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Details On Epic’s Abandoned Vision For Gears Of War 4

by Ben Reeves on Mar 28, 2016 at 09:00 AM

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Epic Games created the Gears of War franchise, and the series became incredibly successful for the studio. So after wrapping up the original Gears trilogy, the company wasn’t planning on putting Gears in a box and throwing it in cold storage. While People Can Fly helped co-develop the side story that became Gears of War: Judgment, a smaller team inside Epic itself started to dream up a proper Gears of War 4. This is everything we know about what happened to that project.

Gears of War became something of a flagship for Epic Games. The first entry released almost a decade ago, and quickly became the fastest selling title of 2006. Gears of War 2 fared even better, selling more than two million copies on its first weekend, while Gears 3 pushed the series past 1 billion in sales, becoming the second Xbox franchise to ever hit that milestone (the first being Halo). According to The Coalition, Gears fans have played more than 2.3 billion hours of Gears of War’s multiplayer – logging in 22 million hours on Gears of War 3 in January of this year alone.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Gears of War is a popular brand, and Epic would have been foolish to not consider making a Gears of War 4. Unsurprisingly, the company did begin work on a Gears 4, but that project likely looked a bit different from the one that The Coalition is now working on.

Epic never officially announced that it was developing another Gears of War title, but the shuttered project actually influenced the creation of The Coalition’s version of Gears of War 4 in some intriguing ways.

Rediscovering that initial vision
After Microsoft bought the Gears of War franchise in 2013, it was sent all the files and technology Epic had created for Gears of War 4. The Coalition essentially raided Epic’s “basement” to find the studio’s story treatments and old pieces of concept art. Some of the things that are now in Gears of War 4, such as the idea of setting the game in the future, the idea that Marcus would have a son, and even the name JD were all ideas originally developed at Epic prior to the Microsoft sale.

“When I was at Epic, we had started some Gears 4 planning,” says The Coalition studio head Rod Fergusson, who was also Epic’s producer on the first three Gears games. “When I got here [to The Coalition], we realized really fast that with all these new perspectives on the series it was going to take a long time to do preproduction on the game, so I said, ‘Why don’t we tap into some of the work I was doing at Epic when I was working on Gears 4 there?’ We went back in and looked at what the team had done after I left, and it was not really in a place that I was happy with, so we actually rewound it to a point before I left.”

Of course, Epic’s work on the next entry in the series was a great jumping-on point for The Coalition. The team was even inspired by Epic’s vision for a new Gears enemy type. “If it wasn’t any good, we wouldn’t have used it,” says Fergusson. “However, the Swarm in Epic’s original take was different from ours. We started talking about what the Swarm would be at Epic, but [The Coalition] completely changed it as we developed the game on our own. The name stuck, but none of the monsters stuck.”

What happened to Epic’s vision?
Epic worked on Gear of War 4’s preproduction for over six months before finally abandoning the project, and ultimately choosing to sell the franchise to Microsoft. However, even before Epic sold the franchise, Fergusson could tell that change was in the air.

“Back in the days of Unreal Engine 3, [Epic] had this belief that we’d only build technology that we would use,” says Fergusson. “So if Gears didn’t need it, it generally didn’t get put into the engine. That was from a perspective of, if we don’t use it, it’s going to decay. If we don’t touch it, it will just rot on the vine and then we’d have bad code. That’s not how it was with Gears 4. Epic’s initial Gears 4 engine was very mobile- and PC-centric more than it was console-focused. You can see their focus shift towards games like Fortnite and Paragon and stuff like that.”

We’re not entirely sure if the Gears of War 4 project got pushed to the side during this time in favor of those other projects, but that may have been the case. After Chinese multimedia giant Tencent purchased a 48.4 percent stake in Epic Games, the company’s focus shifted towards the PC free-to-play space, and it’s possible that Epic didn’t know how the Gears franchise fit into this new vision.

This new focus also shook up Epic’s payroll, as longtime Epic employees such as Fergusson and Cliff Bleszinski left the company to pursue projects at other companies. With the Gears leadership gone, it’s possible that Epic didn’t have anyone championing another Gears of War sequel. Whatever the case, Epic soon began discussions with Microsoft that solved its questions about what to do with Gears of War: It would just sell it.

“We obviously had a long history working with Epic on Gears,” says head of Microsoft's Xbox division Phil Spencer. “So as Epic went through some ownership changes and some focus changes and they didn’t have a real clear roadmap for where Gears was going, I had a conversation with [CEO Tim Sweeney] and vice president [Mark Rein] about, ‘Hey, what do you see in this franchise? We think our gamers love it, and we think it’s critical to our brand and it’s a game that people associate with gaming on Xbox.’…It was kind of serendipitous, but we had this opportunity with a team in Canada that was learning Unreal Engine 4, Rod Fergusson became available, and the IP became available all within like a three-month period. We said, ‘Okay. Let’s go and acquire the IP.’ I’m incredibly happy with how it’s gone.”

Which brings us to The Coalition’s take on Gears of War 4. For more on the creation of that project, including interviews with the team, 105 Questions with Rod Fergusson, and a look at the new weapons and enemies, click on the banner below to enter our Gears of War 4 cover hub.