How do you manage that? Is there someone who's in charge of managing the development of the universe at Epic? Or is this a collaborative thing because there are other media that are not even videogames?
RF: It's a collaborative effort. I mean, for the most part, I'm kind of the continuity guy; I'm the one reviewing the book, and reviewing different aspects to make sure it makes sense in our universe; and we have a story team on the game, with Cliff and myself, and Dave Nash, and Josh, to make sure that it works within the game.
And the thing that's really nice is that we can keep ourselves -- like, one of the things that we really wanted to have when we designed the universe for Gears of War was that we wanted to keep all of our options open to us.
We didn't artificially or arbitrarily close doors on ourselves, because we knew that as things required more of us, or more ways of telling the story, that we would have to delve into things that maybe we needed to change.
And that's been one of the really nice things. From working with movie script writers, to working with the author, to working with Josh on his comic book, these are all avenues for us to explore new things, and get more clarity and more detail.
Because, you don't need to know Marcus' childhood for the game, and so maybe you don't take the time to go explore that, because again, I don't feel the need to lock myself into something that I may want to change if somebody does want to write that story.
So it's a matter of having that balance of keeping the world open enough for choice and growth and whatever direction you want to take it, but at the same time it needs to have enough information to feed all the different mediums who request something from you. It's definitely challenging, and that's why I'm really grateful for the additional production assistants for Gears 2; because just that burden alone is challenging to maintain, on top of building a game.
I think success complicates things, to an extent.
RF: Absolutely. Absolutely. It complicates things because now you have fans who expect something from you, and there are loyalties, and you don't want to mess it up for them, but at the same time, it opens a bunch of doors.
Like, storytelling as an example: In Gears 1, it's been a long time since Epic did a story-driven game, and so we weren't as confident as we should've been in telling the Gears 1 story, and there were certain choices that we didn't take, because we just weren't confident that we could pull it off, or that people would believe it, so we backed off of that.
And now, with Gears 2, and the success we had with Gears 1, we feel a little bit more confident about that. One of the things that I think people are going to take away -- besides the killer gameplay, and Horde [mode], and riding the Brumak [enemy] and all that cool stuff that I think people really wanted to have in Gears.
I think people are going to walk away from the game, at the end of this experience, and go: "They took some risks, story-wise, and I'm really surprised in that." And I think people will be happy about it; I think they'll be glad that we did that. Again, maturing the franchise.
There's a fair amount of debate right now about whether or not people want traditionally narrative story in games all -- whether people want it, and whether we should be providing it as an industry, whether it was a stop-gap.
Obviously, it heated up, as a debate, with Metal Gear Solid 4, which is basically the most traditionally narrative game yet released. I don't know if you're familiar with Far Cry 2 at all, but they're trying to do a fully dynamic story... Like, you can kill any character in the game, but they want to create a system so, like, the lines can be delivered by another character. So it's quite complicated -- and it's part of the design imperative.
RF: I think everybody plays differently; everybody has different expectations. I think that it's much like, if you look at gamers in general, form casual to the ultra hardcore, I think the expectations of gamers in gameplay -- the same is true of gamers in story. I think that everybody brings something different, and they want something different from it, and I think that each has their own medium for a reason.
If you look at a fully dynamic world, where the player totally tells their own story -- I mean, there's cool stuff that's really interesting about that, but I look at "Why have interactive movies failed? Why have the movie theaters with the three buttons where they pick the plot choices failed?" It's because you don't have that, necessarily -- the surprises.
I think that some of the storytelling, and being pulled through a story, and being told a story, and having things revealed to you that maybe wouldn't have been a choice that you would have made, is more interesting to a player; when you get those surprises and those twists, because you're not choosing that fate.
And so, I think it's open to all of them.
There are people who want the more "Give me the cinematics, and a little
bit of gameplay," and there are some who want all gameplay and no
cinematics. I think it's open for everybody, and there's a place for everyone.
As for us, we try to minimize our cinematics, but at the same time, we want to make sure that the player has an experience; there's a specific experience that we want them to have, and it's not an open world, sandbox game, because we can't ensure you'll have that experience. We can't maintain that pace in a normal open-ended sandbox game; you can't ensure it. How many times do you say "Screw it! I'm going to go do 55 taxi missions!" or whatever, right?
And now you're off the story train for a while, and you lose that sense of where you were building to, and you lose that momentum. I think that pace is really, really important, and for us in particular, in Gears 1, we were trying to get that summer blockbuster pace. If we stopped and said, "Hey, it's up to you for the next while..." you wouldn't have felt that way. We wouldn't have had the success we had with the number of people who actually finish the game, if people could take breaks along the way and not get that "Oh, my heart is racing," or "I really want to see what's the next thing..."
But, all that being said, like I said: gameplay-wise, from casual to hardcore, I think story-wise there's the same [situation]. There are the people who want to choose their own adventure, and the people who want a story told to them, and they want to live it out, and they want to be touched emotionally, or at least viscerally.