Producing Gears of War: The Rod Fergusson Interview

Russ Pitts | 12 May 2008 22:00
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RF: You know, for Gears 1, we had a public ship date, and it wasn't exactly the date we were [trying] to hit ... but this notion of having a fixed ship date - much like we kind of do now where we're saying, "OK, November ... we're coming out in November," that's just a different mindset for how you work. This idea of a date-driven schedule means that you're going to be on time; the question is now what compromises do you have to make in order to make that date. And it takes ... I call it a maturity ... it takes a maturity of the team to be able to recognize those compromises for what they are, which are basically ways of focusing your product and potentially getting a better product out because of them.

Gears 1 was hard for us, because Epic utilizes an organic, iterative, design process ... new ideas are constantly being churned, there's no such thing as locking down a design doc, really. The best idea wins. If we get a really good idea, even late in the schedule, if it's really good, odds are it's going to make its way into the game. But after seeing how we survived Gears 1 and making appropriate trade-offs to get to that fixed ship date and still having a great game at the end of it, you kind of realize that not every feature has to be in there for it to be a great game.

I always say it's the thing that you're not thinking about is what's going to bother the consumer, not what you're cutting. Like if you cut something, you're going like, "Oh, they're going to be so upset," but I'm like, "No, what's going to bite us is something we're not even thinking about yet." It's going to be something you think is perfectly fine, and it'll be, like, the idea of some particular bug-like grenade tagging in Gears 1 where we had a bug when we first released. That wasn't on our radar at all, that grenade tagging was broken, . And then lo and behold, we had to do a title update to fix it, that kind of thing, so ... I think it's just a matter of being mature about knowing that not every feature has to be in the game to be a good game, and making appropriate trade-offs for what's the biggest bang for the buck.

So you say, "OK, here's our five biggest things, and as long as we have these five pillars, and everything we're doing is supporting them, then at the end of our two-year cycle we'll have a great game."

TE: Do you think there's a tendency to sort of over-feature, to cram as much as possible? I mean, you have however many people working; everyone wants to get their one pet idea in there ...

RF: Absolutely. And a lot of people have this ... we call them babies, you know, because like, "this is my baby," that "don't kill my baby" kind of thing. It's that idea that everybody has a baby feature. And that's why I say it takes a maturity, because there's some point where you have to recognize that, is it really contributing? Is it really going to be defining? Is it really going to be contributing to how people receive the game and how people perceive the game, or is it just a feature that you think is cool, and maybe it's not that important.

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