Gears of War
2nd Oct 2006 | 16:10
Blezinsky showed up at X06 packing a brand new version of Gears Of War. The general word from X06 show-goers was that it's promising to live up to all that hype, which is a rare thing thesedays. Shortly after being knocked out by what we saw, Cliffy B shoved some smelling salts under our nose and we were ready to talk shop.
So far the response to the game has been positive, so you must be doing something. But what would you say makes GoW so special?
Blezinsky: Look at all of the beautiful women who are here hosting. They're beautiful right? Maybe even as beautiful as Scarlett Johansson. What make's Scarlett so special is her expression, that inflection in her voice, the way she moves, the way she can go from sexy to vulnerable to cute and to crazy. That's the difference between good and great. How this relates to the game is that it has that intangible difference between the controls working good and working great.
Err, okay. Care to elaborate?
What we're going for with GoW is a feeling of crispness so when you go into cover it's an abrupt action. I play a lot of games in which going into cover is a slow process. But if I was being shot at I would be diving and sliding into home base like a Major League Baseball player because my life counts on it. Making sure that when you press a button the game is responsive - that is what we're going for with the game. I believe we've accomplished that.
Making a game that controls perfectly is no easy task. You only have to look at all the bad games out there now to see that.
Blezinsky: It's not easy. But I think that in this day and age it's a miracle that any game ever gets done, because what you're looking at is the perfect balance between art and science. You have artist types - long hair, fashionable painters - working with nerdy programmers. Then you're trying to appeal to a mainstream audience... you're trying to be everything to everyone at the same time. You want to appeal to the person that's been playing games for just a few years, as well as someone who's been playing for 30 years. How do you make something that does that?
I think the only reason we can attempt a shift with how you play shooters with GoW is because we have the graphics and the marketing support. If we just did an ordinary game that had a slightly unique mechanic and the graphics were so-so, we'd only sell a hundred thousand. But because we have the support, people will really try to play this in a different way.
Has being the flagship title for Xbox 360 this Christmas created any additional pressure for you as a developer?
Blezinsky: Not at all (laughs). There's been a lot of hype. I think the hype machine has gotten a little out of control. We're making the kind of game we would all love to play and it's turned out amazingly well. But then you read gamers' expectations for the game, and see that they're expecting it to do their laundry, feed their cat and do their paper round for them, too. It'll probably feed the cat but it's not going to do the paper round.
Is it fair to say Gears is more than a straight-up shooter?
Blezinsky: We call it a military action horror. One minute you're in a crazy scene where tracers are flying past your head and there are explosions going off, then you see these guys crawling out of the ground and you realise you're not in your average WWII-type game. All of a sudden a giant creature goes flying by and you realise you might have to fight that later.
We take the normal convention, we work with it and we try to twist it up. There's plenty of over-the-shoulder combat in the game, but we mix it with vehicle levels, and stages in the dark where you have to find ways to stay in the light to avoid getting eaten.
Then we introduce a wall-climbing guy. We're taking the convention we've established and changing it constantly so that the game remains interesting over the course of the single-player campaign. And then, of course, you play it with somebody else and it's a totally different experience. We have a Casual difficulty, Hardcore and Insane mode. Insane co-op is really crazy fun.
Right, and a good multiplayer mode can massively extend the lifespan of your game, as it has done with Halo 2. Have you thought about post-release downloadable content?
Blezinsky: Yes, we're looking into offering downloadable versus maps. There're no plans for single player at this point but we have the hooks in there to expand upon the eight multiplayer maps that are already in the game.
As well as struggling to stay alive, there'll also be collectables for the player to gather. How do they contribute to the game?
Blezinsky: We wanted to have collectibles because it's not just a game about war - it's also about exploration. We wanted to tie these into the fiction of the game, so you're not just picking up daffodils without any logical reason.
When you walk into a room you'll occasionally see a Crimson Omen logo displayed. These mark the spots where soldiers have died, so if you see that logo there's a Cog Tag somewhere near. You have to collect them to give to their families so they know their relatives died in battle. You'll get achievements for finding a certain amount of them but some people will beat the game only having found, say, 14 of them. This will hopefully get them to play through the game again in a different difficulty to find the rest and the game will keep track of your Tag count across multiple sessions.
Better use of the Gamerpoints system is something the community has been crying out for. We know you're in touch with the online community. Has their feedback influenced the development of Gears at all?
Blezinsky: It's important to know when to listen and when to not. We've listened to the community as far as making a truly next generation game with great cinematic experiences, a cool story, co-op play and a really compelling Versus mode.
I had to trust my gut instinct in other areas like not having a jump button. I just posted a blog on the internet and the title was essentially 'F*** Jump'. I wanted to know how this feature, jumping, from the days of Sonic and Mario warranted being in a genre where you're being shot at? I mean, I haven't been shot at and I don't know if any of you have but I'm waging that if a bullet is coming towards my head, the last thing I'll want to do is jump.
My theory is that just running from point A to point B in most games is a very boring experience, and that's why in Mario games you jump. In GoW you're essentially jumping but you're jumping on the X and Y axis. So you're leaping into the environment. If you were to look at a GoW battlefield from an overhead view, it would almost look like a Sonic or Mario level because that's how all the cover plays out.
So from that end I think knowing when not to listen to the community, or those you work with, is a tricky thing to learn. But we stuck with what we believed on that front and we now have a pretty cool cover system that essentially feels almost like jumping. I read as many message boards as I can and see what gamers are saying. I don't hate anybody who doesn't like the game. I want to win them over. I want everybody to buy the game and love it.
You've built some interesting control schemes to imitate realism better than most mainstream shooters, like the Active Reload system. Can you talk a little about the decision-making process behind that?
Blezinsky: Realism doesn't necessary mean fun. The Active Reload came out of the desire to take passive gameplay and make it active. When I'm reloading I'm just looking the screen. But I know soldiers practice reloading their guns on a regular basis. In the heat of battle that's the difference between life and death. The best thing about Active Reloading is that when you mess up, you blame yourself. You don't blame the game.
There's also a reason why that little meter is a off to the side and not in the centre of the screen; if it was in the middle it would get annoying, and you'd also get way too good at it too quickly. I was a little bit worried because some of the testers who have been playing the game can now hit every single Active Reload with every single weapon perfectly, and I know people will get to that point too. So we had to figure out balancing for that, as well as scaling enemy health and other small tweaks. But for some games, realism means moving around at an extremely slow rate or having to stop and eat, but I don't think you'll ever see Marcus bust out a cheeseburger in the middle of the battlefield. It's not his style. So we've added realism when it can actually make the game more fun.
On a separate note, if the game were to become a movie, who would you see playing the characters?
Blezinsky: I think it's important to be careful with the whole game-to-movie thing because I think a lot of game designers have this Hollywood envy where they don't believe they've made it unless their game has been turned into a movie. I love movies but I believe I'm working in the most exciting sector of the entertainment industry. So if there's a movie of GoW - cool. I'll look forward to possibly making more GoW games, and let someone else worry about that. Truth be told, if there were to be somebody for Marcus I think someone like Clive Owen would be cool.