Gears Of War Judgement is just around the corner and after getting a taste of it with our preview, we also wanted to delve deeper into the whole process of development. Fortunately, we were able to chat to James Brown, Level Designer for Epic Games to get some answers.

Please note, this interview was conducted prior to the announcement of the VIP Season Pass. This will explain the candidness in one of James’s answers.

Gears of War 3 is still a relatively fresh release and remains widely played online. How does Gears Judgement fit in to that play space? Is it different enough from Gears 3 that you think people will play both simultaneously?

With Gears of War Judgement, we have two different campaigns. The first is set before the events of the Gears of War 1, when Baird was lieutenant of Kilo squad, standing in front of a judge being accused of war crimes. The second one, called Aftermath, is set during the events of Gears of War 3. With Gear of War Judgement, we decided we should let players play the way they wanted to play, rather than force feed a story to them. It felt nice, because, the player is having to grin and bare it during a testimony before the judge and then as the player, you also get to play through that testimony, but you’re giving it your own spin and you’re playing it in your own way. You choose when you want to declassify and when you don’t so you kind of get a unique experience every time and with every different player.

What makes GOW:J multiplayer modes different to everything else out there now, and from every other Gears of War title released before this point? What are the stand-out qualities and why should people be excited about picking up Judgement?

So, we have Team Deathmatch and stuff we’ve always had in Gears, that core loop is still there. We also have a new Free-For-All mode which is brand new to Gears and we have Domination mode which is a team based game mode. Like everything else, we really took our multiplayer back down to its roots. So we have a brand new control scheme to remove speed bumps along the way, we’re getting rid of animations, and anything that would pull players out of the game so they can spend more time playing and less time watching. But even that wasn’t enough. We really wanted to make some change-ups so we went with the load-out system which we didn’t have before. This kind of follows that same theme as the single player where you can choose the way you want to play. If you want to play a support role, you can do that now. Even in Free-For-All, even if you want to be nothing but a support guy and support non team mates, you can do that! (laughs).

But the main thing we’ve done is the new OverRun mode. So instead of going with another shooter, because we have a fantastic shooter system, we took notes from other games like RPG s and RTS and layered the best elements of those onto that core shooter mechanic to make it real special for OverRun mode.

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Looking at the amount of work 343 are putting into Halo 4 post launch, do you look at their ethic of introducing new matchmaking modes each week, as well as episodes of Spartan Ops and map packs, and think that could be applied to Gears of War?

I think that Epic, as a company, has a huge reputation for being one of the best companies to support their users post launch. We’re always doing community events and special events online, we have award structures and DLC and that’s definitely not going to change with Gears of War Judgement.

As with Gears of War 3, will there be a Season Pass available to players to download additional content post-launch?

(Big Grin) There is a lot of stuff coming up but we are not saying exactly what it is yet. So you will have to wait and find out.

(The VIP Season Pass has now been confirmed. Details here.)

Why a prequel? What was the purpose of going back to the origins of Cole and Baird? In terms of potentially pushing the narrative forward in future instalments, did you need to take a few steps back?

No I don’t think we NEEDED to do that, but what we wanted to do was try something new. We didn’t want to just tac on to the Gears story because it kind of reached its conclusion and we were happy with that so bringing in People Can Fly gave us a really fresh perspective of the game and allowed us to go in a new direction and try new things. In addition to that, we went and talked to our fans and got their input in what they wanted us to do, where they wanted us to go with the game and where they wanted it to be. Learning all this stuff together, we also had this huge opportunity. I mean, the Gears of War universe is so big, We’ve got all kinds of characters that we’ve never talked about and entire continents that we’ve never heard of outside the novels. And so, rather than just using what was already there and done, it gave us a really good opportunity to explore some of those stories and then with the aftermath campaign, give you some context of how it all ties together. And that works really well with the Baird storyline, starting off as a lieutenant and who he becomes 20 years down the line.

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This isn’t the first time you’ve moved around the Gears timeline. Standalone Gears 3 expansion, Raam’s Shadow, cast players as the fierce general prior to the events of Gears 1. Without talking about plot points, is there synchronisation between these two gaming experiences? While timelines are different, are there linked events?

Yes! Raams shadow was the first time we introduced the elite class of the Locusts, the guys have reflective shields and the big helmets and you will see them a lot in Gears of War Judgement. We’ve always said the war with the Locusts isn’t a war of attrition. Overtime, they no longer have the ability to manufacture new weapons or resupply, and so you see fewer and fewer of the big locusts and fewer of the more powerful weaponry on the COG’s side. Now we are doing a prequel, which is 14 years before the first game, so you will see a lot of new weapons that you haven’t seen before, you’re going to see more of the bigger, scarier locusts, but in the aftermath campaign, again, it ties all that back together so you can see where its gone. The purpose for the design is to be very different in feel and very different in tone so you had that new and fresh experience and then the aftermath campaign looks, feels and ties back into Gears of War 3.

As this will be the last Gears of War on current-generation platforms, without going into details I know you can’t talk about, could you tell us where you see Gears of War possibly fitting into the next generation as a franchise?

Well as I said, it was very interesting for us to look back and take a look at this and say “Hey, here’s this giant universe we can do anything with”. So even without talking about where we’re going to go, there’s so many more possibilities of places that we COULD go and this is just one story, there’s some brand new characters here that have really interesting stories of their own and with the campaign Aftermath, you get to see where their stories go. There are any number of options available to us.

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us.

Gears of War: Judgement will release on March 19th in NA and March 22nd in EU.