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GS: So how much story are you talking about? People complain about how the action stops in games like Metal Gear Solid.
CB: Nowhere near that much. I love Metal Gear, but I'm not that guy.
MR: It's all in-game, it's all in-context.
CB: We're going to start with a cut-scene, but I'm of the mind that you play games because you want to play, not because you want to watch. Eric and I have been going back and forth with the writing, and we've continued to pull it back. Less is more, as far as I'm concerned in dialogue. One thing that I'm very impressed with that Valve does is a lot of that kind of interpretive story. The posters on the wall, the overhearing of dialogue – if you're want to sit there and listen to it, and get more out of the narrative, you can do that. But if you just want to go in and blast some creatures, you can do that. So I guarantee that every cutscene in this game will be skippable the first time playing.
There's nothing more frustrating to me than a game designer who says “No, we put all of this effort into the story, you have to watch it!” No! Games are about choice. If the gamer wants to just get into the game and play it… Maybe there's a gamer out there who will skip the first cutscene, play the game a little bit, then be like “hey, this is kind of cool, I'm hearing all of these little details about this universe” – then go back and watch the cutscene. But I'd rather have the option than not.
Marcus, the main protagonist in Gears of War.
GS: What's your target length for a cutscene?
CB: A couple minutes for each one, maybe.
MR: It's more like establishing shots. The helicopter comes down, you see some people get off and look around, then you're back in the game again.
CB: Whenever you're showing a cutscene, you're not playing the game. To me, this is the most powerful medium out there, as far as that story element, because since you're playing, you feel more emotion with it. I'm flashing back to crying when I was playing RPGs as a teenager.
GS: What game was that?
GS: What part?
CB: When Luna revealed that she was the goddess, and you're going up the stairs saying that you are still you, and… you look at it in hindsight and it's kind of cheesy, but back then, I was all emotional.
But my mantra here is – if you can tell it during the scene, do that. The cutscene is the absolute fallback, if we absolutely have to show you a little bit of exposition. Here's a minute of some guys chatting and some [stuff] going on, then it's back to the action. Another one of the techniques we're using is the forced look. With the over-the-shoulder view, we'll kind of pull your attention over to something for a second or two. God of War did some of that, they did a little bit of it in Resident Evil 4… in a first person shooter, the camera move is a little more upsetting, so you can't do it there.
GS: What about Burnout 3, when you hit other cars, and it pulls you out.
CB: Burnout is brilliant. But did you notice what they did to make that viable? If you were about to knock into something, they'd do the whole crash thing, but then after, they kind of re-center you on the track, move some of the cars over, because taking away the control like that is a very dangerous thing, and it could've become very frustrating very quickly if they weren't forgiving with it. But if Burnout 3 didn't do it, it wouldn't have been as dramatic.
As long as we establish that, we're going to be cool when we do it with the gamer. You're not going to be in the middle of some moment where you're going to be upset that the control was taken away. Kind of like checkpoints - if we do our job right with the placement of checkpoints, you'll never feel like you have to back out to the menu and save.
To me it's like if I'm playing an first person shooter on the PC, and I can hit F5 to save, if I kill an enemy with 10 bullets, and I know I could have used six, I will reload, and I'll go back and try it again – and that becomes the game, and that's not necessarily a good thing to me. I want the game to automatically say – ok, you got to this point, we'll autosave. If you die, we'll only put you back 30 seconds to a minute, we'll let you continue. We'll be very forgiving with it.
GS: What's the most important thing you want the player to do?
CB: Have fun.
GS: Do you want them to beat the game, is that important to you?
CB: Yeah, I want people to beat this game.
MR: Because then we can sell them more games!
CB: Well, when you've got the guy who's married, he goes to the store with his wife and sees Gears of War 2. He says “Oh, Gears of War 2!” and she's like: “Hey idiot, you didn't finish Gears of War 1, go finish that before you buy this one.” We're telling you a story, and we want you to finish it.
