E3 2010: Gears of War 3 Interview - Cliff Bleszinski, Design Director (Part 2)
Written Friday, July 02, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Part 1 of the Gears of War 3 interview with Cliff Bleszinski was a blast, right? Well, you know what they say about part 2? That's it's twice as better and all that? Or in the words of Cliff himself, "Funnier, runnier and more punnier!" Okay, I made that up, but they do say that 2 follows 1... shocking, I know!
I will be honest though, part 2 is just as entertaining as part 1 as this time we turn our attention to Kinect, Nintendo having an affair with everyone's mom, various Bulletstorm plugs (speaking of plugs, have you read our hands-on yet? See what I did there?) and whether they ever considered a Left 4 Dead style Versus mode for Gears of War 3. Of couse there is more than that, there always is!
When you started the first Gears of War, was it always your intention to make a trilogy?
CB: God bless them, someone at Microsoft made a comment about that, which continues to get attributed to me. You will never piss off gamers more than debuting a new IP - if I came out and was like, “Well here we are at the EA press conference and we have a game called Bulletstorm and it's the epic start of a trilogy,” everybody would be like, “Fuck you!” Let's wait and see how well this first game does before we get all excited about that, because gamers are defensive and they have a right to be. That said, we make the first game and we're like, “Well, if this goes well we might be able to make a trilogy. We'll see!” Then we do a sequel and, yes, okay we can do a third one, but we never want to make that assumption because gamers will just get mad at you and not buy your games.
Is it hard to do a story for that though? If you're only planning for one game, and it eventually turns into a trilogy, you have to have an overall story for it.
CB: You deliberately seed a game. In Gears 1 we had Imulsion and we had those little dark wretches and we were like, okay we'll put that in. If we can do a sequel we have a lot of ideas where that could go. I'm sure the guys at Lost were a master of this. They were like, right, throw all these story elements in and we have an idea about what to give you but we're not even sure if we're going to have a new season!
So, ultimately what started as kind of an offshoot, a mutation of Imulsion, is turning into the full fledged lambent enemy in Gears 3. It's one of those things we seeded. We were like, okay, plant that seed, if we have time it'll actually grow and then it can turn out to be something big. It's kind of ironic that I said grow considering it's a thing that mutates and turns bigger. But yeah, you plan and you hope and you seed and you adjust where necessary.
The original Gears of War you say defined its genre and set the tone for the Xbox 360 pushing the technology. Now that Xbox 360 has Kinect, are you looking to or considering bringing Kinect functionality to Gears of War 3?
CB: I have to be careful with my verbiage here because there's an example I always want to use but if I use it I'll get in trouble. You have to be careful with those kinds of controls because if we're in a situation where Microsoft's like, “We have this new stuff! You should stick it in your game!” We're just like, “All right... look I chainsaw you now, right?” Gamers can smell that a million miles away, and it wouldn't sell and it feels tacked on, as opposed to something made from the ground up.
So you won't see Kinect support in Gears 3 any time soon, but that said the technology intrigues me. I'm much more of a fan of motion controls that have no controller than any that don't. My coffee table currently looks like a Mad Catz graveyard, and I would like to have less controllers right now. But the thing that excites me most of all is something that's a hybrid. I think the best Wii games are the ones that use the Nunchuk and some very cool waggle controls, like the upcoming Zelda or Mario Galaxy 1 and 2. Those are the ones I want to see and I think you're going to see more hardcore developers building games that adopt a good hybrid approach to do it intelligently as opposed to, “Yeah, okay, fine, we have it. Look, look! That works!”
I think that's what people are expecting. Like interactive menus with voice-commands and things like that, so you won't do that kind of thing with Gears?
CB: You could easily do a game where... okay, here's a free one. It's a hack and slash Bethesda-type game and you're playing as a guy who has a sword and all these abilities but you have magic spells - kind of like an old Peter Molyneux game where you drew out your spells. You pace the game properly and then you're like, “Oh okay, I'm going to draw a pentagram and that summons a demon.” And then you go back and who knows? Maybe the next generation of consoles will have that built in and this (the 360 controller) will have less buttons and then you supplement it with voice also, right? Then you command your troops, so maybe you're a guy with a sword and he has magic abilities and you tell your guys, “Go forth and destroy my enemies and drive them before me and hear the lamentations of their women!” and they do. It's just a matter of finding the right creative solutions, right?
Gears has always been a graphically stunning game. And now Gears 3 is coming out on a five-year-old console, which is unprecedented in terms of life cycle. Has it been a challenge to push the graphical quality significantly ahead of what we had in Gears 2?
CB: It's a puzzle. We actually went back - it was a funny thing, a side anecdote - I haven't told anybody all this yet this week and I'm not lying. Our chief engine architect right now Dan Vogel fired up one of the old Gears 1 test level and put it in the Gears 3 code base, and it ran at 500 frames per second. We're at 30 frames per second – don't get any crazy ideas about that! But the point of that was we'd optimised everything from the way the VSP was running to the static meshes to the lighting to the skeletal meshes that you're basically squeezing water from a stone and solving this puzzle box on a console.
