Since hitting it big with his Xbox-exclusive seminal shooter, Gears of War front man Cliff Bleszinski has become well versed in the ways of tackling difficult questions from the press.
But unlike the well-trained PR monkeys of the games industry, the game designerformerly known as Cliffy Bis never afraid to say what he thinks and we certainly spent more than a few minutes clearing up the harsh swear words from this interview.
After the massive critical success of the first game, what was your initial battle plan to go about topping it?
Cliff: Erm... more cool shit. Seriously, the whole 'bigger, better, more badass' thing sounds like cheesy marketing bullshit, but it's true. When people play the game they'll see that it is bigger, it is better... I think we've got the best cover system in the business and it's only going to get better in the sequel.
And it's more badass with some of the executions and the story's deeper and darker. So we've taken everything and notched it up.
And obviously the new technical capabilities of Unreal Engine "3.5" must help...
Cliff:Oh, absolutely. Our engine team is always working and we want to have a better engine so that we can work with our partners and licensees and they can make better games. We've been getting great positive feedback from everything.
The first Gears was very important as a showcase for Unreal Engine 3. How important is the sequel for showing off the engine?
Cliff: It's very important for showing that Unreal Engine hasn't stopped evolving. The character lighting is vastly improved, the environment is chip-able and the trees get knocked down as physics objects. There's just so much more shit going on, it's five times bigger this time. I think it shows the engine's just gotten smoother.
We were really impressed by the amount of action and enemies on screen at once in the Gears 2 demo. How did you manage to squeeze so much more in?
Cliff: It's sheer hard work, a lot of practice, having artists that are smart with where they spend their polygons and just getting the most out of the 360. Because it's not as if the 360's getting any better, it is what it is; a fixed platform. The mountain needs to go to Mohammad in this instance.
One of the main new gameplay features we saw was the 'human shield' move, where Marcus grabs a Locust soldier for cover. How does that work?
Cliff: Basically when you knock over an enemy, either by shooting them in the knees or in multiplayer knocking them down, you can walk up to them and press A - then you grab them and you have a human shield. If the enemies keep shooting at you eventually the body will decay, but you can break the neck of the guy, throw him off to the side - do whatever you want with him.
How does that work in multiplayer?
Cliff: It's the same exact view that you saw. Basically once the guy is grabbed he goes back into the spawn queue, so he's effectively dead. But you're still carrying his body around. That's the way that will work.
You were talking earlier about the Achievement progress system you've got lined up for the sequel. Is that your way of cracking down on achievement whores?
Cliff: Well we love Achievements and we want people to go for them, but there's a certain kind of 'rat in a feeder pellet' gameplay mentality that happens when people break the game experience by doing one thing over and over again. That's not fun for everybody. We as designers are teachers, and we have to sometimes set the rules for the way that the game should be played.
Jumping to conclusions again, we couldn't help but notice that the entire demo had Marcus leading three AI teammates. 4-player co-op?
Cliff: We're not revealing what we're doing with co-op yet. But whatever we do will be bigger, better and more badass.
Microsoft has a new guy on board, Kudo Tsunoda to "manage the Gears brand". What does he actually do?
Cliff: He helps facilitate the core relationship between us and Microsoft. He's an advocate for us on the Microsoft side, without going native - of course he represents Microsoft's best interests. It seems like every few weeks he hits me up and he's like, 'what do you need from me? Is everything good? Are you happy?' And I'm like, 'erm, can I get some green M&Ms?' It pans out decently that way. He's just been a good advocate on the Microsoft side of the franchise.
So is that purely a branding thing, or does he have anything to do with actual game development?
Cliff: It's an efficiency thing. It's working with Microsoft as a partner. They're not some evil entity that we hate and don't like, right? We partner with Microsoft in every aspect. It sounds like I'm kissing their ass but they do a great job back and forth with the marketing, the box, the visual identity, what the game is... and we very much work with them to make the best entertainment experience. It's not just about a game these days, you have to launch a phenomenon.
Even more so with Gears 2, you've been pushed forward as the front man of the series. How does that feel?
Cliff: You've got to have a thick skin. If I had a nickel for every time I was called a fag on the internet, I could retire. It's just the way the fans are sometimes; you do a good job and they'll hold you up in a chair and carry you through the streets. You screw up once and they'll be the first to tar and feather you, and that's the risk I take when I stick my neck out there.
May 23, 2008