Rod Fergusson on Gears Of War 3

How did implementing four-player campaign co-op shape the design of Gears 3?
Well, there’s a reason it took until Gear 3 to do it. There are so many challenges in trying to accommodate four players, especially the way that we do it. We didn’t want to do an army of clones; we wanted to do story-relevant characters. And so as soon as you say you’re going to do four-player co-op in the Gears world with story-relevant characters, it’s a real challenge just from the narrative side. Basically nobody goes through anything alone, they always have three witnesses. And beyond that, you have to think, ok, we’re going to have four people running around and they all want to take cover, and they all want to flank. It really causes you to have to open up the environment, and create room, and make sure all those things are available to that number of players. We’ve gone back to that Gears 1 approach to what we call ‘combat bowls’. Here’s a play space that’s big enough, and you can go explore it and do whatever you want to do because there’s room for you to do it. With four people, you can’t really restrict their movement too much.

Did it prompt you to tweak enemy characteristics as well?
Four-player co-op is part of the reason the Lambent came to be. When you have four guns and better human control, they all want to be effective and they all want to kill stuff. You have to take the enemies up a notch for them to be able to compete against four really good guns shooting. So the Lambent have their mutating arms that allow them to shoot over cover. The head mutates, the arms mutate, they’re able to shoot at three different players at the same time. These sorts of things we had to build into our design. It can’t be like, ‘ok, once we go to four-player co-op, we completely dominate the game’. I mean, generally speaking, it’ll be easier to do it in four-play co-op, but we’ve tried to build in a conflict or an enemy that keeps the challenge. We want to make sure the challenge stayed reasonable, that it felt like you were still accomplishing something. So yeah, four-player co-op affected level design, enemy design, story design, networking – all these sorts of things were all aspects we had to take into account.

How will the Arcade mode in the campaign work?
When we were playing four-player co-op, we thought, let’s build in an aspect of co-operative competitiveness. So we want to be able to do ‘let’s see who’s the best in this chapter, let’s keep score and work together to increase our multiplier’ and be a little more arcadey with it so people could go back. The campaign is so intensive from a development perspective. It’s the longest thing to make and people consume it relatively quickly. And so one of the things we want players to do is be able to replay the campaign and go back and experience it. So that’s one of the things we did with Arcade mode. It lets you go back and have that teamwork, or have that rich PvE experience but also with a slight flavouring of, ‘who of the four of us can beat this chapter with the highest score’ kind of thing. We’ve totally embraced that.

How much did the leak of the early development build of Gears 3 hurt you?
The leak was a pretty old build so it’s not truly representative of what the final game’s going to be. The one nice thing about a leak on Xbox is that it’s somewhat limited. A PC leak is much more devastating so basically everybody in the world could play it if they wanted to, whereas an Xbox leak requires certain modifications, which means at least the audience is smaller. And yeah, the videos can get out there. But at the end of the day, it’s people choosing to ruin their own experience, which I don’t completely get. I get people going, ‘oh no, I just watched this thing on YouTube and it’s totally given away something’. And I go, ‘well, why did you go looking and why did you watch it?’

So for us, it’s frustrating. It’s saddening when people have worked so hard and we’ve been building toward September 20 and then you have this stuff go out, especially going out in an early state. This was a build from before even the beta. It’s just sort of sad the way people will be seeing the game for the first time is not the way that we intended and not the best. So we’re extremely diligent about getting that stuff taken down and issued a call to the fans to not perpetuate it because it’s not helping anybody to perpetuate that. And just keeping track of those who do. I don’t think everybody’s always aware of the potential repercussions of those types of actions so it’s just a matter of being diligent.

For a certain player – especially for a diehard fan – even if it’s not the finished experience, it’s a tempting proposition because it gives them a peek behind the curtain into the development process that you don’t get when you have a team go into a black box for three years or so and then emerge with this amazing, polished experience. But you want to watch the making-of afterward. Nobody wants to watch ‘The Making of Avatar’ before they’ve watched the actual movie.

You underestimate the diehard fan.
[Laughs] No, that’s one thing I never do. I never underestimate the commitment of our fans. When I look at being a fan of certain things, I want to consume them in their best form first, and then understand how they were made. Otherwise it has the potential to lessen the experience, lessen the impact. If someone said, ‘ok, before I do this magic trick, let me show you how it works. So she’s not actually floating. There’s a cable here holding her up, and I’m going to move the ring around it this way. Ok, now let me do the magic trick and I want you to be astounded!' I love the fact that they’re hungry for information. I love that they’re eager and I want to keep them interested. But at the same time I don’t want that eagerness to hurt the experience for themselves.