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"In the August 2007 issue of Games for Windows: The Official Magazine, GFW's Shawn Elliott spoke with Epic vice president Mark Rein about the PC version of Gears of War, Games for Windows Live, and lots more. Mark had plenty to say -- more than we could fit into the magazine. Here's the full conversation.
GFW: As far as you can, give me details about the Live content and how it breaks down between the Silver and Gold tiers. Not content so much as functionality, you know? Matchmaking and all that.
Mark Rein: OK, sure. So with Silver you get the ability to go to a server -- everybody gets Silver, right, and it's unlimited. With Silver you get the ability to go to a server, like, basically from a server chooser, and play multiplayer games. That's the main thing. With Gold you get the ability to then also go matchmake with your buddies and invite people to games and a few other things like that. But Silvers can still host servers, they can host dedicated servers, and they can join dedicated servers.
GFW: So you were skeptical about some aspect of Games for Windows Live -- what specifically has changed that's made you happier with it overall?
MR: I guess...so we did get confirmation that voice was...so you'll have to check and make sure that's for public knowledge. That was a big help; that was one of our big things. We...I think we're going to get a pretty generous trial period, so that helps as well. We love Live; we've never been against Live. If you listen to that podcast we did, I think we came off pretty balanced, saying that we think it's a really good service, obviously. It's what drives the success of Xbox 360, and there's millions of users on it. So we're not against it. We just want it to be free for our customers. But we understand why it isn't.
The other thing is Gears of War is an Xbox 360 game as well, coming to the PC. So it probably would have been a lot of work to then make it a not-Live game. People are already familiar with the game, and they have the Gold service already on Xbox 360. I mean, if you're an Xbox 360 user and you're buying Gears of War to play Timgad and some of the new stuff that's exclusive to the Windows platform here, I think that you'll be appreciative of the fact that you don't have to relearn how to do multiplayer, that it works almost exactly how Xbox Live does. I think that was a lot of the decision for this game -- what are we going to do for our users that already know this and are already paying for their accounts?
GFW: Are you assuming that the majority of your users of the PC version will already have it on the 360? To what extent are you hoping to attract people that got word of the game or hoped that the game would come to PC and waited for it because they identify themselves as hardcore PC people?
MR: To be honest, we have no idea. I think that, if you're a Gears of War fan, if you're the kind of guy who went out and bought a faceplate, which they sold quite a few of, and a strategy guide, which they sold quite a few of, and the limited edition, if you're a Gears nut, you're going to want to play this extra content, especially this extra single-player campaign. So yeah, I'm hopeful that we'll get a lot of people who do want to play that from the Xbox audience. My gut says the majority of people will be the kind of people who said, for one reason or another, I can't afford or don't want or I don't need an Xbox 360 -- I'm a Windows gamer. I hear this game's really hot; I gotta play it. I imagine that'll be the majority of people. I don't know if I'd go back and buy a game on Windows that I'd already bought on 360 unless I'm just crazy about that game. In my case, for Gears of War, yes, I would, because I've seen the new levels, and I want to play them. But that's a question for consumers to answer, and we'll just have to wait and see.
GFW: In an ideal world, the extent to which you guys will facilitate people that use your editor to distribute maps and stuff...not the junk ones, obviously, but for farming the really good talent and helping to distribute that...or just making it available to people, too. Say you're really happy with someone's map, and you wish that it would be the case where, when you join their server, it'll automatically download it. Will Microsoft say, OK, they have to go download that independently?
