Until January this year, Kudo Tsunoda was best known for producing the Def Jam and Fight Night series. Well, that and sporting ridiculous sunglasses at all times, and wearing the kind of clothes and jewellery more usually seen on rap stars than people who make videogames for a living.
Then it was announced Tsunoda was to join Microsoft Game Studios to work on "an upcoming Gears of War title". To no one's astonishment, that title turned out to be Gears of War 2. Eurogamer caught up with Tsunoda, and his sunglasses, to find out what he's got to do with it all, how the game is coming along and just what "more badass" actually means.
Eurogamer: Can you explain your role in the development of Gears of War 2?
Kudo Tsunoda: Obviously the people at Epic do an awesome job of making the game. Gears 1 was just stupendous and Gears 2 is coming along really well. Someone like Cliff [Bleszinski] has such a great vision for the game, and it's about being able to enable his creativity as much as possible. There are all kinds of good resources Microsoft can bring to the table, and my job is to facilitate all that stuff for Epic and Cliff and all the people working on Gears of War 2.
Also when it comes to playing the game, it's good sometimes to have a little outside perspective. We can lend that and give feedback. The great thing about working with Epic is all they care about is making the best game possible, so they're always happy to work on everything in as collaborative a manner as possible. We're trying to do everything we can to make sure Cliff's vision and what Epic wants gets into the game.
Eurogamer: Can you give us any examples of feedback you've given so far?
Kudo Tsunoda: I think if you've played Gears of War 1, it's clear there's stuff you'd want to improve on in Gears of War 2. The story wasn't necessarily as robust as it could have been, and that's stuff we're really going to blow that out in Gears of War 2. We've got Josh Ortega who's a great comic book writer, and he's totally focused on the story. We want to do a much better job of that.
When you look at the gameplay - it's great, but I don't think there's ever that sense of a giant, epic war. In Gears of War 1, it's the Locusts versus the Cogs, but when you're playing it's more like you and one other person fighting a small entourage of Locusts. In Gears 2, we're blowing that out to give you a much grander sense of battle.
The gameplay could sometimes be a little repetitive in Gears of War 1. It's like, okay, you move forward a little bit, duck and cover, pop a few guys, move forward a little bit, duck and cover, pop a few guys... You had a great toolset for things your character could do, and we're blowing that out in Gears 2 to put you in a much wider variety of gameplay situations.
Eurogamer: Going back to what you were saying about the storyline, there were criticisms that Gears 1 was too over-the-top macho, with all these big men strutting about being ever so tough and American... Has that changed now?
Kudo Tsunoda: Yeah. If you look at the character line-up from Gears 1, they were very stereotypical characters. There wasn't much variety between the different types. That's something that not only in the development of existing characters we're changing up, but also adding some new characters that add their own individual flair to it.
Eurogamer: What about suggestions Cole Train was a racial stereotype? How do you respond?
Kudo Tsunoda: People take away from games and different characters what they want. Clearly, as you're developing the characters, you're not like, 'Hey, we'd like this character to be stereotypical.' From a game-making perspective you want to get as much uniqueness and variety with the characters as possible, for them to have individual flair and for people to identify with them. You don't want to build stereotypical characters, not just racial stereotypes but stereotypes of any kind.
Eurogamer: I know Gears 2 isn't out till November, but do you have any plans regarding Xbox Live yet? Will there be a playable demo and downloadable content?
Kudo Tsunoda: We don't have any announced plans on the demo side yet. We don't have any announced plans on the demo side yet. For sure, Gears is the kind of game that anybody who plays it gets addicted to. My girlfriend isn't necessarily into big action shooters per say, but when I started playing Gears 1 we got into the co-op, and now she's a huge Gears fan... But we don't have any announced plans on the demo as yet.
As for downloadable content, Gears definitely lends itself to that, but we don't have any plans announced yet. Any kind of big blockbuster franchise is going to have additional downloadable content. I think it would be crazy to say there's not going to be any for Gears 2. That's something that's more or less expected out of big franchises. I certainly wouldn't think it's crazy talk to think there might be some downloadable content in the future.
Eurogamer: Cliffy B's tagline for Gears of War 2, as he tirelessly reminds us, is 'Bigger, Better, More Badass'. I understand the first two, but can you explain just how one makes a game 'more badass'?
Kudo Tsunoda: For one, there are a lot of different abilities we're giving the main character in terms of things you can do in combat. Also you're put in a lot of different gameplay experiences, a bigger variety of scenarios, so you feel like you're not just mastering one thing that carries on throughout the entire game. To be successful you've got to master a wide variety of combat situations.
It's not like you get one thing down and you do that for the entire game. It's really giving you that badass feeling of being able to conquer a variety of situations, using your own tactical strategies. There's bigger and better on the weapons side. Yes, we expand the characters' abilities, and yes, you're going to have a hundred Locusts all swarming plus these giant boss characters that are going to be bigger and better.
Eurogamer: And more badass, presumably.
Kudo Tsunoda: Giving you the more badass feeling is about being able to master a wide variety of different kinds of combat situations.
Eurogamer: So on the badass scale, if 10 is maximum badass and one is not very badass at all actually, where would you put Gears of War and its sequel?
Kudo Tsunoda: I'd give Gears of War 1 an eight. Gears of War 2... 11. We're taking it to 11.
Gears of War 2 is due out on Xbox 360 this November.