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And while we were only privy to a single meeting, we got a feel for some small part of Epic's "kitchen sink" approach to level design. After a group of Locusts spews forth en masse from a few emergence holes, containing nearly every type of unit from Boomers to Brumaks, a director suggested adding a few Reavers into the mix for good measure. Bleszinski hesitated. "Usually I'm pushing for more, but -" Someone finished his thought: "We're getting to the point where we need to stop shoving stuff into the level." The room briefly fell silent as the team pondered the implications of what had just been said.
The suggestion there could be such a thing as "enough" seemed oddly out of place in this room, at this building, among these people. Slowly the confused looks faded, nodding heads achieved critical mass and the team focused like a laser on the task of taking what was there and polishing it to a mirror shine. Normally this kind of push precedes a game's release date by mere months, sometimes weeks, but here, almost half a year away from Gears 2's ship date, the team was being asked to cap the features and crunch. Gears 2's producer, Rod Fergusson, called it a mini-crunch, and says it focuses the team, many of whom have been working on Gears 2 since around the time Gears 1 shipped. So here they were, stepping out of the development cocoon for a brief moment in time to mini crunch on "Assault," adding smoke effects here, chasing down a missing shotgun sound there, using the fine-tuning dial to hone in the badass.
In the level's finale, the last remaining derricks are intercepted by a Brumak (the gigantic, heavily armed humanoid creature that makes a brief appearance in the original Gears). In the build of "Assault" we saw, the Brumak simply stood in place, waiting to be mowed down by the derrick's on-board turret. But a couple directors wanted to take it further. "What if he was charging at you - would that be too much? Like a full-on suicide run. So it's coming at you screaming and you're hitting it with the gun and chunks of its face are flying off." It's not exactly Saving Private Ryan, but who says you can't find inspiration in the gleefully absurd violence of a Schwarzenegger flick?
Once the level played all the way through, the designers traded notes, spreadsheet cells were filled in, reports filed, orders assigned and kills tallied. You could see the gleam in each set of eyes. This was their baby; they were proud to behold its badass, but the biggest problem seemed to be there was only one controller. If they all could have started playing, they would have.
Someone suggested they run it again - just to be sure they'd caught everything. They didn't have to ask twice.
Jordan Deam is the Content Editor for The Escapist. He wrote this byline from Oslo, Norway.