Developer Blog 2: The Evolution of Gears 4 Versus

Right now, a small band of The Coalition are in San Diego prepping furiously for our upcoming appearance at Comic-Con, where we'll be bringing both new Single Player and Versus Multiplayer content to Comic-Con and NerdHQ. The show for us this year is particularly exciting, because both modes can be played by you - the fans - live in front of us. We can't wait to see and hear what you think.

By bringing Versus Multiplayer to San Diego, this will also mark the first time fans can play Gears of War 4 Versus since the Beta. In the two and a half months since the Gears of War 4 Beta ended, we've been working hard on improving and polishing Versus Multiplayer in an effort to make the best Gears game possible - now armed with the wealth of feedback from fans on what you liked, and didn't like, about the Beta. It's been part of our development ever since. The team has been incredibly eager to show you the results of their hard work.

I recently caught up with a variety of developers from around The Coalition to talk about just some of the big changes made since last April that impact Gears of War 4 Versus. Welcome to Developer Blog 2: The Evolution of Gears 4 Versus.

INTERVIEWED DEVELOPERS

  • Ryan Cleven (Lead Multiplayer Designer)

  • Kirk Gibbons (Art Director)
  • Colin Penty (CG Supervisor)

  • David Bollo (Lead, Core Gameplay Engineering Team)

  • Garrett Metcalf (Multiplayer Level Designer)

  • Michael Shannon (Multiplayer Level Designer)

Introducing Core and Competitive Tuning

Gears of War 4: Foundation MP Map Flythrough

In Gears of War 4, we will be introducing two separate balance setups in a single Gears of War title for the first time – Core and Competitive. Core settings are the bread and butter of the game, aimed at providing the balanced but varied experience you know and love whether you play solo or with friends.

The Competitive category has different settings that have been balanced to take into account the high levels of coordination and skill that come with competitive play, toning down damage and reducing certain factors like Aim Assist to highlight the best from the rest.

Modes will fall under Core or Competitive in Matchmaking, but not both. As it stands today, Escalation and Execution are the two modes in Competitive due to their emphasis on team based play at the highest level. In private, players can choose which tuning set they want to play with any mode.

Octus: Thanks for joining us to talk about the gameplay based improvements made since Beta Ryan! Let’s start off with this pretty substantial change for Versus Multiplayer - how did the team come to the decision to have the two separate tuning setups?

Ryan ClevenIt really started with our Escalation reveal at the Gears eSports Season 2 Finals. Prior to the match, we held a real-time feedback session with the 10 participating pro players to ask what they felt they needed for Gears of War 4 to shine in a professional environment. We tuned weapons with them late into the night, and it provided us a lot of insight into what we need to do to really deliver on a high-end team-based competitive experience. We took what worked from the playtest and refined it further back at the Coalition. We brought a second set of 10 pros up to the studio to try it out, and the response was great. However, we found that what the serious competitive players wanted and what the core Gears players wanted were too different to try to make a single tuning set.

Rather than trying to please everyone and end up pleasing no one, we decided that we would split the tuning into two sets, Core and Competitive. We want Gears fans to be able to play the game that we all know and love while simultaneously ensuring we provide a Competitive experience that can stand up to coordinated team based play at the highest level. This way, we hope Gears fans will be happy in being able to choose the experience they want to play, and really hone their abilities in an environment that takes more than just individual skill to excel in. Players can move between the tuning sets and their skills will still transfer between the two. The less lethal Competitive Settings mean landing consistent shots, making smart decisions and coordinating as a team become more important, but the fundamentals of the game are still the same.  This approach also provides a clear step of progression for players looking to take their skills to the next level.

As always, maintaining a balanced experience that still rewards skilled players absolutely remains a fundamental pillar of our design for the Gears Versus experience.

Core Gameplay Tuning

Octus: What did you learn about the Competitive Active Reload system (the ability to Active Reload at any time) from the Beta?

Ryan Cleven: The initial response to the Competitive Active Reload system was mixed, but over time more positive feedback emerged as players reflected back on the Beta. We did hear fan concerns about pre-Activing happening too often and how Power Weapons became more lethal with the ability to instantly Active on pickup.

We’ve improved the system to really showcase its original design to introduce timing as another dimension to mastering Gears combat. We want Actives to be something you choose to do, and always weigh the risk vs reward. In the Core tuning, Actives add a very small boost to lethality (on average around 5%) which is also much less than the boost from Actives in prior Gears games, as well as a slight increase in the cooldown times. It’s an added edge, not a fight winner by itself. In Competitive, boost is higher but the base damage is lower. The cooldowns are also much longer, increasing the risk and reward

We’ve also made every power weapon use the system as we had missed a few in the Beta and at the same time, made a key improvement. We trigger the Active cooldown whenever you pick up a weapon. Now, when you pick up a Power Weapon, you need to decide to use it while it’s weaker or tactically save using the weapon until your Active is ready to gain the benefits.

