When we booked our GDC interview slot with Mark Rein, Gears of War 2 was just an inevitability. By the time we sat down with him on the Thursday, Cliff Bleszinski had carved up the stage with a Lancer chainsaw bayonet and we knew it would be "more badass". With that in mind, we tried to prise some more details out of Mark and also talked about the new technology Tim Sweeney demonstrated for Unreal Engine 3 on 360, Unreal Tournament III's reception and Epic's future plans, and what exactly the PC Gaming Alliance - of which Epic is a member - is going to do for PC gamers.
Eurogamer: Indulge me, because the last few times I've seen you I have asked if you're doing Gears of War 2 and you've had to say that you can't say anything. So, Mark, are you doing Gears of War 2?
Mark Rein: Yes, we're doing Gears of War 2! Did you ever doubt that? It's been in development since before Gears of War 1 shipped.
Eurogamer: So are you making Gears of War 3 as well?
Mark Rein: No. I mean...you never know. No! No. No.
Eurogamer: It's okay, I won't tell the Internet.
Mark Rein: It's a good thing I didn't have that beer.
Eurogamer: You showed off tech demos at the conference for Unreal Engine 3 tech on 360 - when's that stuff going to be available to developers?
Mark Rein: How it works with our engine is that developers have access to our Perforce database, so whenever one of our programmers in the office checks something into the engine and checks it back into Perforce, it's available instantly to licensees. Licensees have a total transparency into that.
Now, that doesn't mean [a new feature] is a safe piece of technology ready to go - what we do is usually about once a month we do what is called 'blessing a build' where it goes through a QA [quality assurance] pass and we have testers make sure everything works, and then we say 'this is a blessed build' and then we tell licensees it's safe for them to go off and take these updates.
Eurogamer: Will the PS3 tech take a while to catch up?
Mark Rein: No, it's all the same tech. If it's in the engine, it's in the engine.
Eurogamer: Last time we spoke we also talked about UT3. Congratulations, by the way - Unreal Tournament 3 has now shipped in Europe for PS3.
Mark Rein: Yahoo! The European one is actually a slightly newer version and we're going to have a patch to the US one to match it.
Eurogamer: It struck me when Microsoft was talking about XNA and the peer-review concept that that would be a good model for UT3 mods on 360.
Mark Rein: That's all based on their proprietary technology and tools. We're still begging and pleading with them to try and get mod support. It's getting increasingly less likely by the day. It's just the difference between the way their system works and the way Sony's system works. Look, our customers who buy our game will be fine. We'll get them something - I don't know what, or how much, or how often, but we'll try and deal with it as best we can.
Eurogamer: So apart from that, how's the 360 build going?
Mark Rein: Great. I don't have a release date for it if that was your next question.
Eurogamer: If you had to pluck -
Mark Rein: I don't pluck. I'm pluckless. Pluck off.
Eurogamer: So what, this year? Next year?
Mark Rein: Oh, this year of course.
Eurogamer: Can you actually say anything about Gears of War 2?
Mark Rein: We're doing it. It's going to be a really good game.
Eurogamer: I liked it when you said it was going to be "more badass", because I was concerned that it might not be more badass.
Mark Rein: [Laughs] We had an executive review the other day and I can tell you it is definitely more badass. It's really good. One thing I can say is that compared to where we were in the February before we shipped the last Gears, the game is in phenomenal shape. There are some good surprises for people. We'll start talking about it over the next few months.
Eurogamer: You said November. Do you think you'll go for the same Emergence Day?
Mark Rein: I have no idea. I don't think anyone's put a day in the sand.
Eurogamer: Does Microsoft decide that?
Mark Rein: We figure it out based on when we think we'll ship it. Right now they said November. I see nothing that leads me to believe it won't be November. It's in great shape.
Eurogamer: Does it have four-player co-op?
Mark Rein: It is a game. You will like it.
Eurogamer: Let's talk about features in games that you like. Do you like four-player co-op?
Mark Rein: [Very long pause.] So what else is up? I'm not telling you anything more about Gears of War 2.
Eurogamer: We can say things like Marcus Fenix is back, right, because that's in your press release. What about Dom? What about Cole Train?
Mark Rein: [No response.]
Eurogamer: You talked earlier about how the tech demos weren't Gears of War 2 -
Mark Rein: Yeah, those were just test environments to show off the technology.
