Uncharted 2 Tells Modern Warfare 2 You Better Step Up

OK so I honestly meant jump online on Friday. I missed the Gearheads and wanted to join you for some gaming. But a little guy named Nathan Drake grabbed me by my testicles and wouldn’t let go. Seriously. Uncharted 2 is freaking incredible.

uncharted_2

I’m only a little over three hours into the game, but it’s easily the best example of how video games can surpass movies if the quality of the cut scenes and story isn’t laughable. The thing about it is that Uncharted 2 treats you like an adult. It tells you a story rather than assume you’re only entertained by beefy dudes doing manly things. The cut scenes are the most entertaining I’ve ever seen. And the action is remarkable even if it isn’t always positive. I’m still not a fan of how the grenades work even though they stripped out the Sixaxis controls. But the scene with the helicopter they showed at E3 is just as incredible to play through as it was to see.

I won’t go too much into the rest of the story because I’m not sure how many Gearheads have had a chance to play this game. But it is my frontrunner so far for game of the year. Even over NHL 10 so far. And they took what was a very good concept of Uncharted 1 and made it into something remarkable, unique and completely engrossing. I meant to play it for only a few minutes last night before going to bed, but I wound up being up until 1:30 a.m. playing the thing when I was going for a 30-mile bike ride in the morning. Games just don’t get this engrossing.

The key will be whether or not it continues throughout the game. I would’ve given the first Uncharted a much better ranking in my all-time games, but the game devolved near the end into a zombie game, and this one BETTER not do the same thing. It was just so very out of place.

If you have a PS3, get this game. Play it. Love it. And be glad you did.

I Stand Corrected: Gears of War 2 Commercial Rules

I’m never one to run away from being wrong about something. If I’m wrong, I’ll often openly and freely admit it. Well, Gearheads, I’ve got to say that I was very wrong when I had a lengthy discussion with Blankman a few nights ago.

What was I wrong about? Well, my first visceral reaction to the Gears of War 2 commercial was not a positive one. My general feeling was, “Wow, this is basically another Mad World, but since we’ve seen Mad World already, I was hoping for something a little different with a different vibe.” I also said, it feels a bit like Gears of Emo.

Well, I stand corrected. I’ve watched the commercial multiple times now. You know, it’s really effective. And it’s effective for the same reason that the first ad was. The commercial has very much a movie trailer feel to it. And there are very few times that I see a video game commercial where it has that emotional connection with a viewer. Granted the ad probably has a disconnect from the actual content of the game, or at least the first ad and game did, but the ad resonates with you. There truly is nothing out there in video games that approach advertising like the Gears ads have. I mean, I’m not sure if there is a more visceral video game franchise out there right now and so the advertising seeks to evoke a pure emotional response from the viewer. In many ways, the visceral nature of gameplay in Gears speaks directly to those emotions of joy when getting a perfect headshot or sneaking up on an opponent and sawing them from behind.

So the commercial seeks to evoke the sadness that Dom feels in searching for Maria. The reluctance of fighting that Marcus feels. And the memory of a beautiful Sera when Cole sees the flower through the sniper scope. Ultimately, advertising is intended to do a few things, including raising brand awareness and evoke a gut emotional response. I think this ad does accomplish that.

I’m free to change my mind on things and upon further examination, I think the Gears 2 ad is brilliant and I expect it to help move a ton of Gears 2 units.

Mixed Assassin’s Reviews

I always find it interesting when reviews from different publications seem to vary wildly on a game. Usually most of the publications don’t vary wildly between scores. But with Assassin’s Creed, there seems to be quite the split.

On one hand, you’ve got Game Informer, Games Radar and GameSpot saying that Assassin’s Creed is one of the best, most engrossing games we’ll play this year.

On the other hand, 1up and IGN are pretty down on Ubisoft’s big holiday release for 2007.

Now IGN and 1up aren’t saying that Assassin’s Creed is terrible, they just aren’t putting it in the lofty territory of 2007’s bigger releases like Call of Duty 4, BioShock and Halo 3. They’re both saying that it’s good, but the other three sites are saying that it’s outstanding and an experience not to be missed. I still plan on buying Assassin’s Creed this week, but I have decided to get the regular version rather than the collector’s edition copy. I usually trust the EGM/1up people more than anyone else, but in this case, I do think that it’s going to be a subjective thing. One of the things I enjoyed the most about Prince of Persia was the ability to be this agile bad ass and I’m assuming I’m going to enjoy the same thing about this game, even if it does get repetitive.

I put up a poll on the front page about the reviews and which media outlet you trust the most when it comes to reviews.

Oh and by the way, the demo for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is pretty damn cool. The controls are almost identical to Gears of War and they completely fixed the enemy AI and hit detection. Plus, it’s a ton of fun to climb up ledges and traverse the jungle. The final game might not be nearly as good, but I’m actually pretty excited for this game now. I might wind up owning more than just three PS3 games finally.

I Love Crysis (and why you should too)

Before i begin my self admitting manlove ramble about Crysis, let me state a few things. Yes, i know Crysis is a VERY hardware demanding game and Yes, i know most of us gearheads won’t be playing it until it is most definitely released as a port or brought to life from another team’s perspective. But just because a lot of people cannot experience the game now, doesn’t mean it wont impact their gaming in the coming years.

