Gears Of War 3: Cliffy B Interview
Gears of War 3 is out today! To celebrate, we chat to design director at Epic Games, Cliff Bleszinski about his respect for John Romero, future plans for DLC, and what could lie in store next in the series.
When you first started developing games did you always envision yourself going down this big blockbuster design route?
Absolutely, yeah. Honestly, I’m not going to lie – I had Romero envy. I have a lot of respect for John and I think he got a lot of undue amount of shit… to this day he does.
He’s actually moved on and is doing very well in the social space cos John dared to do what no one else dared do at that point and that’s actually show he was having fun with his job and try and bring gaming out of the basement.
Some of the efforts may have been a little bit misguided but I was like ‘wow, that guy is kinda cool with his long hair and his Ferrari. I wanna be like that dude’!
And that was one of the things – instead of a kid wanting to grow up and be a football player or an astronaut or a fireman suddenly game design popped up on the radar and, you know, you take a lot of flak for it but I’m having the time of my life.
So how do you react to gamers who turn their nose up at Gears?
For every King’s Speech you can have a Transformers 3. I love videogames that love the art of it but I also like being able to sleep at night and know that I can pay my bills and eat, you know. I don’t want to be a starving artist… [laughs]
With all the problems that surrounded Gears 2’s multiplayer, how did you approach it this time around in terms of balancing time between it and the campaign?
We spent a lot more time on the multiplayer absolutely, but the campaign is still the thing that takes up the most time and effort because you’re building what is essentially hundreds and thousand of miles of unique content as opposed to a multiplayer map which is only a few square blocks that one level designer can build in a day. And then, of course, it takes a few days to mesh it but you can bust out multiplayer maps all you want.
I mean iteration is huge in terms of getting the weapons balanced and doing the beta, as well as the multiplayer suite – you look at horde mode, beast, team deathmatch, capture the leader and thankfully all these modes are using the same maps but there was a lot of testing involved; the test matrix was huge.
But by and large the campaign is what takes the most effort and we’re trying to encourage players to replay that. Play it by yourself first, then play it with a friend, then play arcade mode and then enable the laugh track and just keep going through it.
Is it possible for Cole Train to be anything but badass? We reckon not.
Do you still think you’re finding your feet with the gaming community when it comes to campaign because for so long Epic has been know as a multiplayer studio?
Well, yeah, definitely. You say Gears 2 to a lot of people and immediately the knee-jerk reaction is ‘broken online!’ because it was and we steadily improved it until it got decent. Not great, but it got decent and playable but, again, not perfect.
It was then we realised dedicated servers became necessary but not nice. The beta allowed us to suss a lot of the connection issues and balance, and we’re in a world of used games and rentals so if you don’t make a game with a deep multiplayer component, you’re dead in the water right now.
Otherwise you’re Skyrim, you’re 300 hours, you’re going to be fine so basically the games that do well are the ones that do deep single and multiplayer or they’re massively single-player.
How do you stop people trying to find holes in the multiplayer?
We have guys on our team that we ask, deliberately, to be the biggest douches. There’s an entire meta-game of being a douchebag online. Lag switchers and griefers, never mind the names people call each other, right?
You can’t just assume people are going to play nice in your game. You’ve always got to find the possible glitches and get rid of them so they don’t ruin somebody else’s experience.
One of the things we have now is a ‘navmesh’ which basically says here’s all the areas you can get to in the map, and if you find a way to glitch outside of it, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening.
Clean-up on isle eight!
Do you ever think this would stop people playing Gears altogether?
If you’re the type of player who wants to grief through a game, I’m more than happy to lose your money.
Gears has now managed to become a game that many associate with the Xbox, much in the same way as they do Halo…
It’s incredibly flattering because for people to say Gears is considered amongst the likes of Halo or COD it’s like ‘oh, okay, we’re only the third game’.
Halo, and especially Call Of Duty, are so many games ahead of us, so to after the third game hopefully be in that kind of category is immensely satisfying and rewarding and if the sales fairies have it hopefully down the line we’ll see another one.
