By Ryan Rayhill
MLG sits down with Dude Huge himself, Epic Game's design director Cliff Bleszinski, for a three-part Q&A on his company's latest sci-fi gorefest, Gears of War 3.
MLG: Gears of War 3 has been out for a couple weeks now. What has the reaction been?
Cliffy B: It’s been great. People have found it to be the longest Gears’ campaign that they’ve played and they’ve enjoyed the difficulty spikes. Also, I feel like we’ve really come over a hump with Gears in regards to people “poo-pooing” the story; from the low end of “Oh that was really fun and amusing, I really liked those characters” all the way up to fans saying “Oh my God I can’t believe they killed that character and the ending made me cry! I hate you so much (in a good way)!” And for me personally, it’s a huge sign that when I come home, I want to jump online and play our own damn game.
MLG: Gears 3 was supposed to ship earlier this year, but it got pushed back, correct?
Cliffy B: Yeah, thank God. We were supposed to ship in April, but ultimately wound up shipping in September because, really, if you’re making an online-connected game with campaign and co-op elements, you need to suss out as many bugs as possible. There are so many conditions when you have millions of people playing. If a bug affects 1 out of 10, that’s 100,000 people and when they go to the message boards, a mountain can be made out of a molehill very quickly.
MLG: How many people played the beta?
Cliffy B: Somewhere around 1.2 million.
MLG: Did that translate into what you’ve seen sales-wise so far?
Cliffy B: It’s hard to gauge expectations for anything, because it’s not apples to apples with a game that has an open beta versus a game where you only get the beta if you pre-order it or buy another game like Bulletstorm. I’m personally very proud of the fact that we were able to convince 1.2 million gamers to try out Gears of War 3 online, in spite of the fact that Gears 2 online launch was so rocky. We steadily patched Gears 2 into decent shape and gamers were willing to take a leap of faith with Gears 3 and the 1.2 million largely had a great experience. Dedicated servers were down here and there, but by and large a great experience. You translate that into the Beta not being only a test bed, but also a hype generator for a successful launch. You have to make sure your online play is rock solid these days.
MLG: How much impact did the beta have on the final game? Would it have been a significantly worse game or just a little less polished?
Cliffy B: I wish you could ask me that question a year from now when we see the sales. Based on hype and the fact that the campaign is great, it’s possible to sell several million copies. The key is for the game to have legs and for players to get hooked on our XP system, checking out different gun skins and characters, trying out new modes and not just play for a week or month, but for months on end. If you can keep that cultural zeitgeist and see all your friends still playing Gears, you can get over that hump and sell a lot more than that initial launch week.
MLG: During the beta there was a lot of complaints about weapon balancing. How did you address that?
Cliffy B: I think there’s a few issues here. The first is perception vs reality; If I’m a guy who has spent years building up my Gnasher abilities, which, to be frank, was the main weapon you could actually kill with in Gears 1 and 2 due to the rifles being underpowered and the maps being snug, and I occasionally get killed by somebody with a Retro Lancer or somebody who’s very good at fanning the trigger with the Hammerburst, I’m going to feel a little undermined. Kind of like when you went from Quake to Quake II where Quake was all about the rocket launcher and Quake II had the Railgun and more balance. That being said, we’re still keeping a sharp eye on stats. Trust me, I see all the concerns online – like the Sawed-Off is the “Noob Tube” of Gears and that it’s effecting the online experience in a significant way. I assure you that if we were to find out that the Sawed-Off was getting four times as many kills as the Gnasher and other weapons we would definitely look into changing it. That said, we don’t have full stats yet, but we’ll be watching them.
MLG: Is there any upcoming DLC you can talk about now? Epic Executive Producer Rod Fergusson mentioned that you may launch something in November.
Cliffy B: You’re going to be hearing some news about that in the next couple weeks [Ed. New DLC maps and characters were announced just after this interview]. When you launch a game now, especially going into the holiday season, you need to have your DLC pretty quick. There’s been some perception issues about the season pass, where people think you have to pay $10 to play the game online, which is absolutely not the case. The season pass for Gears of War 3 is giving you the ability to buy the DLC up front at a 33% discount at any point. It’s not a two week window. You can pick that up and have your way of saying, ”Hey you know what? I believe Epic will produce good content.” Look for characters, updates to Horde, and single player content.
MLG: How successful have the weapon skins been so far?
Cliffy B: I don’t have any concrete data on that right now, but I’ve seen plenty in the wild. Somebody tweeted me that they were upset that we’re charging for these skins, but making games is not a cheap endeavor. We’re in a world of rentals and used games, not that there’s anything wrong with that, because I would have done the same exact thing back when I was working at McDonalds and only had $40 in the bank. That being said, my response was “You are more than welcome to not buy these optional cosmetic weapons that will make you more visible to your enemies.”
MLG: Is Spectator Mode something that might be added later?
Cliffy B: I wouldn’t rule it out. We’re working toward being more MLG friendly. I believe that pro gaming, and MLG in particular, is more essential than ever to keep the game relevant throughout the year. Quinn (Delhoyo) over here has had some chats with Sundance and we’ve recently discussed having one player acting as LAN host and cameraman with everyone else on the playing field.
MLG: Why was it not included to begin with?
Cliffy B: Honestly, just getting a game done in 2011. The fact that games even ship is a miracle. It’s one of those things where if we do a good enough job, it could come in. I can’t promise, but I swear its something we’ve looked at. We hope that we do a good enough job that by the time it’s ready to be played professionally, we’ll have something out there.
Be sure to check back Thursday and Friday as Cliffy B dishes on what's next for this blockbuster 360 title and what it means to MLG!