Needless to say, Crysis is going to influence the way game’s are designed. The layout is unbelievably immersing and on a massive scale. You literately feel like you are dropped on this island. The game gives me the sense that i got from Half life 2 all those years backs (a design formula most games use now). Crysis will influence games in the years to come.

Let me break down the demo in terms of design. You sky dive onto the island, your landing place is controlled because something happens. (Any other free landing options as seen in Medal of Honor airborne are to be seen) After recovering from your fall you approach a beach from the water. The path you are to follow is linear but the use of rock head high give a good illusion and the LUSH environment in the distance keep a sense of scale (all of the island is rendered in real time, so there is no noticeable pop-in) After proceeding through the cave, there is a beach and lush jungle. Being wise men, you obviously have no choice but to go deep into the jungle instead of the open beach with endless ocean in eyesight. After making your way through the jungle (and getting introduced to some completely badass plot ideas) you reach a way out of the jungle and in front of you is nearly 9/10 the rest of the demo level all rendered in front of you. From this point on, it is do as you please, your commander gives your things to do (deactivate a transmitter, infiltrate a camp etc) But the way you do it is completely up to you.

There are TONS of ways to approach a situation in Crysis. Your core features are; Super Strength (high jumps included), Speed, Armor, gun changes, and my favorite cloaking. The first big conflict your given is this. There is a building, a bit of farm land, and a lot of water in front of you. A lot of men are scattered around this area and the minute one spots you, everyone is out to kill you in the area. There are men patrolling in front of the buildings, a guy on the dock taking a piss, and two boats patrolling the water with heavy fire power to boot. How did i approach this situation? First, i turned on cloaking and went straight to a stray bogey in the first house. After killing him, my cover was blown and relied on super strength and fire power on the rest of the guys.

Playing the demo (which i have done ALOT) the experience is always different, and things happen the way you would expect things to in real life. Which is what makes the game so damn immersing and fun.

Now to the graphics. I won’t ramble. The Crytek engine 2 is the most unbelievable engine in terms of realistic visuals and most importantly realistic interactions and physics with the environment. The game would still be the most impressive game visually if it featured none of the advanced physics, but they are the icing on the cake. I literately shot a single tree trunk into 20 different pieces, and every tree features this level of destructibility. The smaller pieces, i could pick up and through at enemies, another layer of realism. If you can grab it in real life, most likely that object is grabable (so not a word) in Crysis. After plowing a building to rubble with super strength, i could pick up the piece of the building all individually.

People complain about the hardware demands, but honestly i was surprised it ran so well on a current high end rig (8800 and duo or quad core). Very high settings (and “ultra settings unlocked”) my rig runs at 30FPS+, which with the high end motion blur feels somewhere between 40-50 in other games. I am extremely pleased with Crytek in that a rig could actually run the game on high settings (but still this is without high AA or Kranked up resolution considerably higher than 720p)

Basically, the point (if there actual is one :p) is that the game is more than just mindf***ing visuals. Gameplay, level design and physics/environment interactivity make this game the complete package of what i expect games to be in the next few years.

I hate to rub this in the faces (maybe i love it?) of those without PCs nice enough to run the game at any decent setting, but i expect 360 games to play and be designed similar to this in the future.

Back to the roller coaster ride that is COD4.

Most Wanted Games: 2008 Edition

After writing about Prototype and reading Blankman’s comment about it being in his top five most anticipated.

I wanted to mention my five most anticipated games in 2008. I’m going to make some assumptions of games that will be coming out this year like God of War 3 and Gears 2. There are a ton of other good games coming out this year as well, like MGS 4, Killzone 2, Ninja Gaiden 2 and Super Smash Brothers.

Any way, here is my top five list of most wanted games right now:

Gears of War 2: Well, duh. Read the name of the site. I just hope that the Epic team spends a lot of time perfecting the net code so we don’t have a ton of shenanigans like before.

God of War 3/God of War: Chains of Olympus: I’m a Kratos-phile and I wear it on my sleeve. That bald badass MFer is one fun person to control. He takes down huge enemies in cinematic fashion. I’m lumping these two together because it’s the same franchise.

Prototype: Yeah, I’m that excited about this game. My hype meter is on overload right now. And yeah, this game is higher than GTA IV mainly because it’s new. GTA is a game in which you know what to expect and frankly, even though I’ve owned all of the GTA games, I’ve never finished one. The characters have never been interesting enough to finish. The closest I got was Vice City because I loved the aesthetic of that game. What makes me so excited about this game is the combination of my love for Assassin’s Creed and the scaling of buildings and whatnot as well as the Hulk: Ultimate Destruction legacy. That game was a blast.

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway: This might surprise a few folks, but the videos have really sold me on this game. It just looks like they really thought through every single detail. And since rumor has it that the next Call of Duty is going back to WWII but is being developed by Treyarch and not Infinity Ward, I need me a great shooter and I think the Brothers in Arms people can do it.

Halo Wars: Number five was down to three titles for me. Killzone 2, Alan Wake and Halo Wars. Yes, I’m not the biggest RTS guy in the world, but I still do love the Halo universe. And if it plays anything like something like Advance Wars on the DS, then I think I’m going to love it.

