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Gears of War

INTERVIEW: CVG sits down with lead designer Cliff Blezinsky to talk about Epic's monster 360 shooter

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We take the normal convention, we work with it and we try to twist it up. There's plenty of over-the-shoulder combat in the game, but we mix it with vehicle levels, and stages in the dark where you have to find ways to stay in the light to avoid getting eaten.

Then we introduce a wall-climbing guy. We're taking the convention we've established and changing it constantly so that the game remains interesting over the course of the single-player campaign. And then, of course, you play it with somebody else and it's a totally different experience. We have a Casual difficulty, Hardcore and Insane mode. Insane co-op is really crazy fun.

Right, and a good multiplayer mode can massively extend the lifespan of your game, as it has done with Halo 2. Have you thought about post-release downloadable content?

Blezinsky: Yes, we're looking into offering downloadable versus maps. There're no plans for single player at this point but we have the hooks in there to expand upon the eight multiplayer maps that are already in the game.

As well as struggling to stay alive, there'll also be collectables for the player to gather. How do they contribute to the game?

Blezinsky: We wanted to have collectibles because it's not just a game about war - it's also about exploration. We wanted to tie these into the fiction of the game, so you're not just picking up daffodils without any logical reason.

When you walk into a room you'll occasionally see a Crimson Omen logo displayed. These mark the spots where soldiers have died, so if you see that logo there's a Cog Tag somewhere near. You have to collect them to give to their families so they know their relatives died in battle. You'll get achievements for finding a certain amount of them but some people will beat the game only having found, say, 14 of them. This will hopefully get them to play through the game again in a different difficulty to find the rest and the game will keep track of your Tag count across multiple sessions.

Better use of the Gamerpoints system is something the community has been crying out for. We know you're in touch with the online community. Has their feedback influenced the development of Gears at all?

Blezinsky: It's important to know when to listen and when to not. We've listened to the community as far as making a truly next generation game with great cinematic experiences, a cool story, co-op play and a really compelling Versus mode.

I had to trust my gut instinct in other areas like not having a jump button. I just posted a blog on the internet and the title was essentially 'F*** Jump'. I wanted to know how this feature, jumping, from the days of Sonic and Mario warranted being in a genre where you're being shot at? I mean, I haven't been shot at and I don't know if any of you have but I'm waging that if a bullet is coming towards my head, the last thing I'll want to do is jump.

My theory is that just running from point A to point B in most games is a very boring experience, and that's why in Mario games you jump. In GoW you're essentially jumping but you're jumping on the X and Y axis. So you're leaping into the environment. If you were to look at a GoW battlefield from an overhead view, it would almost look like a Sonic or Mario level because that's how all the cover plays out.

So from that end I think knowing when not to listen to the community, or those you work with, is a tricky thing to learn. But we stuck with what we believed on that front and we now have a pretty cool cover system that essentially feels almost like jumping. I read as many message boards as I can and see what gamers are saying. I don't hate anybody who doesn't like the game. I want to win them over. I want everybody to buy the game and love it.

You've built some interesting control schemes to imitate realism better than most mainstream shooters, like the Active Reload system. Can you talk a little about the decision-making process behind that?

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