On Bringing Gears to PC: The Controls
When we decided to bring the experience of Gears of War to the PC, we were ecstatic...and a little nervous. We were thrilled at the high level of visual quality we were going to be able to deliver on the platform. A one-two punch of remarkably detailed textures displayed at an ultra-crisp resolution is a no-brainer for gamers hungry for the visceral experience Gears provides. At the same time, we knew we had some work to do in order to keep the soul of the game intact on the PC, not only in the controls department but also in adding some great new content.
We at Epic Games have a heritage of building PC-based shooters, and thus we've always loved playing these kinds of titles with a keyboard and a mouse. With the player's left hand on the keyboard controlling his body and his right hand on the mouse aiming his weapon, it's the perfect scenario for gunning down foes and popping headshots. Gears, on the other hand, was originally built from the ground up to play great with a console controller -- with a different sense of combat and pacing.
Now, the power the keyboard-mouse controls scheme yields comes with a certain amount of design responsibility. Simply put, when a player can aim and move that freely, the pace of the game often needs to keep up in order to remain challenging. Enemy AIs need to respond in a fast and accurate manner in order for things to stay interesting, and thus games are often built for a run-and-gun mentality. Headshots shift from a nice bonus to a necessary survival tactic, while players learn that they must keep moving or die -- stand still and you're toast. In multiplayer, the delta between a newbie and a hardcore player is all the greater, as those who have mastered aiming are truly virtual sharp-shooting gods.
While still a shooter, we always knew Gears would be a different sort of title, one built on a stop-and-pop game mechanic rather than a super-fast lone-gunman paradigm. We expect the player to acquire his foe, take cover, and return fire; he then moves within cover, targets his foe, and repeats. He's not jumping on his enemy's head or soaring through the air. We wanted to make sure this experience remained consistent when lovingly bringing it to the PC.
First and foremost, Gears is a cover-based shooter, and we wanted players to feel that cover is accessible -- just a button press away. On an Xbox 360 controller, the most valuable buttons are the triggers and the A button as they're the easiest to reach. Obviously, on a keyboard, the largest and most accessible button is the spacebar. In most shooters, the spacebar functions as the "jump" button, but in Gears the closest thing to that is evade/run/acquire cover. Hence, it made sense to put this functionality on "space."
After a fair amount of testing, we liked this solution...but we wanted more. Many of us at Epic are veterans of our own Unreal Tournament series, and we love its double-tap dodge feature . Why not combine functionality and allow players to double tap the movement keys to perform the various cover actions? After our initial implementation and a host of tweaks, we found a system that we feel works exceptionally well.
With that, we turned our focus to ensuring that Gears when played with a mouse remained true to its roots. Thankfully, the game's targeting mechanism helped solve this problem from the get-go. Shooting from the hip is remarkably inaccurate. It requires the player to hold the right mouse button which in turn then raises his gun. This provides a clearer view of the foe as well as a more accurate shot yet at the tradeoff of narrowing the player's field of view. This original control implementation helped maintain the title's tactical yet fast pace.
We then proceeded to reduce the amount of aim assist that players had on the console because they wouldn't really need it with the increased mouse accuracy. In addition, we added a bit of camera shake when players are hit by others, so that in versus the player who acquires the drop on another truly has the advantage. This prevents the foe from turning and immediately capping the attacker in the head unhindered. Balance is essential in a shooting game, especially in versus multiplayer.
Though we briefly considered modifying the crosshairs from the original game to reflect a pinpoint level of control, it ultimately wasn't needed as most weapons in Gears have a natural amount of spray built in as they fire. We also adjusted and tweaked weapon kick values for several of the guns.
Only after many, many playtests and usability reports, did we finally feel that we had something that empowered players with the new control scheme while remaining true to the original title.
Now that we had the controls and visuals as solid as possible, we knew we wanted to expand on the original roller coaster campaign. When we originally shipped Gears, we knew in our guts that we really wanted to fight and defeat that giant Brumak beast that had been stalking Delta Squad for so long. What happened between the moment the Gears left Adam's house and arrived at the train station? As fate would have it, a heck of a lot, and it involved a lot of Locust and one four-story-tall, pissed-off beast -- with a trunk full of firepower.
Ultimately, it's up to the gamer to decide which way to play Gears for the PC. Use the keyboard and mouse, use an Xbox 360 controller -- or even alternate between the two. Playing through the campaign on the PC truly feels like an all-new game; the new chapters are a wild ride, and, witnessing the world of Sera up close and personal in higher resolution is a sight to behold.
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