Gears of War on PC follows the massive success of the Xbox 360 version, which has sold over three million copies since its release in November 2006. Exclusive to PC gamers will be a new campaign act, which includes a showdown with the Brumak, only seen in a cutscene in the console game, three new multiplayer maps, a new multiplayer mode and a map editor. Pro-G sat down with Epic's Cliffy B to talk unhappy 360 owners, four storeys of teeth and guns and why buying the game might get you a job in the industry.
Pro-G: Is the PC version a response to the success of the Xbox 360 version or was it always planned?
Cliffy B: Deep down, I could try and candy coat this and lie, but we knew we were going to do a PC version way back in the day eventually. It was just a matter of finding the right time to announce it and also figuring out what that feature set was going to be and then just hammering on it and making sure that it runs on as many systems, that it's a great game, that it stands on its own as a great PC product. But yeah, we pretty much knew we were going to do it.
Pro-G: Why release it now and why the features you have chosen?
CB: We figured that in the grand scheme of strategising or what not, that a year out from when the original game came out seemed like it made a lot of sense. We knew that we would sell a bunch of copies on the 360 and the PC market would be ready for a game like this. We've made the game very scalable. It runs on a wide variety of computers and honestly, we believe that the content we've added adds a tonne of value, and is exclusive to the PC which is important to notice. A lot of gamers out there played the game on the 360, and we want them to now pick up the PC version and we want them to not only play the heck out of it but also crack open the editor and start modifying the game and build their own worlds and riff off of what we've given them as a starting point. At this point it becomes its own organic thing where you're not just buying a game; you're buying a platform, playing with the Unreal engine and the Unreal editor.
Pro-G: What kind of PC in terms of specs are we looking at to get the same level of performance graphically as the 360?
CB: If you've bought a PC in roughly the last year-and-a-half to two years you definitely should be OK performance wise as far as getting a frame rate and resolution that's very similar to the Xbox 360. But if you've got something that's very recent or very kick ass you'll be able to run the game in extremely high resolutions and see detail in the characters that was not available on the Xbox, and of course having much more memory you'll be able to see the increased texture detail.
Pro-G: In terms of graphical improvement is there anything else apart from the increase in resolution the PC version has over the 360 version?
CB: It's not just an increase in resolution. I remember back in the day we would have artist meetings when we were developing the 360 version. The artists were agonising over these textures, doing them in these resolutions like 4096 by 4096. I'm thinking some of that detail on the Xbox isn't going to come through. I remember talking to Gerry and Chris who were the art leads and I'm like 'why are we painting it at this high a resolution?' and they said that basically at a later date we are going to put this on PC and we know that this detail is going to come through. What gamers are able to see is the world of Sera, the world of Marcus Fenix, the world that's in so much peril, in the original lustre that it was intended to be rendered at. This is the way the game is meant to be seen, finally, a year later.
Pro-G: A director's cut?
CB: Director's cut, designer's cut, team's cut. It's one of those funny things. The Brumak acquired a lot of screen time back in the day when he was featured in all of the trailers. He really didn't get much screen time at all in the game. The player wound up fighting against the Corpser, the creature with the spindly legs, the digger creature that the Locust use. I was actually kind of happy that the Brumak didn't get a lot of play in the original game because he had been whored out in a lot of the trailers. And now, being able to fight him, when you're in that arena, and that thing is four storeys of teeth and guns and it's bearing down on you and it gets close and it bites your head off or it stomps on you and it's shooting rockets at you and Dom's running around and everybody's panicking, it's a very memorable experience and it's really a testament to how cool next-generation gaming is.
Pro-G: Do you have some sympathy with 360 owners who won't get the chance to fight the Brumak?
CB: It's awkward. There's basically no way of putting this that's going to make it easy. The fact is 360 gamers wanted to fight that creature but at the same time we have to make sure that there is a number of specific, exclusive reasons as to why people would want to have the PC version of Gears of War. We were at E3 this year and Rod and I were looking at what section of this new chapter, this new sequence, do we show off to the big crowd; what's going to have the most impact? You know what, give people what they want. Let's show them the Brumak, let's let them have a little peek at that battle. It's extremely impressive, it's exciting, it's a really fun battle. Let ´em see it, let ´em have it. Unfortunately it's not coming out on 360. We wanted to have extra reasons why people want to go out and get the PC version. Long story short.
Pro-G: Were certain parts of the game left out so they could be used for the PC version?
CB: It would have been possible to have shipped the sections on the Xbox 360 game but it would not have come on that timeframe and the game would not have been anywhere near as polished as it was. We at Epic pride ourselves on shipping games that are extremely polished top to bottom, all the little nuances that make the difference between good and great. We don't want to ship a game that's an 88% average; we want to ship a 94% average. We want as many gamers as possible to play it. We want polish in our product. If we had spent that time trying to cram in a Brumak battle it wouldn't have been as fun as it is now and it wouldn't have been as cool as it is. We're confident we made the right decision.
