Epic Games' Gears of War has proven itself to be one of the hallmark video game titles of the so called next-generation, inspiring not only enthusiastic fan support, but also the adoration of the development community as well, with the game walking away from the recent Game Developers Choice Awards with the coveted Game of the Year accolade.
During a lecture at the Game Developers Conference, the game's designer, Cliff Bleszinski, offered some insight into the step-by-step process that went into creating Gears of War, and described the iterative process that went into the game's evolution from initial concept to landmark release.
While different designers tend to deal with game design differently, Bleszinski explained that he doesn't always know where the initial idea behind the game is heading early on. “I have a couple ideas and I kind of go with it and feel things out,” he noted during the lecture titled “Designing Gears of War: Iteration Wins.”
“It not always one of those things that you can plan out in excruciating detail in a design document. I think that you kind of feel through it in a sandbox period,” commented Bleszinski. “At the same time, it's important to recognize as a designer you need to have some sort of an idea where you are going...you need to have a system of checks and balances.”
The 15 year industry veteran went on to explain that Gears of War began its life as Unreal Warfare, a concept that Bleszinski described as being quite different from the game than what was eventually shipped. “We knew that we wanted to do something that was going to use our IP, and that would be large scale and vehicular based,” he recalled, a concept that differs significantly from Gears of War's third person action.
Interestingly, Bleszinski revealed that Gears of War's chief opposition, the subterranean race known as Locusts, were originally called “Geists.” “We had this name in place for about a year, and then we found out that...there was another game that Nintendo was working on in which the main character was a ghost, because geist is German for ghost.” Discovering that the GameCube title Geist had already adopted the name, the developers brainstormed and eventually came up with Locusts, which “is very unsettling and kind of implies a plague.”
Gears of War's cover system, an integral component in the title's gameplay, owes much of its inspiration to Namco's oft overlooked third person action game kill.switch, which was released in 2003 and also relies heavily on a similar cover system.
Another inspiration for Gears of War was revealed to be Capcom's survival horror opus Resident Evil 4, mainly due to its reliance on offset camera angles that fail to obscure the action.
Bleszinski noted those types of games that were not looked to for inspiration for Gears of War, as well, specifically recalling that Epic originally planned for an “order system”, but then quickly realized that “we are not making Full Spectrum Warrior.”
He explained: “Full Spectrum Warrior is a great game, RTS games are great, but those games are fundamentally about the orders. When it comes to orders, Gears has an ancillary feature...but we wanted to keep going back to the action element.”
Ultimately, however, Bleszinski commented that when it comes to game design, it all comes down to having “great ideas,” adding, “You need to have checks and balances..and hopefully you'll make great games and win cool awards.”