The announcement of Resistence 2 has made me decide that I want to finish the campaign of Resistance as well (even though I wasn’t crazy about that game). I’m also pretty excited about Rainbow Six: Vegas 2.

What would your top five list be?

Revisiting the Most Anticipated Titles of E3

I put this post up before E3 asking what titles you looked forward to the most.

My top five were (Gears 2 was my top game, no doubt and it didn’t disappoint):

Killzone 2
Alan Wake
Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway
Far Cry 2
Prince of Persia

I’m wondering what you’re list was and if it changed at all. My list changed quite a bit.

And here is my new one with the reasons why:

Far Cry 2: No game looks prettier to me than this one. And the shooting mechanic looks fantastic. The setting and trailer that had deceiving your enemies was one of the best I saw. Also, the live demo looked really cool.

Fallout 3: God help me, this game looks fantastic. It looks deep. The art style is cool and the shooting mechanic looks better than I thought. Todd Howard didn’t seem to have a great demo at first at the Microsoft press conference but the G4 demo was awesome. Very bloody and using teddy bears as weaponry? Count me in. It doesn’t seem like a typical RPG. I hope I’m not disappointed from the shooting mechanics like Mass Effect.

Resident Evil 5: I liked Resident Evil 4, but I’m not quite the fanboy that many others, including my brother, happened to be. But the co-op situations looked incredible and damn if Sheva (sp?) isn’t the hottest virtual lady to grace video games I’ve seen.

Killzone 2: They didn’t show much because they don’t want to upstage Resistance 2. Good thing because Resistance 2 just isn’t all that interesting to me and this game is.

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway: Yep, this one is still way up there, just barely edging out Prince of Persia for top five.

So there you have it. My re-shuffled list. Obviously number one by a long shot is Gears 2. But I’m still pretty damn psyched about the rest of these.

Let’s have yours.

Let’s Do It

I know I say this almost every week, but last night was one of the best FFF ever. We essentially had nine guys at all times and went into Ground War on Call of Duty 4. I think we only lost one round all night and that round actually happened to be the same round where the opposition team happened to have Gearhead Savage Injun on their team. So I’m going to claim that the only reason they beat us that round is because of the Gearheads mojo.

Regardless, it was fantastic fun. It’s somehow more fun to play a team full of Gearheads against opposition teams rather than a private room. It feels like we’re banding as a community to dispatch the others. And when we play amongst ourselves, it just somehow doesn’t feel right killing other Gearheads. Maybe that’s just me.

I’m not the best Call of Duty 4 player, that’s for damn sure, but I really do have a blast in that game. And it’s even more fun now that I have my mic set to friends only. By the way, a few of you have asked me how to do this. It’s pretty easy. You essentially just go to the dashboard, then go to the system blade and in there is an audio option. You can choose what privacy settings you want in there. I chose friends only because life is too short to deal with the a-holes that permeate XBL.

My favorite moment of the night was probably on the level with the bus (not Bog, I can’t think of the name of it right now), when about four of us went into the upper level on a building and just mowed the other team down from across the map, over and over and over again. They just seemed to keep trying to run straight into our hail of bullets.

Oh and I also absolutely love Domination. I know people are mixed on it, but on the right map with the right teammates, nothing beats it. I loved listening to people yelling out what capture point the opposition team was after and where they were guarding those points from. It was just incredible fun. Not only that, but you get a crapload of points for it which is nice. I’m getting so close to that P90 I can hardly wait. The funny thing is, I’m not sure I’m going to use it all that much because I think I have the perfect setup now on my gun. I have the M16 with bandolier, steady aim and stopping power. I may not always have the most kills, but it often leads to me coming in with a positive K/D ratio and that’s what I look for in my matches.

Any particularly memorable moments you had from last night?

Gearheads Interviews Infinity Ward About COD4

In November of 2007, many of us “Went Deep and Went Hard”. To this day, so many of us haven’t stopped playing Call of Duty 4, which resoundingly and somewhat easily won Game of the Year from the Gearheads of War vote.

It’s really the first game that has regularly torn us away from the Gears of War gameplay that brought us all to this site. We’re playing it regularly every Friday night for our weekly Friday Night FragFest and despite the fact that I’m not terribly good at COD4, it was my favorite game of 2007 and will be my most played game…probably right up until I finally get my hands on Gears of War 2. I really don’t see any multiplayer game replacing it any time in the near future.

All that being said, it was my great honor to have a chance to interview Robert Bowling, the Community Manager at Infinity Ward. Below is the exclusive Gearheads interview with Bowling. Enjoy!

Gearheads of War: First of all, congrats on the success of Call of Duty 4. We’re all addicted to it over at Gearheads of War. It’s the
one game that finally tore us away from playing Gears every week. Did you ever imagine that it would be neck and neck with a juggernaut like Halo 3 for people’s precious MP time on XBL as well as sales wise?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: From day one we set our goal on making the best multiplayer game for Xbox Live (and any other platform we were releasing on). So we had our sights on that #1 spot on XBL, PSN, and on PC from the beginning for our multiplayer. On Xbox Live if that meant going head to head with Halo 3 then that was something we were prepared to do. The ambitious plans we had for Multiplayer and the loyal community we had established, we were confident that we’d be presenting a challenge for some of the current Xbox Live heavy weights. However, while I hope that’s what all developers shoot and hope for, the overwhelming popularity and success sales wise of the game has really been humbling and overwhelming to say the least. It helped to have a fantastic community standing behind the game early on, with the 600,000+ beta testers that helped us fine tune the game pre-launch to the millions of dedicated Call of Duty players that came after, we’re very fortunate to have such a hardcore and dedicated community to go along with game.