Pro-G: For 360 owners this is never coming to their console, either in DLC or another edition of the game?
CB: This is PC exclusive.
Pro-G: When using a mouse and keyboard you have a lot more speed and precision than the 360 pad, when you're turning and aiming. How have you tackled that issue?
CB: The challenge in going from the Xbox 360 where you have a d-pad controller with dual analogue sticks, where aiming's a little bit slower, the pacing of the game is a bit more methodical, to a PC keyboard and a mouse type of experience, was one of those things we knew from the beginning was going to be a design challenge. First and foremost making sure the cover system would work was a tricky thing. We put a fair amount of work into making sure we had a nice double tap system. The player can use the spacebar on the keyboard and the mouse to do the same functionality that the A button would do or he can double tap any of the WASD keys to get in and out of cover or swat turn and things like that. The tricky thing came with aiming because aiming with a keyboard and mouse is a lot faster on a PC than it would have been using dual analogue sticks on a console. I honestly don't want to reveal too many of the tricks of the trade as far as the things that we did behind he scenes to make sure the two are balanced but rest assured when you're playing the game with a keyboard and mouse there's a lot of little things that we do behind the scenes to make sure the player isn't too overpowered in the single-player or multiplayer to compensate for that. Little nudges with accuracy and weapon kicks and things like that, that are little tricks of the trade that we use. Honestly, in speaking with some of the developers who worked on the game Shadowrun, which had 360 to PC compatibility, they did some similar tricks behind the scenes in order to make sure things work. Can't reveal it all but there's definitely a little mojo going on there.
Pro-G: But cross-platform play isn't going to happen?
CB: Basically, when we looked at the time frame for this product we wanted to make sure that we would have it out this holiday season because it's been a year since the original Gears hit and we didn't want PC gamers to have to wait any longer to get their hands on this game. If you look at the Halo franchise it took years for Halo to come out on PC, both Halos actually took years to come out on PC. We wanted the game out in a timely fashion and we felt that while doing Xbox 360 Vs PC is neat, the amount of extra work that would have delayed the product by six months to nine months or so, probably wasn't worth it. The good thing about this is there's actually an extra thousand gamer points you can get on the PC version because we don't have that overlap.
Pro-G: So this is something that's never going to happen or is it possible to patch?
CB: Probably not going to happen at this point.
Pro-G: But not impossible?
CB: It's possible. Shadowrun pulled it off. Given enough development time and resources anything's possible. Life and game development, it's like an RPG, where you're given 50 points and you have to figure out where to allocate them. We decided that for Gears PC we wanted to add five really cool new single-player chapters, a new multiplayer mode, new multiplayer arenas and make sure the game is kick ass, instead of focusing on things like PC to 360 compatibility which would have resulted in monumental issues as far as compatibility and control and balance.
Pro-G: So is this it now for the original Gears of War? Can you finally put it to bed or is there more to come?
CB: We're not really announcing any future plans right now as far as any potential DLC on the Xbox 360. On the PC we're not announcing anything at this time. The game is officially at this point now where it's become its own sentient thing releasing it on the PC with the community. Now most of what you're going to see out of Gears being its own platform and the engine is going to come on the PC with mods, with levels and with all the cool things the community is going to do. I would keep your eyes peeled with the community and see what the users are now able to create with this world and with the toolset that we've given them.
Pro-G: From a personal point of view is that one of the more exciting things about your job, sitting back and watching what people do with the clay you've provided them?
CB: The first thing is the whole tattoo scene. That for me has been extremely strange seeing the amount of users out there who have branded themselves with the crimson omen logo. It's dozens upon dozens. They post it on my myspace page, there are guys who got the tattoo before the original game even came out. I'm like 'man, I hope you like the game because if you don't like the game you're going to be stuck with the tattoo!' It's been so surreal. Seeing people playing the game professionally is extremely weird and cool, because people are getting six figures to play this game that we put together and you're like: 'Really! How many hours a day are you practicing on this thing?'. I get emails from kids every day asking me how to get into the business and now it's going to be like 'go pick up Gears PC and see if you can build a better multiplayer map than us and maybe somewhere down the line you'll get a job and we'll be office mates and we'll be having Friday level reviews'. That to me is the most exciting thing about all of it. Seeing the community just build upon itself and be this organic element.
Pro-G: For someone coming in cold to the Gears universe, why should they pick up the game on PC?
CB: If there's any main reason that I'm personally most excited about for somebody to pick up Gears of War on PC I'd say it's because we're shipping the editor. We're shipping the same editor that we used to build the entire game with. We're shipping all of the assets with it as well, all of the modular architecture, all of the textures, all of the characters. You're not only getting a game here, you're getting a platform, you're getting a toolbox to create environments, to create levels, to create modifications and to potentially get a job in the gaming industry. That to me is hands down the most exciting feature.
Gears of War on PC is set for release this Christmas. Check back later this week for Pro-G's hands on preview.