Rod Fergusson about why Kait is the Hero in Gears 5, Gears Tactics' Design and Gears POP beeing a MOBA

In case you missed it: the biggest new infodrop about the 3 new Gears games i found in the web until now… long but nice read.

It’s all change for Gears of War after the Xbox E3 2018 conference, with the series’ first female lead headlining the upcoming Gears 5 , and new spin off games taking the franchise in completely different directions – and onto different platforms.

The announcements come alongside a new push from Microsoft to bolster its first party content and shake off its reputation for having few exclusives – a perception that persists despite Xbox One serving as home to the AAA likes of Halo, Forza, and Sea of Thieves , and with a solid range of smaller devs producing delights such as Cuphead or Ori and the Blind Forest .

One of the first franchises to enjoy the renewed focus will be Gears of War , which is set to return with not one, but three new games. There’s a twist though: while the star of the trio will be Gears 5 on Xbox One, the others will be Gears Tactics , a PC-first release targeting strategy players, and Gears Pop! for smartphones, which features a crossover with Funko Pops. Yes, the bobble-headed vinyl toys.

The existence of a fifth core Gears of War isn’t, perhaps, unexpected – it’s another of Microsoft’s biggest exclusive titles, having bought the franchise outright from Epic Games in 2014 – and was never going to be gone for long. However, the expansion of the franchise onto mobile and PC, not to mention new gaming genres and alternative visual styles at the same time, is more surprising.

So why the change, and why now?

“It’s about making the Gears of War franchise more approachable,” says Rod Fergusson, studio head at The Coalition. “As a creator, you’re like, ‘What are the things that are preventing people from gaining access to that world?’ One of the things that is pretty obvious is platform – it’s one of those things where there are gamers out there who might actually love Gears of War but they don’t play on console.”

“I think that any mature gaming franchise needs to think about how to expand and provide its fans and players more ways to connect with a property that they love,” adds Matt Booty, head of Microsoft Studios, and one of the people responsible for Microsoft’s new push to bolden its first party catalogue. “With Rod leading The Coalition, the studio is hitting its stride and has developed the vision and capacity to do more with the franchise.”

Although The Coalition has only been shepherding the Gears series since Microsoft’s purchase, Fergusson himself is practically a father to the sci-fi shooter. As producer on the games since the original Gears of War debuted in 2006, he’s overseen every facet of the franchise, and he’s intent on bringing a true Gears feel to the new titles.

“It’s all lead by Gears 5 being ’ Gears Prime ', as we jokingly call it, as the console third-person shooter [but] we wanted to reach out to other platforms in a very authentic way,” Fergusson says. “Creating games that are focused on that platform – that aren’t ports of an existing game, but are actually games that are designed and created for it.”

Shifting Gears

Accordingly, Gears Tactics will be tailored to PC play, to better serve the traditional mechanics of the genre. Unlike the third-person real-time adrenaline rush of the ‘Gears Prime’ entires, tactical games require a wider view of the area of engagement, specific movement paths and placement of units, ultimately rewarding players for patience and planning rather than bravado – all elements improved by the precision offered by mouse-and-keyboard controls.

Tactics is also potentially going to be one of the most important instalments in the saga, exploring the earliest days in its history.

" Tactics is canon. It’s a story that takes place 12 years before the first Gears of War , before the first Marcus Fenix story," Fergusson reveals. “It’s a new squad, and of course, being a tactics game, you get to create a lot of that squad yourself in terms of customisation. The core though – who’s there and what you fight – are intended to be canon.”

Its placement comes as a result of Fergusson and The Coalition’s ‘negative space’ policy, which applies to wider entries in the Gears mythos told in other media.

“We really like working in what we call negative space, where you leave gaps. If there’s something that isn’t locked down in our universe, then we don’t try to artificially lock it down,” he says. “We leave negative space so that when we work with a new collaborator like Kurtis [Weibe, writer of recent Gears of War comics, there’s some life to find, a hook to go and create new parts of the world, which is exciting. It’s really beneficial to have this sort of open minded perspective about where the franchise can go.”

