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Interview

Gears of War 3 Interview w/ Rod Fergusson

Following on from our hands-on look at the upcoming Gears of War 3 beta, we chat with the series’ Executive Producer, Rod Fergusson, about the future of triple-A games development, whether or not there’ll be another Gears after the third installment and what we can expect from the upcoming beta.
IncGamers: What exactly does the role of Executive Producer involve?
Rod Fergusson: It’s a little bit of everything; from worrying about where we are in terms of the production of [the game], working with the producers, working with the team leads. Outside of building the game there’s the franchise side of it – what’s going on with the novel, the comic books, the action figures. Generally just overseeing the whole thing.
IG: So you keep everyone in check?
RF: That sounds a little–, I don’t know if I keep everyone in check, I just try to make sure everything is moving forward and everybody is getting everything that they need.
IG: There’s been a lot of talk recently about the uncertain future of triple-A game development in the face of an ever growing, ever more influential, ever more profitable social/mobile gaming scene. I wonder what you make of that and where Gears of War fits into it?
RF: I think there’ll always be a place for [triple-A games], people want blockbuster entertainment. Just because a new medium starts, doesn’t mean the other mediums go away. People said that movies marked the end of stage production and that DVD’s were the end of [cinema] but these businesses are still flourishing.
I think there’s always going to be enough people that want this high polished, very big experience that’s very immersive but, I also want to play Words With Friends on my iPad. Everything has its role and its place and they’re just finding their own markets. I think what’s happening is, rather than one eating away at the other, the pie is just growing and we’re getting more and more gamers all the time.
IG: What do you think it is that makes Gears so popular?
RF: I think it’s a mixture of stuff – there’s the visceral-ness of the combat, getting to chainsaw monsters… the first time you play Gears of War and you ‘Roadie Run’ with your head down and you slam into a car really hard and there’s dust flying up and you don’t know where the next attack is going to come from –. It’s very ‘sweaty palm’ kind of gameplay.
Also, we try to make everything we do very character driven. It’s not just a faceless hero. We have memorable characters and memorable one-liners and I think people attach to that. When I do poster signings at shows the diversity of the fans is crazy, you get pregnant women coming in for their poster. Even though people make fun of it for being a thick-necked, testosterone kinda game, the fan base is really diverse.
IG: There are quite a few elements from Gears that have been taken and used in other games, is it difficult to continue to differentiate yourself from the crowd?
RF: I don’t know if it’s difficult, I think what’s difficult is trying to figure out what the effective ideas are. When we scope out our games we look at what are going to be the big pillars, what are the design goals, and then making sure our ideas fit within that.
We also look at leveraging what makes Gears unique and I think ‘Beast’ mode is a great example of that. We’re not human-on-human, we have a monster side to our enemies and so having a mode where you can play as the monsters is a way of really differentiating ourselves because a lot of the modern shooters can’t do that.
It’s about taking what’s unique and then magnifying that.
IG: Do you guys still have that same passion for Gears that you had when you first started developing the franchise?
RF: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been doing Gears games now for six years and I love it. I love Gears. It’s amazing to be able to tell a story, one of the things you don’t want to do is have a never-ending story where you don’t actually get to have closure or a conclusion. That’s what’s been really great about this experience, it’s been nice to be able to say that we’re telling Marcus’ story and that it has a beginning, a middle and an end.
When you’ve finished [Gears 3] you’ll feel satisfied that you were actually part of a story, as opposed to [being subjected to] another cliff-hanger ending. It’s been nice to tell a whole story.
IG: Is this really the last Gears?
RF: Well, it’s the last of this story. The thing is, we’re not blowing up the planet, the world of Sera lives on. We wanted to create an intellectual property that had lots of stories within it so that we could do comic books and novels and stuff. 
Who’s to say [if there’ll be another game], it’s all based on the fans and stuff like that but this is the last of this particular story.
IG: A lot of the refinements in the multiplayer (the new overhead map, the improved tact-comm system, the ability to highlight enemies for your team-mates) seem to be focused on improving the information systems available to players. Is that fair to say?
RF: Yeah. Our focus for multiplayer has always been about accessibility and how we get more people in and then keep them in. We’re trying to give them more information and make things a lot more streamlined and easier to understand.
If you don’t know what you’re getting into and the first thing that happens to you is you come into a [game] and the hardcore audience shotguns you in the face, that’s not a place that you want to stay. We’re trying to give people lots of information, whether it’s more information during matchmaking or more information about what the weapons are or where your team-mates are on the map. We’re trying to empower the player and provide a place for them in which they feel they can grow and feel comfortable.
IG: The map ‘Thrashball’ features a suspended scoreboard that can be shot down and used to crush anyone foolhardy to stand beneath it, are there such examples of environmental interactivity across the other maps?
RF: One of the things we try to do is have a hook for each map, so people can remember it. Having unique things – being able to pull the fire alarm in Checkout, the sandstorm in Trenches and the scoreboard in Thrashball–. Probably the biggest right now is in Overpass; over the course of the match it will look like the map is sinking into the ground – water-pipes will break and the water will flow all over the street. We’ve certainly tried to add a lot more dynamic elements to the maps in Gears 3, for sure.
IG: Is the upcoming beta a direct response to the launch issues suffered by the Gears 2 multiplayer?
RF: Absolutely, we’re trying to make sure that we don’t have that same issue on launch day. We weren’t going to have time for it when we were aiming for an April release, but now with our September release we’re able to test it on dedicated servers and, I’m hoping, we’ll get a million people to play (in the beta) so we’ll have the same sense of scale we had coming out of Gears 2.
IG: Just how close is the game to completion? Presumably you were working under the impression that you’d be shipping in April…
RF: It’s very close. Where we’ve put all of our attention is the polish. We’ve been close to being done for a while but we’ve been continuing to push ourselves to tighten it up even more and make it more refined. Even the beta is at a very high level of polish, it’s feel almost shippable in some respects, so it’s definitely close [to being done] but we’re continuing to refine it and refine it and refine it.
IG: Which character do you like to play as in multiplayer?
RF: It depends on the day, that’s a thing I like about our game is that our characters are all different – they have different combat chatter and that sort of thing – so, some days I want to play as Dizzy and some days I want to play as Cole or Anya. I like to mix it up.
I don’t have an “I always play as Dom” or something, I like them all.
IG: The weapons in Gears have always been very specialised, do you design each weapon to fill a specific role or excel at a certain task?
RF: Well, the Lancer is kind of like the medium of them all; it’s very utilitarian. Gears 1 was about how we balance the Hammerburst and the Lancer and try to make them equal. Our goal was to make you feel as though you could be equally successful with either one.
With Gears 3 we didn’t want to get caught up with making them all the same, instead we focused on making them all different and giving them a specific purpose. We looked across the chart [of weapons] and asked how we could apply that from a power and range perspective and we feel like we’ve been successful. The fact that you can swap weapons when you die allows you to change strategy on the fly and pick a different setup. It’s been really focused on ‘this-has-this-role-and-this-has-this-role’. So yeah, absolutely, each has their own specific purpose.
Check out further Gears of War 3 coverage below.

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