WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Cliff Bleszinski, and I'm design director at Epic Games.
WP: We're looking at the Gears of War 3 multiplayer today. Tell us a little bit about the original inspiration behind Beast Mode. Was it originally Horde with Locusts, or is it a fresh start?
CB: When people refer to Beast Mode as inverse Horde, I think it really discredits it, honestly. At first sight, it might seem like that, but when you actually dig in and you see what's in there, it's impressively sweet. Ultimately, it kind of is a combination of a class-based, monster-based mode that meets Resident Evil's Mercenaries, but of course, co-op.
It really started off with Lee Perry, one of our game designers, who one day did this "possess" command where you can take over different characters. He found out that half of those creatures just worked if you possess them. We were like, "Let's make the inverse of this, where the creatures take out the pesky humans." Once we really started digging in and figuring it out, there's a somewhat deep class-based system there, with players supplementing each other with the Kantus healing guys, a Mauler shield protecting a Ticker, Wretches pinning guys down on the screen while other guys came in and took headshots. It turned out to be quite a bit of fun, and once we added in the time-based mode, that's when it really, truly clicked.
WP: Let's talk about the time. Why go for time rather than survival or points? How does time make it competitive?
CB: Time adds urgency, which is not something that we have in a lot of the Gears modes. Now, we're at the point with Horde, we're actually chasing down, got to catch them all, got to kill all the monsters and get the delicious cash, or the same thing with Arcade mode to get those points. Now, there's urgency, when you kill a guy, you get 10 more seconds on the clock. You just want to go longer. The meat of all this is we actually see posts that show if you're ahead of your buddies on your friend list. It pushes the kind of full, connective loop of making the game type sticky.
WP: Nice. Now, in the beta, there was some heavy usage of the calendar. Is that something that you guys are looking to have in the retail game? Or is this something that we can expect initially and then dropping off?
CB: Doing Double XP days is easy, but the calendar's there. It's just one of many ways to tell gamers to keep your fork. There's pie. You trade the game in, you're not going to be there for Ticker Tuesday next week. You trade the game in, you're not going to be able to get the tasty DLC campaign-exclusive stuff that's coming at the end of the month. It's also us trying to reward the community, more of a sense of that. It's the start of the calendar. With future calendars, hopefully we can go even further with it as far as saying, "Yes, I will attend on that day," or invite all their friends and continue to create the game as this kind of persistent service.
WP: Looking at it as both a gamer and a game designer, do you see establishing a service as an answer to game publishers doing the online pass thing?
CB: Well, the online pass thing, I'm not going to dock EA for that. Each publisher has to have their own creative ways to try and stem the blood loss from hemorrhaging for used games. The number one way to do that is to make a game that's so wicked, so awesome that players are going to want to keep it; they're going to want to marry it, not date it. [The Elder Scrolls V:] Skyrim's going to have no trouble because it's a 300-plus hour game. Even if you play it for 100 hours, you're not going to trade it. "Well, I've already put 100 hours in." It's the sunk cost theory.
For us, we want to provide the Season Pass as essentially a way of pre-buying the DLC. It requires a certain leap of faith from the consumer that we're going to make cool stuff, but I've played it, and I can assure you that there are a lot of great things coming through the pike.
WP: I guess the big difference there is buying the Season Pass, you don't lose out on anything. If you don't buy it, you just have to buy the DLC separately. If you buy the game used, you can still play online.
CB: Yeah, we want to promote and encourage rather than penalize. You get more flies with honey over vinegar, right?
There's been a misconception about our Season Pass. People see "Season Pass," and they see, "online pass." It's not the same thing at all. If you get Gears and you don't buy the Season Pass, you can play just great online, day one.
WP: Speaking of rewarding fans, we were going through the unlock list for some of the weapons and characters, and we noticed that not only do you require Achievements from the older Xbox games, but one unlock also requires an Achievement on Gears of War PC.
CB: Oh, did we actually get that in there? Nice! Throw a little love to the PC. Nothing wrong with that.
WP: How have on-demand games changed the way you look at back catalogs?
CB: I want everything online. I want a console that's a fully connected console. If you look at the iPad as a gaming device, it is a fully connected console. You're either on Wi-Fi or 3G almost at all times. That way, you can push through title updates. They're not patches; they're updates. They're adding all sorts of magic new content. We're in a world where this vernacular has changed. It's hilarious. From our end, we want to make sure that you can get connected, get your stuff and play online with your friends. That's the key to helping to fight the blood loss of rental and used.
WP: With the single-player experience, you've talked about how you think the team went a little overboard with the set pieces in Gears of War 2. How have you avoided that trap in Gears of War 3?
CB: We focus on core combat, first and foremost. The player can flank enemies; he can flank 'em with weapons and flank 'em with ways to go about it that play differently with two, three and four players in co-op. From that angle, we're just like, "Hey, look! It's a giant worm! Isn't that cool?" Nobody's going to care about your giant worm unless it's an enjoyable, fun play space inside. I've gone on record saying that there's a certain amount of "I did not sign up for this gameplay" in games. I love Dead Space, but the asteroid sequence, I did not sign up for. It wound up being a frustrating moment for me in a series that I otherwise adore. The same thing happened with Gears. Players didn't sign up to avoid smashing puzzles and things inside a worm. They want to be a badass soldier and chain some monsters.
WP: Technology-wise, which parts of the game engine have gotten you really excited about Gears of War 3?
CB: Two main things. We've reduxed the lighting. Everything just looks nice and smooth now. We don't have to rely on an ubermeshing of everything to make it look visually detailed. The lighting just breathes. It's huge. I've always dreamed of that drama of clarity of experience. I've always been envious of Halo's clarity. You can take any screenshot of Halo and put it onto a tiny thumbnail and still pretty much know what's going on. Gears is a lot more in that direction now because the enemies pop, the environments pop, and you can see what the hell is going on.
The other thing is that we have Vertex Deformation Technology that's allowed us to create vastly more dynamic environments, with trees blowing in the wind and the Lambent Leviathan biting off chunks of the ship at the beginning of the game and all those moments. Thankfully, that's inexpensive. It's a great way to have the environment feel far less static than it ever has been.
WP: We saw that Ice-T got his copy of Gears of War 3. If you two sat down in a deathmatch, who's the better player, you or him?
CB: I'd have to say that I would come out on top because Ice-T's reflexes, I don't know how good they are these days.
WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
CB: My whole point that I've been banging on this drum all day is: If you haven't played a Gears game yet, now's the time to give it a go. I'd never played GTA until the third game, and I didn't play Burnout until the third game. It recaps the story pretty nicely, it's easy to get in, takes a while to master, and we want all these players who haven't tried it to give it a go and give it an honest shake this time.
WP: No need to have played the first two if you just want to jump in and have fun?
CB: Yeah, no need to play the first two. You know, if you've dismissed Gears for whatever reason — "I don't like the buff characters" or "I don't like the gray" — we have girls in the game this time around, we've steadily allowed a little bit more color to come in, and the gameplay is smoother and better than ever, so if you haven't played it, give it a go.
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