Eurogamer: You said yourself though that you rarely put something in the engine unless you plan to use it yourself.
Mark Rein: Yep. Those are features that will be in our upcoming games.
Eurogamer: So: destructible environments. If those were in Gears of War, that would make quite a difference.
Mark Rein: You never quit! I love you guys.
Eurogamer: PC Gaming Alliance is another thing that's come up recently, and you're members. I'm sure you've been asked this about a dozen times already this week, but last week Cliff Bleszinski said PC gaming is in "disarray" -
Mark Rein: Cliff's an idiot! [Laughs] I'm kidding, obviously.
Eurogamer: Did you go and have a go at him about that?
Mark Rein: Oh yeah. Hey, Cliff is Cliff, and he's making a console game, and that's what he's focused on, so that's what his thinking is all about. But as a company, we make PC games. We love the PC, it's our heritage, we want to see it be strong, and we want to sell games like Unreal Tournament III and Gears of War on PC, and have them sell as well as they do on console.
I mean, why not? There's way more PCs out there than there are consoles, but unfortunately most PCs out there are not capable of playing games and that's something that falls on all of us - the hardware manufacturers and publishers - to make people understand, and developers to make sure games run well on the lower-end stuff.
So the PC Gaming Alliance is a great opportunity for us to have a great, open, honest dialogue with all the different stakeholders in the PC business. One of the big problems of the PC business is there's no platform holder. And so many people are switching to laptops, and most laptops just don't have enough power to play these games. I'm not saying every computer needs an 8800 GTX, but at least give users an experience so they can experience games.
And then there's other problems - piracy's clearly a problem, and there's all kinds of other things again because the PC is not just a gaming platform. The idea behind the Gaming Alliance is to help the PC platform be a better gaming platform, and we totally support that. As soon as they invited us we said 'yes, here's our cheque'. It took all of ten minutes to decide we wanted to be involved in this.
Eurogamer: What's the PC Gaming Alliance going to do, practically?
Mark Rein: I don't want to put words in their mouths, but some of our goals are to do what we can to push the graphics standards, minimum PC specs, to make sure developers are well-represented in this group, and that people understand the role that we play. And understand how we're entertainment software companies. We're not that much different to a movie company - we're content creators and we want to make sure that our voices are heard and it's not just a bunch of hardware guys talking about hardware.
Eurogamer: Changing subject, your old pal Denis Dyack is in town -
Mark Rein: Oh come on. Leave the guy alone.
Eurogamer: I just wanted to check on the status of the lawsuit.
Mark Rein: I'm not going to say anything about that.
Eurogamer: Have you seen Too Human?
Mark Rein: I'm not going to say anything about that.
Eurogamer: Midway put out some UT3 figures recently. Are you happy with how it's done?
Mark Rein: Yeah, we're happy with how it's done. We sure as heck didn't pick the best time in the world to ship it. It was shooter heaven and we're up against five shooters with much larger marketing budgets than we had. So I'm not sure that was the greatest idea, but when it comes out of the oven you want to serve it hot, so...
But no, we're really happy - the PlayStation 3 version's done really well, the PC version's done okay too, you saw their numbers and it's not bad shipments. We're doing well and we're making improvements to the game too. We've got the mod stuff and there's tons of cool mods, and that's really starting to take off, especially on the PlayStation 3, so what can we do to make mods easier to find, to have a bit of a community, so that's one of the improvements we want to do - to bring a mod browser right into the game. We have a whole bunch of ideas. We're working on an update for the game right now. We shipped a really good game and we're going to make it better.
Eurogamer: What else are you guys up to? Are you looking at doing any digital download stuff, like XBLA or PSN?
Mark Rein: No. UT and Gears are pretty much it. We have two game teams and an engine team.
Eurogamer: And no plans for the Wii?
Mark Rein: You can see we're improving things on the platforms we're already on, so why dilute our efforts for a platform that - hardware-wise - just isn't really suited to what we're doing?
Eurogamer: And it's going so well people are even suggesting Microsoft is going to buy you. I liked your reaction to the USD 1 billion figure, that you wished people would say USD 2 billion...
Mark Rein: If you're going to print crazy, ridiculous things, you might as well make them extra crazy.
Mark Rein is vice president of Epic Games.