An Open Letter Rod Fergusson and Black Tusk
An Open Letter Rod Fergusson and Black Tusk
We don’t expect you to remember us, but we have met you in person, and gamed with you on several occasions, both in the Gears universe and in other virtual worlds.
News of you leading a triple-A team of developers in the creation of the next Gears of War game was a wonderful surprise. Most recently, we heard that you are open to questions, and are hoping that you are also open to reading the thoughts of some hardcore Gears gamers.
Before we provide you with some of our thoughts about what should (and shouldn’t be) in a new Gears game, we thought it would be helpful to share what we found magical about the original Gears game.
At its time of release (before Left4Dead), Gears of War was unique for our community in its capacity to elicit laughter unto tears, genuine bro love, pride, anguish and rage – all in a single 10 minute match. The good thing, for future design reference, is that there is a chorus of specific design choices (or accidents) that created this “lightning in a bottle”. Remove or change any element and risk diminishing the game profoundly.
Here are the elements of Gears 1 that we feel created that lightning in a bottle:
Execution game mode – one revivable life times 4 players per team. There are no “respawns”, with sometimes instantaneous-death throwing the gamer into limbo mid-sentence – to hilarious effect. Execution is a genre defying gametype in which the few and challenging-to-use power weapons become the objectives, and teamwork and ceaseless communication are the only constant in stopping the living from joining the dead.
Great in-game voice channels – Hearing a teammate’s cry for help get cut off by his untimely death is funny, but creating a chat channel “for the dead” that included fallen members of both teams was ingenious. Limbo, or The Valley of Death as we call it, may have seemed like a minor detail, but aside from affording the obvious pleasure of cheering, laughing, and groaning while good and bad decisions play out before our eyes, this time provides an almost necessary breather from the intensity of hunt-or-be-hunted gameplay. (Older gamers with high blood pressure and low skills naturally spend more time in limbo, probably to their unbeknownst considerable benefit.)
Intimate battles on smaller sized, symmetrical or semi-symmetrical maps – brilliant maps designed specifically for Execution provide quick, intense, dynamic rounds that never seemed unfair, repetitive, or predictable.
Speed and overall pacing of the game – Intentional movement, weapon, spawn location, and round duration design choices serve to keep the game fresh, balanced, and entertaining, yet with just enough down time to keep the gamer from becoming exhausted. Specifically to the speed of movement, it is slow enough to deter “run and gun” gameplay yet fast enough to encourage risk-taking.
Shotgun battles – With house rules in place (no melee), and map ambulation being almost a weapon in itself, these heart-pounding encounters never play out the same way twice and make Gears stand out from the rest.
Mutually exclusive, overall balanced, and creatively designed weapons – All of the weapons have to be learned, and some can’t be mastered by everyone, but sans active reloads, the weapons are well-balanced often pairing higher difficulty with great damage modifiers (the torque/longshot) or chest-pounding show (the chainsaw).
Gritty visuals – The dark color palette mixed with the gore and gruesomeness of the game is a treat and critical for stealthy gameplay and creating a sense of foreboding and “a certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread”.
The Legion of “Oh Shit!” Moments were brought to us by the stun-less smoke grenade, the destroyed beauty palette, mouth-breathing Locusts, brilliant map design, by the letter “S”tealth, and by the color gibs. This is where stories were woven into a tapestry that bonded grown men. We heard the chimes at midnight…but we kept playing.
That wasn’t to say we thought Gears 1 was perfect. In fact, we ended up playing with “house rules” because some of the problems proved critical to enjoyment of the game.
Aspects of Gears 1 that were problems:
Netcoding/lag/x-factor – This was the most prominent issue. Bullets firing up to a second after the trigger pull on a good internet connection created universal inconsistencies in gun battles giving the host player an extreme advantage while simultaneously nerfing everyone else’s guns. Power weapons like the Boomshot and Torquebow suffered from “dud” shots or “stuck” shots in which the explosive tip failed to explode.
