Epic Games sold over 3 million copies of Gears of War 3 in its first week at retail, bringing the franchise total to over 16 million copies sold worldwide. The final game in the initial Gears trilogy garnered a 9.0 from IGN and positive fan reaction. Rod Fergusson, director of production at Epic Games, looks back at the conclusion of the Gears trilogy in this exclusive interview.
What were your goals heading into Gears of War 3?
One of our big goals was really to try to provide a culmination of the series and to provide a climax and a real closure to the story. We knew that this was the last of the trilogy, and a lot of effort went into that idea of, “This is going to be the biggest and best of the entire series.” We also wanted to bring back some of that feel of Gears 1 into the campaign, making it a little less linear, while adding more diversity in the choice of what weapons are available to play with.
What about the multiplayer gameplay?
We wanted to put a lot more effort into the multiplayer side. It’s very clear that when Gears 1 shipped, we were very much a story game that had some competitive multiplayer to it. We stumbled a little bit out of the gate on Gears 2 because of our matchmaking. With Gears 3, we really wanted to try to bring back a lot more focus and effort on the multiplayer side. We did that with dedicated servers, optimized game modes, creating a Casual mode for new players to go play in, and bringing Team Death Match with respawning to make it a lot more accessible to players. We definitely wanted to own co-op with four-player, and introduce Beast bode and push Horde forward.
How do you feel the final product lives up to those goals as you look back?
We feel really good. I think everybody pretty much agrees that it’s the best Gears game we’ve ever made. I think the Metacritic is slightly lower, but that’s just when you go back six years, the number of sites, the types of people, and the industry’s changing. You can’t really use the Metacritic score to reflect that. I think you’d be pretty hard-pressed to look at Gears 3 and not see it as the best of the series.
Was there anything you’d change if you had extra development time?
Generally speaking, anytime that we get additional time, we always find it’s best to focus on polish. It’s about the little things; that last 10 percent. Would one feature make the game so much better that now Metacritic is 98? Probably not, but it’s about that polish level, taking whatever time you have, and just make the experience that you have stronger.
How do you feel the multiplayer push has been received?
I feel like we delivered on the co-op really well. Horde is really popular. Beast has been successful. Having that four-player co-op campaign has been awesome. I know I’ve definitely taken advantage of it. The focus on multiplayer has been great. We’ve been really happy with how the dedicated servers have played out, how our matchmaking has played out, and the fact that we’re doing an event every weekend now. We’ve tailored a playlist called the Alpha playlist to allow for hardcore players to play the way that they’ve talked about playing on the forums. It’s great to have that kind of in-depth community reaction to multiplayer and being able to respond to it has been great.
How has fan feedback since Gears 3 launched influenced your team with Gears?
Probably the biggest piece of feedback is the double-barreled shotgun, or what we call the sawed-off shotgun. It’s probably the most controversial weapon now in our arsenal because it allowed people who had less skill than the veteran players to have that successful shotgun kill. It caused people to react to that. We’ve definitely been playing with how we can tweak the sawed-off shotgun. That’s one of the things we did with the Alpha playlist. We made it a pick-up in the map instead of being a starting weapon, so it turned it much more into a power weapon. That’s had really positive response. The Alpha playlist has done really well.
What have you been working on with Gears post-launch?
That’s been a lot of stuff we’ve been doing. We’ve been tweaking some weapon placements on maps. For a little while, we took the one shot off of a couple of maps, including Trenches. We worked on it a little bit internally here, and then we re-released it. We switched around which weapons spawned in Overpass and things like that. We’ve definitely been looking at how players are playing the game, because we have all that data. We’ve been upgrading, balancing, and tweaking the different weapons as we go.
How is fan feedback impacting DLC and the game moving forward?
As we look at DLC, there is some stuff like [the Horde Command Pack] that we had done before we shipped because we had planned for it before that extension. For things like [RAAM’s Shadow] and on, it’s definitely stuff we’re taking into account. It’s one of the things that we actually look at. We have two systems; we have the ability to change a lot of variables on a server that get passed down to you when you connect, but once we find changes that we really like, we can actually add those to a title update so that we get to push down permanently. Even if you were playing offline, you’d still get the benefits of those changes.
Unreal Engine 3 is always being updated. How will that impact DLC moving forward?
You have to be careful with that, because the amount of things you can actually change in a title update, generally you try to stay around the 4MB limit as part of being on Xbox LIVE. With DLC, we definitely brought a bunch of things back and applied some new things like bringing back emergence holes and the Krill. Those are full-on systems that just didn’t exist in the engine anymore by the time we got to Gears 3, so we brought those systems, optimized them, and made them better. There hasn’t been anything that we completely changed. You can’t fundamentally change how we render stuff, but we definitely made tweaks as we went along.
How do you work with the Unreal Engine 3 team on new features for game content?
For the most part, the engine team doesn’t really build stuff that we don’t have a way of using. They don’t want to create features that we’re not supporting internally, because they want to be able to see if there’s something wrong with that feature, they want us to know right away, and they want us to be testing it. All the features in the engine are generally what we use in our games. It’s a back and forth. Part of the engine team is keeping state of the art and they show us new technology that we can take advantage of. And then from our side we’re always bringing things to them where we’re trying to push the game in a new direction and ask if that’s something they can support. That’s how the new lighting system that we introduced in Gears 3 came about, which was a huge improvement over the single directional lighting in Gears 2.
Gears of War 3 was the first in the franchise to support stereo 3D gameplay. What are your thoughts on 3D gaming?
I think it’s interesting. I think it’s an emerging market. I’m part of that marketplace in the movie world that goes and sees the 3D IMAX version of a movie if I have a choice. I feel like it heightens the experience. When I saw Avatar in 3D, that was one of the great realizations of that. I think it’s still coming into its own on the game side. I know playing it with Gears, that sense of depth in the word and being able to actually really feel like you’re shooting into the world, is really compelling. I’d be interested to see whether that continues. When I talk to my friends, there are definitely people out there who have that backlash, who purposefully avoid the 3D version of a film or feel like it’s a trick or novelty and just another fad and will go away pretty quickly.