Gears of War 2 lead designer Cliff Bleszinski is relaxed, but animated. He's relaxed because he thinks Gears of War 2 is going to be "hands down" the best game out this Christmas, never mind just on Xbox 360, and because he reckons the Internet reaction to the first trailer was 85 percent positive. He's animated because he's Cliff Bleszinski, and he gets excited - no more so than when he's talking about his game. Remember the GDC unveiling? All he had to do was introduce a trailer and he turned up with a chainsaw.
If Bleszinski's to be believed, Gears of War 2 has also got "the best cover system ever seen in the videogame industry", and the level we've just been shown, Assault, is going to be "the ultimate watercooler level" when it's finished, but still "just the tip of the iceberg" in terms of what the game offers. You can read more about Assault in our Gears of War 2 preview from Microsoft's spring showcase event in San Francisco, which talks you through what we were shown. It's got Brumaks in it, and Derricks, and even the odd Nemacyst.
Once you're done there, though, you can read through Bleszinski's thoughts on the game in our full text interview below, and as a special treat we've been burning the midnight XVIDs to bring you excerpts of the Bleszinski interview spliced together with the views of Kudo Tsunoda - Microsoft's man in charge of "the Gears of War business", among other things - who also has a lot to say on the subject of Xbox 360's biggest game of 2008 from behind his permanent sunglasses.
Between them, they reckon it's going to be stunning. Let us know how they get on convincing you.
Eurogamer: So we've finally had our first look at Gears of War 2. How have you found the feedback so far?
Cliff Bleszinski: I feel really good. Being able to show the Assault level to journalists today and give them a full dog and pony show of what that level is, it's just been extremely encouraging. When we were building this level, we wanted to create a scenario where it was just one thing after another - to build the ultimate watercooler level. So many of the levels in Gears 2 are like that, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I think people are responding really nicely.
Eurogamer: What about the feedback on the Internet for the trailer you released earlier this week?
Cliff Bleszinski: I think it was about 85 percent positive and 15 percent hating, which I think is a really good ratio. Any time you have people on a message board saying, 'That was amazing, that was amazing, that was amazing,' someone has to come in and be like, 'I didn't think it was that cool,' yadda-yadda-yadda. I think it was an incredibly positive response, and I think gamers are stoked for Gears 2.
Eurogamer: But going back to that 15 percent - how much notice will you take of that? Will you take that criticism on board, and will it change the design of the game at all?
Cliff Bleszinski: I don't know if it'll change the design a lot. For instance, a lot of gamers were somehow expecting Gears 2 to suddenly come out and have big bright purple flowers and rainbows and unicorns coming out of my ass or something like that. It's just not that game. It's not a very saturated colour palette, but we are going for large, beautiful open vistas this time around, much larger scale of battle - so it's not just grey pillars, right?
You know, as much as it saddens me to read those 15 percent of gamers not liking what they see, I still want to win them over, and I want everyone out there to play the game and enjoy it.
Eurogamer: So you can confirm there will be no unicorns coming out of your ass for Gears of War 2?
Cliff Bleszinski: Well, not for Gears 2, but there might be other projects coming out of Epic in which I may have a torrent of unicorn leakage from my ass. The horn's the hardest part, really.
Eurogamer: The first Gears of War still stands out as one of the best-looking titles on Xbox 360. Were you hoping that by now other titles would be matching up in the visual stakes?
Cliff Bleszinski: When a new game comes out I'm not really hoping anybody kicks our ass, I'm hoping we can still be the leading edge development studio we are. I just think it's the combination of the talent we have at the studio - we have amazing design, wonderful coders and some of the best artists in entertainment, period. I think we all work very well together. I want the competition to keep stepping up and hopefully they'll license our technology to do so. There's a pure Mark Rein moment for you...
Eurogamer: The characters in Gears 1 were criticised by some for being so over-the-top macho...
Cliff Bleszinski: Originally we experimented with EMO characters that cut themselves and listened to bands like Shiny Toy Guns, but the useability just didn't respond that well to it. The pendulum swung the other way, and you know, maybe it swung a little bit hard. But honestly, we make our characters big and beefy so they're visible in gameplay. If they were all skinny 150-pound white guys, they wouldn't show up. So that's why we make them like that.
Honestly, we didn't want 40-minute cut-scenes where we paint the nuances of who these guys are. We want a minute-long cut-scene, get to the action and let players experience the amazing interactivity of the game. So we paint with very coarse brushstrokes with these characters.
Eurogamer: What's your response to the accusation that Cole Train is a racial stereotype?
Cliff Bleszinski: The thing about Gus is that if he's seen as a stereotypical or bad character, I might be missing it - because honestly, I think he's a charismatic guy, I think he's an incredible soldier, and if I was in that situation dealing with all these monsters, I would definitely want him by my side in battle. So I think he's a good guy.