Gearheads: When developing the perk system for MP and leveling your character up, how hard was it to balance the game so that newcomers weren’t immediately turned off?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: That was a big concern for the designers here at Infinity Ward, how to quickly introduce new and old players to the in-depth new leveling and unlockable system introduced to the franchise in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. With perks, weapon attachments, and custom classes, we were hitting players with a lot. To help balance and reduce confusion or overwhelming the players we decided to space out how the unlockables in the way that New Users start out with just the five pre-set basic classes which have pre-defined perks as well. This allowed them to play around with a few different weapon classes and perk sets to get use to the concept, while also limiting the new players to Team Death match and Free for All Playlists. A few games in, we unlock Create a Class for them and a few more perks to let them start playing around with customizing. With this method, I think we were really able to make it not so overwhelming for new players and veteran Call of Duty players a like who aren’t use to the massive amount of new weapons, attachments, and of course perks we’ve added to the game.

Gearheads: Does the game take skill into account in the matchmaking because I’ve often seen someone at Level 13 going against someone who is a Level 55 prestige three times over?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: The Matchmaking system on Xbox Live is based on top of Microsoft’s TrueSkill ranking, not your in-game Rank. So if you’re a high-ranked shitty player, you’re going to be placed with other winning-handicapped players. So skill is the #1 matchmaking factor above all else. Rank is a good way to hopefully gauge a player’s dedication, but not always their skill as an individual player.

Gearheads: It seems to me like it was a smart decision to keep the achievements focused on the campaign to keep the annoying achievement whoring out of the MP experience. But a lot of people have complained about no achievements for MP. Do you have any regrets about that decision?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: No regrets. Whatsoever. We’re big fans of keeping the Multiplayer about the multiplayer experience. You play to have fun, you play to win, you play to better the team. Sometimes multiplayer achievements take away from that because they’re more focused on unlocking an achievement rather than winning the match. I think achievements are fantastic for Single Player, and some games they really work in Multiplayer, but some they don’t and I feel Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is one of those where they’re best in SP.

Gearheads: Was there ever any consideration given to also adding the ability to customize your character to further enhance the RPG elements of the MP game? It would be fun to be able to design your own character.

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: There has been a lot of consideration put into further character customizations, and still something we talk about a lot for future releases. It’s something we’d like to see taken even further but you have give and take in development, and that was something that was given up so we could put more focus on another feature before launch.

Gearheads: Lots of people have complained that the M-16 is overpowered. Do you guys have a counter that will beat the M-16 most of the time?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: The M16 is a popular weapon online, but I think there’s lots of counter weapon load outs that can easily compete with it. I personally use a G36c w/ Suppressor in Hardcore modes, or w/ Red Dot in non-hardcore and I can go head to head with any M16 clad player. So, I don’t feel it’s some kind of uber-weapon. In the end it comes down to speed and skill to determine who will come out on top.

Gearheads: My biggest problem with the game is that I thought that either the three nade perk should have been given much earlier or that it shouldn’t be in the game at all because I’ve been in games where people on the other team all have three nade perks and they just litter entire areas with them. It’s not much fun. Have you found that to be a problem?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We’ve received a lot of community feedback on this, particularly concerning Search and Destroy games. All in all though, frag grenades are something gamers in general tend to hate on. To me, it’s part of any shooter game. Soldiers have grenades; they typically carry more than 1 (around 2 / 3). If you’re in an area open for fragging, it’s a risk you have to take into the assessment. I think it’s noticed a lot more in S&D because players typically take the same route to a target, and the enemy knows they’re going to be on the target at some point so it seems a bit overwhelming. A good tactic I’d suggest to players is to stay aware, listen for grenade pings (bouncing off walls) for an extra warning before the grenade indicator (or in hardcore) and be prepared to “fake plant” the bomb, then run away to attract the spam-naders before actually planting the bomb. Also, try to stay about 10 meters apart when running a group and mix up your approach route to the target. Regardless, we take community feedback really serious and I won’t lie that this has sparked a lot of debate among the development team as to if and how we can maybe balance out nades if need be.

Gearheads: A lot of gamers are also having issues keeping their friends as they go into a game online. They’ll be in the lobby with you, but when it’s setting up the game, the player is gone. It’s one of the only negatives of an otherwise stellar experience. Is there a reason that is happening to some players more than others and is there a downloadable fix coming for that?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We’ve done a lot of investigation into this issue and have been talking with Microsoft about it quite a bit. In the end the biggest factor in the parties staying together and joining properly to games is corresponding NAT settings. If there are conflicting NAT settings (i.e. OPEN nats joining up with STRICT NAT hosts) then players with strict nats are going to drop out, or be left behind from the rest of the party. Just because you’re NAT is open, doesn’t mean you’re 100% good to go, if the host your attempting to connect to has a STRICT NAT then you may be dropped or not connect. The best thing all players can do is ensure they have an OPEN NAT, the more open NAT settings the smoother it will go.