MR: We don't know for sure how all that stuff's gonna work yet, whether they'll be able to download automatically or whether we'll be just sending them places to download it. But to answer the earlier part of the question, we're definitely encouraging it. If you go back and look at the history of Epic, what we've done in the past is we've actually created new products. We created a Game of the Year version of [Unreal Tournament], and then UT2004 was kind of the next level of UT2003, and in a lot of the cases we went out to some of the really good modmakers and we gave them money. We bought their mods, sometimes gave them money to make improvements, and polished them up a little bit more, and then we shipped them in some of our games or in some of our free bonus packs. So that's kind of in our DNA. That's something that we're definitely always thinking of: If somebody made something really good, how can we facilitate that person getting something in return for it? I think, at least with the editor for Gears of War, there's certainly opportunities down the road to bring some of this content to Xbox Live and Windows Live platforms, and maybe, hopefully, some of it will be free, [and] some of it will be paid. We can find a way maybe even for modmakers to make some money off of that. We just don't have all the answers on how that's going to work today.
GFW: What about plans for the franchise in general, with licensing, as it pertains to books, action figures, everything on up to a motion picture? Can you talk about any of that?
MR: Well, we've announced that New Line Cinema has acquired the rights to do a motion picture. That seems to be moving along pretty well. I spoke with the studio a few weeks ago, and they're really happy and they're really anxious to actually make the movie. This isn't just "Let's buy the rights and sit on them." That's good news. We're exploring a lot of the other areas, as you know, there's some pretty decent merchandising stuff now -- hats, shirts, things like that. There's the Mad Catz faceplates and the console box [and] a few other things you can get. In terms of other things in the franchise, like novels, et cetera, yeah, we're exploring that and we're open to that.
Job No. 1 was to make a great game. Job No. 2 was to not overburden people with too much story and too many cinematics, but make a fun world where the gameplay was really fun and the core mechanic was really great. And then, as people caught on to that and wanted to delve deeper into that, to be able to expand in some of these other areas you've talked about, like movies and novels and et cetera. That's going to plan. I don't think there's anything new to announce today that you're not already aware of, but that's certainly...that's the plan. People are definitely hooked on Gears and they love it, and they want to know more about the backstory and they want to know more about the characters. While we certainly -- we don't want to beat them over the head too much with that stuff when they're playing the game -- we definitely think that we can fulfill some of their desires to know more.
GFW: Do you think that you got enough of the story across in the game, as much as you wanted to, or could you have had more in there?
MR: We could always have more, but at what point are you taking the camera out of the player's hands too much, spending too much time doing movies and things that aren't interactive? What's the cost of those? The cost of those is less polish and less things that are interactive and less things that are playable and fewer environments and fewer weapons. I think you're starting to get the point -- we have so much manpower to produce so much content and we want to put as much of that content on the screen in an interactive format during playable hours as we can.
GFW: That strikes me as a false binary, where it's like, narrative in game is either delivered through a noninteractive cut-scene that's presented in the fashion of a movie, or the story and the history of the world is...because you do do it, part of when your designers are going and saying, this is what this planet looks like, this is what the underground, where the Locusts live looks like, those are also ways to convey information. And of course, it's in an interactive way, where you're experiencing it, even if it's happening in the case of a firefight or something.
MR: Well, actually, you know what's really funny is that, a lot of times the people that are complaining that...people on the forums are saying it was so light on story; I want to know about the trial; I want to know about thrashball; I want to know about this; I want to know about that. They make a list of 20 things they feel we didn't explain, and I'm like, wow, you know a lot about Gears of War. You know as much as the characters know, because part of the basic premise of the story is the characters have no idea what they're getting into. There is a mystery here. So it's funny when I see people say, I want to know this or that, and I don't feel that you told me enough. It's like, wow, actually, you learned a lot. The real exposition in Gears of War, I think, is in the dialogue between the characters as much as it is in the cinematics. If you listen very carefully, when the characters are playing through the game, you actually get quite a bit of information. I think that was as well-done as it could be. So I'm pretty happy with that, and I think some of those other questions will be answered in...novels. Certainly a lot of questions will be answered in a movie. And you know, maybe one day we'll make another game in this franchise.
