[Gamasutra sits down with Epic Games' design director Cliff Bleszinski to reflect on the conclusion of the first arc of the Gears of War franchise, and discuss what the future of the games industry, and the studio itself.]
Six years ago, Gamasutra had its first interview with Cliff Bleszinski about the Gears of War series at Tokyo Game Show 2005 -- before the Xbox 360 had even been released.
Now, the series -- or at least its first arc -- is drawing to a close. Tomorrow, Gears of War 3 is released across the globe, and players will be able to see exactly how everything concludes.
Things have changed tremendously for the game industry since that first interview. The rise of mobile games has fundamentally changed the operation of developer Epic Games, as Bleszinski discusses below.
Bleszinski's career has progressed alongside the series, and while that original interview talks about the potential of the series, and stars Cliffy the kid designer, who was always concerned with cool gameplay, this interview -- with Cliff the design director -- is more thoughtful and self-assured. Read on.
Here you are with the third game in the series. You said in the presentation you get all misty eyed when you watch the ending. Did you get to where you wanted to be, when you envisioned the series?
CB: Oh, absolutely. The problem is, we never had the entire trilogy laid out, with the beats. You know, we made a game, left it open so we could put a sequel, had a general idea of where we were hoping it could go, and then watched the sales cautiously.
And thankfully, the first game, and then the second game, did well enough to facilitate doing a third one. So to kind of have this kind of little bundle of three games together as its own arc, that kind of ends and wraps up nicely, is incredibly gratifying.
Who knows what other content will come out in the future? But for me, right now, I'm looking forward to the time when we can put all three on the shelves and sell it as a triple pack, and you can have the full Gears of War experience.
Something that you talked to us about when the first game was on the way, was that you were interested in pursuing environmental storytelling. Has that progressed for you?
CB: Yeah, we've gotten a lot better with it. One of the things that we actually have our meshers do, is do a pass at that. Where they will go through the level, and then do a "What happened here?" pass. So you come in the room and find the guy who holed up when the Locusts attacked, and decided he had to end his own life with a shotgun type thing.
There are multiple ways that we can tell stories in games. We can always have the proverbial cutscenes. Our wonderful cinematic director Greg [Mitchell] has done an outstanding job with them this time. But he also jokes, "I make the part of the game that you like to skip," right? Which is a shame, because they're quite good.
We also have players walking and talking for narrative, we also have collectibles that you can read, and things like that throughout the world. But environmental storytelling is one of my favorite ways to do it. It's something that Valve has always excelled at, and it's something that I aspire for us as a studio to be better at.
How do you feel about storytelling at this point? Especially with the second game -- obviously I haven't played through the campaign of this one yet -- you brought in more emotional storytelling.
CB: In the first game, we hadn't really told a story as a studio. We had Unreal 1, and that was pretty much it, right? And so seeing as we'd never -- we hadn't done it in years if at all -- we did a decent job at it with the first game.
The second one, we took a few more risks. Maybe some of those emotional moments weren't as fully earned as they could have been, in the game. You know, Dom -- building up in the Maria thing, and then afterward it didn't seem like it affected him that much.
Bringing Karen Traviss onboard has been a huge win. Our previous writers were good, but Karen understands the universe better than anybody. I mean, she cranked out some amazing Gears novels. That you're actually using video games to sell books right now just blows my brain.
And yeah, I'm just pretty happy with the emotional moments in it. Cole gets a great moment when he goes back to his old thrashball stadium, and the question of who lives and dies is always an interesting one, but ultimately I love the ending.
How do you feel about the necessity of storytelling in a game like this?
CB: I think it's crucial. I think it's what separates the triple-A, sell tons of copies games from the ones that sell a million or two, honestly. Not a day goes by when somebody doesn't show me their Crimson Omen tattoo on Twitter, right?
And the fact that people -- this isn't an accident that, if you look at the poster of the characters behind you, that there's one that most average people can identify with. "Oh hey, I'm a white guy, I like Marcus." "Oh hey, I'm Hispanic, so I identify with Dom." Or, "I'm a woman, so I identify with Sam, or Anya, or the Queen." So we deliberately built the franchise to have that kind of accessibility -- to hit as broad as possible.