Gearheads Interview: Ryan McCaffrey

Ryan McCaffrey is the senior editor of Official XBox Magazine. He hosts the weekly OXM podcast along with sidekick Dan Amrich. He’s connected with the Xbox world better than just about anyone in gaming journalism and he was one of the first journalists out there to pretty much openly gloat about chainsawing a buddy in half.

McCaffrey graciously agreed to go an interview with Gearheads to talk about the state of the Xbox 360, what he really thinks of PS3 and Wii and of course our favorite game, Gears of War.

Gearheads of War: First of all, thanks for taking the time to do this. We’re pretty much all Xbox fans and love the information you guys give us through the magazine and weekly podcast.

Thanks Blez. We do our best to inform and entertain on a weekly (with the podcast) and monthly (with the magazine) basis.

Gearheads: Is it challenging at times having to focus solely on a single brand of console, especially with the original Xbox essentially being left for dead?

Honestly no, it hasn’t been much of a problem – lately. It was certainly more of a challenge during the first six months of the Xbox 360’s existence when the new consoles were hard to come by and people were still firmly attached to their original Xboxes despite there being nowhere near as many games releasing and in development as they’d been used to. But I think everyone has gotten really excited about the 360 and the truckload of games on the way in 2007 alone.

Gearheads: How solid do you feel Xbox 360 is positioned in the now current gen battle?

Better than anyone could’ve expected before the system launched, I think. Granted, that’s due as much to Sony’s bad decisions as it is to Microsoft’s good ones (there’ve been plenty of both), but Microsoft clearly got the message from last generation: it’s the software that moves the hardware, not the hardware that moves the hardware. Heck, there’s something good – really good – coming out almost every month of 2007. January: Lost Planet. February: Crackdown. March: GRAW 2 and Oblivion Shivering Isles. April: Guitar Hero II. May: Forza Motorsport 2. Beyond that you can rattle off Mass Effect, The Darkness, Blue Dragon, BioShock, Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway, Project Gotham Racing 4, and a bunch of others. And most of what I just listed are exclusives!

Gearheads: What do you think of the PS3, especially in light of some of the announcements at GDC?

I think I can probably speak for a lot of gamers when I say that it’s a platform that I really want to be excited about, but have not yet been given sufficient reason to do so. There just aren’t enough exclusives yet to make me want to drop $600. White Knight, a Level-5 role-playing game, looks great, but it’s a 2008 title I believe. And as for the recent GDC announcement, Home is cool, no doubt, and I’m very anxious to check it out, but I have to wonder: is it actually too much for the casual gamer? What I mean by that is, does your average casual gamer want to have to load up a whole program and navigate this 3D space to check out their Achievements? Or are they happy being able to just press the Xbox Guide button or log on to Xbox.com and check them out? Maybe the 3D space thing will take off, but maybe it’ll prove to be too daunting to the average Madden-GTA gamer. Time will tell.

Gearheads: How do you think the Wii and the success of the Wii will impact future generations of consoles?

The technology arms race will never end. The human desire to improve will mean there are always consoles that are ludicrously more powerful than the ones before it. I believe that. And I believe Sony and Microsoft feel that way too. Nintendo, however, has taken a left turn that is, to date, serving them very well. Surely their controller innovations will affect future generations of consoles, but I don’t think the other major players will stop advancing their hardware the way Nintendo essentially has. Instead, they’ll simply incorporate these innovations into their next uber-consoles.

Gearheads: Will the divide between the casual gamer and the hardcore gamer only expand? I only ask this because I feel kind of out of touch with the people enamored with the Wii, but there are a lot more of them out there than there are hardcore gamers, I suppose.

I don’t think it matters, frankly. Good games are gateways to other good games. If someone who’s never been a gamer before picks up the Wii and digs it, they’re more likely to get into the “hardcore” stuff like Xbox 360 and PS3. Hell, look at Guitar Hero II. I’ve never seen a “gateway” game like that. It’s genius.

Gearheads: Do you ever feel like a certain segment of the gaming population doesn’t take OXM as seriously as it should since it has the term “official” in the title? For example, I talked with someone over Live last week and he mentioned that he thought that Microsoft exerted some kind of editorial control over the publication.

Of course. It comes with the territory. There will always be those people that think “official” means we’re owned by Microsoft. Well, we’re not. What makes us “official” is that we pay Microsoft “x” amount of money to use the Xbox name and logo – and the exclusive rights to do an Xbox demo disc. That’s it. They have no editorial control whatsoever. When we give their game a bad review, they’re as unhappy as any third-party publisher that gets a bad review.

Gearheads: Is there an issue you guys published that you’re especially proud of and if so, why?

Ah, you’ve set me up perfectly for some shameless plugging! Thank you! J Seriously, though, I think our last two issues have been excellent. The March issue (which you probably can’t find anymore on newsstands) featured Guitar Hero II. We had an exclusive review of the game, a behind-the-scenes tour at RedOctane, and a number of great feature articles to boot. And it also had a great cover – a guy with a guitar instead of the usual Xbox game, which features a guy with a gun. Hehe.

