During a preview event last week, I asked Rob Auten and author Tom Bissell, the writers and one pair of "many parents" for Gears of War: Judgment, about the gig and how they were going to instill some drama into a franchise whose calling card is killing underground-dwelling monster men.
"Making hopefully compelling characters was the first and foremost thing for us from the get-go," Auten told me of his co-task at composing Gears of War: Judgment's story. "For me it was Paduk and the UIR as the whole underlying thing," Bissell added. Garron Paduk is a former Union of Independent Rupublics soldier, the UIR being the other large human government of Sera who warred against the COG during the Pendulum Wars and lost.

Gameplay in Gears of War: Judgment happens as flashbacks, recounted by Kilo squad during their trial by Colonel Ezra Loomis, a decorated UIR soldier now assimilated into the COG. Kilo squad is comprised of Baird, series favorite Augustus Cole, Garron Paduk and Sofia Hendrick. While Baird and Cole are familiar to series fans, Paduk and Hendrick are newcomers – Paduk is kind of like the Malcolm Reynolds of the group, while Hendrick is the fresh COG face ready to get it done by-the-book.

Originally, their roles were reversed.

"We knew we wanted to have a female in the squad – at one point, Sofia and Paduk were switched in roles," Bissell said. "She was former UIR and he was the young, eager COG guy, but then we decided it was better to switch them. The only thing that was in place when we got there was a frame that was going to involve a hub area in which characters stepped forth and told their story, and gameplay would be the flashback. That's all we knew. So there was a campfire, there was a COG training facility where maybe Baird was the teacher." "Then the Loomis character became the teacher," Auten added. "So at one point Adrian Chmielarz from People Can Fly said, 'How about a trial?' And Rob and I, one of our favorite movies is Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory and so we looked at each other and knew we could do it. Then you can kind of go into the harsh, totalitarian side of the COG which has kind of been hinted at in the other games, but it's never really been properly portrayed."

Gears of War Judgment's scribes recount the narrative process
Representing the totalitarian side of the COG is Ezra Loomis, seemingly incompetent and delusional colonel who conducts the trial that acts as a frame for Gears of War: Judgment's narrative. In the handful of cutscenes I saw, he looked to be a self-important man severely miscalculating the danger this new Locust threat poses.

"You'll see in parts of the game that Loomis is very dismissive of the Locusts' ability to think," Bissell said. "He considers them animals and the COG is just going to wipe them out. Of course he's losing this war badly but he's so blocked he can't understand that. So the world is crumbling down around him and the only piece of order he has is to try and carry this trial through. So that's sort of his context and by the end of the game I hope that Loomis is remembered as something more than an incompetent moron."

As writers, Bissell and Auten have a certain amount of freedom with the story, but in an established world and franchise, lore and continuity are considered – even if sometimes those things lose out to fun. When the two were first brought on, there wasn't much more than a concept for how the story would go.

"They knew there were things, just looking at what characters played online, and just from talking to people through the forums, communicating with the fans, there were a couple things that people were excited about. But I think some of the first questions we were asked were, 'Hey, is this exciting to you guys?' As a contract writer it's not usual, and it really just set a tone from the beginning of just this open collaboration process – we have nothing but awesome things to say about Epic Games," Auten said. "That's not bullshit," Bissell interjected. "Nobody has a gun to our head," Auten joked back.

"They put an awful lot of trust in us to not fuck up the story stuff," Bissell said. "I hope they're happy with it – I'm really proud of the game and the story stuff is mostly how we all envisioned it. It was a surprisingly trauma-free thing."

Much of that pride is owed to the partnership of Auten and Bissell – the two claim that working together affords them luxuries not available to solo writers. "We cancel out each other's flaws in a lot of ways," Bissell said. "We both have our own takes on life and the world. I tend toward grandiosity and I think you tend toward the ridiculous."

"And we don't get pissed off when we re-write each other," said Auten.

Gears of War: Judgment launches on Xbox 360 on March 19.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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