Ahead of the launch of Gears of War: Judgment on March 22nd 2013 for Xbox 360, Lead Level at Epic Games Jim Brown tells us more about Gears of War: Judgment.
Jim Brown – Lead Level Designer at Epic Games
How long has Judgment has been in development?
Gears of War: Judgment commenced preproduction shortly after Gears of War 3 was completed.
How has the development of Judgment been split between Epic and People Can Fly?
People Can Fly’s involvement has been huge. We wanted to get their entire studio involved and we wanted them to bring their fresh ideas to the franchise. Our two studios work together closely on Judgment and the distribution of duties and responsibilities is relatively fluid. It is very much a collaborative process — where you have our people here and their people there both playing campaign and multiplayer grouping all of that feedback together. Then the producers go through and prioritize it all, and we just keep evolving it and iterating on it.
How has this been managed? Has the distance and time difference been a challenge for development?
We have staff in their offices, they have staff in ours, and we have several video conferences a day to ensure that the lines of communication are always open. Despite the difference in time zones, we’re able to stay in sync and inspire each other all the time. They’ve had a fantastic impact on the project, it’s been really successful.
What has People Can Fly brought to the development table?
We personally wanted to get their entire studio involved; we wanted them to bring their ideas to the franchise and they have done exactly that. The team at People Can Fly brings a totally fresh perspective to the Gears of War franchise that is tempered with their previous experience working on Gears of War for PC.
How do you go about introducing new features to a franchise like Gears?
In the first instance, we speak to the fans. At the end of the day we think this all about reaching a broad audience, connecting them and keeping them playing together. Some of the changes in Judgment are more dramatic than others, but our overall goal is obviously to improve upon what’s there and make the game deeper and more fun. Shooters like Judgment are also evolving to include elements from other types of games (MOBA, RPG, even casual games) and the added depth is a great thing.
What role has the community had in the game’s development?
When we were looking for where to go next with the story, we went to the fans. What character did they most want to hear more about? Baird! What period did they most want to experience? Emergence Day! So Judgment’s story follows Damon Baird and his squad in some of the formative moments surrounding Emergence Day in a city named Halvo Bay.
What changes did you make to the control scheme and why?
With the new control scheme Y is a quick weapons switch. Left bumper is the off hand grenades. Changing the control scheme was probably one of the biggest, boldest moves that we went with when we were developing this game. It definitely lends itself to a more accessible experience that is necessary for the frenetic pace of Judgment. Initially it was actually something we designed to improve gameplay, allowing people to shoot and move at the same time. Having a reticle on screen at all times means you’re able to move whilst shooting accurately.
What is the most exciting aspect about Judgment?
We have some new multiplayer modes in Judgment that we’re really excited about. Perhaps the most anticipated mode is OverRun: a 10 player (5v5), class-based MP mode where you attack objectives as Locusts and defend them as COG. You also have an opportunity during a match to play both sides to determine the victor. As a COG, select from Engineer, Scout, Medic, or Soldier. As a Locust, select from a wide variety of attackers such as the Corpser, and the Mauler.
What can you reveal about the story of the campaign?
Gears of War: Judgment takes you back before the events of the original Gears of War trilogy to the immediate aftermath of Emergence Day. Judgment is set 30 days after the events of E-Day. E-Day is the time when the Locusts emerged from underground and started ravaging the planet Sera. The game follows Kilo Squad led by Damon Baird and Augustus “The Cole Train” Cole. At the opening of the game, Baird is facing a military tribunal, and players get to experience the individual squad members’ story in a series of “flashbacks”. As each character gives testimony to the tribunal, players will get to live that story in real time. And let’s face it – the story wouldn’t be much fun if there weren’t at least a few surprises in there!
Why was Emergence Day chosen as the setting for Judgment?
