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pax 2014

Gears Of War's Rod Fergusson On The Franchise's Past And His Optimism For The Future

by Kyle Hilliard on Sep 06, 2014 at 02:00 PM

He may not have revealed any new details about the next Gear of War, but Rod Fergusson did go into his history with the series and shared his optimism about its future at PAX.

The panel, titled the Rod Fergusson Fireside Chat, marked Fergusson's first PAX attendance. He joked that he had been too busy shipping games in the past to attend, and said it was like E3 – but without the cynicism.

One of the first questions he dove into was selecting his favorite past project. Fergusson said Gears of War was a favorite, but his unexpected answer was Counter-Strike for the Xbox. He wanted to cancel the game when he was brought on board saying there was no way the game could come together. Microsoft wouldn't take no for an answer however, and instead of canceling the project, asked Fergusson what he would need to complete the game in  timely manner. He made a huge expensive list of demands that would be necessary for completing the game. It was a list he had no confidence in receiving approval for, but Microsoft greenlit everything and gave Fergusson what he needed.

Before Fergusson made a name for himself with games like Gears of War, he worked with Microsoft's simulator games. When given the option to to work on flight simulator's terrain, or oversee the next Train Simulator game, Fergusson went with the latter. We actually interviewed Fergusson about his time with the Train Simulator series, which you can see below. He was 32 years old at the time, and said that one of the few regrets he has about being part of the video game industry, was that he didn't start sooner. Working in video games just didn't seem like an attainable job when he was a child playing PC games like Zork, and it took him getting his foot in the door at Microsoft to even see a path to video games – his lifelong passion.

After detailing some of his personal history, Fergusson started talking about his relationship with the Gears of War series. Since the beginning he has always seen the series as very personal for him. He injects himself in the game's narrative wherever he can. Small touches, for example, like Marcus shouting, "Nice!" is something Fergusson would always say. Specifically, in regards to Marcus, Fergusson talked about some of the ways they personalized him to the player. When developing the script for the games, and working with author Karen Traviss on the Gears of War novels, one of the few rules they put in place was that the player (or the reader) could never see inside of Marcus' head. That's why you will never hear inner-monologue from Marcus. In this way, he's an easier character for the player to inhabit. Fergusson also talked about how he and the others working on the Gears of War story had to ignore frequent suggestions that romance be injected into the plot. It was something they simply didn't feel needed to be done, but many with a Hollywood storytelling background were insistent on its presence, and they had to fight it.

When developing the back story for Gears of War, Fergusson and his team left a lot open giving author Traviss free reign on the game's story. For example, Aspho Fields is mentioned in the first game, but the team had no idea what it was at the time. It was just a name for an ambiguous event, which Traviss later filled in with a novel.

Gears of War apparently began its life as a horror title, with the idea that it be a cross between the HBO show Band of Brothers, Resident Evil 4 and the PlayStation 2 and Xbox cover shooter Kill Switch. The ultimate game didn't meet that initial goal, said Fergusson, but rather it became something standalone that he prefers.

Moving away from Gears of War, Fergusson talked about his time at Epic, his time at Irrational working on BioShock Infinite, and landing at Black Tusk Studios. He said he loved working on Gears of War, even if he did have to lock his door on the occasions where he would spend the night in his office during crunch time or he would wake up to rude photographs from his co-workers. Despite enjoying his time with the studio greatly, he saw that it was moving away from big triple-A titles and more towards free-to-play games, which is not what Fergusson personally wanted to work on. Fergusson said he wants to tell stories and enjoys being part of a big team. He wants to make big blockbusters, not art films.

Working with Irrational, Fergusson said it was nice to learn that nobody has the art of making video games down to a science. With Epic, the studio is gameplay first, then story. With Irrational it is story first, then gameplay. It was a nice to work and learn from two different types of studios, and he's glad he was able to help ship BioShock Infinite. He said those who ship win, because you can have all the the vision and impressive ideas in the world, but it won't mean anything if you can't get your project out of the door and into the hands of players.

Throughout his video game career, Fergusson said he has risked a lot in regards to his family. Making video games is a difficult time consuming process. During his time at Epic, instead of offering gifts to the employees for overtime and good work, they would give gifts to the wives and families of the employees to keep everyone happy. Fergusson said shipping the original Gears was particularly difficult, but it was a process he enjoyed and is very happy with how the game came out. Fergusson didn't offer any details about what's in store for the future of Gears, but did say he is very optimistic about what's in store.