The Coalition’s Chuck Osieja On The Evolution Of Gears Of War

Last week we had the chance to chat to Chuck Osieja who is Creative Director at The Coalition and subsequently Gears of War 4. We had the chance to talk about Gears Of War as a genre-defining franchise, the rebirth of the series in Gears Of War 4 and everything in between.

I could tell throughout the interview that a lot of thought had been put into making sure that the first Gears game being developed under The Coalition was one that was going to retain a lot of the classic qualities of the original Gears trilogy but also push it in new directions. This is evident in one of the larger new mechanics, the windflares which completely change the way you’ll engage in gunfights. They’re even said to change from playthrough to playthrough.

It was interesting that the team had so many ideas initially that didn’t make it as the final product. The most interesting possibility being Christopher Nolan styled retelling of the original.

Multiplayer has always been a big part of Gears of War, but something that I’ve seen a lot in the community is that gamers that are on the casual side go from the campaign to the multiplayer and the difficulty increases ten-fold, to which they feel under-skilled and end up not taking part. A clever design choice was the inclusion of a new enemy the Juvie, which is said to mimic the movements of a pro-player to prepare you for how people act in a multiplayer environment.

The limited edition 2TB Gears of War 4 Xbox One Console will release on Thursday, October 6th. The Ultimate Edition releases on Friday, October 7th and the game hits the general public on Tuesday, October 11th.


FULL INTERVIEW

[toggler title=”IN WHAT WAYS HAS GEARS OF WAR EVOLVED UNDER THE COALITION?” ]”When Epic created the first Gears of War, they never realised that they were going to create anymore. That happened with each consecutive game, so the way they wrote the story is very different to the way that we handled it. When Microsoft bought the IP off Epic, we knew that there was going to be a huge investment into the series from Microsoft. So this means that we’re able to approach the story, very differently than done in the past. Instead of writing a story for just one game, we’ve written a story that has an arc in one game, but we believe it has seeds for other experiences down the road. To me, that’s a huge difference in the way that we’re delivering the game.”