Gearheads: What is IW’s favorite (or most played) map? What is IW least favorite map? What is your favorite gametype?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: I think everyone has their personal favorites, so it’s hard to speak for the entire team as to what maps our collective favorite. My personal favorite is probably Crash or Overgrown depending on the game type. By far my favorite game type is Hardcore Search and Destroy or Search and Destroy in general.

Gearheads: Care to comment on when we might be seeing some downloadable content like new maps?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: I’m excited to say that we’re working on some really cool downloadable content right now for Xbox 360 and PS3. We’re working on some new maps which will bring a lot of variety to the existing maps and have been listening to a lot of community feedback online, in the forums, and via the blog over at www.fourzerotwo.com. We’ll be talking about the maps quite a bit as we progress and letting out some sneak peek details here and there as they develop. That’s about all I can say for now though.

Gearheads: Let’s shift gears to the campaign now. The campaign has some shocking moments in it. The first-person view of the president getting shot. The crawling out of the crashed helicopter to an unceremonious ending. These are things that I haven’t really seen in a first person game before. How did you come to the conclusion that COD4 would be one of the first games where you’d experience dying (and no respawning for those characters) from the first person perspective?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: It wasn’t so much a decision that we wanted to kill off the characters, but that we wanted to fully immerse the player in the experience, the emotion, and the intensity of every situation. Once you’re in Call of Duty 4, we never wanted to take you out of that. So we never wanted to take control away from the player and force them to passively watch a cut scene, they should be actively involved in the entire plot and story. If that means experiencing your own demise, then that’s a powerful emotion that we didn’t want to take away from the player and wanted to put you right there.

Gearheads: How did you guys come up with the idea of the pilot talking in a monotone and detached voice while you blow up your enemies on the ground because it was pretty funny and disturbing all at once?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We did a lot of research and reference for the game throughout development, which included lots of videos, photos, and speaking with soldiers directly and meeting with them, going to their bases, etc. For AC-130 we watched a lot of actual AC-130 footage. So all of that is taken straight from real-life scenarios and inspiration, they’re calm, collected, and precise. We really tried to capture that emotion and mentality when designed the AC-130 level.

Gearheads: The game is a fictionalized experience based on hypothetical situations but it didn’t include a real country from the middle east. Why not and do you think that a game will tackle a topic like that or do games have to avoid it because it would be too close to reality?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We didn’t want to take away from what Call of Duty has always been about, soldiers answering the call for action against an undeniable evil despite overwhelming odds, and putting the player in that role of a grunt soldier doing what has to be done. So we made it clear; here are some bad dudes, they’re doing some bad things (like shooting you in the face). It’s not about what you may or may not think about any particular conflict, or political stance, or enemy. It’s good vs. evil, and you’re good. Go you.

Gearheads: How did you get the running animation so perfected? I honestly think it’s better than any game I’ve ever seen.

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We have the absolutely best character animators in the industry here at Infinity Ward. It’s that simple. We also have a great new feature in our CoD4Engine (CODE) which allows for seamless transitions between mo-cap animations and standard animations, allowing for the smoothest and natural movements in games.

Gearheads: Two more quick questions. First of all, do you think Call of Duty 4 deserves the Game of the Year for 2007? And second, is the franchise (at least the IW-produced games) now permanently entrenched in modern times?

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: I feel we’ve delivered what we set out to do and that was to make the best game of the year. So, Yes, to me Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the 2007 Game of The Year. As for where Infinity Ward’s versions of Call of Duty titles go from here, I never presume to know what will be happening tomorrow, let alone an entire development cycle from now. So I honestly can’t say where we’ll be next game, we’re going to set our sights on setting the bar even higher next game so whatever that means in terms of what the game will be, is anyone’s guess. No reason to limit our selves to a deadest option. Anything’s possible.

Gearheads: Thank you so very much for your time. Perhaps some Friday Night FragFest, we can get the IW guys to face off against the Gearheads. Oh and the Go Deep and Go Hard song at the end is brilliant. Please release it on iTunes.

Robert Bowling / Infinity Ward: We are always down for a challenge so bring on the Friday Fragfest.

Gearheads Interview: Cliff Bleszinski Post Gears Release

Recently, my brother Cliff made an appearance on the Gearheads Friday Night FragFest. As a follow-up to that, he decided to check in here for an exclusive interview. This is the second time Cliff has stopped by Gearheads, but it’s the first time since the game was actually released.

Without further ado, here is the Gearheads interview with Gears of War lead designer Cliff Bleszinski:

Gearheads of War: First of all, I want to congratulate you on an incredible experience that has your older brother completely and totally addicted. If you wind up making my wife leave me because of my addiction to chainsawing friends online, you can forget my thoughtful Christmas gifts from here on out.

Cliff Bleszinski: That’s fine, I’ll just make sure I take you to some clubs to find you a new wife.

Gearheads: Very funny. Were you surprised at how well it’s been received, both critically and commercially? I’m sure you probably know it’s the fastest-selling new IP in gaming ever.

