With a flashback frame narrative, Left 4 Dead-style adaptive spawning, class-based multiplayer and new tactical trappings, you could be forgiven for calling Gears of War: Judgment a brand new IP. Providing you steer clear of screenshots, anyway.
The visuals clearly share DNA with the numbered Gears of War games, but even here there have been sly modifications to support the story, which takes the franchise back to the day the Locust first set foot on Sera. We spoke to art director Chris Perna for more.
Damon Baird has always been the sarcastic background character. How did you shape him into more of a frontman?
We took a look at Baird's history. Before Emergence Day he was a lieutenant: he held a higher rank, he was more well-to-do and more respected. Through the course of Emergence Day he got bumped down to Private and that's how we know him in the Gears franchise. Before that he was a charismatic leader and, he would put it, the best lieutenant the COG army has ever had.
We explored his uniform and his look: we made him cleaner than in Gears of War. He was more prim, his hair a bit better cut, his skin a little nicer - not as many spots or blemishes, things like that. His uniform has certain things on his lapels and shoulders that designate him as superior.
What's your view on how successfully Gears has incorporated female playable characters? Bringing Anya to the squad was classed as a shift for a very macho franchise. Is Sofia Hendricks an evolution of that?
Yeah. It's always been hard for us to do the female characters. One of the challenges is that we share an animation system between the males and the females. Locust share the same animation system as well, which is why everybody is kind of the same size and kind of has the same skeleton - it makes it a lot easier for our 600 animators to produce a game. That's always been a hurdle.
Getting a female animation swagger, the way they walk and certain nuances didn't come easy for us. We found along the way that whereas with a lot of other aspects guys can be hired to model creatures and brutal humans and stuff, they're used to that, but they're not so used to the subtleties of the female form. There have been a lot of challenges.
A lot of girls play Gears, so that drove us to overcome these challenges and create these females that weren't 'pretty' females. There's some of the backstory in the comics - there's an issue called 'Barren' and it's about what the COG do to women to get them into the military. They've gone through these horrible procedures to get them more masculine and ready to fight on the frontlines with the Locust and stuff.
All that fiction kind of wraps up in the design of the females, as well as the challenges we've had to overcome with the animation system and things like that. I think they've worked. They're a little butch on the surface, but we try and make their faces pretty and overcome some of that to make their form a little more pleasing to the eye.
Do you think that female characters have to butch up to appear in these sorts of very action-driven games, or is that just something specific to Gears?
Yeah, I mean, in Gears I think you need dirt. If you want to create this attractive, stereotypical, sexy female - a lot of games do that and it's kind of cliché at this point. You see the implants and the blonde hair and pants and you roll your eyes - it's almost like the game geek's idealisation of what a woman should be. I think because we didn't go that route we have more believability... we've got more butch characters. They're still feminine - Anya in Gears 3 comes across as being very feminine and I think it works.