“The thing that has excited me most about fans getting their hands on the game, is that I know the story that players will experience and all the speculation that will follow. I’m excited to see the reaction from the fans and the speculation about what goes on afterwards about this person being related to this person or is this thing going to happen in the future. There’s a bunch of stuff in there that I think can go in a bunch of different directions because we know that we’re going to be doing multiple Gears products going forward. That’s the definitely the biggest difference in how we’ve approached the game.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”JUST HOW MUCH OF A PART DO THE WINDFLARES PLAY IN THE GAME?” ]”The biggest element in the game is definitely the windflares. If you played the end of Gears 3, the Imulsion Countermeasure goes off and it eliminates all the Imulsion on the planet, so I think of it as it as if all the petrol on the planet going away tomorrow, which would cause cast canyons of nothingness inside the earth, and how would that affect the stabilities of the earth. That’s the kind of thing we’re seeing in game. With emulsion gone, you have to adjust so now we have alternate fuel sources such as wind, hydro or solar, but more importantly the planet is trying to recover from this issue so what we see are these windflares which are essentially mini hurricanes. What’s interesting about these is that usually when you do a big set piece, they’re scripted. Here, these are a system In the game, so they’re completely random in when and how they occur. They have an escalating difficulty, so that when you get caught in one, wind will start affecting your ability as well as the enemies ability to move through the environment. It’ll also impact projectiles such as boom shots, grenades, drop shots and buzz kills. It also moves cover in and out of the environment. A lot of the cover is really unstable, so when you see a windflare, you should really get the hell out of there. Further to this, it will also bring in cover from outside the environment so suddenly you’ll be sitting there and a huge chunk or rubble will fly onto your field of view. Also, something that’s never happened in Gears before is the fact that you can go into an encounter which looks one way when you start, but it’ll look completely different when you leave. You can definitely use it as a tactic to defeat enemies. The last thing is that when the windflare gets to it’s peak, we have what’s called a storm wall which hits the ground and sticks, which essentially creates a puzzle for the players to get through. We think of windflares as essentially another boss that can occur at any time. The biggest testament to the wind flares is that when we were doing preview play throughs, the unpredictability of the windflares made it really hard to get the exact play through that we wanted. You and I when playing through the game will essentially have different experiences throughout. Everybody will have a different experience.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”IS THAT THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE IN THE GUNFIGHTS IN GEAR 4?” ]”It’s part of it. The other thing is that because we moved to the Unreal Engine 4 Engine, nothing was portable. It’s definitely a better engine but it meant that we couldn’t take things over. We could have definitely shipped the game a year earlier if we just decided to work off the Gears 3 assets. We had to rewrite the AI and build everything from scratch. Our task was to make it feels like Gears 3 and then start from there. The fights and everything are really about not only the environment, but the advancement of AI. The AI is a ton smarter not only on the Ally side, but also the enemy side. One of the things you’ll notice with the ally AI is that previously, if you went DBNO (Down But Not Out), your ally wouldn’t notice that you went DBNO. You’d be crawling around and end up bleeding one. One of the things we’ve changed is that we’ve made you a focus for your teammate. One of your teammates will yell as soon as you go down and let you know that they’re coming for you. This means that you can act much more riskily in your gameplay and have faith that you’ll be rescued by an ally.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”HOW HAS THE BRUTALITY AND GORE EVOLVED IN GEARS OF WAR 4?” ]”Yeah, it always starts with the weapons and for us, it’s supposed to be over the top gore and not supposed to be repulsive. You get that funny, uncomfortable reaction from it, but a lot of it is about thinking about the weapons and the environments. We definitely go through a lot of different ideas, that end up getting cut because they don’t really fit in with the kind of brutality that we have in Gears. That’s sort of how we approach it.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”TO WHAT EXTENT DID YOU LOOK TO THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY FOR THE GEARS 4 STORY?” ]”We looked to the original trilogy a lot. From a story perspective,  we were a little bit stumped at first because Gears 3 ended so definitively. It’s not like we could have just said, the Imulsion Countermeasure Weapon went off but it didn’t quite get all the locusts. So hey, here’s a pocket that didn’t get killed and now they’re back. We explored a ton of options. One of them was to go back to the pendulum wars, which had been talked about but never been shown. So COG VS UIR. The reason we ended up not doing this was because it would have been humans VS humans and Gears is more about humans vs monsters. We also talked about going back to emergence day, but the problem with that is that we knew that we’d end up in the exact same spot with Marcus going to prison. We also talked about going off planet and essentially starting the whole thing over again. We also talked about retelling the first Gears and doing the kind of Christopher Nolan/Batman spin on it. But in the end, we decided that the best thing for the franchise going forward is moving the franchise 25 years in the future. This allowed us to create a whole new set of characters, one of which was named JD Phoenix, which allows us to have a nice connection to the past and allows us to bring Marcus back in as a member of the squad. It also allows us to get a completely different perspective of Marcus because he isn’t the main character so he’s not reflecting things as if you are the player. Now as an AI character, he gets a different personality because he’s not directly responsible for everything happening in all game. The other part of this is that the first three stories were really a son and father story. If you speak to Rod and Cliff, a bunch of those guys lost their fathers really young so when they created the first Gears, it was about them working through a lot of their issues. We’ve essentially flipped this story from a son trying to save his father to a father trying to save his son. From a story standpoint, there was so much fertile ground that allowed us to connect the two worlds together.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”WILL THE STORY BE ACCESSIBLE TO SOMEBODY WHO IS NEW TO THE GEARS FRANCHISE?” ]”It’s a perfect place to start, because you don’t have to know everything that’s going on. The prologue is actually a Veteran’s Day celebration in which we remember memories from past wars. We hit three pivotal points in the Gears story that will get new gamers up to speed. Basically, you’ll get a history lesson and then jump in. If you’re a fan, there’s a lot of fan-service that happens throughout the story. You don’t need to know anything, but if you do, it’s going be a little bit more of a richer story.