GFW: Yeah, I think when people ask those kinds of specific questions, that is a sign of success, because even what I'm getting at...it's not necessarily the job of the game to explain, even in a case where the game is everything, where there are no books or movies, it's not necessary to explain every detail of the world, but to make you ask good questions. For some people, they were wondering that there wasn't even enough to make them ask a question. There was Fenix's history, and then the very big panned-out view of the world. And who the hell are the Locust and what are they besides pure territorial...it's the Morlocks and it's time they decided to take over the surface type thing...
MR: Well, I think we've left some really good entrees there to fill that information in in the future. And I'm happy about that. I think if we beat you over the head with every last piece of information, it would be all dialogue, and it would be all cinematics, and it would be all guys just talking, talking, talking. When would you have time to kill those bastards? [Laughs] That's the fun of the game, it's the...I shouldn't say killing. Eradicating the Locust -- that's the fun of the game; that's why you're being dragged from location to location and learning more and more about what's going on. And the nice thing, actually, tying this in to the Windows game, these additional chapters here, they're something that we wanted to have originally in the game, because we felt it filled in a lot of the story, especially going towards the end of the game. So I think Windows users will feel pretty satisfied; that they learned a bunch more about what's going on here and why.
GFW: A few developers have messed around with interactive commentary for the equivalent of a director's cut, especially when in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher's Bay came out on PC. And some of the stuff that Valve did with Half Life 2:Episode One. Is that interesting to you at all?
MR: I'll tell you why I wouldn't want to do that. I don't think we could resist spilling too many secrets. And I think that would hurt the game more than it would help it. In other words, I could see [lead designer] Cliff [Bleszinski] and [producer] Rod Fergusson sitting there, playing through the game and going, oh, you know why this is happening now? It's like, no, don't tell us! One day we might do another game or a movie or a novel, you know? Let us find that out in the right way instead of just accidentally spilling the beans in the commentary. So I've never been big on the whole director's commentary thing, for movies and so forth. I just...there's the odd movie where I really like that, but it's mostly comedies, where they're explaining how they set up a gag. Like The 40-Year-Old Virgin or something like that: It's interesting to hear them talk about the part where they're doing the waxing. But for the most part, commentaries where they're telling you more information about the story or whatever, it just seems to me like that should have been on the screen.
GFW: You were speaking out about having some issues with the way that Microsoft wanted you to...insisted that you would charge for every bit of downloadable content. I'm wondering if that's an issue that you've entirely resolved, or if that's something that's going to matter with the PC game?
MR: Well, remember, the main issue was...I hate when people think it was some kind of war. Us and Microsoft had the same ultimate goal -- let's make the most amount of money possible from this game. How do we do it? Well, we thought, giving more stuff away free, and they thought having people pay for that content would ultimately raise the pile higher. Ultimately, they're the publisher. It was their store. It was their choice. We can't walk into Wal-Mart and say, "Hey, we've got a box of 400 brooms in the back of our car. Would you put them on your floor and give them away for free?" any more than we can tell the Marketplace guys what to do. I think that's been pretty much resolved, and in the end, the users are getting that content. If you don't want to pay for that content, you just wait until September and get it for free anyway. So I think we're pretty satisfied that that chapter is behind us and we had a good resolution to it.
GFW: And it sounds like the resolution is just giving it away for free later on down the road.
MR: Yeah. That was Microsoft's suggestion. I think that was great. That solved, for us, we were like, OK, if people aren't happy because it's not free, we can say, hey, it is free, you just have to wait a little longer for it. In the same way that movies eventually come out on network television, right? [Laughs] And you can watch 'em for free if you're willing to wait.
GFW: I know after the release of the game for 360 you were very, very closely following what was being said about it online, both unofficially in forums and stuff, in print, on websites, things like that. What did you find to be the most insightful things said about the game? Both positive and negative.
