Rod Fergusson on Gears Of War 3
Having eclipsed a million pre-orders already – making it the fastest pre-ordered Xbox exclusive title in the console’s history – Gears Of War 3 promises to be one of the biggest releases of 2011. We caught up with Rod Fergusson, the series’ executive producer, to discuss the company’s ambitious plans for the trilogy’s send-off, why he thinks Gears has been unable to approach Call Of Duty’s sales numbers, and to what extent the leak of an early development build hurts Epic.
How vital was the decision to push the Gears Of War 3 release date from April to September?
Achieving the highest possible level of polish is one of the things we really pride ourselves on. It’s more about the quality of the experience than necessarily the quantity. We like to think of it like you would the parenting issue: when you have one kid, they get 100 per cent of your attention, then when you have two kids, there’s a natural split of your attention, and then when you have three kids, now they’re each getting a third. That’s kind of the way we look at it when we’re working on designing a game. We look at making sure that we have enough to be a compelling experience but at the same time, if we bloat it, we won’t be able to give it enough attention and won’t be able to ship the best experience we can. So it’s been nice to have the extra time and being able to do the beta and trying to take the quality level of every aspect of the game higher, just because we had more quality time with it.
Though quality remains the focus, Gears 3 hardly appears to be lacking in the quantity department. You’ve been ambitious about adding new content with the addition of Beast Mode and the embellishments to Horde 2.0.
Well, yes and no. When you’re building the third version and culmination of a series, you feel a bit of pressure to put everything you can into it. But at the same time when we got the extension, we really didn’t focus on all the new things we could add in. We just looked at that extension as allowing more time to polish the experience. Being able to do the beta meant we were going to have a smoother multiplayer. And being able to spend more time with the campaign – it’s the biggest campaign that we’ve ever made. So being able to have that extra time and go through it over and over again, and polish it up is really beneficial. But our ambition is really high. Normally when you’re working on the first one, you can say, ‘well we won’t do this part of it because we’ll move that to the second version’. But when you’re at the end of the trilogy, it’s a lot of pressure.
With a series finale, players expect every facet of the game to feel climactic.
And that’s really one of the reasons we further developed the Lambent as another army inside the game. We wanted to bring more diversity and variety to the combat so it wasn’t just Locust. But we didn’t want to completely abandon the Locust so they make a return – after all, they were the enemy the franchise was based on. With the Lambent, we simply wanted to have another army with different characteristics and different attacks. It turns out that something as simple as ‘we want to have another enemy’ ends up being a huge undertaking due to the fact that they mutate. It was a lot more challenging than we originally anticipated.
You’ve raised the complexity of Horde Mode in Gears 3, adding features such as currency and the option to build and upgrade fortifications. Do you risk leaving behind casual players as a result?
I don’t think so. It’s one of the things that we were really sensitive to when we were doing the design. We knew that there were people who were going to be familiar with it and people who weren’t. One of the things we tested early on was, if you didn’t use fortifications at all and you just chose to build that first command base, you can still play it like Gears 2 Horde – you can plant shields, plant grenades, and just hole up and try to defend. So with the fortifications, if you want to play at a higher level and take it to that next step, that’s there waiting for you. But for the player who’s just getting into it for the first time, it’s very much an opt-in situation, as opposed to being forced upon you.
That's really the message we’ve been trying to get across with Gears 3 in total. Even though it’s the third one, we feel like with the control changes we’ve done – like the auto-aim in Casual mode, creating a Casual area for multiplayer, the way we’ve changed tac-com in multiplayer to show you where the weapons spawn – these are the sorts of things we feel are accessibility features. This is the version to get in on. If you haven’t played Gears before, don’t be intimidated by its heritage or its legacy. Gears 3 is the right one to start with.