He's still mourning his wife…
Yeah, so for him it was going home. And so that's always been one of the prevailing themes. Look beyond the blood and the chainsaws and the architecture, the games have always had a theme of going home. As far as Marcus and his childhood home at East Barricade Academy, Anvil Gate is Sam's hometown, Maria's hometown is Mercy, Cole's homecoming to Hanover. Before his collision, Dom says, 'I'm coming home, baby;' death was a release for him.
The city of Azura in Gears 3 shares a lot of DNA with Rapture – isolated from the rest of civilization, suitcases littered about, opulence in ruins. Did you take direct inspiration from BioShock?
Absolutely, I'm a huge fan of Ken [Levine, Irrational creative director] and the franchise. People like to knock BioShock 2, but for what it was, it was a solid follow-up. Azura is essentially a middle-finger to everything that's been happening in the series. You have Cole, this former thrashball star who was this uber-celebrity and he's begging for food and they're risking their lives on that mission just for a crate of beans. Carmine wants his fucking bacon and from there on out you get to the end where they're like, 'Oh today's special is poached quail with some foie gras'. It's a metaphor, heavy-handed as it may be: the have-nots are dying out there, stranded and all the best and brightest are holed up just enjoying their quail. It's meant to build the ultimate realisation of that intact beauty.
One of the things that was actually cut from the game was I wanted to have Chihuly glass sculptures around there. I'm not a big fan of Las Vegas; I think the entire town is built on a lie and the whole place offends me. If you're a guy and want to lose your soul you go there on a one-way trip. I'm not a big gambler. I walk into casinos and I'm too logical, I'm like, 'Who's paying for this?' Those sculptures in the ceiling are $5,000 a pop – somebody's paying for them. It's those people who love the random-number generators to hit the dopamine release in their brain.
I wanted to have those sculptures in there, people paying thousands of dollars for this glass sculpture that looks like a bunch of sperm converging on an egg. So if you shot it next to a Locust, he would cringe as a gameplay mechanic. But we just couldn't get it looking right and there were possibly legal issues. After playing three games of completely destroyed beauty and these completely downtrodden people you get to see this beautiful giant metaphor in front of you. That was the goal: intact beauty.
You have two fairly discrete job functions: the making of games and the selling of games. Coming from a development background, how long did it take you to get your head around the promotional side of this business?
I've been doing it forever but to actually learn how to say the right thing – I mean, I've worked with journalists and given interviews where it's legit and straight-up, but I've also had a lot of things taken out of context. I've had entire quotes made up and attributed to me. Thankfully to the feedback of the instant Twitter-verse we can correct that when an article hits before it propagates and becomes, 'Cliff says that Gears would be a trilogy" when Jeff Bell [former Microsoft marketing chief] actually said that.
That said, I've never had any formal media training. I'm a bit of an attention whore who enjoys doing it, quite frankly. It's also insurance, by the way – I said this is in my GDC talk. If Tim Sweeney wakes up tomorrow and decides he doesn't like me anymore, I can probably go to a lot of other places and hopefully get a gig because a lot of people seem to know who I am – which is a good problem to have.
Film has this longstanding tradition of the auteur director. Do you consider yourself one? Do you give any thought to what your creative signature is?
I would never consider myself an auteur because the process is too collaborative. A lot of what's in there is personal, a lot of what's in there are things that we were like, 'We have to start on a boat because that'll be cool'. Every game starts with me off writing a two-pager that the leads then tear to shreds. Originally the game started off with the Locust having evolved into a water species since you'd flooded the hollow and they were jumping up onto the boat and [designer] Dave Nash came up to Rod and I saying, 'Really, the Locust are back again? Can we just give it a few hours where you don't fight the damn Locust, please?"
We knew we were going to have the Lambent the whole time but leading with them was something that made a lot of sense – you miss the Locust for a while and become happy to have an enemy that doesn't explode in your face. I'm just a guy who likes to make fun, cool stuff. I might not always work on the most deep projects but I can guarantee you moment-to-moment it's going to be fun and the pacing's going to be excellent.