MR: Well, like I say, it's funny. Some of the negative things were, in my opinion, really positive. People who said, like I was talking about earlier with the story, I didn't get enough story; I want to know this, this, and this. I took that to be...I kind of had a big smirk on my face, thinking wow, that's perfect. That's where we want you do be. J. K. Rowling isn't going to tell you how the Harry Potter saga ends in Book One, right? So for me that was OK. I don't think there was a ton of negative. I think there was a ton of positive. Obviously, you can see all the awards the game's won: the editor's choice, great compliments, and review scores. It's fun to just take that all in and sit back and go, wow, look at this.
GFW: I was emphasizing, though, the insightful part of it, too...people that fundamentally did like the game, and like I said, in their praise and their criticism, I'm not talking about just random, out-of-left-field snipes and crap like that.
MR: Well, we learned that people really, really want some sort of party system. [Laughs] That they really expect us to do everything that Halo 2 did before us. We learned that. That's insightful. We took that to heart. One day we'll have something like that, I'm sure. So those kinds of things were useful. It's always useful to read what people say about your game, positive and negative. It's all insightful. Any user feedback is good feedback.
GFW: So now, in your mind, Epic already had an excellent reputation for making multiplayer games. Are you on the same footing now for single-player and cooperative design?
MR: I think so, yeah. Based on the review scores and the sales success of the game, yeah, I think we've kinda earned our badge for single-player back again. We used to have it for Unreal, the original Unreal, even though obviously back in the day we produced much simpler games, in terms of single-player experience. There was no question that Unreal was considered one of those, and I guess people just generally forgot it. Or maybe it's better to say that we've had that in the past on PC, and now we've proved we can do that as well on consoles. It's a big thing, because a lot of developers end up being pigeonholed as one or the other. I think it's good that we've managed to break out a little bit on the console side.
GFW: Do you see Gears of War's multiplayer as having, you know, the kind of legs that Unreal did on PC?
MR: Um...yeah, it's hard to say. I mean, it really depends on the fans. I think the PC side of it will make a big impact because we'll see a lot of people creating their own maps and their own mods, all kinds of interesting fun stuff. It's really kinda wait-and-see how the mod community embraces it, but I suspect they will. Certainly on the 360, we're shocked at the online reception for the game, how seven months after release it's still No. 1, and so far anyway, at least in the first week, managed to fend off the Halo 3 beta. That was a shock to me. I expected us to go down to the Halo 3 beta even. I'm sure we'll go down to Halo 3 when it comes out, but just to have that long a run, and the sustained usage of the game be so high, that's really impressive. And I think that's partially because we've supported the game and made improvements over time, added new content. And partially because it's just a really fun game to play. It really is a different experience from the other multiplayer games you're playing. I love Halo as much as the next guy, and obviously I love UT, but I think I'd still play Gears as well. It mixes it up for me. It's a different kind of experience. It's a little more strategic when you're playing as a team. I definitely think we did a really good job there and we created something...hard to say "new," but we created something different that provided a good outlet for people who wanted to do something different every now and then. And I think that'll be sustained for a while. I don't want to say we'll stay No. 1. That doesn't make sense. But I think that we'll still be in the top 10 for quite a while, of games that people are playing.
GFW: Like you're saying, it's proving that already, even here, there's a big...the Halo beta came out and there's a big contingent of people in the office that all played that, and then there was another big group that tried it and said, eh. They decided to go back and do Gears. Not that it has to be an either-or type thing, but it is clearly a different game.
MR: Not at all. I think the full game, released with all the maps and all the stuff and all the weapons, Halo 3 will be kicking our ass, no question. The demo was good, but it's a taste, right? I think, if anything, what I learned from the demo was, it's a nice small taste, just enough to whet my appetite and know I want to buy and play that game. It's not a large enough taste, just playing these three maps over and over, to make me stop playing Gears altogether. So we benefited from the fact that it was a good enough taste for them to get a reaction from their audience and learn whatever they have to learn about what they have to do to hit the finish line, but it didn't disrupt all the other games on the 360. Crackdown is also being played a lot. There's a whole bunch of other games there that are still. It didn't just bust through and steal No. 1 and everybody else went way down.
