It might have proved a smash-hit on Xbox Live, but now Gears of War has a tougher challenge: validate Microsoft's Game for Windows Live service. Develop caught up with lead designer CliffyB to talk porting, Poland and player-generated content...

Cliff’s Notes

People Can Fly have been helping with the PC port – how much of it did you do in-house, and how much did they do?

People Can Fly have been doing multiplayer maps for the game, like Gold Rush. They’re just a very talented group of Polish developers and, of course – my heritage is Polish so it’s very near and dear to me – and towards shipping the product they’ve helped close thousands of bugs and basically wrapped the game and helped close it. They’ve been a tremendous resource working with us, they’ve been great. We wouldn’t have taken the step of acquiring them if we weren’t extremely happy with the collaboration.

What’s your role been on this PC version?

My title at Epic is lead designer, so I’ve been making sure that we do something compelling and interesting, and that we polish the shit out of it. Also, play sessions all the time, crafting the overall experience and the new boss battle. I’m excited about the single player content but I’m more excited about what’s going to happen with the editor – it’s going to be amazing to see what people do with it, I’m really excited.

Since Unreal Epic’s always been into user-generated content, so how are you supporting that with Gears of War PC?

We’re shipping the same editing suite that we built the game with ourselves – it comes with UnrealScript, it comes with Matinee [Unreal Engine’s cutscene creation tool], it comes with all of those tools. That itself is going to be phenomenal. It’s going to be a situation that the game comes out, I think it’s going to sell pretty well, but more importantly the more hungry gamers are going to be able to get their hands on Unreal Engine 3 and all the assets that were there for Gears – environmental sets, characters, creatures. They’re going to do some really wacky, cool, exciting stuff, you know – someone’s going to make an RTS or something. It should be good!

How has the porting process been? Have there been any problems?

Any time you develop a game for the PC, figuring out which game is going to run on which system and stuff like that is always a bit of a challenge – there’s eight trillion configurations of PCs out there. We brute forced that one working with Microsoft’s test labs, so we feel like we’re in a good position there. We’re running on XP, we’re actually running on DirectX 9, we’re running on Vista. We want to make the net as wide as possible so that as many PCs can play the game as possible.

Have you been able to put anything into the PC port that you felt was lacking from the 360 version?

It’s nice to have another boss battle – I mean, I think the 360 version could have shipped with one more boss battle, and it would have felt like a more complete experience. Lengthwise, it’s always nice to add more chapters and more combat and great gameplay, but overall we we’re really darn happy with how it turned out. The thing that took a fair amount of time with the PC was adapting the controls back to a keyboard and mouse, and making sure those felt as natural as the controller.

When you’re designing the single-player component and the multi-player component, do they evolve as seperate entities or do they bleed into each other?

It’s touch and go. You start off planning something that seems cool and build some single-player around it, and then… it’s really a chicken and egg situation, you start getting some multiplayer sessions going, you start feeling what maps might play nicely and then, you know, each game type and each game mode feeds off each other and iterates and ping-pongs back and forth, until you hopefully have something that’s compelling in single player and compelling in multiplayer and co-op. Co-op is also the X factor that ties into all of that. You just make something that seems fun and try it in different modes and see what sticks – it’s like a big organic process like you’re sculpting something out of clay, really.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the games industry?

First and foremost, pick something and stick with it – if you’re artistic or more tech or design-orientated. Don’t try and be jack-of-all-trades and master of none. If you’re good at drawing characters, learn how to model in 3D – if you’re more math orientated, be a programmer. Just pick something. And then, often, the best way to get into the business is to get modding. There’s plenty of Unreal Engine licensees out there who are looking for people who are skilled with the engine.

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