Octus: The Gnasher is always a big talking point in the community. What did you modify following the Beta?

Ryan Cleven: Gears is balanced around the power of the Gnasher, and we feel like the Gears 4 version gets a lot of its consistency from the current damage tuning. We heard fans about the power it deals over distance, and how that impacts moving into a fight, so for Core we’ve toned down the range slightly to keep it within its expected damage at distance. For the Competitive tuning, it’s a much different story. We’ve brought the effective range in much further to allow the classic Gears Gnasher dance to breath more.

Octus: What other key changes have been made to weapon tuning since Beta?

Ryan Cleven: To highlight some of the bigger changes – the Hammerburst has been changed to be a 3 shot burst weapon (down from 6) and can now beat a Lancer at long range, but requires a patient head at mid-range to have any chance against a Lancer.

The Dropshot explosion radius has been toned down to require more player accuracy, and we’ve added ‘team colors’ to the targeting laser to help you identify a friendly drill from an enemy drill. Based on feedback from our color blind fans, we’re happy to share that we've added new Color Blind accessibility options that also apply to the team colors for the targeting laser!

There’s also been some changes to our grenades too. You can now only have one active Frag Grenade tagged to a wall, and the explosion has an increased delay – Frag Tags are now for catching opponents unawares or slowing their advance. An aware player with good reactions can now roll away before the tag goes off.

We've also changed the way we treat Smokes since Beta. Smoke Grenades now emit smaller volumes of smoke for a shorter period of time. They’re still thick to help you push a position in combination with the stun, but teams wanting to make a big push on a fortified position will need to throw multiple smokes together to form an effective screen.

We're still working every day to make further improvements to our tuning and balance to provide the best Gears of War Versus experience possible come release.

Movement

Gears of War 4: Harbor MP Map Flythrough

Octus: Thanks Ryan! Joining us now is David Bollo, who leads the Core Gameplay engineering team that works on a vast array of elements in the game – including movement. How have the Core Gameplay team improved movement following the Beta?

David Bollo: One of the clear pieces of feedback the team gleaned from the Beta was a general desire for more responsiveness and options around cover, and while that was always part of our development plan, the Core Gameplay team really took that to heart. One of the most important changes we’ve made is having reduced the firing delay when popping out or up from cover to give you that snappy feel when engaging an opponent. 

We also fixed a couple of the key moves players use in firefights. ‘Back A’ – where you pull off the corner of cover and fire to land a shot on your opponent – now works on left hand corners. We also fixed the ‘Up A’ shot which was not working as intended in the Beta, as slipping out of cover and immediately shooting would result in the shot hitting the cover.

Octus: Some of our fans were feeling a little motion sick due to the Roadie Run camera. What have we done since Beta to address that?

David Bollo: We’ve made some big improvements there, and the team have delivered a roadie run camera that we feel is much improved over both the Beta and Gears 3. Our new roadie run camera has less roll than Gears 3 but a better feeling shake to it – it should feel much more comfortable overall, and especially when playing on bigger screens. We’re pretty proud of it!

Visual Improvements

Though called a 'Beta', the Gears 4 Beta was at an early pre-Alpha stage of the project – a time where many of the final assets, animations, textures, audio and even gameplay elements are not in the game. I caught up with Kirk Gibbons (Art Director), Colin Penty (CG Supervisor), Garrett Metcalf (MP Level Designer) and Michael Shannon (MP Level Designer) to talk about the leaps and bounds made to the look and design of our Maps over the many months since Beta.

 Octus: Hi there Colin! I’m sure many of our fans have been keen to see the improvements that we’re showing off in this Blog today. What’s fundamentally changed since Beta on the technical side?

Colin Penty: There’s been some major improvements since April, and we’re really excited to see what fans make of the upgraded look compared to our early stage work seen in the Beta.

On the performance side, our Versus Beta was running pretty close to 60FPS, but averaged slightly lower in the end. We’re now running at a solid 60FPS for Versus, which really provides that fluid fast-paced Multiplayer feel we were always targeting.

On the visuals side, we’ve been excited to implement some really important technical additions. We’ve got Ambient Occlusion and Capsule Shadows in now, which really makes the characters feel and look more grounded in the world. Our shadows are now much higher resolution, and localized reflections in the levels have really been stepped up to provide a more cohesive look.

Octus: It’s come a long way Colin! Kirk, the visual design on our Multiplayer Maps has really matured over the past few months. How did we ratchet up the Gears feeling of our maps?

