Today the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta kicks off for those who bought the Epic Edition of Bulletstorm. Epic reckons a million gamers will take part, enjoy the carnage and unlock special items for use in the full game.
This is the first step on the final road to the end of the Gears of War trilogy arc. But how did it become the gargantuan brand it is today? In this interview with Eurogamer, executive producer Rod Fergusson talks Gears pyjamas, questionable wedding photos and defining HD gaming.
Eurogamer: How has Gears of War carved out such a strong brand identity?
Rod Fergusson: Luck. We happened upon the Crimson Omen. One of our concept artists created a symbol for the squad that was a white cog with a human skull inside. When we were looking for iconography, we latched onto that.
We were saying, "Well, we should change the human skull to a Locust skull so we get both sides; the human cog and the Locust skull. And we should make it more stranded, have dripping spray paint on it and make it feel like it's a tag in the world." That just grew.
We found out there's a skull subculture out there that just likes skulls. Some of the stuff we do in terms of licensing, whether it be wallets or sandals or pyjamas, people will buy it for the skull and not just because they know it's Gears of War.
Eurogamer: There are Gears of War pyjamas?
Rod Fergusson: There are. I wear them all the time.
Eurogamer: What's the craziest Gears of War merchandise?
Rod Fergusson: It never got made, but there was a Snuggie that came to us. The blanket with the arms – I don't know what they call it in the UK. It was Marcus armour, so you put your arms in and you were basically dressed as Marcus in a slanket. We were like, "Yeah, that's too much. That's too far."
The one I wasn't that happy about in the end was Gears of War foot flops. There's a line between cool and getting your brand out there, and then there's whoring yourself, and you're doing too much and it cheapens it. It felt with the foot flops we crossed the line.
So we've been harder with ourselves. Shot glasses are cool. A neon clock is cool. But foot flops are not cool. Those are diminishing the brand, not contributing to it.
Eurogamer: I bought my Xbox 360 for Gears of War's visuals. Does that tally with your feedback?
Rod Fergusson: You spent money on buying a console and you wanted to show it off to your girlfriend or your wife: "Look, this is why I bought it. I spent all this money because, look how good these games look on my 60 inch TV." We wanted to be the showcase for what HD meant at the time, and we continue to try to push that.
Eurogamer: But it must be harder to do that now we're five years into the Xbox 360's life cycle. There are many games that look fantastic. Do gamers take how good Gears of War 3 looks for granted?
Rod Fergusson: They do. They take it for granted. That was one of our biggest problems with Gears 1 to Gears 2. Your memory is far better than reality. When I was a kid, Gilligan's Island was the funniest show on television. When you watch Gilligan's Island now, it's just plain terrible.
With Gears 2 we were competing with the memory of Gears 1 and what people remembered it was like. We got to the point where, at the review event in San Francisco, I suggested we put up a single station of Gears 1 so the press could play it and realise it wasn't as good as they remember. They were saying, "Oh, it kinda looks like Gears 1."
I'm like, "Really? No it doesn't at all. You just remember it looking better than it actually does." Not only were we competing with the state of the industry, we were competing with our own memory.
The nice thing is Unreal Engine 3 is always changing. It's the same number, but every day hundreds of code changes go in and the engine improves. We keep pushing our engine team and ourselves art wise to keep taking it up.
Yeah, people have closed the gap. We were far ahead of a lot of games when Gears 1 came out. Everybody's been catching up, and a lot of people are fighting for ownership of that title. But we continue to push the box and what HD means.