Cliff: The initial splash of sales is merely a testament to how we were able to stoke the coals of the hype machine by selectively showing cool sequences from the game, releasing the right footage, and not drowning the internet in screenshots. We carefully selected what we let everyone see as we did not want to spoil the entire experience. The fact that the game has continued to sell well is the biggest surprise for me. It means that people love the game and the universe and are playing it a ton on Live.

Gearheads: There have been several stories online claiming that while Gears is a great game, it hasn’t really been a “system seller”, instead just selling to the existing install base. Do you think that it’s been a system seller?

Cliff: One title does not a console war win. Sony’s Playstation2 won the last round by having GTAIII, Twisted Metal Black, Final Fantasy, and Metal Gear Solid 2 all hitting to make the console a no brainer. Gears is the start of that push for the 360 which is continuing with titles like Crackdown, Mass Effect, Forza2 and, of course, Halo 3. A console manufacturer needs to break down a consumer with not only features but with exclusivity so that the consumer finally says “Damn it, now I have to buy a (whatever.)”

Gearheads: As we all know, not everything is perfect, not even Bleszinskis. Are there elements of Gears that you look back at now and wish that you could’ve changed or been improved?

Cliff: I would have loved for more screen time for Anya and Jack. Both characters are near and dear to my heart. In a world that’s filled with heinous creatures, imposing architecture and super buff and badass soldiers it’s important to have room for something that’s pretty and something that’s cutesy. Otherwise we wind up bathed in a sea of manliness. As badass as “The 300″ was we still had the exotic, artsy shots of the Oracle and beautiful naked women to balance out the ripped warriors yelling and cutting each other’s heads off.

Gearheads: Do you ever wonder what you could’ve done with the game if you’d had six more months?

Cliff: Reduced the distance on grenade tagging upon shipping, perhaps?

Gearheads: You guys talked a lot about how even though you were known for multiplayer games because of the UT franchise that you were really going to focus on the campaign aspect of this game, but it appears like the legs that Gears of War has is in multiplayer. People are still gathering to frag each other five months later. Are you surprised at how the multiplayer is sustaining Gears despite the fact that you guys said that the most attention would be paid to the single player and co-op campaign?

Cliff: People hear about a game through hype and marketing. Then they come for the single player and the graphics and ultimately they stick around for the gameplay and multiplayer. This experience is closest to a Friday night where a group of friends to go see a film that opens up and then go to discuss what they just saw at the bar or coffee shop afterwards. The viewing is like the single player campaign, the banter after is shared social experience – the multiplayer. For the genre in which we operate I believe you need the triple threat of great single player, co-op, and versus in order to have the initial sales numbers followed through with excellent longer term sell through.

Gearheads: The co-op campaign is truly drop in and drop out and works very seamlessly. A lot of people I’ve talked to seemed to enjoy playing the campaign more co-op than anything. Did you believe that was going to be a result from including such an immersive co-op element?

Cliff: We always knew that buddying up with a friend to tear through a cinematic campaign was going to be immensely satisfying. Make a fun, compelling roller coaster ride and naturally people are going to want to share that ride with a friend! There’s a huge delta right now between a hardcore and a casual gamer and co-op is the best way to bridge that gap.

Gearheads: Is the aim when creating a game and a universe like this to only give a tiny little portion of time in the overall storyline and allowing people to imagine how both the history and the future play out? In other words, it’s probably not realistic to expect to get much more than a sliver of Marcus Fenix’s story even if you were to add 10-15 more cut scenes.

Cliff: We simply didn’t want to start with the space shot of Sera while giving 10 minutes of history on the planet and Marcus’ background. Those users that want that information will ultimately seek it in the ancillary materials; in the art books, in the online marketing campaigns, etc… When I buy a videogame I want to cut right to the chase and start playing. Fill in the details later. Don’t force your exposition on me, let me build my own interest and ultimately seek out more data on the world.

Gearheads: Do you guys think you did an adequate job of getting the player emotionally invested in the story?

Cliff: Players jumped when Wretches lept at them, cringed when shot at, and laughed at squadmate banter. They beat the game, felt pleasantly exhausted, and then proceeded to team up to play co-op or battle it out in versus. Therefore, we got the players emotionally invested in the universe and the experience. Players want to know more about these guys and their backgrounds. That’s what I call a good problem to have! Sure, we can always do better in the future, but I think we did a pretty good job.

Gearheads: Are you guys working on getting some of the glitches in the game fixed with the next update? Things like the roadie run exploding chainsaw and some of the ways guys are getting out of MP maps.

Cliff: We’re continuing to enhance the online Gears experience not only with fixes but also with future downloadable content.

Gearheads: Any chance you can give the Gearheads any estimation on when we might see some more new content and/or hints on what that new content might contain?

Cliff: Cool Stuff Soon.

Gearheads: What’s your favorite moment in the campaign of the game and why?

Cliff: I love the ending sequence on the train when the music begins to build into a full crescendo as Reavers are circling around me, the train flies into the tunnel, and I’m able to eventually wield a chaingun against my foes. In many ways the game is the excited pitch of an ADD affected man child and this moment is one of those in which that vision culminates.

Gearheads: How about your favorite act of the campaign and why?

