Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Gears of War: New Multiplayer Mode, and the Value of Fun vs. Innovation

Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games, recently made a brief post on the Gears of War message boards outlining the next title update for the game. Included will be fixes for a number of glitches, 720p support for VGA users running at 1280x1024, and a brand new multiplayer gametype called "Annex". Speculation and hopes flooded the board, until CliffyB (Cliff Bleszinski, also of Epic Games) stepped in and posted a (very) short reply:

This helps confirm the supposition that Annex will be a territory-based gameplay model, and many are hoping for a CTF (Capture the Flag) mode. As far as glitches go, we're earnestly hoping that they're fixing the instant chainsaw explosion kill in particular. Of all the glitches exploited in the game, that one is very likely the most frustrating one of all. I was going to post a video of the glitch, but couldn't find a video that had decent footage of the glitch in action that wasn't a tutorial. Since I find it so frustrating in-game, I reasoned that it would be somewhat hypocritical to post a tutorial for the glitch. Anyway, we're keeping our eyes out for more updates this week, and will keep you posted as we receive them.

Update: Microsoft apparently put up details at this URL, but yanked them back down, saying that the date was wrong. However, the info outlining gameplay for Annex was correct. Basically, it'll be a King of the Hill scenario. Read the whole shebang here.

Updated Update: The details at the above URL are back up, and the update itself was released on Monday, April 9th at 4PM PDT.

On a less technical front, Epic Games producer Rod Fergusson talked at GO3 last weekend in response to criticism of Gears, which said that the 2006 Game of the Year wasn't terribly "innovative". His argument? A game should primarily be designed to be fun, not necessarily innovative.

"That was the thing that bothered me with some of the early European reaction to Gears, that it wasn't being innovative enough. There's no mandate in the games industry that we have to make games that are totally innovative--the mandate is to make games that are fun."

"I'm sure everyone has heard of games where people say, oh, it's very innovative, but it's not fun to play. Well, that's death, even if it is innovative. It's about finding that sweet spot between evolution and revolution."

Yes, games must evolve. The way we play games and how games are presented to us will never cease to change. But I would much rather publishers sold games that I enjoyed over games that I thought looked cool. Currently the game that I play the most is a mod for a game released in 2002. No, it's not as pretty as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but it's fun, and that's what brings me back. So Epic gets the nod for realizing that a balance must be struck "between evolution and revolution," as they put it.

- Glock