It's just like the Super Nintendo or the Genesis. When the first games came out, it was like “Wow, these look great,” and then the code's sloppy here, or maybe something's not done intelligently there, and you figure out how to tighten every last little bit and tune it just like a car, so you get great performance. So now we have good global illumination. We have free vertex deformation so you have blowing banners and trees that are waving and god beams that if the programmer puts in it made them super cheap so you can put them in all these scenes - and those are in Bulletstorm. Bulletstorm has two suns, by the way, which means twice the fucking god beams, which is day one purchase right there. So yeah, you figure out how to work smarter, not harder, right?
If the current generation of consoles have a ten year life cycle, will the continual process of graphical enhancement continue over the next four years on Xbox 360 or is there going to be a cut off point soon?
CB: I don't know how long you've been playing with PCs or in the business, but are you familiar with the Finnish Demoscene?
Not particularly, no.
CB: Back in the day those guys would take, like, within 20k and a software render and they would do things that the 3DFX cards couldn't even do. It wasn't necessarily a practical application, but it's just a matter of finding the right code magic and the right tricks. If you do what seems like a full gaussian blur on your screen but it's just some sort of trick and people believe it's a gaussian blur then you did it. So it's that sleight of hand and convincing somebody you did something, like David Blaine levitating on a silly TV show - people believe it happens and maybe it didn't but that's what you do and people buy it.
Could you talk a little bit about Beast mode?
CB: Of course. Beast mode is our class-based monster mode and you get to play as all the different Locust creatures you've been fighting for two and now the third game. All the way from the suicide bomber Ticker to the shield Boomer with his shield and explosive flail, all the way through to the Berserker, who has very bad eyesight but has a very nice 'Hulk Smash' as well as the ability to just crash through all the coalition's fortifications, like, “Screw your couch! I'm going to knock your sandcastle over!” which is very, very empowering.
It's really amazing when you spawn and you see you as this giant Berserker and you as a little Ticker and you as the Serapede, which is this electric centipede that shocks and eats people, all going out to nail the humans who are running and screaming like, “Oh they're everywhere!” You really feel like you're bearing down on them. It's up to five players. It's got a little bit of that Horde lineage on it, but it really feels unique because it's so class-based. The Kantus resurrects guys and everybody has a role, so it appeals to different people. Some people like to be medics, some like to be gunners, some like to be defencemen.
After you made Horde everybody started doing their own version of Horde. Do you think Beast will provoke that same kind of knock-on effect?
CB: Maybe. Who knows? Maybe the next Halo will have a mode where you're just all Covenant or something like that. That could be cool. Yeah, they get to finally kill Master Chief over and over again. But Gears is one of those games that everyone liked to knock when it came out. Like this isn't innovative! And suddenly story-based co-op and roadie runs and cover are everywhere. And every game has Y to look at stuff now and you're like, “Okay, that's cool. I'll take that.” Then I was getting Google alerts for Gears and it's like, “Oh this game has a Gears of War-like Horde mode.” Maybe they'll have Beast but that's the beauty of Beast, it's the fact that it's all monsters and not every game has monsters, which keeps it unique to Gears.
Were you ever tempted to do something Left 4 Dead-style now that you can control the Locust?
CB: We're not doing Versus with that, no. It's one of those things that, you know, we looked at the development schedule and everything and we were like, look... You look at what we have to ship with this game, from a campaign that's amazing with four-player co-op that you can replay with “Arcade” mode and the mutators we're putting in. We're not talking about it, but we're going to have a Versus mode that's great and solid and all these modes. And then we have a Horde mode which we're unveiling later, and Beast mode. At some point it's too much. Maybe down the line we'll get around to doing a Versus like that, but we have to be very, very careful with super asymmetrical modes like that. Personally I wasn't too big on playing as the zombies in Left 4 Dead. I just want to shoot zombies when I play that game.
In terms of Gears features that have been appropriated by other developers, has anyone stolen Active Reload yet?
CB: I haven't seen it yet.
It seems like an idea that everyone should take and no-one has.
CB: I know, man. It's weird and I'd like somebody to, but I haven't seen it anywhere, and I'm like, okay... It's one that's so Gears that you can't deny it. Like the roadie run, maybe. Cover existed before Gears. Co-op did, but with the Active Reload, you guys as journalists would be like, “Come on! Really?”
That would be a blatant rip-off.
CB: Yeah. There's inspired-by and then there's just straight up George-Lucas-got-to-sue-somebody type stuff.
I assume you've been keeping an eye on the conferences this year.
CB: As much as I can from this tiny, cold room.
What stood out for you? What game that's been announced are you really interested in and has had you thinking that you'd really like to see more of it?
CB: You know, I could beat the Microsoft drum all the time, but I'll mention Deus Ex. I'm a big fan of that. I think that's a genre that's wide open, but I think Nintendo's back. Nintendo strayed. Nintendo had an affair with everybody's mom, and now they've come back to the marriage of the Mario and the Kirby and the GoldenEye fans and for me that's good to see, because I dusted off my Wii for Mario Galaxy 2 and I'm hoping to keep the dust off.