Gears of War: Judgment
Gears of War is making one more round on current-generation hardware, and Epic's art director Chris Perna is once again in charge of the look of the series. While no drastic changes have been made to the overall look of the franchise since it began in 2006, Perna and the team at Epic have been making subtle tweaks as the series has evolved. He talked about this as well as the process of designing a prequel in our interview below.
Game Informer: What was your approach when designing Gears of War: Judgment’s visual theme, and how does it compares with what the series has done in the past?
Chris Perna: I think one of the things that we want to get across is a lot more brutality of the Locust, a lot more fear. I think visually, it’s probably a darker theme than the other games as far as the Locust being scary again. We kind of got away from that a little bit over the course of the series. We’re trying to bring some of that back...some of the intensity, some of the fear. You know when we really concepted these things, they were stealers of children in the night. They were these ghostly figures. It was almost a survival horror game at one point. We kind of wanted to get back to the roots of the Locust and emergence day and show them as more vicious and fearsome.
What kinds of tweaks went into making the creatures scarier?
I’m not sure it’s so much an exact visual thing as an overall, encompassing thing with darker levels and scarier behaviors. More dark AI, things like that...they all come together to make them a bit more fearsome and brutal.
Tell us a little about designing the look of Halvo Bay.
I guess the overarching theme of Halvo Bay is sort of a San Francisco-type area. It was an older city that was built on armaments from the Pendulum War days and it gets destroyed. We wanted it to have that destroyed beauty look and carry that theme over, yet with a slightly darker tinge to it because emergence day recently happened.
We’re four games into the series now, and it features a wide range of enemies. How do you go about making a new enemy instantly identifiable when there are so many existing types with drastically different behaviors and looks?
Part of that is the dinosaur chart. We constantly refer to that. We got a bunch of little guys, now we need medium sized guys, and a giant guy. It just adds this palette to the scene when you see these big lumbering guys and fast moving guys. They all orchestrate together to create a really cool combat experience, and we try to think of those things when we design characters. In the past, we developed the Lambent to break cover. They had a specific purpose and that purpose was to break cover and break that game mechanic. They had tentacles and they could reach over cover and grow tall, that kind of stuff. Whether or not we really needed that or whether it was successful or not is debatable, but that is kind of the genesis of those ideas. Moving forward with Judgment, we tried to make the Locust feel scary again and give them a little bit more brutality...give them a little bit more aggressive AI behaviors and teamwork. Things that might surprise some people.
The RAAM’s Shadow DLC also took place prior to the trilogy. Did that serve as any indication of what we can expect from the world?
Yeah, and I think we really learned a few things from RAAM’s Shadow as far as quality and visual bar and things like that. I think that visually, this will be more of an enhancement from that. We’ve tweaked the engine a bit and added advanced bloom and different types of effects, and it’s really pushing things in a different direction. So, I think it will be an evolution from RAAM’s Shadow.
At no point has the series taken a drastically different art direction. The characters look like Gears characters, and the world looks like Sera. How do you stay within that world and use those characters and make it look distinctly like Gears while still making it seem fresh?
Yeah, that’s tough. Because you want to kind of evolve it. Gears of War 1 was Grays of War, right? I mean it was gray and brown and it was very desaturated. In some ways it changed the industry, because people tried to copy it and then everybody did it. We had to look at evolving that a little bit. So what we did with Gears of War 2 was push a little more color into it. It was subtle, but there was more color in it. If you go back and look at it, we tweaked the lighting and stuff like that. With Gears of War 3, we said “how can we evolve this further, and what should we do?”. We looked at engine tech and things that we wanted to do there. We said “wow, we can do this whole global illumination system and have this dominant directional lighting and make our shadows better, but it doesn’t work so well with desaturation. Let’s increase the colors even more. Let’s add some vibrancy to the environments and the characters and stuff like that.” So Gears 3 is the biggest jump. I think if you fire up Gears 3 and then go back and look at Gears 1, there is a pretty drastic shift in color and palette from 1 to 3 and that was done on purpose to evolve the franchise. Another thing we looked at doing was playing around with characters. For 3 we put them in their summer armor because the planet was hotter and stuff like that. How do you change these characters, yet still keep them recognizable in silhouette? That was a big challenge. We found that if we kept the circular breastplates, then what they wore in Gears 3 was kind of the under armor. That was the stuff that was under the stuff in Gears 1. That kind of worked for keeping things the same yet a little bit of an evolution.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of designing a younger Cole and Baird?
Yeah, sending him back was kind of tricky. Baird is actually an officer when he starts out. He’s cropped and trimmed. What we did was take a look at Baird in Gears 1, and he was acne-scarred. Denis Leary was part of the inspiration for Baird. You know, just this wisecracking, kind of *** guy. If you’ve ever Denis Leary’s stand up he’s smoking and drinking and just kind of ripping. So, that was Baird to me anyway. So we took him and we gave him some acne scarring and some battle damage and dirt and that was Gears 1. Pretty much throughout the whole Gears series, his fiction was getting busted down to private, and he was pissed about it and taking orders from Marcus. We took a look at where he was and then we said “well, what is he like as an officer? Well he’s fresh and he’s confident and he’s cropped and his hair is a little different, a little neater. His face doesn’t have acne. It isn’t dirty. And he’s a little bit younger and he doesn’t have the lines on his face and the battle wear.” So that’s what we did there. And Cole was an athlete, so he’s thinner and more agile. We kind of took him and made him a couple years younger and made his body a little more fit.