For many people, the first glimpse they had of Gears of War 3 was the beautiful cover image Epic supplied for our July issue. We loved the art so much that we chatted with Chris Perna, the art director at Epic Games, about the creation of the image, and learn a little more about the concepts behind this exciting image.

When creating a magazine cover or other piece of major game art, where and when does the process start? How much guidance are you given in terms of what the image should eventually be?

Most of the time I'll have a quick chat with Cliff (Bleszinski) and Rod (Fergusson), and we'll discuss important themes the cover might need to display so that the art can communicate to the readers at-a-glance any cool features or story elements from the game.

After I get a general idea of what we'd like to show, I'll start roughing something in using Unreal Engine 3. I've done most of the covers for magazines and comics that feature our franchises, and every one of them is created using Unreal Engine 3.

I'll usually start by building the background or "set" which is a small level or area. For example, for this cover I started with the backdrop. We knew we wanted to use a Lambent-themed location to introduce the threat of a third race. I started with rubble and destroyed buildings, then added Lambent Stalks that are basically the new Emergence Holes or delivery systems for the infected Lambent creatures. I made them look like they had burst through, damaged the architecture and just leveled the area that was once ripe with beautiful architecture.

After the backdrop is complete I start to rough in characters and placement. I do this all in Unreal Ed (the editor in Unreal Engine 3), and the characters are the same ones you'll be playing in the game. Once I get a composition I like, I'll run it by some of the artists for their trusted opinions and suggestions.

An alternate version

What guidance were you given on this piece in particular?

We discussed how one of the main themes of this game would be the new Lambent threat. The planet is becoming infected and has given birth to a new race of creatures. They have no alliance and mindlessly lay waste to anything in their path.

To show off this third race threat theme, I placed dead Locust at the feet of the Lambent creatures so that the viewer would hopefully "get" these aren't new Locust enemies; they are a real threat and are something much different.

Other things we wanted to get across at a glance are the new character armor and weapons. It's summer time on Sera and the idea is that the armor designs from Gears 1 and 2 were bulky and hot. The COG have disbanded in this third game and they've removed the outer shell, if you will, of armor plating so they'd be cooler and more mobile as the planet heats up for summer. If you look close at the lights on Marcus' shoulders they've changed from the 3 light strip. This is supposed to represent the inner workings of that light. What's under the outer armor after it is removed. There's also more leather padding and a grungy tattered tee shirt.

New weapons can also be seen. The Lancer, front and center, is always the iconic one, but now it looks beat up, tattered, and torn – reflecting the condition of the team. Dom is holding the new double-barrel sawed off shotgun. Cole has the One Shot, a massive cannon that can gib a Boomer. Baird is using a Pendulum-era Lancer which was the precursor to the standard issue Lancer of the modern COG.

There are also other subtle themes if you look closer. "We're all stranded now" comes across in the characters, Dom now has a beard, he's let himself go a bit after Gears 2. The unified COG have disbanded and Anya has taken up combat and is wearing battle gear.