's a piece of architecture that he happens to find in the environment. It's one of those things that we just continue to massage as we build the levels and we continue to balance and just attempt to make sure that this game continues to be a stop-and-pop kind of tactical shooter instead of a run-around-like-an-idiot run-and-gun.

WP: Speaking of difficulty levels, obviously there are Achievement points as an incentive to play the harder difficulty levels, but what's the experience like playing on Casual, Hardcore and Insane. How does that differ?

CB: What do we is on Casual, we make it so that the player can absorb a lot of damage and he doles out a lot of damage, and it's basically the inverse of that on Hardcore and Insane, and it scales in between them. The tricky thing that we had to balance this time around, though, is that we didn't just have to do that within the core combat loop, we also had to balance a lot of the one-offs that are in the game, like Brumak comes out of the tunnel and he's going to destroy your Derrick. We had to make sure that the Brumak has less health on Casual or that you have more time on Casual and it's extremely difficult on Hardcore and Insane. It's these kinds of balancing things that we had to really deal with to make so many of these cool one-offs that we have in the game for those kinds of water cooler moments.

WP: How's the game differ, if at all, when going through it in co-op? Are you simply playing through it with a clone? Does one partner play Marcus and one play Dom?

CB: We've always adhered to, in Gears, the fact that Player 1 is Marcus and Player 2 is Dom, and that's one of the things that we pride ourselves in regards to co-op, that we do a story-based co-op and we don't do the clone thing, which is why we adhere to two players in the main campaign instead of going to three and four. We like to keep it with the actual characters that are the guys who are in the game. And then in Horde [mode] is when we do the five-player co-op so you can have one through five players where you take on wave after wave of Locusts.

WP: Just a little bit about the Horde mode, is it just simply survival of the fittest, is there a story, are there levels and objectives?

CB: It's basically wave after wave. It's very arcadey. It's very much Smash TV, Robotron, Geometry Wars style. You get up to five players and then you kill wave after wave of Locusts up to 50 waves, and every 10 waves, the Locusts get harder, they get more accuracy, they can take more damage, and if you're playing on Hardcore, by the time you get up there, it gets really, really tough.

WP: When you're going through the single-player campaign, there are a number of instances in levels where you're forced to choose a path. First of all, are those all relatively short? Or is it something that you're going to want to go through and replay to see the second path? If you're in co-op, do players go on the same path, or do they go separately?

CB: The splits are very much splits on co-op. Player 1 picks the path that Marcus goes on, and Player 2 gets the other path. They're kind of a medium length in general. We don't want them to be too long because when one player dies, then it's kind of a failed condition for the entire scenario so we wanted to make sure that they're not too long so that the checkpoints aren't too far apart. We know that Gears is a somewhat linear game and requires a story, and it's our way of giving the player a little bit of choice, a little bit of variety, and maybe he'll want to try the high road or the low road the next time he plays through.

WP: Let's talk about weapons a little bit. Can you tell us anything about the new weapons and upgrades to existing weapons that you guys made? Obviously the chainsaw is still there, but what can players expect?

CB: Well now you can chainsaw people from behind, which is incredibly gnarly. You can have chainsaw duels, where people tap B in order to see who's the victor there. You can chainsaw through sections of the environment. The Hammerburst has been reduxed so that it's no longer the first weapon. It's a fully auto, but slow-firing, it packs a punch. You can fire the Hammerburst as fast as you can pull the trigger, basically, and you have a little bit of a zoom on it. Then we got to the heavy weapons, the Mulcher and the Mortar, then we have the Gorgon, which is a burst pistol. Then we have the Ink Grenade, which is very useful for area of denial, as well as the Scorcher, which is our version of flamethrower, so there's a really good stable of guns.

WP: Achievements, obviously every game has them. How do you decide what makes a good or bad Achievement?

CB: Good Achievements are ones that facilitate the player trying different things and new things, and they also encourage the player to play the game with variety and to try different weapons, to kill enemies with different executions, to basically just switch things up a little bit. You know, it's kind of like you go to a restaurant and they're out of your favorite dish so you decide to try something else. By letting you know that we're watching you and are going to reward you for that variety in behavior, suddenly the player, who uses the shotgun all the time, may find that he prefers a sniper rifle. It's a good way of getting the player to shed their skin and play outside their regular comfort zone.

WP: Watching people play today — we've played, what, eight hours so far? — have you seen anyone doing something that has completely caught you by surprise?

CB: Well it's always different with every gamer because each person is unique, but it's been funny to watch some parts with certain gamers, who I know are really good, would breeze through. They sometimes had a trickier time with parts that I thought were incredibly easy, and some parts that I thought were difficult, they breezed through. You never know how it's going to pan out, but I think the reaction seems universally strong. I think people are digging the story, they're digging the sense of variety, and I think they're really pleased.

WP: Without giving us any spoilers, what's your favorite "OMG" moment from the game, now that it's all put together and assuming you've had a chance to play through it yourself?

CB: I like it when the player has to deal with Skorge, the new Locust big bad. I think it's a combination of the boss battle and it's basically an enemy encounter that just keeps going on and on because he's such a tenacious bastard. It leads to one of the more memorable boss encounters that I've seen in a while.

WP: Obviously the original Gears was a big title. It came to PC. Are there any plans for Gears of War 2 to eventually come to the PC, or will it stay on the console?

CB: It's not going to happen, and it's not one of those situations where I'm sitting here telling you it's not going to happen and then we're going to do it again later. We're just not doing it this time. It's one of those points where it just doesn't make sense for us as a business, and we need to focus on this game as a console property.

WP: Obviously Gears and Unreal have been huge for Epic. If you can say, is the next project going to be something from the existing IP, or are you looking at creating a third IP and branching out again?

CB: It remains to be seen what we're going to be working on. We haven't made any announcements. You know, if Gears 2 is a huge success, then we'll consider all of our options at that point, but I'll tell you that I'm a big fan of creating new universes, and I hope that sometime in the near future at Epic, I'll have the opportunity to do that again.

WP: Have you ever thought of doing something on a small scale, maybe something for Xbox Live Arcade?

CB: We like big projects. We believe, either you go big or you go home. Everybody who is available at Epic is currently working on our AAA, mega blockbuster games. Nobody has any spare time to sit around and make puzzle games.

WP: Some of our readers are wondering, what does it take to work at Epic? If someone really wants to work at their dream company, what do they need to do to impress and get in the front door?

CB: They need to have a lot of talent, they need to work hard, and they need a little bit of luck. That's the only way to do it. Industry experience is a plus, but that's not always a requirement, and we have a very grueling hiring process, so go to the Web site, throw your hat in the ring, and may God have mercy on your soul. (laughs)

WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

CB: The multiplayer is a lot more robust this time. I think players are really going to enjoy the seven modes, they're going to enjoy the maps that we ship with, they're going to really find that this game, from the campaign to the co-op experiences to the versus, is a really good triple threat, and I think people are going to love it.

Gears of War 2 will be available in a Standard Edition ($59.99) or Limited Edition ($69.99) and is scheduled to launch November 7, 2008.


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