GFW: Do you think this is a more important app for Games for Windows Live, in terms of selling GFW Live, so to speak, than Halo 2 Vista and Shadowrun?
MR: Um...I haven't played Shadowrun, so I can't pass judgment on that, but you know, Halo is what, a three-year-old game? I think it's smart of them, for Microsoft internally, to build some experience and build up Games for Windows a little bit and get a game out there for Vista to help get people gaming on Vista. I think they did the right thing, but you have to be aware of the fact that it's not exactly a brand-new game, and the majority of people who love that franchise will be playing that game on their Xboxes, Xbox 360s, and they'll be playing the Halo 3 beta and then Halo 3. So I don't think it's going to take the world by storm, but I think it was a necessary thing to do. I think Gears is a much newer game, again, it's a different experience for PC players. They certainly haven't played a game like this before. So I think it's a very important game to bring to the platform. Now, remember, our game is not Vista-only, so that's not our cross to bear as a developer. So we'll have a larger audience. And obviously we have a newer game with a newer graphics engine, and visually you know the difference between Gears of War and Halo 2...
Visually, obviously, it's still going to be at the top bar of PC games when it comes out. It will be the top bar. I don't think there's going to be anything more visually impressive than Gears of War Windows the day it ships...
GFW: We'll see, because everyone's tardy with their stuff. Of course, Crysis is coming out. We'll see if that makes it out... Not necessarily declaring one or the other better-looking right off the bat, but...
MR: If that's the quote you want, is Crysis better-looking than Gears of War? I don't think so. It's different. It looks great in its own way, but does it top the graphics bar for Gears of War? No.
GFW: I think it's getting a lot more...you know, here's how I look at it. There's always that game, and definitely Gears of War is that game, it was that game, and it still is, where it makes you look at the face of gaming tomorrow. You play it and you're like, OK, this is nice. This is what we can look forward to from other games. But I have to say that every time I see Crysis, it's the same thing, and it's so far after Gears, there's nothing else that seems like it's quite going to deliver that. Whereas I think even Gears, as an aside, I think Gears looks better than Halo 3, from what I've seen, at least of what I've seen of Halo 3 so far. But Crysis is one of those when I look, if something is going to give me that brand-new "wow" it's gonna be that.
MR: Well, let's see how it looks on your PC.
GFW: Considering right now I don't even have Vista... [Laughs]
MR: That's my challenge: Let's see when it ships how great it looks on the PC you own. That's the thing, do I think Gears of War will look better than Crysis on the PCs people actually own? Yes. But that's OK. Neither of them's gonna look bad. I'm not saying Crysis is a slouch by any stretch of the imagination; it's gonna look great, but it's a different look. We're a more stylized game. We take some liberties with realism that they can't take with their forests and trees and stuff that they're doing. It's just a different game.
GFW: You know you'd publish their game if they came to you...
MR: I'm not a publisher. Look, it's going to be great. I'm not slamming them. I'm just saying that, don't forget Gears of War in the beauty contest.
GFW: Even when I played it again last night to catch up, once again, it was like, wow, it was a really good-looking game.
MR: And don't forget, we're not dealing with a 512MB memory limitation anymore. That's a lot more gas in the tank. When we build these textures and characters and all the environments originally, we're building them on PC, and the source content is much more detailed than any console, or PC for that matter, could show. So when we get a chance to now go to a platform where the videocard now has more than 512 megs, then we're dealing with potentially 2GBs of system memory, trust me, there's a lot more gas left in our tank than people realize. So people should expect Gears of War Windows to up the ante a little bit from the 360, simply because if you're willing to spend the money, a few thousand dollars on a PC, you can build a pretty powerful PC. And our engine is scalable; it'll go there.
GFW: When you're looking at potential sequels for Gears of War, is the plan to continue to launch 360 first or other platforms first, and then follow up on PC? Or is there a possibility that they could come simultaneous?