The third already had some very impressive pre-order numbers, even outdoing Modern Warfare 3 on 360 and PS3 combined.
The thing is, pre-orders are seen as this crazy metric right now where people are like ‘we have to have a certain amount of pre-orders’ but, dude, when’s the last game you haven’t been able to find in stores?!
I haven’t had to pre-order a game since Ocarina of Time because I was still burnt from the whole gold cartridge thing where I was like ‘I got to pre-order!’ Now, okay so may Gamestop might not have it, but Best Buy will and if not Walmart or Target.
I may have to make two stops but I’ll get it, or Amazon day one, but for some reason pre-order is the big deal which is fine. I think we’re over 2 million worldwide, though, which is a great problem to have.
So why is it Gears 3 has had this impact far beyond the first two?
I don’t know. I’ve had other journalists tell me that for some reason this game feels like it’s hitting this perfect storm of hype and things like that.
Maybe it’s because there’s no Halo this year outside of Halo Anniversary – which, by the way, I think looks great – and we have a partner that needs a hit this year and we’re very happy to hit that slot, just like we were with Gears 1.
Now THAT has to hurt.
You’re obviously going to be monitoring multiplayer very closely going forward, but in terms of new content, will it just be new maps?
Absolutely not. When we announced the Season Pass there was a lot of negative perception – a lot of people thought we were doing the EA online pass which we’re not doing. Basically it’s like the All Fronts map pack but upfront, but it’s definitely not just new maps.
You’ll see new features come unlocked in Horde mode, new characters come online as well as we’re working on a whole new what I like to call mini-campaign and, if I recall correctly, Marcus ain’t in it. So new characters and some old faces that have passed in the series now returning.
So it differs from Gears 2’s offerings?
I’m not a big fan of the campaign DLC we’ve released in the past. Not because of the content in there, but because of getting excited about it. Whenever you cut content from a movie or a game you’re like ‘ah, I see why that scene was deleted’ and I was happy we did delete that scene from Gears 2 because my gut was like we’re already spending way too much time underground and psychologically that’s just exhausting – the reason why we’re scared of being buried alive.
So I’m proud of the stealth segment and some of the dialogue but, with that said, it felt like it was on the cutting room floor which gamers don’t get excited about.
If you’re going to do DLC make it cool and unique, just like Borderlands did so that’s what we’ve gone with. It’s stuff we can take risks with like ‘what if?’ stories or ‘Red Dead Zombies’. Expect some fun stuff from us.
Where would you like to take the series next, then? Would it be focusing on another character entirely?
Possibly. I’m in love with so many of our characters. With Cole Train it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense right now because when you play Gears 3 he actually does have that for a while so his story has largely been told. I’d like to get back to Griffin just because hiring my childhood hero and putting him in the game was immensely satisfying.
Our money’s on Cole.
How did the whole Ice T involvement come about?
It was weird. I’m friends with Jace Hall and he has his show and he knew Ice T so he called me one time. So, Jace in the game was actually inspired by him, as far as the name – that’s the way I creatively work, by plucking things from real-life. Like Cole is named after Phil Cole, one of our designers so things like that.
So they called me from the show, put me on the spot, and I was like ‘yeah, we can find a character for Ice T to play’ so that’s how Griffin came about. If you play him in multiplayer he’s shouting out crap all the time like ‘Take that motherf**ker’ but you have the awesome Ice T voice.
I’d like to maybe play as Griffin after he goes off and find out what happened to him. I don’t know if we’ll get around to it anytime soon. I feel a bit like Quentin Tarrintino introducing my hero to this whole new generation. Iced is still in Law & Order and he’s rocking it, but there’s a bunch of gamers who didn’t really know who this guy was.
When we cast Drake as Jace in Gears 3 a lot of the journalists were like ‘who’s that again?’ And he’s huge, he’s a phenomenon right now is Drake. But then I looked at all the journalists and I thought ‘Hmm, all you guys are about 35’ so when we cast Ice T they were like ‘Ah, sweet, it’s Ice T. Motherf**ing sweet bitch!’