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

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Even then, there’s a balance we try to strike, much like the weapons balance between fun and disgusting. We had the same problem with emotion in the story, because if you think about what Dom went through in that story, you wouldn’t necessarily want to play as Dom for the next four hours after that moment.

We had to find a balance between being respectful to the moment but also allowing the player to continue his sort of escapism and getting caught up in the fun of the game. I think you’ll see that in 3 as well, as the environments speak to that probably the most in Gears of War 3 where we sort of recognize that you got people playing the multiplayer game for thousands of hours.

As much as it’s nice to have a de-saturated art style, one of the things you realize is that it can kind of wear on you after a while if you’re constantly playing in grays and browns and such. One of the things we went out of our way to do in Gears of War 3 was to provide multiplayer maps in particular with a lot more color and vibrancy.

Part of it was the engine now doing global illumination and foliage better. But part of it was the art direction, like let’s create some environments that are more interesting visually from a color palette perspective because people are going to be spending a lot of time in them.

You talk about the story. I appreciate your honesty where you say with the storytelling, you guys were less confident about it in Gears 1. I know the role that Josh Ortega played in Gears 2, having interviewed him years ago. But who’s been the unsung hero in Gears’ development in your opinion? People see Cliff as the face of the franchise. I think people familiar with you and from a corporate level, probably Mark Rein, too. But who might people not know about that you think they should, that contributed to Gears in a way that made it what it is? Part of the reason I ask is because Cliff always talks about the games being team efforts even though he’s the face of the team…

Oh, absolutely. I think Lee Perry is obviously a big influence. But he’s also getting out there now. We’re trying to make him more of a known voice. Because he was the one that brought Kill Switch to Cliff. But I think in terms of a truly unknown, to me, is Dave Nash. On Gears 1, he was the level designer. For Gears 2 he became the lead level designer managing all of the LDs for the campaign, and for Gears 3 as well.

He’s been part of our story team. He’s part of our design team and he basically controls how each of the campaign levels are being built and working with his team to do that. I think he’s had a huge influence on the campaign side and the story side.

I want to go off on a bit of a tangent. One of the things that you said before, was that so many popular multiplayer games now are like human vs. human. And you talk about how your more fantastical setup frees you to do some different things. But at the same time, I read an article this weekend by Mitch Krpata over at Joystick Division where he talked about how Gears 1 is the perfect 9/11 game. What does it mean to you when people assign meanings and interpretations to Gears like that?

I think it’s great. One of the things we started out with Gears of War was we said that we didn’t want to create just a game. At the time, it wasn’t as cliché to say it in the notion of transmedia products. But it was really that kind of thing.

We were trying to create a backdrop, if you will, for other stories. So we wanted to create a world that was big enough and characters that were rich enough and a story that was deep enough that we could have novels, and we could have comic books, and we could have action figures, and we could have other games.

So that was something that we really set out to do. And so we felt that if we had delivered Gears of War 1 and it came and went, and that was it, and even if it was somewhat successful, it felt like we hadn’t done our job. And so there’s a lot in the story in terms of depth and richness.

I think any good piece of work can be interpreted different ways, and I think that’s one of the nice things about keeping some of our stuff a little bit vague and allowing for interpretation so people can bring to it what they want to bring to it and assign it it’s own personal meaning rather than us trying to force something down people’s throat.

Some of it is on purpose, in terms of some of the things that are in there in the game. Some of the themes are subtle but on purpose, and some of them are not there at all, but people read into it. I think that’s great. Because like I said, I think it allows people to personalize it and make it their own.

MORE: Top Game Designers Say What They’d Put Into the Smithsonian

Evan Narcisse is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @EvNarc or on Facebook at Facebook/Evan.Narcisse. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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