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO CREATE AN ENTIRELY NEW ROSTER OF CHARACTERS TO PASS THE TORCH ONTO?” ]“It’s incredibly hard because if you think about Gears 1, it takes place 14 years into the war. There wasn’t a whole lot of backstory. You got dropped in with Marcus in prison. Marcus knew Dom, they met Cole and Baird and everybody sort of knew each other. Everybody knew what the locusts were and there weren’t a lot of surprises for the actual characters in the game, only the player. Those characters are also really two-dimensional. You had to understand really quickly that Cole was the outgoing sports guy, with Baird being a scientist and Dom was the best friend. What we did with Gears 4, because we’re not in the middle of something, we’re starting right from the beginning with new characters. This is the first time which we’re doing an emergence day so we get to develop them a lot more differently. One of the things that we’ve always got is that Gears is the dudebro game. When you think about the context about the first game, you’re in the middle of a war and it’s a band of brothers kind of thing. You don’t know if the next step is going to be your last, so the way that they act with each other is going to be different. Now, you’ve got three characters who are just best friends with a bunch of history which evolves as they start to face a new threat. From that standpoint, it was a lot of fun to create it and it provides a sense of depth that just wasn’t there in the original trilogy.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT PEOPLE WHO PURCHASE THE ULTIMATE EDITION SPOILING THE GAME?” ]”Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to stop it *sigh*. In the internet age, everybody wants the clicks so somebody is going to get early access and spoil the story for someone else. I’d compare it to The Sixth Sense or The Force Awakens, where they have a twist in which part of you will want to spoil it and part of you wants people to have the experience. I really hope that nobody spoils the game before it is officially out as there’s some great stuff at the end that’s exciting. I’m sure it will be spoiled, but it’s disappointing.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”DID DEVELOPING THE GAME FOR PC CHANGE THE WAY YOU HAD TO THINK ABOUT CERTAIN THINGS?” ]“Not at all, actually. It’s funny, I’ve talked a lot to Phil about this. PC gaming for people like me was always just part of what we did. You build a game and port it to platforms. This went away for a while and it definitely went in two directions: console focused or PC focused and never the two shall meet. But, I’m really excited about what we’re doing with Xbox Play Anywhere. I now get everything with one purchase. When speaking to Phil, I mentiofned that my son plays Overwatch on PC but the guys at work play Overwatch on Xbox One. So obviously I’m not going to buy a second copy on the PC. Now with Gears, if my son is playing on PC, not only can we both play the game, we can both play together on our individual platforms. There was a seperate team that built the game on PC, but we built it with native 4K resolution from the ground up, which we believe is future proofed. For us, with a dedicated team, we were able to include things like dynamic resolution, uncapped frame rate, 4K as well as 30 different graphic sliders. If you have a great rig, you definitely won’t be disappointed. I think Gears is better with a gamepad, and I don’t know if third person shooters are the best with mouse and keyboard, but if you want something to show off your RIG, Gears is definitely it. It looks absolutely phenomenal.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”HOW HAVE YOU ENSURED THAT THE MULTIPLAYER HAS REMAINED FAMILIAR YET STILL EVOLVED” ]”We brought in a bunch of pro players early on. We talked to them and found out what issues the Gears multiplayer has had previously. Firstly, the maps have to be symmetrical, because there’s an obvious disadvantage if you come out of this spawn. It’s usually a right hand/left hand thing, so if you’re left or right handed, you have an advantage or disadvantage. We brought these guys in after we had our first mockups of multiplayer maps. They gave us feedback on layout, the new weapons and weapon tuning. Embracing the competitive aspect of the game and community was a huge thing for us. The second part of it was trying to create a balanced experience. As Creative Director, I have to play these maps with the guys that build them everyday. We had a couple of ex-pro players in our QA department and it definitely isn’t fun for me. One of the things we did was work with Microsoft Research which created True Scale, but we worked with them to refine True Scale and rewrite it, so now what we have is a new True Scale system that feeds into our ranking system. So when you start, you’ll play five multiplayer modes which will seed you into one of five different levels. This means you’re playing with people who are of your skill level. Internally, we already know this works and the difference between playing with great players or players of your own skill level provides a much more fun experience for everyone. From that standpoint, we wanted to make sure that the social player could come over and play Gears after playing something else and still have a great time. Also something else, the Juvies which are a new enemy in game are actually designed to mimic pro players in the campaign. What happens is that most people will play campaign and then go into the multiplayer, but they can’t handle players who wall-bounce. So with the Juvies, we actually created something that mimics how pro players wall-bounce through the environment so that you’re already getting trained in campaign, so that when you get into multiplayer, you’re actually more competent because you’re already used to tracking enemies that move around the map.”[/toggler]

[toggler title=”IS GEARS 4 SOMETHING YOU THINK WILL BE SUCCESSFUL ON THE COMPETITIVE SCENE?” ]”Definitely. We did two seasons of eSports partnering with ESL, and we just announced a million dollar prize pool for the Gears of War 4 pro circuit. We’re partnering with MLG and GFinity and we have worldwide competitions. We created a brand new mode called Escalation that we’ll only use for competitive play. The second thing that we’re doing is making Gears more viewer friendly with the use of two dedicated viewer slots in competitive play. So for broadcasting, one can show the HUD and the HUD now shows every player and the team, their current state, their load out but you can also choose between preset cameras in the game. For instance, extracted view allows you to watch it more like a Football view in the sense that you can see where everybody is positioned and see what their strategy is. It just makes it more exciting for the viewer.

The second thing that we’re doing is making Gears more viewer friendly with the use of two dedicated viewer slots in competitive play. So for broadcasting, one can show the HUD and the HUD now shows every player and the team, their current state, their load out but you can also choose between preset cameras in the game. For instance, extracted view allows you to watch it more like a Football view in the sense that you can see where everybody is positioned and see what their strategy is. It just makes it more exciting for the viewer.”[/toggler]

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