Again this came from the fans. It was natural for us to go back so far in the timeline prior to the original Gears of War. We already had explored the timelines of the first three Gears titles, so we just wanted to go someplace different. Earlier made a lot more sense than later, but one of the most noticeable things that it allowed us to do was show the planet in a much different state. It allowed us to convey different emotions. The first three titles were all visually based around a theme of Destroyed Beauty. You saw everything just ravaged and war torn, now that the conflict is so fresh it feels much more alive. There is a feeling of life, people living and moving around the city when all of a sudden that sense of security was ripped away because of the Locust invasion. You will see this throughout the game, places where suitcases are strewn around as people didn’t have time to grab them in the midst of a rapid evacuation. Buildings are still burning and crumbling down, the battle rages throughout the city. It is a really interesting visual and emotional change for the series.
How does this campaign differ to previous Gears campaigns?
It really has been streamlined and plays a lot more intense. We really wanted to get back to our roots and focus on core gameplay rather than elaborate storytelling. We still tell a story, but we rely a bit more on the player and the events of the game to convey that story rather than creating two hours’ worth of movies that play throughout the game. We didn’t want to turn focus on a million different things, instead we wanted to make a really intense experience, one that will challenge gamers, make them think a bit about the best way to progress through the game. We built some new gameplay systems to support that. We have introduced a little bit of Horde Mode into the Campaign too with sections that are built to be defensive scenarios. All of that was crafted to give gamers an intense, challenging game and something to make your palms sweat a bit as you play.
Why was Baird chosen as the lead character for Judgment?
We ended up focusing on Baird as the main character pretty easily. For us, he is a really interesting character who never got his moment in the sun. We obviously explored Marcus and Dom, Cole even got a moment in Gears of War 3 with his own mission. But players did not know a lot about Baird. We then also received some survey data that showed Baird is actually the most popular character in the series. After every game release, Microsoft puts out a customer satisfaction survey and they did one for Gears 3. One of the questions was “Who is your favourite character?” You had a choice between everyone who was in Delta Squad, as well as some other supporting characters and Baird was number 1. Marcus was like four or five. So when we settled on going to a prequel, we knew Baird had this interesting backstory. After that, we were set on using Baird as the main driver for the story, telling his story on how he was once an officer and what happened in his life to set him back to being a Private in the army.
Fans will notice a slightly different Baird. He is still the wisecracker that everyone loves, but as an officer, he is just a little bit more serious sometimes too. The writers did a great job of making some subtle changes so we could be sure that he was interesting enough to carry the story on his shoulders, yet not to change him too much so that he would not be recognizable to our fans.
Can you reveal any information about the support characters, Garron Paduk and Sofia Hendrick?
Let’s start with Sofia Hendrick, out of the four members in Kilo Squad she’s the only one who is a real COG soldier and firmly believes in the cause. Sofia’s been to the Onyx Guard Academy and was trained as a media, in contrast, squad leader Baird’s a rich kid and Cole is a celebrity thrashball player. Kilo Squad’s fourth member, Paduk was fighting for the other side Union of Independent Republics up until a month ago when the Locust attacked. He has a totally gloomy Soviet perspective on everything and gives us some insight into what the UIR was like.
That’s all for part 1, keep an eye out for part 2 when Jim tells us more about Gears of War: Judgment.
Jim Brown: Lead Level Designer, Epic Games
Jim Brown is an industry veteran with over a decade of experience in the computer and video game industry. Jim has directed Epic’s development teams as Lead Level Designer over most of the multimillion-selling, award-winning Unreal series and the blockbuster Gears of War franchise. Prior to joining Epic, Jim was a level designer for America’s Army, the computer game developed by the U.S. Army. He also helped ship the first three expansion packs in Sony’s renowned EverQuest massively multiplayer online game.
Jim was a founder and designer of HomeLAN, a community portal for the PC gaming community that hosted servers, provided clan management and published industry news. Jim developed downloadable content for a range of games and also created one of Diamond Multimedia’s map packs for the original Unreal Tournament. With long-established roots in the Unreal mod community, Jim was a winner of the very first Make Something Unreal Contest, in which he took home honors for his work in the Domination category.