Eurogamer: Another, perhaps less controversial criticism of the first game was the controls tended to get stuck. Is that something you've addressed for the sequel?
Cliff Bleszinski: Absolutely. I believe that hands-down, in Gears 2, we will have the best cover system ever seen in the videogame industry. I'd say about 90 percent of the time, it worked exactly how gamers wanted it to work. About 10 percent of the time, players were going into cover when they didn't want to. We put some of those tweaks in a patch for Gears 1, we iterated on them for Gears PC, and now we're bringing it full circle for Gears 2. I think players are really going to love the system this time around.
Eurogamer: In your presentation today, you said you started work on Gears 2 the day Gears 1 shipped. Have you started work on Gears 3 yet?
Cliff Bleszinski: No. And we never announced a trilogy, I don't know why everybody's cramming those words into my mouth. They're like, 'You said Gears would be a trilogy.' I'm like, 'I didn't say sh**! That wasn't me! You're putting words in my mouth, journalists!' But I love this universe, and if Gears 2 has a wonderful ship-in, if gamers buy it, then we'll consider a sequel.
Eurogamer: What makes Gears of War 2 so much bigger and better than the first game?
Cliff Bleszinski: I think it's the sum of its parts. There's a grander feel for the game as far as the battlefield goes, and there's a deeper story. You actually get into the heads of some of your squad-mates. From the start of the game you learn that Dominic Santiago, Marcus's best friend, is looking for his wife. He was looking for her in the first game but now he has a photo and a couple of leads, and that hopefully will be driven to a resolution. You'll see where the Locust live, you'll see where humanity lives, you'll see a darker story with more intimate violence and more executions. And a whole lot more ass-kicking.
Eurogamer: Which aspect of the game are you personally most proud of?
Cliff Bleszinski: I'm proud of getting inside Dom's head a little bit more, figuring out who this Dom Santiago is, who his wife was and what wound up happening to her. I'm also excited to see the large scale battle scenes and a lot of the coolness we're putting in the multiplayer feature set.
Eurogamer: How do you strike the balance between giving fans of the first game more of what they liked and introducing new, innovative stuff?
Cliff Bleszinski: Well the first thing we don't do is say, 'Hey, a chainsaw and a gun worked, so let's put a spatula on a dishwasher.' You start getting into a beltsander attached to a moped, and it starts getting really gimmicky at that point. We wanted new weapons that are cool, so we have the semi-automatic pistol which combines with hostage taking.
A game is the sum of its parts. When you have somebody knocked down but not out, and they're trying to crawl away from you leaving a blood trail, and the environment's chipping away at you while hundreds of locusts are closing in, and the Brumak comes in and a chopper gets shot down, it's really everything together that makes Gears of War what it is.
Eurogamer: How have the enemies changed in this game?
Cliff Bleszinski: They're meaner, they're nastier. The Locust have been in the underground for a while, and there are a lot of indigenous creatures down there they've essentially mastered through various means. So you see Brumaks return and other nefarious creatures. I don't want to spoil too much, but I've been quoted as saying we have creatures that make the Brumaks look like baby panda bears. Very, very large.
Eurogamer: About this 'Bigger, better, more badass' tagline you've created. The bigger and better thing is pretty obvious, but can you explain what the badass factor is?
Cliff Bleszinski: So when Marcus shoots a Locust and the Locust crawls away leaving a blood trail, and he walks over to him and kicks him over and jumps on him and punches him in the head till he dies - moments like that. When you come up behind a Locust and you take your chainsaw and you flip it in half from groin to gullet, that's more badass. When Marcus is injured and he's leaning on the wall and you see the blood dripping down the wall, that's more badass, et cetera et cetera.
We call them the three Bs. It's such a cheesy marketing catchphrase but it works, right?
Eurogamer: On a badass scale of one to ten, how badass was the first Gears of War and how badass is Gears of War 2?
Cliff Bleszinski: The first Gears is pretty, kinda, sorta badass...
Eurogamer: Like a 7?
Cliff Bleszinski: Yeah, it's like a 7, and Gears 2 is like 12. It doesn't just go to 11, it goes to 12.
Eurogamer: I talked to [Gears brand manager] Kudo Tsunoda earlier, and he said it's an 11. Are you saying he doesn't really understand how badass it is?
Cliff Bleszinski: Yeah well, I have to one-up that guy. It's kind of like no one can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself. Nobody can really be told how badass Gears 2 is until you play it and you walk away with your hands sweating, and go crying to your Mama.
Eurogamer: Gears 2 is out in November, a competitive time of year - do you think it'll be the best game out this Christmas?
Cliff Bleszinski: Hands down. But Fable 2 is amazing too.
Gears of War 2 is due out in November on Xbox 360. Check out our preview for more.