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Gears of War 3 Interview w/ Mike Capps

23 Aug 2011  by   Paul Younger
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During Gamescom last week we managed to track down and steal some time with Epic Games president Mike Capps. This probably being the final chance to speak with a senior Epic figure prior to Gears of War 3’s release next month we took the opportunity to query Capps about whether Gears 3 will offer some plot closure, the finer points of balancing the both co-op and competitive multiplayer and what (if any) lessons had been learned from the extensive open multiplayer beta that ran back in April/May.
You can catch up with our latest hands-on impressions of Gears 3 in our in-depth look at the updated Horde mode (dubbed ‘Horde 2.0’) here.

IncGamers: Epic have been fairly vocal about wanting more hardware power to play with recently. Is Gears of War 3 the most you can get out of the Xbox 360?
Mike Capps: Yes, I feel really good that we’re using every bit of that box. After this we’ll be thinking about what’s next. We did the samaritan demo and we’re trying to have the next generation as one that’s a big, big leap forward and we think that that’s quite possible for sure.
IG: Are we going to get some proper storyline closure this time around?
MC: Absolutely. That’s part of the reason why this has been the longest production time for the series so far because we’ve got over two hours of cinematics in there. We explain where the Lambent come from, where the Locust come from. Really though, this is a story about Marcus finding his mother and knowing what happened to her.
But, yes, this is the end of the trilogy. There’s no villain that’s going to sneak away and come back later. This is the end.
IG: There’s up to four player campaign co-op this time around, how do you balance the game based on the number of human players?
MC: Well, we don’t change the amount of enemies based on the number of players, if that’s what you mean, but we do modify certain parts of the game in line with player numbers. When you’re playing single player with three AI companions we don’t want them to get all of the kills for themselves, it’s not fun for you as a player. As you start adding human players though it’s a case of retuning everything to do with skills and health for two, three and four players.
We have a couple of our designers that play four-player co-op every day and balance this stuff. For example, they might figure out that there’s not enough ammo in a level because everyone is using it all so quickly. So we changed it so that some of the ammo pick-ups can be used by everyone, kinda like an ‘ammo dump’. We also tried to make sure that enemies would drop random ammo and weapons that would be appropriate for a four-player game.

IG: Would you say that Gears 3 is more about refinement? Whereas Gears 2 was very much concerned with the expansion of concepts explored in the first game?
MC: It’s an interesting question, I guess it’s a little of both – expansion and refinement. Gears 3 is expanded in that it’s a lot bigger than Gears 2 but, it’s also a lot more complicated. With the extra time that we received by moving the date back on the project it gave us a lot more time to polish and I’m hoping that that will show in the final product.
IG: Multiplayer matches in the second game often devolved into shotgun vs. shotgun battles. How have you addressed such balancing issues?
MC: In all honesty it was difficult for us to alter the balance away from that style because the most vocal players in our community really wanted to play in that way. They were very upset when we hinted we might be moving away from that.
In Gears 3 the experienced players came in the beta and started playing just as they had in Gears 2 but, they weren’t that successful. It’s a very different game now… the Retro Lancer, for example, is a very different weapon from what we’ve had before and it demands a different style of play. The Hammerburst has also been changed a lot. I think it’s a much better balanced game now.
Watching the kill numbers between the different weapons after the first week or two of the beta (after people had figured out the weapons) saw much more balanced numbers. I think we’re in a good place right now. If it turns out that we’re not then we’ll fix it.

IG: Did you make many changes to the multiplayer following your experience with the beta?
MC: Absolutely, yeah. The biggest changes we’re map layout issues; where the weapons were placed and stuff like that. We also changed some weapon damage values. In general though we were surprised because things came out much better than we thought they would. At first we were really worried that the balance was going to be way off.
In the beginning there were an enormous number of complaints about the Sawed-Off Shotgun and how powerful it was. However, when we went in and looked at the numbers it really wasn’t responsible for many kills overall. I think it was more a case of people getting pissed off because they’d been shot once in the back and died, rather than twice from the front – as with the normal shotgun.
It was more of a strong emotional response to getting killed with the Sawed-Off than an actual balance problem. We could have changed the gun’s spread and damage value but we didn’t feel we needed to. So, yes, we made changes but less than we expected.
IG: Have you got a team ready in the wings to watch over the game in the next few years to assess which changes need to made to balancing and updates etc?
MC: Yeah. Epic is known for releasing additional content for games; we’ve been doing it since 1991. We haven’t announced anything for Gears 3 but you can assume we’ll be doing that kind of thing.
We’ve got who we call ‘team online’ and it’s their job to watch the stats constantly and alter the design of the maps and such as they need to. We’re not going to make massive changes overnight; we’re just going to be turning some dials on our side without doing big title updates.
It stinks for [team online] because when everyone else is done with their job they’re only just getting started on there’s.  
Gears of War 3 is scheduled for a European and North American release 20 September, 2011.

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