To appreciate Gears Of War 3 is to know the limitations of the Xbox 360 hardware. It is understanding the constraints of its tiny parcel of RAM, the old GPU, and the pitiless expectations of players regarding what a console should be able to do now, as opposed to seven years ago, despite no change in specs. Gears Of War was an Epic game; Gears 3 is also an epic one. But how? Wyeth Johnson explains how.
How fundamentally did fourplayer co-op affect Gears’ environmental design?
The first thing is just that you need physical space for more players. So just the core ramification of [asking] ‘Is this hallway wide enough to have a firefight with four people against four or five other things?’ There are considerations in there that sometimes caused us to violate some of the ways we wanted to be inspired by the real world. The entrance to a grocery store or even the corridor of an aircraft carrier: these things are known quantities in our minds, but to support more players we have to find ways to widen them, make them taller, open up the space. You can kind of correct for that by making sure you have really great scale cues in the environment, so it doesn’t feel alien to the player. That was something we went back and forth on quite often with the designers, finding that perfect balance between scope and scale, and the intimacy of a tighter environment to elicit a certain mood or feeling.
Also, visual clarity really comes to the forefront when you have four players running around. Because everybody needs something to shoot, the chaos level goes up. We made a lot of art choices to tone down some of that environmental detail and noise. Some of it comes through simply bringing the fog forward to have a clearer foreground and background separation; some of it’s calming down the visual noise in the playspace and giving more detail to the exterior spaces. A lot of times you’ll notice that the vista objects are proportionally out of scale to the stuff in the playspace, and that’s intentional just to make a better connection between that foreground and background, and to emphasise something so it draws your eye. It’s a hard problem.
How do you even achieve a game like Gears 3 on the same platform as Gears 1?
If I go back and look at Gears 1 and the progression to Gears 3, a lot of it is about confidence. We really didn’t know anything with Gears 1 – it was instinctual. It was the DNA of the team poured out in videogame form. It was so raw, and when you have an experience like that it’s so formative. I strongly believe that’s why many considered Gears 1 the first true next-generation game. With that as your base, it instils this confidence that you have room to experiment now, to play and take a risk. The universe speaks for itself – we don’t have to do a lot of work to create more Gears Of War. The trick, really, is making a great choice up-front about what’s important to the scene. We build smarter, not harder, now. We try not to kill ourselves on every dark corner.
Was it daunting ‘correcting’ the series’ gender ratio?
Similar to the issues many other teams have had in this area, we had to make very pragmatic decisions very early on in the franchise that had nothing to do with our ideals. There was never an idealism about having this masculine cast. The balance in games needs to reflect the balance in real life, and that’s always the goal. It was simply technical logistics that stopped it from happening, and with Gears 3 we said we [weren’t] going to let it happen again.
How did you design those female characters?
This was about the easiest thing, which was, [asking ourselves], ‘In this universe we’ve created, given the difficulty of society and the realties of combat, what would these people actually look like?’ And that’s it. There was no more to it other than how would they truly fit when they’re sitting next to their male counterparts in battle, preparing for a firefight, whatever it may be. There were a couple of little considerations – the iconic shapes for their armour, the larger boot shapes, being able to hold and wield the same weapons – but at the end of the day we just did what was right.
How do you keep Gears characters readable despite such bulky armour?
You need authenticity when it comes to motion. So long as we do the right things on the animation side to support these shapes and characters and silhouettes, it still feels right. So much of our effort has gone into: ‘When I take cover, what happens?’ Sure, I hit the A button and I connect to something, but what really happens? There’s a controller rumble; there’s a particle effect of dust that flies up into play; there’s a really chunky sound of metal armour, leather and rubber all slamming into this stone object; there’s foot sliding sounds and the grunt of the character; and the camera shake. All of these subtle things add up to a feeling that I’m touching the world. If you get that right then you can play in a lot of other areas, and I feel that Gears Of War, without any prior precedent, plain got it right pretty much on the first try.
Source: Edge online