Between Epic Games' announcement of a Gears of War sequel at this year's GDC and last Friday, there hasn't been much information to provoke the ire or lust of the internet's legion fanboys. Sure, we watched a metric ton of cubed meat jostle rhythmically to the beat of a few shotgun blasts and gazed in awe at Cliff Bleszinski's pneumatic pelvic thrusts, but aside from the welcome addition of being able to lock chainsaws with your opponents in a kind of homoerotic lumberjack tango, new information about Gears 2 has been sparse. Nothing is accidental when multimillion dollar franchises are involved, however. When you're developing the biggest 360-exclusive title of the year, you don't ride the wave of hype - you create it.
It was only natural, then, for the savvy folks at Epic to invite The Escapist down the highway for a peek at the work that goes into the creation of a "bigger, better and more badass" Gears. Sure, we may not be a factor in any Metacritic rankings; we've hardly ever previewed a game in our nearly three years of operation; and most of the review titles we receive unbidden are based on Nickelodeon licenses. But if anyone can appreciate the hard work that goes into creating the perfect blood-spattered corpse, it's a group of blithely ineffectual games-as-art snobs.
It's about a 20-minute drive from The Escapist's crude hovel at the outskirts of Research Triangle Park to Epic World Headquarters. There are no outwardly visible logos to indicate that you've landed at the workplace of some of the most influential developers in the game industry, but the parking lot immediately raises eyebrows. BMWs, Italian imports, a stray Lotus here and there - this isn't your local Wal-Mart.
We were greeted in the lobby by Dana Cowley, Public Relations Manager at Epic, followed by Cliff Bleszinski, Lead Designer and tour guide. As the public face of Epic, Bleszinski duties seem to extend far beyond tweaking enemy spawn patterns or balancing checkpoints; he's the company's resident "guy you'd wanna have a beer with," always ready with a quip about the industry or what he's been playing. He treated us to a brief trip around the office, including their state-of-the-art motion capture studio as well as their bizarrely pristine workout facilities.
We got to the patio overlooking a half-size basketball court, and it was down to business. With barely a pause for breath, Bleszinski delivered a concise synopsis of the plot of Gears 2: Humanity stands at the brink of annihilation after the Locust Horde discovers how to burrow mega-sinkholes beneath the last remaining human outposts. Refugees have taken shelter in Jacinto, the last remaining capital of the Coalition of Ordered Governments. With the locusts closing in beneath them, their only choice is to go on the offensive by sending forces deep within the planet's crust to cut them off. He highlighted the most relevant information with the steady, confident tone of someone who has delivered the same pitch hundreds of times.