Melee – with the exception of the showcase weapon, the chainsaw, the melee takes the fun away from the gunplay, like a pre-mature ejaculation.
Grenade planting/tagging – Skillful and stealthy navigation of the map is almost a “weapon” of its own, and therefore allowing the map to be “booby-trapped” only serves to cannibalize one of the key elements of the game. Similarly, grenade tags are an automatic kill too-easily-obtained. They break the balance of the game. It is so much more difficult and therefore satisfying to get a kill or three with a well-thrown grenade. That is not a “cheap” kill; it is earned.
Other issues that have since been addressed included: i) active reload damage modifier boosts – fixed in GoW:J, ii) stopping power – introduced in Gears 2 and fixed in GoW:J, iii) accidentally/unintentionally “sticking “ to pieces of cover – fixed in GoW3, and the apparent critical hit (x-factor) damage modifiers – fixed in Gears 2. These fixes are greatly appreciated and we hope they are reinforced in the next game.
In addition to our pros and cons of Gears above, here is a wishlist of items for the next installment:
Above all, and for all communities who want to play Gears the way they want to play it, Custom Games for private/semi-private matches with toggle-able options for almost every aspect of the game including, for example, melees. (If Custom Games are offered then most of the points below become moot.)
Fewer power weapons – The OneShot and mortars were good for large scale battles, but large scale battles haven’t been good for Gears. Removing these weapons while keeping the Digger, Torque, Boomshot, Hammer of Dawn, and Longshot as a solid core of power weapons would help keep the battles small-scale and intimate.
No Multiplayer Achievements – Online achievements promote camping and overuse of a specific weapon, bad teamplay, and an overall negative experience for all players involved. It promotes gameplay that is not genuine and as a result the game suffers.
Give ‘Execution’ its deserved attention – This mode worked. Team deathmatch and other respawn-friendly modes didn’t fit the Gears DNA. One life creates methodical and well-paced gameplay while providing intense and memorable moments.
Add a final kill cam – Gears frequently yields highlight reel moments. Show a replay of the final kill of the round so we can all get a second look at these awesome kills.
Anti-host advantage – We hope that the utilization of dedicated servers will remove “host advantage” completely. If for any reason this is not possible, could we get the ability to handicap the host’s damage output to make the game more fair?
Please no one-hit kill weapons – Exceptions are a sniper headshot or an explosive round direct hit/Hammer of Dawn strike, etc.
Keep grenades simple – We are fans of old-school frag, smoke, and ink grenades. Obviously you guys will want to add a variety here, but can we eliminate the cheap grenade tag AND grenade plant kills? Also, nothing is more frustrating than having control taken away from the gamer. Please don’t add any stun, ragdoll, or any other kind of effect that will essentially take the controller out of our hands.
Adjust chainsaw duels – We think chainsaw duels are awesome. However, can we change how the winner is decided? The same people always win as they are the fastest button pressers. We suggest some sort of rock-paper-scissors mechanic or even an active reload mini-game where the more precise player wins.
We have played every Gears game that has been released thus far, but none came close to the amount of play time and sheer fun that the original game offered. Its charm and longevity have made Gears 1 a fan-favorite among our community and likely many others. This community understands that a next-gen version of Gears will be an ambitious project, but we strongly believe that focusing on the things that made the original so successful will also serve the next installment well. We hope that you will consider our opinions and concerns as hardcore Gears fans. Thank you for your time!
One final note. If GoW:Black Tusk gives us what we are asking for, we won’t be needing anything else, really. However, for the sake of the other Gears communities, bring back Horde and Overrun with additional maps designed specifically for those worthy gametypes. And test the game heavily with an extended Beta, maybe even an Alpha.
Best wishes to all the Black Tusk crew!
Zos, Grymm, rED, “It’s my Star Wars” Blankman, Kenai, 3Suns, Nishiki, Taifu, Tonnbo, RoBBins