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

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It seems like there’s a weird mix of emotional influences going on in Gears. The reason the chainsaw Lancer feels so good is because you feel like, all right, at any moment I’m close to death, I’m close to being shot by Locusts or whatever. So when you finally get close enough to rip one in half, that feels very satisfying. But, at the same time, there’s a cheesiness to that. Like a Halloween-style horror movie. Do you guys think about this kind of stuff? What has the thought process been as you’ve introduced these kinds of over-the-top opportunities to the player?

Yeah, it’s on the forefront of our minds. It’s finding where that line is and where are people comfortable going. I think we have the ability nowadays to show any sort of human behavior in video games. And so the question is, “What’s too far?” And we had those conversations initially with the chainsaw, because you can go super-realistic.

You can do things where because we chainsaw diagonally, you can have, “Oh, it starts to go through and then it catches on the collar bone, and then it takes a little bit longer to cut the collar bone, and then it goes through. And then it takes a bit longer to cut through the spine,” which is where it crosses the line, where it goes from being fun and visceral to being nauseating and disturbing.

(MORE: ‘Gears of War 3’ Trailer Reveals Daddy Issues, September 20 Release Date)

People like the visceral part and they always want us to keep pushing it and taking it to the next level. Now in Gears of War 3, every weapon in the game has its own specific execution or finishing move. So we’ve had to watch each one as we build them and determine, “OK, is this too far? Does this make you laugh?” That’s kind of one of our tests.

One of the things we like to see is when people will chainsaw a Locust in half, and the guy would potentially burst apart. Like, you really don’t truly cut him in half the way you would expect. So they essentially burst apart. And we do that because that relieves the tension and allows you to have this “a-ha” and you kind of giggle at it and usually the character doing it says a line like, “Oh, I got some on my boots,” or something to help deal with that issue as well.

And so as we had to go, “OK, now we need a whole lot more of these for the new weapons. Where’s our line and where’s our threshold for each one?”

Yeah, you guys figured that out.

One of the things initially, the arm rip was one that we struggled with in Gears 2. The first arm rip I ever saw in Gears of War was back before it was even Gears of War 1, they had an arm rip in the demo for Unreal Warfare. And ripping the arm off and beating the guy with it.

So it felt like that was too far. So we didn’t do it in 1. And it came back up because people knew about it, and they wanted it. We talked a lot about it in Gears 2. And ultimately we decided against it. And then even when we got to Gears of War 3, we said, “OK, this is the final one of this series. We need to deliver on this. People have been asking for it for four or five years.”

But, ultimately, we still ended up sort of compromising by making it only a Locust move. We didn’t want the human characters to have that ability…so, the humans can’t rip arms off, only the monsters can. So we demonized it that way. Even at that point we were still making compromises. So yeah, we think about it a lot.

This is all happening while you guys are delivering a story where each one of the characters has to deal with intense personal loss, whether it’s Baird and his brothers, or Dom and Maria, or Marcus and his dad. What’s been the balancing act there in terms of these patently ludicrous moves that you make the player able to do and the kind of angst the characters have to go through? What’s that balancing act been like?

It’s been interesting. We started lighter on that stuff partly because in Gears of War 1 we were not as confident enough in our storytelling, so we told a very briskly paced, kind of summer blockbuster popcorn movie type of story.

And we felt good about it because it had that pace. A lot of people finished Gears of War 1, which wasn’t the norm at the time. And with Gears of War 2, we were more confident in the storytelling and working with Josh Ortega. So, we went for the Maria scene, and we felt really satisfied with how that came across as well as people’s reaction to it.

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