Dom, from Gears of War
Eric Nylund is probably best known to Xbox fans as the author of the great Halo novels: The Fall of Reach and First Strike. Eric also has a new Halo novel coming out very soon. What has he been doing between Halo novels? Well he has been working on a little project known as Gears of War. Here is an interview with Eric originally published at Gearsofwar.com:
What’s your role in the creation of Gears of War?
My primary role on Gears of War is story consultant. Gears is the brain child of Cliff Bleszinski, Epic’s lead designer. About two years ago we got together to talk about how to best shape his ideas into a compelling game narrative … and I’ve been helping ever since.
The actual line-level writing is being done by the very talented and experienced game writer Susan O’Connor, with additional contributions from the Epic leads—notably Rod Fergusson [producer], Cliff Bleszinski, Jerry O’Flaherty [art lead], and Lee Perry [lead level designer].
Tell us a little bit about you and your background.
I started writing very late in life. I had advanced to my candidacy for a Ph.D. in theoretical chemical physics when I decided to write a fantasy novel [Pawn’s Dream, 1995, Avon Books]. I fell in love with writing, quit school, and became a destitute writer living in an un-air-conditioned 1920’s farm house in the middle of Florida. Seven novels, a few award nominations, and more than two dozen video games later, I’m more or less a respected game writer—if that’s not an oxymoron—and novelist.
Can you give us a brief overview of the story behind Gears of War?
The humans of Sera have been fighting a decades-long war over the miracle energy source known as Imulsion when a new enemy appears: The Locust Horde. Erupting from underground warrens, the Horde attacks humanity, and overnight more than a quarter of the planet’s population is massacred. What remains of the human military flees to Jacinto Plateau, where they make a final desperate stand against overwhelming forces.
Gears of War takes place on a new world, Sera. Why did you decide to go with a planet other than Earth?
I think I better classify that one top secret … and just say all will be revealed in time.
Tell us more about the “good guys” of the game, the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG).
The Coalition followed an obscure political philosophy before the wars for Imulsion. Over decades of fighting, it evolved into a nationalistic political party that embraced Order and Unity over the needs of the individual. After Emergence Day, human leaders used this party’s rising popularity as a thinly veiled excuse to impose marshal law and severely abridge civil rights.
Concept Art, Gears of War
What’s the most challenging part about working on the story behind the game?
There are two main challenges. First is the chicken and egg problem of which comes first: story development or level design? If it’s story first, then level design has to adapt and the moment-to-moment gameplay might suffer. If the level design comes first, then the story has to adapt, and your narrative ends up less than perfectly compelling.
Epic has really made a great effort to do both story and level design well. There has been a lot of back and forth between these two design parameters to make both great.
The second challenge is that video games are not inherently a great medium to tell stories in—I get a lot of flack every time I say this, but it’s true. This is especially true of a shooter, but it applies to other genres to lesser degrees. Think about it: Every time you pause the game action to advance the story you run the risk of breaking the illusion that the player is in the game world. You take control away and force him to digest new information. At best you can immerse the player in the role of the character and make him want the next chunk of that character’s narrative. At worst you annoy the player, and he presses the A button to skip the story parts and get back to the action.
In Gears we are always thinking about how to present the story in nonintrusive ways, to make you really care about what happens next, and make you really want to be Marcus Fenix.
It’s interesting that you made Marcus Fenix, a former prisoner, the hero of the game. What’s the motivation behind this guy?
Ah—more secrets. Sorry.
What are you most proud of in Gears of War?
I’m very proud to be working with some of the greatest talent in games on this project. The Epic team is innovative, creative, and passionate about Gears. From day one they’ve been eager to contribute and improve their narrative. They’ve really taken the Gears story seriously.
Well that is more info to digest, check back for more on Gears of War!