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 Rod Fergusson, senior producer for the Gears of War franchise at Epic Games.
WP: Let's talk a little bit about the multiplayer aspect of Gears of War 2. You've got a number of different modes in there. How did you narrow it all down? Is it something that you just evolved from the original Gears of War? Did you start from scratch? Is there anything that you tried and ended up leaving out because it just didn't work?
RF: It's a mixture of stuff. We have enhancements to a previous mode, like Guardian is an enhancement of Assassination, with the leader having to stay alive so the team can respawn. It forces a lot more teamwork than just relying on the leader to unlock weapons and things.
The same thing goes for King of the Hill, which was a PC exclusive that we brought over to Gears 2, and we tweaked that a little bit so that once you own the ring, you don't respond, so that adds a little more pressure if we're trying to defend the ring. We looked at some of the classics that are expected in multiplayer, such as Last Man Standing, Freeform Deathmatch, which we didn't feel was a Gears mode the way that it would normally be played, but when we looked at it as a team game, 2v2 versus 2v2, and you have five teams of two all sort of fighting together, that felt like Gears, very co-op-like, and you had to depend on your partner.
The same thing goes for Capture the Flag. We just couldn't picture Marcus and the squad running around with a banner in their hands trying to take it. So we took a new game mechanic that we have, which is whole idea of meat shielding, and had the flag be a living Stranded with a shotgun who's just defending himself and not afraid to shoot back. You have to down him, take him as a meat shield and drag him back to the objective. Those are the Gears of War takes on the existing types.
It was that kind of thing. We were just trying to find that vibe of classics that people expect, but with a Gears of War twist, plus enhancing what we had and what new stuff we had. We looked at co-op, and one of the things that we looked at early on was if we wanted to do a four-player co-op because of the squad size. We just felt that with a narrative, you can't do that with four players. It gets too chaotic, story triggers are going off, and objectives are getting completed. You bend over to pick up a rifle, and all of a sudden, all this stuff happens and you don't know what's going on. We felt that in order to tell the story, having the two perspectives of Dom and Marcus was enough, but at the same time, we know that people just want to get friends together and shoot stuff, and that's what Horde [mode] became.
WP: In Horde mode, it's five versus … almost infinity, just wave after wave of enemies. It feels a lot like classic old-school arcade games, where there wasn't so much an end as it was to see how far into it you could get. How is designing something like that different from designing something like the main story in Gears, where there is a start, middle, and finish, and there are specific objectives to complete?
RF: That was exactly our design goal, to try to find that the arcade-type of feel. We wanted to have a high score table, we wanted to have the big sound effects and animations show your kills. We wanted to have that kind of feel because that's what arcades were. They wanted to drain your quarters, and you never really got to the end, we just wanted to get as much money out of you as possible, and we felt that's how we could sustain Horde, with that compelling gameplay that makes you want to keep coming back and get a higher and higher score. In fact, that's what happens on the leaderboard. It's a team-based score, it's not for the individual, it's whatever the team gets, and it only posts your best score on each map. What's my highest score on River, what's my highest score on Security, what's my highest score on Hail — that kind of thing.
WP: With umm, how does that work with team names? If I've got a group of five friends and we create a team, how do we get that marked? What if one person isn't available and we swap in a new player. Does that mean we have to create a new team, or can we still use the team name?
RF: Actually, we don't do the team name part. It's just basically the score that you get as a team, then the five of you get those as individual scores, so you can swap around your teams and do whatever, but it's the best score that you got while in a team, essentially.
WP: Speaking of the emphasis on teamplay, we noticed during the multiplayer matches when someone dies, you get a full, active camera of the whole map so you can do work as a spotter. In a lot of games, when you die, you're out or you can only see your own team's camera. Was there any concern of balance issues?
RF: Well, I mean … every life is precious in Gears, you know, and you need somebody to respond. We are playing in a pretty open environment here, like when you play a non-responding game type, like Warzone or Execution, there are team channels plus the death channel, so when they die, they're actually off the voice channel. Horde is an example; everyone stays in the same channel so you can have that communication across the teams.
It's an important part of it, but also, you can't stop it. Whether it's conference calls or the new party chat on the Live experience, or whatever, you can't stop it. You make the best choices you can, but ultimately, if people want to communicate outside of the game's ability for chatting, there's nothing you can do about it.
WP: What about Photo Vote? That seems an interesting thing to have in multiplayer deathmatch.
RF: It's one of those things. When you die and you're out, we wanted to try to take that passive experience and make it more of an active experience. What could we do while you're waiting for your turn to come back in the next round? And it's things like the battle camera that you got to see. The security cameras that we had in Gears 1 were great for showing the map, but you popped from camera to camera to camera, which is a little bit disorienting, and you didn't actually learn the map. But with the battle cameras now, it sweeps from camera to camera, so you understand where you are on the map. You can actually use it to learn the map while you're sitting around, and it actually focuses on and follows the action automatically. If you leave it still, it'll actually zoom in on people fighting.
