Gears of War 3 Interview

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This week, The Escapist was invited to Epic’s office to play an early version of the upcoming Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta. Before we sat down to play through the new modes and maps, we took time to speak with the series’ lead level designer, Jim Brown. Once you’ve finished this, be sure to read our hands on impressions so you’ll know what to expect when the beta is released later this April.

Jim Brown, Gears of War 3: We set up this beta for the people, and it really is a good thing for us. We want to do a beta that is robust enough and has enough features in it that people will get a really good taste of what Gears multiplayer is going ot be like and also wide enough in scope and time that we can get good feedback from it. So this isn’t just a “hey, look at the game” and two days later the game is shipping. We’re actually collecting a bunch of data and we’ll take it back and analyze it and maybe make some actual changes to the game based on community feedback.

We definitely want to get the community involved. From the get go, we have two maps that we want to show for sure. We have a bunch more. In a couple days the Facebook poll will go up, and we’ll have map descriptions, video fly-throughs and everything so people can see them and get a feel for what they are. We’re going to let them vote and the top two will be included in the beta as well.

Steve Butts, The Escapist: In terms of balance, is it mostly just tweaking the values or are you looking for feedback on the larger concepts behind the game? What’s possible to change at this point?

JB:Everything’s open at this point. The game is in very good shape. The main thing we’re looking for is not as much “Hey, this is broken,” as much as “We tweaked the damage values on this. You guys are the hardcore who have played with us for years. What do you think?”

We have a couple of new game modes, or refinements of previous games modes and we want to gather some feedback and stats on things that happen. We’re recording everything that goes on now. In the past it was a lot of us playing with the guys and trolling forums and gathering feedback that way. Now we track everything that happens. Every single move that every person makes, everywhere they go and everything they do all gets track in our stat server and we can analyze it.

SB: Tell us about the new modes.

JB:We’re offering Team Deathmatch, which is a new mode for us and a little bit different than the traditional team deathmatch, and Capture the Leader, which is kind of like Capture the Flag but imagine the flag is a living person.

SB: An actual player this time?

JB:Yeah, an actual player, which is a change from our previous game where it was two teams fighting over one AI. That was a game mode called Submission. We also had one called Guardian, where two teams each had a leader and you won by killing them and then killing the rest of the team. We combined those two into one mode that we thought was a little more cohesive and easier to understand. Each team has a leader and your goal is to capture the leader and hold him for 30 seconds.

We’re also including King of the Hill. We had Annex and King of the Hill in Gears 2 and they were kind of variants on the same game type with very similar rules sets and people didn’t quite grok the difference between the two all the time. Again, we simplified it, combined them into one that’s easy to understand. Stand in the ring until it’s yours and you get points for that.

One of the things we’re definitely focusing on is accessibility.

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SB: What other changes are in store?

JB:All o the classic weapons we’ve had in the past titles are coming back. We have made tweaks and refinements to various things. The biggest change being our weapons. You always start with a rifle in Gears. In Gears of War 2 we let you choose between the lancer, which had the chainsaw bayonet on the front, and the Hammerburst, which was more of a burst fire weapon – well originally it was a burst fire weapon, but became…well, it’s a long story.

We’ve added a third rifle for this one, which we are calling the Retro Lancer, which in the fiction of the universe was the Lancer before they added the chainsaw. It’s kind of like an old model rifle with an actual knife bayonet on the front. According to the fiction, they were using these rifles against the Locusts but the Locust skin was too tough and the knives were breaking quite often. I think it was Cole who suggested adding the chainsaw.

SB: Very sensible.

JB:It’s a plot point. Very important.

We’ve always had trouble balancing those rifles online because they didn’t have a specific role. So we wanted to give each of those rifles a very specific role within the universe. The Retro Lancer, the new one, has the bayonet on the front. It has a special attack where you can get down and charge someone. Once you build up enough speed and momentum, you hit them and they’re dead. You lift them up in the air and shake them. The gun itself, while extremely powerful is made to be used only at short range. It’s very powerful with a wide spread and not a lot of kick. It’s not accurate, but it’s powerful.

The Hammerburst, we added an iron sight scope to, so first person shooter people will be able to grasp that really quickly. You pop it up and you can look straight down the line of the gun. That one is very accurate and is made to be used at long range. It’s a little bit slower to fire, but you can hit people at a distance with this gun.

The Lancer, of course, is right between the two.

So we have short, medium and long range, and lots of other tweaks and refinements to other things. The main thing is that each of those has a very specific role. You can swap between them now not only before you go into a round, but before you resapawn. You can say, this is my favorite rifle and if you get in to a big map and need a long range rifle, you can swap to a new gun the next time you spawn.