Gears Pop

Gears Pop! , meanwhile, won’t be canon, but it will bring the tone of the Gears universe to mobile, if not the style. Presented in the ‘super deformed’ aesthetic of the Funko toys, the game – set to launch on Android and iOS in 2019 – will be a MOBA rush style game. Like Tactics , it will also be tailored to play on the platform.

“It’s not [us] re-creating Gears as a third-person shooter on a phone,” Fergusson says. “This is a MOBA rush, authentically mobile-first genre, for the mobile audience. Again, it’s not about just porting something over and getting it running on a new platform, it’s actually saying, ‘What are the strengths of that platform, and how can we make a Gears experience for those players?’”

“We didn’t want to do a licensed match-three or a licensed endless runner, we wanted to find what felt both true to the mobile platform, but also true to the franchise in terms of game mechanics,” he adds. “We wanted to make sure […] it wasn’t just lining up three cogs together to enter ‘insect mode’ or whatever.”

The cuter art style may surprise long-time Gears fans, but it’s allowing the developers to experiment in ways a more realistic looking game may not.

“What it does is give us permission to go and try some interesting things and play with it,” says Fergusson. “With this art style, we’re able to create a game that isn’t M-rated, that allows us to have fun with the characters in a different way, in a different style, and maybe reach an audience we haven’t been able to reach before.”

“Mobile is one of the biggest growth areas in gaming, so we felt that was an obvious place to go,” he continues. “Our offices are just covered in Funko Pops [and] it just occurred to me that there’s an art style already established out there that meets the needs for us, without having to go off and invent a new look. Trying to bring the super gritty, realistic look to the phone isn’t going to translate the best.”

Beyond being a MOBA, details are still light on Gears Pop’s play mechanics. However, based on key art released to WIRED, expect to see multiple Gears characters appear in the mobile game, potnetially hinting at a Heroes of the Storm -style mash-up. It’s also still unclear how the game will be monetised or if it will feature lootboxes or microtransactions (“We’re still talking through that, actually,” Fergusson says), as is common in other examples of the genre.

Some of the changes proposed in both games may seem unusual to more established players, but if Gears Tactics and Gears Pop! succeed in expanding the Gears -verse to newcomers, that will be seen as mission complete – and secure more titles for all tastes in future.

“From my perspective, it’s about looking at where players are and what they want,” says Booty. “Console is healthy and growing, but we of course also see the large numbers of players on mobile and PC. In seeing where players are and what devices they have, we look at making authentic Gears experiences. I think we’ll continue to look at what players are into, where they are and what devices they’re using, and create appropriate games to fit.”

Gears Prime

But what of the biggest of big guns, Gears 5 itself? The next chapter, also due to arrive in 2019, brings back fan-favourite character Kait Diaz, promoting her to the main protagonist. Kait first appeared in 2016’s Gears of War 4 , where she was an important supporting character, helping JD Fenix. Players at the time may never have realised how important Kait was, though.

“As we thought about where we were going, we liken Gears 4 in some ways to Mad Max: Fury Road , in the sense that it’s called “Mad Max” but he’s really a supporting character,” Fergusson says. “Max is really there to support Furiosa’s journey as she’s trying to escape, and that’s kind of what Gears 4 was. [It] was really Kait’s story about trying to save her mom, and JD was there to help.”

“[We thought] since it already was Kait’s story, why not embrace that further and let the player play as Kait in 5 ? It felt like a natural way to pivot the franchise a little bit, and allow you to actually play the true hero of the story.”

However, just like Fury Road , one can imagine Gears 5 attracting the ire of those who can’t contemplate a woman as an action hero. Has The Coalition prepared for that predictable outcry?

“One of the biggest things that I’m proudest of with the Gears of War franchise is we’ve always been about diversity,” Fergusson says. “When you look at our cast, we’ve always tried to have a diverse cast, both in ethnicity and in gender, and we’ve really been focused on trying to make that part of our world.”

