Epic’s Rod Fergusson Talks ‘Gears of War 3′

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To everyone expecting a Gears of War 3 review: It’s coming.

In the meantime, I had a chance to speak to Rod Fergusson, executive producer at Epic Games, about what next week’s big release means for the studio and the world they’ve created. Over the last five years, the previous Gears games have introduced unique gameplay elements–a singular emphasis on cover and the active reload that lets players get an added-damage benefit for re-upping their ammo in rhythm–hence adopted by other titles. Gears 1 and 2 have also created memorable characters that garnered huge fanbases, especially in the case of series hero Marcus Fenix.

In the talk that follows, Fergusson reflects on what the release of Gears 3 means to the franchise and how the series’ signature features got their start in development.

How are you? How’s the beard?

Rod Fergusson: [Laughs] Everything’s good. We’re 6 days and what, 17 hours or something away from launch, so it’s exciting.

I know that you guys aren’t saying, “This is the end of the Gears franchise,” but this is kind of a milestone moment. Would it be fair to say that this is closing out the story of Delta Squad?

Yeah. We’re saying this set of games is Marcus’s story. This is the completion of his story. We want people to feel like there was a beginning, middle, and end with the trilogy, that this actually has a conclusion so the player can be satisfied in knowing they actually completed a story as opposed to just “ready at another chapter in the book or something.”

(MORE: The Techland Interview: Cliff Bleszinski, Part 1)

Fair enough. I think Gears has won a place in gamers’ hearts for a few different reasons. Probably for the actual play mechanics–the cover system, active reload and all that stuff. But, also because of the environment it presents to play in. The world itself has a story. Tell me what the mood is in terms of maybe seeing this environment you helped build for the last time and possibly saying goodbye to Sera.

Obviously, it’s very bittersweet in terms of having to say goodbye to parts of the story and characters. I mean, we’re not blowing up a planet, so the world can live on. We’re still doing novels and other things that tie into the Gears universe.

So it’s not the end of Sera, per se. But, yeah, one of the nice things is that I expect people will be surprised when they play through Gears 3 and see environments like they’ve never seen before in a Gears game, and a lot of that had to do with this being the end of the story.

I felt like we had some freedom to explore new things and show places that you’ve never seen. So we didn’t have to be so consistent to this, “Oh, let’s keep everything as Destroyed Beauty, we can actually explore new areas that would be interesting as sort of a goodbye.”

Right. Gears has become one of those games where you can mark off what games were like before it and after it. Part of that comes through the mechanics. Obviously, “cover” is huge with Gears, and Gears really put that on the map. Can you talk about the origins of that as something you wanted to make a pivotal part of the gameplay experience?

Well, that’s more of a Cliff question because he was here at the real genesis of that idea. The game early on was Unreal Warfare. It was very much more of a vehicle/big battlefield type of game. As they worked on it more and more, they started to get more intimate in terms of what they were looking for.

And they came across a game called Kill Switch, which was a game that I feel did cover the first time where it felt natural. There were lots of scenes in that game where you are going through hallways and you’re taking “cover” in the corner of a hall, and you would clear the room the way you would do in real life. And that inspired that idea of cover.

Talking about the origins of Gears of War 1, we used to call it ‘Resident Kill Switch’ because it had the inspirations of the Resident Evil camera, and the kind of Kill Switch cover gameplay. And so those were there from the start. Then it evolved beyond that, because we really looked at the reasons a player would want and need to have cover.

We needed to make sure that cover was meaningful. And we looked at a lot of other games that tended to treat bullet dodging as a way to survive. There’s a lot of circle strafing, a lot of quick movement. Then, we had to make the world lethal enough that you couldn’t just feel like, “Mobility is the way to win this.”

Yeah, that doesn’t work in Gears at all.

We needed the idea of having to take cover to be important so we tried to create a very dangerous world to do that in. And then, we didn’t want it to be seen as a hindrance. People think about cover as a defensive reaction that slows you down. Because of that, when people first came to the game, they tended to try to avoid cover. They’d play the angle game and try to shoot around corners without taking cover because they felt the cover would be a hindrance to them.

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