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Q: You’re a celebrity game developer! What’s that like?
A: Fun! It’s the best kind of fame in the world, man. It’s like I get recognised once or twice a week tops – I can go do whatever and not have to worry about being photographed staggering drunkenly out of a bar. At the same time, when I go to a game or comic convention it’s like non-stop. It’s the best of both worlds, if you ask me. I just love being an ambassador for the industry.
Q: Do you find that because Gears is the flagship game for the Unreal Engine, you’re almost under obligation to push it to the limit?
A: Absolutely, and we want our licensees to make games that are as impressive technically as Gears too. Each game is an emissary, an evangelist for the latest version of what the tech can do.
Q: What would you say to critics who reckon all Unreal Engine games look the same?
A: The perception exists because Gears established a certain visual style that lots of people gravitated towards. Take Borderlands. While it’s a variant on Gears’ post-apocalyptic setting, it’s got that cel-shaded look, skinny characters and bright colours. Lots of people might not assume that it’s an Unreal Engine game. BioShock, Lost Odyssey, Mass Effect – they all look nothing like Gears, but people still get hung up on that!
Q: Do you think you’re now forever linked with Gears? Are you getting bored of Marcus?
A: Not at all. Plus I might be working on things you might not hear about for years. I’m the kind of person who absolutely needs to have multiple piles of projects to work on. Gears happens to be the big pile at the moment, but I assure you that Bulletstorm is building up to a larger pile and there are other projects as well – multiple irons in the fire. It just happens that Gears is the one presently in need of some hammering.
Q: Modern Warfare runs at 60 frames per second. Is that an aim for you?
A: We’ve always been about pushing the visual bar with Gears, and there’s a trade-off you need to make to go to 60fps. That’s not the Epic way. In our universe every doorknob is highly detailed! If we were to go back and redo the original Gears, using the current Unreal Engine, we’d just make it more unbelievable looking. It’s not ‘how do we make it faster?’ It’s ’how do we make it sexier?’
Q: Epic is a hugely successful studio, will you ever get careless?
A: You always try to be better. We look at certain games and say ‘wow, we wish we could do that’. Games are very subjective; some people think we have just the right amount of story, others think the story is terrible. You have to deal with balance and feedback. Gears 1 was nothing but risk. When I came to it as a producer I was like: ‘we have a team that hasn’t done a single-player, story-driven game since Unreal. And it’s a brand new platform.’ Risk on top of risk, on top of risk.
Q: But you did ride on a wave of hype with that Unreal Engine tech...
A: Right, it helped us a lot. We certainly hung our hat on the visuals at that time. Even if people didn’t necessarily like the game, they might buy it to go show their girlfriends or wives: ‘this 360 I just bought –and this HDTV – is all worthwhile because look how fricking cool this looks!’ We needed to set the visuals bar high, at least in our first iteration.
Q: Do you think the West is obsessed with graphics, compared to – say – Japanese gamers?
A: I don’t know. I’m not a hardcore Japanese gamer. I don’t import stuff, but when I look at Eastern games like Final Fantasy XIII, what I love and admire is their sheer beauty. I tend to look at their aesthetic beauty, their sheer art more than I do with Western games. I see Western games as practical, and Eastern games as beautiful.
Q: Games like Gears of War, Modern Warfare and Halo are very popular with real-life troops...
A: When Gears of War 2 came out, my friend was serving in Kabul. He wrote that all he could hear, up and down the corridor, were soldiers swearing, alongside the sounds of Lancer fire. It was weird, because they were in a real war; there was combat going on outside!
Q: Do the COGs in Gears closely mirror proper solders?
A: Hopefully. People occasionally say to me: ‘Why are you working on Gears?’ and I’ll respond: ‘This is a band of brothers who will die for each other.’ You can forget politics – they really don’t care about the COG. They’re looking after their mates, and that’s the universal feeling – this incredible combat bond.
Q: How different is writing a Gears’ script to a normal novel?
A: You have to realise that you can’t control the pacing, can’t control what the player sees and hears. And what you’re doing is not TV, but steering someone through a game, punctuated by drama that will keep them interested. Also, because most gamers play through Gears in several sittings we need to repeat things. Not just to remind them about current objectives, but also: ‘this is what happened in the first and second game’. It’s a challenge!
May 21, 2010