Kirk Gibbons: Our Beta was at a very early stage of the project for us, and so the visual design of our maps really hadn’t gone through the process of Gearsification – something that’s always been in our plans, just not in time for Beta. We hope the changes we’ve made today are obvious and exciting to fans – but I thought I’d run you through some of the key steps we took in making our maps feel and look quintessentially Gears.

  1. Added that unique architectural feel and detail that defines Gears

  2. Ensured more color & contrast in the lighting to make the maps more visually appealing and original
  3. Made cover more interesting and detailed, including making our maps look more organic based on feedback we had from Beta

  4. Ensured the ground players run and fight on is interesting, detailed and layered

  5. Made materials like metal, concrete, bricks and so forth look distinctive between each other.

  6. Tuned textures to ensure the play space is readable from a visual and gameplay perspective

Those changes, among many others, have made a big difference to each map’s identity and place in the Gearsiverse!

Map Design

Gears of War 4: Dam MP Map Flythrough

Octus: Thanks so much Kirk! I’m now joined by Garrett and Michael to tell us a little bit about the changes in Map Design from the beta. Talk us through some of the key insights you acquired from the Beta.

Michael Shannon: One of the things we heard from the community was that there was too much emphasis on close quarters combat. What we found is this resulted in less of the traditional Gears ‘fronts’ that naturally form in prior Gears games.

Garrett Metcalf: We really want there to be a fine balance between rifle and Gnasher combat in Gears 4, so this definitely got our attention to ensure support play and crossing are a key part of the game.

Octus: Interesting. So how did you take these learnings and apply them to your design philosophy?

Garrett Metcalf: Looking at the three Beta maps, we found that we blocked too much of your line of sight – while we originally wanted to separate fights, the Beta showed us that allowing for overlapping fights and open lines of sight increases support play, the importance of positioning and make those Gears fronts pop. We’ve made changes to each of the maps to bring this type of gameplay out.

Michael Shannon: We want players to earn their flanks, so that the solution to every front isn’t just a quick flank that forces an opponent to move.

Octus: We had a lot of feedback from the community with regards to spawns. What's changed since Beta?

Michael Shannon: The fan feedback really helped us in improving the placement of our opening spawns. On Dam, for example, we found spawn camping was happening because you couldn't get to the really valuable cover to help you push out before your spawn protection wore off. We've now moved those spawns closer to the cover to provide you that opportunity, and taken those learnings to our other maps.

Closing Comments

Gears of War 4: Forge MP Map Flythrough

Octus: Thank you to everyone who took the time out to bring this info to the fans. Ryan, can you sneak us a bit of added information on anything that’s changed that wasn’t in the Beta?

Ryan Cleven: Haha, sure. With the Hammerburst’s new Long Range role, we found the Retro Lancer really didn’t have a significant place as a starting weapon anymore, as we announced it would be earlier this year. Instead, we’ve balanced it into a new role we call ‘Secondary Weapons’. Secondary Weapons spawn in mirrored locations on the map (like Boltoks for example) where only one person on each team is going to have a chance to grab it.

Secondary weapons are more powerful than a Starting Weapon, although not dominant like a Power Weapon. In the case of the Retro, it operates at similar ranges to the Lancer with more power but a shallower clip. Unlike its Gears 3 counterpart, it’s not designed for dealing massive damage up close – instead, it’s about mid-range combat, with a kick to control but rewarding results if you’re accurate. If you have a very good recoil control, it can even headshot an enemy if they’ve taken enough damage.

And any closing comments for the community on Gears of War 4 Versus?

Ryan Cleven: One of the things we hope we demonstrated with the Beta is the foundation we’ve laid to make sure we get the essence of Gears of War Versus right.

Our goal with the Versus you’ll play in Gears of War 4 is a richer experience built on those foundations – one with a deeper meta leveraging our philosophy for Starting and Secondary Weapons, the timing meta of Active Reloads, and the new game modes. We want Gears of War 4 Versus to be its own thing, and to grow while still maintaining the core of what we know our fans want from Gears. We can’t wait to see what you think when you get to play this October.

Octus: Thanks Ryan! There’s too many changes and updates to list in one blog, but Audio, UI, Settings and more have all received updates that you’ll see for yourself this October. A massive thank you to everyone who contributed vital feedback to help us improve Gears of War 4.

If you want to try out all these improvements for yourself, you’ll be able to play Gears 4 Versus at NerdHQ in San Diego this week. You don’t need a pass to get into NerdHQ, so if you’re in the area, download the NerdHQ app and book your spot to play Gears 4 Versus!

That's it for our Development Blog this week. We'll be back on Friday 29th July with our next update. See you then.