Interview: Cliff Bleszinski on Gears of War 3

During E3, we managed to distract Cliff Bleszinski, design director for Epic Games and the face of Gears of War, long enough for an interview. Despite our intense interrogation, he remained a good sport throughout and offered us candid answers. The full interview follows.

Joystiq: Most of the things we want to ask, you probably can't talk about yet -- like Gears 3 multiplayer ...

Cliff Bleszinski: Can't talk about that yet.

Okay, let's try it this way: in Gears 1, a lot of people complained about opponents being able to roadie run into them, stun them with a punch and then shoot them -- and you guys fixed that with updates. Are you concerned that the new spearing ability, with the retro Lancer, is going to lead to similar complaints in Gears 3 multiplayer?

You know, we try our best that before we ship, we balance these things as much as possible. But when you release into the wild, you never know what the gamers are going to come up with.

So in regards to the Lancer charge, we're going to try our best to, you know, play with it as much as we can and you never know. We did six title updates to Gears 2 and we continue to refine that experience. Matchmaking wasn't the best at the start, but we stand behind our products and continue to support them.
%Gallery-90396% You guys implemented major improvements from Gears 1 to Gears 2 in terms of multiplayer -- adding Matchmaking, ranks, etc. Now with Modern Warfare and "perks" reshaping the way multiplayer is done, are you guys looking at any of these things for Gears of War 3?

We won't be doing perks -- we're not that game. When talking about the Versus mode, I've never really felt like perks are a good fit for Gears. They're okay for their different Call of Duty games and things.

That said, if you're making a multiplayer shooter right now, you very much need to have a ranking system, experience points and things to unlock to keep players invested in your games for months on end.

What about character customization in Gears 3? You've got characters to choose from in the old Gears multiplayer, but will there be any way to make them more unique in the new game?

Can't talk about it yet. It'd be a good idea!

By including the Flashback map codes in retail copies of the game, players were encouraged to buy Gears 2 new. Do you have plans for a similar incentive to tie to Gears of War 3?

We're in a very transitional time in the industry. You see what's happening with the sports games --

Right -- EA Sports Online Pass, "Project Ten Dollar," and stuff like that ...

Yeah, and we're watching it closely -- and that's not to say we're committing to anything like that. We want to find ways to positively incentivize first-time buyers to pick up the game new. Penalizing is not the best way to deal with things like that. You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Sure.

But the industry is nervous, right? It's very scared about used game sales -- and another thing is the type of genre you make, you know? I wouldn't want to make a horror game right now -- that's only single-player -- because a lot of players are like, "I rented it." You want to make a game that has a great single-player experience, but continues online, continues to breath.

The Flashback Map Pack did play for us, but I personally -- if I thought about it really, I would've pushed back. Because whenever I buy a game and there's some 15-digit code to type in, I'm like, "Yeah, screw that," and I put the game in and just ignore the code. It could be like free beer for life and I'd be like "whatever." So there's got to be other ways to do it. We'll see.

So in that same vein, people want an experience they can come back to. People who played a lot of Gears 2, they are very proud of their ranks. Will there be a way to transition what you've earned in that game to Gears 3?

That's a great question and like I said, that's Versus and I can't really talk about Versus, but I'll continue to dodge it because I'm a gentleman.

*Laughs*

I can't commit to anything about ranking carrying forward, but it's one of those things that we're looking into. It'd be very nice that if you're Level 80 to have a transfer -- at least, to something, you know? And to have it mean something.

Everybody in the industry needs to figure out a way to keep gamers playing their game and keep the disc in the tray. But I think everybody's going to look to World of Warcraft for inspiration in the near future.

So, Fable 3 is coming to PC -- and you've said in the past that Gears 2 won't come to PC. Is that still not a possibility?

It's not. Ever. I have a feeling though -- and this is nothing to say of Gears 3 on PC -- I have a feeling in the next few years, you're going to see PC gaming come to rise in the next few years. But then the market's more fractured than ever, between the iPad, the iPhone, the Nintendo 3DS and Kinect -- everything, it's like completely splintered. That's very scary for the industry.

Now about Beast mode: What's the genesis behind that?

The first thing is that everybody's assuming, like on my Twitter and stuff, that we're not going to have Horde. Horde will be back, we're just not talking about that right now. So Beast mode is one of those things where we were like: "Wouldn't it be great if ... ?" -- and a lot of great things came out of that, like, "Wouldn't it be great if you could control a lot of these Locust creatures?"

Lee Perry, who is our senior gameplay designer, just did a possess for different characters -- "What happens if I take over a Ticker?" -- and a lot of them just worked. So from there, the real work set out: How do we give this creature two or three unique things? So, like, the Kantus can revive, then he can do this; and the Berserker can smash, but she can't see very well. So it's a class-based, beast-based mode that's not just like Horde flipped, because every character has their own unique attributes.

And speaking of Horde mode, it was very much a revelation for multiplayer gaming -- now it's in Halo. How do you feel about that? Are you flattered?

I'm flattered -- absolutely I'll take it. Seeing a lot of games coming out now that are cover-based shooters -- there's some Japanese ones that we were talking about --

Like Vanquish?

Yeah, and what's the other one? Quantum Theory, right?

Yeah.

And that's cool -- I'm like, "Bring it!" Every time I see a title that takes an element or does something that was in Gears, I feel a little more justified because there were some haters with Gears 1 and 2 that said those games weren't innovative. And I'm like, "Well, it's kinda funny that people say they weren't innovative, yet all of these games started adding similar features." There's still plenty of room for innovation in the shooters genre.

So the four-player co-op, that'll be drop-in, drop-out, no problem?

Absolutely.

Even mid-game?

Yup.

So you don't have to load a chapter, then have everybody hook up before starting?

Absolutely not. And it's also story-based, so it's not just Marcus with a purple do-rag -- I always say that, but it's true, right? The cool thing is that Players 3 and 4 sometimes cycle between characters, right? So in the first act, you're Marcus and Dom and other characters, but in the second act, you wake up as Cole and Baird, Sam and somebody else we haven't announced. And then you go back to Marcus, but the characters keep changing, so you have this really cool element where the only way to experience playing as Anya in the campaign is to be Player 3, which is cool.

So you don't have this thing where it's, "Oh hey, I'm Marcus ... and here's three random dudes!"?

Oh no, not at all. Other games do that, and it's fine, but we commit to a story-based co-op. So when you're in the game and you're on Level 5 or whatever, and you're like, "Anya, I need this!" and she's like, "I'm right over here!" When you play as Player 3, your player says, "I'm right over here!" and that's cool to see from a different perspective.

Some of the B-roll actually had that, where you could see Sam's perspective in the E3 demo -- it's all about the viewpoints I guess, right?

Definitely.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.