"Gears of War" lead creator Cliff Bleszinski talked about a lot of stuff during a telephone interview late last week. Some of it was rather spoiler-heavy, so I'm sitting on that stuff for another couple of days.
Instead, let's see what he and I talked about regarding romance in "Gears of War 2," and why he's concerned that you might take what he's saying the wrong way.
The following is an excerpt from my phone conversation with Epic's Cliff Bleszinski. I've lightly edited the conversation for flow and cut the one slight spoiler. Whether you've played "Gears of War 2" or not, the key thing to note is that game hero Marcus Fenix spends part of the game assisting his soldier friend, Dom, who hopes to find his wife Maria among the humans gone missing during the war with the Locust horde.
Multiplayer: One of the things that really jumps out to anyone who plays this game is that there's romance or at least reference to romance and a relationship in a much more prominent way than in the last game. There was barely anything more than an allusion to anybody being romantically interested in each other. How did that element get into this game and why was it put in there?
Cliff Bleszinski, creator of "Gears of War": I wanted to put it in the first one, honestly. It was one of the things we didn't have the confidence in our abilities as storytellers at that time. And we didn't have the time to get it in there. All that wound up in there was a shot of a tattoo on Dom's arm and a reference that he might know someone stranded because he was looking for his wife. To put that at the forefront of the [new] game, you see it right in the opening cutscene. He's looking right at the picture [of him and his wife]. He's getting frustrated and ultimately where everything winds up going -- [SPOILER CUT] -- I think it's important.
To keep things in check, yes this is still, of course, an action experience, with blood and chainsaws and giant chainsaws, but if there could be just a little bit of human interest in there, just a little bit, maybe it will help it appeal to a slightly broader audience. That's where the little photo coming in the collector's edition and the whole story arc initially came from.
Multiplayer: Do you feel it is completely a play to appealing to a broader audience? Or have you felt any sort of unease with how action games are purely action games are purely action and we don't get to see the more human side or softer side of the characters we control?
Bleszinski: It's a bit of a set-up question, Stephen. Because there's nothing I can say right now talking to you, and you can quote this, that will push back from all the comments on every single blog across the internet who will say, "This is bullshit. The game is all about testosterone space marines, blah blah blah because we didn't have 40-minute flashbacks to Dom and Maria dancing in a field of poppies with a picnic basket. We didn't want to do that. We wanted to still keep our pace. But I think whenever I look at what I think are good examples of sci-fi -- the "War of the Worlds" redux that was done by Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise is a guy that's just trying to get back to his family in the middle of an awesome alien invasion. The "Transformers" film, yeah it's about giant robots and the All-Spark and all that. But it's also about a boy and his car trying to get the girl of his dreams.
Multiplayer: And if I was interviewing Spielberg or Michael Bay, I wouldn't even ask them why they put a romance in, right? So I think it shows a different standard that I'm applying to you and your work than I would to those filmmakers'. And I think I'm asking you that question because it's still uncommon to see that in the action movie equivalent in video games…
"[Romance is] f---ing hard to do, man."
Bleszinski: Well, because it's f---ing hard to do, man. It's really hard to do. I think we did an admirable job of it. Is it a Nicholas Sparks romance? No, it's not. But there's a little bit of heart in there. For some reason, "Gears" seems to have more of a female following than other shooters. Now this is purely anecdotal evidence, what I see of online and stats and talking to casual gamers and from the hip conversations, it seems to be the case. Putting a little bit of heart in a shooter that's full of all sorts of brutality that people are used to? It's kind of a good priority to have, I think. It's the same reason Jack is there. He's a cute little robot. If everything in the game is so bad-ass and nasty, then you just lose perspective. It's like a person who just yells all the time.
I'll have plenty more from the ever-interesting Bleszinski over the next couple of days, including talk about the ever-controversial "Seriously" Achievement and an analysis of the "Kano issuue." Yeah, the "Kano issue."