MR: We want to make it fun, we want to make it that it's not so hard for the novice player. We have all of these different character animations and techniques. Hardcore players will be able to use them right away, and do cool stuff like cooking the grenade. An average user won't do that – they might do it by accident and say: “Oh look at that! I got the grenade to explode in the air and it blew up this thing!” The novice player will get to enjoy the game, and most of the animations, without actually having to learn the mechanics. The advanced players will get the most out of it, but the novice won't be left behind.
GS: So how interactive are these environments going to be? If you put a cool house like that in front of me, I want to go inside it.
CB: By doing this single player experience, there's kind of a path that we have to have there, because things have to happen to let the story unfold. It's not a large open city like a GTA-like setting, so it's almost like "Pirates of the Caribbean," where you can get off the ride and walk around a little bit.
And I want to actually give you motivation to move to those locations – like we have these stranded people who were left behind on Emergence Day, and they've been living as squatters, and have been very clever about how they hide, and how they get from point A to point B, avoiding the locusts, so there's a lot of potential for secrets. As far as cover though, we do a lot with cover – like knocking over a pillar to hide behind it, moving the large physics objects – like there's a car that's kind of a husk – you can push it from the front, and there are sparks and everything, you can push it in the back and blow out all the windows, and if you blow out the windows and the doors you can't take cover behind it anymore – you can shoot off the hood and things like that. There's also destructible cover, so the visual language of the game says that if you're behind a wooden armoire or bookshelf it's not safe, and you can actually destroy the cover.
GS: I like being able to find things, so secrets are good.
CB: *Makes Zelda ‘treasure discovery' noise*
GS: Will the game be about progression, or will there be backtracking?
CB: There's going to be a bit of backtracking, but in some ways I think that backtracking can be abused in games as padding. Super Metroid is a classic example [of well-done backtracking.] They would intentionally let you into a new area, and you'd struggle to try and wall jump up there, and you eventually realize you couldn't. Then you go back to another area and get the power up, then you come back and see that you can use it there. You start off with a core, and build out from there.
That's a way to do things, and if you're doing that, then design for it. Gears is a slightly more linear experience, with the variety being within that linearity - how you're going to take in this cover, or some splits in the game. Like there's an area where the character that gets there first chooses the high road or the low road, and you're flanking each other's enemies, and aren't using the same cover. If you play that area, you may want to go back and choose the other path the next time.
GS: Will there be a multi-player co-op mode?
Concept art of the war-torn landscape of Gears of War.
CB: Absolutely. The first player is always Marcus, and the second player plays as Dom. So it's not like player 2 is Marcus with a blue doo-rag, it's a different guy. Player 2 is Dom, he has his own character and his own story. You're playing through the single player, and player two can pop in as Dom at any time, and take him over. You can do that over Live as well, via split-screen.
GS: Will there be jumping?
CB: There will be some select context-sensitive jumping, but I'm a big believer that if you're really being shot at, you want to keep your head low. The thing is, if you're going to put jumping in, make it part of the mechanic – make the puzzles involve jumping, and it's like – no, that's not a good fit for this game. You evade, you run out of the way, you look for cover.
GS: As long as my progress isn't impeded by random boxes that I can't get around.
CB: If something is too high, you can't get up it, but there's a certain threshold, I think it's around 24 Unreal units when you can just walk over it, but if it's over 64, you take cover, and you can mantle over it. And if it's long cover, you can mantle up or mantle down.
GS: And how will it be structured?
CB: Well, I'm not a fan of the games where it's like 10 missions where you just randomly go over here and do some things. In any given war, if you're a soldier, you're not the one winning the war, and that's the fundamental problem with doing a war game. War is won by intelligence, planning and strategy by the commanders, and each soldier being, for lack of the better term, a cog in the war machine.
So you want to get that sense of personal victory, without winning the actual war. So we have a number of things we're doing there to give a sense of that. And we don't want to have enemies that are just zombie-like. Yeah, these guys are savages, but they're intelligent. They don't want to die.
GS: Cliffy B, you look pretty tired.
CB: The majority of game developers have sleeping problems, because their brains are so hyperactive. I'll be alright.