Another thing we added was a sawed off shotgun, so you now have shotgun options as well. You start with your primary rifle and your secondary backup is your shotgun. The sawed off is kind of what you’d expect from a sawed off shotgun, in that it has a humongous wide spread that will blow up anything it touches, but it only goes so far. We like to jokingly call it the “Bad Touch” gun because if you’re not close enough to touch someone, you’re probably not going to do a whole lot of damage to them. You’ll do some, but it won’t be the spectacular explosion you expected.

SB: The new beta has a leveling system too. What’s with all these ribbons and medals?

JB: We realized one of the things that we were really missing was keeping people playing so we added this leveling system and it’s worked out really well for us, but since we tacked it on to Gears 2 it was never really a flushed out feature. Gears 3 supports it in every way. So here you can see your gamer tag, your experience, to next level, level 4, matches play, execution, all that kind of stuff. And then you can tab over where we have ribbons, characters, executions, and weapons.

So ribbons are basically awards you can get for doing cool things while you’re playing around: a double kill, group head shot, be the first to get a kill in Iran-they’re just kind of little awards. For every ribbon you get, you get bonus experience. These kind of encourage you to try and do special moves or try out cool new things. These are all things that happen in the context of a specific round, essentially.

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SB: And the medals?

JB: Medals are long-term awards, and the cool thing about medals is when you’re in the lobby searching for a game, it shows your gamer tag and things like your medal and your title which is associated with your medal. For example, everybody that plays in the beta gets the beta tester medal, which means until the end of time you can identify yourself as being a beta tester on Gears 3

We kind of used them to help people define their play style. There’s some for Lancer specialist-so you tell people I have X number of kills under my belt with a Lancer and it’s my preferred weapon. They start off bronze and then there are multiple levels that go up increasingly. The more experienced you are with it, the bigger your medal becomes, the cooler you look online to all your friends, and the more bragging rights you have.

SB: Does that actually show up in the game itself?

JB: All of our characters are very iconic to our series and we want to maintain that, but we want to give people the chance to customize themselves. Based on whatever conditions you meet, you unlock specific weapon skins, and then people can say “Hey this guy must be good with that weapon.” So, for example, everybody that participates in the beta is going to get a specialized weapon. People who preordered Bulletstorm are going to get a specialized weapons game so everybody can see “Hey that guy was there.” Some of them are really cool and some of them are very easy to spot and identifiable, some of them are camouflaged. It’s all kind of how you want to play.

And also along with that, we’re doing characters. In the beta, I believe it starts with Marcus and Dom and then to the drones and the grenadiers and something for the Locusts. You progress towards unlocking more and more characters, and of course you see the characters’ heads and personalities. For the beta, if you play enough, you will eventually unlock Coltrane. Now, Augustus Cole is a soldier on the Cog forces who used to be a professional Thrashball player, which is their version of football. So you will unlock him, in his football uniform, out on the field playing.

SB: That’s pretty cool.

JB:If you continue to play with that one and continue to do well, then you’ll actually unlock that so when you get the full game you’ll get to keep that. So, on day one, playing a game, you’re running around as a Thrashball Cole. Then everyone knows not only did that guy play in the beta, but he kicked ass. This is your chance to show something off and show something special.

SB: Okay. That’s actually really cool.

JB: Anyway, all these things feed into that same grind. The experience. Going for unlocks. Keeping you coming back to the game.

SB: But it’s all just cosmetic? There’s no practical advantage, right?

JB:Well, the one that’s not are the executions. In previous games, we had several specialized executions that everybody had. So, what we did is separate those out to basically a slow, medium, and long execution. Each and every weapon in the game now has its own specialized long execution. The short execution is mainly like it always was; well, now it’s a kick. The medium ones are the curb stomps, like the iconic execution. Each weapon has its own specialized long execution that you can only unlock by doing well with that weapon. Once you unlock it, you can use it, and every time you use it you gain more experience. It takes a little longer, it’s riskier to pull off, but you get more experience by doing it, and it’s a total showoff thing to everyone to say “I did something cool.”

Another big change for us is everything is online now. Even just sitting at the main menu, you’re in a party. All of your friends can see you, they can come join you, you can party up. The main advantage to doing that is you can create a party with your friends before you’ve even started the game. Which player do you want to be? Single player? Co-op? As opposed to before, it was “Call your buddy, say you’re playing, and do you want to join me?” Then we have to search and find each other. It was a big mess. Now it’s all very smooth and integrated.

Another big thing that we’re doing is the event calendar. You’ll be able to see this Friday is headshot Friday. It’s whatever craziness we want to do. Turning on and off mutators. All weapons become the boomshot. Whatever we want to do. We become the puppet masters and can have fun with certain events. That’ll all be updated regularly.

SB: Thanks for your time, Jim.

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