The same thing goes for Ghost Camera in Gears of War 2. You can press Ghost Camera and fly around the map and frame up good screenshots and things like that. You can take Photo mode, which is allowing you in any of those camera modes, you can actually take screenshots, they'll be scored, you'll get a point system based on how good screenshots were in terms of how much action, how many people, etc. You can upload it to www.gearsofwar.com, where there's all kinds of things that we're thinking about doing with it.
WP: Let's talk about some of the special skins. Obviously, there are some are unlocked during the game, there are a couple that are unlocked if you made Achievements in the original Gears. Do you have to replay through the original Gears again to get those, or if you already have the Achievements down, does Gears of War 2 automatically recognize them and unlock them from the outside?
RF: Yeah, it's immediate. If you already have those Achievements, it'll just go and say, "This person's already got it." Based on the three Achievements, play through Act I and you get Anthony Carmine. If you've collected 10 COG tags, you get Minh, and if you beat RAAM, you get RAAM.
WP: What about the gold weapons that a few players are running around with? How did they get those?
RF: The two gold weapons that we have are the Gold Lancer and the Gold Hammerburst. The Gold Lancer is part of the limited edition, so when you buy the limited edition, you get a voucher inside that gives you a code that unlocks that weapon for you. Gold Hammerburst is strictly part of the Midnight Madness promotion, so people who are the first buyers, who pre-ordered and are the first in line at midnight, they will get a voucher when they pick up the game that allows them to unlock the Hammerburst as well. You can actually have both of them at one time.
WP: And it's a one-night promotion?
RF: That's my understanding. "While supplies last," I guess is the way to phrase that.
We have the same thing for the day one launch event. We also have 10 multiplayer maps in the box, and then we have five maps in what we call the "Flashback Map Pack." Gears 2 came along pretty quickly, and we still have hundreds of thousands of people playing Gears 1. We don't want all of these maps that people really like, to go away so quickly, and so we picked five of the ones that we really like, and we re-envisioned them. [The] Canals [map] is an example; we froze it over so now it's all ice instead of water and stuff. And so anybody who buys the game new will be able to download these five maps for free on day one, so they'll have 15 maps that they can play with on day one. It's not available for purchase in the marketplace, so the only way to get them is in a voucher in a new game.
WP: Gotcha. So if you buy it used, you miss out on the maps.
RF: Yup. You're five maps lighter.
WP: Let's switch briefly into co-op mode. Co-op is multiplayer, but together, you're going through the story mode. How do the dynamics change, if at all, when you're playing co-op versus playing through solo?
RF: One of the things we found is that co-op is an entryway into gaming for some people. While my son may not be the best gamer — unfortunately, that was at the time, and now he's actually better than me (laughs) — originally, I would bring him along on the experience and we'd be OK. I could carry him along, and when we split, when he had to go off on his own, then it'd be frustrating to watch his character die because I couldn't carry him anymore. That was the whole thing behind the idea of getting individual difficulty levels. I can choose Insane as a difficulty level, my son can choose Casual as a difficulty level, and then when we do a split, then he actually has that experience. In fact, he's actually getting that experience when he's playing while we're still together; he has more health than me, he's doing more damage, he's taking less damage, that type of thing. It's just a way of making it more accessible to bring in other gamers.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add? We focused on multiplayer, but you're welcome to chat about single- or multiplayer, if there's something that you wanted to mention.
RF: Yeah, there are a couple of things.
We are using System Link at this event, but the party system is something that I'm really proud of. Joe Graf did an amazing job on the engineering part of it, and the ability to have party match-making that is skill-based. Once you build your team, you get a skill for that team, and it'll match you against a team of similar skill, and you can continue to play as your team and move along as a unit. So the party system was one feature request that the community from Gears of War 1 really wanted, and I'm really happy with the system we have now. When you're playing, you'll get to see we have these rank icons from one to five that basically show you how you're moving up in your true skill ranking. You see little chevrons that show you how you're doing there.
Another thing we're doing on the Live platform that I really like is we have a thing called "What's Up?" It represents a shortcut to your friends list, so you basically hit the left bumper and see, "Here are all my friends," and "Here are all my friends who are playing Gears right now," and with a single button press, I can invite them all. So basically, go into the game, left bumper, back button, and now all my friends who are currently playing Gears to come and play with me in two button presses. It's that kind of social aspect we're trying to drive and have that sort of platform for getting together with your friends. We're actually hoping that people will start with the "What's Up?" — and that's why we called it that, you want to fire up Gears and the first thing you want to do is go, "What's up?," check in with your friends, see what they're doing and then go play with them because you can jump right into their game if there's one in progress.
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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