Cliff: Act one is still my favorite because of the cover gameplay. It’s packed with great moments and lots of solid shooting action.

Gearheads: What’s your feeling on weapon balance in the multiplayer of Gears? I, for one, think the shotty is overpowered, but then again I’m a huge Lancer/chainsaw fan. I’ve heard everything from the chainsaw is too inconsistent to grenade tagging is for noobs.

Cliff: There’s nothing wrong with some moves in a game being for “noobs.” It’s like having superweapons in an Unreal Tournament style of game; they allow even the simplest players to occasionally get a kill. Players quickly forget that, at any given point in their gaming career they were noobs. When I go on the forums and read up the consensus is that the Sniper Rifle is too strong… or that Pistol Melee is… or that the chainsaw is “cheap.” Generally speaking the more distributed complaints there are about weapon strengths the more balanced a game ultimately is. Players are going to complain because, hey, dying sucks. If they all complain about different weapons killing them then you might have a good balance in your game.

Gearheads: How quickly do you think other games will actually catch up to the visual masterpiece that Gears represents? I mean this is the first game where people were almost universally saying it’s the best looking game they’ve ever seen.

Cliff: Other studios are more than welcome to license our technology which enabled us to help rapidly prototype and create such great visuals.

Gearheads: I know you guys haven’t said anything about whether or not there will be a sequel, but do you think you can push the 360 so you can get even more detail and beauty out of it for whatever projects you happen to work on down the road?

Cliff: Yes we can.

Gearheads: Does it make you laugh that so many news organizations want to “break” the story that a sequel is coming out so badly that they’ll even go to extremes of basically misquoting you to try and be the first to have that story?

Cliff: I don’t find it funny at all. It causes me considerable grief actually. “News organizations” should stick to reporting the news, not making it up.

Gearheads: What is your favorite multiplayer map and why?

Cliff: I love (Fuel) Depot. There’s a front but that front can flanked and broken with a little bit of extra work.

Gearheads: Do you have a least favorite map and if so, why?

Cliff: I’m not a big fan of Ravendown because of its size. Still, having a map that is all out action and cuts right to the chase makes some users happy.

Gearheads: What is your weapon of choice in multiplayer if you can hand pick it at the beginning of the match?

Cliff: I’ll always have a soft spot for the Torquebow. It’s my love of Rambo 3 that drives this.

Gearheads: Is Gears the game you’ve always wanted to make or is there some pie-in-the-sky project you’ve always wanted to do?

Cliff: Gears is the game that I ultimately wanted to build.

Gearheads: Has Gears given you a sense of satisfaction or is it driving you to make you next game that much better?

Cliff: As a creative I’m never happy. If I find myself happy then it’s time to retire.

Gearheads: Finally, I just wanted to thank you on behalf of all of the Gearheads for making a game that’s allowed us to form a lot of new friendships and develop a great community of intelligent gamers. We’ll love to have you visit us during Friday Night FragFest again sometime soon. And maybe your brother can finally play with and against you.

Cliff: Yeah but he’ll have to practice. He doesn’t seem to take cover that often.

Gearheads: I don’t think the hundreds of chainsaw kills “he” has gotten during FFF would agree with you. Thanks so much for your time.

Gearheads Interviews Eric Nylund

So many people want to pigeonhole Gears of War as the next Halo, making the comparisons on a daily basis. But the truth is that the two games will likely have little in common outside of the fact that they could both be classified as shooters in a sci-fi universe.

One place where the Gears universe actually intersects directly with the Halo universe is in the home of Eric Nylund. Nylund is best known for writing two of the Halo novels, including The Fall of Reach and First Strike. He has penned a third unreleased book about the continuing Halo saga called Ghosts of Coral.

Apparently, Nylund has become the go-to guy at Microsoft for their really valuable IPs as he was brought in to help with Gears of War’s story. Nylund’s mind is the one place where the Locust and Covenant duke it out for evil, bent-on-destruction supremacy and where Master Chief and Marcus Fenix can kick back, have a brew and brag about all the ass they’ve kicked.

Nylund recently agreed to talk about Gears of War and his role in developing the all-important storyline that can either help carry a game or leave it as limp as Bob Dole without the little blue pill.

Without further ado, here is my interview with the prolific Eric Nylund:

Gearheads of War: First of all, how did you get involved in the Gears of War project?

Nylund: I work as a writer at Microsoft Game Studios. About two years ago, I started helping Epic’s lead designer, Cliff Bleszinski, shaping his ideas into a compelling game narrative.

Gearheads: What was appealing to you about the project?

Nylund: EPIC takes their story seriously. They have a rich story arc, deep backstory, and they’ve spent a lot of energy planning how best to present the story in the context of a video game.

Gearheads: Is this the first in-game story that you’ve written? I know you wrote the Halo books, but was this the first time you will be seeing your story in a game format?

Nylund: I’ve worked in the video game industry for seven years. GEARS is not the first story I’ve helped out with…but it will be one of the most interesting.

And to be perfectly honest, it’s not my story. The story is first and foremost, Cliff’s, and many other very talented and creative people on the EPIC team have contributed–most notably Rod Ferguson, Jerry O’Flaherty, Lee Perry, and Susan O’Conner.

Gearheads: When you first came on board, what kind of story outline was already there and how much detail was needed?

