Gears of War 3 Design Director talks the future of gaming
Gears of War 3 is almost upon us. Gamers are waiting with baited breath, eyes glowing red, in preparation for smashing each other to pieces on Xbox Live in what has to be one of the most angry games ever to grace consoles.
Pocket-lint has been playing through Horde mode, splattering the Lambent with bullets and generally smashing the Locust to pieces for days now, struggling to tear our eyes away from the screen. Thankfully we did have one major excuse for a brief respite from the action: to go and interview Gears of War 3's Design Director Cliff Bleszinski.
So the Lint crew grabbed pen and paper and headed down to a central London location, armed to the teeth with questions for Bleszinski on the new game and where the famous franchise is headed. We were led to a room adorned in game memorabilia at the end of which sat a nondescript looking Cliff, with a trolley's-worth of tepid cups of tea to the right of him.
"So, if this is as far as you can take the series ... what’s next?" we begin.
"We’re not really announcing any future product right now," comes Cliff's answer, understandibly guarded.
What he will tell us though is about the DLC for the yet-to-be-released Gears of War 3.
"It wont be is just multiplayer maps, there will be new things unlocked in Horde. There's going to be characters as well as a new campaign. It wont be as long as GoW3 but it will be fun in its own right and it won't have Marcus or Dom but new characters as well as some old faces returning."
We don't want to list any plot spoilers here but the idea of some "old faces" suggests to us we might see something similar to the Metal Gear series following MGS4. Perhaps even a new game set in the same universe but with different characters? Who knows - Bleszinski certainly wasn't going to tell us.
When you do eventually get round to firing up Gears of War 3 for yourself, the first thing you will likely notice is just how good it looks. The Unreal Engine the game runs on is a fair few years old now. Of course, it has had plenty of upgrades and support throughout its lifespan, but this is piece of software that impresses despite its age.
Bleszinski is one of the founding fathers of the Unreal Engine, known for his involvement with gaming classic Unreal Tournament, and of course Gears of War. (He was also, on a more retro note, involved heavily with Jazz Jackrabbit.) This is a man who knows his graphics and we wanted to quiz him about it.
"We have to maintain our visual leadership as an engine provider, plain and simple," he explains on their latest work with Gears, "but the new lighting is the biggest thing."
"We have allowed a little bit more colour-to-colour to bleed into it. The joke was 'Greys of War' which always bothered me because it felt like going up to Zach Snyder and saying you made 300 in sepia tone, you're an idiot."
Bleszinski is right, the older Gears games were a seriously drab affair. Sure, they weren’t for everybody, but the decision to go grey definitely helped add to the morbid atmosphere imbued in them. The splurge of colour in the new game is definitely welcome, it helps contrast the fate of a lot of the characters (which we won’t spoil here).
Despite all the graphical trickery in Gears of War 3, there surely has to be a point where the Xbox 360 hardware simply can’t handle anymore. We know most gamers are after something new from Microsoft, but are developers?
"We’ll see. I definitely think that graphics aren’t good enough yet. I want Avatar in real time, I want photo realistic Transformers in 3D on the next generation of whatever consoles might wind up being.
"But, that said, we don’t know where the console generation is gonna go. It might go on a little longer. I think we still could squeeze a bit of water from that stone but it eventually becomes not about the hardware limitations but how tricky your coders can be to get round them."
It sounds like Epic games is definitely not writing off the 360 yet then.
Gears of War was well known for spearheading the HD on consoles movement and the new Gears of War 3 features the Xbox 360's take on 3D, so where could the series break ground next?
"In terms of consoles? Squeezing more out? I think connectivity is going to be huge. I think about a game I can play on that [points to TV]. That then plays on this [points to iPad]. That I can play on my phone."
For a minute he looks like he's going to explode. We've awoken a creature of Bleszinski's excitement.
"The crude example I've been using is playing a game where I'm stabbing people with a sword or a spear and then I can forge it on a controller and then sharpen it on my iPhone. Some simple thing like that but kind of really tying it into the games being connected.
"Asynchronous gaming, social all of that, we are in so much of a social space and applying that to triple A, I think, is going to be huge."
"It sounds a bit Wii U-ish", we say in response.
"Ish - yeah, yeah! I think Nintendo is going an interesting direction with multiscreens because it's not enough right now to look at the screen right there. People want to look at multiple screens. Play Gears online and, if I end up with a 10 second respawn queue, I'm checking my Twitter feed right?"
So, does that mean that Bleszinski would consider jumping over to Nintendo or even Microsoft to give them some advice?
"If I was a console manufacturer right now, I would try and push my own version of whatever that screen is, which is what they're doing with the Wii U. But I also would make it available as an app on iOS for example.
"You go back to Apple and iTunes and Apple was smart about it. They didn’t say iTunes was only going to be available on Mac. They said, 'Lets put iTunes on PC' and wadya know. For example, with Xbox, I would kill for some sort of Xbox Live application for iOS. It would just be great."
The last thing we really wanted to quiz Bleszinski about was a statement we heard him make about gaming's future in general. For a producer of a game as hectic and action-packed as Gears of War 3 we couldn't quite understand why its design director had pointed to RPGs as the future.
"I think Mass Effect 3 agrees with me, or me and the comment. And you know Fallout is a first person shooter but with very, well it's an RPG, right? So, I mean, what is the best way you can add depth and a kind of longevity to your game? You can go to the genre that was one of the deepest for a while and see what sort of RPG layers you can put into your title.
"It's going to be increasingly difficult to pigeonhole genres; something being a pure shooter, a pure RPG or pure adventure game. Those elements tend to blur as we move forward. It's like chefs who combine types of food in unthought of ways. I look forward to it."