Campaign design director Matt Searcy speaks with GamingBolt about Gears 5’s biggest changes, and how they set up the future of the franchise.
Gears 5 took some risks by introducing new things that the Gears of War series has never really tinkered with in the past, and by and large, it’s safe to say that most of those experiments paid off. Gears 5 is an excellent game, and has been performing very well for Microsoft since launch, and all these factors combined would indicate that this is a direction that the series is going to keep heading in with future instalments.
We recently had the chance to speak with The Coalition’s Matt Searcy, who was campaign design director on Gears 5, about the studio’s most recent accomplishment, and about how it might define the future of the Gears franchise, and learned some interesting things in the process. You can read our conversation below.
"Gears has always had its DNA in being a point to point hallway shooter, but in order to bring Gears into the future with Gears 5, we knew we had to open up and expand how we thought about the franchise going forward. "
As a series, Gears has always been known for its meticulously crafted levels that serve as its combat arenas. In light of that, was there ever any trepidation during development about introducing more open-ended level design to the game?
Gears has always had its DNA in being a point to point hallway shooter, but in order to bring Gears into the future with Gears 5, we knew we had to open up and expand how we thought about the franchise going forward. With that in mind, it led us to an increased emphasis on player choice, dabbling in open world elements and more player exploration. We learned on Gears of War 4 how to make great encounters with a focus on the intense cover to cover combat Gears is known for.
Even before we looked at adding the larger exploration spaces in the campaign we knew from the range of maps in Horde, PVP, and Escape that Gears can support bigger and more complex spaces that we used in Gears of War 4. So it wasn’t really trepidation, we were eager to see how far we could push it! There are actually combat arenas in the campaign that came out of prototypes based on Multiplayer maps (the main arena in the Riftworm village is an example). Adding the larger skiff exploration spaces wasn’t easy, but we kept a focus on the Gears DNA we learned in Gears of War 4. Through multiple prototypes, our own reviews and user testing we found a blend that worked great for the Gears 5 campaign.
When it comes to the open world-like areas that we see in Gears 5, how close are they to what you originally envisioned for the game? Were there any elements or mechanics that you wanted to implement that perhaps did not make it in, for whatever reason?
The open world areas actually evolved from what we call “palate cleansers”. Sequences that give you a break from the core combat loop. When we started making the Skiff vehicle prototypes we immediately wanted to drive in any direction and the exploration spaces were born! In that sense it served exactly what we wanted it to from the beginning, a palate cleanser, but the actual areas took quite a bit of work to find the right shape and size. We were developing a new type of wind-based vehicle, and at same time we had to figure out how to make larger spaces connect to core Gears combat encounters and the new Jack progression loop. The one mechanic that we decided to remove was Skiff based combat. Prototypes were fun on their own, but in the context of exploring and following the narrative of each act it was actually getting in the way of the down beats and character exposition we needed between missions.
"Gears 5 was all about laying the foundation for the franchise to steer it into the future, so it’s safe to say we’ll continue to build off this foundation in the future so we can continue to surprise and delight fans as we look forward to whatever might be on the horizon."
Gears 5 introduces a lot of things that fans of the series haven’t been used to. In addition to the aforementioned open-ended levels, there is also more player choice during actual combat, some stealth sections, while Jack adds this whole new layer to fights as well. These are changes that have worked out very well in Gears 5, but are these things that you plan on expanding upon and taking even further with future instalments?
Gears 5 took some leaps forward in how we think about a Gears game, and as you mentioned, fans responded positively. Gears 5 was all about laying the foundation for the franchise to steer it into the future, so it’s safe to say we’ll continue to build off this foundation in the future so we can continue to surprise and delight fans as we look forward to whatever might be on the horizon.
One particular moment in Gears 5 introduced a branching narrative, which is something else fans of the series haven’t seen in Gears before- is this a sign of the direction the franchise will be taking in the future?
A huge goal and pillar of Gears 5 was player choice, and it’s definitely something we’ll be looking to build on going forward.
Starting with Gears of War 4, the series introduced new, younger characters who took centerstage, and over the course of two games you’ve done a great job of establishing them as the new primary characters. But with Marcus, Cole, and Baird, the old guard is still very much involved, and obviously, have a special place in the hearts of series fan. Throughout the development of Gears 4 and 5, were you ever tempted to lean into those older more heavily- like making Marcus playable for a short section of the game, perhaps? And is that something you might consider in the future?
Gears of War 4 was definitely a hand off to the new characters, and having Marcus in the squad was a huge part of that. By the end of Gears of War 4 the younger characters still hadn’t really been through anything like what the old guard had seen in the Locust Wars. One of the main focuses in the Gears 5 story was to bring war back to Sera and experience what happens to the characters in the new, younger Delta Squad as they go through it. So it made sense that the story is told from their perspective. Still, the interplay between the new and old characters is key to the tone and storytelling so we made sure they all got opportunities to join the squad at different times. Luckily fans can still play as the old Delta squad in PVP and PVE modes to get their fix!
It’s interesting that you’re looking at this new chapter of Gears as an ongoing saga rather than another trilogy. How does that impact the way you chart out future instalments and the stories you want to tell? Does it pave the way for more longform storytelling?
We always have an idea of the longer story we want to tell, but it’s important to us that we have “negative space” so we are open to ideas and opportunities that come along through development. Gears and the world of Sera has a rich history. In Gears 5 we were able to touch on stories from all the way back in the Pendulum wars and the Locust war while moving the main storyline forward. Escape mode and the Hivebuster comics also allowed us to introduce new characters and explore deeper storylines. Having such a robust IP with a great history makes it possible to tell stories on multiple levels, we’re excited keep digging further into the world and characters.
"We don’t have anything to talk about on future plans for the Gears franchise today, but an expanded Gears franchise always means more stories to tell."
Does it also give you the opportunity to branch out and tell new and different stories, maybe with future prequels or spinoffs or side-chapters or what have you?
We don’t have anything to talk about on future plans for the Gears franchise today, but an expanded Gears franchise always means more stories to tell, whether that’s in games like Gears 5 or our Hivebusters comic cook series. We’re always thinking about how to best bring those stories forward.
Looking ahead, with Gears 5’s launch behind us, is an enhanced re-release of Gears 5 for Xbox Scarlett something you’re looking into?
Gears 5 will be available on Project Scarlett via backwards compatibility. We don’t have anything further to share at this time.