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The original game was extremely popular, and fostered a great deal of passionate community; did you really go and dive into that, to find out what the fans wanted?
RF: Yeah, we were doing that all along. It wasn't a matter of, "Now that we've shipped, let's go mine the forums..." We're pretty forum-aware, as a company, and so we were always knowing what people wanted. And, you know, the party system, we would've loved to have had it, too, but we sort of ran out of time on Gears 1.
And then things that go against the way that we want to play; like the whole "rolling shotgun" stuff, that kind of became the de facto way of playing, was against our core belief about how we wanted the game to be.
That was really something that we brought to Gears 2: "How do we bring back tactical combat?" How do we bring in things with stopping power, and balancing the shotguns, and those sorts of things, which we really felt like the online experience should be, from a player perspective.
Does it ever occur to you, "Maybe we should do a Title Update to rebalance this stuff? Or should we just save it for the sequel?" How do you make those decisions?
RF: It depends on how bad it is, really; you know, in terms of exploits, and whether it's ruining the experience. You have to look at what's ruining the experience versus what is a tweak. And if you plan things appropriately, like we've done for Gears 2, we were able to actually balance without doing a Title Update.
There are different technical solutions that you can do that actually change -- much like Bungie does, in terms of changing what the damage your shotgun does, or whatever -- if you see that you've made a mistake in the title you've launched.
But we did it for Gears 1: I mean, the grenade tagging was a show-off feature in our lab, and Cliff used it occasionally to taunt people and stuff, but we didn't really use it that much, because we didn't think that it was useful; it was cool, but it wasn't useful, we thought.
But then we released, and we found out that people were using it all the time. And we had actually mis-set -- it was an improper number that was set, that gave it a much longer range than a normal melee; and it was when we realized that we had that kind of an exploit, we did a Title Update, to reel that back in, and get that feature under control, because we felt that that was hurting the gameplay experience.
So you really have to look at it as: "Is that a preference thing? Do we have a vocal minority who's making a lot of stink about something just because it goes against how they want to play? Or are you truly unbalancing your game and potentially hurting the experience for everyone?"
And then you make that call, because Title Updates are not trivial; it's not like PC updates where you just kick out a patch; you've got to go through cert, and your entire game gets re-certed, and you have to go through this whole process with the publisher to get that stuff done. It's not trivial.
People expect, like, "Oh, I saw this thing, and now give me a Title Update over the weekend," and it's like, from the moment you see a problem to the earliest you can get a title update, it's weeks and weeks. So it's just part of the process of making sure that things are certified, and are the right kind of things that you want to put out there on a console.
And you have a limited number of Title Updates that you can do, I believe, over the lifespan of the product.
RF: We had quite a few with Gears 1, trying to get things, like with the Roadie Run [glitch] and so... We haven't hit that one, and I don't actually know what the ultimate limit is. They have limits in terms of size, and stuff like frequency...
But, again, it comes down to the significance, right? Like, Microsoft is really about, is there a security breach or an exploit that's truly ruining the game? They're not big fans of developers kind of whimsically doing it, just because they want to mess with the game, or whatever. So yeah, you have to have a purpose behind your title update.
We're getting a few years into the Xbox 360 lifespan experience; where do you think we are, technologically, in terms of the potential of the system, this generation?
RF: That's a good question. I mean, I'm not the technical guy, so my ability to speak to where the engine goes is -- all I know is that with the two to three more years of optimization that we've had, we're much further along than I think, three years ago, we thought we were going to get.
So I think we're certainly approaching the upper end of it, as far as what developers are able to do with it, but just looking at all the demos we saw today -- ours and others -- it's clear that all the games just keep improving, and keep pushing that bar.
I think it's just a matter of, you know, it's a slow cycle; you only get a kick at it every couple years, and so it takes a while for people to see that progress. There will be games in development that won't ship until 2010, and I'm sure they'll look killer, just because, again, they'll have more time with it, and learn from mistakes and optimizations of others. So, I don't know; I think we're getting up there, but I still think there's room to grow.