There was only one close call.
Kudo Tsunoda, the new general manager for Microsoft’s "Gears of War" development efforts, got through most of his dinner with me and three other gaming reporters last night with only one "can-we-say-this?" look shot over to the public relations person staffing our meal.
It came after I asked him to define what "Gears of War" is to him, and how it differs from "Halo." He threw out words like "co-op" and "tactical" and then he said "squad," which prompted me to ask about the number of players that could team up in a "Gears of War 2" mission. He looked for help.
Not something he can talk about at the moment.
But there was other "Gears" stuff to discuss...
Tsunoda, recently of the EA Chicago studio behind the "Fight Night" series and last "Def Jam" fighting game, now works in Microsoft as the chief point of on contact with Cliff Bleszinski and the team making the 360-exclusive "Gears 2" at Epic Games.
Over dinner, in which we chatted about a number of Xbox 360 games, he discouraged me from thinking about "Gears of War 2" in story terms. I was asking him about how it moves the plot forward and if I should be thinking of it as an "Empire Strikes Back" or something. He said: "It’s not about when it is or saying that it’s a trilogy but about what we’re doing with the gameplay and how we’re making it more fun."
Gameplay improvements: what jumps out to Tsunoda in the new game are 1) the destructible cover that won't let players take refuge behind any old crate and 2) levels that have about 100 characters and bosses engaged in large-scale battles. He said that the first game hinted at a larger war but never brought the player to it. This game will.
His 100-characters reference reminded me of the tech demos demonstrated by Epic at the Game Developers Conference in February. Epic developers had told me that the demos hinted at content and gameplay in "Gears of War 2." So what about the tech demo featuring a cube of meat that got chunks shot off of it, one bloody bit at a time? To answer, Tsunoda wound up pretending he was holding an enemy for cover, as a shield, and explained how that enemy might, let's say, deteriorate under fire.
Tsunoda told me had played the first "Gears" a lot before taking his job at Microsoft Games Studios (he wouldn't confess to playing the PC version, saying he's a console gamer). He volunteered that the gameplay of the first installment could feel repetitive, an issue he says is addressed in the new title.
We chatted about online play a little, though Microsoft is focusing on showcasing the single-player part of the game this week. He said the "Gears" sequel will have a better online system. I asked about clans, and he wouldn't use the word back at me, but said that parties of gamers would have an easier time sticking together from game to game.
Other "Gears" improvements promised over dinner include better voice acting and directing, the ability to tell characters apart by voice (Tsunoda thought the characters in the first game sounded too similar to each other). He also said gamers can expect a more satisfying story, one that won't be compromised by content being clipped from the game as had happened with the first "Gears."
The details sounded solid. I'll report more after I, hopefully, get a chance to play it at Microsoft's gaming event in San Francisco today.