And the April issue, which is the new one out now, is cool for the OXM Universe game that’s on the demo disc. It’s a “progressive development” game that we’ll have on every disc. It’s essentially space exploration, and each month you’ll get a new piece to the puzzle. Subscribers are going to eat it up, and hopefully everyone else will try it, get into it, and become a subscriber. Oh, and we also have the expensive-on-Marketplace Chapter 2 download for the original GRAW on the April disc – for free.

Gearheads: How often do you guys have publishers upset with any coverage and/or rumors that you guys happen to publish in the magazine?

It happens. It’s part of the job. But really, it’s not a frequent thing. Publishers know when they have a bad game on their hands, whether they want to admit it or not, so they know when the bad scores are coming. And as for rumors…well, readers love `em even if publishers don’t. J

Gearheads: How challenging is it to put out a podcast every week?

I prepare an outline of topics and (often) an interview for every show, so it’s definitely a good deal of work. And during deadline crunches it can be particularly painful to take the time out to do it. But honestly, I REALLY enjoy doing the podcast every week. My dirty secret is that I’ve always been fascinated with radio and probably would’ve looked to go into it with my journalism degree after college if I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a job at OXM. So the podcast is an outlet for me to scratch my radio itch.

Gearheads: Which is more challenging, putting out the magazine or doing the podcast each week?

Certainly the magazine. It’s the engine that drives everything (including the podcast), so it has to be as good as it can be. The podcast is a little less pressure, although we have so many listeners now (woohoo!) that it’s becoming a pretty big deal itself!

Gearheads: Do you enjoy it?

I can honestly say that it’s the highlight of my week. I mean no disrespect to the magazine in saying that, because obviously I love writing and putting together the magazine, but doing jokes, bits, editorials, and interviews on the podcast every week is a blast.

Gearheads: How do you feel about the quality of gaming journalism?

It’s higher than ever, in my opinion. You might not realize it simply because there’s SO MUCH of it out there, and not all of it is good, but there’s a lot of great writing and great writers. Not just anyone can walk in off the street and get paid to be a gaming journalist. On our staff, for instance, we have journalism degrees, English degrees, and psychology degrees. And this is the case for a lot of outlets these days. This isn’t a business that’s just for kids anymore; it’s the bigger industry than movies, and the quality of people within it now reflects that.

Gearheads: Can a guy be a serious journalist and a fanboy of a certain console at the same time?

Well, I think the term “fanboy” implies a negative connotation; that they’re blindly supportive of a particular game/console/company/whatever without regard to reality. But I absolutely believe one can be a serious journalist and still be very supportive of a single console. I hope we fit that mold. We’re not fanboys. We each own multiple game consoles and play games on every platform, handheld or desktop. In fact, for our little staff bio pictures that run in the Message Center section of each issue, we used our Nintendo Mii avatars as our pictures – two issues in a row!

Gearheads: What is your favorite game in the past three years on any console?

Wow, that is a question that’s almost impossible to answer. Just one? Sheesh, well then it’s gotta be Halo 2. Our work crew and friends played that EVERY NIGHT for seven or eight months straight on Xbox Live. There are more good stories that I remember than I can even count.

Gearheads: How about the past 10 years?

Now you’re approaching “all-time” territory (sort of). This is again almost impossible to answer, but I’ll have to go with the original Doom. Oh wait, that’s more than 10 years ago. I feel old! So from 1997 until now, then…I’ll take Grand Theft Auto III. It was a revolution. Nothing less. And it’s still awesome today.

Gearheads: And of all-time?

Wow, the money question. I literally cannot pick just one. Short list: Super Mario Bros. 3, Doom, Half-Life, all of the old LucasArts adventure games, Halo/Halo 2, and the aforementioned GTA III.

Gearheads: Do you think Gears of War set a new standard by which all other games will be judged now in terms of visuals?

It clearly has. And while there are a lot of visually spectacular games coming out this year, I don’t think any will top Gears in that department, except maybe Mass Effect (which, coincidentally, is also based off of Unreal Engine 3).

Gearheads: What of Gears’ more innovative features (such as cover system and active reload) do you think will wind up having the biggest long-term impact on gaming?

Well to be fair, Rainbow Six Vegas did the awesome cover system thing at exactly the same time. And active reload is damn cool, but I really think the “essence” of killing monsters/opponents is what other games will strive to capture from Gears. It feels so f-ing fun to chainsaw somebody in Gears, or grenade tag them, or blow them to bits with the shotgun, etc. That, to me, is the magic ingredient in Gears.

Gearheads: What was your favorite moment in Gears?

The battle at the Fenix estate at the end of Act IV. Pure awesomeness.

Gearheads: What do you think they could do in the sequel that will make it one of the best franchises in gaming if you don’t already think it is?

More multiplayer modes, better character development, four-player co-op. Natural stuff that’s probably already on Epic’s checklist.

Gearheads: And finally, we have a weekly Friday Night FragFest. We’ve already beaten Ziff Davis and we have your team in our sights. Can we mark this down as a future contest…Gearheads versus OXM? We might even let Corey onto our team so he can kick your limbs around. I remember you giving him a hard time about that for quite a while. 🙂

Name the time and the place. We’ll be there!

Gearheads: Thanks so much for your time and we look forward to meeting you and the OXM staff over XBL soon.

Thank you!

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