“I kind of see the Gears of War franchise [like] Star Trek ,” he continues. “There’s an underlying optimism in that world, and that’s something I wanted to have in our world as well. Things like racism, sexism, homophobia, are things that aren’t part of our world. The decision to have Kait become the protagonist was really an organic decision, it wasn’t a forced or contrived situation where we were trying to follow a trend. It was completely natural.”

It’s worth noting another big change for Gears of War 5 , and that’s that it doesn’t appear to officially be called “of War”. While we’re promised the same solo or co-op – both local split screen and online – experience as past entries, the logos and imagery all bear only " Gears 5 ". Fergusson wouldn’t be drawn on whether that hinted at deeper changes or merely represents a corporate adoption of fans’ own shorthand for the series’ title, but did indicate an eagerness to move the core series forwards.

“Now that [The Coalition has] established ourselves with Gears 4 , and we’ve proven that we know what it takes to make a Gears of War game, we feel like the cuffs are off,” he says. “We can go and explore new and interesting things that we wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing before. Now that we’ve built the foundation, we’re still building in new and interesting ways, and trying to bring innovation to the forefront.”

While no details are yet forthcoming about gameplay modes beyond the story campaign – although Fergusson hints that fans can probably guess a couple of them – it’s clear that the game is aiming to be a technological marvel. It’s set to run in 4K HDR at 60fps on Xbox One X, and it’s targeting that benchmark across all modes.

“Our target is always 60fps, and we believe – with everything we’ve done, the learning we’ve taken from Gears 4 , and the optimisations we’ve been able to do beyond that – that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing, 60fps at 4K,” Fergusson says. “The new technology of this generation has been fantastic.”

If you’re on PC, you can expect a potentially even richer experience. As a first-party title, Gears 5 will arrive on Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Play Anywhere at launch, meaning Windows 10 gamers will have the option of pushing the game further – if you have the power.

The Gears Pop version of Kait Diaz

“Having a game that we’re building from the ground up for PC [means players] will be able to take advantage of all the types of different PC optimisation options you can have,” Fergusson says. “You’ll be able to max it to quite high. It’s still reasonably early, but we can usually get to 120fps. It’s obviously going to matter what hardware you’re using to get that - but it’ll be able to scale up that high, [if] the hardware can push it.”

With Gear 5 shaping up to be a real evolution of the core games, and Gears Tactics and Gears Pop! taking the series to unexplored territory, it’s a time of change for one of Xbox’s biggest exclusives. Whether fans will go exploring remains to be seen – and it’s also worth noting that Gears Tactics in particular is only referred to as “PC first”, not ruling out a later Xbox One appearance that could cause some to hold fire – but there’s no denying that the changes and additions to the Gears of War universe announced today form the biggest shake-up of the franchise since Microsoft bought it.

“I think people will be really surprised and hopefully delighted when they see where we’ve taken Gears 5 ,” Fergusson says. “We want to have meaningful changes, but not so much that Gears players go ‘this isn’t the game I wanted’, but with enough change that players go ‘oh, this is new and fresh and I’m excited to play it’.”

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I read this recently.

Kind of both makes me excited about the future and a little nervous. I hope to be playing Gears 10 years from now, but I worry something may change along the way that makes me put it down and move on. Change is good; however, too much change makes something totally different and not necessarily better.

Thanks for finding and posting that. I’ve been curious at to Gears POP! and what kind of gameplay it would have and I’m glad they didn’t go with the copy and paste style of gaming (puzzles, runners or low quality RTS) but instead went to a battle arena style game like Vain Glory. I enjoy MOBA’s and its nice to see that they stuck with it being action orientated.

I personally never want to see a gears 10. It’s ok for a series to end and just remaster it every few years. I don’t want it to end up like assassin’s creed where it’s completely unrecognizable now and most of the old fans left

Remasters are a sign of no future vision and a dry well of creativity. I hope there is no gears 10, but a new and fresh IP that is just as fun and immersive.

I dont need Gears 10 necessarily but Gears is one of the best 3rd person games out there, just take that game play and make a new game entirely with it.

Sort of like darks souls and bloodborne.

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