In the opening scenes of Gears of War 3 we see a beefed up Gear tending to his radishes. The contrast between the radish plants and sheer muscle mass of the Gears it’s meant to feed is almost comical. “That’s always the joke, isn't it?” says the Cliff Bleszinski, the design director at Epic Games. “They’re on a world that’s desperate and they have this huge muscle mass — where are they finding the calories to sustain that?”
Bleszinski jokes that sustaining each bicep alone with require 5000 calories a day, but when I quiz him about why the Gears of War franchise has always gravitated towards huge, muscular, dudebro characters, he explains that there is a good reason behind Marcus Fenix having bulging pecs.
“It’s really about empowerment,” he says.
“One of Gears’ strength that people like to knock it for is its characters’ large western design. I’m a big fan of identifiable design, so it’s like ‘What shooter game is that? Oh, the one with the characters that have heavy army who are really buff, oh I know that game’, as opposed to ‘What game is that? The one with the guy with the camouflage. Oh, I don’t know which one that is’.”
Bleszinski says it’s a style they have chosen and committed to, and it’s about empowering players to feel like they can do anything and giving them a fantasy to experience.
“It’s about you feeling like you can be this walking tank of a character whether you’re a guy who has come home from work to a family of kids and hates his boss, or you’re a kid who has come home from school and your teacher’s given you crap, you get to come home and be that big guy and save the world and ram a bayonet through an alien creature,” he says.
But empowering the player in such a way isn’t exactly original. Video games have long used hyper-buff characters with fists larger than heads; many of this year’s releases alone have not been short of meaty heroes who would put even the world’s greatest bodybuilders to shame.
So how does Bleszinski avoid making his characters clichés?
“You take the time with the characters and have the players get to know them,” he says.
Bleszinski openly admits that the first Gears of War fell into a bit of a cliché with its character development inasmuch that were wasn’t a lot of it — players were not given the chance to get to know the characters. He says this cliché was reduced in Gears of War 2 by sharing Dom’s story and giving the characters something to have happen with them. For Gears of War 3, Bleszinski believes that they have gone full-circle.
“Not only can players read the novels and the comic books, players can really get to know the characters,” he says.
“There are moments in Gears 3 where you play as Augustus Cole and you’re standing in a thrash ball stadium, and you realise that maybe he’s overcompensating with all his hooting and hollering, maybe he’s just really sad right now and wishes he could go back and play his old sport and he misses his glory days.”
“We have all these moments like Marcus having a recurring nightmare where he sees what he believes is the death of his father — these moments add a bit more texture to these characters.”
Do you agree with Cliff Bleszinski? Do the characters in Gears of War 3 feel empowering? Or are they clichés? What has your experience with Gears of War 3 been like? Let us know what you think!