For many gamers, Gears of War was the reason to buy an Xbox 360, and when the opportunity arose to ask Epic a few questions, we jumped at it!
iafrica.com: When you made Gears of War 1, there was considerable opposition to including the chainsaw in the game initially, but it proved to be very popular in the end. Was there any similar opposition to something this time around?
Epic: The development of Gears 2 has been a totally different experience than that of the original Gears. With Gears 1, everything ? the Gears IP, Unreal Engine 3, the Xbox 360 ? was new, and we felt like we were in uncharted territory. Going into production on Gears 2, we've had a higher level of comfort, and our definition of what we're aiming to achieve has been clearer. We know the Gears universe well, we understand what fits and what doesn't, and we've matured as a team. Our commitment to staying true to the franchise has helped us gel as a game developer, and it generally keeps us on the same page.
iafrica.com: One of the biggest complaints with Gears of War 1 was that it lacked in the story department ? what did you do differently this time around to make sure that it doesn't get left behind again
Epic: We've made it a top priority to deliver more of the Gears story on all fronts this year with a deeper campaign in Gears 2, a prequel novel and an ongoing comic book series. Gears 2's story opens six months after the Lightmass bombing. The Locust are back, taking down entire cities with sinkholes, and humanity's back is against the wall. It's up to Marcus, Delta Squad and the rest of the COG forces to save the human population. Dom's search for Maria, his lost wife, also becomes a key focal point in the game. You'll learn a lot more about each member of Delta Squad and meet some new faces as well.
iafrica.com: What else did you do to make sure that the sequel is bigger and better than its predecessor, seeing as sequels often end up not living up to the expectations set by the first game?
Epic: Our design philosophy for Gears of War 2 has been ?New, Better, More.?
As an example of new content, eighty-five percent of all the audio for Gears 2 was recorded from scratch. In terms of ?better,' one of the defining characteristics of Gears 1 is the cover system, and to improve upon it we made about 400 tweaks to the system so that the gameplay mechanic is more intuitive and more fun to use than ever.
Finally, we believe that online multiplayer is what keeps people coming back to play Gears again and again, so we've added more multiplayer options to Gears 2. This includes the increasingly popular Horde mode, which lets up to five players take on wave after wave of increasingly difficult Locust.
We've tried to pinpoint what made the original Gears of War really fun and expand upon those elements, as well as introduce new game modes, characters, weapons and ways to get more out of the overall experience. We've then taken what we've crafted and polished it until it shines.
iafrica.com: In what ways did the updated Unreal 3 Engine improve the game?
Epic: Unreal Engine 3's enhancements have added new layers of detail to Gears 2's environment. The engine's new features include ambient occlusion, improved liquid dynamics, soft body physics, a crowd system for rendering hundreds of enemies onscreen at once, a fracture system for the realistic destruction of objects and the environment, and so much more.
iafrica.com: Is there downloadable content planned for Gears of War 2?
Epic: Yes, we're offering the Flashback Map Pack for free download via Xbox LIVE on day one as a token of thanks to our fans for buying a new copy of the game. The Flashback Map Pack contains our five favorite Gears 1 maps: Gridlock, Subway, Canals, Mansion, and Train Station, and each has been specially updated for Gears 2.
iafrica.com: What is new in the co-op/multiplayer gameplay?
Epic: We've added a party system to Gears 2 that lets players hook up with their friends in full or partial teams and stay grouped together from match to match during public matches. Our new party system utilises TruSkill? to ensure that teams are finding opponents of equivalent skill.
Some of the new competitive multiplayer modes include:
- Guardian, an enhanced version of Assassination in which teams prevail by taking out the opposing side's designated leader, while working to ensure the survival of their own leader. Players are able to respawn as long as their leader is alive, and teams must balance tactics to protect their own leaders while managing to execute opposing leaders in a timely fashion.
- Wingman, a mode that splits 10 players into five teams of two; it's every pair for themselves. The goal is to defeat as many other two-player teams as possible, but killing blows must be in the form of an execution.
- Submission, a Capture the Flag variation in which the flag is a living, moving, and shooting Stranded AI character, which we affectionately refer to as the Meatflag. The goal is to down the Meatflag and move his body to your team's base to earn points before the opposing team can steal him back.
- King of the Hill, which was previously only available in Gears 1 for PC, and involves teams fighting to hold a single objective point. It's similar to Annex, but teams must completely control and stay within the objective target circle to score points. Enemies are downed through execution rules so that a team has to finish everyone up close to retain control of the objective.
iafrica.com: Will Gears of War 2 also be available on other platforms later, e.g. the PC?
Epic: Our focus for Gears 2 is to fully support it as an Xbox 360 exclusive, and therefore we will not be shipping a PC version.