Nylund: There was plenty of detail, but it wasn’t crafted in a very game friendly way. A lot of the early work with Cliff was taking his ideas and the vast backstory and streamlining it to pick out what would eventually be shown in the game. We wanted maximum drama without slowing any of the action!

Gearheads: Was Sera already a concept in place or was that a concept that evolved when you came on board?

Nylund: Sera was there before I came along.

Gearheads: Why do you think that a fictional Sera was chosen when it could’ve clearly been placed on Earth given the similarities we’ve glimpsed of the two planets?

Nylund: Sorry – can’t answer this one. Label it TOP SECRET and move on…nothing to see here.

Gearheads: I recently interviewed Cliff Bleszinski and he said that Susan O’Conner helped in the development of the story. Was it difficult to collaborate with another writer?

Nylund: Nope. Susan is great. Epic needed a writer on site for large periods of time when the levels were being finalized, so Susan was brought onto the team. She jumped in feet first and soaked up two years worth of development in a few weeks. She brought a fresh pair of eyes to the project, and most of the in-game lines are hers. Everyone should check out her website at: http://www.storiesforgames.com/

Gearheads: What has it been like working with the Gears of War/Epic team?

Nylund: Great. They’re very committed to GEARS. For a bunch of non-writers they’ve come up with some great story ideas! There’s not a lot of ego on this team, either. They just want GEARS to the best game possible.

Gearheads: Did you have to collaborate a lot for the Halo books with Bungie and was there a big difference in how you worked with both teams on their intellectual properties?

Nylund: Yes, there’s a great deal of collaboration with Bungie especially for the latest book. We’re trying to dovetail events in three games and novels and make it work.

But writing for a video game is much different than writing for a book. There are similar elements: in both you’re trying to tell a compelling story. But in a game it’s more of a team effort. You’re not free to just writing anything. It’s got to mesh with level design, gameplay, and art. Words you put down on paper can impact 60 other guys on the team. You have to be flexible.

Gearheads: Are there any plans for Gears of War novels to accompany the game?

That’s up to EPIC. You never know…

Gearheads: Where did you get some of your inspiration for the storyline?

Nylund: Mostly Band of Brothers. A dash of the Resident Evil series.

Gearheads: Did you find any inspiration in recent events in the world…wars, politics, etc.?

Nylund: I’d say a good deal of the backstory could be taken right out of today’s headlines, a few names altered, a science fiction twist…and viola.

Gearheads: Is there anything about the limitations of the characters being in a video game that hinders your work and conversely is there anything that makes it easier to write the story?

Nylund: It’s easy to write huge galaxy-spanning scenes in a novel, change location on the next page, and populate them with millions of exotic characters. That’s harder to do in a game. Every new scene and character is a new art asset to be generated and fit into a level. You’re plying with a much more limited tool set in game writing.

On the other hand, it’s easier because you actually get to see the people, places, and things in the world, and can influence the in-game events. It’s a more vibrant palette to paint from.

Gearheads: Do you think that the story part of games is becoming radically more important with the advent of this next generation of
consoles?

Nylund: I think story has always been important in games, it’s just rarely been done well. To a small extent it’s been limited by technology, but to a much greater extent it just hasn’t been thought about with the creative energy that has been poured into gameplay and art creation. THAT is changing.

Gearheads: Is it tough to alternate between the Halo universe and the war on Sera with the Locust?

Nylund: No. I’m only happy when I get to work on three things at once. It keeps it all fresh.

Gearheads: Without giving anything away, what percentage of the story has changed from what you originally penned at the beginning?

Nylund: I wouldn’t use the world “changed” more like “evolved” which is typical of the game development process. Levels change or get cut, things are reordered, some art assets never materialize. I’d say the GEARS story has
“changed” by about a third.

Gearheads: How developed was the character of Marcus Fenix…and by that I mean, one of the biggest criticisms of Halo is that Master Chief is kind of soulless character who hasn’t really been developed (in the game, not in the novels)…will there be more to Marcus?

Nylund: Yes. Right from the start, we find Marcus in an interesting situation. How did he get there? How’s he going to get out of this jam? There are clues and little bits of story inserted throughout the game that fill in his past…but not everything. I think it’s smart to keep some things a mystery, to tell later….

Gearheads: Would you say your involvement with the Gears’ story is pretty much over at this point?

Nylund: Alas, yes…for GEARS OF WAR. All the audio lines have been recorded.

Gearheads: Were you a video game fan before you got involved in all of this? And if so, what are your favorite games and do they help with inspiration at all?

Nylund: Sure. I’ve played video games since I had a TRS-80, although the one game that got me hooked was The Ancient Art of War on my 128K Fat MAC.

Gearheads: I have to ask because I’m a big Halo fan in addition to Gears, but are you involved in the storyline for Halo 3 at all? And does the next Halo novel that will be published in October relate to the game?

Nylund: Sorry I can’t answer anything related to HALO 3. Bungie ninjas will find me…. And same goes for the new novel. Bungie controls the release of all the information related to the next novel–but soon, there will be some new information!

Gearheads: Thank you so much for taking out time from all of the writing to talk to the diehard Gears of War fan community.

Nylund: It was my pleasure!