MR: If I told you there was no plan, would you believe me?
GFW: No, not when you made as much money as you did off of Gears of War. [Laughs]
MR: We're still waiting to see if people like it before we consider the idea of a sequel.
GFW: Yeah, I think you figured that out the night that you shipped it.
MR: Let's wait and see how it does. I mean, we're still working on this one, you know? Still more stuff to come for this one.
GFW: What else?
MR: Dude, playable Brumak in gameplay -- that's pretty damn good. If there was one thing we thought, that was the thing people were...if you could say disappointed, that's too strong a word, but...
GFW: No, they were, because you see that thing. You wanted to fight it. You saw that thing and it chased you. You wanted to fight it. I had two Boomshots left. I wanted to shoot 'em at him.
MR: It chased you in that cinematic that we did, too.
GFW: That made me wanna fight him even more.
MR: Well, now you get to fight him.
GFW: You know what I want to see? Unreal Tournament custom map with vehicles, and then a war against a bunch of A.I. Brumaks, where you get in the walkers and shoot down Brumaks.
MR: Well, you could do that in Gears. That's the kind of stuff I expect to see in Gears anyway. You'll be able to take the editor and make new weapons or do that kind of stuff, take characters...even if the Brumak weren't an enemy character this time around in this game, certainly an enterprising modmaker could make him one. It might not be easy, but the skeleton's there because we use him in the cinematics in real time. Those are all real time-rendered. So the character has some animation. We've added it, but even if we hadn't done it, you could add the rest of the animation to make that a character that fights against you. So that's the beauty of having the editor.
To me, that's something I'm looking forward to seeing -- what the community does. Trust me, when you talk about watching and getting insight, we will be watching that stuff really carefully, because mod guys often give us great ideas for future things in games. A lot of inspiration comes from that. It's not a direct idea, more the idea that...oh, look, these guys did something that our programmers said was going to be really hard, but look how they pulled it off, with some imagination. Or these guys did something our artists wanted to do, but never got around to. Look at that -- it does work. We get a lot of stuff like that.
The other thing you'll see is mods that are completely unrelated to the game. For instance, we did that whole Marcus Golf thing -- did you hear about that? One of our Korean licensees wants to take a larger license for Unreal and do games outside of the kind of games you usually see with Unreal. They wanted to do casual-style games, make some simple fun games they could put up on their network for users and have subscription services. So what we did was we said, look, you can make those games in Unreal. So what we did was we tasked one of our programmers. I guess he came up with the idea. He says, I've got a great game. I'll show you. I'm gonna make a golf game. In one day he made a golf game out of Gears of War. The only help he got was the animator animated Marcus, somebody mocapped Marcus doing a golf swing, somebody created a golf club and a golf ball, and he did the rest. He went and put mounds in the traffic level, the Gridlock level, and so it starts off, the camera flies by, you see the hole, and it's just like Tiger Woods, showing you this is a dogleg left kind of thing.
When you go to actually hit the ball, it uses the mechanic from the grenade; the arc that you get that shows you where the grenade's going to go. So it uses that same mechanic, and of course you hit the ball and it flies off. The camera follows the ball in the air, sees where the ball lands, and then Marcus moves up to the next position to hit the ball again. And when you go in the hole you got some applause sound effect. It was pretty funny. It's not something we're ever gonna ship, but it was a fun little exercise to show that in one day, using Kismet and UnrealScript...I don't even think he wrote a line of C++ code. In one day, using the same tools modmakers have, he was able to make a cool little something using the Gears content that was completely outside of what Gears is. I think that's a thing that's always exciting to us, too, is to see all this crazy wacky stuff that the mod guys come up with.
07-27-2007 @ 19:37 - FileFront Network Insider #102
07-24-2007 @ 08:47 - Sumthing Else Music Works Announces Release of the Original Soundtrack